A Song for My Son and Friends (Children of the 21st Century)

Some of the references here are local (in that the lyrics are aimed at individuals you don’t know), but this song is one I wrote and performed with family and friends for my son and his friends at our party for their high school graduation this weekend.

I started the dang thing too fast on my guitar (that’s me in my Why I Write shirt!), and the drums are a bit too loud (even with brushes, but my dad didn’t realize it at the time because we were all acoustic, playing outside), but it was a way to show love and appreciation for the kid upon completing high school.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

Writing Scripts to Film Stories

Lessons from the Screenplay

This might be helpful for those of us, and our students, who want to go deeper into the movie-making medium. Lessons from the Screenplay is a YouTube channel with tons of videos on how to write for the screen. All free. Cool.

Thanks, Terry, for the mention in your newsletter on this one.

Peace (filming it forever),
Kevin

Book Review: This Is Just a Test

No, the “test” is not a standardized test. The “test” in This Is Just a Test, a novel by Madelyn Rosenberg and Wendy Wan-Long Shang is a nuclear bomb test. In this solid novel for middle school readers, set in the time of folks watching “The Day After,” we’re brought into the world of a character trying to make sense of a very confused world.

David Da-Wei Horowitz, with a Chinese grandmother and a Jewish grandmother at odds with each other over cultural heritage, is prepping for his bar mitzvah as the world shudders in the face of Nuclear War. The television show “The Day After” sent ripples through pop culture (as I well remember) and David wonders when the world might end.

The book has serious themes, but it is also a lighthearted look at a mixed-culture kid trying to find friendship and understanding, and finding ways to bring family together even in the midst of disagreement (the bar mitzvah surfaces tensions). Meanwhile, David is writing to another kid in Russia, a Jewish boy who will share in David’s bar mitzvah ceremonies from afar (since he cannot do it in the USSR). And he and a friend are building a bomb shelter, and debating the ethics of who gets to be invited in to the shelter.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this novel, and yet, once I was into the story, I really appreciated how the authors tackled such sensitive issues of culture, religion and global politics with grace and humanity. Maybe it helped that I was a kid during these same years of the story. The novel brings to light the Cold War fears of a generation (maybe not re-lit with the spats between the US and North Korea, and Iran).

Peace (bring it),
Kevin

In the House With a Pulitzer-Prize Winner

Kendrick Lamar live

This Pulitzer-prize winning writer gets loud and indignant with his words, and pushes the envelope on what it means to be a young black artist in the world of Trump, and Black Lives Matter, and frustration over inequities. This writer uses black history as cultural reference points, and brings in the urban experience as a narrative frame. His words resonate with a large, and growing, audience.

This is Kendrick Lamar.

I was thinking of this whole Pulitzer Prize last night as my son and I, and thousands of other fans, rapped along with Kendrick during a concert in Connecticut. (Let me revise: I danced my white man’s dance to the beat, but I didn’t know the lyrics well enough to rap along with him with any coherence … I was surprised how many times the audience took the ‘mic’ from Kendrick during songs, on his invitation, and easily knew the words, the whole stadium in tandem, one voice.)

I remembered, and agreed, with something that commentator Clay Cane wrote in CNN when Lamar’s Pulitzer Prize for Music award was announced:

Like Nina Simone, Lamar isn’t a passive, woe-is-me voice; he is equally outraged and inspired, unapologetically angry but ready to create change. — https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/16/opinions/kendrick-lamar-pulitzer-cane/index.html

So true, and it was clear, this audience was with him.

Kendrick even poked fun at the award itself at one point last night, using a “Pulitzer Kenny” sign on the backdrop as he showed off his verbal dexterity with words, creating rhythms that, even if difficult to hear the lyrics in this live setting, impressed the ears. He can spin rhymes, and those rhymes tell stories, and those stories resonate with his audience.

That’s what writers do.

One more note: The last time I took my 13 year old son to a hip hop show (it was Future as the main act), I was disappointed (but not surprised) that the entire music element was tracked songs. No live musicians.

