Who is this Taylor Mali?

At a workshop on creating a student-centered Poetry Cafe during this past weekend’s Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing at Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a participant told me that I just had to “discover Taylor Mali” and so I went searching for him and found his home on the ‘Net.

Taylor Mali is a slam poet, a teacher, a fast-talking preacher of words that flow from inside the soul, an advocate for education, and intense dedication to the cause of language flowing off the tip of the tongue for the old and the young … (hmmm, slipped in some of my own flow there for ya) and his strange yet very admirable mission is to use poetry to recruit teachers into public schools. He has set a mark of 1,000 teachers (he’s at 145 and tries to keep track of them via a blog).

Mali has gained some fame with his poem “What Teachers Make” and on his site, he notes how many unauthorized versions are now scattered throughout the Web, with little or no reference to the author/poet.

Am I disappointed not to have received credit for writing this poem that has inspired so many? Used to be. But the truth will always come out in the end. And if I had to choose between inspiring teachers anonymously or not inspiring them at all and, I would choose anonymous inspiration every time.” Taylor Mali

So go to his site, listen to his voice on his podcasts, read his words and, if you are inspired, buy one of his What Teachers Make pens to support the cause of the conversion of poetry, language and teaching. And if his words inspire you to enter teaching, let him know so you can be counted, too.
Peace,
Kevin

I Believe …in writers

Have you listened to NPR’s This I Believe series? Isn’t it wonderful to listen to the voices and (on the website of NPR) read through these very personal essays that focus in on a strand of belief from a range of people — some famous, and some not.

I was thinking about this the other as I was driving to school and caught Bela Fleck reading his essay entitled “Doing Things My Own Way.” Fleck is an amazing musician who has staked out some independent turf as a banjo player with a wide range of styles, dancing precariously sometimes between jazz, pop, country and world music. In the essay, Fleck talks about the impact of his grandfather on his own thinking styles and about how focused he has been on reaching into the musical voice inside of him even as he moved away from all sorts of traditional expectations of a banjo player.

“I believe in living with and giving into my obsessive side when it serves the music. I believe in doing things my own way.” — Bela Fleck

Inspired by Fleck, I have been working on my own This I Believe essay, which focuses on the belief that even the most reluctant of writers have something important to say and the path to finding that voice is critical.

microphone And so, here it is: I Believe … in Writers

And this all makes me wonder how to bring this format of belief into the classroom and create student-centered audio essays.

Peace,
Kevin

PS — A text version of the essay can be found here.

I Believe … in Writers

(inspired by This I Believe series on NPR)

This I Believe …
By Kevin H.
(listen to the audiocast version of this essay)

I believe there is a writer in all of us. Sometimes the torrent of words strikes like a bolt of lightning and the thoughts and narratives shift and move so fast and so furious that our pens and keyboards can barely keep up with our ideas. Other times, the writer in us remains hidden, dormant just below the surface, as if waiting for some magical moment to suddenly appear and take shape.

As a sixth grade writing teacher, I have noticed how often it is that my boys, more so than the girls — if I can speak in very general terms here —  keep that internal writer removed from the public view, either consciously or unconsciously. The internal voice for many of these 11 and 12 year old boys is locked down and unaccessible. Not just to me, either, but also to them. I tussle with them throughout the year, encouraging them at every step of the way and showing them creative paths they had not seen before, alternatives to expression. I challenge them to move beyond the violence that seems to dominate their writing. I have come to see the death and destruction in their stories as a reflection of the narrative of the video games they play on the televisions in their bedrooms; the online communities they take part in, such as Drunescape; and the movies they watch on the big screen. I wrestle with pop culture, too, and I don’t always seem to be winning that battle.

Perhaps it is the fear of their peers that feeds this reluctance to write anything of deep meaning, even in what I consider — at least — to be a safe classroom where writing and sharing is honored as part of our community. Try as I might, there remains a stereotype of a writer in their young minds — the stranger tinkering with words. The loner. The outsider.

