Developing a Keynote: Why Literacy Matters

screenshot of Literacy Matters Presentation
It seems like a long, long time ago that I was invited by my friend Ben Davis to give a keynote address to the Red Mountain Writing Project’s 21st Century Literacies Conference. And yet, here it is. Tomorrow, I will be presenting my thoughts and stories on what it means to be teaching in a world dominated by shifts to the Common Core, and technology as tools for writing, and more. (Today, I travel). I’m excited about the opportunity to visit Birmingham, Alabama, and of course, a tad bit nervous about the responsible of giving one of the keynote addresses (the other is by writer Sharon Draper). I hope what I have to say resonated with the crowd, and I hope I am not boring.

As I have been developing the ideas to present, I have been working hard to connect what I teach to not only what is expected of me as a teacher in this standardized environment (ie, Common Core influence), but also, how I can best engage my sixth graders as writers in this digital age when our definitions of writing is in the midst of some shift, and just what that may mean to a classroom teacher.  My aim is to share my own classroom experiences, and to relate how I try to “pay attention” to what my students are doing with their literacies outside of school. I’ll work to weave those stories together into a narrative that (hopefully) inspires others.

I named my talk “Literacy Matters” because it seems to me that now, more than ever, writing and literacy is at the heart of all that our students are doing — in school and out of school. When they communicate via text messaging, they are engaging in literacy. When they shoot a video and post it online, they are engaged in literacy. When they play a video game, they are engaged in literacy. When they write a story or an essay or a poem or a reflection, they are engaged in literacy. The technology aspect of composition sometimes hides the literacies taking place, however, and we need to make those ideas more visible, bring them to the surface.

That’s part of my intention, anyway. I hope it goes well.


Here is a handout that I developed to accompany my talk.
Literacy Matters Handout


Peace (in the keynote),


Exploring Pinterest 1: Books About Technology and Learning

I’ve been reading so much about Pinterest that I finally got into the site to give it a shot (thanks to an invite from a friend on Twitter). It’s OK. I like the visual element of sharing, but it seems like navigation is sort of tricky and not very intuitive to me.  The homepage of the site is a visual mess. I do like how easy it is to create a project in Pinterest, and the javascript button now in my tool bar sure is handy for adding new elements (oh, excuse me, a new “pin”) to existing sites (eh, they are called “boards”).

Still, I created some “boards” around some themes that I am interested in. Here is one: Technology and Writing.
Pinterest book board

Technology and Writing: Book Reviews

Peace (on the board),



Young People, Search Evaluation and Information Quality

This infographic comes from The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University where researchers examined various literature around youth and the Internet, focusing in on how young people use the Internet to gather information and assess credibility.

The study notes:

As youth increasingly turn to the Internet as a source of information, researchers, educators, parents, and policy-makers are faced with mounting challenges and opportunities. On the one hand, the amount and diversity of “speakers” online, the lack of traditional gatekeepers and quality controls, and new modes of dissemination mean that youth are faced with challenging information quality judgments. On the other hand, these same shifts in the information ecosystem afford youth the opportunity to access, share, and create knowledge in entirely new ways, presenting myriad learning opportunities inside and outside of school.

Here are some key findings from the study (entitled: From Credility to Information Quality) worth noting:

1. Search shapes the quality of information that youth experience online.
2. Youth use cues and heuristics to evaluate quality, especially visual and interactive elements.
3. Content creation and dissemination foster digital fluencies that can feed back into search and evaluation behaviors.
4. Information skills acquired through personal and social activities can benefit learning in the academic context.


Peace (in the info),


Using iMovie’s Movie Trailer Tool

This is the first time I have tried out the “movie trailer” option in iMovie. Here is a teaser from my son’s upcoming movie project — Robbers on the Loose. He wrote the story and directed the scenes, with friends and family in the movie itself. I was behind the camera (with our Flip HD) and we are working on the editing. (Volume of voices … very tricky)

Oh, my son is seven years old, as is everyone in the movie. They’re all seven and just about all of them are in first grade.