Not for Kendrick (who has worked with some pretty impressive musicians on his albums). Lamar had an amazing backing band — bass, guitar, drums, keys — that kept the groove kicking it all night long. The drummer, in particular, was incredible, powering the songs with a beat you could feel in your chest.

Peace (inside the beat),
Kevin

Of Poets and Dogs (Where a Riff Might Take Us)


A dog poet flickr photo by Monika Kostera (urbanlegend) shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Our beloved
poets and dogs
drag home
the damndest things:
bones,
mirrors
and seeds.

The bones
remind us
of what we’ve
chewed on endlessly
through the night.

The mirror
reflects back
on us the decisions
we’ve made,
and then regretted.

The seeds
hold out hope
for where the path
might lead us,
ever forward
into the unknown
possibilities.

Another version: https://notegraphy.com/dogtrax/note/3512461

Terry left a few comments in the margins of my post, about writing about the margins of an article about Digital Writing. His phrasing caught my attention.

As we often talk about extending notes and comments beyond the original source, I took a few of his words (of dogs and poets) and riffed a poem off the top of it. And then I shared it in Mastodon, where I often write #smallpoems with CLMOOC friends Terry, Algot and others.

So, from here to there, and there, to here, and then there again.

We wander.

Peace (in the poem),
Kevin

What Emerges from the Margins about the Future of Digital Writing

Troy Hicks digitalwriting3

I wasn’t sure if other people would follow me up on my invitation. But I knew I wanted to annotate with Hypothesis the opening article in the NCTE journal — Voices from the Middle — about the future of digital writing, by Troy Hicks. Then, I saw a tweet from a friend, Gail, commenting on the article, too, and I knew I had to go ahead and start up a crowd annotation project. I wasn’t the only one wanting to engage with the text.

So, I sent the link out a few times over the weekend, and got some folks to engage with me (including Troy, and I can’t say enough how important it is to a reader to the have writer engaged in the margins in a conversation about the text they wrote.) By midweek, there were nearly 40 annotations — a mix of words, image, sound and video.

You see, this was not just about reading about Digital Writing. It was also an act of using Digital Writing to make sense of the piece about Digital Writing. Sure, a bit recursive, but an important insight. We can talk and write in text all we want about what writing should be. But when the opportunity comes to write with media, to write in the margins of an online text, you need to take the invitation forward.

This is your invitation.

A few days in to the annotation activity, Terry asked this important question to me and others on Twitter:

I am enjoying the conversation. Intrinsically valuable. Have to ask the question implicit in every annotation mob? Of what use is the conversation going forward and beyond an intrinsic one? Is intrinsic value enough? What could be curated and shared out beyond mere response? — https://twitter.com/telliowkuwp/status/1003632172698361856

I responded:

I think curation/context of the margins should be next … It would be neat to have different people reflect/curate. I know that is prob unlikely. Still, surfacing ideas is important part of the process. Orphaned comments seem contrary to activity. — https://twitter.com/dogtrax/status/1003745466708832257

So, here I am, aiming to pull out some of the many threads from the conversation in the margins in a way that helps me make sense of it all, and maybe gain some reflective insights. If you do the same, please share your link. We can then be linked together.

Some distinct themes emerged from within the margins of Troy’s text. Here is my sense of the topics that resonated most clearly:

