Yesterday, as part of the National Day on Writing, my four classes of sixth graders went into a reflective pose, and wrote about why they write. I invited them to come into our “podcast station” (a comfy chair, Snowball Microphone, and Garageband up on the screen) and share their words with the world. Many did. It was wonderful.
For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.
I’m sorry I forgot your name. I apologize if my eyes darted quickly from your face to your name tag, and then back up to your eyes as you began to speak. Did I look confused? Lost? Or out of place when we were talking? I probably was. My brain was working to remember your name, to place you in my constellation. I blame Google for making me stupid. No. I blame genetics and memory cells. Darn you, Mom and Dad.
The fact is that as much as I love coming to educational conferences and hanging out with everyone in person after all the time that we spend in online spaces exploring writing and making cool stuff, I am finding it a wee bit trickier over the years to remember all of you when we finally get to a face-to-face situation. That’s not completely true. I never found it easy and I always thank the Conference Gods who provide us with name tags.
It’s not you; it’s me.
You seem to have no trouble remembering me. I appreciate that. Perhaps my restless online presence translates into a strong physical presence? <Cue laugh track>. Of course, you would not likely recognize me from my “dogtrax” avatar. Unless you squint your eyes, use your imagination and maybe do a few shots of whiskey first. And by the way, if we are at the same bar when you do that whiskey shot to spark your imagination, call me over. I am buying. We can imagine together.
Maybe it’s my walk and not my avatar that you recognize. My wife says I have a distinctive walk, and one of my former colleagues who I ran into at NCTE (no, I did not recognize her when she called out my name and she even taught two doors down the hall from me … 11 years ago … But still, I should have her face in my memory banks, right? Right. Sigh) said she recognized me from afar from the way I was walking down the hallway. I find that hard to believe. Do I have a funny walk? I personally think it is the rest of the world that is slightly off-kilter. I walk with perfectly normal strides.
But, if you recognized me by my walk or from my avatar or from some various hangout or whatever (maybe even from that whiskey bar), and I failed to do the same of you and your walk, I am so sorry. Perhaps your walk is on the so-called normal scale. There were a lot of people there, after all. (although now that I think of it, if we did hang out in that whiskey bar, both of our walks might be a bit funny by the end of our conversation.)
Still, when I hear someone saying “Kevin” or “Dogtrax” from across the room, I think: This .. is … so … cool. Someone I know is here. I get excited about the connection. I do. After all, what we do online should spill to what we do offline, if the possibility exists. When it happens, it’s an amazing connection, like some two-pronged electrical plug. Inevitably, though, I draw a blank when your hand reaches out to me and I feel dumb (again …. Google) and scramble my brain for your name. I mean, you took the trouble to remember me. I should remember you. I quickly calculate, what space were you in with me? What projects did we collaborate on? Are you sure we know each other? I don’t want you to ever think that what we did together is inconsequential nor without meaning, which is why a small panic builds inside of me. I valued our work. I just can’t retrieve your name from my data banks right at this second.
I have decided a strategy is in order. So I have begun stringing various name together, sort of like lights on the holiday tree. Or a run-on sentence. Names name names. I just need to make sure none of the lights go out on that string of ours, and I will be good to go. There’s a whole year to go until our next big conference. A whole year to learn how to remember.
Or a whole year to forget … Damn it. See you at the bar. I’ll be the funny-walking writer who looks a little confused. Come on over and let’s talk about things for a bit. Make sure you introduce yourself first.
Today is the sixth annual National Day on Writing, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English and various partners (like the National Writing Project) and this year’s theme is Writing Your Community. I’ve been mulling over how best to do this, and decided that mapping out communities — either literally or metaphorically — made a lot of sense.
Check out this workshop that I led at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project this weekend, in which we played around with paper circuitry to illuminate nodes on maps of our communities. This workshop was part of our annual Best Practices conference, and the group of teachers were highly engaged in this hands-on activity around transforming notebooks with circuits and lights.
I attended an interesting session with co-facilitated with friends Ian and Greg (whom I met when they were facilitating the Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative). The session dealt with documentary poems (see Ian’s post about the session), and how to guide students to research a historical figure or time period, write a poem, and then use podcasting for publication. While in the session, I began a poem about Sojourner Truth, who lived for a time in my small city and whose statue is located just off the main road in one of the village areas not far from where she resided.
The other day, I returned to the poem, finished it up and then recorded it.
But I decided to take Ian and Greg’s idea even further, using Popcorn Maker to create a multimedia poem, with images, video and music. I like how it all came together here, even if the tool is still a little wonky at times, as I explore my own thoughts of seeing the Sojourner Truth statue, about the work she did around abolition and awareness of women’s issues, and about the world right now, still in need of the Truth.
There are many things to like about an educational conference like NCTE. Sure, the collaboration and sense of community, and shared knowledge and expertise is all wonderful. But there is also … the free books that publishers hand out in the Exhibition Hall, and this year, my wife and I took home many, many bags of free books (we drove this year so we just kept dragging bags to the car). Plus, we got a few bookmark packs, tattoes, and even a “graphic story” builder pack.
I had the great honor and pleasure to take part in a fast-paced Ignite Session at NCTE in Boston. Ignites are quick presentations, where the 20 slides move on a synced delay and you need be concise and in focus. Five minutes and you are done. My own Ignite presentation was about using video game design in the writing classroom. But to share the stage with Penny Kittle, Sara Kajder, Donalyn Miller, David Finkle, Sandy Hayes and others was a blast.
Here are a few notes that I scratched out on paper as I listened to the others on the stage (videos will be forthcoming from NCTE in the near future):
Sandy Hayes (who facilitated the Ignite session with the theme of Core Standards: Minding the Gaps)
We need more vigor instead of just rigor
There is room for many kinds of explorations of texts
“We want kids to make a difference … we want them to be doing significant things (in their lives) …”
If you missed the NCTE Hackjam, you missed out on some great fun, and some great conversations among teachers (armed with tiny scissors and glue sticks and comics) about how to critically use media for analysis and meaning. It began with some stealthy signs and stealthy tweets, and Hackjam instigator Chad encouraging anyone walking by to take on a secret mission. Our mission was to grab some swag from NCTE vendors and use the materials to create new media. All of this as we huddled on the floor of the hallway off NCTE central.
In a nod to my friend, Anna, who created an Animoto while the HackJam was in progress, here is my own Animoto of the event, with a focus on the collage comic that I created to poke fun at a publishing company.
Chad then showed folks how to use some of the Mozilla Webmaker tools to create online hackjams, including a new Thinmble function for collaborating on a webpage project.
Peace (in the hack),
PS — Thanks so much to Andrea Zellner and Chad Sansing for bringing HackJam to NCTE again.
I led a roundtable discussion yesterday at NCTE around nurturing teacher voices, and my roundtable topic was about how to encourage teachers to use their local newspapers as a platform for writing and publishing, and changing the dialogue around education. The work is informed by a strong partnership that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has with a regional newspaper to feature teacher-writers once a month. I used this handout as a way to encourage individual teachers but also groups of teachers to consider the local newspaper as a conduit for positive news.