Once Every Four Years (But Not Like This)

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

As a teacher and parent, I appreciated the first question from the “audience” during the second United States Presidential Debate, where the question talked about decorum and how to explain the presidential race to children. It was a question I have been asking myself ever since Friday’s release of the Trump video, and the responses to it. (Too bad Trump ignored the question almost completely and Clinton skirted over it, although she did come back to the question a few times, at least).

I think we educators have to both tread lightly here, depending on the age of our students, and address some of the important issues that seem to get sidelined by the personalities, and conflicts, in the race. This is a delicate act. But we can do it. We have to do it. This is their world, even if they don’t have a vote.

flickr photo shared by Ryan Bretag under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Yesterday, during the second half of a Professional Development day, my social studies colleague and I were given time to plan out an entire unit on teaching the presidential campaign. Over the course of about 2 1/2 hours, we debated between ourselves about how to best approach it and then got down to the planning of lessons that will weave in and out of my English Language Arts/Technology class and his Social Studies/Civics class. I’m appreciative that we were given the time and space to work on it, and I am pretty satisfied we have a solid plan in place that will give our students information, and a voice, in the 2016 Presidential Campaign.

A rough sequence of activities/lessons/projects include:

  • An overview of the electoral college/election system that counters the narrative of the popular vote that most young people seem to think is the way presidents are elected;
  • Highlighting main topics of concern for the nation;
  • Lessons on conducting focused research projects, with citations from sources;
  • A “Letter to the Next President” project (modeled on the Letters to the Next President site, open only to students 13 and up) that will be backed up with some research queries;
  • Possible entry into the Youth Voices network, for authentic audience for the Letters to the President (and maybe podcasting);
  • A political cartoon lesson and project;
  • A mock election for grades three through six at our school.

Our goal as teachers is to be neutral and balanced in our own political views, which is a necessity for our community, while trying to keep the focus on the issues themselves more than on the candidates. Who knows where this campaign will go in the next four weeks?

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

We may yet be dodging and weaving issues yet to appear on the front pages while digging down into the important issues that the candidates should be spending more time talking about. If they won’t, we will.

Peace (vote for it),


Slice of Life: #IMMOOC Quotes of Note

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

path of idea

We’re somewhere in the middle of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, but I am not sure where things are because I keep forgetting to pay attention to what chapter I am on. I am pretty sure I have read ahead in George Couros’ book — The Innovator’s Mindset. I don’t think it matters. It’s a MOOC, after all.

From Innovator's Mindset

Yesterday, I followed a digital path from the Kindle app on iPad (where I am reading The Innovator’s Mindset book) … to the Amazon Kindle website where my highlighted annotations are housed on the Web … to the Pablo visual quote-making site so that I could “visualize” some of the highlights … to Flickr to host the quote images and then … back here to share the quotes. I’ll be hitting the “share” button one more time, pushing the post into my social media networks with a mouse-click.

From Innovator's MindsetThat’s quite a path across platforms just to share a few words I didn’t even write, and yet, it did seem rather seamless. It’s true that while one BIG APP would be helpful for accomplishing all that (read-highlight-quote-share), we adapt to what is available to us and use it as we need. And I have been walking this path of sharing from one platform to another for some time.

From Innovator's Mindset

The quotes sprinkled here in this post center on ideas that I want to hold on to, as best as I can. And if you look closely at the quotes I am sharing, you will see the message in them (exploration, reflection, possibilities) dovetails quite nicely with the message I am writing here for Slice of Life.

From Innovator's Mindset

Peace (make it work for you),

Book Review: Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen)

The first time I heard Bruce Springsteen’s name was in the weeks before he hit the covers of both Time and Newsweek magazines in the 1970s. Our neighborhood was crazy about rock and roll, and someone knew someone who had a cousin who had heard about this rocker out of New Jersey who could put on a lights-out live show. His name was Bruce Springsteen.


Soon, we knew who he was, although his music never could compete with the Led Zep and Aerosmith landscape of my neighborhood. His sound wasn’t hard enough. There were no Bruce fans on my block. But Bruce was out there, and we knew about him. (Years later, I finally saw him live and saw what the fuss was all about … no other live show had that kind of energy and no other artist that I have seen had that kind of command on stage.)

