I’ve shared out a few collections of small poetic responses that I have done for the past few months with Networked Narratives, and the Daily Alchemy, which now ends its semester run. This is the final collection, with a few odds and ends poems tossed into the mix, too.
I’m still thinking of how to bring all of the poems — literally, in the dozens and nearly 100 since January, but each poem is only six seconds long — together. Maybe I keep it simple, and just make a YouTube Playlist …
I’m always curious about interactive books, and since my students work on their own interactive fiction stories, I’m always on the look-out for more mentor texts for the classroom. This book — The Quest of Theseus— is a new series for me, but it seems as if it is part of a set of mythological heroes, with the reader having agency to make decisions about the actions and lead the story into different elements of the hero’s tales.
Here, there are three main story paths (battle the Minotaur, go to the Underworld, or fight for the throne of Athens), with 39 different choices and 18 different endings.
While the writing is so-so and the action could have been given a bit more excitement, this interactive book was engaging enough to bring the myths of Theseus alive, and has me wondering about if I might get a few copies for the classroom.
Certainly, Theseus is one of the models for Percy Jackson, and we do cover Greek Mythology in the year. I see from the back cover that there are about seven more books in the series, including one for The Odyssey.
I got caught up in some of other things — including some intriguing NetNarr projects — and only returned to Rose’s text later in the course itself. I’m glad I waited, for I think that our discussions in NetNarr helped frame what I read in the book. Rose examines the way that digital media, and the Internet in particular, is transforming the entertainment field, through technology and other elements of immersive storytelling. He brings years of reporting experience to his insights.
I’ll admit: I didn’t ‘deep read’ this book. I power-read it, slowing down in sections that caught my attention and interest, and then pulling out quotes that seemed to connect not only with my personal inquiry around the changing nature of digital storytelling but also in connection to some of the interactions I have with folks in NetNarr, CLMOOC and beyond around technology and composition.
Overall, Rose does a nice job of exploring all sorts of terrain, mostly from the entertainment standpoint. I, of course, am curious from the education standpoint, but there were plenty of places where those perspectives overlap. In particular, knowing a bit about where storytelling might be going (no one ever knows for sure) gives teachers a bit of an insight into the skills that might be needed for that kind of landscape.
The Art of Immersion is worth checking out, if only to get a glimpse of the world unfolding for our students, particularly those who are becoming interested in media production, where the tools are both complex and simple to use, and the possibilities for bending stories through different prisms, and for different audience experiences, is fascinating to think about.
Did you know? Tomorrow (the first Saturday in May) is Free Comic Book Day? Do your students know? Many book stores take part in this event, which has become huge in my little city where a place called Modern Myths gets packed with people. My son and I will probably be there, too.
The Free Comic Book Day website has a store tracker, where you can find a business near you (maybe) that is giving away their free comics (note: these are more like short collections and teasers by the comic distribution company but they are still pretty neat.)
I usually grab some for my classroom, and use them during the year for mini-lessons around figurative language and hero’s journey themes, etc. Not all the comics work for the classroom, but I have a pretty decent collection now.
Gaw. I love the prose-poem work that Kwame Alexander is putting out into the world, and his latest — Rebound — is no exception. It’s a wonderful piece of writing, wrapping poetry and story around the life of a character (one we have met as an adult father in The Crossover, another great book).
Rebound tells the story of Chuck Bell, an inner city kid whose dealing with the grief of losing his father, and not dealing with it well at all. His mother sends him to stay in the summer with his grandparents, where he learns from his cranky grandfather lessons of life and learns to finally play basketball from his star athletic cousin, Roxie.
Alexander’s use of prose poems to tell this story works magic, as we skirt along the emotions of a young black male dealing with loss and getting caught up in trouble (Chuck even spends time in jail before grandfather gets him out) before reconnecting with his mother, whom he sees is grieving like him, and his friends, including the smart young girl who later becomes his wife (and mother of the boys in The Crossover.)
Rebound is magical, and I devoured all 414 pages of it in a single weekend, always letting Alexander’s writing pull me forward. I can see boys, and some girls, loving this book, too. It might even teach them about the power of free verse poems to tell a story.
Plus, Alexander is on a mission to bring literacy to everyone. I love his enthusiasm and insights.
