#DigiWriMo Sound Stories: What They (Students) Made

Sound Stories under constructionThis is my wrap-up post for series I have been doing about teaching my sixth graders how to create Sound Stories — writing and recording stories in Garageband with sound effects. Today, I want to share out some of the students’ work. (Note: I wrote more about this project at Middleweb.) This is connected to the exploration of audio in Digital Writing Month. Sound Stories under construction

Take a listen to just a few of the stories:


Peace (in the voice),

#DigiWriMo Sound Stories: A Garageband Tutorial

(I have been exploring sound with my students as part of Digital Writing Month. I also wrote a more expansive piece about these sound stories for my Middleweb monthly column this week.)

I was asked by a few visitors to my blog this week to create a tutorial for making “sound stories” with Garageband. I thought I might do a screencast, but then thought that screenshots with annotations might be better. (Note: You can do “Sound Stories” with other recording software, such as the free open-source Audacity. But you will need to find sounds to import for use. I have used Freesound before, and liked it. Garageband is helpful for students because it has more than 175 sound effects built into the system.)

Here is what I created to help you make a Sound Story (if it helps, click on the image to go to the actual image. A few seem to be getting clipped short by my blog):

SoundStory Tutorial1

SoundStory Tutorial2

SoundStory Tutorial3

SoundStory Tutorial4

SoundStory Tutorial5

I hope you make some cool sounds.

Peace (in the share)

#DigiWriMo: Too Much Consuming, Not Enough Creating

Troy Hicks, whose books about digital writing and connected reading are must-reads for any teacher, has written a great post for Digital Writing Month about the role that Infographics are now playing in our reading and writing lives — and how the visual shaping of data has the potential to surface stories. I was thinking of Troy’s post when I came across the results of an extensive survey of pre-teens (tweens) and teenagers by CommonSense Media about the role of technology and digital media in their lives.

You can access the entire report and key findings at the CommonSense Media site. It makes for a fascinating read. The infographic at the side here breaks down the findings into more visual understandings.

What jumped out at me in the findings?

How about the balance between the ways in which students “consume media” versus the time they spend “creating media”?

Only three percent of their time is doing, making, creating? Let me write/say/shout that out again: ONLY THREE PERCENT OF TEENS REPORT CREATING THINGS WITH THEIR TECHNOLOGY. (Sorry. Didn’t mean to shout. But it is important.)

We need to change that. We all need to do a better job of putting tools of making and creating into the hands of students. We need to empower agency. We need to show students that being passive recipients of information (including targeted advertising based on technology habits) is not enough.

Consuming, Not Creating

When I am asked why I spend so much time with Making Learning Connected MOOC or Digital Writing Month, or any of the other online ventures that I find myself intrigued by, my answer to the question of why is direct:

I want to discover more ways to engage my students — those 11 year olds growing up in a world in the midst of significant change — as active creators.

So, we design video games. We produce sound stories. We make comics. We collaborate.

Much of this I learned from doing myself with other teachers, trying out new things and tinkering with technology. We need spaces for us to create and compose, too. I wonder what the results of this survey question would be if we asked teachers the same question?

Do you consume? Or do you create?

Speaking of creating, the activity with Troy’s post asks us to make an infographic. I did this one, about a typical writing morning (like right now, in fact)

My Writing Mornings

Peace (in the think),

#DigiWriMo Collaboration: Our Eyes on the Skies

This week, we move into Visual Literacies with Digital Writing Month. We continue to discover ways to engage people collaboratively, and the latest project is an inspiration by my friend, Kim Douillard, whose weekly photographic prompts are just a wonder in and of themselves.

As Kim is a guest contributor to the Digital Writing Month site this week, I asked if we could take her latest theme of “the sky” and turn it into something larger: a collaborative, global photo journal of people documenting the skies.

You are invited to join us, too. Head to the open Google Slide Presentation we are calling Our Eyes on the Skies, choose a slide, and upload an image of what you see when you look up. Add your geographic location, and name, if you are comfortable.

Peace (in the spirit of collaboration),


Entering the Visual Through the Lens of Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

I recently got inspired to check out Google Cardboard, the giant company’s cheap answer to expensive virtual reality technology that may (or may not) transform the way we play games and watch videos, and all of that hoopla.

In an ideal world, I would have downloaded one of the instruction kits and spent my weekend piecing together my own pair of Google Cardboard glasses myself. That would be in true Maker spirit.

