Let me begin with one of the first poems in this intriguing collection of free verse narratives of fictional characters who are making their way to Washington DC in August 1963 to protest for Civil Rights.
For All, 1963
If you contend the noblest end
of all is human rights, amend
the laws; The beauty of the sun
is that it shines on everyone
In Voices from the March on Washington, by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon, the poetry sings the stories of the people who gathered to be part of the 250,000 protesters.
The poets here invent some fictional characters — a white teenager from the midwest, a young black girl from the south, a lawyer from the north, a Japanese internment survivor from the West — and brings their voices into a mix that will remind you of how far our country has come, and how far it has yet to go.
I started this book, thinking it would be a non-fiction collection, and so was pleasantly surprised to find myself immersed in poetry of all stripes. The poems dig deep, from those who are not sure why they are on the bus, to those on the bus being attacked with objects against glass windows, to those doubting whether MLK’s famous words are enough, to those making connections between races in ways that would have been impossible in the communities from which they departed. All are changed by the experience.
So is the reader, and this book is appropriate for any upper elementary to middle school classroom.
We’re lucky in that we live in a vibrant literary community in my small Western Massachusetts city. There are writers and illustrators (and filmmakers and artists) everywhere you turn. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is not far away (just a town over the river and Eric Carle himself is local) and I took some time yesterday to head to the museum to see their special exhibit on graphic novels.
I really appreciated an entire museum room, dedicated entirely to the art of the graphic novel, and the Out of the Box exhibit was well-done, with visual timelines and examples of graphic stories across history along with a pretty diverse representation of featured writers and artists from the field. In addition, there was a rich library of graphic novels, and a few kids were scattered in corners, reading stories. (I wrote down a few titles I want to read myself).
I also really appreciated a display that invited museum participations to create and add a page to an ongoing community graphic novel on display. Tutorials were included on elements of comics. You could make your own frames and add to the story (which, to be honest, was a little odd and strange and non-linear), and I spent as much time enjoying the work of kids and adults in that collaborative graphic novel/comic strip writing piece as I did the formal displays.
In a few weeks, we’re having graphic novelist Jarrett Krosoczka come to our school to present to our students about the art of graphic novels (you have to read his Hey, Kiddo, if you haven’t done so already), and how art and writing come together to tell stories. Our plan is to have all of our sixth graders create their own comic/graphic novels celebrating a “support staff” member at our school, based on Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series. It will be fun way to honor and recognize the work of those who are critical to a school community.
So, I grabbed a few pics from his display (he’s local, too) to share with students before his visit.
I still fondly remember the Words & Pictures Museum that was in our city’s downtown. It was created and supported by the guys behind the Teenage Ninja Turtles, after their indie comic hit the big time. Both men began their careers here in our city. The museum was in this circular building structure, so you wandered your way from top to bottom, with walls covered in comic art. Too bad it had to close.
Last year, I tried out this close-reading technology activity called BookSnaps — an idea shared by Tara Martin — in which students use an image “snapped” from their independent reading books as a way to reflect on what they are reading. They layer “stickers” on the image that connect to the story and use text “call-outs” to put their own ideas/reflections in there.
The other day, I had my sixth graders work on BookSnaps (we use Google Draw, through Google Classroom) and my readers were quite engaged in the activity, identifying snippets of text and asking questions, making predictions, discussing characters. There were a lot of helping hands, as most needed help holding the books while snapping the picture.
While the BookSnaps themselves don’t allow for deep literary analysis, they do provide an visual and engaging means to discuss the books they are reading, and just as important, they spark interest in other readers, as a sort of BookSnap/BookShare concept.
This was the one I did as a sample for them to see — I was reading The Stars Beneath Their Feet.
Here is a video collection of the BookSnaps that were finished by students during our class period:
Peace (snap it into place),
PS — Tara Martin did a talk on this concept, which is when I first heard about it and wanted to try it out
It is no surprise that I devoured this visual interpretation of Neil Gaiman pieces by illustrator Chris Riddell, nor that days after I read Art Matters that the words and images still float in my mind. With a title subheader like Because Your Imagination Can Change the World, you know this small book has grand designs to connect the way we make art with the way we see the world.
The book gathers four writing pieces that Gaiman has published elsewhere — Credo, Make Good Art, Making a Chair and On Libraries — and Riddell uses his own talents to bring visuals to the words, both through his illustrations and through the use of font design. I loved how Riddell tied the four pieces together like this, with the act of making art and noticing art as a public good for change as a unifying thread.
