Advisement Matters

I have worked on my school’s advisement team for four years now. When I initially joined, my primary motivation was to simply be involved at another level at my school. (The small summer stipend didn’t hurt either.) What I discovered as I worked beside our group’s lead counselor and a few of my peers was that I have a genuine heart for what an advisement program means for all stakeholders–students, teachers, parents, and administrators–everyone.

Our superintendent puts an emphasis on advisement in our district; the county has spent a good deal of money developing analytics and devising ways to interpret the data we get from student and adviser surveys. Five years into developing these tools, we’re just now understanding what they could mean for us and our kids. Seems like a long time, right? What aggravates me and many others in education is that no one is willing to stick with anything long enough to see its true implications, so I commend my district for sticking with the analytic tools they’ve developed since the dividends are just now visible. Even within any given school, advisement is different and often times changes on a large scale as someone gets the next big idea from year to year. That’s how it was at my school the first few years, but now for the last three years we’ve kept with the same basic format and we’re starting to see its benefits on a larger scale.

For the last five years we’ve had freshman mentoring where our junior and senior leaders mentor our freshmen throughout the year. To a degree, this has become a popularity platform and something to notch on a college application resume; however, at its heart it really does give our students the ability lead our youngest group and generates safe and beneficial relationships between a freshman and their often times feared (a misrepresentation) upperclassmen peers. From tenth to twelfth grade, our students have one adviser for all three years and each is attached to an interest topic (i.e. sports, movies, music, health, gaming, etc.), and we try our best to keep groups to no larger than about 16 students. (Bear in mind that we have nearly 2,700 students total.) This year my students are seniors. What I’ve enjoyed most, as I reflect on our current program so far, is that I really know these students. I care for them deeply, and I have an experience with them that is leveled in a way that typically doesn’t happen in a regular classroom.

I’ve never been more conscience of what we do right at my school and district than while taking class this summer. I witnessed stories of broken approaches to advisement and the defeated spirits of other educators who felt like many of their kids–that advisement is a waste of time.

The truth is that advisement is what you and your school make it. Is it a priority? Do you gather feedback from the stakeholders? Do you take that feedback seriously and make changes accordingly? Do you see advisement as the great equalizer that it should be? I don’t mean to be accusatory, but advisement could be the difference between a student gaining a scholarship, making an informed decision about a career, taking the SAT or ACT, or going to college at all. No matter the socioeconomics, advisement can provide access to information that many students and families do not know how to find on their own or answer the questions they don’t even know to ask. Maybe more importantly though, is advisement’s ability to form relationships between students and faculty that genuinely matter.

I realize I’m appealing to a great deal to peoples’ pathos right now, but the logic is there too; there are facts that back up advisement’s importance and relevance. Most are found in the retention of college students, but the premise is the same in high school. If a child knows someone cares about them, what happens to them, their success, then students care in return and engagement changes as well.

Simply put–advisement matters.

Singular Texts/Plural Authors: A Book Review

9780809314478_p0_v2_s260x420This was originally an assignment from one of my doc classes this summer; however, due to my high interest in collaboration in learning, I thought I’d share my review here. The book, Singular Texts/Plural Authors by Lisa Ede and Adrea Lunsford, was originally published in 1992, but what struck home with me is how relevant a read it is still today for educators and researchers in the field of writing collaboratively. Enjoy!

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When originally published in 1992, Singular Texts/Plural Authors: Perspectives on Collaborative Writing was considered groundbreaking in the field of writing processes and instruction by placing an onus on considering how workplace collaboration on high stakes projects relates to writing pedagogy. Ede and Lunsford have spent a professional lifetime together writing in tandem, which helps to originally inspire their research on collaborative writing that is presented in this text. Both had concluded that writing, especially in the United States, had been observed as a solitary act of individuals. They point out in the first chapter, “Old Beginnings”, that what little research had been afforded to collaborative writing, whether it be Flower and Hayes, Bereiter and Scardamalia, or Bruffee, showed the final act of writing as being done by an individual– alone. Seeking to understand the limitations of this previous research, the realities of collaboration in the workforce, personal experience, and a strong desire to develop collaborative writing pedagogy is what drives Ede and Lunsford’s research narrative. Each chapter of the book attempts to set a historical and concurrent context for collaborative writing, weaving a narrative through various quoted intertexts and essays that culminates in a revisioned understanding and perspective on research on collaborative writing pedagogy that is still relevant to today’s understanding of writing practices in schools.

