Reflections on National Writing Project Annual Meeting, part 1

I’ll be sharing pieces of my experiences here in Las Vegas at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting over the coming days (today, it is on to NCTE). I attended a number of very interesting sessions yesterday, and co-presented one around game design. I also joined 600 NWP colleagues in the main plenary sessions where we wrote (naturally) and got inspired by some terrific speakers.

What stuck out for me over the course of a very full day, however, was something rather surprising and for me, unexpected. I was reminded once again about the power of the narrative. I say surprising because the shift to the Common Core has reduced how narrative writing might figure in our classrooms, in favor of informational, expository and argumentative writing.

But, starting in the first session I attended around Systems Design and Digital Writing, I realized that so much of this theory around elements shaping outcome, and how the parts define the whole, and how one twist in an element can potential alter the system is pretty close to what we do when we write a story. We add a character, toss in a plot twist, design a story through its parts for a larger meaning. It’s really a narrative understanding of the world.

And the keynote speakers at the big session — Jeff Wilhelm, Michael W. Smith, and Jim Fredricksen — have written three books centered on some main elements of the Common Core, but all three spoke passionately about the ways that narratives inform our lives, and provide a framework (again, a system) for understanding. So, when Wilhelm was talking about how making lists for informational text and understanding is one way of organizing our understanding, he also noted how we use narrative to put those lists in order in a meaningful way. The other two speakers touched on narrative, too.

And then, in both our gaming session (where narrative is the design backbone of my game design project, but with a science theme), and in a last session around tools that allow you to compose/hack the web, we talked again about how story and narrative are an essential thinking framework.

All this is heartening. I know the Common Core doesn’t remove narrative, but it does minimize it, and that worries me as a teacher and a writer. If we can find more ways to weave those strands together, of remixing narrative in the scope of informational/expository writing, so that writers have more options, then we are providing an interesting road ahead for our students.

Las Vegas, not New York

Peace (in Vegas),


Getting Ready for Vegas (NWP/NCTE)

This coming week, my wife and I had off to Las Vegas for the annual gathering of the tribes of the National Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English. Last year, due to budget cuts, I did not go to the annual event — the first time that I missed it since I became part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. And boy, did I miss it.

I’m involved in three different workshop/presentations in Las Vegas – one with NWP and two with NCTE. (Everything takes place at the MGM Grand Hotel)

On Thursday, I am joining some amazing NWP colleagues to present a session around Game Design for the classroom. We’re aiming to bring folks into the world of gaming from the standpoint of creation, not just playing. So, along with showing the pedagogy of game design and the connections that it can have to the classroom (along with motivation of students), we’re going to have folks doing some game design activities in the sessions. It should be a blast.

NWP: Changing the Game with Games-based Learning

1:15 – 3 p.m.

MGM Grand Conference Center, 3rd Floor, 301

On Friday, I am one of a handful of speakers in a session at NCTE around bullying. My topic is cyberbullying, and how schools are working to address online situations and how teachers can frame discussions around the larger issue of digital citizenship. My goal is to avoid the message of “the Internet is bad” and instead, show how young people need guidance on how to behave when in online spaces, both for their own safety and also for the respect of others.

NCTE: Stop the Bullying

2:30 – 5:15 p.m.

MGM Grand Ballroom, room 119, level one

And on Saturday, I am giving an Ignite talk along with a bunch of others. Ignite talks are 20 slides that change every 20 seconds, so you have go be light on your feet. While the them of the session is around professional connections and inquiry, my Ignite explores the idea of short-form writing (Twitter, updates, etc.) and how writing can change to meet the forms of the day.

NCTE: Ignite Session: Supporting Collaboration and Inquiry

11-12:15 p.m.

MGM Grand Ballroom, room 122, Level One

And on Sunday, we rest. And fly home. We reconnect with our kids. And get ready to teach the next week with a dose of inspiration from being part of a gathering of educators.

Peace (in the week ahead),


The Research Habits of Digital Kids

The Pew Research Center, along with the College Board and the National Writing Project, recently released the results of a survey of middle and high school teachers on the topic of technology’s influence on research skills of students. (You can read more about the study here at the NWP website or download the whole report from Pew).

The results are not surprising, I think, but they are worth sharing and discussing. A few things become clear from this report and my own daily observations of my students, and I think many of teachers see this in their own classroom: While the Internet and other forms of technology have opened up amazing doors for information and connections for young researchers, it has also created the problem of filtering that flood of information into manageable and useable ideas. The role of the educator in regards to online research is never more necessarily than now, in this information age, particularly around the teaching of reliable sources, navigation strategies, citation of sources and more. We need to be doing more explicit teaching of these practices.

Here are some bits and pieces from the survey overview that stuck out  for me:

Virtually all (99%) AP and NWP teachers in this study agree with the notion that “the internet enables students to access a wider range of resources than would otherwise be available,” and 65% agree that “the internet makes today’s students more self-sufficient researchers.”

