A Stopmotion Workshop Teaser/Prototype

I’ve been invited to be a presenter at what could be a very interesting session at the National Writing Project‘s Annual Meeting in November down in Orlando. NWP is teaming up with MAKE Magazine to offer a session on technical writing and Do-It-Yourself exploration.

Here’s the blurb from the three-hour working session called NWP Makes! Making and Technical Writing (which I see is now completely full):

A special Saturday event hosted by the NWP Digital Is project’s partnership with Make magazine. Participants will be invited to explore the connections between making and technical writing through hands-on projects and shared reflection. Come to learn about the making/crafting/tinkering/DIY movement and explore connections to your own practice.

I’ve been asked to do a one-hour session on stopmotion moviemaking. After my small group makes their movie, their task is going to be to document what we did in technical, expository writing. So, they experience it and then explain it for others.

Yesterday, I used some wiki stix (actually, they were knock-off stix and were a pain to use — note to self for workshop: get the real ones) and made a prototype movie that also became a teaser of sorts for the NWP Makes! session. I was trying to make the dude talk (I used Audacity to change my voice) and that is hard to do, I found out!

Right now, I am trying to come with “story” scenarios for 10 people to make a movie around in an hour. An hour is not long when you are shooting frame by frame. I have some ideas, though.

Peace (on the make),

PS — If you are interested in stopmotion animation, I created a website with hints for teachers and students. Go to Making Stopmotion Movies.

US Senate Resolution: National Day on Writing

The second annual National Day on Writing is coming up on October 20th. It’s an event sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) to celebrate and make visible the importance of writing in our lives. There are events and celebrations that take place across the country, and there is an online gallery for submitting writing into an archive.It’s a great way to write, get published and join the festivities around writing.

The United States Senate got into the act and recently passed a Resolution, supporting the National Day on Writing.


Expressing support for the designation of October 20, 2010, as the `National Day on Writing’.

Whereas people in the 21 st century are writing more than ever before for personal, professional, and civic purposes;

Whereas the social nature of writing invites people of every age, profession, and walk of life to create meaning through composing;

Whereas more and more people in every occupation deem writing as essential and influential in their work;

Whereas writers continue to learn how to write for different purposes, audiences, and occasions throughout their lifetimes;

Whereas developing digital technologies expand the possibilities for composing in multiple media at a faster pace than ever before;

Whereas young people are leading the way in developing new forms of composing by using different forms of digital media;

Whereas effective communication contributes to building a global economy and a global community;

Whereas the National Council of Teachers of English, in conjunction with its many national and local partners, honors and celebrates the importance of writing through the National Day on Writing;

Whereas the National Day on Writing celebrates the foundational place of writing in the personal, professional, and civic lives of the people of the United States;

Whereas the National Day on Writing provides an opportunity for individuals across the United States to share and exhibit their written works through the National Gallery of Writing;

Whereas the National Day on Writing highlights the importance of writing instruction and practice at every educational level and in every subject area;

Whereas the National Day on Writing emphasizes the lifelong process of learning to write and compose for different audiences, purposes, and occasions;

Whereas the National Day on Writing honors the use of the full range of media for composing, from traditional tools like print, audio, and video, to Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, and podcasts; and

Whereas the National Day on Writing encourages all people of the United States to write, as well as to enjoy and learn from the writing of others: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved, That the Senate–
    • (1) supports the designation of October 20, 2010, as the `National Day on Writing’;
    • (2) strongly affirms the purposes of the National Day on Writing;
    • (3) encourages participation in the National Galley of Writing, which serves as an exemplary living archive of the centrality of writing in the lives of the people of the United States; and
    • (4) encourages educational institutions, businesses, community and civic associations, and other organizations to promote awareness of the National Day on Writing and celebrate the writing of the members those organizations through individual submissions to the National Gallery of Writing.

It’s nice to see references to the influence of digital media in our lives in the resolution.

I am working with my friend, Bonnie, to gather up writing from National Writing Project teachers at our iAnthology site around “writing that we don’t often think about” — the various ways we use writing through the day.

But I am still mulling over if I can do something at my school, too. Last year, we did a HUGE comic strip that students from all over the school wrote on, answering the question: what do you like to write?

What will you do?

Peace (in the writing),

Book Review: Because Digital Writing Matters

(hear the podcast of this review)
I’ll admit many biases with this review. I am an avid supporter of the National Writing Project, which has given me many opportunities and connections as a teacher, writer and technology dabbler. And I get mentioned in this book, too. (More disclosure: NWP helped co-publish our book, Teaching the New Writing.) So, take my words for what they are — a reviewer who is deeply connected to the work highlighted here, including being an attendee at some of the conferences where conversations helped formulate the start of this book project.

But I think Because Digital Writing Matters (to be published this fall for $15. Disclosure: I was sent a review copy) stakes out some important ground in defining the role that digital tools have on the writing classroom and instruction. The book also lays the groundwork of rationale for using various elements of technology in all classrooms, not just writing classes. Writers Troy Hicks, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and Danielle Nicole DeVoss center their arguments on a number of hooks, including documenting the long history of the National Writing Project in the field of exploring technology and writing, advocating the use of professional development to help teachers not just use but also reflect upon the use of technology, and pushing forth the call for more schools and teachers to consider the possibilities of publishing, rhetoric, voice, mixed media and more that technology brings to the table.

I do have a complaint that I need to voice before I move further here. The authors end up defining digital writing as “compositions created with, and oftentimes for reading and/or viewing on, a computer or other device that is connected to the Internet. (page 7)” My sense is that this definition probably came following lots of discussions and debate. I can appreciate that. Digital writing is not clearly defined elsewhere, either, as it is still an emerging concept. Here, though, it’s that “connected to the Internet” phrase that I have trouble with because I don’t think all digital composition needs to be connected to the world via the Internet. Sometimes, we make digital writing on our computers or mobile devices, for ourselves. A digital story, for example. I know that the writers here are trying to demonstrate the predominance of the connected world, the networked spaces that we increasingly inhabit. For me, that connection is important but it is not the end-all-be-all of digital writing.

That aside, there are many things that stand out for me in this book (which is the companion to NWP’s Because Writing Matters, which laid out the rationale for writing as a means of learning across all curriculum). Among the points where I grabbed my highlighter and marked up the text (much to the surprise of my sons, who kept asking me why I was writing in a book):

  • I like and think it is important that much of what we are calling writing falls under the term of “composition,” which involves using elements of words, audio, video, image and more to create a sense of meaning. That mixed-up, mashed-up element is highlighted throughout the book, as is the need to be able to teach those elements to our young writers/composers.
  • The book highlights many NWP teachers in the classroom, showcasing a wide range of projects on various themes: engagement, assessment, curriculum alignment, etc. That is very helpful to have. I know a lot of the folks mentioned here, and admire their work immensely from afar. I like that they are being recognized, even though there are plenty more NWP folks doing amazing work, too.
  • The chapter on the ecologies of digital writing was fascinating for me. I guess I hadn’t given this idea enough thought when it comes to the physical setting of a connected classroom. I have thought about the online environment, but pulling these two strands together (physical and virtual space) was an interesting turn.
  • I appreciated the long list of “traits and actions” that are associated with digital writing because they highlight a vast array of elements of what is going on when young people compose with computers and devices. This list runs from creativity/originality to observations/inquiry to the remix culture. Plus, I am a sucker for lists.
  • The sense of play is all over the stories in this book. We need time to play with technologies ourselves, and we need to give students the time to play and experiment, too. It’s hard to overstate this.
  • The authors use the phrase “double helix” to describe the meshing (or not) of technology curriculum standards with writing standards. I love that phrase because it shows both the connections and the separate qualities of both.

The book ends with a powerful call for educators of all stripes to get engaged in the digital world and listen to what our young people are saying about how they communicate, and to recognize the power of technology in the emerging literacies of young people.

…more and more, our students are learning to think, to read, and to ask questions in networked environments, enabled by computers, mobile phones, e-book readers, and other technologies. They will encounter information requiring them to think critically because information travels quickly, in multiple modes, in many different directions …. In short, we need to do what we have always done as educators: guide and respond to our students’ writing even though technologies continue to change. (page 150)”

I’d put this book right on the shelf next to Hicks’ The Digital Writing Workshop, Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcast and other Powerful Tools, and other books that continue to make visible the shifts that are going on underway in education and in our lives.

(See more information about the book at the NWP website)

Peace (in the sharing),

Joel Malley Video: Writing in the Digital Age

This is worth a view, as fellow NWP teacher Joel Malley (who blogs at Buried in Wires) gives us some insights into the digital work of students and the classroom environment of his classroom. Joel produced this as part of an upcoming appearance at a Congressional briefing around technology and writing in conjunction with the National Writing Project, the College Board and Phi Delta Kappa.

Writing in the Digital Age from Joel Malley on Vimeo.

Peace (in the sharing),

NWP Funding: Sen. Scott Brown responds …

I guess I wasn’t expecting too much from my Senator when I sent him a letter to please lobby on my behalf for continued federal funding for the National Writing Project. Right now, there is no direct funding for NWP in President Obama’s educational plan (see more details).

I know Sen. Scott Brown is a Republican still trying to find his political footing in Washington, but I still hope he heeds the call of us Massachusetts teacher and constituents when it comes to the importance we place on the National Writing Project in terms of professional development and impact on the classroom.

A few months after I wrote to Sen. Brown, I received a letter from him (his office) in mail. It was obviously a form letter of sorts, with general statements like “I support initiatives that improve our schools …” and ” …I am committed to working with my colleagues to find bipartisan solutions to help students and schools succeed …”

I am hopeful that he heard my points.

Peace (in the response),

Writing a Story in Reverse, with friends


You know that movie by director Christopher Nolan — Momento — where the action moves in sequence from the finish to the start? I’ve always been intrigued by how Nolan could not only conceive such a thing, but how do you pull it off? I was reminded of the movie yesterday as I launched a collaborative story project via a site called Today’s Meet.

Today’s Meet is a backchannel site that can be used during lectures and conferences. It’s a nice design. Easy to use. Each new post in the channel moves to the top, sort of like a blog. I was playing around with it the other day and wondered if it might be possible to use it for writing a story.

The trick would be that the story would have to be told in reverse by the writers, who would have to add their next part of the narrative in time sequence before the part they are reading. In other words, if a character is eating an apple, the next part to be written would be the character getting the apple and preparing to eat it, and before that, the character expressing hunger for an apple. Everything is one-step backwards.

Which means I had to start the project with the story’s ending and then allow folks to backfill the plot. Here’s my first post, which is actually the last few lines of the story: By the time it was all over, she wondered whether the device would actually work the way it was designed. She honestly did not know.

I know. Confusing. But intriguing as a writer who likes to explore the off-kilter world of composition. And eleven brave folks, mostly from my urgings over at Twitter during the day, joined me, adding elements of the plot during the course of the day. Oh, and each post could only be the size of a tweet — 140 characters. Thanks to: Tony, Cindy, Matt, Larry, Sabi, Linda, Gail, Dennis, Doris, and Mike for coming along for the ride. Your words were magic! (and thanks to connections with the National Writing Project, since a number of our writers are part of my NWP network)

The plot of our collaborative story revolves around a woman who has been given some sort of secret device and needs to meet her friends, who are not showing up. There’s a hint of danger in the air, and secrecy. A few minutes ago, I ended the story with the first line of the story: It all began innocently enough.

As we were working on it, I was reflecting on whether this is a possibility for the classroom. I suppose, but I think the backwards-design of the story would be way too complex for my sixth graders. Their critical thinking skill levels are such that they need to see things develop in proper chronological order. But it might be possible with high school students. A few of the posts to our story seemed out of sequence, or slightly jarring to the posts around it, and the problem with Today’s Meet is there is no editing. You write, you post, you’re published. That’s tricky business for writers.

Go read the Collaborative Story-in-Reverse(note: I had to update this as a PDF file because the Today’s Meet site expired on me.

It was a fun experiment, and I kept checking in to see where the story was unfolding towards. We never really answered crucial questions (what is this device anyway? And why such secrecy?) but I think the story is interesting to read.

Peace (in the collaboration),


RAW INK: Connecting readers and writers online

This comes via a National Writing Project friend, Paul Hankins, who joined others down in Texas to talk about and create resources around digital media for the future Digital Is … web portal (I have a few resources already on there).

I like how Paul talks about the connections of reading and writing, and also, I am fascinated by this online space where young people can interact with authors and booksellers (as long as nothing is commercialized). RAW INK is home down in Kentuckiana, a term I hadn’t come across before.

Thanks for sharing, Paul!

RAW INK Online Promotional Clip from The Crossings in Austin Texas from Paul Hankins on Vimeo.

Peace (in the books),

The Strength of the NWP Walkabout

As many regular visitors know, I am part of the National Writing Project, which is a national organization of teachers who seek to instill writing and exploration across the curriculum (and into technology). Yesterday, I noticed a post in my RSS reader from a NWP blog where I have posted now and then from conferences.

The site is called NWP Walkabout and it’s a really fascinating inside view from various events where NWP folks are gathering. NWP Co-Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl wrote a post noting that in just six months, the NWP Walkabout site had gathered about 15o posts from folks (the most recent being a twin gathering of NWP folks around rural sites issues and a professional writing retreat around technology).

The posts are a wonderful insight not only into the work of NWP but also into the work of various conferences, and I love the wonderful array of voices that come through at the site. The site is run on Posterous, which means that folks only need to have email access to create posts, and when they attach things like images, audio or video, those media files automatically get embedded into posts (Posterous might be an easy way for a teacher to set up a simple blog.)

Check out NWP Walkabout. Toss it into your RSS reader. Even if  you are not part of the National Writing Project, you will find useful information.

Peace (in the walkabout),

Troy’s Digital Writing Workshop Shift

Image  from Heinemann
Image from Heinemann

I’m a huge fan of Troy Hicks and his book, The Digital Writing Workshop. It is an incredibly helpful and useful and thoughtful guide to the ways that digital tools can help teachers make the shift with student composition. This morning, I saw an email from Troy that the online component to his book is shifting platforms from a Ning to a Wiki now that Ning is changing its ways.

It’s not too late to join Troy and other teachers at the Digital Writing Workshop wiki and engage in conversations about the digital writing world.

Here is a video that might pique your interest as teachers from the Central Arizona Writing Project and Chippewa River Writing Projects talk about the impact of technology on writing.

Peace (in the shift),