We’re in our state testing season (weak, sarcastic shout of ‘yea’ to the world), and this year, for the first time, our students are doing the entire testing regime (ELA this week and Math, in a few weeks) online. Although I integrate technology all the time into my sixth grade ELA classroom as means to extend the notion of composition, this use of technology for testing is obviously very different.
And watching my students spend nearly three hours yesterday on the first of two sections of online testing for the state, as well as doing both review and practice with some of the technology tools within the testing structure, I have come away with a few observations.
First, years ago, I took part in a week-long technology seminar in Boston for the New Literacies Institute (I still have connections with some of the leaders of that institute in various online space) and one of the research focal points of this group (mostly connected to the University of Connecticut and Professor Don Leu) was the notion of online reading comprehension — of thinking of how our reading habits with screens is fundamentally different than our reading on paper.
I bring this topic up because I have some students who clearly struggle with reading the online text for comprehension, never mind the issues of source credibility and other critical items that Ian talks about in the video.
While difficulties with online reading may have to do with the lay-out of the pages (texts are first displayed as full page and then reduced to a scrollable text box when paired with questions), I am realizing that I have not done enough to explicitly teach how to read for content and information on a screen.
I remember this chart, too, which tracked eye movement of a reader reading on a webpage. A typical person on a screen reads in what is known as an F Pattern, first quickly across, and then down and then across, and then zigzagging for links and information. It’s a treasure hunt style of reading, not an act of continuity.
Now imagine a student reader, who might have attention difficulties to begin with, trying to stay focused on reading a text on a screen, and how their eyes probably jump all over the place. Reading left to the right, and then down to next line, comes into contrast with how their brains are conditioned to read screens, for good or bad. This hampers the ability to fully understand the entire text as well as find important information.
So I need to do a better job of teaching this, and not just for the test, but all the reasons that the New Literacies folks shared with me years ago: most people now read most of the texts in their lives on the screen (albeit, on the smaller screens). Online reading comprehension skills have to be part of our reading curriculum.
Our state testing system — designed by, who else, Pearson — has some useful tools inside of it, which I taught my students to use during some practice sessions. There are highlighting features, a pop-out notepad, an answer eliminator, zoom features and a layered box that allows you to focus on just small bits of reading text at a time.
There are also some questions where answer options can get dragged around the page, and I had few questions related to that (it wasn’t on the practice test), which makes me wonder how I might do some work with this (and think: paper cut-outs, perhaps, and manually manipulating chunks of text). I could only point them to the directions for the activity.
One of the biggest challenges, I think, is the planning of the longer essays and narrative stories. I teach graphic organizers all year long and my students work with them for pre-writing all year long. And they have blank paper to use for the test, for graphic organizers or notes.
But here’s what I observed: Fewer students than usual were making any kind of writing plan. If I had to guess, I would say this is likely the result of taking the test on the computer, and a disconnect between the paper on the desk and the writing on the screen. (And I can’t say a thing about it to any student during testing, even though I want to shout: Make a graphic organizer!). Their focus during testing is on the screen, on the keyboard, not on the pencil and paper on the desk, and I think either some forget, or decide it’s not worth the trouble, or whatever.
I also know, from discussions before the text, that my confident writers were anxious about the character length limits for the longer writing (5,000 characters) and the little countdown box in the corner of the writing space made them even more anxious. They worried they would get to zero, and still have things to say. I had told them, if that happens, it’s time for some editing of what you had already written, and trim for clarity and importance. Which is what I would have said in any writing activity. But the character countdown box gave it a negative gamification element that I had not predicted.
As a teacher, finding this balance of teaching students about writing and reading on the computer and reading and writing on paper, and the places where those skills naturally overlap, is important, and I will be doing more research on this.
Probably, via my computer. There you go.
Peace (on the think),
PS — I was also thinking about a fascinating book I recently reviewed for Middleweb by Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner entitled Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World. There, the thinking was about real-life reading, about the act of taking reading skills beyond oneself and using technology to make sense of the world. What I have written up above here seems so far removed from that. I guess that’s state testing for you.
Bud Hunt has been inspiring me to write poems all month with images at his blog site. I am grateful. Thank you, Bud. Midway through April, I wrote an update on the poems I had written for the first half of the month, and here is my second update on the second half of the collection.
I’ve been on a mission to write “small” on the Mastodon network, with small stories (a version, in my mind, of Slice of Life), small quotes (from books I am reading) and small poems, so I have been purposely trying to keep these daily poetry pieces with Bud short, to the point, evocative.
