Why I Write Collaboratively

Why I Write Collaboratively

Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, and as part of Write Out, I’ve been working with more than 100 fellow writers on a sprawling, beautiful collaborative poem based on George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From poem. As more and more lines were submitted by more and more people, I kept wondering: Now what I have gotten myself into?

But I’ve been here before, managing large online writing collaborations, and each time, at the end, the pieces that emerge have always startled me, the way so many voices can be woven together into something approaching art. Collaborative pieces — I’ve been part of radio shows, of plays, of poems, of stories — are full of wrinkles, full of voices, and finding the thread that runs through the collaborators is tricky.

For the Where We’re From collaboration, with hundreds of lines of poems, the trick has been to find themes and shift lines around to approach coherence. When read through, the Write Out collaborative poem takes on a new shape, one of US writing together as a single poet with a multiverse voice. We’ll be sharing the text of the poem this weekend, and then I am starting an invitation to folks to record audio pieces of the poem, which then I will – gulp – edit together into one large audio piece.

Anyway, for the National Day on Writing, which has the theme of “Why I Write” again, I thought about the question: Why Do I Write Collaboratively?

WHY I WRITE COLLABORATIVELY

Writing can be a lonely adventure. Oh sure, you can create characters to crowd your head. You can write scenes of noise. But the act of writing? You’re on your own, for the most part. Which is why I love to write collaboratively with other people. When you are working on the creation of a piece of art in a shared space — even when you trade coherence for chaos — there’s something wonderful that emerges — a different angle to what writing is, and how we tell stories. Collaboration requires flexibility, conversation, revision unlike any other. You are reminded that you are part of something larger in the world.

Peace (shared),
Kevin

PS — NCTE is hosting a neat digital badge-maker for NDOW — Go to their site and submit one yourself

NDOW Badge for whyiwrite

Curating the #WriteOut Twitter Chat

Write Out Twitter Chat

Last night, Write Out project hosted a wide-ranging Twitter Chat about place and stories, and hosts Amber and Bethany did a fantastic job. If you missed it, I used Wakelet to gather as many of the strands as I could, trying to connect some of the threads, as best as I could.

Go to the Chat Archive

Peace (in curation),
Kevin

#WriteOut: Exploring the History of the Neighborhood

Although the Write Out project (now underway for the next two weeks) is supported by the National Park Service, through a partnership with the National Writing Project, there is no mandate that you have to explore a park. Not many of us have a National Park nearby.
That’s OK.
Your backyard or school yard or city block or neighborhood will work just fine. Here, I created a small digital piece about surfacing the stories of the past of my small village neighborhood. I created it in SoundSlides, and you can go there directly if you want to see my piece.
Peace (in the walk around the block),
Kevin

Hanging Out in #WriteOut to Talk about Place, Stories and Writing

I took on the role of host last night for the first Video Chat for the Write Out project now underway. Along with some facilitators and participants who have been sharing work and planning/hosting live events, we invited Catherine Stier, author of the picture book If I Were a Park Ranger. Our conversation touched on a lot of topics, from uncovering stories of places, to the role of National Parks in society, to primary source databases, to how we might inspire ourselves and our students to write.

Tomorrow night (Thursday) is the first Twitter Chat, starting at 7 p.m. EST with the #writeout hashtag. Come join in further conversation on the topic of “discovering stories.” More information about Write Out and live events is available at the website.

Peace (talking it through),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Visiting the Woods of Vermont for #Writeout

(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.)

With the start of the Write Out project, getting outside to observe the world has been on the list. Yesterday, my wife surprised my youngest son and I with one of her “magical mystery tours” in which she doesn’t tell us where we’re headed until we get there.

Yesterday, it was an hour or so north, up to Brattleboro, Vermont. We had hoped the Autumn foliage would be more brilliant than here, in Western Massachusetts, but that actually wasn’t the case. There’s more green to the north than here, which was sort of disappointing, but the drive was beautiful, and our hike along the Sunrise Trail loop through Fort Dummer State Park in late afternoon was lovely.