Yesterday, after a marathon session, I finished reading Springsteen’s autobiography — Born to Run — and while I consider myself an avid fan these days, I realized that I never quite grasped the larger vision that Bruce has been pursuing over the past 30 years or so. The book brought to the light the narrative of America that he has been writing about and exploring, from the first guitar riff in Born to Run (when he decided to change his musical direction from his two earlier Dylan-like albums .. two albums I particularly like) right through the songs he is still putting out today (Wrecking Ball, etc.).

For an artist to have a vision and to stay mostly true to it over the course of time, particularly given the fickle nature of the world, is difficult. To be a pop artist (at least for a while) and stay true … that’s something we rarely see. Springsteen sought to tell the story of ourselves, through his characters, and himself, too, and as we all grew up, he tried to show how we adjust to the changing landscape. Many of his songs are short stories, told to rock and roll and chord changes. Some, like American Skin and Born in the USA, are often misunderstood.

The autobiography (written by Bruce himself … he’s a solid writer most of the time) explores his songwriting craft (a topic which I always find intriguing) and his life, but I was most attuned to where he was able to find his inspiration for stories, and how he took control of his career and his music (he owns the rights to all of his song and all of his albums … which is pretty rare). Bruce has his demons and his battles, but he seems to have now found happiness in his family, even as he is still driven by the need to write music and to perform in front of an audience, to connect to the energy of something larger than the music itself.

I still think his response to 9/11, with the album The Rising, was what the country needed at the time. It is a measures response, with song about loss and love and the toll these have on the human spirit. Bruce writes about looking at the New York skyline, and the missing towers, and then a fan yelling out the window that “we need you” as the undercurrent of the album. His performance of My City of Ruins on a televised event gave me pause.

Born to Run gives context for why Bruce felt the need to meet that call of that fan and why he needed to bring music to the world as reckoning of events and a comfort in the stories we needed to tell to try to make sense of the tragedy. I think we’re still telling those stories.


Peace (in the muse),


#DigiLitSunday: Mentor Texts for Digital Writing


This week’s theme for DigiLitSunday, facilitated by Margaret Simon, is “mentor,” and I was reminded of a blogging project that I took part in a few years ago, in which a handful of us educators explored and blogged about using mentor texts with students that would lead to opportunities for digital writing and composition. My fellow explorers were Bill and Franki and Troy and Katie and Tony.

Bill Bass, who was facilitating much of our discussion, had set up an RSS site to pull all of our posts together into one space. Unfortunately, that space was hosted in Posterous, which kicked the can and died a few years ago. So I have been reading through some of my own posts, to remember what I learned and discovered.

Mentor Texts and Digital Writing: the handout by KevinHodgson on Scribd

(This handout comes for a workshop I once presented at a conference in Massachusetts.)

I suppose it is a given to say that mentor texts are always important. They provide an entry point into the unknown for many students. At the start of the year, I asked my students: How many have ever used Google Docs or Slides? How many have used Garageband? iMovie? A blog? I was lucky if I had one or two hands go up in each of the four classes of sixth graders that I teach.

We often start at Ground Zero when it comes to introducing digital writing to our students (unless you are lucky enough to have colleagues downstream who connect with technology and writing. Both of those people whom I counted on for that exposure in early grades in my building have retired or left our school.). Given the lack of exposure in school setting for students and digital creation, this means that mentor texts provide a place to talk about what is happening in a piece of digital writing, and then the mentor text itself provides a path for “emulation,” which hopefully leads to branching off into individual discovery and creation.

In re-reading some of my own posts on digital mentor texts, I see many ideas still in play in my mind on the topic of digital writing.

