And … they’re off … more #clmooc postcards

CLMOOC postcards Sept2018

I’ve been lax the last few months with the CLMOOC postcard project (we have a list of about 70 people who periodically mail postcards to each other). This past weekend,  though, I got my act together and mailed out 18 postcards to CLMOOC friends on our list. Some of the cards may already be arriving. Some may take longer.

Peace (in the mail),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Class of Infectious Curiosity

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I almost title this post “The Chatty Class in Room 8” or “The Class of Non-stop Talking.”

But I didn’t, because the more I thought of this one particular class of sixth grade students (out of four groups that I teach), the more I realized that the talkative nature is driven more by wondering and curiosity than anything else. I’ve had plenty of classes through the years where the talking was difficult to keep in check (and I am pretty lenient most of the time) and where small clusters of students (last year, it was a group of boys) think class time is social time all the time, and that the teacher’s voice is one to tune out.

Not this group.

These students always have their hands raised, always want to contribute to the conversations, whatever the topic might be. They always are asking insightful queries to their classmates during presentations. They bring us on tangents, true, but interesting ones, with odd angles of looking. They always seem to want to know more, more, more.

And I think that curiosity is infectious, is it not?

I noticed the leaders of the class — smart, strong students — being kind to others, by asking them to share more, explain more, think more, question more. And their classmates have followed their lead, which is quite interesting to watch and to see. They’ve already built on my work with them to create a safe space to wonder in.

So, even if the room gets loud at times, it’s the right kind of loud. The curious kind. The kind of talk every classroom in every school, everywhere, should be open to.

Peace (and wonder),
Kevin

NYT: Soundscape Ecology

NYT: Soundscape Ecology

We get the Sunday New York Times here at home because we are former newspaper reporters wanting to support the newspaper world in the Age of Trump and media-bashing, and because the Times often has deep dives into interesting topics. We like the voice of the Editorial Board, too. It pushes back on the president.

Anyway, the Times often does special sections for Sundays and this weekend, I noticed a large magazine called Voyages. I figured it was another one of their travel-themed magazines, which I will barely glance at. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. Same with Home sections. We’re not remodeling. But as I flipped through the Voyages magazine, I saw it was all just photos. Beautiful, fascinating, inspiring shots. And a note came with it, saying there is an audio component that you need to access online.

I dove in, headphones ready with my phone, and I was transported to places in the world through my ears and eyes. I listened to a lava flow, to the crackling of salt deserts in Chile, to the movement of a single tree with thousands of trunks in Utah, to creatures under the ocean, and more. It was a wonderful immersive experience, which one of the folks being interviewed on one of the tracks called “Soundscape Ecology.” I like that term.

It is a reminder of how much we forget about sound when telling a story, and how important it can be. It’s also about remembering that the world’s animals, plants and weather is talking, if we only take the time to listen.

Visit if you can. These Voyages are worth it. (There’s even an audio Crossword Puzzle “that you can hear.”)

Peace (eyes closed),
Kevin

Considering Empathy (A Discussion with Students)

Exploring EmpathyAn impromptu discussion with my young students this week on the topic of empathy found a connection my head with the Equity Unbound project. I am not sure quite yet how those pieces fit, but they do. Maybe it is because empathy for others allows one to make change for better equity for all. And empathy is an upcoming discussion theme and thread for Equity Unbound.

Empathy, as defined at Wikipedia, is:

Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.

The comic above captures some of the thoughts of my 11 year old students as we discussed what empathy is and why the world might be a better place if more people showed deeper empathy. (I’m looking at you, Trump).

I was thrown off a bit by this response by Ruth.

But I responded:

And Terry added:

The last panel  of the comic is interesting in light of Equity Unbound (which is an online dispersed course with university students and professors from around the world mixed with a bunch of open participants like me), and the topic of how some digital spaces may work to discourage empathy is something my students and I will explore more in a few weeks during our Digital Lives unit. But the fact that it was so prevalent in the discussion with young people is both alarming and perhaps a door open for exploration.

Peace (may it come to you),
Kevin

 

Helping Teachers Get Published in the Newspaper

Karen Pleasant Chalk Talk

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has long nurtured a partnership with our local newspaper — The Daily Hampshire Gazette — as a way to help teachers in our WMWP network get published in a monthly column called Chalk Talk. I coordinate the program, acting as recruiter of teacher-writers (one of our missions in the writing project), editor and sounding board, and liaison to the newspaper.

Our first writer for this new school year, Karen, writes about the intrusions of the world on the classroom — of the fear of gun violence, and strangers in the building, and the impact all of those considerations have on educators and students alike.

Karen Quote

It’s a sober look at the world today, through the eyes and heart of a veteran teacher.

You can read Karen’s piece here and you can read the many Chalk Talk pieces we have published over the years.

Peace (in our worlds, small and large),
Kevin

Three Poems About Writing (Inspired by My Students as Writers)


Best Time flickr photo by Eliecer Gallegos shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

The new school year always reminds me how to think more deeply about the act of writing. I watch my students, as they write, and wonder about their minds, their imaginations, their struggles, their success on the page (digital or paper).

I wrote three short poems this week about writing: the first is about pencils (but really about word choice); the second is about erasers (but really about decisions); and the third is about paper (but really about what we write on).

