#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),
Kevin

 

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

 

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(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.

Brilliant!

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),
Kevin

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),
Kevin

#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.)

frank1

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),
Kevin

 

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),
Kevin

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),
Kevin

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 ..

gafe-fi

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),
Kevin

 

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),
Kevin

#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.

or

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),
Kevin

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),
kevin