A New Logo for Western Mass Writing Project

The Western Massachusetts Writing Project
We’re moving (slowly) towards a redesign of our website for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. We hope to be done before the end of the calendar year, and one of the projects that our site director took on was redesigning and updating our WMWP logo. For a long time, it was a gray-scale feather pen that seemed very antiquated.

So, this summer, we used a graphic consultant to come up with new designs and a few weeks, at our annual Best Practices event, we introduced the new logo to folks, who seemed to really like it. (One of the WMWP Leadership Team — it wasn’t me, honest — noted that we moved from a feather to an ink pen and maybe the next phase might be a computer mouse).

The logo and website design is part of an overall push for more inquiry into our site’s mission and how we can best put ourselves out there as a resource for teachers in the Pioneer Valley. Two years ago, we adopted a mission statement that is guiding us in all of our work:

The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

Peace (in the writing project work),
Kevin

On Language and Power: a WMWP Keynote Address

Dr. Floris Wilma Ortiz-Marrero gave a powerful keynote address to the Western Massachusetts Writing Project on Saturday on the topic of language, power, and teaching to all students, particularly those whose second language is English. Wilma is the 2010 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and a fearless and tireless advocate for English Language Learner students. She is also a longtime leader in the National Writing Project’s ELL Network.

Here, Wilma advocated for recognizing the authenticity of the cultural values and languages that students bring to the classroom, and use those understands as the underpinning for learning. Wilma urges all of us to open our eyes to possibilities, and even shares a few anecdotes of her own stumbles in the classroom (including a funny exchange in which she wanted her students to talk about what makes a good “speaker” but one of her students assumed she meant music speakers, not human speakers.)

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

Some Words about the Writing Project

One of my mentors in the early years of teaching and in the National Writing Project, Bruce Penniman, received the 2010 Pat Hunter Award at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project event this weekend. To say that Bruce nurtured WMWP during his tenure as site director would be a vast understatement. And although retired from teaching, Bruce continues to be a force in education to be reckoned with. (See his book, Building the English Classroom: Foundations, Support and Success, which was published last year)

Bruce instills leadership in those he works with by instilling trust of ideas and the confidence that the person can get things done. Although I did not know Patricia Hunter, who helped found the WMWP, she apparently had the same qualities.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

The Glogster Session at WMWP

glogster website
(Go to my Glogster Website Resource)

Yesterday morning, as part of our annual Best Practices event with Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I presented a session on using Glogster.edu in the classroom. I had about 25 people in the session and guess what? The technology worked! They all had computers to work on, the site was not blocked by the University, and they had plenty of time to play around with creating a project and reflecting on the use of Glogster in their classroom.

Yea!

The things that I emphasized in the workshop were:

  • Teaching the elements of design principles
  • Copyright issues
  • Using multimedia for composition
  • The difference between regular Glogster and Glogster.edu
  • Technology being a learning tool for all curriculum areas
  • The importance of writing before technology (ie, planning, drafting, revising)
  • Advertising on websites and some strategies for avoiding it

Then, I set them up with accounts in my Glogster account, and let them have about 50 minutes (more than half the session) in playtime, which they all greatly appreciated. You can talk and talk about Glogster, but this is one tool that you have to experience to really begin to understand it.

As the Exit Slip, I had them use Wallwisher to leave a note on how they might envision using Glogster in their classroom:

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

WMWP’s Journey of Language Diversity Inquiry

Two years ago, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project went through an intensive self-look at the work we were doing and the teachers we were serving (or not serving) through a National Writing Project initiative called Project Outreach. The results of that study is now shaping the way we view ourselves as an organization of writers and teachers, from the placesĀ  where we are offering our professional development, to ways in which we advertise our work, to the philosophical backbone of the decisions we make as an organization.

This year, we are launching into a theme of Inquiry around Language Diversity, and so many of our programs will be viewed through this lens. For example, this Saturday is our annual Best Practices event — a fall gathering for workshops and reunions — and the sessions hing around the theme of language and diversity. One session is about Code Switching. Another is about Validating Culture Wealth and Knowledge of ELL students. Yet another is helping students advocate for themselves.

Interesting.

Meanwhile, in conjunction with a UMass professor of linguistics (Lisa Green), our site is launching a year-long inquiry study group called Language Diversity in the Classroom. These sessions will center on attitudes towards language, native languages of all students, and how to understand and use language diversity for learning opportunities.

Finally, our WMWP Executive Board is going to be doing various pre-meeting readings around the diversity and language issues, and using those readings for our writing-into-the-meeting activities. The other day, we began with a passage from Paul Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and used it as a prompt to write about our own “hopeful inquiry.”

The passage from Friere ended with this:

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

Here’s what I wrote, hanging on the “invention and reinvention” of the Friere passage.

I am the bear;
transformed by inner dreams of slumber.
I emerge hopeful, into the world
that I never saw coming,
yet brace myself for changes afoot.

A yawn; the pain of hunger;
I am driven forward towards new terrain
in hopes I find footing
along a path that I will create here myself.

I invent this world anew
each time, each season, I emerge from darkness
into light.

What’s your hopeful inquiry?

