At WMWP: Instruments in a Common Band

WMWP Best Practices Overview

The small group planning the two main conferences for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project this year have decided to have an overarching theme of the entire year. Which I think is a fantastic idea — the theme is the thread to connect our work.

Even better is the theme they chose: Instruments in a Common Band. The tagline is: Voice, Identity and Respectful Dialogue. Perfect, right?

Not just metaphorically, which works for me as a musician, but also with the intent of encouraging the consideration of different voices and identity and discussion in the field of teaching and writing. Our first weekend conference is coming up, and the sessions and the keynote address reflect this theme rather nicely.

The “common band” phrasing has stuck with me, too. How we are all making music together, metaphorically — sometimes in harmony; sometimes, with cacophony; sometimes in rhythm; sometimes, not. Our obligation is not just to make noise but to make music. Not just as teachers, but as learners. As citizens.

And the theme certainly dovetails nicely with our WMWP Mission Statement.

Peace (sung from the band of the Common),
Kevin

PS — if you are in Western Massachusetts, there is still time to register for our Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing on Saturday, October 13.

How Can We Tell If We Are Biased, If We Already Are Biased?

On Bias

I believe we all come to any table with a boatload of bias, and anyone who tells you different is either being dishonest or has their head in the sand. Surfacing bias is difficult — it shows our own weakness and makes us vulnerable to criticism. Add the online echo chamber effect to this — where the disparate voices can quickly turn from support to tear-down mode — and you have a difficult conversation.

The World You Never Knew

I’m starting to look at bias through some TED talks. Here are a few that are catching my attention for further viewing. Some are related to our use of technology, and how it amplifies or confirms our bias, and then narrows our experiences, and others are more general in nature about bias and human nature:

And

And

And

Peace (biased but not broken),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Supernova (Amulet #8)

The first thing I did when I got the very last page of the newest Amulet book — Supernova — by Kazu Kibuishi (one of my favorite graphic novelists) is rush to my 14 year old son and proclaim: “There’s only going to be one more book in the Amulet series!”

He wasn’t quite as excited and depressed as I was, even though he has been reading the Amulet series nearly his entire life. The first book came out in 2008, when he was four. His older brothers, now at college, devoured the books, and re-read them with passion. Every time a new one came out, they would battle over who got to read it first. The youngest son, the one still left in the house, ended up with the entire series to peruse and read without squabbling.

I was excited to read that a ninth book will be coming down the road (it usually is a few years) and depressed that the series would be coming to a close. The Amulet storyline — of multiple protagonists on multiple worlds caught up on a struggle between the shadow creatures and Stonekeepers, who wear amulets of ancient magic) — is intricate but accessible, and Kibuishi’s artwork will sometimes take your breath away with its beauty.

The newest book — Supernova — continues in that tradition, with a fast-paced story that follows a handful of main characters, all working their way back to each other (for the last book, no doubt). Kibuishi does not bring you up to speed at the start of new editions, but if you have read the story, you are immediately transported back to the worlds, to the adventure, to the moral and ethical decisions facing the young heroes — most of all, Emily, the main protagonist and newest Stonekeeper for whom the fate of many worlds rest.

My young teenage son, the one at home, has been reading Supernova, too, but it was a student in my classroom, who saw an extra copy I put out, who captured the excitement that I have for the Amulet books. She nearly skipped over to me when she saw it, nearly bubbling with surprise, and asked: “Can I borrow that book?”

You bet, I said, and she left the classroom with a huge smile, hugging the book. Now, that is a moment worth savoring.

Peace (among worlds),
Kevin

Writing for the Reading Zine: In Praise of the Locked Room Mystery

Summer Library Zine Project

It was early in the summer when I saw a little notice at the local library about a reading book Zine they were putting together, and if anyone wanted, they could submit something. Of course, I figured: I’ll make a comic! So I did – I created one about locked-room mysteries, as I was reading Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs.

I sent it in and forgot about it.