Alas, I cheated and paid twelve bucks for a pre-made set of Google Cardboard off of Amazon. I have only just started to tinker a bit with some of the basic apps that come with Google Cardboard (some apps are available for smart phones, which then get placed in the front of the eyebox, on a sort of cardboard slot, and the magnifying eyes you look through zoom directly into the screen of your cell phone … it’s pretty ingenious).

So far, consider me impressed, as the depth perception of the Google Cardboard apps are pretty nifty and immersive. You move your head, and the scene shifts all around. You point your eyes towards objects and use a little clicker on top of the eyebox to click the “mouse.” Things happen. You glance up and start flying through the sky. (There is an app for a planetary tour of outer space … I am going to get that one.)

What I wonder about is how storytellers can use this visual trickery for interesting storytelling that pushes the edges of writing, but I suppose we are a bit too early for that to come to play (or if it has, I have not yet come across the app that will wow me … I admit, I have not yet done much exploring on the Google Play store).

And, given the relative inexpensiveness of Google Cardboard design (really, just magnified googly glass eyes in a cardboard box) coupled with the prowess and creativity of app designers, the possibilities for the classroom might not be as far as off as one would think. I like the potential for storytelling. How would you write for the virtual reality device?

As we explore the visual literacies in Digital Writing Month, it will be interesting to think about places where the possibilities of technology to expand storytelling might go deeper, even if the technology is not quite “there” yet. We take in so much information with our eyes, filtering data and making sense of connections, filling in the gaps of what we don’t see — that this kind of virtual reality possibility might bring on an entirely new experience for us as readers/viewers AND writers/composers.

Peace (in the scene),


#DigiWriMo: A Mixed Media Wall of Wonder

The Digiwrimo Quote Wall

There are so many neat things going on with Digital Writing Month but one of the daily activities that I am enjoying is sharing out a quote from Frank Serafini’s Reading the Visual. And when I do, I add it to the “Wall” — a padlet site that I set up to collect the quotes and then I realized: this needs to be an open wall.

So, the wall became collaborative, and there is now just an amazing richness of quotes, remixes, links and other media on the Quote Wall that I just love moving through it, knowing it is being built together, as a network. Just looking at it is pretty cool. It’s like some virtual quilt being pieced together with media.

Add your quote about digital literacy or digital writing. It’s simple to use: just click anywhere on the wall and start writing. Or just peruse the wall. Unlike the famous “gum wall” in Seattle (which I saw in person a few years ago and was both grossed out and mesmerized by the sticky graffiti of it) , which is now being melted down and removed (the gum, not the wall) for hygiene reasons, our DigiWriMo Wall will remain firmly in place … unless Padlet changes things up and takes away my account.

Peace (in the share),

#DigiWriMo: Squish Your Writing (Text Compactor)

Text Compactor

I was intrigued by a technology tool that was mentioned in a recent series by Teaching Channel around digital literacies. The site is called Text Compactor and it does what it says: it takes a block of text and allows you to automatically summarize. You have options on the size of the summary. It is built with an algorithm around word frequency.

Above is a sample. I took a pretty lengthy short story that I am writing (in class, with my students, as they write) and tried to create a very small summary. Not bad, I guess. It seems more like a “blurb” on the jacket of the, ahem, novel I am writing (not) than a good summary of the story so far, if you ask me.

But I might include this site as an extension activity for my students when they finish up pieces of longer writing, and have them reflect on what the technology leaves out and puts in.

Want to try it out? Choose someone else’s blog and pop it into the Text Compactor and see what happens. Share it out with the #digiwrimo hashtag. Get all squishy with it.

Peace (in the compactor),


#DigiWriMo: Changing Fonts and Typefaces (A Pedagogical Reasoning)



(Periodic Table of Fonts from Cam Wilde)

I was in a PLC (professional learning community in garbled edu-speak) last year with a cohort of reading specialists. Although I teach reading, I am a classroom teacher, not a reading specialist. I was in that PLC because our district was launching (yet another) math initiative and I am an ELA teacher.

I didn’t mind. I learned a lot from hanging out with these interventionist reading teachers.

At one point, we started to talk about digital reading skills (ie, reading on the screen and how different it is from reading off the screen), and I brought some of my knowledge and perspective into the mix (citing work that folks have down at the University of Connecticut with Don Leu with online reading comprehension and others). But it was a comment that another teacher brought up that had me thinking a bit beyond what I was expecting.

She noted that students in classrooms where teachers use interactive whiteboards see the whiteboard as a sort of “primary text site” for the learning environment. Daily agendas, and messages, and interactive activities … they all spring from the huge digital board hanging in the front of the room.

