#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),


Their Digital Lives: State of Technology and Media 2015

I’ve been giving my sixth graders a survey for a few years now on the State of Technology and Media in their lives. The results become the anchor points for conversations in class around technology and social networks and privacy and digital footprints.

Here are this year’s results, which I also shared with parents:

And here is the famous Gary Hayes Social Media Counter that I also shared out, and had a long discussion about what its data flow shows about the world they are growing up in:

Peace (in the share),

More Reasons We Write (from WMWP Teachers)

During a workshop at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project on collaborative writing and reading with Google Apps yesterday, I pulled out another version of my “Why I Write” collaborative slideshow as an opening activity, and it was a huge hit with the folks who attended my session.

The slideshow theme was connected to last week’s National Day on Writing. Once again, I love the depth of the responses, and also, the ways that the slideshow allows many to write together on a single project, and then the ability to share that project out to the world.

As an aside, it’s interesting for me to share the project because you (the reader of the file) can only see the slides themselves in my embeddable file above. But there is a whole set of comments and conversations that took place in the margins of the slides themselves as folks reacted to what others were writing (sometimes in real time, which was a cool surprise for many who had never used Google Apps for collaboration before). That’s another post for another time.

Peace (that’s why I write),

Thinking Out Loud: The Pros and Cons of Google Apps for Ed

At today’s annual conference for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I am presenting a workshop session around using Google Apps for Education for nurturing collaborative digital writing and reading skills in our students. Our key focus will be collaborative possibilities, and it will be a hands-on workshop. We’re gonna collaborate!

I’m no expert in GAFE (Google Apps for Education), having finally gotten our school district to push access to GAFE to sixth grade late last year after a few years of seeing it available in the district middle/high school (I am in an elementary school). But my students are neck-high in using their Google accounts already this year for all sorts of writing and collaboration, and Terry Elliott shared out this article with this stunning fact:

Google Apps for Ed now has 50 MILLION users in schools ..


Like Terry, though, I am hoping I keep a clear vision on the pros and cons of this development, and since I am no paid shill for Google (nor do I intend to be), I want to present some ideas in my workshop about both the possibilities and pitfalls of becoming a GAFE classroom or school.

You can’t help but notice the way Google is insinuating itself into the fabric of education, with GAFE and cheap Chromebooks. Yes, there is a clear gain for schools and students accessing technology and possibilities in the digital age. But yes, too, Google is not doing it out of kindness of its heart (disregard its ‘Do No Evil’ mission — it has already dropped that). Google wants a Google Generation (sort of how first Apple got itself into schools with early computers and then Microsoft followed suit). Google is clearly playing the “long game” here: Start them early and make them Google for Life.

Here, then, is a list that came to my mind about how to balance the pros and cons of using GAFE in a school system.

Google Apps for Ed- The Good, the Bad, the Collaborative

I am sure there are other ideas that I don’t even mention, and one that comes to mind already is the cost effectiveness of GAFE over other platforms.

And cost is probably the reason most school districts turn to GAFE, and then justify it with the “pros” that I have list here. That’s my impression, anyway.

Peace (in keeping an open mind about open systems),


Exploring Mobile Webmaker: i am small on the screen

Merely ... A Webmaker experiment

Mozilla’s pivot to mobile makes sense from its worldwide view and mission of connecting people around the world and giving them tools to “make the web.”  Most people in global communities use mobile devices, not desktop computers.

While I personally mourn the loss of Popcorn Maker (oh, I miss it terribly, and all of its remix media possibilities) and celebrate the new and improved Thimble tool (with file uploads and multiple page possibilities), I was sort of left out the mobile app experiment because I did not have an Android phone.

Now I do (long story, another day), and I went about exploring the free Webmaker App this weekend to see what Mozilla has been up to as it focuses in on mobile technology. I know the app is only the beginning (or so I think, as it seems in beta) and it wasn’t bad.