  • There is the use of texts in online spaces such as YouTube that can pave the way for my own experimentation, which then helps me consider my students’ engagement in digital writing. Sometimes, my own creation, and reflection, become the mentor text (and if there were failure and struggle points along the way … even better).
  • There is the use of picture books as a primary mentor text for digital pieces because picture books come at art and writing and storytelling from such interesting angles. (Of course, finding the right one — like The Magic School Bus series — is key). I suppose this could now be digital picture books, but I am thinking of traditional picture books where that push the edge of possibilities.
  • There is assessment, and ways to collaborate with students on what they see in a mentor text in order to build an assessment tool for what they will create. Assessment still befuddles many of us when it comes to digital writing, but I think we have more tools in place now, and there is a solid shift to remembering to keep an eye on the learning and not the technology itself.
  • And there is the danger of emulation, of every student project becoming a clone of the mentor text (either the teacher’s shared project or something else) and how to think about moving beyond that problem. The “mini-me” possibilities always surface when students are trying to something new. The role of the teacher is to find each student’s starting point and guide them beyond that point. This is a real struggle for many students, who are taught to do exactly what the teacher expects, and no more.

In some ways, this re-reading and sharing brings me full circle again to the power of curation — the choice of mentor texts matter, and the time spent in finding the right text for the right lesson (or the right student) is so important. It becomes the scaffold for moving beyond the mentor text itself. In fact, if successful, the student work will only hint at the mentor text, and perhaps only you and they will know where the infrastructure of ideas came from.

Peace (emulate, replicate, appreciate),


#IMMOOC Found Poem: Begin with Exploration

I wandered around blogs this morning, gathering up words from various folks in the Innovator’s Mindset community. This poem — Begin with Exploration —  is the result of my wanderings … Thank you to bloggers who are sharing …. I used Google Docs to write, and then Notegraphy to create, Soundcloud to podcast, and then ThingLink to annotate, so that the passages in the poem might connect back to the original blog posts,

Peace (between the lines),

Circling Back: 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing Archives

digiwritingconference shoutout

Let state my appreciation for any conference, virtual or otherwise, which takes the time and energy to archive and share as much of a workshop/keynote presentation as possible after the fact. I have been circling my way back to some of the workshops in the free 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing (I am delivering a keynote session at the end of the month — Sunday, October 23) in order to get a flavor of what I have missed so far (and wishing I could have been in these sessions while they were happening live).

So, over coffee in my pajamas, I ventured in and learned more about what research looks like in this digital age (Thank you, Dawn Reed); how scribbling on the Internet and thinking about open web compositional tools might spark connections and extend writing (Thank you, Andrea Zellner); how YouTube might be a rich resource for compositional strategies for students, and how to connect watching with writing (Thank you, Rebecca Hornak); how spaces like Tumblr might open up an authentic audience for our young writers (Thank you, Richard Krienbring); and considerations of the social and civic impact of young people expressing their voice and staking out ground in digital spaces as active participants in the larger world (Thank you, Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia).

Every Sunday, right through October, there are even more amazing sessions, all free and all archived afterwards. How great is that?

Tomorrow, I see another stellar line-up, with topics ranging from Design Thinking (Lindsey Stoetzel), to Dispositions/Practices of New Media (Anna Smith), to Grammar and Digital Writing (Jeremy Hyler) to MultiModal Moments (Cassie Brownell, Jon Wargo, and Rohit Mehta).

Did I mention the “free” part of 4T?

Peace (after the moment but still in the moment),

Graphic Novel Review: Ghosts

Raina Telgemeier does it again. Ghosts, her latest graphic novel for middle school readers (with lots of wiggle room above and below that readership), is another fantastic bit of storytelling that effectively uses the images of graphic storytelling to complement and enhance the story itself.

Ghosts is about family, and friendship, and ancestry, and culture. It is told with humor and compassion. It’s fun to read, too (always a key criteria). Telgemeier, whose books Sisters and Smile  and Drama and others are a hit with many of the girls in my classroom (and a few boys), brings a sense of wonder to her topics.

Here, the story centers on a family that has moved to the California coast because the younger sister (Maya) has Cystic Fibrosis, and her lungs need the cool ocean air. Her older sister, Catrina, worries about her and doesn’t like this place where the family has moved because of its cultural connections to ghost stories. Mexican roots run deep in this town, and soon, Catrina and Maya learn that ghosts are not only real here, but they are also deep connection points to family history.

