Mark Twain arrived home this week, safe and sound inside an envelope. He is part of a group of Writer figurines making their way around the country by visiting various Summer Institutes of the National Writing Project. We’ve packaged the concept as a spy story, in which The Writers have been instructed by President Obama to investigate the National Writing Project and report back. The reporting has been done at a Ning site for technology-minded folks within the NWP.
What I’ve been doing, other than overseeing The Writers’ various journeys, is creating little stopmotion movies to keep the concept fresh and to poke fun at The Writers. Yesterday, I gave Twain his own feature, arriving home in one of my son’s Pirate Ships, floating along the blue waters of one of our futon couches. Meanwhile, we still have no word on the whereabouts of Edgar Allen Poe, who seems to have disappeared in the US Mail system.
I decided to try something a little different with this movie, using ComicLife to create the dialogue on images and then mixing up images and video. It was tricky and I am not sure I kept enough time for the reading of the lines. Let me know. I can always go back and re-edit, if necessary.
If you want to see the other segments of The Writers, go: First here and then here and then here. That should bring you up to speed.
This is just a bit of fun — but one of our Writers figures that we have sent out on a “mission” to discover more about the National Writing Project has gone missing. (You can read more about the project here) I am sure he will turn up but I used the opportunity to create this movie with Xnormal, where you turn text into video. I then used the option for YouTube, just to keep track of the videos.
I shared this in a few different spaces yesterday, so why not here, right? I am overseeing a fun project this summer in which I have mailed off four different Writer figurines (William Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, Virginia Woolf and Mark Twain) to various National Writing Project Summer Institutes (month-long gatherings where teachers talk about writing, do much writing and share best practices in the teaching of writing).
Folks then take the little Writers to events and, much like a Flat Stanley project, they then write from the experience of the Writer about what they see and experience. We are using a Ning site to share out the journal entries and a Flickr site to share photos. It’s been a lot of fun to read what people are writing and with the various adventures about halfway through, I figured I would grab excerpts from the entries and share them out.
So, here goes:
“After my long journey, I felt as if “I could not budge an inch” but was invited to join my new found friends for a quiet bar-b-que dinner on the patio where I was presentented with “a dish fit for the gods.” My parched throat was quenched with a tall glass of sweet tea and great conversation during what I am told is an unseasonably cool evening in the Delta.”
“What a great day! I woke up Tuesday morning, June the 16th, excited because I knew I was headed home with Lee Claypool this afternoon. My day began with a lesson on endings and writing demonstrations from two of the wonderful teachers attending the Delta Area Writing Project at Delta State University in Cleveland, Mississippi. I sure learned a lot. They sure have some wonderful, hard-working teachers in the Mississippi Delta!”
“We started the day in her writing class. Such happenings today. People were scurrying around stuffing items in brown bags and creating some sort of board. All I could think was, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.” I am hoping this is true. All of the work these writers are doing preparing for company of some sort to come and be entertained. After class, we went to the library at the university. I noticed that Melanie was researching famous quotes from none other than myself. I am not certain why she wasted her time on this as I was right there with her.”
“I kid you not, we were flying going north bound on the highway, breaking several traffic laws…but on the way south, I think John studied the traffic code because he abided by each and every technicality in the book, as we cruised down Interstate 69 on down to Highway 61. All in all, I think I am ready for my Monday assignment. I learned a lot about John and his family. While speaking reservations maybe in short supply, they are nonetheless dangerous with words…even the ones in English. John is a very stoic person, but is an easy to go person; just don’t cross him. If you do he will be all for your pain while you lose your gains. Overall, this family is a smart and intelligent bunch. I would almost be tempted to demand a full week of analysis with this family…¡John contou-mi que não havia nenhum rum nessa bebida! ¡Tenho uma dor de cabeça de proporções épicas! John told me that there was no rum in that drink! I have a headache of epic proportions!”
“We then proceeded to this place called Meadowview. I expected to view a meadow, but there was not a meadow insight. Instead, I saw a group of African Americans. This race was unknown to me. I also overheard Aurelia talking about someone named Barack Obama. She said how proud she was to have the first African American President. She said, “Lord have mercy; I am so happy.” She introduced me to the crowd, which included 3 people in a wheelchair and several on walkers and canes. These were the people that lived in the meadow view without a meadow or a view. She introduced me, and as famous as I am no one at this place knew who I was. Aurelia did an excellent job of explaining me. They were not impressed.”
