Articulating some thoughts on Literacy and Writing

I’ve been asked by my school principal to join in a conversation on Monday about literacy and Language Arts in our school district. Our district focus next year will be to revamp our Language Arts curriculum, or at least move in that direction, and the administration is trying to bring together some teachers to discuss what literacy should look like in our schools.We’re planning a two-day Literacy Event for our district in the fall, too, and they want to get ideas from us.

I am trying to articulate what my own ideas are about Language Arts before that meeting and so, true to my nature, I am using this writing as a way to process some of my thoughts. Bare with me and please feel free to add your own ideas.

  • We write to learn. This is a central tenet in my thinking. We use writing to understand the world, to make sense of information and to reflect upon our own experiences. Writing gives us private inroads into making sense of things. When we write, we organize, articulate and explore the things we know, the things we want to know, and the things we don’t quite yet know.
  • Language Arts is all four spheres. Yes, we focus a lot on writing and reading, but listening and talking are also important elements of literacy. I wish we did more in the areas of listening (I try to work that in to as many lessons as possible) and speaking (beyond just oral reports).
  • A “Stakes Approach” to writing provides multiple opportunities for expression. I stole this one from my friend, Bruce Penniman. The Stakes Approach is built on the concept of tiered writing opportunities, moving from low stakes (journal writing, writing for the self, etc) that is not necessarily shared with anyone to mid stakes (collaborative writing in the classroom, informal projects, etc.) that is for a comfortable audience to high stakes (published work, performances, etc.) that moves into the bigger world. This spectrum of writing allows students to try on different hats and use different voices and concentrate on different skills. (See this Google Doc for my own organization of Stakes Writing).
  • Writing across the Curriculum is a key to learning. We need to integrate Language Arts more into all curricular areas so that writing is not just stories composed on paper, but thinking put into words. Math, in particular, gets short-changed with our fairly rote district-wide curriculum. It’s mostly drill and kill, and not the reasoning. For me, this has meant writing prompts connected to social studies, and digital projects connected with Science and Math. I’m not doing enough, but I am aware how important it is. (Note: my colleagues in the other disciplines do a lot of writing with the students, too, so it is not a vacuum.)
  • Technology and multi-media should be components of Language Arts. Students are highly engaged and very aware of audience when they start using technology for showcasing their knowledge and understanding. They rise to the occaision when they realize that they are in the high stakes field of writing — the web is the world.  The Web 2.0 opportunities opens up many doors for collaboration, integration of resources and multiple angles for students of all diverse learning backgrounds. Even the NCTE has come out strongly in favor of this kind of literacy. Given the world today and the world unfolding for tomorrow, to ignore this possibility to help show students how to “create” and “compose” (a better term) with technology would have terrible consequences.

What do you think? Am I on the right path? What am I missing?

Peace (in articulation),
Kevin

What my tagline means ….

Long ago, when I first started this blog, I added a tagline quote from Charlie Parker. I thought carefully about that tagline and wanted it to capture the concept that this would be a place where I would explore the intersections of writing and technology myself so that I could consider the implications for my students in the classroom.

Thus: “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn.”

Yesterday, I was asked by my friend Christina to explain what that tagline means. It is going to be used for a book by the National Writing Project on the topic of digital writing in the classroom (exciting!) and it only took me a few minutes to write out my response. The response came quick because I think about this idea all time when I am tinkering and connecting and doing my odds and ends on this blog.

Here is what I wrote to her:

This quote means a lot to me because it captures the concept that you have live the world in order to understand it. As teachers, we don’t often spend enough time exploring technology and writing ourselves before bringing it into the classroom. But I would argue that this kind of exploration is the key to understanding the possibilities of learning and critical thinking of our students.

I am also a saxophone player and as a kid, Charlie Parker was a musician that I idolized (not for his drug use, which I learned about later). His focus on his own vision of music and his creativity and imagination, and the way he brought the world into his music and his music into the world, touched something in me in a way that has remained with me until this day. My friends had pictures of athletes and rock and rollers on their walls; I had Bird.

