A Digital Show to Help Digital Writing: Teachers Teaching Teachers
By: Gavin Tachibana
Date: July 28, 2009
Summary: Hosted by the New York City Writing Project, a weekly webcast called Teachers Teaching Teachers supports rich conversation about teaching and learning in 21st century classrooms.
Five years ago, a classroom teacher might not have imagined a radio show hosted by other teachers that spoke directly to his or her educational needs.
But now with the spread of podcasting and do-it-yourself webcast productions, teachers have the tools to host their own shows. Among the foremost of that variety is the New York–based Teachers Teaching Teachers .
The hour-long webcast airs every Wednesday on the EdTechTalk channel of the WorldBridges network. The show's topics cover a range of classroom issues, from how to incorporate multimedia lessons in the classroom to teachers' lesson plans on Holocaust studies.
The show, which started in the spring of 2006, has two goals: collaboratively develop teacher knowledge and teacher leadership in schools and districts; and put this knowledge and leadership to work to improve student online reading and writing by examining the most effective approaches to the use of blogs, wikis, podcasts, webcasts, and other tools.
"What I think makes the idea behind our show unique is that we're teachers getting together," says host Paul Allison, New York City Writing Project tech liaison and a driving force of the show. "We have a habit of always wanting to keep it real. Like, okay, that's a nice theory, but what's it look like in your classroom?"
Hooking into a Community
Indeed, the show's guests—mostly writing project teachers—are front and center of the show. Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) started when technology teachers connected via Skype, the software the enables free online video calls around the world. They gave each other updates about their classroom work and recorded these calls before putting them online as podcasts.
The podcasts formed a small following, and soon the people behind EdTechTalk, a website with a community of teachers, invited Allison and others to make the show live on their website. The conversations grew into a more formal process, and soon became a weekly show with specific topics and scheduled guests that the crew had to scramble to find on a consistent basis.
"Accountabiliy to an audience was the difference," explains Allison, a technology teacher at East-West School of International Studies in New York City.
From there, the show expanded to its current format. Listeners can ask questions and make comments via chat while the show is streaming on the EdTechTalk website. Afterward, a transcript of the chat is available on the EdTechTalk site while the audio portion stays on the Teachers Teaching Teachers website.
"We're able to hook into a community and have them hook into us," says Allison, who produces the show with fellow teacher Susan Ettenheim from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in New York City.
Teaching Writing in the Digital Age
Allison adds that topics for shows, which attract several thousand listeners each week, will emanate from questions that come up in the classroom.
One such topic was "How do we keep it real in school blogs?" As with many of the topics, this one stemmed from discussions on the website Youth Voices , a school-based community of 1,000 student writers/bloggers and the teachers, a site administered by many of the teachers who visit regularly on TTT.
Who’s providing the professional development and who’s getting it gets really mixed up in good ways.
In that show, teachers wanted to think more about how to harness the power and popularity of blogging for academic purposes. Questions arose, like "How can we cover all of the required skills and topics of our various curricula and still allow students to blog about topics of their own choosing?" Or, "How do we continue to nurture our ethic of student peer response?"
Allison says a lot of the back-and-forth, on the show and in the chat room, explores the tension and discoveries of teaching writing in the digital age.
"Helping people figure out where writing fits with their technology stuff and vice versa is I think one of the themes that we're figuring out," he continues. "A lot of the technologies that people are developing leave a lot of room for writing. A lot of teachers who are involved in the technology are saying they need some help with this. So they're always happy to be talking to writing teachers. And I think vice versa, it's good for writing teachers to realize that there are technology teachers who have many of the same concerns that they do about rhetoric and audience and all of that stuff."
TTT also serves as a forum for teachers to share ideas about curriculum, such as in the episode "Writing in the Digital Age." In this show, for instance, teachers talked about how to deal with a student who says "If you take my laptop away, I don't know what I'd do." They discussed what fundamental skills students need in writing, such as the ability to collaborate, no matter the technology.
"When a teacher shares, we often encourage her or him to share what the pedagogical goal was, not the technology," reports Allison. "We're not so interested in the tools. We're more interested in what you're trying to do with them."
Exploring National Topics Through the Show
Teachers Teaching Teachers, which is supported by NWP's Digital Is project as well as that of the New York City Writing Project, has also been a venue for discussing topics closely related to national network projects.
Examples include a special two-part USN and RSN Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast titled "Resiliency: What We Are Learning from Our Students." A second example is the series of three broadcasts about the book Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom. The editors, all from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, discussed the book and talked about some of the discoveries they made and insights they had as they worked with the writers.
Allison says the show's setup fits perfectly with the NWP model, hence the name Teachers Teaching Teachers.
"It's about setting up your own network of people you learn from. What's exciting about this is that you are a participant as much as you are asking questions. Who's providing the professional development and who's getting it gets really mixed up in good ways."
As for the future of the show, Allison says that's yet to be determined. TTT is tweeting its way to an ever-growing audience. Eventually, Allison continues, others will have to share the burden of running the show. One thing is certain, the discussion on teaching writing and technology is here to stay.
"I'm a lot more optimistic about young people these days than I certainly was as a young person," he reflects. "I think kids read and write more than ever. They do it online. They do it in funny ways. But I think that's really exciting. And I think tapping into that is what it's all about."