Slice of Life: Leading a Digital Storytelling Workshop

Slice of Life 2011I spent four hours yesterday with a small group of teachers in our school district who wanted to learn more about digital storytelling. The principal found some money for Professional Development, we negotiated a fair price, and I developed a plan of action for the day, along with multiple resources.

The session went wonderfully well. We were doing hands-on work with Google Search Stories, then into iMovie, and then onto Voicethread. I peppered my work with leading questions around how technology and media are changing our perceptions of composition (and we had a long conversation about how important “design” is in this world). There was laughter, silence, sharing and reflection.

(see some of the Search Stories they created)

Then, one of the teachers asked, “What is this Writing Project I see on some of the books and papers you brought?”

It was an opening I wasn’t quite expecting, but I was ready to explain all about the National Writing Project, and most important, I talked about how the experiences within the NWP prepared me for the kinds of presentations I was doing with them. It was one teacher sharing their knowledge with another, or teachers teaching teachers. It was hands-on activities, followed by reflective pedagogical practice. It was examining what the students might need for learning. It was even about bringing enough food to the session.

(See a voicethread they played around with)

I owe a lot to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project for my ability to lead workshops and PD sessions. My experience there, and the nurturing that I got over the years (I remember Paul Oh inviting me to be his partner at my first National Writing Project Annual Meeting, to talk about advanced summer technology institutes) has profoundly shaped me as a workshop leader. I never would have known I had it in me, to be honest, until someone tapped me on the shoulder (Paul and Bruce Penniman, among others) and said, you should do this. You can do this. The door opened for me and it has remained open since then, and that has forever changed my own perception of myself as an educator.

Whether or not my teaching colleagues from yesterday follow me into the WMWP, they certainly got a taste of what it means to be in a NWP session around writing and technology. They were learning. They were doing. They were reflecting. They were writing.

(You can come view our workshop website and use the resources as needed. The NWP is also about sharing with the world).
digistory screenshot

Peace (in the workshop model),

Slice of Life/#blog4nwp: A Found Poem

Slice of Life 2011During free moments yesterday, I was reading many of the blog posts from National Writing Project teachers and supporters yesterday as we launched into a #Blog4NWP weekend to let our voices be heard about the importance of the NWP in our teaching and writing lives (read mine here).

I was often struck by some powerful phrases from many of my NWP colleagues and decided that it might be interesting to try a found poem from various blog posts. So, with sincere apologies to many of the bloggers whose words I have “borrowed” here (and possibly adapted slightly), I present my found poem and podcast. The links in the poem should bring you to the original post.

Dancing on the Surface of Water: A Found Poem
(listen to the poem)

When 130,000 teachers
reach 1.4 million students,
how can you argue that these professionals are not finding powerful ways
to motivate,
to educate,
to push learning in new directions ….

Great teaching is not as simple as breathing;
it doesn’t come out of a sparkling spring bubbling up from nowhere
as if it were some magic elixir handed down in secret handshakes
in shadowed hallways.
Great teaching comes from mentors,
from connections,
from learning together what works
and what may not work,
and reflecting on how we might adapt next time
to make more impact.

The small pebble of federal support creates a ripple effect
extending out,
expanding across classrooms
and schools
and cities and towns everywhere,
allowing us some precious moments to dance upon the surface of water.

We reach out our hands to our young writers — the struggling and the confident –
so that they, too, may make sense of their world on the page.
When they discover their power as a writer, their lives may be altered forever.
We teach for moments like these
and celebrate their arrival with the intangibles of
and wonderment,
and community.

The National Writing Project has been a refuge,
an intellectual and professional and collegial home
that has done more for us as teachers of teachers than even we might have first imagined
when we gathered together with strangers one summer
only to emerge as colleagues
- and as teachers of writing, it has meant more than we would have dreamed possible.
Each summer, teachers from across each state meet for weeks
to eat, sleep, dream and inhale writing.
They come together to do the essential, albeit difficult, work in their classrooms
of moving pens to paper, of words to the screen,
of thoughts into action,
of transforming young thinkers into powerful writers.
It is only because we are teachers
that we can truly begin to conceive of ourselves as writers.
We are dedicated to the development of networks.
And writing.
And, of course, to thinking

We’re counting on you, our government leaders,
to be an authentic audience for us
and our students.
We ask that you show support for the young great American authors working across
information age media that you –
with your support and with your ears open to the possibilities
of teachers learning together –
will help us as teachers to
and celebrate
even in these times of fiscal constraints.
We’re counting on you.

