The NWP Search Story Playlist

I’ve been experimenting with the new Google Search Story creator and wanted to see how I could collaborate with folks in my network of National Writing Project folks.
So, I put out a call and got some pretty neat stories. I do notice that people struggle with the “telling a story” as opposed to connected links around a topic. In my view, it has more power when the viewer (reader) is trying to determine the mind of the person (character) doing the search queries. It reminds me a story I once wrote that only used personal checks (it was inspired by a published story that did something similar). The storytelling was more about what you leave out than what you put in. This search story idea is similar — how can you leave enough gaps in the narrative for the viewer to figure out what is going on?

Anyway, I tried to find ways to share out the stories that my NWP friends and I were creating, and Matt Needleman suggested a YouTube playlist, which made sense (no video editing on my part) and I realized that you can embed the entire playlist in a blog post, which is pretty neat.

The playlist is here, if you need a direct link: or watch the embedded videos down below.

What’s your story?

Peace (in the search),

Tech Integration: Trying to Make Sense of It All

In my role as a technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (under the umbrella of the National Writing Project), I love to think of the possibilities for both our site and the teachers at our site. I envision blogging, podcasting, movie making, networking across many platforms, collaborative wiki writing and more. All of this would be done on solid pedagogical ground, of course, with the tool being less important than the purpose.

But reality often intrudes on this vision, and at our New England Writing Project Retreat this weekend, I once again began to doubt ideas that I have about teachers being ready to dive in. I have long thought that we were at a tipping point, but now … I don’t know. This creeping doubt does not come from the NEWP retreat itself, which was productive and helpful and a great exchange of ideas, but from a general sense that the education community has little idea about what to make of the technology that kids are using in their lives. It’s hard to explain exactly why I have pessimism when I am usually so optimistic. (It might still be echoes of our WMWP workshop around technology that we had to cancel due to lack of interest).

Paul Oh and Andrea Zellner gave a cool presentation about the Pedagogy of the Socially Networked, and it sparked some real neat discussions, but I didn’t get the sense that there was a whole lot of momentum to bring these ideas back to our sites, which is where we reach teachers, which is where we reach students. I think part of my feeling because I think most of the folks in the room don’t quite grasp the power of these connected points in our digital lives (even with the fun activity we did to map out our own personal social networks on paper). I certainly am somewhat generalizing here and everyone was trying to make some sense of the discussions.

Paul and Andrea did not sugar-coat the topic, either, making note of some of the concerns (how companies are monetizing the social networking experiences, the targeting of young people who are not yet adept at critically viewing media, etc.) while trying to show that this kind of online experience in people’s (and kids’) lives are not likely to go away, and in fact, are more prevalent than ever and will continue to be so. Therefore, as teachers, we have an obligation to understand it and, if possible, to use social networking concepts with our students. Andrea made a great point about how you could still teach the theories and ramifications of such networks, even without a computer in the classroom. (One idea: using sticky notes to denote “tags” and nodes of shared interest).

I think part of my reservation about meaningful progress is that while we, those who are deep into technology, know what might be helpful for students in our no/low-tech-experienced colleagues’ classrooms, in the end, it is 0ur colleagues themselves who need to “see the light” and take the plunge. We can’t do it for them. (Although, a strong case can be made for finding ways to partner up with mentors on this issue) And we teachers know that if someone — some expert — comes in the room and says “do it that way,” we shake our heads with frustration and resist. We need to develop our ideas ourselves for those ideas to take real root.

And the reality is that if national and state standardized testing does not reflect multi-modal writing, longer range projects with tech components, authentic language of youths, and more, than it is unlikely to get the kind of push and support that is necessary to change classroom practice. It’s a twist on the old “trickle down theory,” even though we often talk about changing education from the ground up. We need the support of principals in this endeavor.

If at all possible, I am feeling both optimistic and pessimistic, and trying to keep my mind leaning towards the possibilities, not the roadblocks.