The authors draw off of research conducted as early as the mid-70s. What Ede and Lunsford uncover is a limited assortment of literature that attempted to survey collaboration of any kind and mostly drew on observances of the workplace or even some literature in gender equality. As previously mentioned, what little collaboration research had been done in education only unveiled the reality that students were not truly writing together so much as they were aiding with revision or simple editing that was conducted either before or after a student individually wrote, not during the actual writing process. This becomes problematic to many in academia as the authors cite several sociologists who began arguing that claiming single authorship on a paper that took many to execute is a serious error in judgement and even devalues the research. It becomes clear in the first section of the book that the authors are taking a look at collaborative writing through a very broad spectrum–even saying so themselves–claiming the approaches are literary, sociological, anthropological, and psychological. The duo quickly tries to validate their new point of view on collaborative research by highlighting their understanding of the “dangers” involved in looking at collaborative writing in such a breadth of contexts, divulging that they must be careful not to misinterpret the data to support only their preferences. Their argument for such a broad style of research, however, is clearly stated here: “only such a broad interdisciplinary approach can begin to suggest the implications of interrogating fully our traditional notions of what it means to be an author” (13). Ede and Lunsford posit that with collaborative writing so prevalent in the workforce, shouldn’t teachers be preparing students for such an important part of their future jobs.

The second chapter of the text accentuates collaborative writing in the workplace. The chapter appears at first to meander through various professional contexts where collaboration is a normal function to daily activity but as the chapter finds its close, Ede and Lunsford corroborate these individual instances of collaboration “as models for imitation” (43). Always quick to qualify their claims, the authors highlight that someone reading the chapter’s internal essays might easily gloss over what is most important about these professional practices of collaboration, which is simply a “strong emphasis on efficiency–on collaborative writing as means to an end–as simple point of fact” (43). This idea resonates just as poignantly today as it did two decades ago; isn’t the purpose of collaboration of any kind to efficiently construct a final product? Although not the most pedagogical approach to collaborative writing, the authors present an important aspect as to why students will need collaborative writing skills as they phase into the workforce one day.  Another illuminating observation the duo expounds on is the acceptance of given constraints of a collaborative writing system prevalent in the workplace. In other words, co-workers appreciate and even praise various constraints put on a collaborative model but as the authors point out, not all collaboration is without tension or dissatisfaction and can even pull people apart rather than together.

The chapter culminates in a study using two surveys for seven total professional and academic associations in concern to collaboration. The results articulate an emphasis by participants on writing being highly valuable to the success of their organization, and collaborative writing being a common practice with fifty-eight percent of participants describing collaborative writing as productive or highly productive. The open-ended questioning in the surveys indicated several important points of interest for collaborative writing: time is a commodity, participants may feel a loss of control over personal work time, interpersonal skills and group dynamics play an important role in influencing both effectiveness and satisfaction of the product and process, and a strong desire/need for equitable division of tasks. Ede and Lunsford point out that although collaborative writing in the workplace appears hierarchical in nature, they did find evidence of a more dialogic and fluid process to collaboration amongst professionals. These modes of collaborative writing are important to what they explore through the rest of the book.

The third chapter challenges the DNA of authorship using four distinct sections (The Myth of the Solitary Author, Shifting Conceptions in the History of Authorship, Contemporary Criticism and the Problem of the Author, and Contemporary Discourse Practices and Challenges to the Traditional Concept of Authorship) to reconceptualize the understanding of what constitutes authorship both yesterday and today. Using examples as far back as the medieval  period of Europe, the authors note a desire for writers to protect their texts; they point out that during the Elizabethan period of England, a strong desire to create clear authorship amongst playwrights became a priority. In the end, it was about turning a profit and making a living. Until this time, though, authorship did not have the onus it does today. For a time, defining authorship enjoyed a period of clear understanding with little to no questioning, but Ede and Lunsford point out that since the 1970s, authorship has been problematized. Questions as to what constitutes the self, western feminism, and a dialogic polyphonic self alters the point of view that the author is a singular self or is even simply man by himself. Authorship, it would appear, is complicated. Part of this complication is simply related to recognition; in many fields of research where a team produced the data and prepared the overall report, only one individual is given authorship or no authorship at all is assigned leaving the paper in anonymity. The authors suggest that “these challenges [the nature of constructed authorship] have great suggestive power for writing teachers, who deal every day with student authors producing texts” (102).

