Random Notes from a Convergence

Normally, I am more organized with my thinking at conferences, but I didn’t bring a laptop to this past week’s Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project in Atlanta, and my notes and media are all over the place. So, this is a bit of this and a bit of that. I am sure I am leaving out something I wanted to say …

First, this: Sticky Notes for Literacy.

The NWP AM sessions that I attended reflected an underlying theme of the conference: how does an organization like our local Western Massachusetts Writing Project energize teachers and provide avenues (the buzzword is Pathways, which is the name for a multi-year venture by NWP to support local sites) for them to emerge as leaders now and into the future?

WMWP sketch note

In one session, a group of NWP teachers shared a beta version of a website resource they have been building, which curates articles and documents and other media files from across the many NWP websites as a way to provide information for new leaders. So, if someone who went through a Summer Institute (0r some version of it) wanted to learn more about how to start a Writing Retreat for teachers, or a book study group, they could tap into the website and easily find what others have written about on the topic. I think, once it is done, the online site will have a lot of potential.

In another session, related to Connected Learning, there was talk of how to move Connected Learning ideals into the university classrooms, particularly with an aim at pre-service educators. In the small group discussions, I joined in an intriguing look at the potential intersections of Civic Engagement (or, as Mia Zamora put it, Civic Imagination) and Connected Learning. Mia is planning an interesting project early next year, on this topic, that will be open to anyone, and it sounds intriguing.

WMWP at NWP 2016

I also helped my site director, Bruce Penniman, make a “pitch” to the NWP and a room full of spectators on the merits of a project that we are developing that provides a “pathway” for new leaders from content areas at our site. We want to create a Civics Literacy Leadership Institute, for social studies teachers, that is modeled on a Science Literacy Institute now underway. The idea is to merge literacy practices into content-area instructions. NWP folks are considering funding a number of projects, and we hope we are in the mix. It was as gentle a “Shark Tank” as you can imagine.

In the Plenary Session, we NWP teachers were encouraged to stay true to the ideals of teaching and advocacy and the writing project (teachers teaching teachers — teachers as writers) in this uncertain age. NWP Executive Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and NWP Director of National Programs Tanya Baker brought inspirational, and much appreciated, words to the room about staying engaged in the national conversations and doing meaningful work in our classrooms and in our regional networks.

WMWP at NWP 2016

Both Elyse and Tanya infused powerful poetry into their talks, and were separated by two powerful student poets who shared their stories of the power of writing and a few poems that brought us teachers to a resounding applause. We are always a good audience for young writers.

And when Tanya asked us to write to end the Plenary, I did, with her words in my ear.

She asked us to write ...

Finally, I met many friends here and there and everywhere, some of whom I only interact with on Twitter. So, chatting in person with Jennifer Orr, Michelle Haseltine and Karen LaBonte, among others, were a great joys of connection. And hanging out and catching up with my good friend Bonnie Kaplan at the Martin Luther King Jr. Historical Site was a perfect way to spend part of my Friday.

Wait … I can’t forget the NCTE Hackjam, where Andrea Zellner, Chris Butz and other new and old friends hacked the conference space with blackout poetry and human coding and schwag remix on the floor, and escalator, of the conference hall. I only came to NCTE for the Hackjam (now in its xxx year .. I don’t think we really remember), and it was worth it!

Peace (back home),
Kevin

 

Heading to my Teaching Home: National Writing Project

Create Something

If ever I needed a chance to connect with other educators, now is the time. This morning, I head south to Atlanta for the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, and I am grateful to be part of a teaching community like NWP. It’s a place of spirit and invention and sharing and caring. I’ll soak in that spirit as best as I can, and find some (if only temporary) rejuvenation with my fellow writing project colleagues.

I’ll be attending a few sessions tomorrow, including the main plenary session, and taking part in pitching a new leadership project for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site in one of the afternoon sessions for NWP’s Pathways project. We’re hoping to fund a Civics Leadership Course, which — let’s face it — is more necessary now than ever.

