#DigiWriMo Sound Stories: The One I Made

Sound Laboratory 2

(flickr photo by Attila Hajdu http://flickr.com/photos/attilahajdu/5321511238 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license)

I’ve been moving “Sound Stories” into my writing classroom the past two weeks, teaching students how to write a story that incorporates sound effects/audio as part of storytelling, and then diving into Garageband to “compose” a piece with sounds embedded into the narration.

I am writing a longer piece about the teaching of “sound stories” in the classroom (an idea borrowed heavily from play with DS106, by the way) for Middleweb, but I want to share out bits as part of Digital Writing Month‘s exploration into audio.

This is the story I created to share with students as a mentor text of sorts. Tomorrow, I will share out some collaborative sound stories that we built together as classes, and then later this week, I will share out a collection of sound stories by students.

Peace (in the sounds of the world),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Students Expressing Peace

Our art teacher does some amazing work with our sixth graders, and the annual Peace Poster project — in conjunction with the Lion’s Club — is a great example of how the visual can be used to create a message (which is a theme of Digital Writing Month this week). These posters are all over the walls of a hallway in our school, and each one reminds us of the power of peace. Collectively, they are a quilt of love to the world.

I worked with students on writing up artist statements, which will get attached to the posters. Again, the depth of student writing and reflection is wonderful to witness.

Peace Poster Artist Statements

Peace (beyond the posters),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Too Much Consuming, Not Enough Creating

Troy Hicks, whose books about digital writing and connected reading are must-reads for any teacher, has written a great post for Digital Writing Month about the role that Infographics are now playing in our reading and writing lives — and how the visual shaping of data has the potential to surface stories. I was thinking of Troy’s post when I came across the results of an extensive survey of pre-teens (tweens) and teenagers by CommonSense Media about the role of technology and digital media in their lives.

You can access the entire report and key findings at the CommonSense Media site. It makes for a fascinating read. The infographic at the side here breaks down the findings into more visual understandings.

What jumped out at me in the findings?

How about the balance between the ways in which students “consume media” versus the time they spend “creating media”?

Only three percent of their time is doing, making, creating? Let me write/say/shout that out again: ONLY THREE PERCENT OF TEENS REPORT CREATING THINGS WITH THEIR TECHNOLOGY. (Sorry. Didn’t mean to shout. But it is important.)

We need to change that. We all need to do a better job of putting tools of making and creating into the hands of students. We need to empower agency. We need to show students that being passive recipients of information (including targeted advertising based on technology habits) is not enough.

Consuming, Not Creating

When I am asked why I spend so much time with Making Learning Connected MOOC or Digital Writing Month, or any of the other online ventures that I find myself intrigued by, my answer to the question of why is direct:

I want to discover more ways to engage my students — those 11 year olds growing up in a world in the midst of significant change — as active creators.

So, we design video games. We produce sound stories. We make comics. We collaborate.

Much of this I learned from doing myself with other teachers, trying out new things and tinkering with technology. We need spaces for us to create and compose, too. I wonder what the results of this survey question would be if we asked teachers the same question?

Do you consume? Or do you create?

Speaking of creating, the activity with Troy’s post asks us to make an infographic. I did this one, about a typical writing morning (like right now, in fact)

My Writing Mornings

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

#DigiWriMo: Squish Your Writing (Text Compactor)

Text Compactor

I was intrigued by a technology tool that was mentioned in a recent series by Teaching Channel around digital literacies. The site is called Text Compactor and it does what it says: it takes a block of text and allows you to automatically summarize. You have options on the size of the summary. It is built with an algorithm around word frequency.

Above is a sample. I took a pretty lengthy short story that I am writing (in class, with my students, as they write) and tried to create a very small summary. Not bad, I guess. It seems more like a “blurb” on the jacket of the, ahem, novel I am writing (not) than a good summary of the story so far, if you ask me.

But I might include this site as an extension activity for my students when they finish up pieces of longer writing, and have them reflect on what the technology leaves out and puts in.

Want to try it out? Choose someone else’s blog and pop it into the Text Compactor and see what happens. Share it out with the #digiwrimo hashtag. Get all squishy with it.

Peace (in the compactor),
Kevin

 

#DigiWriMo: The Tensions of Teaching in the Age of Digital Writing

I had the oddest experience in my classroom the other day. My sixth graders are in the midst of writing short stories in their new Google Docs accounts. It’s been a great writing experience. We’ve done collaborative peer reviewing, and I’ve been able to keep track of student progress. Most of my young writers are finishing up the story and now moving into the editing/proofreading stage.