I guess Riddell has been illustrating Gaiman for some time, sharing pieces on social media, but I hadn’t come across them, so this was first time viewing, and the partnership is inspiring.
Whether you make art now, or want to make art tomorrow, or made art yesterday, keep on keeping on. Need daily inspiration? Come follow and participate in the DS106 Daily Create. Or find your own inspiration in the world around you.
Thanks to Terry for popping the last full chapter in the book Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning, being read by CLMOOC as a month-long book study, for some crowd annotation into NowComment. Like Hypothesis, NowComment allows for many people to be reading and commenting and engaging in conversations on a single text.
(Note from Kevin: I actually wrote this post two days ago, thinking I would post it yesterday. I left it lingering in my draft bin. Then, the massacre in New Zealand happened, and I had a poem spilling forth about madness and hate and social media that I just could not shake without writing it, and that poem is what I shared yesterday as a blog post.
The final stanza is a call about kindness in the world. I wondered where it is, where it was. I wrote: … no one ever seems/ to stream the kindness of/ the world, only the madness.
This morning, I revisited this post about Nerdfighters, and realized, THIS is about one of those places where the counter narrative of social media is already taking place, with young people leading the way. I also remembered Friday’s global walkout on climate change, where young people were protesting on a world scale for change. I had an answer, already written, to my question in the poem, but I had forgotten it, in my sadness and bewilderment of the world. It happens like that. We lose perspective. The horrible things push aside the good.
So, here, then is a post about an Affinity Network where young people are empowered to change the world for the better, and is thousands strong, too. It’s a reminder of how social media can be a tool for the good.)
I’ve enjoyed the Case Studies inside the book, Affinity Online, as we read the book in CLMOOC this month. The studies give us a more human story insider account of different Affinity Spaces and Networks. The focus on the Nerdfighters, which I knew of but never really dug deep, is fascinating for a few reasons.
What is Nerdfighters? They are not nerds fighting nerds, but nerds fighting for a better world. Or, in the words of the community, to decrease WorldSuck, their word for a world gone mad. Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia that provides a helpful overview:
Nerdfighteria is a community subculture, based mainly online. It began in 2007, when the VlogBrothers (John and Hank Green) rose to prominence in the YouTube community. As their popularity grew, so did coverage on Nerdfighteria, whose followers are individually known as Nerdfighters. The term was coined when John saw a copy of the arcade gameAero Fighters and misread the title as Nerd Fighters.
Hank Green describes it as “a community that sprung up around our videos, and basically we just get together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck”. He defines “world suck” as “the amount of suck in the world”. The Greens established The Foundation to Decrease World Suck, in order to raise funds and launch projects that would help a variety of causes.
Nerdfighters believe in fighting world suck, promoting education, freedom of speech and the use of the intellect in modern society.Nerdfighters and the Green brothers have collaborated on many projects such as the charitable drive, Project for Awesome which launched in 2007, and VidCon, the convention focusing on topics surrounding the world of digital media. Nerdfighters have been documented by websites such as The Hollywood Reporter, and The Wall Street Journal, with a following estimated to be in the millions.
The Nerdfighter community coalesced around two writers — the Green brothers, John and Hank– who early on saw the potential for video/vlogging as a means to make possible change in the world by reaching an audience of young people who often felt left out of the typical social circles.
The demographics, if still true from the statistics in the book, is predominantly a white, female majority (72 percent female and 85 percent white, in the information in the book, but also a high percentage of queer, gay and gender-fluid members) with an activist bent, using video and presence as its main media choice for messaging and connection points.
The Affinity Online rightly focuses on the Nerdfighters as an Affinity Network because of its deep civic action and reach. One of its main projects — Project for Awesome — has raised nearly $7 million for charities in the past five years, if I read the statistics right. Its homepage is chock full of user voice, with young people making and contributing videos as a way to engage and document and share.
Exploring the Nerdfighteria site, one quickly realizes how many strands are now out there, from various communities in other spaces to charity sites, to networking opportunities. It even has its own lexicon. And a map of local groups for local action projects. And a book club.
There is also VidCon, which is a digital media conference that showcases young and upcoming vloggers in the Nerdfighter networks. But the recent acquisition of VidCon by Viacom has me wondering about whether this Affinity Network event, designed to empower young video creators, will become another commercialized vendor space. If so, that sucks. And I use that word “suck” purposefully here.