Large majorities also agree with the notion that the amount of information available online today is overwhelming to most students (83%) and that today’s digital technologies discourage students from using a wide range of sources when conducting research (71%).

The teachers surveyed rated students particularly low on their ability to recognize bias in online content (71% rate them fair or poor), and patience and determination in looking for information that is hard to find (78% give ratings of fair or poor).

42% of the teachers surveyed report their students use cell phones to look up information in class. At the same time, virtually all teachers surveyed report working in a school that employs internet filters (97%), formal policies about cell phone use (97%) and acceptable use policies or AUPs (97%). The degree to which these different policies impact their teaching varies, with internet filters cited most often as having a “major impact” on survey participants’ teaching (32%), followed by cell phone policies (21%) and AUPs (16%). Teachers in urban areas and those teaching the lowest income students are feeling the impact of these policies more than others. In particular, teachers of students living in poverty are at least twice as likely as those teaching the most affluent students to report these policies having a “major” impact on their teaching.

This infographic from the report gives a good idea of the responses.


These kinds of reports reinforce the need for us as teachers to really bring these skills into our classrooms. Mostly, librarians have been leading the way, and that is great. But all of us need to be finding ways to do more of this, and if you are a Common Core state – with its emphasis on research skills and using sources and synthesis of ideas — you really need to make inroads here. I’ve been doing more and more of this with my own sixth graders, setting the stage for larger research projects in the coming years.

Peace (in the research reflection),

The Influence of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project

At our annual conference last weekend with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we asked teachers to reflect on what impact the WMWP has had on their professional and personal lives. Here are some of the responses, which demonstrate the power of being connected to a strong network of teachers and colleagues who value not only writing, but also all aspects of teaching, and who reach out to support and encourage others in the WMWP network.

Peace (in the project),

Digital Citzenship: A K12 Online Conference Keynote

My National Writing Project friends Gail Desler and Natalie Bernasconi have given the first of a handful of keynote presentations for this year’s K12 Online Conference, and it is such a wonderful and insightful, and important, look at the need and imperative of teaching all students the merits of digital citizenship and digital footprints.

If you are not moving into this content area with your students, you probably should. And Gail and Natalie give a great overview, with examples, and a path forward. Check out their Digital ID Project presentation.

Peace (in the sharing),

Hanging out with Steve, Scot and Betty on the National Day of Writing

I was lucky to be invited to chat with some friends about the nature of writing, in celebration of the National Day on Writing last week. Steve Moore and Scot Squires host a new website called Write on Through, and they invited myself and Betty Raye (of Edutopia) to talk about writing, the teaching of writing and our own writing. Through some strange tech quirk, Scot and Steve (a friend via the National Writing Project) never got their voices recorded, so you have to use a little inference to their questions. But they mixed it as best as they could and I think Betty and I come across as fervent believers in the power of writing.

As it should be …

Listen to the podcast

Peace (in the podcast),




What I Write: The Podcasted Text

Yesterday, as part of the upcoming National Day on Writing, I shared the written text of a poem I wrote to celebrate the theme of “What I Write.” Today, I want to share out the podcast version of the poem. (Tomorrow, I will add another media component and then finish up on Friday with everything pulled together into one large digital composition).

Thanks for listening and I hope you get inspired to write.

Peace (in the poem),


What I Write: The Written Text

As part of this year’s National Day on Writing (which is Friday and Saturday — yeah, two days as one), I wrote a poem on the theme of what I write. I also began to toy around with various media, and will release a piece of my multimedia poem as the days go on. Today, it’s just the text of the poem. I hope you enjoy it and I hope you do some writing this week — yourself and with your students — on the concept of “what we write” in celebration of the National Day on Writing.

What I Write: An Archeologist of an Idea

What I don’t know
when I write are the mysteries of ideas -
the shadows filtering in from outside of myself
as some sort of jewel
half-hidden away in my consciousness demanding
from the perpetual over-thinking of just about everything.

And so, pen scratching paper,
fingers pounding keyboard,
skin touching screen,
the writer in me tinkers with these treasures that slowly unfold as
a singular phrase,
an inspiring song,
a passionate letter,
a sad story,
a shout-out-loud yelp into the wilderness of the world,
a poem — always, it seems, my mind comes back to me as a poem –
which circles back around on itself
until the grains of time get gently brushed away
and I, the writer, slowly emerge as an archeologist of an idea.

Peace (in the poem),


How Fonts Affect Writing: A Digital Is Resource

font resource digital is
This past week, I posted a new resource over at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site around font typsetting, writing and the way we represent our writing in visual ways. I share out some places to make your own fonts, the world of “font fights,” the history of emoticons, and more.

Check out the resource: Fonts and Letters, Words and Meaning: What’s Your Type?

Peace (in the type),