A Closer Look: Levels of Teaching Experiences in SOL16

sol16I know what you are going to think: Don’t you have other things you can be doing? But I was fascinated by the sheer amount of information and data that was in an opening survey for this month’s Slice of Life challenge with Two Writing Teachers.

I had used the results of the shared survey to look at the imbalance of men versus women writers the other day but then I noticed a whole section where we who took the survey self-identified our status as teachers.

Hmmm.

So I counted up the answers from the 300-plus resondents (although a few left that section blank) and then I created a chart to show how so many of us Slicers are well into our teaching career. That’s not a surprise, I guess, but I do wonder how a community like Slice of Life or Two Writing Teachers can best reach out to teachers in the early parts of their career, to encourage them as writers.

I’m not putting this on Two Writing Teachers to figure out, but certainly, as a member of the National Writing Project who leads professional development in our area, it’s an issue we have to continue to grapple with.

If we want to change the nature of classrooms, and improve access to authentic writing activities that counter the narrative of “standardized testing,” then we need to draw in a wider range of teachers, particularly those educators just starting out. No doubt, many of them are seeking resources and mentors and guidance and suggestions. I know I was, and I know that connecting with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project is what saved my sanity that first year.

How can we continue to pay it forward?

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Looking for Winter Leaves

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

sol16Another Sunday. Another round of Manhunt for my son and friends. Another walk with my dog. Another day to look more closely at the neighborhood woods, and yesterday, I paid attention to the lingering leaves of winter. There was not a whole lot of variety out there — mostly pines and Mountain Laurel.

But at one point, I looked off the walking trail and saw this burst of white in the middle of green and brown. My dog and I bushwhacked our way through the undergrowth and some swampy soils to find this small tree, covered with dead white leaves. They had died, but they hung on through winter. Hardy things, these ghost leaves of New England.

Leaves of winter

I found enough variety anyway to create a small collage, which now joins my collage of tree barks from earlier in March, and found sculptures, and the flowers from a brightly-colored bulb show from last weekend. I guess Sunday is becoming my photo day.

Peace (in the lens),
Kevin

Just Let Me Wander


flickr photo shared by pdinnen under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I’ve been working behind the scenes to test-drive something related to student writing. It’s been an interesting experience in which the designers have done a solid job, but I have (perhaps wrongly) sensed some tension about how a developer wants to introduce their work to someone like myself, who wants to jump right in.

I am, admittedly, a diver.

I would rather know nearly nothing about a tool or technology before jumping in. Let me figure it out on my own terms. Allow me my disorientation. Let me push up against what you think a user might do. Let me discover workarounds when I find a wall. Let me get frustrated, if I need to. Let me ask for help, if necessary.

Let me explore and wander.


flickr photo shared by @artnabart under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Now, I am not a software designer, so I can only imagine the other side of this coin. Imagine spending countless hours, creating an experience, and no doubt, you’d want to share what you have put into play. You’d want outside voices to validate the work and you’d probably want want to point the visitor to places where you know there might be issues. You’d always want to demonstrate what works.

A designer probably desires so much to be a tour guide, showcasing and highlighting the wonders of discovery. They want to share their expertise and experience, and let a new user see the unknown through their eyes.

But more often than not, I don’t need that kind of guide and prefer to be without one. Just give me a map with some faint outlines, and some murky unknown terrain. Maybe a compass. Some snacks. If the design is done right, I should not need a guide at all. I’ll send back messages in a bottle.

There be dragons here … but just let me wander anyway.


flickr photo shared by thornet_ under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

And this story, while based in some real experiences, of mine is really me, thinking about the learners in our classrooms, right? If I give my students the entire tour, showing all the nooks and crannies of the learning experience, have they really learned the experience? Have they experienced the experience? As teachers, we are designers, too. Set the path in motion and let them wander. Even, let them get lost once in a while.