Peace (in a head of doubt),

Being a writer in a room of writers

Last night, as part of the New England Writing Project Retreat down at University of Connecticut, a large group of us teacher-writers wandered down to an Open Mic that had been set up as part of the retreat. The room was filled with high school creative writers, undergraduate and graduate students, and us teachers in the National Writing Project. All too often, we teachers write with other teachers. It’s as isolating as being in your classroom (although the National Writing Project is a place that helps dispel that feeling). So, to be part of an Open Mic event with students reading their writing (and in one case, singing a song, and in another, performing a one-act play) was fascinating and interesting and invigorating, and my ears overflowed with amazing poems. We were all equal — writers in a room of writers.

One of the teachers with me out his poem and, looking out at the crowd of young and older faces, smiled, and said, “I thought I would be reading to a group of English teachers,” but the kids were receptive and open to all sorts of writing.

Jason, here at UConn Writing Project, helped organize the event and I appreciated this kind of mix of teachers and young writers, who were clearly as happy to have us as their audience as we were to have them. I read a poem that I wrote over at Bud the Teacher’s blog this week. The poem is still in revision  (I was scribbling on it in the seconds before I stood at the podium) but I felt like this was an audience that would accept whatever words flowed from my mouth.

Peace (in the poems),

New England Writing Project Retreat

I’m off to Connecticut this weekend for the New England Writing Project Retreat, which is a gathering of the “tribe,” so to speak, as teachers in various writing projects around New England come together to write, share resources and think about our writing project work (we are part of the National Writing Project).

The theme this year is around how to best use technology resources for recruiting new teachers into our sites, and then how to use technology to keep folks connected to the work around the teaching of writing. So, as you can imagine, this is right up my alley!

There is also time to write and tonight, after a dinner and some discussions, we are invited to head out to an Open Mic night and the Connecticut folks are hoping that we bring some writing along to share. There will also be high school writers sharing their work. I love mixing things up like that and I have a poem that I wrote earlier this week that I will read.

On tap for the retreat are topics such as strengthening a presence on the web,  the pedagogy of the socially networked (person? student? teacher? not clear) by my old friend, Paul Oh, who will be bringing in another friend, Andrea Z., via some teleconferencing system (skype?). It will be good to see Paul again and also, to see Andrea on the big screen.

For me, too, it is a sort of return to some old grounds. I went to college right down the street and often hit the bars (and played at a few bars with my band) at UConn, and I lived in Storrs for a bit of time, too. I also wrote at the nearby newspaper, The Willimantic Chronicle, as a sports reporter, although I did not know what I was doing. I guess that’s how you cut your teeth, right?

I’ll probably reflect out about the retreat over at the NWP Walkabout site.

Peace (in Conn),

NWP and MacArthur Foundation, continued

Last year, the National Writing Project received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation to develop resources and engage in conversations about the integration of technology into our concepts of writing, and then bringing those ideas out to other teachers. In November, we held a large one-day event that brought together all sorts of smart people to talk about the implications of digital media in the lives of young writers, and what such a move looks like in the classroom.

I consider myself lucky to be part of the project known as Digital Is … and I just saw on the RSS wire this morning that the MacArthur Foundation has graciously extended the grant funding (translating into $1.1 million in grants over two years).

Here is a blurb from the news:

The focus of the two-year grant will be on developing and disseminating resources and professional development opportunities for teachers, building processes and rubrics for assessing multimodal student work, and collaborating with other organizations working to support young people in using new digital technologies. Established in 2008, “Digital Is” enables local writing project sites across the country to conduct workshops and develop resources for teachers in all 50 states.

I’m excited about the entire Digital Is concept and I have been working with teachers here in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project around developing resources for a future Digital Is web-based home.

Here is a video of a discussion that took place back in November as the culmination of the Digital Is conference:

Peace (in the digital world),

Digital Writing Matters

Troy Hicks (of the Chippewa River Writing Project and author of The Digital Writing Workshop) has put together an interesting slideshow for a presentation around a book he has been working on with the National Writing Project called Because Digital Writing Matters (a spin on an earlier NWP book called Because Writing Matters).

