Slice of Life: No Guitar … No Problem

(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.)

It’s often during in-between moments — the lull of the evening — where I will grab my acoustic guitar and just play for a bit as a way to step aside from the day. A sort of acoustic reprieve. Sometimes, new songs emerge from these burst of playing sessions. Mostly, not. Usually, it’s just a chance to play.

I had this inspiration to maybe try to write another holiday song because I had challenged my teenage son to make a holiday song, as he is an accomplished beat-maker with Logic, and he just laughed me off. I went upstairs to get my guitar … only to suddenly remember that I had left my guitar in my classroom at school. I have been doing some guitar playing with a student who is writing his own holiday song that he wants to perform in front of classmates.

Hmmm.

I still had this melody and idea of bells jangling around in my head, so I queued up an online music production platform I use quite a bit — Soundtrap — and plugged in my small MIDI keyboard, and then began to compose the holiday song. It’s built off the echoes of the main Jingle Bells riff, and I had quite fun laying in sounds. The song structure is pretty simple: melody-break-melody.

After finishing the track, I decided I wanted to make the audio track into a video version, so I searched around for some copyright-free video of snow falling — I wanted the visuals to be simple but moving — and then used iMovie to quickly pull the audio and video together.

So, you know, happy holidays and all that …

Peace (play it forward),
Kevin

The Meanest Place on the Internet (YouTube’s Toxicity Problem)

Whenever I talk to my sixth graders about decorum and trolling in online spaces, one platform consistently rises to the surface as their prime example of the “meanest place on the Internet”: YouTube video channels and, more specifically, the comment section of videos. No other platform even comes close for them. Year after year, YouTube is the place most kids point to as the meanest, nastiest place on the Internet. They share their surprise and disgust at what people will write, and get away with, and how commenters will openly attack others, including the most vulnerable video makers.

As YouTube is the place my young students spend the most amount of their online time — for some, the time spent can be a few hours a day — it always strikes me as frustrating that they are both exposed to potentially great videos (and there certainly are great videos on YouTube, for any kind of interest and topic and niche learning) in combination with humanity acting so plainly bad, it makes me embarrassed on our collective behalf.

Maybe YouTube (aka Google) is finally understanding this.

Along with the changes to its platform to make it in federal compliance for young viewers (all YouTube channel operations must now designate their channel for an audience of children or not, which mandates certain settings for video uploads), YouTube seems to be making more visible its efforts to root out the negativity.

We know that the comment section is an important place for fans to engage with creators and each other. At the same time, we heard feedback that comments are often where creators and viewers encounter harassment. – from YouTube Blog

YouTube folks claim in a new post that they are now beefing up the way comments are filtered and giving more flexibility to YouTube creators, as well as setting forth more algorithms to catch toxic comments before they even reach the comment bin. (See Comment Settings for YouTube, too)

There is a link to a Transparency Report, that shows how many videos have been removed and some other data, too, that is sort of fascinating to look at. For example, it seems to indicate that 500 million comments have been removed from July through September alone. Sheesh.

Well, we’ll see if it all works to make YouTube a more positive place while still protecting free speech (I acknowledge this is a juggling act, but, figure it out, people). My students will tell me if it’s working or not, I am sure.

Peace (everywhere),
Kevin

Independent Book-Based Board Game Design Activity

Book Board Game DesignTwo main activities are taking place in my classroom right now — we’re in the midst of a unit of independent reading (choice books with plenty of quiet reading time) and the start of our Game Design Unit. Merging those two ideas together (along with a much larger Video Game Design project), students are in the midst of designing a board game based on the book they are reading.

They won’t be building the actual game (I’ve framed it as they have been hired as game designer and someone else would be building the game itself) but are working on how a story might unfold as a game (this is how their video game project is situated — story as game/game as story). The requirements are the visuals of a game board, directions on how to play and instructions on how the game is either won or completed.

Already, some interesting projects are trickling with, with some neat ideas about how characters or plot or setting might become the central focus of a game that honors the story and maybe riffs off it in another direction. In the collage, the upper left is my mentor text — using a story I am nearly finishing, titled A Drop of Hope, which I have been thoroughly enjoying.