  • Defining Digital Writing continues to vex many of us in the field of teaching and writing, as we try to articulate what we mean and envision, and then put into practice in our classrooms;
  • It’s not just the defining of the term, but also whether we even should be using Digital Writing as a signifier. Or it is just … writing, with the digital element just part of how we write. Or, maybe, composition?
  • The technology itself is less important than helping to nurture student agency on how to best use the technology available at this moment in time to find clarity of thought and intent, and creativity. Joe riffs off Troy’s mention of Snapchat, to show how this social sharing tool has possibilities for sharing stories, not just gossip.
  • Some of us used the margins as a place to leave poems, inspired by the text. Thanks to Greg, for example, for his small piece. To use poetry to express understanding, or to ask questions, or to further the topic … this is another way the margins can become active and alive in interesting ways. It’s writing about the writing, attached directly to the text.
    And then, Terry took that poem and remixed it with image as a digital poem:
  • Mulling over what forms of media enhance writing, and which might distract, is part of what writers do, and Sheri notes, in a comment about Word Clouds, how she remembered a student using this visual representation of text, and then going much deeper with a reflection on design, colors, fonts and more. This pushing deeper into understanding through reflective practice is important.
  • The ability for us, as teachers, to expand access and opportunity, and choice, with digital tools for writing and expression remains a challenge for many of us, hemmed in by our current school structure (and funding woes). Terry makes a connection to both Ivan Illich (whose work on DeSchooling was recently annotated in CLMOOC — see that work here and note how one annotated text now connects to another annotated text) and sheep farming, as Terry mentions a certain stasis that many of  us find ourselves in. He suggests that words in the margins are not enough. Action and change is required, if we are to reach all our students in meaningful ways.
  • Greg makes note that the web and the ways we interact with it with our writing has changed, moving steadily away from “the open web” to a more corporate structure. He suggests, and he is working hard, to move us back to the Indieweb concept, including finding ways to give ownership of spaces to students to find their voice and their passion.
  • Troy shares various links to various sites and applications and platforms where one might explore further some of the potentials extensions of writing. I re-found Voyant through Troy’s piece. It is a writing analysis tool that has many bells and whistles as it creates a snapshot analysis of writing. Here, I took a paragraph from Troy’s piece and put it through Voyant. What does one do with this? I suspect one would dig in and then find ways to remix the analysis, to surface and uncover things below the writing itself.
    Using Voyant on Troy
    At the very least, this tool gives your writing a visual look. At worst, it makes your writing become a meaningless analysis, where you lose all context of theme. So, in an effort to play with the concepts of digital writing, I used Troy’s words, to make the visual, that became the basis of a poem about losing meaning when writing gets reduced to its parts:
    Troy's Words Inside Voyant Inspires Poem
  • And finally, Troy, in being part of this discussion about his own text, notes his appreciation for this kind of discourse. What this does is keep the text alive and out in the open. Which, I contend, is important for any consideration of the future of writing.

The beauty of Hypothesis is that the annotation doesn’t have to end now. It can restart anytime you arrive and make a comment. So, whether today is today (my time) or a year from now (your time), please do come in and add some thoughts. Reflect. Connect. Write about writing.

See you in the margins.

Peace (upon reflection),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Remove the Negative/Keep the Positive

(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.)

Every single year that I have taught (16 years), woodcarver Elton Braithwaite has arrived in early June to work with our sixth graders on a woodcarving project.

For a full week, as an artist in residence, he teaches our students the ways to be creative with wood. More than that, though, his message of tolerance, of perseverance, of making opportunities, of learning what others want to teach you — these are the most important parts of Elton’s visit. Those are the things that will resonate after the school year ends.

Yesterday, his message included the following phrase, in which he used woodcarving as a metaphor for life. He was talking about how a woodcarver’s job is to surface the art by removing that which surrounds it, to envision what you want to remain strong and vibrant by taking away things that hide it.

Remove the negative. Keep the positive. — Elton

I really love that phrase, and appreciate that my students will have a chance to learn from Elton, not just about art (although the art they will make is magnificent and woodcarving projects decorate many of our school hallways and rooms) but also about what it means to live a positive and fulfilling life, to dream and then to make those dreams become a reality.

Elton Comes to Visit

Peace (surfaced on the plane of the world),
Kevin

PS — I show this to my students before Elton arrives.

 

 

Summer Camp Design: Student Explorations of Past, Present, Future

Minds Made for Stories Summer Camp Mission StatementI am in the second year of facilitating a free summer camp for inner city middle school students at our local National Historic Site — the Springfield Armory. This project is funded through Mass Humanities foundation, with support from the National Park Service and the National Writing Project.