As with most everything that Troy does, this slideshow deserves a look, and the book (not yet published, I don’t think) should be another keeper in our collection of tomes laying out the foundation for the New Literacy movement in the classroom, particularly around composition with media and technology.

Peace (in the slides),

Supporting the National Writing Project

With concerns about changing in funding from the federal government for education, the National Writing Project has set up a new site with information about our network of teachers.

It is called NWP WORKS!

If are you part of NWP, please write or contact your representatives in Washington. If you are not part of NWP, but wonder what it is, then the site can help you, too.

The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all.

Peace (in the network),

Dear Senator Scott Brown: Support NWP

Some of you may know that we have a new senator in these parts — Republican Scott Brown to replace Democrat Ted Kennedy — and this is the first time I am going to be contacting his office (Sen. John Kerry is next). This comes as the National Writing Project is concerned about the reorganization of funding for educational programs. NWP receives substantial funds from the federal government for its work with teachers across the country. There’s a worry that the reorganization may cripple the NWP.

So, I composed this letter to my new senator:

Dear Senator Scott Brown,

First of all, congratulations on your election. I hope you get settled soon and act in the interests of all your constituents in our state in your work as our United States Senator.
I am writing to you today as a sixth grade teacher and as a constituent with three young boys in the public school system. I am writing to you also as someone who cares deeply about the children who come to my classroom every day. I am a member of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, which is based at the University of Massachusetts and a site of the National Writing Project network. The National Writing Project is an organization that I have been part of ever since I began teaching seven years ago and it has changed the way I approach my students as learners in countless, positive ways. The Writing Project has become a second home to me as I continue to develop my skills as a teacher of writing and literacy, and of technology, and its support of my endeavors have been invaluable over the years.
In case you are not familiar with it, the National Writing is an organization with teachers at the center of its work and it empowers us teachers to share our best practices with other educators, to network with each other, to learn from each other, and to make share classroom research around what works best to teach students in all the content areas. We strongly believe that writing is a  crucial way that students learn, whether it is in the Language Arts, the math or the science classroom.
Here in the Pioneer Valley, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project provides professional development for schools by tapping into the expertise of teachers themselves. Our writing project hosts a four-week Summer Institute where teachers conduct research, examine the teaching of writing and become writers themselves. We host numerous conferences for teachers and we have established ourselves as a leader in emerging technology in the Pioneer Valley.
I am writing to you because of proposed changes in the federal educational budget that could negatively impact this work. As you may know, President Obama and his administration are proposing a revamping of the educational funding system. The National Writing Project has been consolidated in the administration’s budget proposal with five other education-related projects as part of a proposed competitive funding stream directed toward State Education Authorities. Money would flow from the states to organizations that the state’s deem worthy.
My concern is that support for the National Writing Project could be in danger under this umbrella plan for block grants. While our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has worked hard to forge connections and partnerships (and run joint programs) with our Massachusetts Department of Education, not all states and not all writing projects have the same bonds. I worry about the competitive nature of the block grant concept and question whether the approach is the right one for educational organizations that work directly with teachers.
If  funding dries up for National Writing Project sites, then proven initiatives that improve instruction and put effective tools of literacy learning into the hands of students might be in jeopardy. The mission statement of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project centers on access and diversity issues for all students and teachers. We work hard to reach those classrooms in urban and rural areas, places where resources are already limited. The strength of an organization like the National Writing Project is that we, the teachers, and our students are tied together with a desire to use literacy for authentic learning.
Let me give you an example of a project that the National Writing Project funded here in Western Massachusetts.
A few years ago, the Western Massachusetts Writing Project launched an initiative known as Making Connections. The goal of our venture was to use technology (weblogs and podcasting) to create an online writing space for middle school students in urban (Holyoke, Chicopee) and rural (Athol) and we had about 20 teachers in a half dozen school districts involved over the three years that we were funded by the National Writing Project. More than 200 students wrote about, and learned about, what it means to live in a rural community or an urban community. Some classes did shared science experiments and collaborated on scientific abstracts. Other students wrote poems and stories. High School students in Chicopee were mentor writers with elementary students in South Hadley. The NWP grant also funded a free summer writing camp for students in Holyoke and Athol. These were opportunities that many of these students would never had had without the vital support of the National Writing Project, and that support began with funding from the United States government.
Here is another example. In the past year, I have helped launch an online social networking site for teachers in writing projects in the New England and New York area. Our aim is to find ways for teachers to connect through tools that break down the geographic barriers. We now have almost 200 members on our site and teachers are using this technology to share lesson plans, to ask questions about classroom activities, to share their own writing and to connect with other teachers. This project is funded directly from the National Writing Project. Without that support, our site might never have gotten off the ground.
The National Writing Project provides numerous other opportunities for teachers right here in our state to to conduct research on the best methods for teaching writing, to write for professional publications, to interact with experts in the field as well as expert teachers from all 50 states. This active network of teachers allows us to share and learn innovative and improved ways of teaching, and I fear that the loss of funding under President Obama’s plan will, at the least, make those opportunities for connections much less likely.
Senator, I am asking for your support in efforts to continue direct appropriations for the National Writing Project and to support the work of teachers in classrooms across the state. By supporting the National Writing Project, you are showing support for teachers and for children. Even teachers who are not part of the National Writing Project benefit, through exposure to best practices at conferences and through discussions with colleagues. If improving schools is a goal, then the National Writing Project deserves your support. Please urge your colleagues in Congress to support the National Writing Project.