Since “discovering stories” is a theme of Write Out, I did a little research on the Fort Dummer State Park. It was one of the first settlements and was built in 1724 with an overlook of the Connecticut River. Soldiers there, along with Mohawk Indians, protected the area from the French and other tribes.

Later, I had this idea of a music composition running around in my head, inspired by our hike through the woods, so I spent some time, creating the soundtrack — I call it Woodlines — and then used SoundSlides to put the music with the images from our walk in the woods.

Peace (in light and color),
Kevin

 

#WriteOut Picture Book Review: If I Were a Park Ranger by Catherine Stier

Kevin’s NOTE: Author Catherine Stier, who wrote this picture book, is going to be a featured guest on the Write Out video chat on Tuesday night, Oct. 15,  from 7-8 p.m. EST. More information about the chat and how you can join us in Zoom, if you want, is available at the Write Out website (look under Scheduled Events category).

I’ve had the pleasure of spending quite a bit of time in the past few years with National Park Service rangers through collaborative projects (including running youth summer camps at the Springfield Armory Historic Site) and let me tell you, they are some of the nicest, most curious, adventuresome folks I have mingled with.

One of my ranger friends from Connecticut’s Weir Farm National Historic Site recommended If I Were a Park Ranger by Catherine Stier for our work with the Write Out Project (which launched yesterday, and runs in conjunction with the National Day on Writing next Sunday), and I really appreciated this picture book, and I find it a perfect fit for most elementary classrooms.

Stier captures the work of those folks who greet visitors and who sustain the National Park system, itself a wonder of both open spaces and urban history. In this picture book, readers learn about the many ways one might come to work for the National Park Service, and what a typical day might be if you were a ranger. With lively and inviting artwork from Patrick Corrigan, If I Were a Park Ranger will inform, educate and invite you to explore the many spaces around you (and not just park service spaces, either, but city blocks and suburban fields and woods).

The picture book aptly represents all of the many facets of historical artifacts connected to spaces, ecological and environmental awareness, public ownership of public lands, and the ways in which visitors and those working for the National Park Service are partners in preservation of lands and stories.

These topics, and more, are all central to the Write Out project now underway this October, connecting writing and history to place-based learning and connected opportunities for students and teachers. Learn more about Write Out (it’s free!) and sign up for information and news about the project at the website.

Peace (exploring it),
Kevin

 

#WriteOut: Giving Kids A Camera In Order to Capture The Wild

As the Write Out project kicks off today (and goes for the next two weeks, with the National Day on Writing right in the middle of it all), I wanted to share out a project I have had underway for a few weeks now, in which my sixth grade students have been going about their small suburban town “capturing the wild” with photographs. We aim to use the photos as part of a connection with another school, and for some writing this week.

You can view my podcast video here (via SoundSlides)

Peace (thinking it through),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Real Friends and Best Friends

Friendship is surely one of the trickiest areas that sixth graders navigate through, as they begin to leave elementary school behind and step into the middle school world (even at my school, where our sixth graders are still physically in an elementary building).

Writer Shannon Hale, with illustrator LeUyen Pham, dive into this world of young girls with compassion, humor and confusion in their two graphic novels — Real Friends and Best Friends (which just recently came out).

Both books are based on Hale’s own life as a young girl with significant anxiety issues that made her entry into friendship circles trickier than most, fraught as they are with shifting allegiances, cultural connections and more. In these two graphic novels, we come to understand how the world is viewed by young girls, and as a male teacher of sixth graders who often has to untangle friendship issues between girls (and boys), I found these books highly entertaining and highly informative.

The first book — Real Friends — is set in elementary school and the second in sixth grade, the start of the middle school years. Shannon is the main character and narrator, and many of the characters from the first book come back in the second book — Best Friends — and there are plenty of unresolved issues among the characters, which Shannon (author, and character) reminds us is natural — sometimes, friendships don’t survive because people who think they are good friends, real friends, are not made for each other, and it all falls apart. That may be true for school friendships more than anything.