“My writing has been greatly influenced by the diverse people and music I encountered on my visit. Drum beats from the African family of Mufato sent visions of the vast African jungle sounds echoing through my mind. The Blues is Alright!!! I sat in on a soul-stirring, heartbreaking, blues with Howling Harold, Singing Sal, Jammin Jack and Bad Boy Bobby Blue. They really put their heart and soul into their music and have inspired me to do even more romantic writing. Maybe a revision of Romeo and Julliet where…oh well, I don’t want to spoil the surprise. The smooth sounds of the Junction Jazz Trio caressed the depths of my soul and the beauty of the Delta women is unsurpassed.”
“On top of the refrigerator, I watched the mother wash dishes and tidy up the house before putting the children to bed. This was a hard task for her; considering that the children were not ready to go to sleep. The mother patiently waited until the children fell asleep before beginning her own bedtime rituals, or so I thought. After the children fell asleep around 9:30, the woman sat down at her computer and began to write something at the computer. The woman then realized that she had forgotten me again. She allowed me to take a peek at what she was writing. She was working on a love letter. There were many pictures representing love and even a pleasant melody that accompanied the words. As she tried to record her raspy voice on the computer; she began to cry. This showed me that this woman felt like “Love” was one of the most important things in the world. She finally put the microphone away and decided to try again later. She began to nod at the computer as the 11:00 hour approached. Once she realized that she was nodding, she placed me inside of her bag and went to sleep.”
Edgar Allen Poe
“(Editor’s note: Tiny Edgar spit these lyrics out extemporaneously the other night while I was strumming the chords to Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” It quickly grew into a raucous jam session that lasted well into the night. Working from memory the next morning, I wrote the following.)
To the Tune of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan)
David’s literary storehouse brought me down.
And Josh’s minutes helped me along.
From Mao Tse Tung to Perez Hilton,
I feel like writing in Holland McCombs.
WRITE-WRITE-WRITING IN HOLLAND MCCOMBS (4X)”
(and a poem)
“On to our writing groups we did go
Under the watchful eye of Mr. Poe
Once again we had an informative day
Looking forward to what others will have to say”
(in the vein of a Perez Hilton gossip column): “Oooooo friend, let me tell you about little Mr. Edgar Allan Poe…He has been showing up in all these crazy photos that David has been taking. And David was even over heard saying that he took Edgar home with him…I think little Mister-sister Edgar Allan Poe is a ….”
“Edgar is appalled that Jenny has been pilfering all of the posts from A Day in the Life at the e-anthology. The posts here all come from folks at WTWP not her! What a hussy! If I was still writing, I’d come up with some wicked way for her to endure the particularly pesky parts of pilfering.”
“I arrived at the South Central Kansas Writing Project Summer Institute on the heels of a powerful prairie thunderstorm, full of wind and lightening. A great deal has been said about the weather, but very little has ever been done about it. These Kansan writers are a varied and hearty bunch who definitely enjoy feeding the soul and the body during writing activities.”
“Upon reflection of my day spent on the plains of Kansas, I can heartily say I enjoyed myself. I have said before, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus” and that remains true in this place. Many outsiders see the flat prairie as dull and boring, but the wide open spaces feed the imagination, letting new ideas and possibilities prosper.”
“It appears these teachers are open to incorporating technology into their writing and classrooms. I learned several new words today including “google” which is both a noun and a verb, and exabyte, which I personally consider a lazy attempt at description. As a veteran river man, I could sympathize with those writers who seem to be almost drowning in the possibilities.”
“I must tell you that I am relived to know that I may stay here at the Appleseed Writing Project for a few days before I must continue on my long journey again. I have learned about many new fangled machines so far and I hear I may even get to use a contraption called an I-pod for something on this stop. It is hard to say what I can do with that little piece of shiny blue metal. I have been told that it holds up to 4 Gig of music. I can’t quite comprehend how that little flat piece of metal can hold anything, let-a-lone, music. It is not even big enough to use for an eating utensil. And what is a Gig anyway, and how will it be used?”
“Saturday, June 6 Virginia attended the Western Mass Summer Institute orientation. She enjoyed the great snacks especially the grapes. Although, she did mention that her preference was a distilled form of the fruit.”
“I emerged from my envelope to discover a table full of professionals (teachers, I believe), in conversation about writing (can this be true? Oh joyful days). I propped myself up against a notebook and took it all in. The writing, the reflection, the laughter … it was a wonderful experience and I could have stayed there for days just listening. But duty called and I was again on my way.”