Kevin Hodgson

I also created this quick video for Sen. Brown:

Peace (in the future),

Thinking about the ShoutEm Platform

Last week, I ran into two mentions for the ShoutEm Microblogging platform, which allows you to create a sheltered “Twitter” of sorts in which people in your Shout network can post short 140-character pieces. I suggested one of my friends over in the National Writing Project Network create a network to play with, and she did, and I have been playing around as a member of that site (and trying to get other NWP folks involved). I’m not sure we have enough folks using our experimental site to make complete judgments yet.

Here are some thoughts so far:

  • ShoutEm is easy to use as it mimics Twitter quite a bit. Just write and post and you are connected.
  • I love that you can easily share links and that screenshots of most the linked sites are shown automatically. This is a great feature and a nice design.
  • I don’t see any advertising (yet) but I know from the ShoutEm site that creators of the sites can try to make money that way. That would turn me off.
  • It’s free.
  • When you reply to someone’s shout, the replies are threaded, making it easy to track a conversation.
  • There are ways to “subscribe” to another person, but I have not figured out just what the heck that is all about, since I think I see all posts anyway on the homepage.
  • I believe the entire stream can be embedded into another site, allowing you to have a backchannel of sorts for folks to use around an idea.
  • I keep thinking of the comparison to a Ning network, for some reason. Perhaps because both allow you to set up niche communities. And Shoutem can be integrated easily enough (they say) with a Ning site.

Which brings me to the crucial point: Is ShoutEm a possibility for the classroom?

Not for me, likely, because our kids don’t have email accounts but I do see some potential for ShoutEm with students. You could have a site set up for discussions around a reading issue (like a blog but on an easier micro scale) or other topics.

Or, I stumbled across this project called TwitterKids, which connected a group of students from Africa with the world through the use of Twitter. I was fascinated by the possibilities of that kind of global connections and thought: ShoutEm might be the way to go for a similar kind of project. You could set up your own microblogging platform for a project, which would keep it sheltered but viable.


Anyway, here is a video overview of ShoutEm and if you create your own experimental network, let me know. I am always up for posting a few thoughts.

ShoutEm Demo from vikot on Vimeo.

Peace (in the micro),