Nothing overly impressive yet, either, as far as I can tell, but I was able to make a website poem within minutes, and once I got myself situated, I found it fairly easy to use. I could see the threshold for using this app to be very low for most people. You can make the web within minutes.

View i am small on the screen

I purposely did not include any images or graphics with my small poem, as I was trying to keep the design simple, with words and links to side stanzas broken off from the main trunk of the poem. Basically, the editing mode gives you branches to create multiple pages and buttons as links to those pages. The downside is that viewing of the finished project is best done in the app itself. On the web, the poem looks scrunched up, at best.

But maybe that claustrophobic effect is effective for a poem whose theme is the smallness of the web. I’m going to nod my head and say, that was my purpose as a writer all along. (You believe me, right?) The poem became digital within the constraints of the technology.

What will you make?

Peace (here),

#4TDW Blog Carnival: Why (Digital) Comics Matter

(This post is for a blog carnival about digital writing, as part of the Virtual Conference on Digital Writing)
My Meandering Mind and MeA few years ago, I had one of those “aha” moments that forever changed my perception of young readers and writers. I had entered the local comic book store with my son, with the intention of joining something known as 24-Hour Comic Day. It is an event that challenges people to write a 24 frame comic in a 24 hour period.

My oldest son was into making comics, and I was curious. I also came armed with some ideas of my own, telling the story of my relationship with my brother in Brothers on Ice. I was expecting a few people to gather for the event.

What I witnessed, instead, was a book store that was nearly wall-to-wall writers and illustrators, sitting and standing in every place possible. And nearly all of them were young people. And many of these writers were boys, the very demographic of young learners that I often had trouble reaching as readers in my classroom.

Yet here they were, writing for hours at a time, collaborating with others, sharing work and gathering feedback. It was as if I had stumbled upon some secret writer’s society, and perhaps that what it was.

When we think of Connected Learning principles, finding your niche and interest remains front and center, and for many young people, writing comics and reading graphic novels hits that vein.

The question was, how do I bring that passion for making and writing into my classroom? And, I wondered, was there a way to fuse technology and digital literacies with comics? This seemed like it could be a natural fit, given the elements of comics as a medium of literacy, with its use of:

  • partnership between image and words
  • inferential thinking and writing with narrative gaps
  • sequential versus non-sequential storytelling
  • visual representation of ideas
  • collaboration of writer and artist

This began a journey, still unfolding, in which I first worked with students at a digital writing camp around webcomics for a few years, and then moved the concept into my classroom. Since then, making comics and its digital cousin, webcomics, have become a regular activity for my students. From writing prompts to text analysis to collaborative retelling of stories, comics are a common medium for us.  We don’t always go digital, either. Sometimes, it works best to let the young artists create off the screen. Here is one page from a class paper comic that was part of our discussions around the reading of The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. Homer Figg comic

Still, the digital does provide for interesting possibilities. We also use webcomics for a project at the start of the year, where students explain their aspirations for the future. This Dream Scenes project is a natural fit for comics.

Dream Scenes 2015

What affordances do webcomics, with their digital nature, have over regular comics? Scott McCloud dove into this issue in great detail in his Reinventing Comics book (a follow up to his now-classic Understanding Comics tome, which is like a bible for comic lovers). Interestingly, McCloud wrote this book in 2000, just on the cusp of the real digital revolution. Still, his insights into possibilities were prescient.

Whether by choosing a path, revealing a hidden window, or zooming in on a detail, there are countless ways to interact with sequential art in a digital environment. Most important, the mere act of “reading” — moving through — digital comics should be a deeply interactive experience … Comics in a digital environment will remain a still life — but a still life we explore dynamically.” (McCloud, Reinventing Comics, page 229)

Webcomics as disruptive narrative

A few ideas about the possibilities of digital comics stand out for me:

  • One has choice to use art within a comic system or draw your own;
  • There are no limits to numbers of frames/pages;
  • Other media — hyperlinks, videos, etc. — can be embedded into webcomics;
  • Publishing and sharing is often a click of a button away — an audience is close;
  • Collaborative features are often built into webcomic sites;
  • Comments and feedback are often part of the system.

