Writing Back to Sherri: Race and Gender and Writing

Cover of book by Julius Lester

 

My connected friend, Sherri, wrote about race and gender and the overwhelming whiteness and female-ness of the Slice of Life community. She was asking for feedback and response.

She wrote:

…. while I appreciate the work of several educators in this community and elsewhere incorporating anti-racism and anti-bias work into their curricula and book selections, I cannot ignore that feeling I get of being one of so very few.

She goes further:

What I want folks to understand is that this state of affairs has very real and concrete consequences for how we understand and interpret events and experiences. Talking about race is uncomfortable for a lot of folks. It hatches all kinds of difficult feelings including guilt, shame, anger, defensiveness, helplessness.

Here is what I crafted as a response to Sherri. I don’t have answers for her. Just observations.

Sherri

I’ve been part of Slice of Life on and off for more than ten years, and sometimes I note in reflections at the end of March the same observation you write about here — the gender, race dynamic is predominantly white, female.

I’ve sometimes, as a participant writer, tried to connect Slice of Life with other communities, to invite more people in. I was never all that successful. As white male elementary teacher/writer, this demographic make-up has not hindered me personally as a writer. SOL at TWT is still an amazing thing — hundreds of teachers, writing! It was more, this could be a positive opening for so many more teachers with diverse backgrounds to write with others, to share and make connections, to expand the notion of storytelling.

Speaking only from my standpoint as a male teacher, and remembering an interaction I once had from another male teacher who did a bit of Slice one year and then stopped when he noticed he was not getting comments on his writing, I think Slice of Life can be seen by a newcomer as a female-infused writing space. I’m not sure if is is perceived as having a white face to it, too, but maybe it does. When we don’t see ourselves in a space, we are less likely to dip our toes in.

I know Stacey and others at TWT are cognizant this point, too, and they strive to make sure everyone is invited, and appreciated, and I know that they would love a more diverse group.

How to achieve that? It would likely involve more time spent actively inviting diverse folks from other communities. It might involve adding even more diversity to the main administrators of the site. It might even require thinking of the design of the TWT website to showcase the ways in which a diverse writing community looks.

All of this can seem forced, particularly at first, until the momentum catches on, and then it can become a natural way of being. Just think of the potential, building on what is already an amazing experience for many teachers to write publicly, a huge barrier for many made easier by the Slice of Life community.

Kevin

How do we bring more diversity to online spaces? Not just Slice of Life. But also other Affinity Networks — like CLMOOC, which is near and dear to me but is also overwhelmingly white.

At my local Western Massachusetts Writing Project site, we’ve been grappling with this for years. A long research inquiry called Project Outreach that delved deep into our site demographics and our region demographics led us to make some fundamental shifts, including a new Mission Statement at the time that makes it clear and public our organizational views on diversity and race.

The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools – urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

But of course, it is not enough to have the words. You need to do the actions. So every program we now run and administer, and every grant we apply for, is viewed through the lens of our Mission Statement. Does the program reach a diverse audience? Does it address equity and social justice? Does the program align with our core values? We actually ask these questions out loud to each other. We also actively recruit teachers of color in urban school districts, and make sure they have paths into leadership. We have a leadership team working on Language, Culture and Diversity.

I’ll admit, too, that we lost the interest of some of our WMWP folks over the years, with such hard push into social justice. Many who left thought we stepped away from writing and the teaching of writing as our core value, but this is not the case. Those are still core values, sitting next to others as signals of importance to the outside audience, in hopes that our writing project site signals a clear welcoming to all.

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

#CLMOOC Book Club: Identity, Representation and the Power of Writing

clmoocaffinity.001

We’re reading Affinity Online: How Connections and Shared Interest Fuel Learning as a Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) effort, and yesterday, I shared various ways you can read along with us, too, even if you don’t have the book.

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.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

#CLMOOC Book Club: All Entry Points Lead to Learning

clmoocaffinity.001

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.

See you on the pages!

Peace (connected),
Kevin

#CLMOOC Book Club: Making Doodles on the Pages

Doodle Margins of Affinity NetworkSince 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.

Doodle Annotation

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.

AFFINITIES INTRO 1You 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.

Peace (drawing it),
Kevin

 

 

 

#CLMOOC Book Club: Affinity Online

clmoocaffinity.001

I still remember the student who came back from a weekend trip to Boston, all hyped up about the cosplay convention, and how excited they were during our morning meeting that they had found others who were into what they were into. Their classmates looked on as they explained the concept of dressing up like comic characters and interacting with others as if they were crazy. The student showed us pictures, and we all were intrigued.

The classmates, though, didn’t understand. They were curious because it was different but they sort of shrugged it off as another of this student’s eccentricities. One of many. (Which is why I liked them so much).

What struck me most, though, is that this student was sharing this sliver of life with us not only because they had  taken part in the event gathering, but also because they had discovered an online space where they were now writing fan fiction stories and connecting with others in the cosplay community.

