Workshopping in the Digital Age: A Close Reading of Franki and Troy

Students as Writers and Composers

I finally got around to coming back to an interview with two of my favorite people — Franki Sibberson and Troy Hicks — as they sat down for an interview for Language Arts to talk about Digital Writing Workshop. (You can access the article as a PDF at the National Writing Project site).

There are a lot of great insights and honesty in their conversation, and as I sought to reach closer, I started to grab some quotes from the text in order to pull them out for further thinking.

I was nodding my head here, because, like Franki, I hope I stay in tune with my students and their interests when it comes to thinking of ways that technology and digital platforms might push their own writing and compositional strategies further along. I’d also add that, along with listening, we teachers need be doing the technology, too. Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and others are unknown terrain unless you try them yourself. You might decide, this does not have application for my classroom (for now). At least, you will know from the experience.

I like Troy’s point here, that the technology should have a rationale or basis for use in composing. He uses a heuristic called MAPS (mode (genre), media, audience, purpose, situation), which is very helpful in this regard, as it allows teachers to consider such things as audience and intent. The technology is not just an engagement factor — it’s an intentional design of the classroom experience to help students explore writing in different angles, with different strategies, for different reasons.

Here, Troy is talking about how to expand the notions of Mentor Texts by drawing from the world outside the classroom, from Pop Culture and beyond. Like Franki, Troy notes the importance of “listening” to students, to figure out where interest lies and then tap into that for learning.

This is so true, and I have written at times about this, too. Some days, when we are moving into something new, things go awry, and the room is full of noise and seemingly chaos. I say, seemingly, because, as Franki notes, often amidst the chaos is some interesting reflections going on. Part of our role as teachers to find focus on the reflection (the process is more important than the product, most of the time) and draw that out, highlight it, make it the learning of the day. And keep calm.

That same theme of analyzing process points is what Troy is discussing here, when the question of “How Do We Assess Digital Writing?” comes up. He notes how technology has the potential to uncover compositional strategies, and make a digital piece more accessible for comments and review and revision. If we can take our eyes off the final product and keep them attuned to all that goes into that work, we can assess learning in a more strategic way.

Thanks to Troy and Franki for sharing their ideas. I found it useful and helpful, and I hope some of their words inspire you, too.

Peace (sharing it out),


Ways to Stay Connected in the #CLMOOC Universe

Clmooc extends

As part of the final newsletter of CLMOOC 2016, we compiled a list of ways for folks in CLMOOC (even on the periphery) to remain connected throughout the year, and beyond the summer. I wanted to share that list here.

Throughout the Year There are many ways to stay engaged with CLMOOC’s connected community and beyond. Here are a few options to consider to remain active and connected with the people and the spirit of CLMOOC as summer fades away:

Peace (is stronger with all of us),

No One Reads the Manual: My Steps to New Tech

In my new role with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project (I guess I haven’t written about that yet .. will do later), I have been tasked with putting together our twice-yearly newsletter of events and activities for our writing project. I’m fine with that job. I like to write and share and connect. But the WMWP newsletter is created (for now, anyway) with a certain software program loaded on a specific WMWP laptop, and now that I have both computer and program in my hands, I’ve realized that learning a complicated piece of technology is … well … complicated.

As I was diving into the software this week to immerse myself in its inner workings, I realized I was going through some stages of “new technology” immersion. It began when I realized I would have be venturing back into an aging PC, as opposed to my Mac, and continued when I opened the software program up and saw dozens upon dozens of keys and buttons and options, all written in some language that didn’t make sense to my brain. Many, many bells and whistles.

Then, as I am apt to do, I just dove in, starting clicking things and working in the space, seeing what I could figure out as I went along. I’d get frustrated, try something else, get it working, hit another dead-end, try to find information help online, go back in, try again, and keep going. There were periodic little successes that at least allowed me to push forward with some limited sense of accomplishment.

For example, all I wanted to do was find a way to replace a photo. (apparently, that is done by “pointing” and that took me nearly 30 minutes to figure that out). And then I wanted a quick way to “preview” the newsletter I was creating, out of edit mode. I’m still searching for how to do that, believe it or not. It must be me, right? Where’s the big fat “This is What It Looks Like” button?

The next day? I had mostly forgotten what I had done the day before and how I had done it. A pitfall of diving in and not being methodical with new technology is the lack of clear paths and archival maps for the return journey. I didn’t document my dive in because there was never any method to the madness.

So, I began all over again.

The comic is just another way for me to deal with the feeling of frustration. I know I will figure out what I need to know (I already know more than I did just a few days ago), and I know I will turn to those within the writing project who have used the program for tips of the trade. It will all work out.

But I also know that I follow a certain pattern when it comes to new technology, and I hope that by making my own thinking somewhat visible — with a bit of humor — it shows me a bit more clearly how my own students learn when they come up against new technology. And if I can better understand that process, perhaps I can be a better teacher.

Let’s face it — no one reads the manual.

Peace (it’s in there, somewhere),


Curiosity Conversations: Two Zeegas Walk Into a Bar and So Does Terry

flickr photo shared by *s@lly* under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

I’ve been exploring the notions of Curiosity Conversations, inspired by Scott Glass in Make Cycle 3 of the CLMOOC. This interaction unfolded before Scott shared out his idea for CLMOOC, but fits perfectly with the concept.

Sometimes, the best part of writing digitally is trying to process the intent of the composition. But, I often don’t do much of that (or not enough for my own liking). Here, Terry Elliott and I took some purposeful time to interact with each other via a Hackpad to have “a conversation” about digital composition.

The overall thread was a poem that Jennifer N. wrote for CLMOOC a few weeks back, which then slowly transformed into a larger collaborative audio project. I wanted to take it a step further – using a tool called Zeega to make a visual piece. It turns out Terry was doing the same — making his own Zeega with the same audio and same poem.

