I Am The Stamp: A #CLMOOC Poem Becomes Song

Postcard mashup

One of my favorite post-CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) connections is the Postcard Project. I’ve written about it before. Last week, Wendy Taleo wrote a very interesting poem, after “reading” the stamps on the postcards making their way to Australia.

Read Wendy’s poem.

I wasn’t the only one who wondered of Wendy’s poem could be remixed into a song. Ron L., one of my regular musical companions and gifted artist, also had the same idea. So I took a chance at it, and boy, it was a bit more difficult than I thought. Mainly, I had some struggles because they were Wendy’s words. I didn’t want to change what she wrote too much ( I did ask her permission to remix and she graciously gave me the go-ahead, noting too that all of her material is Creative Common licensed.) I tinkered with words and phrases.

Turning Wendy poem into Song to sing

The final paper had lots more of those scratches. The difficulty was finding rhyme and rhythm to my guitar part, while still maintaining the Wendy-vibe of the poem. The result was a chorus that I wrote, and then a sort of Dylan-like singing of the verses to make them fit into the structure. Some parts work better than others, as song, in my opinion, and I wish it all worked better than it did.

I told Wendy and Ron I would try to make a demo of whatever I came up with. Here it is:

Still, despite my own “hearing what could have been better in my recording,” I love the concept of a song for the stamps on the postcards that we send, and the personification of the object as it travels through the world, bringing words and stories and art to each of us in the mix.

Thanks, Wendy!

Peace (sing it loud),

Appreciate the Unexpected: Haiku Call/Response

Sunday morning. I see my friend Ray is sharing a haiku. It’s about jazz. I can’t resist. I riff off his poem, make my own and send it out. It starts there and then expands into something wonderful: a day of writing and sharing haiku.

I tried to curate the many strands as best as I could here:

Peace (words matter),

Digital Poetry: Before Summer Ends

Before Summer Ends

My friend, Carol Varsalona, does a seasonal call for digital poetry — words layered on image. She then pulls them together into an online shareable gallery of community poetry. It’s very cool and inviting. The latest gallery will be called Summerscapes (read more here, and consider joining us with a visual poem of your own).

I went back into our Maine vacation photos from a few weeks ago, and found one of the marsh that was just beyond the deck of the house we rented, and then, although it is the end of July, I started to think about the end of summer. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t help it. (dang it).

Peace (in summer’s embrace),

Resonation Points 2: Poems and Comics

flickr photo shared by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about seeking out the writing of others and creating something new that honors those writers. I called it Resonation Points. This morning, I want to follow up on that with two more resonation points: one that arrived in the comment bin of yesterday’s post and the other that arrived in my mailbox.

First, Terry (who was one of those writers I focused on) responded at the blog with a very poetic comment, with all sorts of nifty phrases, and then noted that it might be a poem. “Be watching for it on Twitter,” he said, so I did, and then we had some back and forth with poetry. He wrote about it in a way that is much better than I can write about it.

This is the poem I wrote, remixing his blog comment:

Comment poem

Then, I received a postcard from Susan (some of us in CLMOOC have been spending a year sending out periodic postcards … it will become part of this year’s CLMOOC, too) with a lovely message … and a challenge that I use the postcard in a comic somehow. Well, challenge accepted!

Susan's postcard comic

Peace (get connected!),


Spoken Poetry: Walls Are for Tearing Down

The theme of this week at Letters to the President is all about spoken poetry. I can’t seem to shake the metaphor of the “walls” going up and wanted to try to counter that image. What if the walls came down and we build something new out of the rubble? (After I wrote the poem and made the digital piece  — using the Adobe Spark app, if you are curious — I thought about the vote in Britain. So maybe tearing things down to rubble isn’t always the best political option.)

Walls Are for Tearing Down

Peace (please),

Getting Groans and Writing Poems (for Two Voices)

Poems for Two Mathematical Voices

I knew this assignment would elicit some groans. And so it did. We were nearing the end of our poetry unit with Poems for Two Voices, and with our state math test on the horizon, I decided to have them write Poems for Two Voices on a math theme.

Poems for Two Mathematical Voices

You’d have thought I had told them to stick their toes into a vat of boiling tar. It’s funny how much kids create these illusionary walls between curricular areas. What do you mean, we are writing in social studies? Why are we learning argument writing in science? Why is math the topic of our poetry?

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 5.17.18 AM

But the reality is, we live in an interdisciplinary world, right? So, the more we do a bit of everything — particularly literacy — in the content areas, the better off our students will be.

Thus: poems with a math concept.

Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 5.19.35 AM

In reality (teacher moment), the writing of the poems became another way for me (in support of our math teacher) to go over math vocabulary in a way beyond the textbook. I won’t say too many of the poems were deep explorations of mathematical themes (far too many were addition vs subtraction … boring) but learning a new form of poem with an underlying element like math does make for something different.