The movie trailer option is interesting because iMovie does much of the work for you, after you choose  style. My son chose the adventure theme, of course, and then we dropped video segments into the system. We added the text, too. It got a bit cumbersome at times to figure out which video segment would work where. The tool could be a little better designed … BUT, he loves what the trailer looks like. And his older brothers’ snarky comment: The trailer is better than the movie. Ouch.

But the work on this piece for my son got me thinking about the possibilities for my own students, creating short trailers for books or short stories.

Peace (in the little screen),


Remixing Advertising Media for Gender Awareness

There’s no doubt that the Lego corporation is trying to make inroads with girls. Just look at the pink sets of pieces, and the themes that they are generating. And notice how the sets aimed at boys continue to be adventure-orientated, and mostly blue. This interesting site that I found called The HTML5 Gendered Lego Advertising Remix brings this difference to light in an interesting way. The site (which requires an upgraded browser) allows you to pull the audio from a boy or girl Lego set and put it beneath a video of a girl or boy Lego set.

What you notice is the way that music and voice is used, and color (of course), and theme. My youngest son loves Legos (as did his older brothers) but he is turned off by the girlie Lego sets. I’m not sure of the answer to how to best address gender by businesses, who after all are in the business of selling things.

The results from this remix site are pretty fascinating, I think, and provide a good insight for students to be thinking of the way they are targeted for advertising through design, theme, image and audio. I may need to try this activity with my students as part of our Digital Life unit. (Question for me: will our browsers allow it?)

Peace (from a boy),


Top Ten Things I Heard People Say About My Nerdy Book Club Sweatshirt

Yesterday was dress-down day at our school, where staff can dress casual and donate money into a fund to support families and staff of our school who might need a little extra help. Normally, I just wear jeans and a dress shirt. But yesterday, as we were about head into February break, I decided to put on my Nerdy Book Club sweatshirt. (For those not in the know, the Nerdy Book Club is an online collection of teachers, librarians, writers and others who like books. There is a blog website and a #nerdybookclub hashtag on Twitter. You can join, too. You just did. That’s how simple it is.)

I got a lot of interesting reactions to wearing the sweatshirt, which I had hoped would generate some conversation. Here are some of them — from students and colleagues.

  • What books are they reading? They don’t really have titles.
  • Nerdy Book Club? Where does that meet? In a library?
  • That’s my husband… right …. there. (points to the Nerd in image)
  • Let me get this straight. You’re all teachers. You love books. And yet, you are nerds? That’s so weird.
  • Those kids look pretty happy on your shirt, Mr. H. Must be good books.
  • I think my mom is part of that Nerdy Bookie Club. Or, she should be. She reads, like, all the time.
  • Do Kindles count for your club?
  • No offense, Mr. H, but I don’t think I’d want to be in that club. Sitting around, reading? No thanks.
  • I get the nerd part. That’s you, Mr. H. But how do books fit into it?
  • There’s a stain there, Mr. H. Looks like you spilled juice or something.

Peace (in the nerdiness),

Interviews Force Reflection on Teaching

This suddenly has become a week of getting interviewed or at least, scheduling interviews.

First, on Sunday, I had a great chat with Franki Sibberson (of A Year of Reading) for the wonderful site, Choice Literacy, about digital writing. The first part of the interview focused on how I use tools of digital media, personally, as a writer, and why, and how the National Writing Project helped nurture me in that direction (which it surely did!). Franki asked some great questions about how a teacher explores possibilities before bringing those ideas into the classroom, and how one goes about doing that. Her inquiry really had me thinking and reflecting. The second part of the interview was about student learning and how a teacher can consider the possibilities for digital composition, particularly around the gains that I see when we use technology for learning. Again, her questions allowed me to reflect, and consider what I do with my students from a different angle. The podcasts will be published at Choice Literacy sometime in the coming months. (There are some great podcasts at the site’s itunes home already.)

game interview

Then, yesterday, I sat down with a student of mine and we both got interviewed by some students in George Mayo’s class down in Maryland. They are working on a video project with the central question of “Are video games bad for you?” My student and I discussed our video game design project, and the interviews asked some really great questions about the value of gaming in the classroom. It was interesting and a great opportunity to highlight one of my students, who really dove into our game design project. The interviews are going to be playing his game and working that experience into their video project. It should be interesting to see, when it is done.