Other times, though, I worry that some of my boys have experienced such deep pain and trauma in their lives already, even at this fragile zone between childhood and adolesence, that they can’t abide by giving up any part of themselves for fear that this emotional release will become ammunition for others. For some, showing interest in anything is a dangerous proposition that has been used against them by adults in their lives. And they learn quickly how to protect themselves, too, as best as they can, and the emotions that form the heart of important, and truthful, personal writing is often on the list of disposable items. Feelings can be dangerous, and writing, after all, is all about feeling.

I often see myself reflected in them, in their downturned heads and distant eyes. It was not until I was in my first year of college — far from home, lonely, with a pencil and a blank notebook in a small dorm room — that I really began to write with anything resembling importance to myself. It was only then that I began to use words to get below the surface of the turmoil that plagued my own childhood. Those poems, some of which later became songs and some of which are stored in a protective case, were a literary lifeline for me. The act of writing became a sort of personal redemption, allowing me to traverse beneath my outer protective layer and get at the small child still living inside me. Writing was important. And this is the writer I try to bring to my classroom each day — the writer with passion for language and expression.

My hope, the guiding belief that remains in me every single day when I walk into my classroom, is that a seed of some sort is being planted in my reluctant writers and that with time, they will eventually find an inward path to their own true selves, no matter what the world outside of my classroom may be telling them. I believe in them, most of all. I believe in them as writers.

WMWP Best Practices 2006

Yesterday, I took part in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s Best Practices in the Teaching of Writing. This is our annual event to showcase some of the inspirational work going on in our classrooms through workshops and roundtable discussions.

I led a workshop called Blogging for Beginners, and the teachers who worked with me created their own blogs through either WordPress or Edublogs this morning. Instead of a traditional written reflection, we opted to record their voices as they discussed how they envision using blogs for personal, professional and/or educational uses and post it as an audiocast. (That move was inspired by Paul Allison’s efforts on his site called Teachers Teaching Teachers — thanks again, Paul, for providing a framework and inspiration).

microphoneTake a listen to the reflections of teachers

We also had the pleasure of a wonderful keynote speaker, Anika Nailah, who discussed passionately how fiction writing can bridge cultural divides and allow people from different backgrounds to “come into the same room” as others. Anika also had the audience doing some writing and examining our own cultural backgrounds with language. She also allowed me to record her speech (I am the technology liaison for the WMWP) and audiocast her talk for members of our network who could not attend.

microphone Listen to Anika’s keynote speech

Peace,
Kevin

The ABC Book of Blogging

I came across this very wonderful resource put together by a group of fifth graders from Conyers, Georgia. They created an ABC guide to Blogging for Kids and it is a wonderful production that not only provides great information but also, as a project itself, showcases some wonderful inquiry and presentation by young writers and researchers (including the use of idioms). The entries include illustrations by the students. All around, this project is very nicely done!

The ABC Book of Blogging

Some examples from the students’ work:

  • From the Letter A: The anticipation we feel just before opening our blogs is awesome. We’re “all ears” listening to Mrs. Anne Davis and each other as we begin the day discussing what we will be doing during our blogging session. Some times we have our articles ready to post. We are most anxious to hear from our internet audience and can’t wait to answer comments. We’ve got a good attitude because this is “A Place to Be Heard!”
  • And on to Z: After good discussions full of dialogue from everyone we really get good ideas to use while blogging. Of course, that’s after we omit the zany comments. Derrick told us about Zaxlies, who don’t always project their voices. We have learned to project our voices and zero in on the writing. Sometimes Mrs. Davis tells us to zip our lips and blog away! We zip to the lab and zoom in on our computer screens. We have a lot of zest when we are writing on our blogs.

— from http://www2.gsu.edu/~coeapd/abc/index.html

Peace,
Kevin

A Call for Proposals: Technology and Composition

I am working with two distinguished researchers/writers in the field of composition (Charlie Moran and Anne Herrington) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to develop a book that examines how our view of teaching writing and composition is changing with the integration of technology. Anne and Charlie have looked at writing practices from a variety of angles, including writing across the curriculum and genres. Now they want to add technology to the mix.

We are looking for classroom teachers in grades 4-13 who can write about their experiences. We have just published a call for proposals in English Journal and other sources but I wanted to use my web of Blogs to get the word out, too.