Peace (in the poem),

Slice of Life: Rally for the NWP

Slice of Life 2011

This is going to be a short Slice of Life today because most of my writing energy was taken up with composing a piece about saving the National Writing Project. We lost our federal funding and this weekend, those of us who are online are trying rally support for our organization by blogging and lobbying our legislators. If you have been part of any NWP event, or understand its importance in helping teachers, I’d encourage you to blog about it as well.

This is my post: Why the National Writing Project Matters

And organizer Chad Sansing has more information about the #blog4nwp weekend here at his own blog.

Me? I seem to have lost some of my actual voice with a cold (just in time for a four hour workshop tomorrow around digital storytelling) but my fingers are working just fine, and my other voice — my digital voice — feels pretty strong today.

I hope you can join us as writers, or at least, as readers and supporters of the National Writing Project.

Peace (in the rally),

Slice of Life: Atomic Blur

(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers)

Yesterday, we spent about an hour beginning our class discussions about our game of Quidditch (which we play at our school every year). The choosing of a team name can be tricky, but like most everything with my class this year, the process went rather smoothly. I love this class. We brainstormed about 20 possible names, went through a voting process and narrowed it down to a name that they all seemed to like.

We are Atomic Blur.

I can’t help but wonder if the situation in Japan has influenced their name choice. Another team is Biohazard, and a third (whose name escapes me right now) also seems to hint at the disaster in Japan.

Today, I am going to have them write fictional “back stories” to the names of their teams, suggesting they invent a superhero character with the name of their team. I jumped onto our webcomic site this morning and quickly created this one as a starting point.
Atomic Blur

Peace (in the blur),

Slice of Life: A Whole Lot of Words

Slice of Life 2011


This is the number that reflects the grading I have been doing for the past five days in between sports events with my sons, lesson plans for school, teaching, eating, sleeping, talking to my wife, petting the dog and doing all of the things that people do when not working.

2,964 is the number of Parts of Speech words I have been looking at through my teaching lens, examining and, in some cases, explaining in writing why “to” is a verb in that case and not a preposition. I have 78 students, who each had to color code Parts of Speech words in a project (identifying words in their own writing). There were 38 Parts of Speech that had to be identified for each student.
Partof Speech Projects 2011
Here’s the break down of the words I read:

  • 790 nouns
  • 790 verbs
  • 395 adjectives
  • 395 adverbs
  • 234 prepositions
  • 234 pronouns
  • 78 conjunctions
  • 78 interjections

And overall? They did great. I am very impressed by the effort and hard work that went into this project. I’ve written before about how odd it is to have kids pick apart writing to get to the word level, but I was most impressed by the writing itself. They had to write a narrative about themselves to use as text for color coding. It’s nice to see how far so many have come from where they were as writers at the start of the year.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was sick of Parts of Speech right now. (so are my students).

Peace (that’s a noun, right?),

Slice of Life Video: Inside the Pyramids

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers)

I normally get to school a bit earlier than most of my colleagues — it’s that time to get my head ready for teaching — and I was wandering down the hallways, looking at this recent social studies project that my teaching colleague does with our kids. The students create pyramids of what they would bring into the afterlife with them, and then they put the pyramids on top of their lockers.

Here’s a brief video tour of a few of them.

Hallway Lockers from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

Peace (in the inside look),

Slice of Life: The Rubber Stamp Collection for Teachers

Slice of Life 2011Yesterday, I got inspired by a piece I read at McSweeney’s Internet Tendencies humor site about potential rubber stamps that writing teachers would want to have handy when correcting student papers. It cracked me up. And then, on Twitter, I started to create and share my own over the course of the day. So, here I present to you, my collection of possible Writing Rubber Stamps for Teachers:

“Remind me when I said you could use a bright pink gel pen for final projects? You owe me a pair of glasses.”

“Lovely. Beautiful. Stunning. Don’t Stop”

“Remember that graphic organizer we used? Did you use it?”

“I hope someday to walk in a bookstore and see your book on display. You’re an amazing young writer.”

“Do you really know where this story is going? ‘Cause I don’t.”

“I wish the standardized test knew you were such a poet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. “

“i before e except after c. Or better yet, why not use that spellcheck on the computer you used to type this thing.”