While every game is different, the mechanics of game design — strategy, game play, visual design — all will be central to our larger game project based off the Hero’s Journey template.

Peace (roll the dice and make your move),
Kevin

 

Further Defining Digital Literacies: Bias, Privilege, Modalities and Learning

Defining Digital Literacies NCTE culture

I’m slowly reading and digesting, and appreciating, the National Council of Teachers of English revised definition of Literacy in a Digital Age, and I am appreciating the depth of the inquiry.

The theme of this strand — Promote culturally sustaining communication and recognize the bias and privilege present in the interactions — seems to be resonating everywhere in education circles and that’s as it should be. Given that much of the US teacher population is white and middle class, but that much of the student population in 0ur classrooms is diverse and getting more diverse as the population shifts, we educators need to do more to think about bias, and identity, and cultural crossroads for communication practices with our students.

Look at these questions posed in this part of the definition:

  • Do learners have opportunities to raise questions about bias and privilege when consuming, curating, and creating texts?
  • Do learners have strategies for interrupting discourse that marginalizes people based on race, culture, sexuality, language, gender, and ability?
  • Do learners have opportunities to identify and discuss how to detect and report fake news/deliberately misleading and false information or information that promotes hate speech and violence?
  • Do learners create texts across modalities for a variety of audiences and consider how diverse groups would respond?
  • Do learners have opportunities to collaborate with people/learners from communities that hold different views/ideas/values/beliefs, life experiences, racial, ethnic, and cultural identities, and economic security to address social issues that impact all of our lives?

These are important queries, and difficult at times to make happen. It really requires educators to work with others, to gather the right resources, to know what questions need to be asked (of themselves, of their students, of their communities), to push back on norms.

We grapple and work with variations of these questions quite a bit in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. All of our projects and initiatives are viewed through the lens of culture, access, equity and social justice, and one of our leadership committees is dedicated to these very topics, helping facilitators think through workshops and seminars and teaching practice.

I find it interesting that the Media Literacy/Fake News element was put into here — at first, it felt rather forced, as if the topic was an orphan looking for a home. But then, as I pondered it, I began to see the rationale, of how fake news and text distortion plays a role in how we view “others” and how it can break down the bridge between cultures and language and diverse thought.

Further, I was thinking about the concepts of connecting multiple modalities and multiple ways of writing to cultural representations and literacies — to help learners be aware of how culture impacts our ways and access of literacies, and how that might play out in digital spaces. This concept intrigues me, and I don’t think I know enough about this to comment much further. For example, the reference to “sign systems” is not clear to me right now.

But the language of the definition has planted a seed of inquiry in my mind:

How do digital platforms both limit cultural expressions through technological design and how do users find workarounds to use platforms for cultural and linguistic, and modality, interactions anyway?

Finally, I was thinking of the point about “disrupting” practices, and connected that to the work being by Marginal Syllabus last year and now this year with its LEARN project, bringing in texts and authors on topics very much connected to this strand for conversations in the margins of those texts with the Hypothesis tool.

This month, the focus is on a piece about using the novel of Miles Morales, the black Spiderman, to talk about race and education, and varying the kinds of stories and texts that we bring into our classroom. (Come join in)

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

MusicMaking: She Makes a Choice (Path and Prayers)

It’s been disheartening to watch as more and more states seek to limit women’s access to health care, all in hopes that a test case will reach the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. It irks me to no end that these conservative leaders want to destroy lives under the guise of compassion, and use their religion as a curtain to hide behind. And who’s left with few choices and little support? The women. The women always are left paying the price.

I wrote this particular song some times ago both as a protest and to experiment with writing and producing a song nearly entirely on my iPad with the Garageband App.

Peace (and choice),
Kevin

Twitter Analysis (part two): Write Out Over Time

Write Out Tweets Over Time

As I mentioned the other day, I have been trying to look at the Twitter activity for the October Write Out project, as much to “see” what happened and maybe to think about how we might expand the reach of the place-based partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service in the future.

I learned to use a few tools in an online course that can help us to analysis data via Twitter, and the chart above is generated from Tableau, a software program that provides different ways to look at gathered Twitter activity around hashtags. The timeline above shows activity bursts over the days of the project — which ran officially for just two weeks  but still has some tweets coming now and then.