How to become a Nerdfighter? The Green brothers explain, this video from a decade ago.
As I have been reading the new book Affinity Online with fellow CLMOOC friends, I have been highlighting some quotes and insights that I find valuable, and sharing some of them out on Twitter. This is a collection from the first two chapters. I do this often as a way to read a bit closer and also to surface some ideas.
This collection from the first chapters of the book remind me that many young people find their own affinity spaces because there is not a connection in school or with peers around them, and those places — school, friendship, home — might not understand the passion and connection they find in online spaces. This divided identity is normal for teenagers, of course, but affinity networks can make it even more so (not a bad thing, but something to notice).
I also note that the authors remind us that many affinity spaces are always in flux, shifting to meet the needs of new members and new trends in the focus point (knitting, gaming, dancing, etc.) and spaces that don’t adapt and renew will likely fade away.
I’m about halfway through the book at this point and I find I am most interested in the vignettes the researchers have pulled together about people who are members of different Affinity Networks. These stories — they call them Case Studies, as they are researched stories — bring to the surface the themes of the chapters, of course, but they also provide a window into the insider’s world of Affinity Networked Spaces.
So, we learn about the way fans of wrestling have come together to form an interesting collection of fan writing and fictional competitions told through writing by the fans, connecting a love wrestling and competition with story and character creation/development.
We see how a video game system — Star Craft II — had launched an entire universe of gamers and players who want more out of the game, and who have developed more, through strategic play and groupings, with writing at the heart of it all.
On Wattpad writing app/home, a group of fans of the One Direction band have invented an entire niche site of fan fiction of the band, writing stories and making connections. They give feedback. They connect stories. They publish to an audience.
Video, performance and culture are connecting points for Bollywood Dance, where the American children of immigrants remain connected to heritage through dance, and through shared dance routines and competitions. Making and sharing videos becomes a common compositional practice.
These are the first four Case Studies for the first two chapters, and what comes to the surface for many of these portraits is the importance of writing and identity, of how the use of an Affinity Network for expression depends upon representing yourself with words and media. This surfaces for me because, as a teacher, I often wonder where my intersection with students’ interest in Affinity Spaces might be.
And no surprise — it comes back to writing as a skill from school that translates quite well into non-school activities. Even when an Affinity Network begins to create its own lexicon and style, writing words and sharing stories and making comments/feedback still are central elements, and those are all things schools can offer, even if the student feels disconnected from the classroom experiences.
I’ll keep an eye out on other trends as I read deeper into the book and consider other Case Studies.
In the past few days, thanks to the folks in the #clmooc book study and the authors of the book — Affinity Online: How Connections and Shared Interest Fuel Learning — which we are reading to better understand networks of shared interests, there have emerged a number of different entry points for reading the book and engaging in conversation with us.
You can, of course, buy the book yourself, either in digital or paper format. This gives you full ownership of the text and shows support for the researchers/writers of the book. You can also get the book through your public library (sing the praise of Inter-Library Loan systems!)
You can now access the entire book for free online as a digital text, thanks to the publisher and writers. I don’t think you can download a copy nor can you annotate it with some of our annotation tools. Still, it is kind of them to give readers access.
You can just follow along with other readers in the #clmooc Twitter thread, where quotes and questions and comments are flowing on a regular basis.
You can read and follow some of the readers blogging about the book — such as Sheri and Terry and Daniel and Sarah and others, such as myself — to use the comment area to ask questions, push back on thinking and wonder out loud. Put them in your RSS feed, if you still use RSS, and if you don’t, you should!
Since I splurged and bought Affinity Online, a book some of us are reading together in March in the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC), I am free to mark the pages up as I see fit. Which I do, regularly. I use highlighters to mark text (and to find passages that I am sharing out) and doodles and drawings to represent my thinking.
I was happy to see but not surprised to learn that my friend, Terry, has been doing something similar with his reading (although his process is a bit more complicated as he borrowed the book from the library and needed to photocopy the page). Terry is much more attuned to the colors — his mark-up is a piece of art. Mine is mere scribbles.
You can’t easily do this kind of annotation with digital versions of the book, which is why I bought it as physical book as opposed to a Kindle version or something else in ebook format.
But, this also isolates the reader a bit to the single book/single page/single reader, and Daniel wondered on Twitter whether a digital version or excerpt of the book is online somewhere, so CLMOOC can use Hypothesis for crowd annotation, and well, I don’t know. But I’ll look around and see.