This memory came back to me as I began reading the new book that folks and friends in the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) has begun reading together for our March book club. The book — Affinity Online: How Connections and Shared Interest Fuel Learning — is a researched dive into the current field of how young people are finding more niche homes in online spaces where they connect with others through shared interests, and use writing and making and remixing to showcase their talents.

At CLMOOC, we will be sharing some guiding questions in online spaces over the month of March, sparking discussions. Even if you have not yet read the book, we hope you might have ideas to contribute. Write where you are, and share where you can. We’ve often defined CLMOOC as its own Affinity Space, but maybe that is an idea to grapple with, too.

The book contains overviews of different themes but also rich stories of young people and their affinity spaces — the first chapter, for example, gives us insight into a network of people who knit on the theme of Harry Potter in Ravelry; how writing fan fiction in a professional wrestling fan site opened the door for expression; and how a video game community of players expanded the sense of participation beyond the game itself.

I’m thinking, as I read, not only of this former student but of others, too, who shared their online creative lives with me, and those who never did share (perhaps the sharing would ruin the magic or perhaps the sharing would bring ridicule) but who are no doubt actively involved in some way or another in what interests them.

As a teacher, this brings all sorts of thinking to the surface, although the one main considering I always have when I think of Connected Learning in terms of my classroom is: Does the presence and knowledge of a teacher/adult ruin the experience for the young person engaged in an Affinity Space that resonates with them? In other words, by bringing these niche elements into the classroom and anchoring them as a learning experience, do we take all the magic out of it for them?

I suspect, yes, it alters the experience, but whether that is in a good way or bad way, I don’t quite know. I remain sensitive to this issue, particularly when a student shares such interest with me. I continue to search for the balance of encouragement as learning opportunity and respect for the spaces they inhabit as individuals.

Peace (may we all find that space),
Kevin

Even More Reasons for Remix

Reasons for Remix: A Remix

Remix Remix by Sheri

I want to thank Sheri for remixing my video about remix that I shared out this week. Her visual interpretation of the video is wonderful, and useful, capturing my points from another angle. Even more, her exploration of remix at her blog is a valuable insight into what we are talking about when we talk about remix as an act of appreciation of another’s work of art.

Peace (still remixable),
Kevin

 

An Experiment of Sorts: Some Reasons for Remix

I am trying out Powtoon for Education as a way to enrich a unit on expository/informational writing with my students … and I thought I might as well explore the reasons why one might remix as I explored the site …

Peace (nearly remixable),
Kevin

 

Thankful (Again) for Networked Friends

Charlene: PBL VisitI have been facilitating a PLC group of elementary teachers in my school district on an inquiry into Project-Based Learning, and during our session yesterday, we spent a lot of time reading about teachers’ experiences with PBL with our common text – A.J. Juliani’s PBL Playbook. None of us have tried a full PBL unit yet with students, so we are all figuring our way forward, together.

Along with reading vignettes from the classroom, via PBL Playbook, I also wanted us to be able to hear from a teacher with experience using PBL, so I reached out to my friend, Charlene, from my CLMOOC network (and beyond). Charlene has been working with PBL concepts for many years now, as a teacher and as a coach. Her blog has been one of my resources. Charlene readily agreed to video into our session, and for about 30 minutes, she gave us her insights and answered questions.

For that, I am very grateful. Grateful that Charlene took time out of her day to share her expertise and knowledge with teachers she doesn’t know. Grateful I have built a network of people I can turn to when I know I don’t know what I need to know. Grateful I can learn from my friend, and that my friend is willing to step up to help us learn. Grateful that I can help connect those connections (from my online friends to my teaching colleagues).

Thank you, Charlene. I am deeply appreciative.

Peace (learning it),
Kevin

 

Call Me Naive: We are Part

Part of the Whole

Sometimes, I ponder the possibility that I might just be naive in my digital spaces. (Does pondering about it, negate it?)

I spend a lot of time in digital platforms like blogs, Twitter, Mastodon, etc., in the hopes of forging new collaborations; entering new networks; and finding new, and strengthening existing, connections.

I really do see the power in the possible.

Then I read the news and follow stories, and I see how dark the Internet and social platforms can become, and I think: How is THAT (doxing, attacking, etc.) happening in the same places as THIS (learning, connecting, etc.) is happening?

But it is.

I guess our choices are to either leave those places or work to make them better, or passively hope for the best. I’m naive in this, I know, but I think small actions and people connections still count and can make a difference (this is the teacher in me, for sure, with the faith of seeds planted now blooming later on), so I keep on keeping on, hoping a positive energy and a way forward, step by step, might improve the whole.

The above animated quote — taken from a post by Sheri and created with an image by Sarah — captures a lot of this line of thinking that I cling to in my naivety, that we are indeed connected to the larger possibilities of learning. But this always requires positive action on our part to improve things.

Let’s do it together.

Peace (I hope),
Kevin