“What a refreshing site to see–women writing, expressing their opinions, conversing with each other, being the majority. A long way from what I felt and believed to be similar to slavery–enslaved by expectations and restriction, prim straight-laced, docile. But here I see women writing, being expected to teach others to write, demanding their voice be heard. Ah yes, it seems the way has been paved for women to have their own space–a room of one’s own, if you will–, money and choice of partners. There are many deep emotional, psychological, and intellectual issues to be explored within these scholarly walls.”
On Wednesday night (9 p.m. eastern time), I will be guest-hosting this week’s edition of Teachers Teaching Teachers as we continue to explore the book I co-edited — Teaching the New Writing. This week, we’re going to focus in on the theme of collaboration with some of the chapter writers. It should be an interesting talk about how technology and writing can foster good collaboration among students.
Here is the notice from the National Writing Project site:
You are invited to join teachers across the globe for a special interactive Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) webcast, titled “Teaching the New Writing: Exploring the Collaborative Nature of Writing and Technology in the Classroom,” sponsored by the NWP Technology Initiative.
As educators move forward into the terrain of digital literacy and learning with their students, part of the challenge is balancing the innovation of new technology with the accountability of assessment.
The recently published book Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom explores these balancing acts through case studies of elementary through university-level classrooms where teachers are integrating technology with writing and where the assessment of the digital work and student learning is being explored.
Chapter authors Paul Allison, a high school teacher, technology liaison at the New York City Writing Project, and facilitator of TTT; Glen Bledsoe, an elementary teacher and teacher consultant at the Oregon Writing Project at the University of Oregon; and Jeff Schwartz, high school teacher and member of the Bread Loaf Teachers Network, will share examples of their classroom practices to prompt a discussion about the collaborative nature of writing when using technology in the classroom.
Their work includes the collaborative creation of a classroom digital production, students bloggers forming connections within an online social network, and writers using audio and video to share their work.
Editors Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project will address these and other questions in this interactive webcast on June 10th, drawing from insights and discoveries they made while writing their new book, Teaching the New Writing. The book pulls together teachers’ stories, practices, and examples of students’ creative and expository writing from online and multimedia projects such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and electronic poetry.
This is the first of three Teachers Teaching Teachers shows this month that will focus on this book. Next week and the week after, we will have various authors from the different chapters Teaching the New Writing on the show.
A few years ago, during a session with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s Summer Institute, I was discussing how we were going to use blogs and a networking space of the National Writing Project for sharing and reflecting and connecting. I went slow and step-by-step. I could see, however, that many in the room — these mostly veteran teachers — just could not wrap their mind around what we were asking them to be doing with technology. I tried to create mental pictures, drew a diagram on the whiteboard and racked my brain for other ways to explain it.
But many remained confused and one person got so frustrated with me, she stormed right out of the computer lab. I was taken aback, to be honest, because the term “blog” had long been in popular culture and MySpace was all the rage in the news. I thought they would have some cultural references to at least get a hook on. (Some teachers that summer did “get it” but not many.)
I was reminded of this because yesterday, I worked with this coming summer’s group of Summer Institute teachers and it was a world of difference. We use a closed Ning social networking site (see above) for our institute and within minutes, with no fuss, we had all fourteen teachers signed up, writing, commenting and changing their homepage themes. Another few minutes and they were registered with the National Writing Project so they could take part in the eAnthology, a wonderful closed writing network tool that connects participants in summer institutes across the country. Before my hour was up, everyone was online and connected and no one seemed overly confused or pissed off at me (I like that).
Is this emblematic of the shift that we keep talking about? Has Facebook made it easier for us to talk about social networking? I think so, although only a few hands went up when I asked who uses technology with their students. But they seemed ready to learn and to be more open to new ideas. I left satisfied that this group might use our Ning site in the month between yesterday’s orientation session and the day when the month-long institute kicks off in July.
Peace (in the shift),
PS — Don’t know what a National Writing Project Summer Institute is all about?
At our site, the goals of our institute are:
to help participating teachers reflect upon their own expertise as teachers of writing and share this knowledge with their peers;
to help participating teachers organize and prepare ways of presenting this expertise to teachers outside WMWP;
to make available to participating teachers the latest theory and research in the field;
to help participating teachers see themselves as writers.
