Slice of Life: A Poem of Mourning and Madness

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

 

My personal way to deal with the world is often to write. All I have to offer in the wake of the tragedy of Christchurch, New Zealand, is a poem. It doesn’t seem nearly enough.

What madness writes
seventy-four pages of
nonsense, a diatribe
to destroy others,
in a bid to be recognized
by the world, splintered
as it is, already, by hate?

And what madness watches
the world splinter
even further on the
small screen, as if the knowing is not
enough, that the
seeing is required for truth?

What I know in this mourning
only is sadness, and grief,
and compassion, and no one ever seems
to stream the kindness of
the world, only the madness

Peace (to us all),
Kevin

The Shared Humanity in Our Digital Lives

Dangers of the PhoneThe other day — Sunday, in fact — my wife came home from service at our church, raving about the sermon from our passionate, activist, youth-orientated co-pastor. The theme was technology in our lives, and Pastor Sarah, who often uses hip and modern allusions in our sermons, talked about how our devices are removing us from our interactions.

My wife later sent me the link to her post/words/sermon later, which includes Sarah’s sermon (if you are interested in listening, you can, but I am by no means proselytizing here). She had a very catchy and provocative title: Is the iPhone the Devil? Reading through what she said connected me nicely with some of the inquiry that has been underway with Networked Narratives, on how technology’s dark side seems to have overtaken its potential and possibilities.

Think of what we miss because our hands and our heads are always so full of other things.

Most of all, our focus on our devices — on our hands, which are no longer free to be of use to us because they gravitate to our devices, Sarah notes — seems have to removed us from many human interactions, and the impact of that shift is seen in political diatribes, family arguments on Facebook, and the way we fail to ‘read’ the impact of our words on people.

There’s a moment where this important idea surfaces from Sarah:

Which is not to say that technology is evil. It’s not. But it’s not neutral either. It’s never going to stop trying to help us overcome our limits. Which means it’s up to us to remember that it is our limits that give life meaning.

Keeping on eye on our lives, and the people in our lives — our shared humanity — and the role that technology can play to make it better or worse — if we let it, and this is the most important part of this whole discussion, the way we use or take back our agency as users of our phones and computers and technology — is lesson we can learn from, whatever your spiritual centering.

This phone creates the illusion that you are infinite, but you are a finite resource. Your love, your time, your attention, you yourself are precious precisely because you are limited.

Peace (to you and you and you),
Kevin

Mentor Interactive Fiction Text: The Place of Lost Bones

Interactive Fiction Cave Map

As I wrote the other day, my students are in the midst of creating Interactive Fiction stories. Many are done while some are finishing up. It’s almost always the case that as they are doing a new project, I am doing the assignment with them. Here, I built out a story for them to play, and for me to use as a way to talk about Interactive Story construction in Google Slides.

The map above is part of a map-making activity in which students take a break from building the stories and take a fresh look at the setting by making a map of the terrain. This was my map for my story down below.

Plus, it was fun to write. The best way to play/read these is to go full-screen mode.

Peace (choose the way),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On the Stage and Into the Woods

Into the Woods at HRHS

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

One of the joys of being an elementary teacher is when, years later, you see your former students. You catch glimpses of the child that had once been in your classroom.

Yesterday, we took our current class of sixth graders to see a preview of a staged production of Into the Woods at the regional high school. I made it a game from my seat of recognizing those on the stage. The years gone past for many of them — in some cases, nearly six whole years — made this a rather tricky endeavor.

Still, I could hear echoes in voices and I could see past days in faces. I was also wonderfully mesmerized by the talent on display for this production — which is a complicated retelling of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, with weaving story and music lines.

The best part was after the preview, when the cast sat on the stage, answering questions from the audience of elementary students. They were so poised, funny, enthusiastic and … themselves, just as I remembered them (at least, those who had once been my students). They made me proud.

Peace (from the seats),
Kevin

Write Out: Connecting to the Community’s Conservation Efforts

Town of Southampton Conservation Lands

The other day, I met with two officials from the Open Space Review Committee of the town where I teach (different from the town where I live). We were talking about a grant they have received to gather landowners in town for a few meetings to talk about open space preservation and conservation, and I was curious about how I might dovetail their work with a community writing project with my sixth graders. (I had noticed an article in the local newspaper about the project and reached out)

Ever since the Write Out project last summer, I’ve been thinking of how I might get my students more involved in the wildlife and woods of their small but growing town. (Write Out is an online collaborative learning experience with a focus on historic and natural spaces, stemming from a long partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I was one of the co-facilitators, learning along with others. This year, Write Out is planned for the Fall, in conjunction with the National Day on Writing)

The after-school meeting was great — they were enthused by the idea of the school in town connecting to their efforts to reach more landowners, and we agreed that my students might be able to do a research project on some of the endangered/threatened species in different areas of the town, perhaps by creating some public informational pamphlets before a community-wide walk scheduled for May.