The graph supports what already knew — much of the activity of sharing and connecting happened in conjunction with the National Day on Writing on October 20. There was a decision to shift Write Out from the summer (the first year) to October (this year) in order to support and tag on to the work that would happen with the National Day on Writing. You can see how activity led up to the Day on Writing — we had many live Write Out events that were being promoted — and on and just after October 20. Smaller spikes are somewhat aligned to our Twitter Chats, but it would have been nice to see even more on those two Thursdays (something to ponder for the future, I suppose).

The three colors of the chart represent original tweets, tweets that mention someone else, and retweets. While we know it is easy to retweet — click, and you’re done, and maybe moving on — the fair number of original tweets and mentions indicates a nice scale of activity by engaged participants.

I find it interesting the right side of the chart, where people were/are still sharing some odds and ends — mostly images of spaces and small poems, some from students in classrooms of teachers connected to Write Out. Even this week, there were a few tweets with the #writeout hashtag.

Peace (charted out),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Symmetry of the Stubborn Dogs

(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.)

 

We were dog-sitting a neighbor’s pooch the other day. It’s a small Whippet-breed — full of love and snuggles and personality. We took it outside for a walk around the neighborhood, with our dog, Duke. Ollie, the Whippet, decided he did not want to walk, and sat on the driveway, refusing to move an inch. This is not the first time his stubbornness has reared its head (and not just with us, either). We gently pulled his leash, called his name, pretended to run, used Duke as ploy (Duke was confused by this). Nothing.

Finally, my wife gave up and began walking back to the house. That’s when Ollie decided maybe it was time for a walk and now the stubbornness pulled the other way, guiding my wife back down the driveway to join Duke and I.

I thought of this yesterday as I watched a similar scene unfold in our small village. I was in my car, looking at a small boy, maybe seven years old, trying to lead an old Black Lab across the street at the walk light. The dog sat and sat and sat on the sidewalk, and I could see the boy doing his best to get the dog moving. He pulled the leash, he bent down to talk to the dog, he started to feign walking, he threw his hands up in frustration.

Finally, the dog got up, rather slowly, and began moving in the reverse direction of where the boy wanted to go, only to have the boy finally guide the dog back towards the street. But by then, the cross light had turned red red and the whole thing would have to happen all over again.

Dogs. Right?

Peace (stubborn for change),
Kevin

Book Review: Typewriter Rodeo (Real People, Real Stories, Custom Poems)

Oh my gosh. This whole concept just gets me thinking and dreaming of poetry. I wrote a poem nearly every morning (I do it over here) but these talented folks set up with typewriters and write for hours, as people come up and ask for a poem on a suggested topic. The poems are just marvelous and what’s missing with the book is the sound of the typewriters in action (there should be an audio file on the cover that you can push to listen as you read.)

Here’s a video of four hours of typewriting ..

Anyhoo … Typewriter Rodeo, the book, seeks to capture the experience of Typewriter Rodeo, the experience, where the four poets — Jodi Egerton, David Fruchter, Kari Anne Holt and Sean Petrie — set up at festivals, Maker Spaces, bars and restaurants, and special events, and write poemspoemspoemspoems for people, sometimes for hours. It seems like magic. (Special thanks to my friend, Mary Lee, for turning me on to Typewriter Rodeo)

The book collection here — Typewriter Rodeo: Real People, Real Stories, Custom Poems — is full of the poems written on the fly with little more than a word or phrase, and quick connection between poet and audience — or at least, the ones they have remembered to take a picture of before the poem leaves in the hands of the requester. The four writers tell stories of their experiences as poets-on-demand (“The mistakes are free” is one of my favorite mantras of theirs), and some of the poem recipients also share stories. In fact, what emerges is how many people are surprised at how deep the poetry goes, capturing their emotions and thinking in a way that no other writing-from-a-stranger can probably do.

The result is this beautiful, crazy collection of poems — heart-felt, deeply emotional, funny and insightful, and it makes me want to set up a typewriter on the neighborhood corner and write on request, as if I could pull that off. (Hey, maybe I could! You could, too!)

Peace (poems bring it on),
Kevin