The Boy in the Newspaper

I was reading through our Boston Globe on Sunday, engaged in this story about a boy who is undergoing experimental brain surgery to combat something known as Dystonia when I realized … this is a former student of mine! Alex was one of my students in writing class a few years ago, and although he had some difficulties walking, his disease had not progressed to the point where it apparently is now. He can barely walk or talk, and so his family — immigrants from Russia and deeply conservative and religious — are opting for experimental brain surgery that they hope will unlock the vibrant, intelligent and thoughtful young man from the confines of his unreponsive body.

I am torn with emotions — sad about the progression of his disease and in awe of his courage to keep on fighting. Needless to say, the physical act of writing was a chore for Alex — his hand did not always do what he wanted it to do — but he was always open for new ideas and new directions, and could articulate those ideas pretty clearly. His religious faith was always on the surface, allowing him to draw strength from his understanding of the world.

The article in the paper about Alex (and the photos they have there, too) reminds us of the different paths that so many lives take in the world. Perhaps, as both a father and a teacher, the story hit me hard. My heart goes out to Alex and his family, and I hope his faith sees him through.

Peace (in contemplation),

Day in a Sentence: Bonnie is Your Host

When I took over the reigns of the Day in a Sentence from The Reflective Teacher, my intention was not only to continue the great work that he was doing but to try to push the collaborative venture in new directions. (Thus, our forays into podcasting and VoiceThread and my hopes to stumble upon some cool mapping-writing site).

So this week, I asked my friend, Bonnie Kaplan, to guest-host the feature for us this week, and I hope as time moves on that I can ask the same of some others in the group of regular sentence-writers. It’s really not that difficult to do and is a great way to showcase your blog.

Please head on over to Bonnie’s Blog — — and write your sentence.

Peace (in brevity),

A Look Inside Imaginary Lands

As part of expository/informational writing (coupled with creative writing), my sixth graders worked on a project in which they invent an Imaginary Land and then create a travel brochure, using techniques gained from examining real travel brochures and advertising campaigns. They amount of investment they put into this project is pretty cool, and the coupling of writing and art really fuels a lot of them to do great work.

I scanned in a bunch of the maps, in particular, to share with parents and so I share them with you, too.

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Peace (in new worlds),

Youth Radio — On the Edublog List

My Youth Radio project — which has yet to really get off the ground this school year but is close — is one of the finalists for the Edublogger Awards for 2007 in the category of educational use of audio. That is really great news for the teachers and students who have been collaborating.

Why not take a minute to cast a vote?

And while you are there, check out the many great blogs and resources that are available out there.

Peace (in podcasting),

Your Day in a Sentence — Post-Turkey Day Edition

This week’s Day in a Sentence includes some new friends, as I posted a call for responses over at the Classroom 2.0, just to see what might happen. (My fear was hundreds of posts but that hasn’t happened … yet). Without further ado, here are your Days in a Sentence (with no podcasts this week — darn it):

The holiday break was on the minds of many this week, including Delaine, who wrote about finding some time away: “A holiday getaway to our San Francisco highrise made me giddy with pleasure.”

Sue, who comes to us via Classroom 2.0 and who has launched her own site called MasteryMaze for teachers and students, had a residue of good feelings from meetings at her school: “This week’s resounding applause from parents and students at parent teacher conferences reinforced my belief, as unpopular as it may be to many, that you can reach them best if you are courageous enough to step into their world!

Durff, whom I seem to run into all over the Web and who is doing some amazing things in many different format, posted her comment on Classroom 2.0 for us. She writes: “This week could be wrapped up by saying it was a week of great loss, great gains, and great rest: the great loss was Monday when a good friend died; great gains when 17 faculty went to ACSI; and great rest for Thanksgiving holiday in USA.

My colleague, Susan, of the Western Mass Writing Project, is still energized by the meetings in New York City. She writes: “There’s nothing more satisfying than connecting people with people and opportunities that support their passions, their great thinking minds, and their vital voices; it’s like living your life in hyperlink!

Ben is nearing fatherhood (whoo-hoo) and realizes that being away from home is not so great a thing, as he muses: “I realized that using the NWP/NCTE New York conference as a exciting, if not poetic, deathbed for the final weeks for the pre-fatherhood epoch in my life was useless because I missed my wife almost as much as I missed seeing my unborn sun bulge in her belly.” (Editor’s Note: Did he mean sun? or son? I didn’t change it because sun seemed poetic to me).

Amy‘s words kept coming, beyond a sentence, and who am I to edit the rush of the writer? She writes: “This week we had our Thanksgiving Morning Ex at school. (Morning Exercises are all-school assemblies that occur once or twice a week.) The Thanksgiving Mex is always highlights fall service learning projects that have happened in the lower, middle, and upper schools. I am the service learning coordinator for the lower school, and although it is a lot of work to put together, it went really well. Today I am baking pies in preparation for tomorrow’s festivities! (Sorry that was more like a paragraph than a sentence!)

Larry (whose blog site you must read regularly — it is wonderful) comes to us with a possible solution for a practical problem, and some learning, too. He writes: “The highlight of this short week was the classroom management success of giving two VERY active students soccer “stress balls,” with the caveat that they had to jot down at least one time each day when they used it (so they might eventually see a pattern).”

Bonnie seems a bit rested and then disturbed by real life, and it comes in the form of filling up the tank. (Is there a metaphor here?) She writes: “Coming back to life without a workshop to prepare for is nice, just a chance to breathe and devour some turkey and wonder just how high the cost of gas will go until someone screams out: I WON”T TAKE IT ANYMORE!

Cheryl (who co-created the podcast-friendly Seedlings Ning for the K12 Online Conference) continues to spread her knowledge and skills with others, as she notes, “I presented about Moodle in 4 different workshops and teachers moved on with Moodle, I am a happy presenter.