Peace (in flight),
Kevin

Workshopping in the Digital Age: A Close Reading of Franki and Troy

Students as Writers and Composers

I finally got around to coming back to an interview with two of my favorite people — Franki Sibberson and Troy Hicks — as they sat down for an interview for Language Arts to talk about Digital Writing Workshop. (You can access the article as a PDF at the National Writing Project site).

There are a lot of great insights and honesty in their conversation, and as I sought to reach closer, I started to grab some quotes from the text in order to pull them out for further thinking.

I was nodding my head here, because, like Franki, I hope I stay in tune with my students and their interests when it comes to thinking of ways that technology and digital platforms might push their own writing and compositional strategies further along. I’d also add that, along with listening, we teachers need be doing the technology, too. Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and others are unknown terrain unless you try them yourself. You might decide, this does not have application for my classroom (for now). At least, you will know from the experience.

I like Troy’s point here, that the technology should have a rationale or basis for use in composing. He uses a heuristic called MAPS (mode (genre), media, audience, purpose, situation), which is very helpful in this regard, as it allows teachers to consider such things as audience and intent. The technology is not just an engagement factor — it’s an intentional design of the classroom experience to help students explore writing in different angles, with different strategies, for different reasons.

Here, Troy is talking about how to expand the notions of Mentor Texts by drawing from the world outside the classroom, from Pop Culture and beyond. Like Franki, Troy notes the importance of “listening” to students, to figure out where interest lies and then tap into that for learning.

This is so true, and I have written at times about this, too. Some days, when we are moving into something new, things go awry, and the room is full of noise and seemingly chaos. I say, seemingly, because, as Franki notes, often amidst the chaos is some interesting reflections going on. Part of our role as teachers to find focus on the reflection (the process is more important than the product, most of the time) and draw that out, highlight it, make it the learning of the day. And keep calm.

That same theme of analyzing process points is what Troy is discussing here, when the question of “How Do We Assess Digital Writing?” comes up. He notes how technology has the potential to uncover compositional strategies, and make a digital piece more accessible for comments and review and revision. If we can take our eyes off the final product and keep them attuned to all that goes into that work, we can assess learning in a more strategic way.

Thanks to Troy and Franki for sharing their ideas. I found it useful and helpful, and I hope some of their words inspire you, too.

Peace (sharing it out),
Kevin

 

WMWP: Shifting From Technology Towards Outreach

For as long as I have been part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (which is going on 15 years now, starting with my very first year of teaching after a 10-year career in newspaper journalism), I have been involved with technology in the writing project. It all happened rather inadvertently, as then WMWP Technology Liaison Paul Oh was moving on to begin work with the National Writing Project, and our WMWP Summer Institute had played around with something new (it really was brand new at the time) called “blogs” to great success.

As Paul was leaving, he and the site director pulled me aside and asked if I would be willing to step up and replace Paul as the WMWP Technology Liaison (a designation NWP/WMWP no longer uses), and I said: I guess so (rather reluctantly, since I did not see myself as a techie at the time even if I was an enthusiastic experimenter). I wrote about some of my journey into technology with WMWP and NWP for a site celebrating 40 years of NWP.

In the past years, our WMWP site has put a renewed importance on technology across programs, creating a Co-Director position on the Leadership Team. I have been the Technology Co-Director for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for some years now, following my role as technology liaison (which was more an advisory position). Since Paul left, and I took over, I have been in the same slot (with different names). I’ve loved all of it, and count many successes.

From overseeing a massive blogging project called Making Connections funded by a NWP grant that connected middle school students across socio-economic areas, to running youth digital writing camps; to documenting with video and audio the work of WMWP; to facilitating a WMWP Technology Team; to launching the iAnthology social network in partnership with Hudson Valley Writing Project; to facilitating workshops and planning Technology Conferences; consulting on the launch of a new WMWP website and now consulting on yet another version of the WMWP website; and on and on. Not to mention all of the NWP activities on the larger stage, such as helping to facilitate CLMOOC in the past four years and writing regularly for the Digital Is website.