She then noted how many of her students with learning disabilities often have trouble with “fonts” — of the physical act of reading letters in fonts that are unfamiliar to them (vowels, in particular, can be troublesome). To help address this issue, she has been suggesting that classroom teachers regularly change the fonts they use on their whiteboards, to give students a wider range of “reading” the style of letters and to expose them to different design practices of writing.


And so, that’s what I have been doing this year, changing the fonts on my whiteboard on a regular basis. Most of the time, students don’t say a thing. Sometimes, though, they ask about a letter or a font design. We’ve talked about how some fonts conjure up certain emotional responses from the reader, and how different publishers use different families of fonts.

As adults, this kind of “reading” skill gets overlooked, as if design were not important to reading. But just like anything, if a reader gets stuck on the screen — if they can’t quite figure out what is being written — then the flow of reading is impacted. By immersing young people into the basics of font design, and by showing them various models of it, we can expand their knowledge.

Certainly, my students will spend inordinate amounts of time choosing fonts when they are writing. I often have to say “You have five minutes to find a font and then get writing” or else, time will pass and only a sentence will be written. Yes, it will be a lovely font, but not enough writing to justify it.

Peace (in design),

PS — I once published an entire collection about font, design and writing at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site. You can view that collection here.

#DigiWriMo: Turning Spam into Stories

The Spam King

Whenever Terry Elliott comes a-knockin’ on the blog and finds something worth commenting on, I get a special treat: He takes whatever the spam filter spits out (words to make sure you are human, human) and turns it into a little story or fake explanation or sentence or something.

It occurred to me that what Terry is doing is telling stories in a way that could only happen in a digital space where you arrive only a visitor (I am logged into Edublogs so I never see the spam filter when commenting on other Edublogs spaces). In effort to honor Terry as spam writer, I gathered up some of his more recent “stories” and published them in Notegraphy.

Read the Collection of Spam Stories as left by Terry Elliott at my blog.

I suspect Terry doesn’t even remember most of these, as they were written not just “in the moment” but in the brief interlude after writing another comment on another topic altogether. Here, too, is an element of digital writing: if we are not collecting and curating our writing, how does it exist beyond the moment it is written and posted?

And, would we honor this kind of writing in our classrooms? Would we “see it as writing”? I highly doubt it. But outside the school? Definitely. So, how do we resolve this expanding definition of what writing really is? In many ways, this is the underlying essence of Digital Writing Month, right? What does it mean to write digitally and how do we honor the unexpected writing that emerges from writing with technology?

Meanwhile, Terry has cordoned off a space at the Digital Writing Month site for experimenting and riffing off various ways to use media to write. He’s “talking through” his process of writing and making digitally. Check out what he is working on. Get inspired. Write and Connect.

Peace (and thanks to Terry),

#DigiWriMo Slow Book Review: Reading the Visual

Someone, somewhere, in some space, mentioned Frank Sarafini’s book — Teaching the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacy — and, well, if that was you, thank you. I had reserved it through our library system weeks ago, and it has just arrived … and right on time for November’s Digital Writing Month adventures, too.

I actually won’t do a full book review here. Instead, I have pulled out 30 quotes from Sarafini’s book that I will (try to) share one every day throughout November. Consider it a “slow book review” of sorts, where I hope my curating of Sarafini’s wonderful exploration of the changing world of writing and composition and the teaching of multimedia will inspire you, and me.

Us. Together.

We can get inspired, and what better month to do that and try our hand at digital writing, and share out our success and struggles and new understandings, than with Digital Writing Month, right?

Here is the first quote, which I will share out more widely tomorrow as DigiWriMo launches in my time zone (since we have all sorts of folks all over the world, Digital Writing Month posts may come earlier than it seems — or later than it appears — depending on your place in the world.)


Sarafini looks at not just the visual, as the title suggests, but also the various elements of multimodal compositions as a means to help teachers move this kind of literacy practice into their classroom in a meaningful and practical way.

I will be sharing the 30 Frank Quotes (I hope he doesn’t mind this informal name calling .. hey, I see he’s on Twitter, too. I will give him a shout out to join in DigiWriMo) via Twitter at the #Digiwrimo hashtag and in the DigiWriMo Google Community, and anywhere else I feel it might resonate. I will also be creating a collection over at Flickr.

Don’t just read the quotes. Live them. Teach them. Write them. And do yourself a favor: get Sarafini’s book. You’ll get inspired. Now I need to get my own copy and remove the sticky notes from the library version …

Peace (in the depth of digital writing),