I was taken by how thoughtfully and carefully Tegemeier approached Cystic Fibrosis, giving Maya a full and rich character even as the disease slowly hobbles her and has her wanting to meet the ghosts to learn more about death, which she knows is coming early in her life. That’s pretty deep, and Tegemeier’s Ghosts does a fine job of making that investigation part of the fabric of the story.

“It’s sad … but good,” a student of mine said, as she cradled Ghosts the other day before settling down to read quietly.

I agree.

Peace (be not afraid),

Inclusionary Practices in Open Learning Networks

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

I am very fortunate in having connected with so many educators around the globe for the ways their thinking keeps my thinking moving forward. Here’s the perfect example. Last November, I co-facilitated Digital Writing Month with Sarah Honeychurch (Scotland) and Maya Bali (Egypt).

Not too long ago, Sarah presented at the AltC Conference on the nature on the facilitation of open learning networks, turning her attention to Digital Writing Month, Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) and various Rhizomatic Learning activities. (See her presentation slides here). Maha and I added some ideas to the presentation, but Sarah presented.

Sarah’s slides about Inclusion and Exclusion (who gets invited and who gets left out), often articulated beautifully when working with Maha, remains one of those tricky topics that we must keep asking ourselves about. This is also Connected Educator Month (in the US) — this issue of equity and access has to always be front and center. Not just for students (which is always a critical conversation) but also about educators.

We had this kind of conversation this summer, during CLMOOC, when a Twitter Chat conversation suddenly turned on that question of “Who is Here and Who is Not Here,” and my friend Daniel, who works with youth in urban Chicago and often notices the disparity of access, reminds us again and again about reaching out, making deeper connections, offering up invitations.

Avoid the echo chamber. This slide is from Sarah’s presentation:

Inclusion/Exclusion in open learning

Often, this is easier said than done, I think. It’s easier to reach out to your existing networks, which may grow … but only incrementally, for the most part. And often, they grow with like-minded people. You speak the same “language” and articulate similar views. There is research that shows that many people remain in their social networking comfort zone.

Maha Bali, who is insightful in her observations of the US-dominated connected education conversations, wisely guided the activities in the invitations for Digital Writing Month. Sarah and I helped Maha to reach out to writers and educators from various places in the world and cultures and backgrounds. What I didn’t realize at the time is that for every invite that fell into the traditional invite (white, male, American, etc.), Maha and Sarah reached out even further for someone else, to balance out the community.

To be honest, it took a lot of time and a lot of effort on the part of us, the facilitators, to make that happen. I’m not sure we were completely successful, but we were successful enough for me to appreciate Maha’s and Sarah’s insistence on the task. The new voices and the new ideas, and the new perspectives and lens on the world, enriched the experience.

I’m not sure we do that enough with CLMOOC, particularly this year when it was a crowdsourced affair. When National Writing Project folks were overseeing CLMOOC, there was more planned intention, I think. This summer, as a crowd of us sought to run CLMOOC, there was probably not enough purposeful invite.

We didn’t do demographic studies, but a casual observation would be that we are mostly white, middle-class, American educators. This is not bad, but it doesn’t reflect the kind of diverse thinking that one would hope for (or at least, what I would hope for) in an open learning environment. We think of open learning as open doors, but some doors remain shut to people for all sorts of reasons.

In the open learning networks that I am part of, none of this exclusion is ever intentional, as far as I can tell. If it was, I would push back or leave. That doesn’t mean the exclusion doesn’t happen, however. It does. And if we want the places where we learn together, and explore ideas together and collaboratively, to be truly “open,” then the issue of inclusion/exclusion has to be on the minds of any facilitator planning such a space.

Inclusion/Exclusion 2

Efforts must be made.

Peace (in the think),




Visual Slice of Life: Up On the Wires

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing feature of Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. Come write with us.)

High ropes

This image neatly captures our day yesterday, as we spent the entire day outdoors at a facility that helps with team-building and community-building.

The central activity is the “high ropes course,” a series of challenges for our sixth graders, and an opportunity to talk about anxiety and reaction to stress, support of your community and individual accomplishments.

It was a great day. The weather held out (we thought rain was coming but it never did) and the energy of the day was overwhelmingly positive.

Peace (high and low),