But I began to feel in a rut, a bit. Not that I had done everything I wanted to do but that there just wasn’t that spark of energy. Perhaps, I began thinking, it was time for me to be doing something else in WMWP.

Last Spring, after considerable thought, I decided to propose a change to my WMWP fellows. We had an opening on the WMWP Leadership Team. The position of Co-Director for Outreach was available, and I had already been focusing more and more on how to use more social media tools to reach our WMWP teachers.  We revamped our Facebook account, became more active with Twitter, and launched an Instagram site. Our YouTube site was growing with each conference WMWP hosted.

I proposed to WMWP that I leave the post of Technology and move into the post of Outreach, where I would still harness technology with the goal of reaching and connecting teachers together (something I was sort of doing already with Technology).

And now, I am happy to say, one of my WMWP Technology Team colleagues — and someone with whom I have worked closely with over the years on a variety of projects — has stepped into the role of Technology Co-Director. Tom Fanning will do a fantastic job, breathing new life into the role of technology in our writing project site and laying out his own vision and plans for where WMWP goes next.

Our site director, Bruce Penniman, always says, The first task of any leadership position is to start looking for your replacement. I’m very happy that Tom in is place and that I get to keep working with him. If Bruce is right, though, now I have start looking for my replacement for the Outreach slot. Hmmm.

Peace (here, there, everywhere),
Kevin

#2NextPrez Make Cycle: Remixing Campaign Posters with Thimble

Thimble: NextPrez

The first teacher-centered Make Cycle for Letters to the Next President 2.0 is ongoing this week, and I have been dipping into some of the tools being suggested. One of the ways to create a message is to use Mozilla’s Thimble remix site. Thimble is a web-based platform for building websites and allowing for remix opportunities.

I grabbed the template from the Make Cycle and tinkered with the wording (but kept the same image). If you hit the remix button, you can remix mine as another iteration. So, for example, my friend Michael created a poster that was a message about more localized politics in Arizona, and I remixed it with a larger message.

2NextPrez Thimble Remixes

I like Thimble but wish you could easily embed or share the image of the page, once the coding is all set. Instead, you have to take screenshot or share the link out.

Here’s another one, from the Political Quote concept. I found a quote from Obama about the nature of change:

2NextPrez Thimble Remixes

And from the Letters to President site:

Click on “Remix” to get started and notice there is an online tutorial within each activity to walk you through step-by-step:

Want to take it another step further? You can speak back by make your own version of the news with this Hack the News Activity.

Peace (remix it and make it better),
Kevin

In October: Teachers Teaching Teachers about Technology

Big image

I am so honored to have been asked to be a keynote speaker for the 4T Virtual Conference on Digital Writing coming in October — a virtual conference on digital writing and learning that is free. Yep, free.

4T Virtual Conference Bio

My keynote session is entitled “A Day in the Life of a Digital Writer.” I aim to explore how writing is at the heart of the digital, from my own perspective and from the lives of my students. There are other many fine presenters, too, all worth checking out.

And there are a bunch of National Writing Project connections, and a push into Digital Writing Month.  You can view the flier here, and register here. The entire conference is online, but made to be as interactive as possible.

Here’s a promo:

Peace (write it digitally),
Kevin

 

Call Me Disappointed: A Connected Course and A Camp Go Kaput


flickr photo shared by corydalus under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

I’m having a hard time writing this post. Seriously. I had such high hopes for a summer in which I would bring the elements of Connected Learning in full swing to my Western Massachusetts Writing Project site with a graduate level course offering connected to two summer youth digital camps.

