Oh Poems, You Write Me

We’re into Day Nine of Global Poetry Writing Month/National Poetry Writing Month, and I have been very diligent each morning with my poetry writing. I’ve been using the prompts put up every day at the NaNoWriMo website, riffing off the suggestions. I have ten poems because I wrote the day-before-April poem, too. For the most part, I’ve been satisfied with the poetic results of my musings.

Here are the first lines to my first ten poems, and a link to my Notegraphy gallery where I am writing and curating the poems (and other writing) throughout April:

Twelve doors. Past; Present.
I stand on the precipice:
Mother Nature’s Clock

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His tail wags
when even the happy
has disappeared –
when the walk has gone on
too long, and the talk
has turned from whispers
to something gone wrong.

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There was a Wood
when I was a child
where we went
to escape our lives.

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There would always be Irish tea
for me, as she shuffled
around the cramped apartment,
filled with knick knacks.

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Add in:
One teaspoon of smoke-filled lights
Three cups of harmonic riffs at night
a hint of popular music songs

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The muse remains hidden,
playfully buried beneath notes,
breathing in tandem
with my pen.

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The eraser’s been bit and chewed,
the seat’s been shifted,
words scribbled on and off
and on again as the start
is as elusive as the end,
and the middle remains
a complete mystery.

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The folded note in the cookie
promised good fortune
and bad luck

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She dangled off the riff —
Minor chords
Major chords
Unexpected modulation —
all swirling around her,
their accompaniment, a blanket
meant for warmth.

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NINE LINES ABOUT
NOTHING

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I am going to my best to keep writing every day. How about you? Any poems brewing in you? If you want, you can join the rag-tag poetry group in this version of Diigo’s Paper (sort of like Google Docs) and toss some poems against the wall. We’ll see what sticks.

Why is April Poetry? A collaborative space

Peace (writes like the wind),
Kevin

Hashtags as Roots of Resilience

A hashtag home #CCourses

(Note: I wrote this piece quite some time ago, thinking it would be submitted to a new publishing site. That got stalled. This piece sort of floated in my Draft bin. Time to release it. — Kevin)

A funny thing happened on my way to the Rhizome sometimes last year … the hashtag got switched. Now, normally, this would not be a big issue. But I have come to realize more and more how much I rely on the columns of my Tweetdeck app (sorted by hashtags) as a place to keep connected to various projects. So, when someone switches a conversation from one hashtag (say, #rhizo16) to another (say, #resilience16), I suddenly feel disorientated. Lost.

And I depend on the kindness of strangers. A few rhizo folks had made some initial tweets with both hashtags (which is quite generous because together, they take up a good portion of the 140 characters to begin with, you know?). In the end, in an ironic twist, neither took hold, and there was no Rhizo16. To be fair, it had nothing to do with hashtags, as far as I can tell.

It’s happening again right now for me, with National Poetry Writing Month. Do I use the new hashtag #GloPoWriMo (for GLOBAL Poetry Writing Month? Or do I use the old one #NaPoWriMo?). I have been using the GloPoWriMo because I like the concept of the world as writers of poetry. But I often think, what’s going on with NaNoWriMo and who decided, let’s shift to something new?

Still, the experience had me thinking of the concept of common hashtags in terms of the theme of resilience anyway because I know this is how I stay connected to an online course, or mooc, or activity, or movement, or whatever it was over time. I’ve just added a second column for Networked Narratives, as an example, as that class moves into another project phase with a new hashtag.

All this shuffling and worrying about lost contact also reminds me of the importance of naming a hashtag at the start. Add a year designation and suddenly, the clock is ticking on its timelessness. Make the hashtag murky with lettering and it becomes a meaningless jumble of the alphabet. Make it too short or too common, and other problems crop up.

I’ve noticed, for example, the #NWP hashtag (for National Writing Project) sometimes gets accidentally intruded upon by some music sharing tag. So suddenly, there will be a wave of posts that veer away from teaching and writing and into something completely different. It’s disorientating, in an intriguing way. Maybe we are the intruders on their hashtag, not the other way around, right?

Or maybe the hashtag becomes an impromptu shared space.

Then, there are the hashtags-within-hashtags, which can take on a life of their own. For example, within the #CLMOOC hashtag, there is a #SilentSunday hashtag. #CLMOOC represents the echoes of the Making Learning Connected MOOC while #SilentSunday is an activity of sharing an image with not context each Sunday (although, it too, is shared with other people doing other kinds of Silent Sunday-ing). It began as an activity in the CLMOOC but now has its own orbit, living on long after the CLMOOC summer ended.