A few years ago, at the Hudson Valley Writing Project, I sat in on a session where folks were using Photostory to create visual poems. I drove home that day with my own poem for Charlie Parker in my head and when I got home, I created this:

Peace (in what it all means),
Kevin

Jim Henson and the Muppets on Display

I love the creativity of the late Jim Henson. His work transformed entertainment for young people (and their parents) in ways that still affect us today. He knew you didn’t need to talk to down to kids. You needed to reach them in meaningful ways using powerful characters, sense of humor and lessons that did not hit you over the head (unless you were being chased by the Swedish Chef). Puppets provided the outlet for Henson and his crew, and that energy is something I try to bring to my classroom of young writers and performers when we do our own puppet unit each year (see the Puppet Website from this year).
I found this neat video that I needed to share:

Peace (without strings),
Kevin

The New Dog, Duke

We got ourselves a new dog. Some of you may remember that we put down our old dog, Bella, about 18 months ago and we have pined for a new one since then. So, we “rescued” this lab/hound mix and he is such a sweetheart. His name is “Duke” and he is about 9 months old. The boys just love him and he is loving them right back.

Peace (in dogs),
Kevin

PS — this is my submission to the Photofridays project for this week. Come join us!

Envisioning a Digital Writing Resource and other creative ventures

I’m taking a bit of a break from blogging because I have been working on a few different projects that have me otherwise engaged. All of them are pretty exciting, I think, although for different reasons. And I continue to blog small poems/podcasts every day over at Bud’s blog site, where he is posting daily pictures as inspiration for poetry. It’s been a lot of fun and challenging, too. The poems are pretty rough but I am enjoying the ideas running through them and it is fascinating to think about photos as inspiration for writing.

This past weekend, I joined a group of other teachers in the National Writing Project to begin planning a future online space to showcase ways in which technology and writing are coming together in meaningful ways for students. This is not going to be a “how to” site, but a “why do it” and “what does it all mean” site for sharing and reflecting. The philosophy behind the concept is to design a portal and insight into projects, with reflections. The conceit is that we are “beyond the moment” of technology making an impact on learning and now we need to understand what is going on with it. The NWP is a partner with the MacArthur Foundation on this venture, so there are many exciting connections to be made with other MacArthur partners in the future.

I am working on a prototype of a resource around last year’s Many Voices for Darfur project, in which my students joined others to use technology (podcasting, images, videos, etc.) for social action. As I go back to that time, I realize now just how powerful it was for my students as they joined hundreds of others from around the world to advocate for peace in the Sudan.

Meanwhile, on a personal musical note, a friend and I are in the midst of developing an entire “song cycle” story that is a bit hard to explain, but it is a big project that tells the life of a man through the use of poetry, with songs as part of it all, as he struggles to connect with the world, falls in and out of love, and then comes to terms with life. It stretches from childhood to the end of his life. We are thinking of this as a multimedia production, although what that will look like we can’t quite say yet. It’s been a great source of inspiration to be writing the poems of this story and also, the songs. In the past two weeks, I have composed about eight new songs for this project and I can “see” the whole thing before us, even if I can’t quite articulate it yet.

So, how about you? What have you been up to?

Peace (in sharing),

Kevin

Home Movies: The Squop

I blogged a few weeks about the movie that my son was making. Well, I helped him finish it this weekend and it is a hoot. It is all about an imaginary creature called The Squop that first allegedly eats our cat and then our youngest son. He even wrote lyrics to a song based on We Three Kings for his cast of animated Pea Detectives that we all sang.

Meanwhile, we decided to set up a blog for him to showcase the movies he has been making. Check out Crazy Cartoonz.

Peace (on video),
Kevin

Teaching the New Writing (book project)

It’s been a long, long road but the book collection on writing with technology, and assessment, is about to be put out by Teachers College Press. I am a co-editor with two esteemed colleagues — both well-respected college professors (one now retired) in the field of literacy — and also I am a writer of one of the chapters (on digital picture books).

The book collection, due out in May but now advertised in TCP materials, is called Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change and Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom.

It was about 2 1/2 years ago that they approached me about the idea of the book collection and that began an interesting adventure of seeking contributors, weeding through submissions, editing and proofreading, and writing, of course. Our hope is that the book provides some focus for how to not only institute technology into a writing curriculum, but also, how one can balance the creativity of student work with state assessments (not easily, we conclude).

Cynthia Selfe provided us with this nice quote:

“One of the beauties of this collection is that it explores multimodal composition and assessment across levels of schooling, demonstrating that elementary, secondary, and collegiate teachers work best when they share understandings. Perhaps most importantly, this book reasserts a value on innovation and creativity within composition classrooms.”
Cynthia L. Selfe, Humanities Distinguished Professor, Ohio State University

I’ll write more when the publishing date is upon us.

Peace (in publication),
Kevin