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

“Skyping in” to class

skype into class
Yesterday was the second time in two weeks that I was asked to join a graduate level class for a chat around technology and writing, and I do find it fascinating that technology allows us to do that. It is a bit odd to be so removed from the room, and the quality of video would come and go depending on the connection. Still, it’s a great way to bring visitors to the classroom from afar.

Last week, I was “in” Mike Mansour’s class. Yesterday, I skyped into a class offered through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project called “Writing and the Teaching of Writing,” which is a course that I took a few years ago myself.

My focus yesterday was on how writing is at the core of so much technology that students can be using in the classroom, whether it is blogging, using wikis, creating movies and webcomics, or podcasting. In just about everything, writing is what drives the content of the learning and the technology is merely the tool for composition and expression.

The teachers (aka grad students) asked some great questions, such as:

  • Where does one even begin with technology? (start small, think it through, do it yourself first.)
  • How do you deal with firewall issues? (make friends with your tech coordinator, bring them into your classroom, justify the unblocking of the site for learning)
  • How do you bring administrators and parents on board? (lay the groundwork early, write out your rationale, update your principal regularly on progress)
  • How do you learn about all of this? (RSS feeds, social networking, reading and adapting ideas. I recommended Troy Hick’s Digital Writing Workshop to the class as a text they could use to think through technology connections with writing)

Peace (in the sharing),

Kevin

WMWP Colleague is Mass Teacher of the Year

(Wilma Ortiz, on the left, with friend, Karen)

Yesterday, I received the news that a colleague of mine in the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been chosen as the 2010 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Wilma Ortiz, who works at a local middle school, certainly deserves the recognition. She is compassionate and passionate about kids, particularly around English Language Arts. She will be a fierce advocate for social justice, too, and for making sure that the issues of equity will be in the minds of all the audiences she addresses.

Of that, I am sure.

See the news article about Wilma and another article

Peace (in inspiration),
Kevin

Why We Write: WMWP Responds

Yesterday, I wrote about as Wordle created from responses to the question of Why Do You Write which was posed to incoming teachers at our Summer Institute for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. A few weeks ago, at an executive board meeting of WMWP, I asked the same question as a writing prompt (we write at every meeting) and then used my Flip camera to capture the remarks. The result is the video here, which I think is a powerful statement about the way writing gets at the heart of learning, for our students and for ourselves.

Peace (in the writing),
Kevin

Why We Write at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project

Yesterday, I played a small role in the orientation day for incoming participants of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Summer Institute. It was a day for orientation and for folks to begin connecting with each other. There are 17 teachers who will spend almost all of July together, sharing teaching ideas, launching classroom research projects, writing and offering peer feedback, and coming together as a community.

My role as technology liaison was to bring them all onto our social networking site for the Summer Institute. We returned to Ning, although I know changes are afoot with the company. Next year, we won’t be with Ning, I am sure. But yesterday, they were all quickly signed up as members, creating profiles and exploring our private network. No one in the room had used or heard of Ning, but almost everyone is on Facebook, so the concept was easy to understand (which is different than just a few years ago. Believe me!)

We had a writing prompt ready for them: Why do you write? Their responses were powerful on many levels, so I took what they wrote and put it into Wordle to create a collaborative word cloud of their ideas to share with them at our site. It’s pretty nifty. (see above or go here for the large image).

Tomorrow, I’ll share out the results of the same prompt when I used it at an executive board meeting of the WMWP folks. (hint: we made a video collage of our responses).

Peace (in the writing),
Kevin

In Praise of Teachers …

Yesterday, I wrote about a workshop I was to give during the afternoon in a school in the large city down the road (I have another one this afternoon). My idea is to show free/no-cost tools to teachers in hopes of giving them time to play in the workshop and envision use in the classroom.

I sing in praise of the 20 teachers in the session because, despite emails back two weeks and urges from me to the administration and tech person to check out the sites and unblock the filter, there were hurdles galore.

First, the filter was full-on, blocking most of the sites that we intended to use. I had to run through the halls and offices to find the administrator, who had to call the tech support person (in other building) and then finally, most of what I needed was unblocked.

Then, the browsers on the computers in the lab where we were located were not updated and had no Adobe Flash software. You realize when Flash is not there how important it is to so many sites (maybe Steve Jobs has a point!). And of course, I did not have any administrative access so I could not load Flash myself. Yikes! I asked for patience from the group of teachers and began tinkering around and came up with a solution that worked, but was confusing: we needed to use one browser (Firefox) for one site, and then another browser (Internet Explorer) for the other sites.

For many of us, this does not seem like a big deal.

But I know from experience that the last thing you want is for teachers who little technology background to have too many hurdles. It just reinforces in their heads how difficult it is to do this “tech stuff” and they quit before they start.

That didn’t happen.

This group of teachers was game for whatever I threw out there and were ready to play and explore. I bounced around a lot, helping navigate browsers and websites, but it worked. No one stormed out of the room. No one threw up their hands in frustration. They stuck with it, and soon, they were putting up notes on a Wallwisher, making a webcomic and creating a Glog.

We’ll see how it goes today …

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin