Slice of Life: Brewing an Audio Stew with Words, Loops, and Sounds

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

We’re in a digital writing unit that centers on expanding the notions of what it means to compose, with a focus on writing with sound. The way it works is that my students will be creating small Sound Stories (about a paragraph or so) in which they will record their voices, weaving in sound effects from a library of audio I provide them and layering looped music underneath it all. It’s composition, in the fuller sense of the word.

Sort of like an audio stew.

This is one I did a few years ago that I share with them as an example. They all get a kick out the ending:

The other day, I showed them how to use Garageband, and for nearly all of my students, this was their first taste of this powerful music-making, sound-mixing software application on the computer. A few have used the Garageband mobile app (which remains one of the more powerful music-making apps available for Apple devices – sorry, Android. Nothing you have comes even close.)

Snow days and ice delays have put a dent in my plans for making the Sound Stories, so we will start again on the Sound Story activity when we get back from Thanksgiving break.

But here’s what I notice with Garageband — there is a real excitement about making songs and creating music when you have access to interesting sound loops, and the most creative students are sometimes the ones you expect least. I don’t mean that as a disparaging comment … I mean, in the writing classroom, you don’t often see the music engineer ready to bloom, or not unless you give them the seeds and soil to bloom in. Software like Garageband, or sites like Soundtrap, can do that.

Now, my students are coming into class, earbuds in hands, asking if today is a Garageband Day in writing class. Today, in fact, will be one of those days, once we get some other writing done (we’re also working on converting a scene from their independent reading books into a play/movie script … that’s another write-up for another day).

Time to make some music.

Peace (sounds fine),
Kevin

Writing Myself In a Corner: Write and Record a Song (in 24 hours)

song under construction

Sometimes, when I hit a bit of a creative wall, I challenge myself to just go on and do something. Write that poem. Start that story. Write a song. On Sunday afternoon, I decided I wanted to see if I could write and record a demo of a new song, all within 24 hours. With that impetus, I got to work, huddling over my guitar and notebook paper, scribbling and scratching out lines as a phrase “we forgot to dream” became the hook.

I knew the song would be inspired by the recent elections, but I didn’t want it to be an overt political song. More like a reminder that even when things take turns to the worst, there is always some hope for change. And that there have been difficult times before. We made our way forward then. We can do it, again. It won’t be easy. It never is. But we can do it. This was the theme I was working towards.

I do get a bit obsessive when writing a song. Sort of a hermit in the house, riffing the same chords over and over on guitar (my poor family) as I work on rhymes and meaning, and structure. I revamp and re-arrange words and phrases and verses and choruses, and then I walk away from the guitar and paper, silently singing lines in my head, remixing rhythms. I wander the house and the rest of the day like some madman, whispering poems to himself.

Late Sunday night, I went back to the work on the song and hit a wall. I found that I had forgotten the basic rhythm of the song from earlier in the day. In fact, I got so frustrated with myself (one, for forgetting what I had written, and two, for not doing a quick raw demo when I first started, which I often do, as a listening post) that I had to walk away and call the songwriting challenge quits.

By morning, my mind have found the threads again, though, and began weaving me back to the song. Thank you, sleep. When I picked up the guitar yesterday morning, the phrases all clicked into place again, as easy as you can imagine, as if I had never stepped away from the song at all. I can’t explain that process. It’s a strange and wonderful mystery.

So I set to work on recording what I had written. First, I began by finding a beat, and then I went about recording the guitar, and then, the vocals. Oh, these vocals. I don’t like the way I sing this song at all. It’s a bad key, or something. But I never really like my vocals. I worked to add effects, to give the voice a silo-like, garage effect. Bleh. Still, I kept moving forward with the recording, finishing the voice, and then adding percussion and then topping it off with some guitar power chords.

A little after 24 hours after I was done, the demo of the song, entitled “We Forgot to Dream” was done. For now.

Peace (sounds like power chords),
Kevin

Musical Slice of Life: Hope (Still) Remains

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

After the 2016 elections, in the days of disbelief and anger that followed, I sat down and wrote this song for myself, and for family and some friends who I knew were feeling like I was. The lyrics were a little message to the world, a reminder that politics was and is always about the long-game, of being close to those around us. I dug the song out again this weekend, as this mid-term election is upon us, to remind myself of that.

