“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

New England Writing Project Retreat

I’m off to Connecticut this weekend for the New England Writing Project Retreat, which is a gathering of the “tribe,” so to speak, as teachers in various writing projects around New England come together to write, share resources and think about our writing project work (we are part of the National Writing Project).

The theme this year is around how to best use technology resources for recruiting new teachers into our sites, and then how to use technology to keep folks connected to the work around the teaching of writing. So, as you can imagine, this is right up my alley!

There is also time to write and tonight, after a dinner and some discussions, we are invited to head out to an Open Mic night and the Connecticut folks are hoping that we bring some writing along to share. There will also be high school writers sharing their work. I love mixing things up like that and I have a poem that I wrote earlier this week that I will read.

On tap for the retreat are topics such as strengthening a presence on the web,  the pedagogy of the socially networked (person? student? teacher? not clear) by my old friend, Paul Oh, who will be bringing in another friend, Andrea Z., via some teleconferencing system (skype?). It will be good to see Paul again and also, to see Andrea on the big screen.

For me, too, it is a sort of return to some old grounds. I went to college right down the street and often hit the bars (and played at a few bars with my band) at UConn, and I lived in Storrs for a bit of time, too. I also wrote at the nearby newspaper, The Willimantic Chronicle, as a sports reporter, although I did not know what I was doing. I guess that’s how you cut your teeth, right?

I’ll probably reflect out about the retreat over at the NWP Walkabout site.

Peace (in Conn),
Kevin

A Mentor of Mine gets Featured, Props

When I first starting teaching and did not know what I was doing in the classroom, I took a course offered by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and I was so thankful for the support and philosophy around writing that I discovered there that I became completely immersed into the work of the writing project. One of the teachers in that course was Bruce Penniman, who was also the site director of our WMWP site at the time, and I learned a lot about teaching, and leading, from Bruce. Much of it was no explicit (except for the class). Instead, I learned by watching and listening and stealing ideas that had potential for me (Bruce did a whole unit around reading the Bible as literature … I didn’t go there.)

Bruce, a former Massachusetts Teacher of the Year, retired a few years ago, and stepped down from his official duties from the WMWP, but he wrote a book about teaching English in high school and yesterday, I opened up my Council Chr0nicle journal from National Council of Teachers of English, and found a nice profile of Bruce and his teaching strategies in there.

Read the article online

It was through working with Bruce that I began to use the concept of what Bruce calls a “stakes” approach to writing, in which students are working for different audiences and therefore, different stakes. For example, in low stakes writing, they are writing in their notebooks, mostly for themselves. In middle stakes, students are writing something to be shared in our class only. High stakes writing is writing for the Web or a newspaper, or some wider audience. By viewing their writing through these lens, I realized I could put more effort into various phases of writing. In order words, I don’t need to correct everything but I can focus on what work I want to do with my young writers. For me, as a young teacher, this changed everything.

You can view my modified version of Bruce’s Stakes Writing Approach on this Google Doc and also, see the website that I created to map out my writing projects and curriculum over the school year, which reflects this approach (I  hope).

Product Image

Bruce’s book — Building the English Classroom: Foundations, Support and Success — is out now and the website for the book has some PDF samples that you can check out to see if it is right for you.

I’m grateful that I had Bruce in my circle of people I could learn from. Who did you have in your first years that you could look to for help and understanding? Or, um, theft of good teaching practice?

Peace (in the Bruce),
Kevin

“Free” but not taken

I am a bit disappointed that a morning conference/workshop that our Western Massachusetts Writing Project was planning for teachers in our region later this month sparked almost no interest whatsoever from anyone (it was open to anyone, not just WMWP folks). Only six people signed up (two of those are colleagues at my school) and so we made the decision this week to cancel the event.

I am trying now to think about why this is.

In the past two years, we’ve had about 25 people sign up for similar technology events and this year, we had the theme of “No-Cost Technology” for teachers and classrooms, thinking it dovetailed nicely with the state of the economy and the limited resources of teachers.

Our WMWP Tech Team was going to show how to use Glogster EDU, and Open Office software, and Voicethread, Wallwisher and more.  It was advertised as a hands-on workshop, full of play with these tools and guidance on the possibilities in the classroom. These tools are all parts of the tapestry of the Net that are so easy to use and cost no money. I hoped there would be interest and thought there would be.

But maybe the time of year is not so good (we are in the midst of state testing), or folks are not interested in “free” but in a special focus (in other years, for example, we focused in on digital storytelling and technology across the curriculum). Maybe the location wasn’t convenient for folks. Did the token registration fee of $30 drive some people away? (Did the fact that there was any kind of fee for a conference billed as free tech strike folks as odd?)

Or maybe technology integration into the classroom just is not a priority for many folks these days, which alarms me a bit.

So, we canceled the event and now we, the WMWP Tech Team, have another Saturday to spend with our families, which is not such a bad thing, right?

Peace (in the reflection),
Kevin

The workings of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project

I spent a good part of the day yesterday at a leadership retreat for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. We worked in collaborative groups to explore the varied programs we are offering for teachers and students, and then began to lay the foundation for a vision for the future of our site. The writing project is always looking ahead (not withstanding concerns about funding at the federal level, of course) and the visioning process is often done as a group, and not by an individual. It’ s so heartening to be in a room of such smart people, particularly as we discussed strategies for creating leadership opportunities for even more people in our network.

On the chalkboard, our site director had etched out all of the work of our site from last year and it covered the entire chalkboard. I jotted down what she had written because I am working on a redesign of our website and it seemed like very useful information.

See for yourself:

Invitational Summer Institute

Co-directors: Joanne and Dawn

(A four-week intensive summer program that includes writing, research and inquiry, sharing of ideas and connecting with other teachers in many content areas.)

Orientation

Post-Invitational Summer Institute Inquiry Groups/Projects

Invitational Summer Institute Inquiry Task Force

Continuity
Co-director: Sherill

(Programs and offerings that allow teachers to remain connected to the work of the writing project site.)

Digital Is technology resources developed by WMWP Technology Team

Massachusetts Writing Project

New England Writing Project

Executive Board

Teachers as Writers

Writing Response groups

Writing Contest (annual)

iAnthology online network

Writing Mini-Marathons

Summer program: Teachers as Writers

Retirees network

Newsletter (twice a year)

In-Service
Co-director: Tracy

(Programs that support teachers through professional development sessions to learn more about literacy and writing instruction.)

English Language Learners Network

Technology Spring Conferences

Content-area Literacy Inquiry

School/district-based in-service/Professional Development

Department of Youth Services Initiative

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Summer Institutes

Literacy/ Non-fiction Seminar

Expository/Persuasive Writing Seminar

MTEL Test Support Group

Best Practices Fall Conference (annual Fall event)

Certificate in Writing Program at UMass

Living Holyoke Institute

Youth and Family Outreach

Co-director: Joanne

(Programs that reach young writers and connect with families through writing, technology and literacy).

SummerWRITE for Youths

Smith Voke (Claymation/Comics)

UMass SummerWRITE

Springfield YMCA digital storytelling

Springfield Housing Authority digital storytelling

Peace (in the reach),
Kevin

Our No-Cost Tech for Teachers event

If you are part of the Pioneer Valley in Western Massachusetts and you want to have a little “play time” with technology tools that don’t cost a dime, then consider joining us in a few weeks for a few hours.

The flier and registration form is here.

We’ll be exploring sites like Glogster, Wallwisher and more and reflect upon the possibilities for the classroom. We’ve kept the cost low and there is room for all technology users — from beginners on up.

I hope to see you there!

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin