Slice of Life: Virtual and Collaborative Peer Review

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We are invited to notice the small moments. You write, too.)

Peer editing

There’s always an edge of chaos when I introduce something new and technology-related to our writing process. We’ve been working for about two weeks on a small research/writing project in which my sixth graders are composing Letters to the Next President based on a topic of choice. I wrote about it yesterday.

Last Friday, I put students across my four classes into Virtual Writing Groups. They “invited” other students from their groups into their documents in comment mode. Then yesterday, after a mini-lesson on Warm and Cool Feedback and how to comment in Google Docs, they spent about 30 minutes reading other students’ letters, using the comment tool to offer support and suggestions for improvements.

Letter to Prez Collab Peer Editing

For most, this is the first time they have used the commenting feature as collaboration and the first time they found themselves in a single document with other students, sometimes in the same document at the same time (since all groups had at least one or two other students from the same class as well as students from others).

letteredit1

If you’ve ever been with young writers then they suddenly discover the power and potential of commenting into Google Docs, as well as its potential collaborative features, you know what the room suddenly becomes. A scream out loud, a laugh across the room, a shout to someone else, a burst of confusion. We had it all, in each of the sixth grade classes yesterday.

Peer editing

My role, as teacher, was to allow those moments to happen, put what they were finding out into context (“Now, imagine if we extended your Writing Group to students beyond our own sixth grade in our own school ….”) and then guide them forward to keep actively reading and offering suggestions for improvement.

I asked that they NOT yet read the comments on their own letters, as we will be doing that today in a lesson around accepting/rejecting feedback from others while acknowledging the authority of the “outside reader.” I wasn’t strict on that point, but most were fully engaged in reading what others had written and offering comments.

Next up? Final editing/revision of the Letters in today’s classes, printing them off and mailing them to the White House in the coming weeks. It’s a nice bit of symmetry that our letter project comes to an end on the day of the election.

Peace (it’s collaborative),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Time Gone Wild

sol16(This is a post for Slice of Life, a weekly writing share hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We look at the small moments. You write, too.)

I noticed something amiss the fourth or fifth time I looked at the wall clock. It was still 7:40 a.m. Or so said the clock. It wasn’t. It was 8:25 a.m. and students would be arriving soon.

The clock was dead and I was nearly out of time.

I scrambled to see if it was just my clock. It was. Time had stopped on me. I notified the custodians, who promised to replace it, and finished up my morning message for students. I was thankful for my Saxophone Clock at the back room (although it was interesting when some students who have been with me for two months now only noticed it now, when the school wall clock was busted. So much for being observant.)

Later, while my students were at Physical Education and I was working on plans for the day’s writing, the custodians did indeed come in. They took down the old clock and put up a new one, and then told me that it would take a day to settle into the automated system.

Time Gone Wild

Ten minutes later (I think), I looked up and time, as they say, was flying. The seconds hand looked like it had a jolt of caffeine and the minutes hand was doing its steady dance around the hours. By 3:45 p.m., after school had ended, the clock read 5:20.

It was time for me to head home.

Peace (ticking away),
Kevin

Slice of Life: They Should Be Bursting With Stories

sol16(This is part of Slice of Life, a regular writing activity designed to look at the small moments of life. It is hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You are invited to write, too.)

The paraprofessional who works alongside me with my sixth graders — she’s someone for whom I have tremendous respect and admiration and gratitude for, on so many levels —  pulled me aside yesterday.

“They’re so afraid that they will be wrong that they don’t even know where to start,” she whispered. I nodded. Like her, I too had noticed a sense of reluctance in the room. Many students were staring off, empty page in front of them.

“That’s because there is no right or wrong answer here. That confuses them,” I responded. She agreed. We both were saddened by that insight.

What we were doing was writing short stories as a daily writing prompt. Now, this is not the first time we have done writing into the day, but it was the first time that I pulled out Chris Van Allsberg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a story generator. If you don’t know what this picture book is all about, check out this video I found by a high school student on YouTube. This YouTuber does a pretty decent job of explaining it.

I had featured four of the 15 mysterious illustrations from the book (I have a portfolio version), instructed my students to choose one of the images (which have a title and caption but no story), and use it as inspiration for 15 minutes of short story writing in their writing notebooks. My only stipulation was that they had to write in First Person Narrative Point of View. Other than that, they were free to use the illustration anyway they wanted.

“There is no wrong way to do this,” I instructed. “The story is yours to write.”

But for some, this open-ended instruction stopped them dead in their tracks. They didn’t know how to begin or where to begin. They didn’t know what I was looking for. How could they write “the story that had gone missing” if they didn’t have the story in front of them?

It saddens me that we have to wrestle creativity like this out of sixth graders. At age 11 and 12, they should always be brimming with ideas, bursting with stories. But their response raises questions: Is this what standardized testing is doing to our students? Has the right/wrong dichotomy immobilized our students into inaction? Is this what the Common Core push away from narrative/poetry writing is doing to our classrooms?

Yes. It is.

In all of our edu-talk about “inquiry”, the question remains: how do we best help our young people see the rich possibilities in the blank slate before them if we don’t give them more opportunities, more freedom, more chances to explore their ideas on the page? Perhaps this happens more in your school than it does in mine. I get them at the end of their time at our school. I notice the echoes of past lessons. I can sense the shift in instructional practices.

Let me end on a positive note: when it came time to share the stories they had written (and we always build in sharing time), there were so many amazing pieces of writing. Stories told from the strangest perspectives. Dialogue-rich and thought-rich stories of characters struggling against the oddity of the world. Stories told in the present, the past, the future. Descriptive language that brought us deep into the landscape of the imagination.

They had it in them. Of course, they had it in them. They needed permission to write the way they wanted to write. Let’s provide them with more of those opportunities, and understand, as teachers, that this kind of creative writing pays dividends in the future.

Writing stories just for the sake of writing stories — no assessment, no grades — is a small gift we can give to our students in this time of data points and standardized testing. Give it, freely, won’t you?

Peace (don’t be afraid to make it happen),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Cool Collaboration

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing feature hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write about moments. You write, too.)

I wish I could embed the media piece I want to write about today, but you will have to go to Mariana’s blog to see and hear it. Then, come on back!

<… we pause here for a blog break … musical interlude … >

Are you back?

Isn’t that nifty and cool?

Mariana shared out the final version of this impromptu collaboration yesterday and I was so excited about it for a many reasons. This all began in the DS106/Daily Create ecosystem, as Mariana and Vivian are both regulars in my DS106 Twitter stream.

The other day, for a Daily Create assignment to create an animated gif, I took that saxophone player image and layered an animation of notes on top of it.

Mariana saw it, and wondered if she could take it a step further. She wanted to split the original image and tie them back together in a gif format called Stereogram. I had included Viv in a tweet back to Mariana because I know Viv is also a saxophone player. Viv suggested adding a layer of saxophone music to the gif.

Viv recorded her part and then put it on Soundcloud. I grabbed the file off Soundcloud, pulled it into Soundtrap and then realized that my tenor saxophone was at my bandmate’s house,. So I dusted off my soprano sax, and proceeded to riff off the top of Viv’s part, as best as I could.

That file was soon up in Soundcloud so that Mariana could grab it and layer it on her gif … and that’s what she shared out yesterday. It was very cool.

So, a few things to reflect upon: collaborative creativity like this always gets me curious and energized. I know Mariana and Viv via social media circles (mostly DS106) but the passing around of media was rather seamless. We created together, collaboratively.  We shared, downloaded, added, uploaded, shared again. We live in different parts of the world but that didn’t matter. We were working together.

Second, Viv and I have periodically thought: we should figure out a way to accompany ourselves on saxophone. I don’t know many other sax players in my online circles. Viv is one of the few. So, finally getting a chance to “jam” with her was great. The gif was a perfect opportunity.

Third, this was all fun. Thanks, Mariana. Thanks, Viv.

Peace (sounds like music),
Kevin

Slice of Life: #IMMOOC Quotes of Note

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too.)

path of idea

We’re somewhere in the middle of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC, but I am not sure where things are because I keep forgetting to pay attention to what chapter I am on. I am pretty sure I have read ahead in George Couros’ book — The Innovator’s Mindset. I don’t think it matters. It’s a MOOC, after all.

From Innovator's Mindset

Yesterday, I followed a digital path from the Kindle app on iPad (where I am reading The Innovator’s Mindset book) … to the Amazon Kindle website where my highlighted annotations are housed on the Web … to the Pablo visual quote-making site so that I could “visualize” some of the highlights … to Flickr to host the quote images and then … back here to share the quotes. I’ll be hitting the “share” button one more time, pushing the post into my social media networks with a mouse-click.

From Innovator's MindsetThat’s quite a path across platforms just to share a few words I didn’t even write, and yet, it did seem rather seamless. It’s true that while one BIG APP would be helpful for accomplishing all that (read-highlight-quote-share), we adapt to what is available to us and use it as we need. And I have been walking this path of sharing from one platform to another for some time.

From Innovator's Mindset

The quotes sprinkled here in this post center on ideas that I want to hold on to, as best as I can. And if you look closely at the quotes I am sharing, you will see the message in them (exploration, reflection, possibilities) dovetails quite nicely with the message I am writing here for Slice of Life.

From Innovator's Mindset

Peace (make it work for you),
Kevin

Visual Slice of Life: Up On the Wires

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing feature of Two Writing Teachers. We write about the small moments. Come write with us.)