Interesting.


flickr photo shared by Théo La Photo under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

In Tweetdeck, I often struggle with the question: Do I delete this column with a particular hashtag? If I do, and activity suddenly kicks in, will I miss it all? Yes, probably. Maybe I’ll hear some activity around the edges of the hashtag. But once I delete it from my view, I am not likely to return it there. (So, if people from last year are still using #rhizo15, I have no idea what they are talking about.) A good example for me is the #ccourses (connected courses), which I sort of regret removing and may add back in. Although activity can be sparse at times, it often provides interesting resources. That’s what I call “Hashtag Regret.”

Many of my hashtags have had a long, fruitful life in my Tweetdeck. I toggle around areas of interest. Reading across the top row, I see (other than my own timeline):

Given the whole history of the hashtag, and how it was never a planned structural element of Twitter, it is such an intriguing design element that plants roots and seeds, and connects people together in interesting ways. (Rhizomatic thinking, there)

Of course, some people use fake/invented/momentary hashtags to make a joke or a point about something or to note sarcasm or take a political stance. #ImwithHer #techquity  The Trump Presidency has given rise to this witty art form, using hashtags as social commentary and political action. Trump, of course, invents his own.


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

And I had never thought too deeply until now about how hashtags are at the very core of our social interactions on Twitter, and now on other social networking platforms, too. Like “tags” in photos or blog posts, hashtags are connectors that make the Internet a social gathering space.

Without hashtags, we might as well be yelling into deep space. With hashtags, we have the possibility to connect.

#Peace (it’s tagged),
Kevin

Sketchnoting Tall Tales

Sketchnoting tall tales

I‘ve written about ways in which I am trying to bring more sketchnoting, or visual notetaking, into my sixth grade classroom as another means of active listening and active learning.

We did it with the presidential inauguration and this week, as we are diving into Figurative Language techniques, we did it while listening to the American Tall Tale of Davey Crockett (as an example of extreme hyperbole and storytelling). They had a lot of fun with this activity, and the doodling forced them to “close listen” to the stories of Davey Crockett.

The sketch above is mine.

Peace (doodle it),
Kevin

Book Review: Al Capone Shines My Shoes

Al Capone Shines My Shoes the second in a series of three books (so far) by writer Gennifer Choldenko in which our protagonist, 12-year-old Moose Flanagan, is living on Alcatraz Island with his family. His father is a prison guard there, and Chodenko uses this closed community setting (with a prison filled with violent criminals) as an intriguing backdrop for Moose and his family and friends.

There a nice mix of humor, and insights about growing up, as well as prison intrigue, particularly when Moose and his friends have to stop a breakout attempt with their wits alone. But what sets this book, and the last one (Al Capone Does My Shirts) apart for me (and my son) is how Moose interacts with his sister, Natalie, who has autism during a time when autistic children were often sent to live “away” at state hospitals. Natalie is crucial to the plot from so many angles, and Choldenko treats her with respect even as the quirkiness of her autism makes her different from those around her.

Much of what Moose does in the story is hinged on protecting Natalie, including an ongoing and uncomfortable interaction with the most famous convict behind bars — Al Capone. I won’t give things away, but Choldenko does a nice job of not giving us too much Capone. What we see in Capone is both dangerous and curious, and Moose himself knows he is out of his league with something that started in the first book and continues as a thread here, with hints for the third book.

Al Capone Shines My Shoes is a perfect read for a middle school student, with rich characters and even richer setting. My son and I — we read it as a rad-aloud — are looking forward to her third book: Al Capone Does My Homework.

Peace (breaking in),
Kevin

A Strange Concoction to Consider: Fan Fiction and State Testing


aafad 225/365 under new management … flickr photo by lamont_cranston shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

We’re into state test prep season (our ELA test is a few weeks away) and our state of Massachusetts is in the midst of some pretty significant changes to what we call MCAS. The state claims to have moved away from PARCC, but that’s not really the case with its MCAS 2.o or MCAS Next Generation.

Everything MCAS is moving to computer-based testing over the next two years, which is already posing a logistical challenge at my school, and the kinds of texts and questions and tasks being asked of my sixth graders are also changing, becoming more complex on many levels (reading across multiple texts and genres, paired multiple choice questions, etc.)

