#WriteOut: Giving Kids A Camera In Order to Capture The Wild

As the Write Out project kicks off today (and goes for the next two weeks, with the National Day on Writing right in the middle of it all), I wanted to share out a project I have had underway for a few weeks now, in which my sixth grade students have been going about their small suburban town “capturing the wild” with photographs. We aim to use the photos as part of a connection with another school, and for some writing this week.

You can view my podcast video here (via SoundSlides)

Peace (thinking it through),
Kevin

Freewriting Fun: A Comic of Musical Notes

Missing the Notes comicWhile my students were freewriting stories, poems, play skits, comics and other ideas, I was working on this comic in my notebook about a staff that has lots its notes, and the notes who come to the rescue. I got a kick out of making the notes with faces and expressions.

Peace (in tiny boxes),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Doodle Your Way into the Days

(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.)

This morning, all of my students are going to get a huge, oversized calendar labeled October: Doodles of Place. And each day, when they arrive, part of their routine will be to look at the board, find the day’s theme, and doodle into the box for the day.

This is all part of CLMOOC’s October Doodle Month — a way to inspire art among the affinity network — and for the upcoming Write Out Project, the free online collaborative place-based project which launches in two weeks (October 13) and encompasses the National Day on Writing on October 20.

The daily doodle themes, which were gathered by crowdsourcing the list, are all about place — from rural places to urban spaces and areas in-between. Each morning, at The Daily Connect, a daily theme/idea will be released.

You can join in, too. (Today’s theme is Mountains). The Daily Connect site is here, and you can sign up for email notices (see the sidebar of The Daily Connect) or just keep an eye on the #clmooc hashtag on Twitter.

I’m curious about what my students make on their Doodle calendars, and I’m even more curious because we are starting up a connected project with some classrooms in California, and they are going to be doodling, too, and we hope to have kids share their doodle art via Flipgrid later in the month.

Why doodle? Well, first of all, making art is a great way to start the morning, and I know I have plenty of artists and comic book creators and more in my classroom. Second, it provides a connection point with another school on the other side of the country. Third, it will give us points to talk about how place informs stories, and how stories inform place.

And it’s fun.

I’ll be doodling at school on my calendar, but also, I am aiming to write small daily poems on the theme each day, too, here at home, as part of my own daily writing routine.

Here was the first poem, inspired by the theme of Mountain:

Handholds
and crevasse marks;
the scale of it nearly
overwhelms the senses
— you can’t look up
from below to understand
the scale of this place —
you need to gaze out
from above

Peace (doodling it everywhere),
Kevin

The TikTok Kids and the Social Media Dance

There’s a fascinating deep dive into the world of TikTok in The New Yorker magazine (technology issue) this week. If you don’t know what TikTok is, other than hearing the alliterative name on the lips of every adolescent and teen you come across, it’s a good place to start.

Read How TikTok Holds Our Attention by Jia Tolentino (one of my favorite writers!!)

Tolentino notes how the quick edited, and remixed, videos made in the Chinese-company-owned app cross language and culture (although not without some significant bumps in government regulatory filters at times); is music-based, for the most part; involves elaborate edits for laughs and humor; reminds some users of the now-dead Vine app; uses AI algorithms to feed your homepage with what it thinks you want to see; has the usual strands of racism, sexism and other negative elements that invade many social media spaces; is built on the backbone of Music.ly, which I do remember; and is perfectly geared to the short-attention population.

(Aside: if you wonder why I wrote ‘Chinese-company-owned app’, it’s because I do pay attention, as much as I can, to where companies originate from, as some countries and companies work more closely than others to gather data from users of technology. China is certainly one of those. Tolentino doesn’t dive into that particularly issue, so there’s no clear line from TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to the Chinese government, but she does bring forward the tension between the engineering division of the app that works in the US and the home offices in China, with one observer noting that the front office runs the show, despite any stated ‘independence’ of the US operations. So, always be wary of who has your data. You know that, right? Do our kids know that?)

And of course, there’s Lil Nas X and the hit song, Old Town Road, which was built and engineered purposefully on and for the TikTok community — short, funny, catchy — in hopes the viral nature would filter over into the larger music world. It worked.

I still know I need to learn more. (see TikTok trending videos)

Each afternoon, the students in my sixth grade classroom line up in groups, and some “do TikTok” as they say, and what they mean is that they act out the elaborate quick-edits of some popular TikToks, sort of like social media coordinating swimming but on concrete. I can only watch.

It’s strange, and funny, and weirdly elaborate, with foot moves and arm movements, and hand gestures, and short vocal phrasing. Given as I am not immersed in TikTok world, I have no anchor to know what it is they are even trying to emulate.

So imagine my surprise when a group of students informs me that we — they and me — will be making a TikTok at the end of the school year. This was not a question. It was a fact. I give a quizzical look and they all smile.

“Um. Ok. Maybe.”

