I was just rereading Will Richardson assertion that it's about Networks, Not Tools:

Today, it was all about networks, not tools. All about connections, not publishing. All about working together to get smarter, not learning alone. All about how RSS connects us to ideas, how blogs connect us to people, how Twitter connects us to, um, the Twitterverse, and on and on and on. ...

Networks and connections are important in learning. But as Richardson goes "on and on and on," he says little about what he actually learned from skyping over to Utrecht during his presentation. Instead, he gives us words like "cool", "passion", and "glow", but no indication of what learning, if any, took place. We can now "buzz" around in streams of information overflow, but it's not clear how that makes us "smarter." There seems to be an emotional conflating (1) of fact aggregating with learning and (2) of stream of consciousness socializing with mastering a body of knowledge to the extent that you can use it in novel situations. Twitter, like any other tool, can be useful, but it is just as likely to lead to frittering our time away. As I wrote earlier about twitter,

Twitter can keep us from achieving, as noted in [Kathy Sierra's] article How to be an Expert, Philip Ross's The Expert Mind, and my post Forget IQ. Just Work Hard! Twittering one's time away may be momentarily pleasurable, but real pleasure, real achievement, and real learning--whether it's learning a language, learning to write, or learning in general--come from real, focused, and challenging endeavors.

American Educator has a 19-page article titled Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research Does and Does Not Say (pdf) by Claude Goldenberg, Professor of Education at Stanford University. The article looks at the findings of two reviews of the research, one by the National Literacy Panel and the other by the Center for Education, Diversity, and Excellence. Here's an excerpt from the conclusion:

Although there are numerous areas in which there is insufficient research to guide policy and practice, we can lay claim to some things that matter for the education of ELLs. Chief among these is that 1) teaching children to read in their primary language promotes reading achievement in English; 2) in many important respects, what works for learners in general also works for ELLs; and 3) teachers must make instructional modifications when ELLs are taught in English, primarily because of the students’ language limitations.

Practically, what do these findings and conclusions mean? In spite of the many gaps in what we know, the following is the sort of instructional framework to which our current state of knowledge points:

  • If feasible, children should be taught reading in their primary language. Primary language reading instruction a) develops first language skills, b) promotes reading in English, and c) can be carried out as children are also learning to read, and learning other academic content, in English.
  • As needed, students should be helped to transfer what they know in their first language to learning tasks presented in English; teachers should not assume that transfer is automatic.
  • Teaching in the first and second languages can be approached similarly. However, adjustments or modifications will be necessary, probably for several years and at least for some students, until they reach sufficient familiarity with academic English to permit them to be successful in mainstream instruction; more complex learning might require more instructional adjustments.
  • ELLs need intensive oral English language development (ELD), especially vocabulary and academic English instruction. However, as the sidebar on critical unanswered questions explains (see p. 12), we have much to learn about what type of ELD instruction is most beneficial. Effective ELD provides both explicit teaching of features of English (such as syntax, grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and norms of social usage) and ample, meaningful opportunities to use English—but we do not know whether there is an optimal balance between the two (much less what it might be).
  • ELLs also need academic content instruction, just as all students do; although ELD is crucial, it must be in addition to—not instead of—instruction designed to promote content knowledge.

Paul Kei Matsuda has recently set up Symposium for Second Language Writing Interactive. Here's some information from the site:

The purpose of SSLW Interactive is to provide a centralized resource portal for second language writing teachers and researchers from around the world. Currently, SSLW interactive provides the following features:

Blogs. Any registered user can create blog entries to share their experience and perspectives on various issues related to second language writing.

Groups. The site hosts group space for various related groups, including: TESOL Second Language Writing Interest Sections (SLWIS); CCCC Committee on Second Language Writing; CCCC Special Interest Group on Second Language Writing; Symposium on Second Language Writing; and Journal of Second Language Writing, among others.

Forums. Forums provide a space for the discussion of various topics related to second language writing in the traditional, hierarchical list format.

E-lists. A list of email lists related to second language writing. Recent contents are available from this site. Links to subscription information and list archives are also available. If you are aware of any other email lists, please post the description. (Anyone can add an edit the descriptions--you don't have to be the list owner to contribute!)

Conferences. A list of conferences, workshops and other meetings related to second language writing. If you are planning an event that may be relevant to second language writing teachers and researchers, please feel free to add an event.

Journals. A directory of journals that publish articles on second language writing. Please contribute by posting information about your favorite journal. (Anyone can add and edit the descriptions--you don't have to be the editor or the publisher to contribute!)

Programs. A directory of doctoral programs where students can specialize in second language writing. Please post information about programs you are familiar with. (Anyone can add and edit the descriptions--you don't have to be a faculty member or program director to contribute!)

CFPs. A list of call for papers/proposals related to second language writing.

SSLW. Information about the Symposium on Second Language Writing, an annual international gathering of second language writing specialists.

The site is in its infancy now, but it has the potential to become the central interactive clearlnghouse for all things related to second lnaguage writing. That potential, of course, is waiting for your contribution.

Teach for America (TFA) teachers are making a difference (via OL Daily). According to this six-year longitudinal study of high school students in North Carolina,

The findings show that TFA teachers are more effective, as measured by student exam performance, than traditional teachers. Moreover, they suggest that the TFA effect, at least in the grades and subjects investigated, exceeds the impact of additional years of experience, implying that TFA teachers are more effective than experienced secondary school teachers. The positive TFA results are robust across subject areas, but are particularly strong for math and science classes.

This is troubling: Five-week institute trained teachers do better than those with a degree in teaching, which usually includes two years of education courses. (And 34% of the non-TFA teachers had graduate degrees compared to less than 2% for TFA teachers.) How can that be? The report notes that TFA teachers are recruited from highly selective universities but placed

in the lowest-performing schools in the country ... [and] in the most demanding classrooms in these already challenging schools.

Yet, their students do better. Interestingly, TFA teachers also score higher than traditionally trained teachers on the PRAXIS exam. Is their success due to being more motivated? Do experienced teachers suffer demotivation over the years? Or is it because TFA teachers are stronger academically? I imagine it would be at least a combination of those factors, and perhaps others I'm not aware of.

What's troubling is that it is difficult to imagine the same scenario in another discipline. Take, for instance, engineering. Would you expect that a group of new college graduates would be better engineers than a group who had been in the field a while? Even if the newbies were from highly selective schools and the oldies weren't? Lots of questions but no solutions here.