A real first…

This email goes on the list of best emails ever. Here’s what it said:

Good Evening!

I attended your presentation at MRA, and was so excited to take your thinking back to the team in our district that is redefining our former Summer School program.  We would love to try out the pst2ic3 this summer with our struggling students.  I was wondering if you had any additional pieces of your work that you would be willing to share that we could use with teachers to help them to be more successful with implementing something like this with a group of kids.

Thanks for any help and guidance you can give!

This is the first time someone I don’t know has attended a conference presentation and (a) emailed me after for more information and (b) has told me that they would like to use ideas that I’ve been working on to frame their own practice with students.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read this this morning!

And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Anyone who has worked on a dissertation knows about the self-questioning that so often leads one to wonder if it’s all worth it. I have wondered whether all of this effort will make any real, positive impact for students in schools. Will anyone care about these ideas? Will there be value in any of this for anyone? Is this a line of research I really want to spend my professional life pursuing? Will anyone ever hire me to teach this stuff…and the list goes on.

One has to believe, of course, that the effort is worth the sacrifice; that the work is good and valuable. I do believe these things. But I also think anyone who has written a dissertation will admit that having faith in the work is hard. The “limitations” of one’s own research are always easier to see than the strengths. N’est-ce pas?

So, thank you kind emailer. A message like yours is also a voice telling me to stay the course and to keep on…

Michigan Reading Association Conference

I am looking forward to presenting with my esteemed colleagues, Amber White, Anne Sherrieb and Cindy Lewis from Ruth Fox Elementary School at the Michigan Reading Association Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan, this coming Saturday. The focus of our talk will be on instructional implications of the [(PST)2 + iC3] framework that I developed to support online inquiry and multiple internet text integration. My colleagues at Ruth Fox piloted the framework last summer with at-risk 5th and 6th grade readers during an intensive four-week summer institute. Our talk will give a little context for the strategic framework, but then mostly focus on what the kids did and how the framework supported their online inquiry processes as they researched and then wrote their own “Wonders” inspired by the popular Wonderopolis.org website.

I have created a website for [(PST)2 + iC3] with pages dedicated to the framework, MRA presentation, and to research that has supported the development of my work.

And, in case you would like to quickly preview Saturday’s presentation, here are the slides.

[slideshare id=16981535&doc=pst2ic3-mra-130306114211-phpapp02]

A formula for strategic online synthesis

The anchor standards for reading and writing in the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects (2010)  place significant emphasis on the construction of meaning from multiple texts in print and digital formats. To date, however, the evidence for instructional methods that support “synthesis” skills development in K-12 is sparse. This is particularly true for the online context. To my mind, teachers and students would benefit considerably if there were a method that had been tested empirically…and that could be implemented with some confidence that it would support the development of online synthesis skills.

Last summer, I had a serendipitous opportunity to pilot a framework for online synthesis with colleagues and a group of students at an elementary school here in Michigan. The students, all 5th and 6th graders, were invited to participate in a summer institute designed to support their math and literacy skills through innovative and authentic inquiry projects that integrated technologies. Based on overall academic performance and reading comprehension scores, the students who were invited to participate were generally those most at-risk for academic underachievement or failure.

During the summer institute, the kids created “Wonders”, inspired by the popular Wonderopolis.org website on topics that were related to sports (the summer Olympics were then taking place in London!) To create their Wonders, students had to do a lot of online reading. The teachers were looking for a systematic way to introduce the iterative cycle of online reading and synthesis…and since I was developing something for my dissertation research study, I asked them if they would consider giving this framework a try. They did — and much to our delight, it seemed to work!

Mostly, the teachers reported that the formula — which they introduced by modelling the process via think alouds, and then having the students use the strategies over a few weeks — provided a starting point for richer conversations about online reading and synthesis. With a common vocabulary, everyone was able to understand the expectations, but also to talk about what they were doing at each step in their process.

This piloting experience gave me the confidence to refine my method a bit further for my dissertation study — which I’ve been running with students since November, 2012.

Anecdotally, students in my dissertation study have told me similar things. One student said that the list of strategies reminded her of what she needed to do and helped her stay focused. Another student said that the strategies were especially helpful because it made the whole process of inquiry a little less overwhelming.

There is much still to analyze, and think about…but here’s the list of strategies. I’ve written them as a mathematical “formula” to metaphorically represent the additive and exponential growth in understanding that comes through synthesis of multiple perspectives 🙂

(PST)2 + iC3

P = Purpose

What do I have to do?

P = Prior Knowledge

What do I already know about this topic?

S = Search Terms

What search words and phrases will I use to find good information?

S = Source Selection
Which sources seem promising?

T = Type

What kind of web resource is this and what should the structure tell me about what I will probably find there?

T = Trustworthy

How trustworthy is this information? What criteria have I used to judge it?
i = Identify Important Ideas

What information is important here? Why is this information important?

C = Compare

How does this information compare with what you already knew?

C = Connect

Does this back up something you have already read? Does differ in some way from what you have read elsewhere? Is it unique information that takes your understanding in a new direction?

C = Continually Update

What does your overall understanding of the problem look like now?

Feel free to view the PST2 + iC3 formula here as well: http://bit.ly/X44f8M