And, I am working on scheduling a Google Hangout with a college class being taught by a friend who was a leader of the Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative. He wants to have his students chat with a teacher who uses digital media.

While there is a lot of scheduling that has to happen for these kind of interviews, I realize that I get a lot out of it. Questions from outsiders force us to reflect on just what it is that we are doing, and why. It forces you to move beyond a certain comfort zone and think through the rationale of why technology can enhance a learning space, or not. So, I appreciate the opportunity to engage in these kinds of forums, and I will share out the links from various interviews as they become public.

Peace (in the Q&A),


Potential Massachusetts Ballot Issue: Teacher Evaluation

I’m trying to learn more about a proposed ballot issue put forth by a group called Stand for Children (which is a national group that seeks to influence teacher evaluations) in my state of Massachusetts. The ballot initiative — entitled An Act to Promote Excellence in Public Schools — has apparently gained enough signatures to be considered by our state Legislature to be put to voters. The Legislature has not yet taken up the measure.

The ballot initiative came to my attention because two colleagues and former Massachusetts teachers-of-the-year — Michael Flynn, who teaches at my school, and Wilma Ortiz, who is part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project — have joined a lawsuit with other state educators, seeking to block the ballot initiative. Flynn has been part of a state effort by our governor to create a new teacher merit system that has a balance of test scores, administrative evaluation and more, and that system has barely begun to get put into place.

The key, as I understand it, to Stand for Children’s initiative would be to mostly remove collective bargaining from the equation, and eliminate the aspect of seniority, too. This would ostensibly free up principals to evaluate, and then rehire or freely fire, teachers who don’t meet the standards. A dismissal could be arbitrated, but (according to the Massachusetts Attorney General summary of the initiative), “In deciding whether the grounds for dismissal had been proven, the arbitrator would not consider a teacher’s seniority or length of service. ”

I can’t help but admire the use of rhetoric by Stand for Children. Who wouldn’t want to Stand for Children? Who wouldn’t want to “promote excellence in public school”? The accompanying website for Massachusetts is entitled “Great Teachers: Great Schools” and who wouldn’t want that?

I did a little research about Stand for Children. I don’t know who is backing the movement financially other than donations from the public, but the organization does seem to spring up as a PAC in various states, with similar themes as the one they are working on here in Massachusetts. (A 2010 article in the Illinois Times noted that Stand for Children had contributed more than $600,000 to political candidates, so it must have some deep pockets somewhere). According to Wikipedia, the organization emerged from a rally in Washington DC and was founded by Jonah Edelman (son of civil rights pioneer Marian Wright Edelman) and Eliza Leighton as a means to improve the lives of young people.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the developments here in my state. You might want to do the same, too.

Peace (in the news),



A Giant in a House of Patriots

It’s not easy, living in the heart of New England being a diehard New York sports fan. In baseball season, my Yankees’ spirit gets bashed left and right by the Red Sox fans who take delight in punching my buttons — in school and at home (and yes, all in good fun). Last night, I was one of only a few Giants fans in a party full of Patriots fans, and I was the lone New York cheerleader in my house when we came home to watch the second half. My sons went to bed depressed.

I was fine.


I expect some tired faces today in class with my students, most of whom are rabid Patriots’ fans, and I will be sure to just tweak the young fans just enough … but I won’t wear my Giants’ shirt today to school. Sometimes, you have to pull back. But I just might wear my tie …

Peace (in the victory),