High ropes

This image neatly captures our day yesterday, as we spent the entire day outdoors at a facility that helps with team-building and community-building.

The central activity is the “high ropes course,” a series of challenges for our sixth graders, and an opportunity to talk about anxiety and reaction to stress, support of your community and individual accomplishments.

It was a great day. The weather held out (we thought rain was coming but it never did) and the energy of the day was overwhelmingly positive.

Peace (high and low),
Kevin

Visual Slice of Life: Low-Lying Cloud Cover

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity hosted by Two Writing Teachers to explore small moments in the day. Come write with us.)

Foggy Ride2

I was driving into work in the morning. The air felt very much like Autumn — a shaft of cool — and as I drove down a long road that runs beside an old Reservoir, I saw this beautiful scene. So I stopped and looked, and then grabbed my phone to capture the moment.

Foggy Ride

Peace (beautiful and rewarding),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Traditions of the Season

(This post is for Slice of Life, a regular writing invitation from Two Writing Teachers to find small moments to write about, and reflect. Come join in.)

Apple picking 2016

We have a family tradition this time of year. We go apple picking. In cold and hot, in rain .. we try to stay true to the idea that we will all make room in our busy schedules for apple picking. We used to go to this orchard up in our hilltowns, with amazing views of a valley. It closed down after a few particularly bad seasons. So we started to go to another orchard not far from the school where I teach.

But my oldest son is now off to college, so that made an Apple Picking Adventure a bit more tricky. And my sister-in-law’s family, who used to live ten minutes away, now lives in Rhode Island, so that makes it tricky. My middle son works and my youngest son plays baseball. Tricky.

But my wife is determined, and she made it happen.

Sure, we had to drive nearly two hours — first to pick up our son from his college outside of Boston and then drive another 30 minutes to meet my sister-in-law at the orchard found by Googling apples. But we made it happen this weekend and it was great to see the cousins together again, and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. The weather was overcast but not too hot, and the trees were dripping with apples (the drought has brought a good year for apples, bad year for peaches, I guess).

I even grabbed a few Asian pears from some trees. Biting into those is like biting into a small container of sweet water. They were simply delicious.

It is these kinds of traditions that keep a family connected, even as we disperse geographically. Apples, for us, are always more than apples — they are a reason to find time to come together. Plus, they taste pretty darn good, too. So, there’s that.

Peace (on trees everywhere, in abundance),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Generator Blues

(This is a Slice of Life story, which is a regular feature at Two Writing Teachers. Come write with us.)


flickr photo shared by Jacob Davies under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

We lost our power the other day. A huge tree crashed down across the main roadway, taking down wires. Sparks everywhere. The police set up roadblocks and traffic was zooming through our quiet neighborhood. It was a mess. And the electricity loss was going on five hours when my wife looked at me and said, We should start the generator.

We were both worrying about the Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer, you know.

:0

We bought our home generator about six years ago, after a winter storm knocked out our power for nearly a week. The sump pump stopped working, and well, if you have a basement that needs a pump, you know you never want it to stop working. So we invested in a generator and paid to have an electrician wire the house for it.

And once or twice a year, I kick the thing into gear in the driveway to make sure it can start. But we have never ever had to hook it up to the house and actually use it. On one hand, that’s good. No big storms. On the other hand … we paid a lot to get it set and then we never have to use it.

But I have to admit: it stressed me out to finally have to hook it all up. I was reading my handwritten notes to myself about how to do it — which breakers need to be pushed where, and so on. I questioned my writing. What did I mean “push it left”?  The last thing I wanted was to be fooling around with electricity.

We did figure it out, and got it work. But you can prob guess the end of this story. One minute into getting the fridge and pump and lights up and running on the generator, the electricity came back on and we were back to normal again.

Sigh.

At least I remember now how it is done. I hope I don’t have to worry about it for a long time, though. (And this time, along with notes, I drew some pictures for my future self.)

Peace (generate it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Questions, Question and More Questions

(This is a post for Slice of Life, a regular writing activity on Tuesdays hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Come join in.)


flickr photo shared by pasukaru76 under a Public Domain Dedication Creative Commons ( CC0 ) license

“How am I getting to school?”

“What bus number am I?”

“What time does school open?”

“What time does school close?”

“Can I do the after-school programs when they start?”

“Can I ride my bike to school on Wednesday with friends?”

“Am I going to like my teachers?”

“What time do I need to wake up?”

“Am I home lunch or school lunch?”

My youngest son moves from his elementary school to the middle school (grades 6-8) today, and yesterday (actually, all weekend), he was a fountain of questions about the first day of school. It’s a nervous energy but of the positive kind. He was all dressed in his school clothes last night, with hair combed, ready to go, and was disappointed when I told him not to sleep in his nice clothes.

“Why not?”

Peace (jittery cool),
Kevin