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, of which I am a member, is the lead organization, but there are all sorts of interesting partnerships that have emerged from this adventure. Our partner school — Duggan Middle Academy — is a social justice-themed expeditionary magnet school in Springfield, Massachusetts.

This weekend, I worked with the other teachers to complete the design of our free summer camp, which takes place at the Armory itself. Our theme this year is the World War Two Homefront, and we will be tackling issues of women in the workforce and segregation of the military (Double V) and innovation and technology at the Armory.

We’ve worked on a mission statement to guide our design, and I think it does a nice job of capturing what we are planning, which is an immersive, hands-on experience with history, told through the stories that will emerge from the vast archives of primary sources available at the Springfield Armory. This statement guides our planning work.

I took our statement and tinkered with Lumen5 to create this:

Peace (and perspectives),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Overstory

The entire first section of The Overstory by Richard Powers was pure magic. I was enthralled by the writing, as Powers sets up the “roots” of this story in character sketches of complicated people with complicated lives, all connected to the concept of trees and seeds and plants. I could not stop reading.

The middle and ending of the novel are strong, but not quite as strong as the beginning. Still, Powers does an amazing job of weaving the science of trees into the narratives of human lives, and the places where all things eventually connect together. You come away from this novel with a new appreciation for the trees in your yard, or the forests where you walk, or the invisible architecture of what’s below the soil, keeping us all alive. There’s more than meets the eye, Powers tells us.

I wasn’t quite satisfied with the ending, but I don’t know what I would have done different (not that I am second-guessing a talented writer like Powers). I anticipated more of a reckoning of some sort, of how people and trees are connected to this Earth, and how we share a common cellular ancestry. But maybe that was not his point. Maybe it was the illumination of all living things, and the notion that trees contain more than we can ever think to know.

Which is probably true.

Peace (in all the stories),
Kevin

NCTE Journal Review: What’s Next with Digital Tools and Social Media

The May 2018 edition of the NCTE journal – Voices from the Middle — arrived in the mail and immediately caught my attention. It’s part of a series of “What’s Next” themed editions of the journal (an edition about what’s next in reading was intriguing), and this one is entitled “What’s Next? Digital Tools and Social Media” and, if you know me at all, you know that is something I am interested in as a teacher and a writer (and a parent).

I was not surprised to Troy Hicks writing an introduction of sorts, as he framed the way technology is shaping our writing practices, and how our writing practices is shaping our use of technology. Yes, it goes both ways, and Troy has been writing and sharing and teaching us strategies about digital writing for many years now. (And Troy, thanks for the shout-out in your piece.) I was interested in the way Troy ended each section with an insight about digital writing, and what it means as we look ahead to teaching and writing.

In other articles in the journal, I appreciated the exploration of digital imagery as a connection to understanding and uncovering the inner lives of our students, the strategies for battling the fake news phenomenon, how infographics might extend writing practices and the use of argument, and the way technology might open more doors for students of color to have a voice in the world. There are solid classroom examples, and lots of resources, to explore in these pieces.

Overall, the theme from this wide range of writers and teachers is to remember that technology is a tool, not the thing. Students need to remain at the center of the learning and the writing, and educators — from the veteran teachers (like Chris Lehman’s piece about the imperative of pre-service teachers getting experience with digital literacies and Linda Rief’s piece about long-time teachers relying on students to teach us) — and the key to the work we all do to adapt to the changing world is, as the Cathy Fleischer notes, is “making this work sustainable” by connecting and sharing with other educators.

You can access a few of the pieces for free at the NCTE site, but many of the pieces are in the journal that comes with being a NCTE member. Since Troy’s piece is open and free, how about joining me in using Hypothesis to annotate his column?

Read and react to The Next Decade of Digital Writing by Troy Hicks

See you in the margins.

Peace (exploring what’s ahead),
Kevin