Margaret Atwood: How Technology Impacts Storytelling

I found this video and find it quite interesting. Writer Margaret Atwood’s thoughts on how technology shapes our writing process and our conceptions storytelling (or not) connects with a lot of my wondering out loud about the ways that writing is changing, and shifting, in the modern era (but I am open to the argument that nothing is changing at all).

See what you think ….

Peace (in the story about stories),

Reading Matters: Boys and Role Models and More

Check out this quote from David Remnick (editor of The New Yorker):

… the only way to get anywhere as a writer is to have read ceaselessly and then read some more. Pound (that rat) says somewhere that it is incredible to him that so many “poets” simply pick up a pen and start writing verse and call it poetry, while a would-be pianist knows full well how necessary it is to master scales and thousands of exercises before making music worthy of the name. Playing scales, for a writer, means reading. Is there any real writing that has no reading behind it? I don’t think so. — David Remnick (as quoted at AdvicetoWriters this morning)

I call your attention to that piece of advice because I opened up my New Yorker magazine yesterday and found myself staring at an advertisement from Little, Brown and Company, except it wasn’t an advertisement. It was a wonderful two-page spread of writing by author James Patterson, extolling the virtues of reading and encouraging parents in no uncertain terms to become role models of readers for their own kids. (I guess he targeted a few places – here is a version on the CNN website.)

“Let’s face it: most of us don’t realize it but we are failing our kids as reading role models. The best role models are in the home: brothers, fathers, grandfathers; mothers, sisters, grandmothers. Moms and dads, it’s important that your kids see you reading.”  — James Patterson, in New Yorker

While I am not really all that big a fan of Patterson as a writer — although I know plenty of adults and children who are fans of his books — the fact that he composed and published such a powerful call to action for adults is admirable. He also narrows his point to boy readers in particular, noting that “boys can be a little squirrelly when it comes to reading, and what’s squirrelly about them needs to be praised and encouraged.” He suggests putting all sorts of texts into boys’ hands — magazines, comics, novels, joke books, informational books, and more. Patterson notes that there is a tendency not to value works like the Guinness Book of World Records, or Sports Almanacs. “Too often, boy-appealing books are disproportionately overlooked on schools’ recommended reading lists,” Patterson writes.

Yes. I agree, and the boys in my classroom are always picking up my graphic novels and my Book of Records texts and the various texts I have around sports (particularly skateboarding and football).

Here are some websites that Patterson suggests turning to for book recommendations:

Let’s get our boys reading, and let’s not forget the girls while we are at it, either. If we want our young people to become better writers, then we need them to become better readers. This is what David Remnick was getting at it. One of the fears and worries that comes up in many meetings with parents (and in conversations with my wife and I as parents) is how the “screen time” on devices is taking away time from independent, quiet reading. This shift in activity time management concerns me, and it should concern you, too, whether you are a teacher or a parent or a member of society. The question we are facing as teachers is how to find a balance between the emerging tech-centered lives of this generation while still teaching the understanding of reading and writing as a centerpiece for literacy.

All of it is important, and losing one of those threads, particularly the love of reading, is worrisome.

Peace (in the books),




The Newspaper Life: 25-Word Stories

I wrote yesterday about my positive reaction to the novel, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. As I was reading the novel, I was inspired to try my hand at a few 25-word stories on Twitter about journalists and newspapers. I’m afraid a the balance here tips towards negative. But I admit that is my own bias to remembering a faded world as a writer. That said, I am very curious to know where journalism is going, and what will remain of the old world here. I worry that it won’t be quality writing, though. I worry about that quite a bit.

Here are a few:
Peace (in the stories),

Teacher Effectiveness, Defined by NCTE

I was reading through my regular email newsletter from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and my eye caught on this definition that NCTE has for effective teaching practice (This is part of a longer package of stances and legislative platform issues put forth by NCTE for 2011 that touches on issues such  as ELL instruction, school district literacy agendas and advice for how to use assessment in schools):

NCTE defines teacher effectiveness as professional practice that:

  • Applies deep content knowledge
  • Uses pedagogical strategies and assessment strategies to enable diverse students to meet learning goals
  • Is characterized by continuous engagement in and application of professional learning
  • Includes participation in teacher learning communities to plan, assess, and improve instruction
  • Connects students’ in-school and out-of-school learning
  • Incorporates current technologies in learning and teaching
  • Engages parents and community members as partners in educating students
  • Uses evidence about student learning to improve instruction

This covers a lot of good ground — from expecting teacher’s own curriculum knowledge development, to engaging of student interests by connecting learning in and out of school, to using evidence/data assessment to inform instruction.

Peace (in the listing),

Sharing Out EdReform Ideas on REBEL Day

On the heels of the wave of negativity around education reform, Tom Whitby invited teachers with an online presence to take part in a Blogging Day in which teachers would write about their views of education reform.
He called it REBEL (Reform from Educational Bloggers Links of Educational Suggestions) Day and it was yesterday. Tom and others then invited folks to share their links via a Wallwisher site, which is now jammed to the gills with more than 100 posts.
I added a podcast yesterday, in which I tried to see the movement of Ed Reform through the eyes of me as a parent, more than me as a teacher, and I think it helped me frame my own experience (my kids get loaded with worksheets).

(Access the wall directly)
Peace (on the REBEL Day), Kevin

Mulling over my ideas about Tech

Later today, I am going to Skype into a class of prospective teachers at Creighton University in Omaha that is being taught by a fellow tech traveler, Mike M. I feel honored that I am even being asked and I am trying to think of a message that I can send to these folks as they consider the world of teaching and technology.