Chapter four finally arrives at pedagogy. Beginning by providing a historical context, the chapter explores cooperative learning’s roots and traces them as far back as the colonial period in America. Here, the duo cites Piaget, Dewey, and others to set up the constructivist model of learning, citing psychology’s attempt at seeing social interaction as the basis for all knowledge, which in turn supports cooperative learning. Ede and Lunsford use this backdrop to give their readers a clear idea that the social context in which students learn matters. The issue, they posit, is that most university and college level courses still see writing in the traditional, autonomous sense, and even more revealing is that “the very writers most often associated with collaborative learning [researchers such as James Moffett and Peter Elbow] hold implicitly to traditional concepts of autonomous individualism, authorship, and authority for texts” (113). This is challenged, however, in the seventies when researchers and instructors such as Kenneth Bruffee devised implementations of collaborative writing in his university classroom and identified the benefits of developing co-constructed knowledge. Traditional writing instruction is criticized as well in the late eighties with researchers citing the mistake of seeing student writers as isolated and disconnected from culture or politics. The authors then proceed to clarify differences in cooperative learning and collaborative learning, which is presented as a clear difference in epistemological basis, claiming cooperative learning has “an extremely verifiable ‘reality’ which serves as stimulus for various responses” (117).  Still, the two try to make it clear that research of cooperative learning has important implications for collaboration and collaborative writing.

The last half of chapter four presents the challenges of collaborative writing and how its been used in the classroom.   There are two major issues the authors present to the reader. One, power in the classroom is almost always still attributed to the teacher and two, many students may have an inherent desire to claim sole authorship despite when collaborating. Still, the authors point out that collaborative writing “holds out the promise for a plurality of power and of authority among teacher and students” (120) and affirms that “real learning occurs in interaction as students actively use concepts and ideas or strategies in order to assimilate them” (121). It is at this juncture in the text where both the author–and even the reader–become frustrated. Ede and Lunsford point out that they had original intentions to develop clear and definite pedagogy for collaborative writing in the classroom, but this goal had to change as more questions of practice became evident. One such question is that of what makes a more effective collaborative writing assignment? One that is specific and carefully constructed to help get the job done, but will most likely stifle or silence student genuine collaboration? Or one that is open-ended and honest, but meanders and may lose focus? These types of questions plague the ability of the duo to develop one precise way of exercising collaborative writing; however, they are able to articulate several criteria for what makes for poor or quality collaborative writing assignments. Page 123 in the text provides a cohesive list of what must happen in order for collaborative writing to occur in the classroom with the caveat that there is no perfect or idyllic scenario. They also call attention to criticisms of such a list that lacks instruction on how teachers should structure collaborative writing and disagreements on the best ways to form collaborative groups. To address this criticism the authors make a call to teachers to find ways with their students to really question collaborative assignments, see their implications, and testing the quality of such assignments thus lending power to students and teachers as well as forming a process to build, maintain, and adapt collaborative writing for a classroom.

The fifth and final chapter of the book is titled “New Beginnings” and clarifies for a reader the true purpose of the text–not to attempt to answer or minimize collaborative writing’s questions and ambiguities, but to call greater attention to them in an effort to spark further research and understanding of research methods used when researching collaborative writing. Ede and Lunsford show a distinct desire to conceive of new ways of “experiencing and representing authorship” (131), not to agree to the end of the author as we know it. They make a plea to pay attention to the questions and difficulties of shifting authority in a classroom and taking a closer look at dialogic collaboration that is meant to alleviate some of the oppressive forms writing can take on various groups such as women. The authors conclude their long, interwoven narrative by illuminating an exciting–but even disheartening–truth: “that we have only begun to scratch the surface of what it means to describe writing as a social or collaborative process” (141). In their final thoughts, the duo reflects on how their personal groundings in writing together brought them to this point of research and realize quite happily that such research and new understanding allows them to appreciate the enrichment of their own voices not only within the multiplicitous self, but with all those in their lives in every faction and notation that lend voices to their writing and others’.