I still believe in the message. I share it with you, my friends. Make sure you vote.

Listen:

The following is a live version of the song — I like the above audio-only version better because the sound quality off the iPad is not so great — but here is me, performing the song, if that interests you. Notice I have my Peter Reynolds’ Create Bravely shirt on!

 

Peace (sounds like hope),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Young Users in an Ad-Driven, Privacy-Invading Digital World

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I was nearing the end of a class-long lesson on issues of privacy with digital apps and websites — which included instructions on how to ensure greater privacy controls for Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and more — when a sixth grader raised her hand.

“Now I’m scared.”

She said it with a laugh but I knew she was worried, if not scared.

It’s a reaction I try to avoid, framing much of our discussion in our Digital Life unit around the positive elements of what social media can do — around connections, around sharing, around empathy and understanding, around learning. But I know all of our talk of data mining by companies like Google, web browser cookies, and targeted advertising with technology will rattle a few of my students, particularly if they have never considered the issues before.

“You don’t need to be scared,” I assured her, and the others. “You need to be wary. You need to understand that you have some control over what you share. Who you share with. Why you share. Be wary but be empowered.”

They laughed again when I noted there is a sure-fire way to avoid all of the privacy issues of the Digital Age: completely unplug and don’t use technology. The looks of disbelief on their faces told me the reality (which I already knew).

Privacy Slideshow Apps and Internet(View the presentation)

I suspect some of these insights on privacy and agency will sink in now, and some will sink in over time. I hope some rushed home to check their privacy settings (that’s what I encouraged). I hope others installed ad blocking extensions (another action I suggested). I hope some had conversations with parents and family about the issues. I hope some of them, some day, will be the ones pushing back against the large companies.

We teach with hope that change can come.

Peace (discovering it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Just Saying Hello

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.

 

I was shuffling papers, trying to find something. I had a meeting in an hour.

“Mr. H.”

I held up a give-me-a-sec gesture. The paper seemed important in that moment. The voice, a distraction.

“Mr. H?”

I stopped, looked up. She had come in from recess, all smiles. She bounced on the heels of her feet.

“Yes?”

“Hi!”

“Hi.”

“I just wanted to say hello. Hi!”

She added a wave. I chuckled.

“Thank you. Hi!”

“Thank you! You’re welcome!”

She scooted off, skipping a bit, and I started to go back to my task of paper-finding, smiling to myself about the curious nature of kids, and the impact of kindness.

Peace (in the moment),
Kevin

PS — a version of this was also shared as a small story in another space.

Slice of Life: RoomGameSounds Bonus Track

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

During a freewheeling exploration of possible song ideas for a recent musical project — A Whale’s Lantern: Field Trip — I put forth a suggestion that my partner and I work with some past audio sounds of a classroom of students working to hack the game of chess.

The theme of the collaborative music project was ‘school.’ I tinkered with something to show what I was thinking — with bass and synth and some effects on the student voices to expand the atmosphere — but we decided to go in another direction instead, cranking out a three minute rocker called Outcast Kid.

Still, I liked how the use of student voices informed a piece of music. Or might have, if we had developed it further. Take a listen:

I still like how the sounds of the kids becomes the atmospheric element of this groove. You can just hear my voice, asking questions of groups of students, and then explaining the games they were making with a modified chess board and assorted other things, like dice.

Peace (sounds strange),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Thanking the Colleague Who Taught Them Before You

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I try, as often as I can, to acknowledge the efforts that my fifth grade colleague in the grade below me does with my current students, as I often see evidence of her handiwork when they become sixth graders. I’d like to think our schools would be a better place if we did this kind of acknowledgement more often. None of us teach in a vacuum. None of our students learn in a vacuum, either. We all build upon what has happened before.