Locked Room Mystery Comic

Well, I got an email last week, saying the Zine was out, and that I had won a free movie pass to a local independent movie place, and a copy of the Zine was waiting for me. I went and perused the tiny stapled publication, and I absolutely love the variety of art and writing. They way they call it a Literary Magazine is also a nice gesture.

I even saw a neighbor’s 10-year-old daughter had a short story in there — a lovely piece about the sun and the moon — so I congratulated her for her writing, and she beamed.

I love the simplicity of Zines and the connection to the library as a public space.

Peace (zine-ing it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Four Presentations in the Days Ahead

(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.)

In the next two weeks, I am facilitating or co-facilitating four different workshops at three different places, and while I am making good progress, I still feel a bit scattered, thinking through all of the tasks I have to do to get it all into place.

October Presentations

This weekend, my Write Out colleague Bethany Silva and I are doing an online presentation for the 4TDW (teachers teaching teachers about technology and digital writing), and we used Zoom this weekend to finalize most of the planning. Online presentations like this are tricky because you want to engage the audience and encourage them to visit resources, but then you need to have them all come back to the platform. The virtual conference is free, by the way, and our session on Write Out (an initiative between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service) is on Saturday, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

A week from today, meanwhile, I am gathering with some grade 3-6 colleagues in our school district, as I have been asked to lead a Professional Learning Community around Project-Based Learning. I have a bunch of activities and activators all set up, but there is limited time, and we will meet only one more time this year. Yeah, not really a PLC. More like a PBL teaser, but I’ll do my best to get conversations started and underway.

Finally, two other presentations take place a week later at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s annual fall conference. on October 13 at UMass Amherst. There, I am doing another version of the Write Out workshop (but this time, more localized, around our work with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site) as well as a workshop about digital annotation and the Writing Our Civic Futures project from Educator Innovator. My aim is to get us annotating a text (by Linda Christensen) on paper (first, solo, and then as a workshop), then together, online, joining the crowd annotation project.

Phew. October just started, and it already seems busy.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

A Found Poem from a Shared Text, Composed in the Margins

As part of my annotation of War in Translation for Equity Unbound, I found a sentence/passage that lent itself to a poem, so I wrote in the margins of the piece. Later, I took the poem and created this video version, which I think is powerful for the combination of words, image and music.

Author Lina Mounzer writes:

 In the considered, deliberate act of translation, these I’s bump up into one another again and again until they are accidentally shattered, the various pieces of these commingled selves becoming, for long moments, indistinguishable from one another.

I wrote:

from you
comes I
for I have
become you;
these words
now of us
co-mingle,
indistinguishable
in these long moments
where we both emerge
accidentally shattered
by story.

Peace (outside of it),
Kevin

What a Reader Brings To a Collective Story

Reader Interpretation

There’s a moment of realization upon reading “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria” by Lina Mounzer when her opening stories of anguish and war and struggle give way to the realization that she is writing in a collective voice. I found myself jolted (although, to be honest, if only I had spent more time reading the title of the piece, perhaps I would have better realized the situation).

I made a note of this surprise in the annotated margins of the article, as folks in Equity Unbound (including Maha’s class in Egypt) are crowd-annotating Mounzer’s powerful piece. I don’t want it to be a criticism of Mounzer’s writing, because it is not. (You can read and annotate, too, if you want. Just follow this link to the piece.)

But it did get me thinking about the role of the single reader experiencing a collective story. In this case, Mounzer is distilling the stories of multiple women in Syria who blogged about living in a state of war, and how it impacted their families, their lives, their futures. Her role was as translator, and also as curator of collective voices. Her intention was to give voice to the struggles of women in Syria, and she succeeds.

So what is my role, the reader removed from the scene, in this story? These are some rough thoughts this morning, before I head back into the text for more reading.

