Upcoming WMWP Theme: Digital Writing

Each year, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project develops a “theme” that focuses our work throughout the year. The thematic thread points us to readings we want to do together, inspires our writing when we gather together, and provides a lens for workshops and professional development opportunities.

Two years ago, we explored social justice as part of our work with the National Writing Project’s “Project Outreach” initiative. The theme had us questioning (in a positive) way how we were working to meet the needs of all the teachers in our area. We came out of the year with new Mission Statement that really set forth our ideals around the impact of teaching for social change.

This year, we have been working around the Common Core, which our state has adopted as its new curriculum framework. An upcoming technology conference (which takes place in conjunction with Digital Learning Day) connects digital composition with standards in the Common Core curriculum. At other times, we have dove deeper into the curriculum, noting changes that will soon be impacting the things and ways we teach. This spring, we will be looking hard at the way that the new assessments (PARCC for us) are shaping up, and how those tools are going to affect our schools.

We’ve decided that next year, our theme will be digital media and digital writing. We’ll be using NWP’s Because Digital Writing Matters as a primary text for discussions and then sites like Digital Is as a resource. Our WMWP Technology Team, which has about 10 active members, will be the leaders of the effort, and as the technology liaison for WMWP, this is exciting for me. I am hoping we can find ways to draw people into the possibilities of digital tools for their students, and find ways to showcase student engagement and student use of technology in meaningful ways.

The idea of a “theme”over a long stretch of time is valuable, and opens up a lot of possibilities. Too often, our work around professional development seems scattered.

Peace (in the theme),


The Annual Navel-Gazing: Blog Stats


(link to stats)

Like many bloggers, I am curious about who comes knocking at my door from time to time. So, at the end of the year, I like to take a peek at the data from my blog traffic. Maybe I do it to reinforce the idea that I even have visitors, or to gauge some impact of my writing in a small sliver of the world. Mostly, though, I have become interested in data and how to interpret it.

So, here is the big picture: My blog had 27,568 hits last year (of which 20,941 were unique visitors, meaning not folks who keep coming back — but I like those folks who do, of course. ) Other data elements are interesting to me, but maybe not for you. Still, here is a collection of analytics related to my blog in 2011. The screenshots come from this blog, and my site on Vimeo (for video sharing), and from Feedburner.

The post with the most hits? Nothing to do with education. Instead, it was my collection of short Twitter stories around love that I published for Valentine’s Day. Go figure!

I did notice that most of my visitors come via my friends’ Stacey and Ruth’s blog, Two Writing Teachers. I guess I owe them …
If you come visiting here now and then, I want to thank you.

Peace (in the data stream),


Six Words To Capture Teaching

I saw this in my RSS feed yesterday from friend Larry Ferlazzo. It’s a writing activity perfectly suited to Twitter in which teachers are asked to write a six word essay that captures the essence of teaching. If you are on Twitter, use the #6wordessay hashtag. Larry is collecting some of the responses via Storify. The whole project evolved from a project that Michelle Rhee is doing with young people.

Here is what I came up with:
Teaching, in Six Words

What’s yours?

Peace (in the mini-essay),

Book Review: Pulphead

I’m a sucker for collections of essays, and Pulphead by John Jeremiah Sullivan fit the bill. I’ve come across him as a writer here and there in magazines, and I should have been paying more attention. His writing is lively, his viewpoint is slightly off-kilter, and his topics are unusual in a way that draws you in. From examining the town where Axl Rose grew up to mulling over how his house was used as the setting for a television show (One Tree Hill) to a fabricated essay about a fake professor who believes that animals on the planet are in revolt against mankind, Sullivan lays the storytelling on thick with insight and humor.

I appreciated the focus around music for a lot of the essays, too. Along with the piece of erratic Rose (the GnR singer), the book includes insightful essays about the originators of Deep South Blues who have been mostly forgotten by time, insights into the impact of Michael Jackson on pop culture, an interview with Jamaican reggae pioneer Bunny Wailer, and the opening piece in this collection in which he travels to a Christian Rock festival. Sullivan immerses himself and the reader into this these stories, using rich language, anecdotes and personal stories.

John Jeremiah Sullivan is one of those writers who sees the essay form in a creative way. You won’t be disappointed in the stories he weaves here in Pulphead.

Peace (in the pulp),

Digging Up (my) Newspaper Past

From The Springfield Republican
Before I was a teacher, I was a newspaper reporter. It seems like a lifetime ago, that world of journalism, but every now and then, the past peeps out at me. Recently, the art teacher at my school handed me a photocopied newspaper article and told me to look at the story that focused on our school’s art program. She pointed to the reporter’s name. It was me.

To be honest, I don’t remember writing the article. I was often writing two, sometimes three, news articles each day, and my memory of most of the specific stories are a blur. But I do remember when I briefly was the reporter covering the town in which my school is located. The community was much smaller then and has grown considerably. I remember scratching around for news. I often went to the schools to focus in on students (one of the reasons I became a teacher was that I was inspired by the work I was seeing in classroom when I was an education reporter).

It’s interesting to find myself drawn back to that chapter in my life. I may not remember the story I wrote, or the kids I focused on, but it is fascinating to think of the connections that are drawn between that life and this life. The newspaper article is like a little echo of those times when I was a writer, every single day.

Peace (in the news from the past),

Classroom Moment: Near-Death Experiences

You know how sometimes one topic suddenly veers off into this completely separate tangent in the classroom, and you just have to go with it for a while? We are nearing the end of reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham, and there is a scene where the main character almost dies in a whirlpool (only to be saved by a vision of his younger sister and the rescue by his older brother). I just casually asked if anyone had ever had a brush with water that they remembered.

Hands shot up. You would think I was in the room with near-ghosts waiting to tell their stories of how a river, or a pool, or the ocean had tried to grab life away from them. We had stories of riptides, and currents, and scary pool incidents. While it was interesting to hear all of the narratives, it also reminded me of how dangerous water can be.

Finally, after almost 20 minutes of this kind of storytelling, one of the students looked at my co-teacher and I and asked: What about you?

My colleague told a story of how he almost drowned in his pool when he came up for air and sucked in a mouth of clorine, and couldn’t breathe. I related the story of how I slipped under the ice in the river and how my older brother saved me by yanking me onto shore (just like the character in Watsons,  I realized).

One year, during 24-Comic, I wrote a graphic story of those events.

(read the rest of the story)

I didn’t mind the way our conversations moved around, away from the topic, because those stories demonstrated the power of memory (and possibly, the failure of memory, too, as no doubt some of the stories were exaggerated a bit), and you can be sure that every student connected with the character in Watsons.

Peace (in the moment),