Thus, our conversation unfolded … We asked each other questions, released some threads of ideas, wondered out loud about what it means to compose digitally. We don’t have any real answers. Just more questions.

First, watch each of our digital pieces.

First, there is mine:

And there is Terry’s Zeega interpretation:

And then, there is the messy Hackpad itself. You can add to the conversation, too. It’s an open document. Consider yourself invited. Join the conversation. Be curious.

Peace (in the mix),

At Middleweb: Assessing Student Digital Writing

I posted a book review over at Middleweb that explores the difficult terrain of assessing student digital writing. It’s an area I know I continue to struggle with. This book — edited by National Writing Project colleague Troy Hicks and featuring a number of National Writing Project educators — seeks to show a variety of paths (via protocols) to look at digital writing, mostly from the view of process of creating as opposed to evaluation of the final product.

Read my review of Assessing Students’ Digital Writing: Protocols for Looking Closely

Peace (we’re all looking),

A Moment of Repose

clmooc newsletter

We’re ending the first Make Cycle of the CLMOOC (well, ‘ending’ is the wrong word entirely, since anyone can jump in whenever they want and that is the start of the CLMOOC) and before we shift into the second Make Cycle, I want to catch my breath.

You probably do, too. That’s OK. It’s been a flurry of activity, with introductions coming in from all over the world and in all sorts of media forms. The opening days of places like CLMOOC are like that. Flurries. Waves. Tides. Firehose. You name the metaphor. It probably fits, in some way.

The question is: Will folks hang around beyond the initial excitement?

I hope so, because Make Cycle 2 (which will kick off with a newsletter later today from facilitators Susan Watson and Helen DeWaard) is all about circling back to the first Make Cycle and finding other people to connect with .. to reciprocate with generosity. This can take many forms, as Susan and Helen will explain, but the idea is to try to go deeper with our networks, and not just fall back on the +1 button, or the thumbs up, or the like.


How we make our connections go deeper, and nurture sustainability of connections, is the underlying current in the CLMOOC in the coming days. Engaging in conversations, honoring someone else’s work through remix, listening to perspectives, tapping into collaborative projects … it’s all about understanding the World through the collective experiences of others. Listen, the CLMOOC is not necessarily a true reflection of the World — we’re mostly a narrow a splinter of humanity with common values —  but it’s a start.

Want to see the kind of connections going on already in CLMOOC? Check out this TAGS Explorer.

CLMOOC Tags Explorer

You can read all the CLMOOC newsletters here.

I hope to collaborate with you in the coming week, one way or another. One easy entry point: Leave a comment. Ask a question. Write a poem.

Peace (for you),

Process Notes: Turning Text into Music

FindFiveFridays Music Composition

My friend, Wendy, reminded me in our Google Plus community of a site that allows you to input text and it will convert the text into a musical composition with a companion music file. This is how I did it this morning with a short bit I wrote.

First, I wrote up a Find Five Friday for #CLMOOC — I found five people that I wanted to recognize or honor this morning. It’s another way that connections get made in CLMOOC.


Next, I copied the text of my F5F and popped it into the engine of P22 Music Text Composition Generator. You can choose an instrument, and time signature, and give your file a name. When you click “generate,” it creates a musical composition. It also creates a companion MIDI music file. NOTE: Chrome did not play nice and I had to jump over to Firefox and allow Flash to be used.

Since MIDI music files are very specific about where they can be played, I wanted to convert it into an MP3 file for sharing. I used Zamzar, an online media converter. It worked like a charm.

I then uploaded the MP3 file (I had chosen the Vibraphone as the instrument but there are other variations … all sound sort of electronic-y but what can you do?) into Soundcloud, and used a screenshot of the composition as my image.

The result was this track

How about you? What text can you make into music? Can you honor someone else’s text by turning it into music?

Peace (in all time signatures),

My Son’s Remix Project: Trump and Futurama

Rowan's iMovie project

My youngest son (age 11) was watching an episode of Futurama a few weeks ago. In it, Richard Nixon (with his head in a jar) is talking to a crowd of people, about building a wall to keep space aliens out. A light when on in my son’s head. He remembered all the hoopla about Donald Trump building a wall.

So, he started to plan out this idea of a political remix, of meshing Trump’s call for a wall on the border with Mexico with Head-in-Jar Nixon’s call for a wall in outer space. I helped him get the videos he wanted to use but he knows enough about iMovie now to do the editing and mixing himself. I was mostly hands-off.

The result? Pretty cool political remix, I think, for an eleven-year-old kid who understood that he could make political commentary with pop culture elements. Of course, I am biased. He’s my kid. You’ll have to watch and see what you think.

Peace (remix it for greater effect),

App Review: Chosen (Music Video Creator)

Chosen App

This was sort of fun. I guess. I heard about a music video mobile app called Chosen that is becoming popular with young people (after, typically, not necessarily being used in the way it was built for). Kids use it for lip-syncing videos, and the company just got rights to millions of songs, I guess.

I figure it’s always a good idea to get a handle on what is becoming popular (still have yet to do Snapchat, though, so maybe take my pronouncements with a grain of salt) and so I dove into Chosen.

It’s pretty simple to use. You can record your voice or music, or choose music (this is the lip-sync method). There are some funny overlays you can choose. You hit “record” and do your thing. The video gets saved to your device and you can share it out. Or you can share it within the Chosen ecosystem. (Note: the folks might want to, eh, choose, a new name I could not shake a religious theme from my mind when hearing the name of the app).

Here I am, grooving to Justin Timberlake’s song of the summer on pop radio:

Give it a try. See what you think. Maybe we can do a lip-sync competition during CLMOOC?

Peace (muse it),