Town of Southampton

For now, I am perusing the resources — maps, and informational packets, and more — and reaching to the local Audubon Society for help in thinking about the natural landscape of the town. The town sits on top of the one largest natural water sources underground in the region — the Barnes Aquifer — so I want to be able to incorporate that, too. The town officials have offered to line up folks to visit the classroom, to share information and answer questions.

We even talked about resurrecting an old field trip (long run by a retired teacher) to a nearby small mountain — the highest peak in the town — as  a way to connect the research work with another view of the place where they live.

It’s exciting to think about the possibilities.

Peace (outside, in),
Kevin

 

#CLMOOC Book Club: Quotes for Consideration (Ch1/2)

Affinity Online Quote Collage

As I have been reading the new book Affinity Online with fellow CLMOOC friends, I have been highlighting some quotes and insights that I find valuable, and sharing some of them out on Twitter. This is a collection from the first two chapters. I do this often as a way to read a bit closer and also to surface some ideas.

This collection from the first chapters of the book remind me that many young people find their own affinity spaces because there is not a connection in school or with peers around them, and those places — school, friendship, home — might not understand the passion and connection they find in online spaces. This divided identity is normal for teenagers, of course, but affinity networks can make it even more so (not a bad thing, but something to notice).

I also note that the authors remind us that many affinity spaces are always in flux, shifting to meet the needs of new members and new trends in the focus point (knitting, gaming, dancing, etc.) and spaces that don’t adapt and renew will likely fade away.

I’m now reading into the next two chapters …

Affinity Online Book Club

Peace (quoted),
Kevin

Writing Back to Sherri: Race and Gender and Writing

Cover of book by Julius Lester

 

My connected friend, Sherri, wrote about race and gender and the overwhelming whiteness and female-ness of the Slice of Life community. She was asking for feedback and response.

She wrote:

…. while I appreciate the work of several educators in this community and elsewhere incorporating anti-racism and anti-bias work into their curricula and book selections, I cannot ignore that feeling I get of being one of so very few.

She goes further:

What I want folks to understand is that this state of affairs has very real and concrete consequences for how we understand and interpret events and experiences. Talking about race is uncomfortable for a lot of folks. It hatches all kinds of difficult feelings including guilt, shame, anger, defensiveness, helplessness.

Here is what I crafted as a response to Sherri. I don’t have answers for her. Just observations.

Sherri

I’ve been part of Slice of Life on and off for more than ten years, and sometimes I note in reflections at the end of March the same observation you write about here — the gender, race dynamic is predominantly white, female.

I’ve sometimes, as a participant writer, tried to connect Slice of Life with other communities, to invite more people in. I was never all that successful. As white male elementary teacher/writer, this demographic make-up has not hindered me personally as a writer. SOL at TWT is still an amazing thing — hundreds of teachers, writing! It was more, this could be a positive opening for so many more teachers with diverse backgrounds to write with others, to share and make connections, to expand the notion of storytelling.

Speaking only from my standpoint as a male teacher, and remembering an interaction I once had from another male teacher who did a bit of Slice one year and then stopped when he noticed he was not getting comments on his writing, I think Slice of Life can be seen by a newcomer as a female-infused writing space. I’m not sure if is is perceived as having a white face to it, too, but maybe it does. When we don’t see ourselves in a space, we are less likely to dip our toes in.

I know Stacey and others at TWT are cognizant this point, too, and they strive to make sure everyone is invited, and appreciated, and I know that they would love a more diverse group.

How to achieve that? It would likely involve more time spent actively inviting diverse folks from other communities. It might involve adding even more diversity to the main administrators of the site. It might even require thinking of the design of the TWT website to showcase the ways in which a diverse writing community looks.

All of this can seem forced, particularly at first, until the momentum catches on, and then it can become a natural way of being. Just think of the potential, building on what is already an amazing experience for many teachers to write publicly, a huge barrier for many made easier by the Slice of Life community.

Kevin

How do we bring more diversity to online spaces? Not just Slice of Life. But also other Affinity Networks — like CLMOOC, which is near and dear to me but is also overwhelmingly white.