The Invitational Summer Institute program embodies these four goals, which reflect the philosophy of the National Writing Project. Participants will prepare and present professional workshops, read currrent theory and research in their chosen area, conduct informal action research projects in their classrooms, do their own self-directed writing, and help their colleagues with this writing through writing response groups.
Here in Denver, as I work on the visioning process for redesigning the website of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (now projected to be a year-long inquiry collaborative endeavor and not a solo journey), we were asked to create a visual metaphor of the work of our writing project site.
I turned to music and thought of our site as its own musical composition, with different elements of our site (outreach, continuity programs, inservice opportunities) working together to create a piece of Theme and Variation (ie, writing is at the heart of how we learn), but the door remains open for innovation and new elements of the composition.
The DJ here is a new teacher, with new ideas, and how they can help keep us fresh and informed and invigorated with new sounds.
Peace (in the hippity hoppity world of writing),
PS — I had a fun time out and about in Denver last night with Bud the Teacher and a few other new friends. We went bowling (!) in a place with huge video screens showing modern art, played pool and talked on a range of topics from digital identity (hmmm .. Boolean Squared material) to leadership and advocacy in schools to the possible changing face of education towards virtual schools.
I flew to Denver, Colorado, yesterday (impression: it seems flatter than I imagined) for a weekend visioning retreat in which a number of us from various sites of the National Writing Project are working to consider how an organization presents itself on the Web in a coherent, inclusive and relevant way for its audience (for us, teachers) and the general public.
Our aim is to do inquiry this weekend into our organizations (mine is the Western Massachusetts Writing Project), work through some essential questions and then map out a plan for collaborative planning around the content and design/redesign of websites that will better reflect our sites.
We began last night with prewriting and discussions. Among the things we were asked to do was to brainstorm what “web presence” means to us and then work on coming up with a visual metaphor for this understanding. I pitched the idea of a Talent Show, in which the public sees a variety of different concepts and ideas but behind the scenes, there are a lot of people collaborating on the show. In the end, our group chose the metaphor of a huge eye, with the eye representing “vision” and also a list of “i” words such as a inquiry, inviting, insightful, inclusive, etc. That worked for me, too.
At the other tables, the metaphors included: an interconnected table of people, holding hands and connected through many nodes (think a modern version of King Arthur’s Roundtable, with no king); a portable children’s museum that has exhibits that invite participation (not a static museum where you can’t touch anything); and a metaphorical walk through the woods, with trees and the road representing elements of inclusiveness.
It’s all very fascinating, particularly if you push these ideas into digital identity of people (as one person said last night, we’re all cool on the Internet) and consider audience, design, and more.
More to come later …
Peace (on the Net, where no one knows you’re the dog),
The National Writing Project provides a wealth of information and experience and connections and this policy briefing/report just got published on the NWP site. It is a research briefing from a company hired by NWP to look at data from technology work at sites within the NWP. (A disclosure: our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site was one of the sites included in this study of a project known as the Technology Initiative).
You can read the full report — entitled “Keeping the Promise of the 21st Century: Bringing Classroom Teaching into the Digital Age” — here but I thought I would share out some of the findings, in my own words:
Teachers learn best from other teachers who are using technology, not from some canned professional development;
It takes time for teachers to think about and integrate technology, so one-shot professional development is less effective than long-term supportive work;
Technology is best used and most effective when students are engaged in real classroom projects with authentic learning standards;
Teachers who effectively use technology are engaging and motivating their students;
Access to technology is a real issue – either to the equipment or through “firewalls” set up by school districts;
Students in poorer school districts often have the least access to technology and technology-inspired curriculum, although they may need it the most;
State and federal standardized mandates offer little incentive for teachers to engage in use of technology.
The report also adds some “policy implications” for its findings:
Teachers have to be the leaders and demand more professional development and access to technology for their students. It can’t rest with administrators;
K-12 teachers should connect more with Universities and other institutions for access to technology and expertise;
Teachers need hands-on experiences using technology themselves and then time to consider the implications of the classroom;
Provide students in underserved communities with access to technology and related curriculum opportunities;
And more …
This report is worth the read and it once again makes me proud to be part of the NWP, as it moves to think about writing in new ways that engage our young learners and makes writing relevant in their lives.
Or, as the report notes:
NWP is distinctive among professional development providers. It is a network of teachers who build leadership and knowledge of teaching and learning from systematic study of their own classroom practices and the practices of colleagues, as well as from research. These leading teachers—called teacher-consultants—share their professional knowledge and practices with other teachers through local NWP professional development programs. . . .