In my head, three ideas rattle around:

  • Learn more about TikTok
  • Maybe TikTok will no longer be “the thing” in seven months
  • Time to brush up on my dance moves

Peace (sustaining your attention),
Kevin

When Trolls Come Calling for Kids: Is This The Path Forward?

Silent Sunday Climate Rally

… the rise of a new climate movement means there’s now a much more visible — and especially vulnerable — target: kids. — Zahra Hirji, Buzzfeed

In my classroom, one of the things I hope I am encouraging is not just dialogue among young students with different views but also support if their passions are moving them towards action, small or large. At age 11, they’re just starting to view the world from beyond their fairly supportive, and mostly protective, sphere of the small suburban town where they live.

Look to the global stage, and you will see that it is mostly the kids, and mostly led by girls — Greta Thunberg and others — who are leading the efforts around Climate Change. At a Climate Change gathering in our small city last week, the crowd listening and protesting and rallying was decidedly young, and some middle school students were featured speakers on the stage set up on the steps of City Hall.

And yet, news of the president, and his Fox friends, tweeting out disparaging, sarcastic remarks about Thunberg following her speech at the UN was soon followed by articles like this one in Buzzfeed with the headline Teenage Girls are Leading the Climate Movement — And Getting Attacked for it that have me concerned about any future activists in my classroom.

Whether following passions from the Right (and we do have students and families who are strong supporters of this president) or the Left (many students are passionate about the environment and Climate Change), what I hope for is a safe place for this to unfold for them. None of my students are remotely on the same level as Thunberg, but who knows? Maybe someday they may be.

… it’s not just Greta. Other young girls in the movement are facing a flood of online abuse. It’s less clear where those attacks are coming from, but they involve a mix of regular accounts, trolls, and bots. While the youngest activists are often shielded from this, due to constant monitoring of their social media by their parents, there’s no filter for many of the teens. — Zahra Hirji, Buzzfeed

Does my teaching to advocate for yourself and for your positions in the world make them vulnerable to the terrible side of the online world? Does helping them have a voice in the world expose them to the terrible tactics of trolls?

These are the questions that give me pause.

It also reminds me that the explicit teaching of the other side of this equation — here is how you protect yourself in online spaces — is as important as the support to find and follow your passions. We can give them places to work out their ideas — like collaborations with other schools and online spaces like Youth Voices and Young Writers Project in Vermont, for example. It just makes me sad and frustrated to think that an entire generation has to keep an eye on the shadows, to triple-think every online move, to worry over the nuance of parsed words or past posts, to fear the attack by trolls.

And, just as important, whose voice will never be heard because that possibility of what might happen if they do so has already silenced them before they even began to talk, to lead, to engage? (This could be said for all of us, I suppose)

We don’t live in a perfect world. Of course, I know that. Maybe technology has made it both better and worse. It sure seems that way at times. Still, things sure could be better. And when kids are in the crosshairs, it’s something we all need to be concerned about, and vigilant against.

But you knew that already, didn’t you?

Peace (across platforms),
Kevin

Poems of/from the Classroom

new school bike racks

Yesterday, during an extended freewriting time in my four classes of sixth graders, I wrote these small poems, trying to capture the energy and essence of each class period.

Period One

Murmurs in the room
captured voices – planning —
talking slowly — each
demanding attention — sharing
thoughts — go wander in among them;
insights fueling discovery –
they teach each other
ways into the world

Period Two

Almost like:
marbles on a wooden floor
a hornet’s nest, disturbed
glitter in a spring wind
confetti from a skyscraper
voices at a riot
eraser marks on paper

This is how the mind works
the longest day of the year
so far

Period Three

This machine
writes stories —a 20 headed monster
of ideas

We walk in
on forty feet, pencils
gripped against the void

We voice dissent, but not discontent,
sowing chaos — long thin threads
pulled against the quilt of conflict

Only gathered up together like this
do the strands become woven
into something newer, stronger, better
than before

Our stories bound
shared, and beautiful

Period Four

What if
we were all just characters
in a comic strip? one asks
and we wonder — what if
everything we said was in bubbles
above our heads? another pondered —
and we wondered — and what if
we could reach our hands
beyond the wall itself to grab hold
of our future self? another added

and at that, the room went quiet,
an empty frame of thought

Peace (noticing it),
Kevin

 

Stories as Circles and Circles as Dots and Dots as Stories

dot day circle stories 2019

Once again, we celebrated International Dot Day (inspired by the book, The Dot) in the classroom this week by having students write very short stories, with a circular theme (object, motion, etc) and then use the Visual Poetry site to “paint” the objects with the words of their stories. And once again, the creativity of some students just amazed me. We shared them out at our Padlet wall of circle stories.

night dots

clock dots

Peace (in dots as marks of creativity),
Kevin

 

Invasion of the Memes: The Rise of the VSCO Girl

What to make of this? Since the first day of school, I’ve been hearing references and seeing references to being a ‘VSCO Girl’ in some of my students’ work and discussions. I did a quick search, and found that VSCO is a photo filtering app, and when I asked one of my students if calling themselves a VSCO Girl was related to photography and app filters, they gave me a look of confusion.