Peace (in the midst of it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: That ‘Ol Baseball Glove

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

sol16I almost feel like writing a requiem for my baseball glove. It’s been with me longer than just about anything I own, other than my saxophones. Since college, when I bought it for some pick-up baseball, my Wilson outfield glove has come with me from here, to there, and finally, here. I’ve spent countless hours in my backyard with all three of my boys, tossing the ball. I’ve used it as a Little League coach, on ballfields in our city.

The glove … it has stories to tell. There was that time I left it on the ballfield and a week later, someone at another ballfield asked if the glove he had found was my glove. It was. And it felt like my dog had come home after being lost in the woods for a week.

Many people looked at my glove over the years, asking “Whose huge glove is this?” I never felt it was big. Not until I put my hand in other people’s gloves. Theirs always felt small. Mine always felt just right to me. It’s amazing how we grow to love what we have, right?

But, alas, the glove has not weathered well in the past year. First, the leather ties began coming undone. I could fix them a bit, with a little creative repairs and odd weaving patterns that left the glove looking like it had tails coming off the nettings. But then the leather strands began to snap on me. And even worse … the webbing in the middle began to fray and come apart. That was unfixable. Still, I played with it.

So long friend

It was only when my high school baseball son zipped a ball at me at a speed that required reflex, and the ball almost came right through the netting — it would have come through the netting and crashed into my face — that I realized, the time has come to retire the old man and bring some fresh legs into the game.

Yes, I got a new baseball glove yesterday, and it doesn’t feel right at all. Sure, it’s comfy enough and the pocket seems fine. The new Wilson infielders glove is great. It’s just …. not the old glove.

Peace (in the netting),
Kevin

Sonic Zeega Poetry Remix: Anna’s Soundscape

As part of the Hear My Home Project, we are being asked to do a Resonance Remix (or, a Sonic Remix — a great band name!) of someone else’s sound files. I chose my friend, Anna, who has been capturing the aural landscape of Philadelphia. I didn’t quite “remix” her files as add a few layers on top of her sound, by writing a short poem inspired by my listening and then adding images and gifs via Zeega. Maybe that is the resonance.

The result? This:

Peace (in the remix),
Kevin

PS — Thanks to Terry for keeping a version of Zeega alive …

Slice of Life: Good Guy with a Gun

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

sol16We have a lot of artists in our neighborhood, including a handful of filmmakers. Our very good friend has worked as video editor for years with Ken Burns. Another friend has won awards for her documentary films. You can’t toss an apple without hitting a creative type around here.

The other night, two of our neighbors invited us to a “screening” of a video trailer they have been working on in hopes of beginning the process of approaching foundations and other funding sources to complete the film, which is a documentary look at the arming of teachers with guns in parts of the country. They have done a bunch of filming already, thanks to a Kickstarter campaign (that we contributed to), and so the trailer for Good Guy with a Gun (the working title) is excellent, if a little unnerving to watch.

We see teachers getting training with guns, learn about the dangers of having live guns in schools, get images and news clips from Sandy Hook and the NRA, and hear parents talk of the fears they have of violence in schools. It’s a powerful film they are making.

Sitting there, as an audience member taking notes on the unfinished work of talented filmmakers, was a humbling experience. There were lots of suggestions from the handful of folks in the room, but I was reminded again of the craft of filmmakers to take raw footage and create dramatic tension and narrative storyline out of interviews and video shots.

I hope they get some big moneybags to fund the film, if only to continue to spark discussions about guns and culture in not just America, but in the very heart of our communities — our schools. I know I, for one, can’t ever imagine having a gun at my side or in a nearby safe in my classroom. But I also don’t know what the answer is to the increasing violence of our society, short of “more gun control” that Congress is not apt to agree to (for now, anyway, thanks to the NRA’s lobbying efforts).

Peace (not guns),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Celebrating Youth Writing

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

sol16I opened up the local newspaper yesterday morning to find a front-page feature article about our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s shift to nurture youth writing programs again as part of our mission. With images and a good story, the newspaper showed students in the act of exploration and writing, and teachers helping to lead discussions on social justice and activities in which students went deep into the well of ideas for writing.