The task of editing is difficult work for them, as it is for me when I write, and probably for you, too. So, I pulled out an activity around editing and proofreading, where we talk about some basic proofreading and editing marks that they can use to mark up a draft before moving into a final draft. I gave them a one-paragraph story that I wrote, and told them it had 18 errors. Who can find them all and use the proofreading strategies?

That’s the lesson and activity, right? Mark up the text to practice improving a text. Talk about technique and put it into action. Then, do the same with your own writing.

Except …

… I was halfway through that explanation to my students when I stopped and realized something rather important. It was one of those “duh” moments.

Here, my students are writing their stories in a digital space. Proofreading symbols? Marking up the text with pencil? Unless they were going to use a Sharpie on the computer screen (please, don’t), the lesson itself seemed out of sync with the ways in which I have them writing and revising with technology.

With computers as their medium for writing, I should be teaching them cyclical revision strategies — revising as you go, and then circling back around to keep an eye on audience. Keep shifting from writer to editor, and back again. Use the tools (spellcheck, etc) at hand, wisely.

Carrots (to insert text), circles (for spelling errors), paragraph indentation symbols … they all seemed rather meaningless when we write for the screen. Unless I want to print out 80 stories (many are now running 5 to 6 pages of text) … and I am not going to do that for this project. (Among other things, including disconnect from the medium of the story itself, it seems a waste of paper).

I forged ahead with the lesson, however, framing what we were doing with editing and proofreading in terms of being able to “see errors” in your writing (which is not easy) and know where changes have to be made. They had fun trying to figure out the errors — they made a game of it.

Me? I have to think about revision, too. Lesson plan revision for writers in a digital age.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

Their Digital Lives: State of Technology and Media 2015

I’ve been giving my sixth graders a survey for a few years now on the State of Technology and Media in their lives. The results become the anchor points for conversations in class around technology and social networks and privacy and digital footprints.

Here are this year’s results, which I also shared with parents:

And here is the famous Gary Hayes Social Media Counter that I also shared out, and had a long discussion about what its data flow shows about the world they are growing up in:

Peace (in the share),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Sixth Graders in the Wild

(This is for Slice of Life, a regular feature with Two Writing Teachers).

Study of Sixth Graders

My latest column at Middleweb is a humorous take on an ethnographic study of my four classes of sixth graders. I was trying to have some fun, even as I was thinking of the trends of class characters that can emerge after a few weeks of teaching into the new year.

Read An Unofficial Field Guide to Sixth Graders in the Wild

Peace (and quiet),
Kevin

Student Reflective Voices in the World

I shared this out on Twitter yesterday, but I wanted to include it here at my blog, too. As part of the National Day on Writing, I had my students reflect on the theme of “why I write” and then we did some class podcasting.

I was blown away by the depth of their reflective stance around the act of writing.

 

I don’t know why I am surprised — I know they are strong writers and I know we do a lot around reflective stance — but still … hearing them telling the world about why they write, in their own voice … it’s a beautiful thing.

Peace (in the voice),
kevin

Shifting into Digital Portfolios: A 4T Conference Reflection

Digital Portfolios 4T Conference

Last night, the first day of the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing kicked off, and one of the first sessions meshed nicely with my own teaching goals this year. Aram Kabodian, a friend from the National Writing Project (and fellow poet and middle school teacher), presented a session webinar about the benefits and logistics of digital writing portfolios. (He wrote about digital portfolios for Digital Is, too.)

This year, I have launched digital portfolios with my sixth graders, using our Google Apps for Education system. My professional teaching goal (and student learning goal) center around digital portfolios, so Aram’s webinar and resources were perfectly situated for what I am thinking deeply about and implementing right now.

Here are some of my takeaways from the sessions:

  • I loved that he had us sharing out the oldest piece of writing that we still have. It reminded us about the power of the past, and how writing can connect us to who we were, and who we are. I wrote about a notebook of poems from high school that became the first steps into writing songs. I’m afraid to look at that notebook but I know where it is and what’s in it, and that writing is me, the past me;
  • We talked and wrote with Aram about the rationale behind digital portfolios. There are some main reasons why one would use digital portfolios: to capture growth of a student over a set period of time, to document; to incorporate media into the collection; to share with parents what work is being done; to share with administrators; and to give students a representation of the writing they are doing (for future look-back moments);
  • Aram explained how he assesses digital portfolios, using some focused literacy lens around writing standards connected to classroom lessons, and around the number and genres of pieces that students must work on throughout the year. To be honest, I have not yet gotten that far in my implementation, but I know I need to figure out assessment somehow that makes sense for students and myself;
  • I was thankful that we spent time talking about how to nurture reflective stances by students, so that the reflective writing is part of the writing experience and of the digital portfolio itself. This requires scaffolding and modeling of reflection that goes deeper than the general ideas that most students fall into;
  • Aram uses a wiki site for his portfolio system, and I wonder about whether a wiki really works, when thinking of reflection and public space, and also, ownership of writing (Whose space is it? Aram’s or his students’?). Aram says he can only keep a student page up for a year after they leave, and then it gets removed (otherwise, he has to foot the additional cost). It make me acknowledge that just about every platform right now that I have researched has its downside;
  • I asked Aram about whether his use of digital portfolios is an isolated experience for students — if teachers in the grades above him also use portfolios, so that student growth might be seen over a longer period of time rather than a single grade. He said, no. He is the only one doing it, as far as he knows. I’m the same, I think. With Google, students can keep their writing for the next six years, from sixth grade to high school graduation …. what an opportunity that is, right? But I fear the potential for a true writing and learning portfolio might be lost if our district doesn’t see the merit;
  • Aram’s webinar reminded me of where I need to go from here:
    • I need to get my students doing more writing so that they have more to choose from in the end;
    • I need to mull over the assessment of portfolios and how to make it meaningful;
    • I need to work on lessons around more reflective writing practice;
    • I need to think about what the writing portfolio will look like in June. Right now, they are collecting writing in Google Drive. Next up, we will make some folders. But eventually, as with Aram’s wiki site, I want students to carve out a place where they “present and publish” — with Google Sites, probably (although I get frustrated there, too);
    • I should connect with the seventh grade teachers in our regional middle school system.

Overall, I learned quite a bit from Aram’s presentation at the 4T Conference, and I know I have a lot to think about and consider, and a lot to try out and figure out this year.

That’s the benefit of a pilot year, right?

Tinker, try, adjust, reflect, reset ….

Peace (inside the inside of the portfolio),
Kevin

The Scent of Books and the Tangible Experience of Reading

I guess I have been more aware of the tangible nature of books lately, for whatever reason. It began with receiving The Marvels book by Brian Selznick and has kept in the back of my mind as I have been reading some Sheldon comic collections by Dave Kellett on my iPad with the Kindle app.

I’m noticing form and function as I read, and paying attention to the beauty with physical books, in contrast to the flexibility and accessibility of digital books. I’m no Luddite, of course. But I’ve never been an e-reader sort of person. I do use the Kindle app to read e-books when I need to, and appreciate some of its attributes of annotation and bookmarking. But it’s not my preferential reading experience, however. On airplane trips, I’d still rather lug around a huge novel than open up the app on my mobile device.

So, yesterday, when one of my students brought in a gift from parents — the new illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — the entire class surrounded her in wonder at this beautiful book that has amazingly colorful illustrations. She said her mom pre-ordered it back in February, and she has been waiting (not really patiently) for it arrive. She was so excited, hugging the book as if she never wanted to let it go.

At one point, she opened the book up and put her nose right down into the spine. She closed her eyes as she inhaled deeply. We all watched her, curious.

“I love the smell of new books,” she said, smiling but sincere. “There’s something about that new book smell.”

A friend was standing next to her. This friend is another book lover whose father, I know, collects antique books. This friend nodded, in agreement to the comment, but then added an ancillary thought of her own.

“And the smell of old books, too. There’s something mysterious about the smell of old books,” she said, almost wistfully, as if she was imagining herself wandering through an old bookstore. I thought of my own childhood adventures in old book stores and in libraries, about the undiscovered stories and yes, the scent of those collections still linger in my memory.

I nodded in agreement to both of them. In the back of my mind, I thought: no e-book reader will never get a comment about the sense of smell like that and the way that sensory experience provides an emotional connection to a book. (Should I say “never” here? Who knows what sensory experiences they might build into the e-reader in the future? I should know better, perhaps and yet …)

There sure is something tangible and experiential about physical books — the ones with the covers and the paper pages. It’s the scent of a shared love of stories, of the ideas of writers, of other readers before you, of characters that move you and settings that draw you in. It’s the sense of magic about to unfold, and I still believe that the reader-to-book experience doesn’t quite cross the lines in the age of digital e-readers.

Peace (under and inside the pages),
Kevin

PS — Ironically, Apple announced that is now has interactive Harry Potter e-books available (no doubt, part of some marketing effort connected to the release of the illustrated book). While I admit to being intrigued to what those might look like, I’d be more apt to shell out the cost for the hardcover illustrated Harry Potter that my student owns.