Want to examine a possibility of the webcomic world? Check out Randall Monroe’s xkcd webcomic, where Monroe regularly experiments with the possibilities of webcomics along with traditional comics. His piece — Click and Drag – is one example of how he is pushing the edges of possibilities. As the title implies, you click and move through a comic that goes on and on and on, telling a narrative outside the frame.

It doesn’t end there, though. Because Monroe has a large audience, they began to take his comic and remix it and crowdsource elements of it together. Check out the wiki page about the comic. See a map that someone built to represent the entire comic. Venture into a more zoomable remix of the comic to get a better sense of scale.

I also adhere to the notion of “write alongside students” and that includes “make comics alongside students,” as evidenced by a few comic series that I have done over the years. The most prominent was a regular comic strip about the so called “digital divide” between students and teachers that I named Boolean Squared, and which ran on the website of our regional newspaper for two years before I retired the idea.


If you are seeking more resources around bringing comics into your classroom, feel free to use anything I have gathered at my Comics in the Classroom website, which I share with teachers on a regular basis.

Go ahead. Start a panel. Who knows where it will bring you.

Peace (in the frames),

PS — as I writing this piece, Edutopia put together a “Five Minute Film Festival” on the use of comics in the classroom.

At Middleweb: Connected Reading with Connected Learners

Connected Reading review comic

Over at Middleweb, I reviewed a new book about “connected reading” by Kristen Hawley Turner and Troy Hicks. They push our thinking about the ways that Connected Learning principles can take root with adolescent readers.

It is a thoughtful book that looks at classroom practice and the ways in which Turner and Hicks were doing the “connected reading” even as they were writing the book itself. (I am sucker for that kind of reflective writing)

Read the review of Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World 

The comic I share above was my way of putting connected reading practice into reality, as I mapped out how I came to review the book and then am asking readers at Middleweb to extend the conversation even further.

You can do the same.

Peace (in the read),

A Look at Literacy in the Digital Age

Literacy in the Digital Age

Teaching Channel has just finished up a four-part series on Literacy in the Digital Age that is worth a visit. The posts are by Nancy Franzi and Steve Figurelli.

They write:

Kids have access to information; we must teach them how to navigate a world constantly evolving where content is at their fingertips. The traditional application of ELA isn’t enough for future-ready learners. We would argue our students read and write more now than they ever have before — between texting, social media, gaming, and everything else they do in their digitally fueled, online lives. Our vision must evolve to incorporate a new approach to literacy instruction, one in which technology becomes an accelerator to personalize and create meaningful learning contexts.

The four posts in the series cover quite a bit of terrain that focus on technology and tools around some domains of literacies, connected to the Common Core shifts and “Future Ready” ideas. Even if it bothers you that this is the organizational strategies, the series is worth investigating as the writers put the technology into learning contexts.

I’ve included my own “key find” for each post that I want to investigate further for my classroom or my own writing (sometimes, those two goals merge together; sometimes, not).

Lots to explore …

Peace (and remembering: it’s not the tools or technology),


Student Mentor Texts: Hooking the Reader

At the start of this school year, and in the midst of our first real writing project, my students are writing short stories. Our focus is on “strong story openers to grab the reader’s attention,” among other things. It’s all about hooks, dialogue, inference and tension.

I’ve been showing some mentor texts and now that my sixth graders have enough written, I can begin to share some of their own writing as mentor texts. I’ll be post about a dozen openings around the classroom, and I created this Slides show as a way to publish at our class blog site, too. (Slides is like any presentation software, but I like how it has a folded box effect.)

I’d go full screen for better reading here, but you can also just glide through the show to get a sense of the stories and the writing, and how Slides works.

Peace (just gotta read about it),