Some words
never get spoken —
the pencil tip snaps,
broken thoughts
on paper.

 

My fingers
brush away
the soft pieces of
eraser — small
crumbs of stories
struggling to remain
within the lines

 

Where once we crumpled
paper, with discarded
lines and thoughts

Now we hit delete,
and think: recover what
was lost.

Peace (off the page),
Kevin

PS — these small poems are part of a daily project to write a poem every day on Mastodon.

Equity Unbound: Advocating for Accessibility

Alt text considerationsAn interesting discussion unfolded into the Equity Unbound hashtag the last few days as some of the organizers — who are university professors — launched a Twitter scavenger hunt, where people tweet mystery images and others tweet guesses as to what the image is.

The issue of accessibility to images and information for disabled participants, particularly those who use screen readers, sparked a discussion about the use of “alt-text” on images. If you don’t know what that is, alt-text is an option that allows you to layer some informational text along with an image, so that a screen reader for a blind participant, for example, can understand that an image has been shown and get some understanding of what the image is. (This is not to say screen readers are perfect, either).

On Twitter, you have to go into your profile on the web version and find the setting, and turn it on. It’s way at the bottom of the options. Once on, every image you post will give you a prompt on adding text to the image. But, the default for the setting is “off,” which seems rather strange. Maybe there is a technical reason. But I doubt it. (Mastodon, for example, has the default “on” for all users.) It’s also odd that the setting on Twitter for this is at the very bottom of the options, as if were a throw-away issue.

twitter alt text

I tweeted out an idea off the top of my head yesterday morning as I was thinking about accessibility — what if the Equity Unbound community wrote a crowd-sourced letter to Twitter, asking for it to make the alt-text option to be default as “on” as a way to make the platform for more accessible. After a day of teaching in the classroom, I found that a bunch of folks had taken up the idea, and a letter was already underway.

See the draft of the letter and consider signing it

Our friend, Greg, has been helpful in starting to share some online resources about this topic, and one of the links breaks down the types of images that might need alt-text for screen readers (such as informational images, photos with text in it, maps, etc.) and those that may not (decorative images). I also found a neat flowchart for making a decision about alt-text. There are also tips and tricks, and Alan even shared out a link about his suggestions for how one might write alt-text in a way to adds to the conversations.

Will Twitter listen to such a letter? Who knows. At times, it has seemed to ignore complaints and suggestions from its users. At other times, it seems like it has listened and made changes. If nothing else, it has all of us in theEquity Unbound network thinking about accessibility issues with digital platforms, and how to make the barriers of entry as low as possible for as many voices as possible.

Peace (write it for all spaces),
Kevin

 

Equity Unbound: Collection o’ Comics

I’m making some assorted comics for Unbound Equity project. These  are sort of hit or miss, to be honest. I’m hoping making comics will help me think about issues of equity and access in different ways, and add a little variety to the conversation stream.

The following comic is the best of the bunch from the last few days, I think. I was watching a Twitter Scavenger Hunt unfold in the #unboundeq hashtag (people were sharing mystery photos and others were guessing items), and I thought about someone misunderstanding the directions, and searching for Twitter itself. Particularly since so many people think Twitter has lost its original concept in this age of disinformation and hate.

Losing TwitterAnd this following comic came from me wondering about how we interact with people in places like Twitter, where personality is often understood through words alone. While this can be powerful, from a writing standpoint, it can also lead to misinterpretation. The last line is a nod to my six-word-bio I have pinned on Twitter.

Surfing Words on TwitterAnd then, there has been a conversation going on about using the alt-text feature of Twitter for photos — so that blind and/or disabled readers can still engage in the conversations (alt-text is read aloud by screen readers.) In Twitter, you have to turn the feature on. Which makes no sense to me at all. (In Mastodon, it is a default feature). This comic didn’t work as I wanted it to — the telescope was supposed to be a metaphor for narrow vision turned around into a wider understanding of the world. It came across as too preachy. The version I shared on Twitter was a video format, with audio voice (since one of my suggestions was to use audio for content). Ironically, by making the comic a video, I was unable to add alt-text to it.

Accessibility strategiesFinally, this comic is a response by Chris to another comic (about identity). The thread moved into technology platforms disappearing, and what happens to our data and our digital identity when that happens.

Disappearing Act

Peace (framed and sometimes funny),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Starting the Year Write

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Three weeks in and my sixth graders are already writing up a storm. We’ve done a short story prompt (using a map of imaginary land as setting for an adventure); explored characters in a short story read-aloud with evidence from the text; designed a treehouse in their writing notebooks; and now are working on sharing and explaining their aspirations for life in our Dream Scene project. We’ve composed with media on the computers and doodled in the margins of text on paper.

I like to come out of the gate with a lot of different kinds of writing. This allows them to enter as writers from various directions — not everyone loves open response analytical writing, not everyone loves writing fiction — and allows me to get a glimpse of where they are at with skills and imagination and basic writing skills.

Some of my young writers are already amazing me with their skills. Others, they are already worrying me, too. My role is try to help my students at both sides of that spectrum, as well as those in the middle, to move forward and make progress, and find joy in the act of writing.

And so the year begins.

Peace (in text and beyond),
Kevin