“You flip tense so much I don’t know if I am in the future, present or past. I’m gonna barf.”

“Your character in your story was just perfect. I felt as if he/she were walking into the room as I read.”

“I know you love animated clip art. But dancing bears and exploding pigeons have no place in this essay.”

“In the future, if the eraser shreds the paper, please get a new paper. We have plenty.”

“You know that second paragraph? The one with words you can’t pronounce? Should I Google it?”

“I’m a little worried about your imitation of ee cummings in this college application letter.”

“Kindly inform your parents that their work on your paper resulted in a solid B grade.”

“I believe you once again confused your math project with your writing project.”

“Misspelling your own name on a final paper will ALWAYS result in some lost points. Try to practice.”

“Coincidence is magic. You and your girlfriend/boyfriend’s exact answers on the test is pure kismet.”

“The joy you put into this is assignment is the joy I will have reading it. The pain, too.”

If you have any rubber stamp ideas, let me know.

Peace (on the stamp),

Slice of Life: Counting Cars; Supporting Writing

Slice of Life 2011

(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers)

“Blue one.”

“Yellow one.”

Driving. Driving. My eyes are on the road.

“Black one.”

My ears are on the kids, who are scanning the roadway like vultures for fallen prey.

“Black one.”

“It’s not. It’s a Mercedes.”


Driving, driving.


“You can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a dealership.”


“Yellow one.”



Somewhere, someone in the VW company is smiling. Talk about a viral advertising campaign. “Punch Buggy” is perfectly suited for adolescent boys, isn’t it? They’re usually bored on the drive. They love cars. And punching each other on the arm is just a perfect way to score a point.

Given the recent financial difficulties of the National Writing Project, it occurred to me as I was writing this post that we need something similar for times when we see any kind of writing that has been inspired by a teacher.  It would raise the profile of writing and teaching, right? We could call it “Word Tap.” When you see the writing, you tap someone one the shoulder.

“Creative one!”

“Poetic one!”

“Informational one!”



Peace (in the game),

Slice of Life: The Unexpected Verb Video

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers) As we were nearing the end of our Parts of Speech unit, my students and I were talking about Schoolhouse Rock and how using music and video can add a little spice to an otherwise sort-of-dull topic.
Yesterday, a student came up to me and said she and a friend had created a music video about Verbs. It’s pretty neat, but what was better was after showing it to the class, the two talked about how they did it. They used MovieMaker, with animated clip art, and then downloaded an Auto-tune App (ahhh — I’ve railed against Auto-tune before in this space, but given it helped my students be creative, I will step back) that allowed them to record their voice, email the file to themselves and then download and upload into Moviemaker.

The video itself is simple enough, but the fact that they did it just to do it, and then shared it with me …. I love that kind of learning. It went beyond parts of speech, and into media production, publishing (the video is now at our classroom blog site) and reflecting. I bet they didn’t know they were learning, though. They were just having fun.

I wonder if any of their classmates will get inspired ..

Peace (in the verb),

Slice of Life: Writing with my students

Slice of Life 2011(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers) We were able to sneak in a bit of freewriting in class yesterday. For about 15 minutes, the room was mostly quiet as my students worked on stories, poems, letters, comics and whatever it was that they decided to write about. My only condition for freewrite is that they are writing and they are quiet. The condition I set for myself is that I write along with them.

Yesterday, I had an image in my mind from last weekend, when some thick fog rolled into our area as the warm weather hit the cold earth. It was an eerie experience, like something out of Stephen King. My son and I noticed an old tobacco barn that had fallen down over the winter (there was a lot of that around here), and that scene of slow destruction amid thick fog was pretty amazing.

I tried to capture that in this poem.

Abandoned Barn
(listen to the podcast)

Soft light flickers through
the veil of fog,
Shimmering off the old barn
and seeping into my mind.

Boards, beams
and advertising banners announcing the sale
of tomatoes, turnips
and summertimes along the roadway

lay scattered on the ground,
a graveyard of wood and iron
and seeds.

The shotgun blast of rubble
instills in us a sense of fear, awe,
and curiosity.

I lean against the weight of winter –
the remnants of snow, sleet
and falling rains –

but it’s an illusion, too,
in this cloud cover that is as empty
as mist.

Spring warmth wrestles winter’s fury
and then, beneath the stillborn chaos,
a flower blooms:
slow, sturdy and strong.

Peace (in the poetry),