So, eh, no, maybe not?

Yet, sort of.

Their own explanation of what VSCO Girls meant was confusing to me, something about scrunchies and hydro-bottles and clothes, and so I decided I needed to do a little more research.  Doing so uncovered this summer-long viral meme of the VSCO Girl that had been completely under my radar. (To be fair, I am a middle age white man with three boys)

Centered mostly on Tik Tok, but now moving over to Instagram and YouTube and SnapChat, being a VSCO Girl is related to how a girl perceives themselves, and apparently, certain products and clothing are key elements.

Another element of this is the saying and typing of “sksksksk” (which seems to stem from slamming fingers on the keyboard or keypad) and “And I oop.”  (A meme reaction people use to show surprise on social media.) VSCO stands for Visual Supply Co. – the business which invented the app that sparked the meme that fed the movement.

One site, StayHipp, described it this way:

A VSCO girl is someone who is active on the VSCO app and/or whose style matches the aesthetics of VSCO. This trend has grown to the extent that “VSCO” is used as an adjective to characterize something or someone who embodies a VSCO girl lifestyle.

The VSCO girl trend is largely based on owning a specific set of items including Birkenstocks, scrunchies, hydro flasks, metal straws, and anything from Brandy Mellville. Many of the items associated with the trend are brand-specific and may be pricy, but things like homemade friendship bracelets and oversized T-shirts are just as important to the trend as AirPods and Instax cameras are. Each individual has the power to put their own spin on this trend, whether it’s through their attitude, style, social media presence, or just the good vibes they radiate.

Most importantly, being a VSCO girl, or even just dabbling in the trend is about keeping a positive outlook and having fun! — via StayHipp

It then goes on to list all of the objects that a VSCO Girl might have, and the cost, and how to buy them.

  • Birkenstock shoes
  • Scrunchie hair ties
  • Hydroflask water bottles
  • Brandy Melville clothing
  • Instagram-able meals
  • Metal straws
  • Slip on Vans shoes
  • Choker necklaces
  • Multiple rings worn at once
  • Friendship bracelets
  • Polaroid cameras
  • Pastel nail polish
  • Mario Badescu skincare products
  • Fjällräven backpacks
  • Stickers on laptops and water bottles
  • Carmex lip balm

Which makes me think this is all part of some larger Product Influencer Campaign, to sell stuff to young girls by targeting their Girl Identity through social media. Which makes me wary of the trend, yet I’m amazed at how much the concept has filtered through my entire sixth grade classes in just a few weeks of summer. In a small activity yesterday, many tried to add sksksksks and I Oop into what they were writing. That includes boys as well as girls, which makes me wonder if the meme is turning into something else altogether.

A piece at Slate, in which the writer interviews some high school teenage girls, indicates that the whole VSCO Girl concept can be seen in two lenses — one way is that some girls view it as a connector point through social media, a way to “fit in” through style and choice, and another way is some girls see it as a way to mock the whole consumer-driven marketplace, making fun of the idea of products defining a girl. (And did you know there are not just VSCO Girls, but also Soft Girls and e-Girls?)

For the teens I talked to, most said being called a VSCO girl was a bad thing, something to be avoided. They were mixed on whether anyone would own up to being one or proudly proclaim her VSCO girl status, or any strong connection with it, to the world. — from Slate

Why do I have a sense that these two competing concepts of empowering girls and mocking girls, making its way over social media, are going to collide and the girls who just want to fit in are going to be the very ones who are going to get the most hurt?

How do I have a meaningful discussion about trends like this to give my students the ability to make decisions about social media and memes and empower them to question the viral nature of their world?

I suppose I can do that best by empowering them to be critical of the world, and to think on the power of real friendships, real connections, real people. I want the wonderful girls who spend their days in my classroom with me as writers and readers and members of our community to be true to themselves, and not just become some product of influence from the technology they use.

Peace (confused but trying),
Kevin

WMWP in the Newspaper: Chalk Talk

Chalk Talk Quote Sept19Part of my role as outreach co-director with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project is to recruit teachers in our network to write a monthly column with the local regional newspaper. The column is called Chalk Talk and provides a teacher voice to the newspaper’s education section. Usually, once a year, often to kick it off, I’ll jump in and write, too.

The first piece of this school year is about Dreams and Aspirations, and getting to know my young students. You can read the Chalk Talk piece here and peruse the archives of our columns, too, if you want.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

Six Word Memoirs To Seed The Classroom Mosaic

One element of a project launched at the start of the school year with my homeroom students is to so a six word memoir. Tried, but true, their six words often give a glimpse of them as people for me, their new teacher, and seen together, it is the start of the mosaic of our emerging classroom community.

Peace (in the share),
Kevin