Mike asked if I might think about talking about my work around webcomics or stopmotion movies. But I want to try to distill a message, too, about why I think technology belongs in the classroom and some practical advice for other teachers to at least consider.

Here, then, is some morning brainstorming around my ideas of technology.

  • Technology must become part of the general curriculum. The phrase technology integration is how we say it but what we mean is that ideally, all schools would rip out their computer labs and move computers and technology right into the classroom. There are still too many places where “technology” is a time when classroom teachers drop their kids off for their own prep period. Technology in isolation is almost wasted time. We need to find ways to integrate the tools into the everyday world of learning. There are, of course, many barriers to this, including aging equipment and lack of equipment. I understand. But isolated computer labs just won’t cut it.
  • Teachers need mentors/coaches as collaborative partners. There are many districts that have this model (not mine), in which a teacher with some expertise in technology is the coach of others. Sometimes, they are called technology integration specialists. An ideal model for this is that a mentor teacher goes into the classroom for long stretches of time, working on the planning  of a unit of instruction with the classroom teacher. Together, they find tools that expand the learning opportunities and push the students beyond, or in conjunction with, the traditional curriculum. And then (this is key), the mentor stays in the classroom with the teacher as the unit is taught, acting on a sounding board, troubleshooter and helper. This would instill confidence, which could then spill over to other projects. The fear factor is a huge deterrent to technology adoption by our colleagues. one difference between most teachers and most students (not all) is that students are fearless with technology. They’ll dive right in and not worry if they might “break” it. What they often lack is a framework for why they are doing what they are doing, and that is something we teachers need to help them understand.
  • We all need to play. Teachers need time to explore and play with technology, and they need this time within the professional development framework. And they need to do this  “play” collaboratively with other teachers so that they can help each other out as they are learning something new. This is not wasted time. It is valuable time because as we play, and as we move into new territory such as cool tools, we learn more about how we learn. Students need the same. They need time to play when you are introducing something new. If you don’t give them this time, they’ll do it anyway.  Trust me. Better to allocate time for exploration and then move towards focused learning. Don’t underestimate the play time.
  • Students need to be active composers, not passive gatherers. In my mind, accessing the Internet to gather facts for a report is not “using technology.” This is mostly a passive activity that merely replaces an encyclopedia with something quicker. I want students to be creating content with the digital tools available, taking ownership of the material. I want them to be composers. We need to constantly strive to make sure our students are not merely watching the world, but engaged in the world. Technology provides amazing tools for doing this — with writing, with voice, with video — and that kind of engagement around creating something original should be at the heart of most learning opportunities.
  • Reflective practice should be part of every assignment. I imagine this is mostly true for most of us, but we need to make sure students are reflecting on what they have done. What did they like about that tool? What did they not like? How would this project have looked different if they used another tool or site or platform? How could you improve upon the design of it? This stepping-back reflective stance is what helps shift students into critical thinkers.

I am pretty sure I can talk about webcomics or stopmotion movies through the lens of these ideas.

Peace (in the brain dumping, to quote Bud the Teacher),

Can I blog a complaint?

My son is a sixth grader in a district where I don’t teach, so I always try to pry info out of him about what he is up to (no small feat, with a 12 year old boy). I’m interested, and yes, sort of competitive, too.  Yesterday, I asked him how his six-week “exploratory” block in technology went for him. My question came on the heels of his shocking (to me) remark that “Tomorrow, we get to play video games on the computers for 48 minutes.”

Now, I know that 12 year olds are not always that reliable for the entire tale, so I listened to him explain what they did for six weeks. But even after some thorough grilling, it became clear that “technology” is the wrong word for this exploratory block.

They learned some typing skills and, as he said, “He taught us how to do shortcuts in Microsoft Word …. and we played online games.”

And then, “Oh, he showed us how to put an image in Word. But we all already knew how to do that.”

“And if you didn’t, it would take you … what …. five seconds to figure it out?” is what I muttered back.

Shortcuts for Word? That’s technology in the classroom? I am beside myself with frustration that this is the best exposure to technology offered to a sixth grader? I’ll bet that curriculum is 10 years old and hasn’t changed a bit since then. What about creating? Composing? Publishing? Exploring (not games)? Web 2.0? There is a movement underway, folks, and if you can yourself a technology teacher, you better get on board.

I do show my own children a lot of technology (although I should write about that someday now that he is entering the ‘Can I have a Facebook’  phase and we try –not always successfully — to balance access to our technology with limited screen time). Here at home, we make movies, create music and do more than most, I am sure.

But what about those other kids who don’t have parents who are teachers into technology? What about them? Shortcuts and image placement in Word is the best we can do for them? I’d even be happy if the gaming was them inventing their own games or something of value. Instead, they are going to sites that are probably bombarded with advertisements in order to play a simplistic flash game.

Peace (in a huge sigh),

Gaming the World

Here is an interesting video — when old video games take over the world. It’s called “Pixels” by Patrick Jean.

Peace (in the pong),

The Evolution of Teachers

A post by Larry Ferlazzo (always worth adding to your RSS, by the way) led me to these two videos that track the evolution of teaching and education. (Oh, and Larry got the link from somewhere else, so the path continues …) I’ll embed the second video (1900-present) here and then give you the link for the other. They are long, but interesting to navigate through, if you don’t have the time to watch the whole thing. The videos seem to have been developed as part of an education foundations class by university students. That strikes me a great project.

The Evolution of Educators – Part 1 (1600-1900)

The Evolution of Educators – Part 2 (1900-Present)

Peace (in the evolution/revolution),