The other day, I sent my colleague (C.S.) this note (B. is our special education colleague):

Dear C. (colleague),
I am starting to look over some of the first literature-based open responses with evidence from text and they are a solid batch (with a few outliers). I am noticing a pretty strong understanding of the format, with students working to find and cite evidence, and the use of the T Chart organizer. As much as I say “we are building on what Mrs. S did with you,” they are just as likely to say “this is like what Mrs. S taught us last year.”
🙂
I am grateful for the work you do, C., as it sets the stage for sixth grade (as I hope the work I do will set the stage for seventh grade). Our earlier collaborations and discussions around open response writing (with B. as a bridge between us) is definitely making a difference.
Anyway, I wanted to let you know. Thank you.
Sincerely,
Kevin

Peace (acknowledged and appreciated),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Four Presentations in the Days Ahead

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

In the next two weeks, I am facilitating or co-facilitating four different workshops at three different places, and while I am making good progress, I still feel a bit scattered, thinking through all of the tasks I have to do to get it all into place.

October Presentations

This weekend, my Write Out colleague Bethany Silva and I are doing an online presentation for the 4TDW (teachers teaching teachers about technology and digital writing), and we used Zoom this weekend to finalize most of the planning. Online presentations like this are tricky because you want to engage the audience and encourage them to visit resources, but then you need to have them all come back to the platform. The virtual conference is free, by the way, and our session on Write Out (an initiative between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service) is on Saturday, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

A week from today, meanwhile, I am gathering with some grade 3-6 colleagues in our school district, as I have been asked to lead a Professional Learning Community around Project-Based Learning. I have a bunch of activities and activators all set up, but there is limited time, and we will meet only one more time this year. Yeah, not really a PLC. More like a PBL teaser, but I’ll do my best to get conversations started and underway.

Finally, two other presentations take place a week later at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s annual fall conference. on October 13 at UMass Amherst. There, I am doing another version of the Write Out workshop (but this time, more localized, around our work with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site) as well as a workshop about digital annotation and the Writing Our Civic Futures project from Educator Innovator. My aim is to get us annotating a text (by Linda Christensen) on paper (first, solo, and then as a workshop), then together, online, joining the crowd annotation project.

Phew. October just started, and it already seems busy.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Class of Infectious Curiosity

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I almost title this post “The Chatty Class in Room 8” or “The Class of Non-stop Talking.”

But I didn’t, because the more I thought of this one particular class of sixth grade students (out of four groups that I teach), the more I realized that the talkative nature is driven more by wondering and curiosity than anything else. I’ve had plenty of classes through the years where the talking was difficult to keep in check (and I am pretty lenient most of the time) and where small clusters of students (last year, it was a group of boys) think class time is social time all the time, and that the teacher’s voice is one to tune out.

Not this group.

These students always have their hands raised, always want to contribute to the conversations, whatever the topic might be. They always are asking insightful queries to their classmates during presentations. They bring us on tangents, true, but interesting ones, with odd angles of looking. They always seem to want to know more, more, more.

And I think that curiosity is infectious, is it not?

I noticed the leaders of the class — smart, strong students — being kind to others, by asking them to share more, explain more, think more, question more. And their classmates have followed their lead, which is quite interesting to watch and to see. They’ve already built on my work with them to create a safe space to wonder in.

So, even if the room gets loud at times, it’s the right kind of loud. The curious kind. The kind of talk every classroom in every school, everywhere, should be open to.

Peace (and wonder),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Starting the Year Write

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

Three weeks in and my sixth graders are already writing up a storm. We’ve done a short story prompt (using a map of imaginary land as setting for an adventure); explored characters in a short story read-aloud with evidence from the text; designed a treehouse in their writing notebooks; and now are working on sharing and explaining their aspirations for life in our Dream Scene project. We’ve composed with media on the computers and doodled in the margins of text on paper.

I like to come out of the gate with a lot of different kinds of writing. This allows them to enter as writers from various directions — not everyone loves open response analytical writing, not everyone loves writing fiction — and allows me to get a glimpse of where they are at with skills and imagination and basic writing skills.

Some of my young writers are already amazing me with their skills. Others, they are already worrying me, too. My role is try to help my students at both sides of that spectrum, as well as those in the middle, to move forward and make progress, and find joy in the act of writing.

And so the year begins.

Peace (in text and beyond),
Kevin