I was only on the very periphery of this particular youth writing day project at the University of Massachusetts, which WMWP funded through a crowd-sourcing campaign, and give props to the folks who pulled it off. But given that there were more schools and classes interested than we could realistically accommodate, I think the success of the day shows how much teachers and administrators, and students, want more opportunities to connect and write together.

WMWP youth writing

We used to do more youth programs in WMWP, including events on campus like this, but narrowing funding restrictions for the writing project, and the required focus on professional development and teachers, forced us to use our dwindling resources in areas that moved away from direct contact with students (although, by supporting teachers, we hoped that there would be an impact on students, of course.)

This summer, I am facilitating two Digital Writing Youth Camps at  vocational school through WMWP that will use Connected Learning as the center design hub of the activities, and the camps for middle school students will be designed and run by teachers taking a graduate level course on Connected Learning via WMWP and UMass. This is new for us, and I am excited and a bit nervous about how it will turn out.

But the focus on youth? Yes. That is always worth celebrating.

Peace (in the write),
Kevin

 

Real Men Write (Perceptions of Gender)


The first page of Sharon Creech’s Love that Dog cuts to the heart of this post in many ways. Jack, a young student, is doing a poetry assignment in class, and he writes: ... boys don’t write poetry. Girls Do.

Not.

As Jack learns over the course of exploring something traumatic, writing can become the key to unlock his understanding and writing can help him come to grips with the world, at large, in all of its unfairness and potential. Creech’s free verse novel is an important read on so many levels, including puncturing the perceptions that boys don’t write poetry, or about feelings.

They do. We do.

Greg A. —  over at his blog, Dash: Life Between the Numbers — wrote a very powerful post for Slice of Life the other day that has stuck with me for days and had me writing this post as a sort of response.

In a very eloquent way, Greg circled around the idea of what a “real man” is in this world of gender expectations. It was the reading of a short story with his students that got Greg moving in this direction, wondering how it is that we put ourselves in such confined gender boxes, and then he ended his post with these lines:

Dash: On Men

I wrote a comment for him, suggesting in a half-joking way that a social media campaign about what “real men” were in the world of writing and sharing might be appropriate. That’s the image below here — my meme attempt to celebrate men as writers. Of course, there are plenty of male writers in the world, but there are still many boys in my classroom who fall into the gender trap of males as athletes, not as poets; of men as leaders, not as collaborators; and on and on.

Real Men Write

We teachers often dispel those myths as soon as they pop up (I hope), as learning moments, although sometimes (too often?), you can feel the invisible pull of the views from home informing and constructing our young people’s views of the world.

I am very sensitive to this situation, and never openly disparage conflicting points of view, particularly if influenced by parents. Instead, I seek to provide alternative views of the world, where balance and equity prevail. We talk. We write. We try to understand.

And, as Greg suggests, I try to show what I believe a man can be in this world by my own example. This idea that writing, particularly emotional writing, is just for the girls and not for the boys, does an injustice to the power of the writing to dig deep, to gather ourselves into reflection, and to write about the world so that we can better understand the inner landscapes of who we are when no one else is looking. I wonder if this perception originates in the elementary years, when so many of our teaching colleagues are women, and not men. (In our sixth grade, three of the four of us are men, but I know that is a rare occurrence, indeed)

So, I write with them. I share with them. I am careful not to share too much, of course, but I am deliberate in showing how my writing expresses myself, and how young writers of any gender can accomplish great things. I show I care.

Yet, even in my own writing life, I see this gender split. I can’t help but notice that our Slice of Life community, which Greg and I are part of, is mostly composed of women. I am being careful here, because I am not putting blame on anyone for this disparity. They are wonderful women in the Slice of Life world. I am just noticing, as I have in other years, that the disparity is there. The gender balance in Slice of Life is out of balance, although that has always been very anecdotal.