As I work with my young writers on learning how to approach what is known as the Narrative Task, I find myself amused at how the whole concept seems like a riff out of the Fan Fiction textbook. This is something we were exploring in Networked Narratives, too.

Let me explain …

The MCAS Narrative Task is built on the concept of reading a story, or a passage from a novel or larger piece of text, and then writing the “next section” of the story, with consideration of some concept — mostly, we’ve been seeing a focus on character and setting in sixth grade but fifth grade has been about shifting point of view.

So, for example, in a sample we did last week, my students read about a girl and a nanny, in a rainstorm, rushing to meet an unknown aunt. Their assignment was to continue the story, with the characters and setting, and determine what happens next. And yesterday, I had them plucking minor characters from novels we are reading, or have read, and write a new story.

In other words, just like fan fiction, you take characters that exist in literature and bring them into an imaginary space (or world) that you create, with a story that you write, and you bring them to life in ways that you choose. That’s fan fiction, in a sort of nutshell, right? For example, let’s pluck Hermoine and Malfoy from Harry Potter series and send them off on an adventure. Or what would happen if Katniss Everdeen bumped into Luke Skywalker? (At least, they’re not siblings. Or are they?)

We’ve been talking about Fan Fiction in Networked Narratives, as a way that writers find spaces to write, outside of school confines, with interests that bring them into a larger, but slightly hidden, online community. Fan Fiction has many elements of what we term Connected Learning.

Now, granted, some fan fiction gets a little … adult, in content. I don’t think the state folks want to see any slash fiction (note: not necessarily violent and not about the GnR guitar player, but a genre in which two characters from different books meet, and likely hook up) in my students’ writing samples. But this notion of taking a character for a walk into your own story has its roots in fan fiction.

Which makes it odd, and interesting, that the idea behind fan fiction would be the underpinning of the Narrative Task on a state test.

Peace (a fan of it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: The Social Media Illusion

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My pre-teen son confided in me that he had gone back into his Musically app the other day, for the first time in a few weeks, only to find out to his surprise that he was Number One on their charts of users. Musically allows you to create short lip-sync videos with all sorts of filters. It’s fun, but I personally find it a bit too much. People heart you. It’s one of those sites.

“It sort of freaked me out,” he admitted, on seeing his username at the top of the chart. “I hadn’t even made anything (new video) in a long time. I don’t know how it happened. Did something go viral?”

He said he even double checked it was his (since he uses a fake name to protect his identity … good boy) and that led us into a whole discussion about the role of followers and why social media is built on this aspect of users needing more and more confirmation or hearts or likes or whatever from an unknown audience. And how shallow that entire system can be, even if it feels good at the time.

This led us to talk about places he knows online where you can “earn” new followers, too. I’m still not clear on this — do you buy followers somehow? What are you giving up? Your data? Your information? Your eyeballs for intrusive ads? Something, right?

“Maybe I should delete the app,” he wondered out loud.

We were in the car during all this, so I told him I would look at the app later. When I did, I realized that he had been duped by an April Fool’s joke by Musically, in which every user who checked the charts found themselves Number One.

Pretty clever, and also, pretty interesting for a social media app built on users and followers to play on the desire of its own users for more and more followers as a joke on those same users. There’s something strangely meta in that circle of thought.

My son was amused when I told him about Musically’s April Fools joke. He seemed a bit relieved, as if there had been a huge weight to bear when you suddenly realize you have become the top dog in a social media chart.

He was also a bit wistful that his day at the top of the charts was all just an illusion. But really, given the landscape of social media and teens, and what constitutes popularity in such fleeting ways, isn’t most of what we do in social media merely illusion, anyway?

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

PS — “Dad, a whole bunch of kids at school got pranked by the same joke, and thought they were number one. We all did. That’s funny.” — the boy.

Tinkering with Voices/Playing with Poems

Soundtrap Poetry Collab

The other day, my friend, Sheri, posted a blog piece that included a Poem for Three Voices about the struggle to start a piece of writing, from the viewpoint of a student writer.

I immediately thought: that poem should be recorded and heard, with three voices. Over the following days, Sheri recruited Melvina, and the three of us used Soundtrap, an online recording platform, to make a version of Sheri’s poem.

It was sort of a recording experiment, and I am now myself working on writing a Poem for Five Voices, with Sheri, Melvina and hopefully two others. Now that I know for certain that Soundtrap works well for this poetry collaboration (as I thought it might), it opens up some doors.