Anyone interested in understanding the complexity of authorship, its changing meaning, and how collaborative writing has become a function of the workplace that can and should be transferred to the classroom would benefit from reading this book. Simply put, Ede and Lunsford’s book is still a valuable commodity to today’s teachers, administrators, and researchers. The book, although not without its criticisms, presents a timeless framework and history of collaborative work and writing that clearly illustrates its complexities and its necessity to not just the teaching culture of the early 1990s, but today as well.

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Ede, L. S., & Lunsford, A. A. (1992). Singular texts/plural authors: Perspectives on collaborative writing. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Join Us at GACTE July 12th!

My protege and partner-in-crime, Mr. Nic Carroll, and I will be presenting at this year’s GACTE (Georgia Association for Career and Technical Education) conference at the Cobb Galleria Center in Atlanta on Friday, July 12th.

We’ll be focusing on the topic of using Google Apps, specifically Google Sites, as a way to develop student e-portfolios:

Digital Portfolios: Using Google Sites and Tools to Build Student Developed Project Portfolios

We’re excited for this opportunity to share what we’ve been doing with our PBL Studio students for the last few years. Feel free to visit the GACTE website for more information if you’re interested in joining us!

We’ll be presenting at 10:00 AM that morning. Hope to see some of you there!

GACTE

2013: How Project-Based Learning Could Change Everything

Happy New Year!

Each new year brings with it a promise; a promise that this year could be the best year of our lives; a promise that we will form good habits and get rid of the bad ones. And we’re right–for the most part. We also know that truthfully it is quite hard to change bad habits, form better ones, and there is no way to predict what a new year will bring. Still, the promise of what could be is one of the many magical parts of life.

This particular year, for me, already carries with it at least one bitter disappointment. I falsely believed I would be a shoe-in to be approved to present at this year’s ISTE conference in San Antonio; alas, it is not to be. I found out about midway through December that my proposal was not accepted. It was initially a blow to both my pride and ego, but once I had a chance to think about it, I had to admit that I was also simply disappointed because what I get to do for a living is something I want to share with the world!

I was as wary as anyone when I first started to explore and research project-based learning (PBL), but I very quickly realized that this might be a game changer in public education. You see, our politicians are all looking for quick fix legislation to help improve student performance. I think most who would read this blog can agree that this will never help alleviate our educational woes. For instance, most recently, the state of Georgia passed a constitutional amendment that allows the state to approve more charter schools. The claim for the need for this direct change was that parents and students need more choice. I agree, but not with more charter schools that one, will only siphon more money away from money strapped public systems and two, many of them will never close due to parent outcry no matter how bad the performance of the school is nor how underfunded it is. No, I believe it is all about generating choice within our current public schools.

PBL, as well as problem-based learning, could be a very viable solution.

Don’t get me wrong, for a program like the one I helped to develop in The Studio, it does take a bit of money, or at the very least being very creative with whatever current technology a school possesses. Still, with the implementation of PBL programs within public schools, you immediately give students and parents choice. PBL involves a different type of learning and is renowned for its ability to develop very strong soft and analysis skills. The emphasis is taken off the teacher and put more squarely on the student, their choices, and ownership of their learning. Without changing everything about a school and by offering a separate program that becomes a part of the DNA of a school, all stakeholders involved have an opportunity to win. Our program isn’t perfect, but in many ways it is starting to thrive. Students entering their first year of the program dote on it constantly as do their parents, students are interacting with real world problems and developing an understanding of required standards, and maybe more impressive is that some students are falling in love with learning again–something that is often lost during middle school years. It isn’t for everyone, but that’s why it would be an option, a new way to learn, something different from the status quo–a choice.

My sincere hope is that this upcoming year will hold the promise of spreading this message, changing a few mindsets, and maybe helping those making big decisions to see there are still good alternatives out there don’t decimate what many consider to be an important staple to the freedoms we enjoy here in our country–the public school system.

For the record, I hope to attend ISTE nonetheless this year. Maybe I’ll have better luck in 2014!

The 3rd Annual Studio Fall Expo

It’s that time of year again!

If you live near or around the Atlanta Metro Area, we’d like to formally invite you to come see what our students really do. Every fall we hold an expo-style event that showcases our student’s projects throughout the semester.

The event is Wednesday, December 12th @ 6PM in the North Gwinnett High School commons. It is always a great event, and we love to see the community come out and support the students and their work.

20 Level Creek Road, Suwanee, Ga 30024

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