Narcissistic Viewing: Teaching the New Writing

Recently, I decided to do a search on the book that I helped co-edit and write a chapter for — Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom — just to see if anyone was writing about it. Our aim was to showcase ways in which technology might be changing the teaching of writing, particularly in the spotlight of standardized testing and assessment and state curriculum. When Charlie, Anne and I were planning the book as editors, and then working on it over the course of two years with various writers, we hoped it would be something useful for classroom teachers.

But you never know.

Happily, the book has its share of mentions at various websites. It seems like much of the responses are positive and that the information is useful. I even found an entire wiki site dedicated to the book as well as a glog, which is something quite cool.

I am collecting the tidbits in the LiveBinder show above and will add when I find new things. If you are a reader of the book, I thank you and hope you found it helpful.

Peace (in the viewing),

Responsibilty, Respect in Online Spaces

Gazette Article Aug2010

Last week, I  submitted to our regional newspaper, The Daily Hampshire Gazette, which has been running a series of columns under the banner of  “The Aspire Project” around issues of bullying, respect and other issues that came out of two young suicides in our area.  One of those local young people, Phoebe Prince, has been the subject of many national publications and media, particularly since her high school tormentors used social networking spaces to target her. The other, a boy from the big urban center, who also took his own life around the same time is mostly forgotten in the news.

I’ve been waiting for someone to write about the use of online spaces for the Aspire Project. Finally, I couldn’t wait for others, so I wrote my own short essay on the topic of respect and responsibility when it comes to technology.  My attempt here is to urge teachers not to turn their heads away from these online places, and instead, use the use of these sites as a way to foster community and communication. That said, I acknowledge that it is a difficult journey for wary teachers.

Earlier this week, my column hit the front page of the newspaper, and I have received a handful of comments from parents and teachers that I see at my sons’ baseball games, and in our neighborhood, and at camp drop-off. Most are not sure what they need to be doing, nor how to enter into the conversations. One teacher noted that their school forbids most use of technology, so the possibility of online work is almost nil.

I decided to make the piece a podcast, too, and so here it is:

Listen to “Expect Responsibility, Respect in Online Spaces” (note: the podcast essay is about 6 minutes long)

I’m not pretending I have all the answers, but I do believe my last line sums up a lot about my thinking: “We need to be paying attention.”

Peace (in the reflection),

Epic Fail on a Shakespearean Scale

(A note of disclosure: my blog title for this story is hyperbole for sure, but I could not resist the rhyme! I hope you understand. Also, this is part of the Epic Fail Story Day at The Tempered Radical. )

Learn more about this project

Each year, my sixth graders launch into a unit of study about the origins of the English Language. It’s fun stuff, allowing them to play with words in all sorts of ways, from reading parts of of the novel Frindle to inventing words to examining words from other languages that have crept into our English.

One element of this unit is to take a look at William Shakespeare, who was an incredibly active inventor of words (when did that guy have time to sleep, anyway?). For most, this is the first introduction into Olde Early Modern English and I took the lead from my wife, a former high school teacher, to use Shakespearean insults to liven up the class. (One day, my principal walked in as I had the kids lined up on two sides of the room, shouting out Shakespearean insults to one another. Luckily, he likes an active classroom. And just as lucky, the kids didn’t turn the insults on him.)

One year, as an extension activity, I found a random Shakespearean insult generator on the Web and embedded it into our classroom blog (note: it’s not the one embedded here. I could not find the one I used). This was before I was using Edublogs as host for our classroom blog, and the platform I was using was Manila (anyone remember that?). I was relatively new to blogs, and the platform was a bit unstable at times. It was often under construction, meaning my administrative access would suddenly and unexpectedly no longer exist for short periods of time.

You know where this is going, don’t you?

So, there we are, working on a project. Some kids begin to finish early, and I allowed them to grab the laptops and head to our blog site, and I urged them to check out the insult generator. I notice things were getting a bit quiet in that corner of the room, and then, laughter. Then, more quiet. You know how teachers can get that spidey-sense that something is not right? That’s what I got.

“Um, Mr. H, you need to see this.”


“That Shakespeare thing. It’s … inappropriate.”