The difficulty with performing these multiple voice poems is the logistics, of leaving space in the tracks for other voices to fill. But Soundtrap at least solves one main and significant issue: we don’t have to be in the same room at the same time, and we don’t need to be sending audio files back and forth.

I’ve done these Poems for Multiple Voices in the classroom with students (last year, we did math poems), using Garageband and other recording platforms, and they really enjoyed the ways in which the voices come and go, and how words weave in and out of each other. It’s challenging to write and construct these poems, and they are challenging to read.

More to come in the days ahead …

Peace (like poems),
Kevin

PS — I once wrote this poem for my math colleague and I to read to the whole school over morning announcements. I still like it for the way it merges math and writing. We need to record it again, I think (our old version was at an old site that is now defunct).

TheWriter and the Mathematician- A Poem for 2 Voices by KevinHodgson on Scribd

#GloPoWriMo: Waiting on the Flowers

Day Before Poem

My friend, Sheri, was sharing about writing poems this month for Global Poetry Writing Month  — #GloPoWriMo — (also, still known as National Poetry Writing Month in some circles, I guess), and so I am tagging along with Sheri, as best as I can.

This is a poem from the day before April, and is known as a haibun, which combines haiku and prose poem together. I wrote it at Notegraphy, which is a design platform that I will likely be using this month on a regular basis.

Still waiting on the flowers ….

Peace (poems),
Kevin

On Reflection: Ten Years of Slicing into Life

Ten years is a long time to be doing anything.

I spent ten years, almost exactly, working as a newspaper journalist, covering politics, meetings, crime and education. Ten years seemed like forever when I finally left to become certified as a teacher (and take on role of caregiver with our boys at home in my stay-at-home dad chapter of life).

I am fifteen years into teaching now. That’s ten plus five. I remember the ten year mark as being important because it meant I had lasted and lasted longer than my previous profession as journalist. It was around then that I realized that, yes, I was a teacher.

My wife and I have been married nearly 2o years. Ten plus ten, with three kids. Those years have flown by. We still can’t believe it.

And it has been ten years in Slice of Life, too, as every March rolls around with the call from Stacey (and once, it was Ruth, too) and the team of too-many-to-count accomplices over at Two Writing Teachers. It’s a lot to ask of us, to write every single day about small moments that have larger implications. Yet so many did it — this March, the writers numbered in the hundreds at the start (more than 350 writers on the very first day) and still more than 240 at the end with the last posting on March 31.

Think on that. Hundreds of teachers who now see themselves as writers in digital spaces. And then there were the teachers who had their students writing Slices of Life, too. I hope they found an audience among other slicing students.

The mixed blessings to that kind of growth of anything online is obvious, too. There were so many people in the mix that I found commenting and connecting to be more like leaves blowing in the storm, at times. There was a less a sense of community. A bit disorienting. This is no fault of the organizers at Two Writing Teachers. It’s a natural part of online connections and a reminder of why many MOOCS (Massive Open Online Classes) falter over the long haul. The larger the crowd, the more the noise, and the less the signal. And when that happens, participants can feel as if their voice is lost in the wind. They drop out.

This chart shows some documentation of MOOCS, but it also translates well into how many online spaces flow:

The folks at Two Writing Teachers try to counter this by incorporating the “comment on other blogs” into their messaging on a regular basis. I continue to find that commenting as the first step into online conversation to be inadequate. I can’t easily trace my steps back to blogs where I have been, and then I feel guilty about not responding to every blogger who comments at my blog. And I wonder: how can I make a comment worth something and not just a few words on the bottom of a post? That would be a full-time job.

Meanwhile, you know, Life goes on. (And hopefully, it also provides more moments to write about later)

I did try to find new blogs to comment on this year, but I often found myself visiting the “early morning posting” crew, of which I am a member, and following bloggers I have come to know, either from the past or from the early days of this year.

I often felt a little lazy about doing that — of not reaching out more to. new folks as much as I could have. And I wondered if there were bloggers posting in the middle of the day who never got any comments on their posts because so many of us were either early morning-ers or late nighters. Those are the kinds of things that worry me, sometimes, and I am not even an organizer of Slice of Life. Sheesh. I guess when I participate in something, I feel a sense of responsibility.

March 2017 is now over, but the Slice of Life continues through the year on Tuesdays. The once-a-week gives a little breathing room, and you can write or not, read or not, comment or not. With no pressure, and only an invite to participate, the choice is yours.

I hope I see you there.

Peace (slicing it and sharing it),
Kevin