The Laws of Jim Grey

Jim Gray founded the National Writing Project in California in the early 1970s as a way to gather teachers together to share best practices in the teaching of writing and to become writers themselves. He passed away in the past year. (He published a wonderful book called Teachers at the Center about the early days of the writing project).
The Voice, a publication of the NWP, recently published some wonderful reflections on Jim Gray’s impact on our network of teachers, and this retrospective included the so-called unwritten Gray’s Laws that seem very insightful.

The First Law:
No one, in any way, at any time, or under any circumstances, likes criticism.
The Sixth Law:
If you become defensive, you lose.
The Second Law:
Everyone, without qualification, is starved for recognition.
The Seventh Law:
When issues are controversial, communication between opposing sides is mostly impossible.
The Third Law:
Incompetence flourishes in all fields and in all walks of life.
The Eighth Law:
The Macbeth Family Factor — It pays to consider the consequences, lest you go mad.
The Fourth Law:
No one can see ‘the truth’ unless predisposed to see it.
The Ninth Law:
The Iago Factor — There really are a lot of mean-spirited people in this world.
The Fifth Law:
No one wants to be told what to do or what to think.
The Tenth Law:
Anyone who has made up nine laws will add a tenth.

You can read some of the stories about Jim Gray through the Bay Area Writing Project site.

National Writing Project: Nashville Podcasts

While I was in Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, I decided I would create an audio postcard for some of our writing project fellows back home in Western Massachusetts. These audio files are also being linked to our WMWP Online Newsletter for others to listen to.

Here are the two audio postcards:

  • Day One: some workshop presentations, interviews and reflections Day One
  • Day Two: general assembly of NWP, interviews and reflections Day Two

Here I am with a Jason, a good friend and colleague from Colorado, who is part our Youth Radio Project.

Jason and Kevin

Peace,
Kevin

National Writing Project: Nashville

I returned home from Nashville yesterday afternoon from the annual meeting of the National Writing Project armed and ready with new ideas and full of questions about which direction our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site and my classroom should be going, given the influx of new tools and ideas that are out there.

I will be podcasting some of my audio postcard that I created this past week at Nashville for our WMWP Newsletter site but until then, here are some insights:

  • Once again: What an amazing group of teachers we have in the NWP network and it is at all levels. I am most closely connected with the Tech Liaisons but this annual meeting really drives home the passion and energy of teachers who view writing as central to the learning process. I am not alone in the woods! 🙂
  • I took part in three workshops, including one about writing in the digital age. I presented a case study about digital picture books but other presenters showed a virtual museum, video storytelling, audio and writing connections and the change in audience, and others. I am not convinced writing has changed in these studies but it was fascinating and inspiring work.
  • With the launch of the second year of our large Weblog project called Making Connections (using technology to connect students in rural and urban districts), I suddenly became aware of how the Manila blog platform just isn’t what we need and now I am scrambling to find a better platform (Elgg is one under consideration). It’s a bit scary to change, considering we have intended to launch Year Two in the next six to eight weeks. But the NWP network will do that to you — inspire you to reach out in new directions. And, I figure, if the goal of our project is to build community among writers and the Manila just isn’t cutting it, then let’s be bold and find the right platform to accomplish our goals.
  • Finally, it was great to connect with fellow technology powerhouses from both Tech Matters (this past summer) and to connect faces and voices to blogs on my aggregator (Bud the Teacher, etc).

More to come later …. until then, peace.
Kevin

Why Use Tech: Composition Considerations

In a few weeksl, I am heading to Nashville for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting and I am taking part in a workshop about writing in the digital age. (Here is my slide presentation using SlideShare — a new favorite) I will discuss a Digital Math Picture Book Project that I did with my sixth graders last year that used Powerpoint as the platform.

But the question is: Why use the computers to compose a picture book? Why not just stick to paper and pen?

Here are my thoughts:

One guiding question that I went into this math picture book project with was, how will the composing process change for my sixth graders as they create picture books using technology (Powerpoint) as opposed to previous years when it was all paper and pen? They had to write a story that taught a math theme to an audience of younger students.

First of all, the planning did not change much at all. We still did all of the brainstorming work and storyboarding on paper before the computers were even turned on. But early in the process, some students began to think about the various aspects of PP (images that can move in and off the screen and transitions and the integration of audio) as possible ideas for complementing their writing. (They had been introduced to PP earlier in the year). They also had to integrate their own art into the picture books — they could scan in images they drew or they could use Paint and then import. (Most of them used Paint, although that was a struggle for some).

The result was an interesting combination of old and new for my students.

Some composed “shows” that allowed the reader to listen for clues to math problems embedded within the story. Once the reader has some ideas of an answer to the question, they could use the mouse click to “remove” a picture and reveal the answer. Sometimes, the audio file was merely a word of encouragement and sometimes the audio was a narration of the story. We invited younger grades (mostly k-3) to our classrooms and set up computer stations. My students then not only shared their work but they also explained to the younger ones how they made their books on the computer and how the tricks were accomplished (such as moving images). Some made changes to the books after getting a reaction from one round of readers. Unlike paper, they could make changes immediately and in a few minutes time.

We did not go into hyperlinking to other pages in the book or outside of the books but that is something that might provide an even more powerful platform for extending their knowledge base (and the reader’s base of understanding) from the local (their book) to the global (the world).

