Not at NCTE: Playing in the Margins of the Margins

I could not attend NCTE annual converence this year for reasons related to the ways the federal government has withdrawn most of its support for the National Writing Project, but I have been following some of the threads on Twitter when I could over the weekend. In particular, I was curious about the work being done by my friends via Marginal Syllabus with annotations and margin writing.

I could not help myself. As I saw people working on a hallway activity of making and then tweeting out notes on cards with quotes on Saturday, I started to make margin notes on the notes of the margins from here at home, and sharing them back into the stream. For a bit of time, it felt like I was there, with them.

This is the link to the description of the formal presentation, which took place yesterday

And this is the link to their presentation slides.

First, I grabbed a screenshot and used the text and arrow tools.

Then, I used an app that lets you manipulate an image, and used the idea of the margin at the center as symbolic concept.

Another one used a favorite: comics to make comments.

And then, I found a poem in an annotation.

Thanks to Adam, Sam, Jessica and Carolyn for letting me play with their work. I hope the workshop for the digital annotation was an interesting and illuminating session. Knowing the folks running it, I bet it was.

Peace (in the margins and beyond),
Kevin

WMWP: Conversations from the Digital Margins

This is the digital annotation workshop for WMWP’s Best Practices. While this is here for participants in the workshop itself, anyone else who might be visiting (hello to you) is free to explore and join us, too. Although, the first part — where we write on paper — might prove trickier for you than for us.

Links/Resource List:

Peace (in the piece),
Kevin

Getting Ready for Annotation Workshop

Big Article for Annotation Workshop

Tomorrow, I am leading a workshop at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project about digital annotation (and a second one about Write Out and place-based learning). My frame is to have them first work with the text on their own, with pen and notes in the margins of their copies of paper; and then together as a workshop group, marking up the text with sticky notes; and then online with the world, using Hypothesis to make connections with the text and others.

I took the Christensen article we will be using — a powerful piece about critical literacy and paying attention to students by Linda Christensen — and blew it up into poster-sized pages. For the second phase of the workshop — annotating as a small group — we will use these over-sized pages and sticky notes. The article was part of a Writing Our Civic Futures activity last year.

You will be able to see the slideshow for the workshop here tomorrow, since I am going to embed it for participants to use for links and such.

Peace (writing on the walls),
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

 

Bringing Digital Annotation into a Workshop Experience

Marginal Annotation Workshop Session

At an upcoming October 13 conference for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I am facilitating a workshop session around digital annotation, with technology like Hypothesis and NowComment and with sites like Marginal Syllabus and Educator Innovator in the mix. My aim with my session — Conversations from the Digital Margins — is going to be to work sequentially on a single article — moving from single copy/pencil notes, to workshop wall copy/sticky notes, to online annotation.

So, from solo to group to crowd.

I’m still thinking through the way I envision the workshop unfolding and am mulling over which article from last year’s Writing Our Civic Futures project that I want to pull into my workshop. What I find interesting is that the participants of my session will be in “conversation” in the margins with participants of the annotation event from last year. The discussion will continue ….

If you are a Western Massachusetts educator, we invite you to register for the Saturday October 13 conference, which features many workshops from WMWP teacher-consultants and a keynote address by a WMWP alumni, Kelly Norris, whose book — Too White: A Journey into the Racial Divide — has just come out.

Last year, we had Sydney Chaffee, a teacher of the year, as our speaker.

Peace (beyond the margins),
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

 

Annotation Invitation: Writing Our Civic Futures

The last round of this year’s Writing Our Civic Futures from Educator Innovator and Marginal Syllabus is a chance to engage with the first part of writer/educator Steve Zemelman’s new book From Inquiry to Action: Civic Engagement with Project-Based Learning in All Content Areas. 

I know Steve through the National Writing Project and I interviewed him for my Middleweb column recently.

You can access the chapter via Hypothesis (free and powerful open source annotation platform) and Steve is right in the mix, too, interacting with readers in the margins of the text.  In his book, Steve lays out the rationale for student engagement that moves into social and political and community action. His emphasis is on impact in the local communities.

Come read and annotate and discuss the book. You can also read more about the Writing Our Civic Futures project here.

See you in the mix.

Peace (in and out of the margins),
Kevin

 

 

 

CLMOOC Annotation: On Ivan Illich and Connected Learning

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

There’s been some interesting conversations flowing in the margins of Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society as part of a CLMOOC annotation activity, proposed by our friends Charlene and Sarah. We’re using the annotation tool, Hypothesis, to “mark up” Illich’s seminal critique from the 1970s of traditional schooling and the ways students are under/mis-served by the educational system in the United States. I have to admit, I’ve never really read Illich that deeply, so this has been an experience.

 

And I come away from reading this piece over a few weeks with some lingering reactions. The first is that I find myself in a defensive crouch as Illich attacks traditional schools from all different angles, arguing that teachers are ineffective, that schools only care for students as cogs in the business machine, that funding is misspent, that curriculum is merely a means to keep young people in line, the entire educational system is designed to slow down learning.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

I won’t say some of his criticisms don’t have some merit, even today, decades later. But I felt as if he were attacking me personally, as someone who has dedicated my career to teaching and working with young people. It may be that I am too sensitive and ready to shout back (which I did in the margins of Illich’s text).

Still, Illich has some interesting points that do seem to coincide with the principles of Connected Learning — particularly around the concepts of student choice, peers as powerful motivators, project-based learning (which is what Charlene to first suggest this text for annotation, I believe), finding mentors in the field to help guide understanding, and building networks through technology to expand access to materials and information.

CLMOOC Annotation: Illich

Remember (and I remind myself), he wrote all this during the time of Mainframe Computers and microfiche files. He was envisioning an expanding educational system that allowed students to think and learn beyond the walls of the classroom, to follow their interests. He talks about poverty and urban schools failing their students. Those are insights to wonder at with appreciation (too bad I find his writing tone off-putting and snobby in its own way).

I’ve enjoyed reading and interacting with the other readers of the text, and marvel that there are more than 130 annotations (so far) about Illich’s views, and that many of the annotations have responses and discussions unfolding. It’s pretty cool.

And open. You can add your ideas, too, and reflect along with us.

I plan to head back in and make the rounds of comments, and think about how to keep the threads turning on our thinking. I hope to see you there.

Peace (in the margins),
Kevin