At my local Western Massachusetts Writing Project site, we’ve been grappling with this for years. A long research inquiry called Project Outreach that delved deep into our site demographics and our region demographics led us to make some fundamental shifts, including a new Mission Statement at the time that makes it clear and public our organizational views on diversity and race.

The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools – urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

But of course, it is not enough to have the words. You need to do the actions. So every program we now run and administer, and every grant we apply for, is viewed through the lens of our Mission Statement. Does the program reach a diverse audience? Does it address equity and social justice? Does the program align with our core values? We actually ask these questions out loud to each other. We also actively recruit teachers of color in urban school districts, and make sure they have paths into leadership. We have a leadership team working on Language, Culture and Diversity.

I’ll admit, too, that we lost the interest of some of our WMWP folks over the years, with such hard push into social justice. Many who left thought we stepped away from writing and the teaching of writing as our core value, but this is not the case. Those are still core values, sitting next to others as signals of importance to the outside audience, in hopes that our writing project site signals a clear welcoming to all.

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Flipping Over The Miles

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

“Look at the odometer,” I tell my teenage son, as we drive home from seeing the Captain Marvel movie. He leans over.

“Nine nine … nine nine nine,” he reads.

“We’re going to hit 100,000 before we get home,” I tell him.

“O …. K,” he says, as if humoring me. He queues up another Kendrick Lamar song. I drive to the thumping bass.

“It happened! Just now!” I shout, startling him. “100,000!”

“I don’t get it,” he says. “Is that good or bad?”

“Neither,” I admit. “It’s just miles on the car. But it’s not often you’ll see it flip like that. It’s not like we won a prize or anything.”

I’m satisfied, but he’s just shaking his head again, wondering about the things that sometimes get me jumping.

Peace (flip it forward),
Kevin

Another Form of Literacy: Sports Play Diagramming

Quidditch Diagram Play collageAs we shift into Expository/Informational Writing during our school’s season of Quidditch, I use the opportunity to expand the notions of literacy by incorporating the diagramming of a sport play into the classroom. Students must invent a play to be done on the floor of our game of Quidditch (which we play in the gym), and then both diagram out the movement of players and write an expository piece of writing, explaining how the play unfolds.

This kind of literacy — connecting writing to the athletic field — opens up the doors for some of my students who play sports but who are reluctant to write. They immediately see the connection of clear, sequential writing, and imagine themselves as a coach in a timeout, giving out instructions on the basketball court, or the football or soccer field, with a small whiteboard in hand.

Sports plays are a language all of their own, defined by the sport. Here, for example, in our game, you may not know that CH is chaser, K is keeper, SL is sideline, and SK is seeker. The colored floor lines have meaning, too, to our game. The arrows and dotted lines indicate movement. It’s visual information with a writing companion (with a bit of trickery, since the writing is mostly what I am most after here).

This kind of activity comes from a workshop presentation I was in many years ago now, through the National Writing Project, where a fellow writing project member shared her work in using football play diagrams to teach reading to her struggling high school students. Something clicked when I saw that. It has stayed with me, this idea of meeting the literacy needs of our students on the fields where they play.

In a resource she created for NWP on Redefining Text, Bee Foster writes:

When we expand our view of text, we celebrate and support a greater number of our students on a regular basis. We acknowledge the ways in which our students are already reading and writing. We give them credit for their strengths and begin an important dialogue around the transfer of skills from one mode to another. We more effectively provide differentiation both in what students read, and in what students write. Most importantly, we more regularly allow our struggling students to take on the role of expert.

Hey – I even found her video:

Peace (run it, catch it, win it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Art as Social Activity

Making Quidditch T-shirts

(Slice of Life is a month-long writing challenge to write every day in March, with a focus on the small moments. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. This year, I’m going to pop in and out, but not write daily slices, as I did for the past ten years of Slice of Life. You write, too.)

This requires more context than I can give right now but we play a version of Quidditch at our school (created by students 20 years ago). I’ve written about our game of Quidditch during many Slice of Life March moments over the years.

Along with the game itself, we incorporate all sorts of art and writing and much more. Yesterday, my students were making team t-shirts (team name: Arctic Bandits) and I watched with appreciation as they shared paints and ideas, offered help to each other when needed and made art as a social activity.

Things were messy, but art often is.

Peace (painted, chalked, drawn, shared),
Kevin

PS — this is a video we made years ago to show how we play our game of Quidditch