The final step was publication. We actually printed out two paper copies of every book (one for the student and one for the school) and then I converted the books to PDF and posted to our Weblog site for families to view. (There were too many and they were just too large to post as PP shows but that would be have been ideal). What happened, of course, is that I had to flatten everything out to two-dimensional space, which meant that the audio files were deleted and any hidden answers had to be revealed or else they would be missing from the printed page, which led to an interesting discussion about the differences between composition on paper and composition on powerpoint. Many of the writers were disappointed but I encouraged them to bring in a blank disc or flashdrive to save their shows as originals, and some did just that.


Peace,
Kevin

More Six Word Stories

The NWP Six Word Story Wiki site is gaining momentum in the last few days.

Here are the latest entries:

I can’t wait to see what comes next …

Peace,
Kevin

Six Word Stories

Wired Magazine had a nice little feature in which it asked writers, filmakers and others to compose a Science Fiction Story in just six words. This is in the model of Hemmingway’s very famous story: “For Sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

Then I got to thinking, the technology liaisons in the National Writing Project are writers by nature and, although pressed for time, they might be able to pull together six words and create a short story.

So I launched a Wiki, sent out e-invites, added a video welcome, and began mapping (with CommunityWalk) where the writers live in the world. And I am urging them to record an audio version of their six word stories, either as an MP3 or through Vaestro. It’s been very interesting.

Here are a few responses:

I recorded and posted an audio version of my first story.

microphoneListen to my story

Peace,
Kevin

PS — here is our map:CommunityWalk Map – SixWordStories Mapping

Maria Gets an Award!

My good friend and cyberpal Maria Lourdes Angala, from the Washington DC Writing Project, just learned that she received an award from the TeacherFirst organization for her work with her various Weblogs, including some wonderful ones that feature the writing of her exceptional students. (Maria and I used a blog last year to connect our students through writing, podcasts and other multimedia).

Check out Maria’s site called Digital Anthology

Here is what the organization said of Maria:

Ms. Angala’s class blog, A Digital Anthology, exemplifies highly effective use of technology in support of learning. Her responses and reflections about using a blog in the classroom and on integrating technology in general indicate that Ms. Angala is a true model for her peers. Her efforts to motivate and build writing skills in her exceptional students are truly exemplary.

Ms. Angala is being recognized for actively using a classroom blog with students to facilitate student understanding of curriculum, encourage writing as expression, and promote good writing skills. We understand that she has also been providing inservice training to her teaching peers at Jefferson Junior High. You and your staff are to be commended for your support of technology as a teaching tool. Blogging is one of the hottest and most successful new uses of technology in the classroom, as witnessed by its prevalence at the National Educational Computing Conference this past summer, and your teachers are definitely in the forefront.

She also has a great personal site for teaching resources and articles about education.

Go ahead — zoom to her site.

Congratulations Maria!

My Photo

Peace,
Kevin

Technology Initiative: Kennesaw Sessions

This weekend, I flew down to the Kennesaw Mountain Writing Project site to take part in a series of exciting discussions about the work being done by various groups (such as the Western Massachusetts Writing Project) that are considered Technology Seed Sites. This means that we are pioneering some use of technology for professional development for our network of teachers. The NWP brought us all together to share the successes and challenges that we are facing in our work.

I talked about our Making Connections weblog project that is designed to reach out to urban and rural communities and help forge relationships with teachers in those districts, provide support for technology implementation, and get kids from very different communities “talking” to each other via weblogs. We are just about to entire Year Two of the project. You can view the report from Year One here.

In Kennesaw, however, I was able to get an inside look at what the other sites are doing and much of it is very interesting. For example:

  • Third Coast Writing Project (in Michigan) has been conducting mini-institutes around the concept of digital storytelling (which seemed to be a common strand among some of the 8 Seed Sites). They have created a cadre of workshop presenters and a task force to think through technology.
  • The Maine Writing Project has been moving away from the term Digital Storytelling and into the realm of Writing in Modern Media, which reflects a general shift towards reflection on how we are re-casting composition in our classrooms.
  • The Prairie Lands Writing Project (in Missouri) has been focusing in on technology institutes for its teachers as well as professional learning communities where thoughtful educators come together to brainstorm the integration of technology with writing.
  • The Oregon Writing Project has created a vibrant state network of technology leaders, with hopes of filtering knowledge down to the individual sites.

Meanwhile, Inverness Research has been gathering data from interviews with project leaders and they presented some initial findings to us, including:

  • There are many challenges to using technology in the schools (access, equity, etc) but the work is exciting.
  • Much work focuses on three areas: Writing with technology (genres, rhetorical context, etc); Teaching with technology; and professional development.
  • There is very little research out there to help provide the framework for what we are doing — we are in “uncharted territory,” as they put it.
  • Teacher-leaders involved in these ventures are becoming “hybrids” in that they are forging a connection between the disciplines, writing and technology in new ways.
  • And more …

Peace,
Kevin

NWP Profile

The National Writing Project received a wonderful feature in the National Staff Development Council’s publication (Summer 2006) which showcases the work being done by teachers in the NWP network.

“The National Writing Project is a leading example of how teachers, immersed in the practice of writing, are better able to both teach writing and lead peers to improve.” — By Mary Ann Smith

The article can be found PDF file from this link from the NSDC archives. Pass the link on to someone else who might be interested in the work of the National Writing Project and spread the good word.
(thanks to Troy for sending this along).

Peace,
Kevin