Summer Connected Course Description

In the graduate course through UMass, educators would learn about technology and digital literacy, with the pedagogical anchor of Connected Learning. I was really jazzed up about bringing the Making Learning Connected MOOC into the course itself (the timing would have worked) and then having teachers plan/co-facilitate two youth digital summer camps at our vocational high school that would center around student interests, with highlighted sectors of video game design, webcomics, paper circuitry, digital storytelling and more.

A WMWP educator and friend who is in a grad program around digital studies and education was going to help me facilitate the summer. He helped run a MOOC in this grad program, so his experience would have been valuable. Plus, he is doing all sorts of good work with youth programming.

It was all good …

… until reality kicked in.

Here’s how many kids signed up for the camp: Zero.
Here’s how many teachers signed up for the course: Two (and one was only “iffy”).

This week, we pulled the plug on both offerings, and I am sad about having to make that decision. That’s why it’s hard to write this post. It feels like a failed attempt to push us forward. I feel as if I failed to push us forward.

There are all sorts of factors that might be at play here — time of the year, maybe teachers didn’t want to teach kids this summer after teaching all year, advertising issues with the school that would host the summer camp — but I can’t help feel as if …

  1. I did a poor job writing up what Connected Learning is all about, and therefore, took the attractiveness out of a technology course, which WMWP teachers have been asking for, or …
  2. Teachers are just not really ready to dive into the core principles of Connected Learning because it remains an unknown idea. I have been working with the concepts for three years or so, and in the CLMOOC, lots of folks are exploring the pedagogy, but maybe I am stuck inside my own little bubble, or
  3. Something else that I don’t quite see right now.

The youth summer camp turnout (zero? really?) surprises me, to be honest, since in the past, we have had a waiting list of students for our digital camps on similar themes. We’ve engaged middle school students in moviemaking, game design, comics, and more. It’s been very popular, albeit we took a few years off from sponsoring the digital camps.

So, we will go back and mull over what we could have done differently, and think about either next summer or offering a course during the school year. I am not personally interested in running a grad course built around “how to use” technology. I am more interested in facilitating a course in which digital learning and literacies are at the forefront, with the technology being tools we may, or may not, have our disposal to use, as the backdrop.

Peace (and solace),
Kevin

 

CLMOOC: Cultivating Connections and Community

A bunch o’ folks are working to plan and launch the fourth year of Making Learning Connected (CLMOOC) in July. We’re sort of on our own this year, as the National Writing Project is turning its resources and attention to another great summer project (see below). We’re aiming to crowdsource the Make Cycle activities of CLMOOC as much as possible. A bunch of folks are tinkering in Slack space to get organized.

What will CLMOOC look like? We don’t yet know.

But we have faith … and we have an overarching theme: Cultivating Connections and Community. Cool, right?

If you want to get on the list for news updates about CLMOOC, we have a Google Form all cooked up for you.

You can follow events on Twitter (#clmooc) and in Google Communities, and who knows where else. Ripples happen, right?

Wondering how to stay creative and engaged until then? Be sure to check out Letters to the President 2.0 project, overseen by National Writing Project and Educator Innovator (the two organizations which seeded the CLMOOC to begin with, three summers ago). The Connected Learning themes resonate through that entire L2P project of raising student voice into the political stage.

Peace (it’s always ongoing),
Kevin

Distorted Graphs: A Misinformation Campaign

Distorted Graphs: Talk about Education

Maybe this idea will have some legs during the Making Learning Connected MOOC this summer (July! More to come!), but I was culling through some of the cool projects with the Letters to the President and noticed the Infographic Make activity. It occurred to me that making faulty infographics spun out out of “no data at all” to make a political point might be interesting and a bit subversive.

Infographics look like they know what they are doing. But anyone can make something pretty that seems official. That doesn’t make it so. What if I purposely ignored data and made infographics based on political stance?

So, I concocted this first Distorted Graph this morning, wondering when candidates are going to really explore our US educational system as a campaign issue, even as it dominates discussions between parents and teachers.

Peace (don’t distort that),
Kevin