Ginny, who has been forging her way into podcasting with the Seedlings Ning site started by Cheryl, is looking closer at student interaction, explaining: “I have discovered how peer assessment, that is students assessing students, contributes to deeper learning and is a fairer way to recognise contribution to groupwork for example.

And then there is Nancy, a virtual friend with whom I met in real life in NYC, who writes: “This week, I went to bed early nearly every night, recovering from a weekend of volunteering and being professionally developed, and practically gave up on teaching my Juniors, those little buggers; thank goodness Thanksgiving is finally here.

So there you have it — a great expanse of writing and thoughts. I encourage you all to follow some of the links to each other’s blogs, and begin a conversation — start a friendship — connect.

Peace (in shortness),

Questions of Leadership: Inquiry with NWP

NPW NYC 07 (4)

In New York City for the National Writing Project, I had the pleasure of co-leading a session that centered on encouraging teacher leadership and developing strategies for encouraging teachers to become more active in programs via the NWP and also showing some ways that current leaders can facilitate that growth and development. It’s not easy and we began our session by having folks come up with some inquiry questions — the ideas that brought them to the session in the first place.

(Note: TC = teacher consultants = teachers in the writing project)

Here is that list:

  • How can I motivate/inspire overworked teachers to jump at the chance to be writers?
  • How do we draw too-busy TCs into leadership?
  • Are there “good reasons” to attract “teachers” – not just leaders – and if so, what are those reasons?
  • What are different ways leadership can “look”?
  • How do we keep others wanting to lead?
  • How can TC leaders help us build participation in initiatives they lead?
  • How do we open closed ears?
  • What strategies can address burnout?
  • What timeline should we pursue?
  • How can we encourage those who won’t take risks?
  • As the site grows, and the responsibilities of various positions grow, how do you figure out what positions to pay and how much is reasonable?
  • What are the issues of teacher leadership from the perspective of school districts?
  • How does a relatively new or developing site develop leadership capacity without “burning out” existing leadership?
  • What are some incentives to encouraging TCs to take on leadership roles.
  • How do we give up responsibilities that we do because no one else can do them?
  • Why are people so afraid to step up to the plate?
  • How can I keep the work I want to do and share the work others want to/should do?
  • How do we groom leaders – allowing for “messy maturation” process and respecting the growth – without micromanaging or having crash and burns?
  • Finding venues for TCs to grow?
  • How do you get people to follow through on promises made?
  • How can we sustain our current leadership – keep them from taking on too much responsibility or burning out?
  • What resources are necessary for growing teacher leaders?
  • What are the qualities of a good leader in the Writing Project? A good potential leader?
  • How can we turn “leadership” into an opportunity instead of a burden?
  • What carrots do you give? Long term and short term. What mentoring do you provide?
  • How can we move from beyond sustaining our site and create systems for growth?
  • Are there approaches that you have used at your site that have increased involvement of TCs after they have participated in the Summer Institute. (Our TCs are willing but time is such an issue)
  • How do you find your voice among a strong leadership team that has defined its own?
  • How can we empower TCs and share leadership and ownership?

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Peace (in inquiry),

Take a look at Lookybooks

My friend, Susan, showcased this very cool site for picture books called Lookybook and I realized that you can embed the books as a flash file in the blog itself. I love picture books and use them all the time in my classrooms so this site is very much welcome (thanks, Susan!).
I liked this one in particular. It is called Jazz by Christopher and Walter Dean Meyers. I know it is impossible to read here so feel free to go to the site and take a look at the book directly.

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Peace (in picture books),

Your Day/Week in A Sentence

This is a shout-out for everyone to capture your week or a day of your week into a single, concise, emotionally-centered sentence. Last week’s VoiceThread experiment didn’t generate too much response but I won’t give up and will give it another go at another time.

This week, it’s back to tradition, so please use the comment feature on this post to share your sentence with us. Please leave your name and your blog, so we can connect with others. You can also podcast your sentence — just provide me with a link to your file or podcast or email an audio file to me directly at dogtrax(at)gmail(dot)com and I can host it for you.

I will collect and post all of the submissions over the weekend.

Here is mine:

“I discovered the joys of quickfiction this week and find my thoughts jumping from short narrative to short narrative in an attempt to harvest this little goldmine as a writer and maybe later, as a teacher.”

Peace (in all of our myriad connections),


Richard Sterling at NWP: One Last Address

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Richard Sterling, the executive director of the National Writing Project, is stepping down from his post as leader of this wonderful organization. Last week, in New York City, he gave his last public address to the more than 1,000 teachers attending the NWP annual meeting. I have only met him once, briefly, but I have always looked forward to his talk at the last three annual meetings that I have attended. His words and stories have been inspiration and empowering, and I will miss his voice and humor at these meetings.

If you missed his speech in New York City, you can take a listen here as I created a podcast of his public address. (The sound is just OK, not great).

Peace (in inspiration),


Student Voices — Changing Our Community

My sixth graders just completed a short, 300-word essay that focused on the suburban town where they live and what issue they would address if they were elected a leader of the community. This was a new project for me and I brought in some local elected officials and the town administrator to talk about local government. Many of my students were quite oblivious to way that decisions that affect them — such as maintenance and creation of new recreational areas or funding for technology for schools — were actually made.

We almost always share out our final writing to the class and this time, I brought in my Blue Snowball microphone (high quality, USB connected) and set up my teacher chair and offered to record them reading their essays. Almost two-thirds of each class volunteered to the podcast, which amazed me. I guess they want their voices heard. The podcasts have been posted on our classroom weblog and are being shared with town officials and parents and school administrators.

Here are a few:

Peace (in fostering change and leadership),