This year, however, we were given access to a database of Slicers, as a way to create “writing pods” (great idea, although I am wary of making “male writer” pods as a solution to this post for fear of further isolation, right? And Two Writing Teacher folks are not suggesting we gather by gender, anyway). I wondered if I could discern gender by looking at the more than 300 people in the database who signed up as Slicers looking for Writing Pods.

Mostly, I could indeed get a sense after some analysis, although my data chart should not be considered scientifically accurate (some usernames and blogs had no discernible gender, and others are blogging without filling out the form, and so on).

But, I think this chart, and its wide gender disparity, does capture my sense of the Slice of Life community. Maybe it captures the teaching profession itself. (And a whole other range of questions around race would no doubt fill many more blog posts).

The numbers generate a few ideas I have that you are invited to dispute, as they are my own general observations only:

  • The “Two Writing Teachers” group are all women, with many connections to female educators and writers;
  • Many women educators, more than male educators, seem to seek a safe and supportive online writing community to share ideas and solicit feedback;
  • Men are reluctant to share personal details and emotional insights in a public space for fear, as Greg notes, of the Man Card gender issues.

And now I have to say this again and be clear: I have only ever felt nothing but supported and invited in the Slice of Life and Two Writing Teachers‘ communities, and there has never been a single practice of exclusionary invitation to anything I have seen. Ever. Not once.

So why aren’t more men writing in the Slice of Life? Why aren’t they taking part in rich discussions about writing and teaching and connections? I don’t know. They should. You should.

sol16Consider yourself invited to the Slice of Life, a daily writing activity through March and then every Tuesday throughout the year. Find your small moments. Write your experiences.

Real men write. They really do.

Peace (in equity and understanding),
Kevin

 

 

Slice of Life: Home Bracketology

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

sol16You know it’s March in our house when NCAA brackets start showing up everywhere. On the counters. On the floor. In the mudroom. By the shoes. Under beds. On desks. In backpacks.

Every day that our newspaper comes out, with a blank NCAA bracket as part of an advertising campaign (we sent in our picks to win some gift cards), one of the kids grabs it and starts filling it in.

We, of course, have our “real” brackets, too, but they like doing other ones. I think the youngest is just intrigued by the nature of bracket eliminations and match-ups, and the visual playfulness of bracketology. And as I have written about in other years, our dog, Duke, has his own NCAA bracket in the house, determined over a long activity with the process of which of the two hands he sniffs with his nose (they both contain kibble) for each match-up.

Brackets

I know you want to know: Duke has the University of Northern Iowa winning the whole shebang! Now, that would be a tournament upset worthy of a dog biscuit or two. (Ironically, he has never chosen Duke to win it all).

Peace (the games start today!),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Endless Youth on the Stage

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

sol16It seems like each year in March, we get a chance to see a preview of a musical production by our regional high school. Some years, they come to our school. Most years, we go to them. Yesterday, we went to the high school and watched with wonder as these talented high school students put on a preview of Peter Pan.

P pan

About two-thirds of the theater group are former students, so part of the game for us teachers is trying to remember names and faces, and look beyond costumes to remember their time in sixth grade. It’s not easy, and we laugh about it at lunch later on, but we sit there in our seats, so proud of them anyway. We remember Captain Hook as the kid with incredible musical talent, even early on, and Peter Pan as the girl with a dreamy look in her eye. We see the “lost boys” and shake our heads. We watch the dance routines and remember Talent Show nights.

The Peter Pan production was lavish, even though we could not witness the “flying” that will happen in the three days of the run of the musical play this weekend. Apparently, that involves some intricate systems and contraptions and lots of adult supervision that was not available for us.

At the end, they left time for questions from the audience of younger students, and the range of questions — from auditioning for parts (everyone who auditions gets a part) to rehearsing (since January) to the backstage coordination — showed a high interest from the audience. Again, I was reminded of how important the Arts are for so many students, and how dreadful it is when the Arts get cut or curtailed due to funding or the push into standardized testing.

Peace (off the stage),
Kevin