I rushed over and sure enough, the insults were a bit more randy than I had expected, particularly for sixth graders. I had briefly checked out the site and it had seemed fine. I guess I needed to spend a bit more time with the generator before sharing it with my students. I can’t remember the exact insults, but “breasts” and other explicit body parts were there. It was all true Shakespeare, but still. I quickly got onto my desktop computer, hoping to remove the blog post with the embedded generator. Normally, I could do this in a second.

Not on this day. Manila was down. No access. I couldn’t do a thing to my site. The generator continued its magic, sputtering out insults with every click of the mouse.

What could I do? I told my students to turn the laptops off. Of course, by then, every kid in the classroom was crowded around the few that were online, trying to see what made me rush to my computer. They were clicking through quickly now, trying to find the profane insults before I hit the power button myself. Finally, all the laptops were shut down. I gave a little talk about all the kinds of things you can find online and explained how Shakespeare was not afraid of language (quick, turn it into a lesson, my teacher voice said) of all kinds.

“Well, I guess we learned more about Shakespeare than you wanted, eh, Mr. H?” one of my students asked, not needing an answer.

Yep. And I learned (again) that I needed to be a bit more vigilant about what I bring my students to, including spending more than a few minutes scanning through insult generators.

Peace (in the fail),

What’s your Epic Fail Day story?

Yesterday, I reviewed Bill Ferriter’s new book (Teaching the iGeneration) and saw at his blog — The Tempered Radical — that he was hosting an Epic Fail Story Day for August 12. He wants to make sure that folks know it is not about the failing, but about the resilience of teachers and students to find ways to work around problems that do arise from technology.

He writes:

Designed as an effort to raise awareness about the importance of being digitally resilient in the 21st Century Classroom and to help teachers new to technology understand that even digital veterans have computer meltdowns, Epic Tech Fail Day authors should write short pieces about the struggles that they’ve had in their work with technology…and then share lessons learned from their disasters.

Bill has all the details about Epic Fail Day at his site, and he also provides some suggestions for folks for writing. And he provides his own Epic Fail Story, too about some unexpected trails he took his students on. He will be choosing a few random writers to receive a free copy of his new book, which is certainly worth the price of a blog post!

So, what’s your story?

Peace (in the sharing),

Book Review: Teaching the iGeneration

Look inside Teaching the iGeneration: 5 Easy Ways to Introduce Essential Skills With Web 2.0 Tools!

This new book by Bill Ferriter and Adam Garry can join the ranks of Troy Hicks’ Digital Writing Workshop and Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom as a reliable guide that I can hand off to teachers who want to know how to take that first step into bringing technology into the classroom.

Teaching the iGeneration: 5 Easy Ways to Introduce Essential Skills with Web 2.0 Tools is jam-packed with useful information about the rationale of technology and also, with easily adapted reproducible hand-outs that will do a lot to ease the concerns of some teachers around assessment, reflection and exploration. And, the hand-outs are linked online to the book’s website, making it even easier to use (and you don’t have to buy the book to use the resources, although it would probably be nice to support the writers if you can). The handouts are geared both towards students at work in the classroom and the teachers, themselves.

Here, for example are the resources for the chapters around multimedia:

I really like how the authors (Disclosure: I know Bill through various online networks and he sent me this book as a complimentary gift, just to be open about the review) group the topics in the book around the themes of Information Fluency, Persuasion, Communication, Collaboration and Problem Solving. Those do seem like important themes for the classroom, and the writers argue successfully about students harnessing technology to meet those goals.

At one point, the authors list out what draws teens to digital projects:

  • Self-directed exploration (the freedom to find something of interest and delve deep into that topic, with multimedia as one tool)
  • Peers to demonstrate authority and expertise (by turning to teach other for learning as much as to the teacher)
  • Students to wrestle with meaningful issues (as they use technology to enter the public sphere and engage in matters that impact local and global communities)

It is also admirable that Ferriter and Garry present many of the projects that use technology around the theme of global poverty and social justice. They note that the target audience for the book is middle and high school teachers, whose students passions around injustice can often be motivation for creating projects that can make a difference in the world. “… global poverty can provide a natural context for digital projects that have meaning and motivate kids,” they write, although noting that any of the projects outlined here can be adapted for other important topics.

