Poetry Withdrawal and the Rhythm of Writing

I spent much of April writing and thinking “poetry.” Each and every morning, I worked on one or two poems, and sometimes added my voice as a podcast. I believe I wrote more than 50 poems in April, collecting most in a Google Doc for a later look. Some, I know I know I need to add to the Google Doc so that I don’t lose them forever (although, I don’t always mind that either — the scattering of poetic lines to the wind). Many of the poems are not worth saving, but there are a few gems in there, I think.

So it is an odd feeling now to not be writing poems yesterday and today, now that we are in May. Oh, I know I can still be writing them (and I will) but the breather and the break is helpful, too. Poetry is more than April, after all. Still, it’s funny how you get into a rhythm of things, a rhythm of writing, and then when you stop or break up the momentum, things feel … different. As if I am a different writer looking at the world from a slighter different angle than when I was writing poems every day. I had that same experience in the aftermath of the Slice of Life writing, where I spent my days eying so many little moments that when March ended, I had withdrawal.

Just an observation …

Peace (in the poems still be written),


Student Interactive Fiction: the Home Space

norris interactive fiction site
Our school just began the switch into Google Apps for Education, which means I finally get to use Gmail and other Google tools for the classroom with a little more ease. I decided to try out the Google Sites option as the space to host students’ Interactive Fiction stories that were created in the past three weeks (Another two classes will launch into it this week.)

Please visit our space and read some of the stories created by sixth graders. Follow the branches and try not to get too lost!

Peace (in the stories),

PS — you can follow our work over the past few weeks with this link, too.



Storybird: Why I Keep Teaching

There’s been a ripple of posts around the Net lately in which educators write or share their thoughts about why they keep teaching (see the Use Your Outside Voice blog being moderated by Beth Shaum). An offshoot of these are public resignation letters being sent to Arne Duncan. These responses come, no doubt, due to the increasing pressure we teachers are under from political officials. Over at our National Writing Project iAnthology space, the question of “Why We Teach” is at the heart of this week’s writing prompt. I went the route of using Storybird to create my visual, storybook response:

Peace (in the book),
PS — here is the video put together by Beth and others that captures what is on the minds of many teachers.


Teachers: Raising our Voices

Kevin Gazette Article
Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project has an ongoing partnership with the local newspaper to feature teachers writing about educational issues on a monthly basis. This month, I wrote about going to a School Committee meeting and watching teachers become political advocates for learning, and for kids, and urging the rest of us to find our voices, too, when it comes to educational reform and issues.
I created a modified podcast of the article (which you can read through the link off the WMWP website).

Peace (in getting heard),

Bye, Bye, Busy, Annoying School Website

A few years ago, our principal hired a web designer to work on our school’s website. What came out of that venture was one of the annoying school websites I have seen, and it has driven me crazy for years. I get what the guy was trying to do: create a site that was kid-friendly. What he created was a mess of colors and images that are a prime example of what you should NOT do when designing a site for an organization.

See what I mean:

old norris

Among the most glaring deficiencies, in my mind, is the lack of audience. He built this for the kids. He should have built it for the parents. Students almost never have reason to visit the school website, except for the summer, when they are trying to get a glimpse of what is in store for the year ahead.

No, school websites are for parents, and the old design was the worst possible message to parents. I lobbied hard over the years to our principal, who admitted the web designer came cheap. (I won’t even go into the designer’s claim that teachers could easily update new content for their pages … if you know HTML … we might agree that some knowledge of HTML is good — see Paul Oh’s piece over at The Digital Shift — but the reality is that few teachers know what HTML is, never mind what it does.)

So, I was pleased as punch this week when our school’s website got a complete overhaul and now looks more professional than ever. It’s not perfect but at least it has potential. I don’t look at it and want to shoot the screen, as I often did with the old animal-themed one. And the audience has shifted back to parents.

new norris

Now, if we can just get classroom teachers to move on beyond using Teacher Class Pages (which reflects the early 1990s in their feel) and into the 2010s …. (actually, my colleague Gail Poulin has been doing just that, teaching a group about how to use a WordPress blog for their class site.) And maybe updating news from last year is a good start, too.


Peace (in the site and in my sight),

Hanging out at Kirby’s Lane

I had the good fortune to be asked by blogger Kirby Larsen to “sit” for an interview about my work around teaching video game design in the classroom. Kirby runs a regular feature at her blog in which she features teachers, so I was honored that I was asked. I didn’t realize that I was going to travel down memory lane to my childhood for the first part, but that was fun, and it got me remembering my own sixth grade teacher, Mr. Dudak, again.

Head over to Kirby’s Lane to check out the interview

And thanks to Kirby for thinking of me!

Peace (in the blogging connections),


Educator Portfolios, Student Work and Privacy Concerns

Like many school districts out there, we are in the midst of changing the ways us teachers are evaluated by our administrators. For us, this is not a huge shift, as we began a semblance of this new model a few years back — we set goals, have discussions with our principal, await a series of quick classroom visits, self-evaluate on a rubric, and have another discussion with our administrator, who evaluates us along numerous lines. One of the main changes is how we collect and share our “evidence of practice” with our principal, as our new system requires us to construct a portfolio of our work as teachers complete with student samples.

Our principal is moving us into digital collections, so that he and we can have access to a digital file of the evidence. Ideally, it will save us paper and time, and make shared access quick for both of us. Our district is moving into Evernote, the sharing site, as a way to make this happen in a logical, coherent way. I am all for it.

Except …

I keep raising the idea of privacy. While our Evernote spaces will be private (accessible only by the teacher and the evaluating administrator), I keep wondering: will it always be private? Who owns the content once we upload it into Evernote? It is Evernote or is it us? This is not a diss to Evernote but a real concern when it comes to not just our own work but also our students’ work. While Evernote is independent now, you can be sure it is on someone’s radar: Google, Facebook, Pearson. Someone is no doubt taking notice of how Evernote is being used more and more by schools. So, I keep wondering, what happens to student work if Evernote does get bought out?

We don’t know.

And I think we should.

Or at the very least, we need to have a school district policy about how to format materials for Evernote (no names of students, no images of students, no videos of students) so that if the unknown becomes reality (if Evernote is bought out by a company whose policies are not in tune with our own), we have some safeguards in place. My principal “heard me” and made some phone calls, and has our district technology coordinator on the issue, as we try to sort this all out before the digital portfolio idea takes hold.

How does your district deal with this issue?

Peace (in the privacy),