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So, I ignore the groans as they write the poems! And then, they sat with partners and read their poems (as these should be) with partners to get a feel and sense of the flow.

Peace (in the poem),

Writing with Light: I Fear I Left the Poem Behind

I fear I left the poem behind

I was reading the Sunday newspaper, when I came upon an interview with a writer who has published a new book about the history of computer Word Processors. The writer is Mathew Kirschenbaum and his book is Track Changes: A Literary History of Word Processing.

The conversation was interesting (including one point where he found historical references to writing on the screen as “writing with light” — that stuck with me and became ‘refolding these pockets of light’ in the poem), as it centered on the ways early Word Processing programs changed the way some people write (or at least, the perceptions of the writing process).

The interview references a famous quote by Joan Didion about how writing is a bit like sculpture, and a writer chips away to create form. Didion was referring to creative non-fiction writing from the strands of inquiry and research, I am sure, but I starting thinking of poetry in context to her insight, and how space and inference play a part in writing poetry. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in.

Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. - Joan Didion

I’ve seen the Didion quote before but something about it, in context to the discussion about digital writing, stuck with me for the day, and that led to the poem above, called I Fear I Left the Poem Behind.

Peace (with hammers and chisels),

Collaboration and Chaos: The Best Laid Plans Sometimes Fall Apart

Collaborative HaikuI am a big fan of the potential of collaborative projects. I’ve instigated my fair share of activities in online spaces, inviting people to make with me, and I’ve participated in even more. There’s often a certain “magic” with writing and creating with other people with digital tools that demonstrates attributes that get at the heart of how technology is changing the ways we learn. Collaboration has often been the heart and soul of the Making Learning Connected MOOC (and some of us still hope to launch a version of CLMOOC this summer) and Digital Writing Month and Rhizomatic Learning, etc.

I’ve done versions of those projects in my classroom, too, but harnessing the energy of 12 year olds can be a bit tricky, so I often have to think through the process before launching into them.

A collaborative poetry project this week reminded me of the difficulties of working with young writers not all that accustomed to working with others this way. We’ve used the “sharing” element of Google Docs and Slides this year, mostly for peer feedback. I know they share with friends, and I’ve seen some “side projects” among them.

In this case, I created a large Google Slideshow for our haikus, and told them to “choose a blank slide as your own” and create a haiku image. I also did a mini-lesson on using Creative Commons images as well as design principles, which we clearly are still working on. I had this vision of a beautiful and engaging activity, where nearly 80 haikus with images from across four classes would come together in a seamless way.

I reminded them not to tinker with anyone else’s slides because it was an quasi-open slideshow (they needed to be logged into school Google accounts to access it).

You see where this is going?

The first class of the day was wonderful. They did a great job, although some of their images wouldn’t load later in the day. It went nearly exactly as I planned. It was downhill from there. The second class did fine, but I got a few who shouted across the room to other students to “get out of my slide.” Some were confusing the icons at the top of the project (which shows all collaborators) with intrusion into an individual slide. A mini-lesson ensued.

The third class had trouble right at the start because the wireless connection caused the slideshow to load slow, and some chose what seemed to be an empty slide, only to realize it wasn’t empty after all. And some students there tried to leave little notes for friends in their slides. That got some writers upset.

The fourth class (a challenging group at times) .. I decided to assign a slide number of blank slides for each to work on. You are Slide 56. You are Slide 74. This seemed logical to me at the time as a way to avoid confusion over who was working in which slides.

But then, someone added in a few slides at the start, by accident (maybe), and all of the numbered slides were suddenly off, and so we had some more confusion over which person had which number. Someone deleted a blank slide. The numbers were off yet again. Another student accidentally set her image as the theme for the entire slideshow, so that now everyone had an image of green grass as their background. Shouts and murmurs. The “undo” key fixed it but not before a wave of complaints hit the air.

Collaboration suddenly edged up to chaos. It was like some strange comedy routine unfolding in a virtual space in real time.

At that point, I just said “grab a slide and add your poem” and let it be what it was. The result is an interesting slideshow, and a story to tell, but not everyone got their poems into the collaboration project. The ones that are there are very cool, though. I still love the idea.

And off course, I have not given up on collaboration. Still, my experience does raise the question of how to best guide students in this kind of low-stakes activity. And it reminds me, too, of why many teachers often don’t take that step forward into online collaboration. I was doing a lot of unexpected management of collaboration when what I really wanted the day built on implicit trust that they could do this rather simple task of collaboration.

What I forgot to remember was the innate curiosity and social nature of sixth graders. Duh.

Peace (in collaboration with you),