Writing a poem a day in April is a nice transition from writing a slice a day in March, with both the bit of anxiousness (do I have another poem/slice inside of me?) to success (I did have another poem/slice inside of me) to critique (that’s the best poem/slice you could do?). And while the quality of the writing varies in this kind of daily flow, the act of writing each day is powerful. I still like some of the poems I wrote this month, so that’s a good sign.
in the impossible
when the reality
is what’s always
in the imagination,
so that together,
we can experience
with hearts as wide open
as our eyes.
Your fingers run lightly
over the keys, a Sonata
in C, I believe, as passersby
hear but don’t listen.
I sit, outside your frame,
watching your body
sway in time to the rhythm
of some long-ago memory,
a postcard wrapped up
but when darkness
descends, I’ll hold
your hand, letting
the calm flicker inside
this gloom of this room,
as we move in the groove
of the dance-light.
Luka and I created a song called Alchemist Dream, based on some earlier interactions with Networked Narratives on the theme of “digital alchemy.” The theme of A Whale’s Lantern was “the elements,” so I worked those two strands — alchemy and elements — together in the initial demo I sent Luka, who then transformed the music with his own magical abilities.
Here are the lyrics to the song, in case you are curious:
The Alchemist Dream (Sleep Deep)
If I could take this fire
stoke these embers of desire for you
I’d burn it up higher
Won’t you catch me, I’m a flier for you
I can catch the water
turn the buckets into bottles of wine
Let it run us on over
let the water flow deep inside
Hold your hands together
let the sand be the trace of time
Let the earth shape and move us
the universe is tuned to rhyme
But only when we sleep, deep,
in Alchemist Dreams
They can only find us there –
digging in the world
I’m breathing in poems
the words as light as air
Telling all the stories
‘cause the songs are everywhere
But only when we sleep, deep,
in Alchemist Dreams
They can only find us there –
breathing in the world
The second round of music by collaboration — known by the project title A Whale’s Lantern — has now been released, and the theme of the musical pieces was The Elements. The album is located for listening, and for downloading, at Bandcamp. The whole project is built on collaboration — from the songwriting, to the recording, to the production. Each song represents a different collaborative partnership.
I was paired up with Luka, an amazing engineer and musician from Eastern Europe, and we worked together on a song called Alchemist Dream.
I wrote the lyrics, inspired in part by the Alchemy theme of Networked Narratives, and Luka wrote the music, and then we worked via email and other means to merge the two pieces together. I sing the song, and added some sax at the end, but Luka has done everything else. The back and forth we had was intriguing in many ways, and I am pretty happy with how our track ended up. Luka deserves much of the credit for the production value, as he spent hours working on it.
If you are wondering how this all works, a call went out from our friend Mascha in the Mastodon networking space (this is the second round; the first round is entitled Flight into the Nebula, and I worked with Laura on a song I wrote called I Fall Apart).
Participants are given rather random partners, and an extended period of time to work together. Some partnerships don’t get the finish line for all sorts of reasons. This second round had more completed tracks than the first.
The songs are then pulled together (by Mascha, who is the heart and soul of this project) on Bandcamp for sharing, and for purchase, with some proceeds going back into supporting the Mastodon network.
Read the oral history project from the first Whale’s Lantern album:
The deeper I am reading into Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, the more annoyed I am getting at his view of teachers, like myself, in public schools, like where I teach. His accusatory tone and finger-pointing of the problems of the world seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of teachers. In some ways, this echoes the political landscape of today, with the kind of sentiment stated by Betsy DeVos and her crew, although the recent teacher actions are visible public counters to this narrative.
Which is not to say that every teacher in every classroom is doing what they need to do for all their students. There is plenty of blame to go around for why too many of our students are not getting the education they need to live the life they deserve. But Illich has all teachers in traditional settings in his crosshairs.
That said, I am enjoying the ability to annotate and discuss his book in the margins via Hypothesis, as a part of a CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Activity, and others are in the mix with me. I have just finished the section section and am moving on to the third.
We’re having discussions and feedback in the margins of the text, with a focus on how Illich’s views on education (published in the early 1970s) on student agency and individualized student learning might connect/disconnect with the principles underpinning Connected Learning. It’s been interesting to read this piece with that frame in mind.
So far, I see nearly 75 annotations have been made. There’s room for you.