Reflections on National Writing Project Annual Meeting, part 1

I’ll be sharing pieces of my experiences here in Las Vegas at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting over the coming days (today, it is on to NCTE). I attended a number of very interesting sessions yesterday, and co-presented one around game design. I also joined 600 NWP colleagues in the main plenary sessions where we wrote (naturally) and got inspired by some terrific speakers.

What stuck out for me over the course of a very full day, however, was something rather surprising and for me, unexpected. I was reminded once again about the power of the narrative. I say surprising because the shift to the Common Core has reduced how narrative writing might figure in our classrooms, in favor of informational, expository and argumentative writing.

But, starting in the first session I attended around Systems Design and Digital Writing, I realized that so much of this theory around elements shaping outcome, and how the parts define the whole, and how one twist in an element can potential alter the system is pretty close to what we do when we write a story. We add a character, toss in a plot twist, design a story through its parts for a larger meaning. It’s really a narrative understanding of the world.

And the keynote speakers at the big session — Jeff Wilhelm, Michael W. Smith, and Jim Fredricksen — have written three books centered on some main elements of the Common Core, but all three spoke passionately about the ways that narratives inform our lives, and provide a framework (again, a system) for understanding. So, when Wilhelm was talking about how making lists for informational text and understanding is one way of organizing our understanding, he also noted how we use narrative to put those lists in order in a meaningful way. The other two speakers touched on narrative, too.

And then, in both our gaming session (where narrative is the design backbone of my game design project, but with a science theme), and in a last session around tools that allow you to compose/hack the web, we talked again about how story and narrative are an essential thinking framework.

All this is heartening. I know the Common Core doesn’t remove narrative, but it does minimize it, and that worries me as a teacher and a writer. If we can find more ways to weave those strands together, of remixing narrative in the scope of informational/expository writing, so that writers have more options, then we are providing an interesting road ahead for our students.

Las Vegas, not New York

Peace (in Vegas),


Considering Stereotypes: The Gender/Digital Life Resource

My class is in the midst of creating a travel brochure for an imaginary world. The theme and idea could be just about anything, but the teaching has been around reading informational text (real travel brochures, the genre of information text) and then creating a fictional brochure with the same elements (plus, we tie it into the theme of Peace as part of our school’s affiliation with Peacebuilders.)

Yesterday, a girl came up to me, sharing her rough draft work with me. Her map showed  a circular planet, divided in half by a roller coaster (a lot of them have echoes of theme parks, probably because we used Disney and other parks’ travel brochures for our initial investigation into the format). There were a bunch of symbols on the top and another bunch on the bottom. I squinted to see what they were. She asked me, “Which side of the planet do you think is the girls and which is the boys?”

It took me a minute to realize that she was creating a space for girls and a space for boys, and the symbols represented stereotypes of the gender (tiaras and dancing shoes for the girls, for example, and a game system and a football for the boys.) I used the opportunity to talk to her about stereotypes, but she just shook me off, and continued her journey around the room, polling kids on what symbols should be where on her map to represent boys and girls. I’ll be revisiting that issue later, maybe as a whole class discussions.

So, this morning, I was pleased to see this: CommonSense Media just released what looks like an interesting set of free lesson plans and resources built around gender identity and stereotypes related to the digital world, particularly around media and advertising. I do some of this during our Digital Life unit, but not enough. I’m going to use some of the ideas here to strengthen those discussions this year.

The resource is called Girls, Boys and Media: A Gender and Digital Life Toolkit

It’s worth a look. I’ll be digging into it.

Peace (in staying openminded),



Featured on the InstaGrok Site

Our class did the most online searches last month with InstaGrok — a web-based too for gathering data and making sense of it — and the site featured our classroom. They asked if I might be willing to answer a few questions about how we use InstaGrok for our research projects. I did, and it gave me a chance to do a little reflecting on the things and approaches we were doing.

See the Q & A with InstaGrok

Peace (in the reflection),


Digital Writing Month: The Masters are Messing with my Flow

The other day, I shared out a Google tool that allows you to have “characters” in a Google Doc “write” with each other. This video is from a related tool, in which you can collaborate with “masters” of literature – Shakespeare, Poe, Dickens, etc. Google captures the real-time writing in the document and kicks out a link. I did a videoshot of my writing with the tool and then layered in some audio reflections of the experience.

You can “view” my live document here.

Give the Google Docs Demo: Masters Edition a try

Peace (in the digital experience),

And Two Final Zombie Vs. Twitter Comics

We’re nearing the end of the Twitter Vs. Zombies virtual game that has been unfolding all weekend. I’m a little tired of being a zombie, to be honest, so I am sharing out the last two comics that I created as part of Digital Writing Month. Tomorrow, I am back to a regular ol’ human being with a regular appetite, and fairly normal tweets (although that is a judgement call on the part of my followers, who must be wondering what the heck is up with all the zombified tweets this weekend)

Digital Writing Comic14

Digital Writing comic15


Peace (in the comics),

Veteran’s Day: 25-Word-Stories

This is a revisiting of a post I did two years ago, when I wrote a number of 25 Word Stories on Twitter to honor and fictionalize the stories of veterans. (I am a veteran, too, but, thankfully, never in a war) I think the stories still have a certain narrative power to them. The one with the “maps on skin” still resonate with me as the writer.
If you are a Veteran, thank you.

vets day 25wordstories 1

vets day 25wordstories 2

vets day 25wordstories  3

Peace (in the world),