I was attuned to the way the young Shannon, particularly in Best Friends, is driven by a need to be in the loop with pop culture, from the music that her peers are listening to, to the television shows they watch at night. Today, it would be the apps that people use and the YouTube channels they watch. The technology changes, but the desire to fit in remains as strong as ever for many adolescents.

An author’s note at the end of Best Friends was beautiful, as Shannon Hale writes of where her story came from, how one teacher helped her see herself as a writer when others did not, and how anxiety still lingers for her, today, and that understanding it and having strategies for it was the thing that has helped her cope with the crazy world unfolding around her. All good lessons, bound up in two entertaining graphic novels.

National Public Radio did a nice piece on Hale and Pham (who are close friends) that I found informative.

Peace (among friends),
Kevin

 

Art Inspirations: The Place-Based Daily Doodle Project

clmooc writeout doodle calendar oct

Join the folks in Write Out and CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC, an early open learning project created by the National Writing Project) for daily inspirations to draw, doodle, take pictures or write poems, stories or reflections.

Each day in October, there is a daily theme, and even if you are just seeing this now, mid-October, as Write Out launches, that’s OK. All the themes are place-based ideas.

The calendar above gives each day’s themes, and you can also see daily posts at The Daily Connect or in the #writeout and #clmooc hashtags on Twitter. Do as many or as few as you want; participate every day or whatever days inspire you; and of course, share your art in whatever place meets your needs.

Classroom Place-Based Doodles update

Here’s an example of how you might use in the classroom: Each morning, my sixth grade students get the day’s theme and doodle in a box on a blank October calendar, filling in the days of the month with small bits of art. We will be sharing them with another class of sixth graders (another Write Out connection) as part of being creative and thinking of places.

Peace (drawing it),
Kevin

 

 

ReWriting the Script: GBL, POS and a Game of Tomes

Last Saturday, at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project annual fall conference, which had the theme of “Rewriting the Script,” I sat in on some interesting workshop sessions. I’ll be doing some sharing out from the conference in the days ahead.

I appreciated that the presenter in this workshop entitled, with pun fun, A Game of Tomes admitted that he was still tweaking the lesson/unit plan and that he wanted us to experiment with the ideas, and give him feedback.

He explained how his inquiry project, which he started in our WMWP Summer Leadership Institute, has been looking at game-based learning, and how he hopes to liven up his classroom work around the always-tricky Parts of Speech by adopting and adapting elements of Role-Playing Games into review activities for his middle schoolers.

What he has done is created the idea of a Fantasy World, in which students first explore character attributes to determine a character for play, and then they shift into a series of activities (all connected to Parts of Speech review) that provide “experience points” which, ideally, move the player through a story of adventure. Some of the activities include a mystery story (where removing different Parts of Speech should reveal a clue to something else); map-making and direct giving; story, journal and sentence writing; and more.

I was intrigued by the plan but it still felt as if it weren’t cohesive enough in my mind. For example, it wasn’t clear even as we were playing in the conference workshop in a pilot version how we would leverage experience points for advancement in the game.

There was a fuzzy clear story arc set into motion (a narrative frame that we as a tribe lived underground and an untrustworthy character was about to lead an expedition above ground for resources, and would we join them in that journey) that we, as characters we invented, were part of. And some of the activities — like the mystery story — didn’t reveal anything; it just gave us Parts of Speech practice. You’d lose my students quickly if they did that work, only to find there was no reward to it.

Still, I can see elements that might work for my students, too, for engaging them in an adventure that embeds curriculum design for play. Of course, the dilemma is always the balance — how to make it fun without ruining the game with too much focus on “learning in school.”

The presenter was appreciative of our feedback and is continuing to work on elements of his game. I’m looking forward to seeing where his game idea ends up (and how I can steal and remix it for my own classroom).

Peace (roll the dice),
Kevin