Here is our Call for Proposals:

Practically everyone agrees that writing is changing, as writers compose more on screen than in previous generations. But how has this change in what we consider “writing” affected teachers’ classroom practice? In the context of emerging multiliteracies, what are teachers’ goals for their students’ learning? How have teachers revised their definitions of writing in the age of digital literacy? How are these expressed as changes in their classroom practice? And what new writing do the students produce?

The primary goal of this edited collection is to examine the ways in which teachers in grades 4 to 13 understand changes in writing, and to examine the ways in which these changed understandings are reflected in their classroom practice and in their students’ work, particularly given reductive definitions of writing now current in national and statewide testing. Classroom teachers will principally author chapters in this collection. Each chapter will include the teachers’ understandings of the ways in which writing has changed, new goals for students’ learning, and the ways in which the teacher has adapted curriculum and classroom practice to respond to these changes. Chapters would include excerpts from students’ new writing and the teacher’s criteria for assessing this writing.

Editors Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran seek 500-word proposals for chapters of 3,000–4,000 words. The deadline for proposals is January 15, 2007. Please email proposals as Word or RTF attachments to cmoran@english.umass.edu.

Please consider contributing to this project, as it will inform the teaching practices of many (hopefully) others in the field of writing.

Peace,

Kevin

Considering Elgg

Last week, I joined an online conversation with folks through Teachers Teaching Teachers that explores the convergence of technology and teaching in its many varied forms. I have been curious about the concept of Elgg communities and jumped into the conversation with some questions (for my own benefit and for my wife, who is a high school teacher). As far as I can tell, Elgg offers the possibility of a safe online community that links members together through shared interested and through related “tags” that they create in their profile. It mirrors Facebook and MySpace, but without the advertising and mess of those sites. Dave Tosh provides a good overview of Elgg at his site.
You can listen to the podcast of that conference through the Teachers Teaching Teachers site. Or you can find that link here:

microphone Listen to the podcast

Meanwhile, I notice that the authors of one of my favorite blog sites — Bud the Teacher — is posing his own inquiries into Elgg, so I hope to follow along that conversation, too. And I have joined a teacher Elgg, too, just to tour around and get familiar with the tools that are there.

Peace,
Kevin

Student Biopoems: Creating a Class Community

The first writing project for my sixth grade this year is a BioPoem in which our young writers create an 11-line poem about themselves based on a series of prompts that explore emotions, fears and family.
To move beyond the personal and more towards a community of writers, we created Class Audio Biopoems in which each student contributed one line from their poem.
Take a listen:

Peace,
Kevin

Touring the Museum of Museums

Some days, you just stumble across a very neat idea and have to share it with other people, you know? Someone fed me this link to the Museum of Museums through a Delicious account and I was hooked.

This Museum of Museums collects links to the sites of any variety of museums from around the world, with the very ambitious idea of linking every single museum together for one mass site of collective knowledge. (It’s nice to have reasonable goals, I suppose). Art galleries, dinosaurs, music and any other topic that you can think of is someone’s museum obsession and can be found within the categories of this site. You can even view the Museum of Bad Art, if that is more to your taste.

And then, there are those virtual museums — the places that don’t exist in the real world and yet, are repositories of information. For example, there is a museum for toaster ovens, if that is your thing. And the Museum of Talking Boards (meaning: Ouiji) that can raise some goosebumps on people.

I can envision some neat virtual field trips from my classroom, with links and reactions and descriptions right from the class Weblog site.

Peace,
Kevin

The Power of Voice: Student Narratives

The connections between writing and voice is an interesting one, particularly in this age of podcasts and audiocasts across distance and time, and I know that my NWP colleague Chris S. in Utah has been very much into capturing the voices of his students and researching the ways that voice can influence and enhance writing.

Last year, my students were part of a Cyberpal exchange with some students at Jefferson Junior High School in Washington DC (through another NWP partnership with Maria) and they shared some of their own personal narrative writing via an audiocast.

Students wrote a short personal narrative piece that focused on an object that represented some memories. Take a listen:

Peace,
Kevin