The book begins by addressing ways in which students can learn to manage information in the era of information overload, and then moves on to writing to persuade world leaders on issues, using digital storytelling, collaborating on challenging topics and ends with an interview with a student, Michael, talking about what he learned from using technology in the classroom. I liked the way the student voice framed the ending of the book and brought us into the classroom through Michael’s voice.

I’ll end by noting something Ferriter and Garry  wrote in the introduction:

Today’s learning environment — influenced by the technology already being used by students outside of school – ” ….requires nothing more than a teacher who is willing to show students how the tools they have already embraced can make learning efficient, empowering and intellectually satisfying. Are you ready to be that teacher?

I hope so. Teaching the iGeneration is one of the many emerging resources that can help you on that path.

Peace (in the sharing),

What I wrote about when I had nothing to write about

In my first year as a newspaper reporter, there were days when I had not beat to cover and no assignment, and I would be hanging around the office, desperate for something to do (I was paid per story). One day, my editor told me to get in my car and drive around. He pointed me to the smallest town in our coverage area. It was a community of about 100 people, tops.

Head there and find some news, he said. Something must be happening.

I did as he told, although I was skeptical. I got into my car and drove. I wandered through the small town in the middle of the day. There were no stores there, just homes, and everyone was at work or doing something else. They were not making news on their front porch.

Keep looking, my editor said, when I found a pay phone to call him. Knock on doors, he suggested.

Instead, I drove to the next town, where there was a convenience store and grabbed a soda and a snack. I relaxed for a spell. I drove again into the small town, just wandering. Just looking. And finding nothing.

I returned later to the office, my notebook empty. I worried about facing the editor, whom I wanted to impress.

Well? my editor asked. What did you find?

Nothing, I said. It’s quiet.

Some days are like that, he said, surprising me. I’ll pay you anyway.

I went home that night, not having written a thing.

Some days, there’s not much to write about. But still, I write. You just read it.

Peace (in the remembering),

NWP Funding: Sen. Scott Brown responds …

I guess I wasn’t expecting too much from my Senator when I sent him a letter to please lobby on my behalf for continued federal funding for the National Writing Project. Right now, there is no direct funding for NWP in President Obama’s educational plan (see more details).

I know Sen. Scott Brown is a Republican still trying to find his political footing in Washington, but I still hope he heeds the call of us Massachusetts teacher and constituents when it comes to the importance we place on the National Writing Project in terms of professional development and impact on the classroom.

A few months after I wrote to Sen. Brown, I received a letter from him (his office) in mail. It was obviously a form letter of sorts, with general statements like “I support initiatives that improve our schools …” and ” …I am committed to working with my colleagues to find bipartisan solutions to help students and schools succeed …”

I am hopeful that he heard my points.

Peace (in the response),

Guest Blogging at Two Writing Teachers

I have the privilege of being a guest writer over at Two Writing Teachers (another blog that should be firmly fed into your RSS Reader as Ruth and Stacey are thoughtful users and reflective writers of literacy instruction) this morning as I explore a “Make Your Own Adventure” project with students.

Oh, and I made the post by creating a ‘Make Your Own Learning” website, with links to follow and decisions to make.

Come join me over at Two Writing Teachers.

Peace (in the choices),


Leadership Day 2010: A Webcomic Message


Scott McLeod, whose blog Dangerously Irrelevant is a must have for your RSS for his thoughtful views, is launching the fourth annual Leadership Day, in which he urges educational bloggers to craft a message for school administrators about the impact of technology on learning.

As Scott writes:

“Administrators’ lack of knowledge is not entirely their fault. Most of them didn’t grow up with these technologies. Many are not using digital tools on a regular basis. Few have received training from their employers or their university preparation programs on how to use, think about, or be a leader regarding digital technologies.

So… let’s help them out.”

This year, I decided to create a comic — just to go a different route. I hope you consider adding your own two or three thoughts into the mix. If so, be sure to go to Scott’s blog post and add the hashtag #leadershipday10 to your tag and also fill out Scott’s form where he keeps track of things.

Leadership Day 2010 Comic

(a larger version of the photo is here)
Peace (in the sharing of ideas),