A reader must determine veracity. We live in the age of Fake News and Unreliable News. I did my due diligence by following the biography of Mounzer and her organization, and determined as best as I could that she seemed to be who she says she is, and that I could believe in her work. This is key to a collective story format like this, as a curator and translator could easily invent stories to make a point. The ‘multiple voice’ format is easily manipulated by a writer. That does not appear to be the case here. I believe these stories.

A reader must be willing to be transported. Aleppo is far from my home. I am in a comfortable, and safe, space as I read about these brave women trying to survive under a brutal regime and violent revolution. As reader, I must try to make their stories present in my head and in my heart. I must try to understand. In this case, the act of crowd-annotation is helpful, for it forces the reader to interact with the text on a meaningful level. I can’t ignore the stories. I have to acknowledge them.

A reader should find other readers. This may not be true in all cases — there are plenty of pieces I read alone and never share with anyone — but here, in a piece about collective voices that comes within a theme about avoiding “the single story,” it seems rather important that readers gather together to read together. The use of Hypothesis helps this. The reader is not alone, as the Syrian bloggers are not alone. As Mounzer brings the writers together, so does Hypothesis and Equity Unbound bring readers together.

A reader brings themselves and their own stories into the texts. I am thinking of how engaging with the text from other people from other parts of the world has the potential to expand my own understanding of the world. One’s perspective of Syria from the United States is likely different from the perspectives of someone from the Middle East, I suspect. This is because we have different stories to tell, and different ways to make connections to the story of stories we are reading together. I’m not talking about sharing intimate experiences with the world, with people we don’t really know. But readers bring where they were to where they are, and reading other readers is powerful.

When the reader becomes writer, the writer knows they are being read. Sorry for the tricky phrasing, but I was thinking of how the annotations would be received by Mounzer, and if she would find a way to send those comments forth to the women bloggers she has curated. I can visualize this loop, from stories, to curation, to article, to readers, to annotation, to comments, to stories, to writers. Those bloggers needed an audience. They used writing to make sense of an unpredictable world. A world of sadness and violence. We are their audience. You are their audience. Annotation makes the reader visible.

What do you think? What’s the role of the reader in any text?

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

 

Considering Perspectives: There Is No Single Story

Beyond the Single Story

The topic of The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie in the Equity Unbound course suddenly seems everywhere in my field of vision. First, of course, the professors who are collaborating in the Equity Unbound (Mia, Maha and Catherine) have invited the open participants to view the TED talk on this topic.

But then, at a meeting this week for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a colleague who teaches at a middle school was sharing with us one of his educational ideas to broaden cultural perspectives with his seventh graders, and he mentioned how that very day, he had been showing the TED talk with his students to spark writing and conversation.

I nearly jumped out of my seat, to say, we’ve been talking about that, too, in Unbound Equity. I didn’t jump but I did talk to him later about the discussion threads unfolding online.

Which all got me thinking about the unit I am in right now with my sixth graders, around short story writing. We’ve been exploring Narrative Point of View, and the choices a writer makes in telling a story, and how different Narrative Points of View (first person, second person, third person) bring to light different elements of story.

Number crunchers of story

Right now, my students are flipping a touchstone text story from the start of the year (Rikki Tikki Tavi) and re-writing the story from the view of what was the antagonist, turning her into the protagonist. Some of my young writers are struggling with this shift in perspective — they get locked into a story as it is told (as if a writer can do no wrong) and can’t twist it another way. Others are excited about the freedom this shift gives a writer.

A phrase I have tried to repeat to them: Every character is a hero in their own story. Everything is perspective.

And all this discussion and conversation has me wondering if it is nearly time to consider bringing The Danger of a Single Story into my classroom, as an extension of our writing. I feel inspired by the work and insights of others in Equity Unbound and beyond. I need to watch it again myself, from the perspective of my young students, and consider the appropriateness for our learning space.

Meanwhile, one of the participants in the discussion thread on Twitter brought up an interesting perspective on digital interactions and story, and raises the question of whether a digital platform expands or contracts the story. This, of course, is an ongoing question …

Multiple Stories and the Digital World

Peace (at different angles),
Kevin