Gathering Resources on PARCC (via Diigo Outliner)

Parcc Outline in Diigo
I am working with a team as consultants to an urban STEM middle school, where PARCC is on the horizon and administrators and teachers are starting to get nervous.  They work in a large school district, where data and test numbers matter in what one could only say is out of proportion to the work being done by these teachers. I don’t blame them for getting nervous about PARCC. There are shifts coming and the sense in the school is that students are not quite ready for the expectations of the writing. Maybe not the teachers, either.

So, as much to help them as to help me and my colleagues (PARCC is coming for us, too, but not this year) think about this testing, I tinkered around with a new tool in Diigo called Outliner, which allows you to outline bookmarks with notes. It seemed to work pretty well for me.

See what you think, and feel free to use any of the resources. Notice my first two resources and also my last category .. keeping teaching and learning in perspective as best as we can, you know?

Check out my PARCC Outliner Resource

Peace (yep, PARCC),
Kevin

Words Upon the Wall: A Gift of Song

For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.

Peace (with words on the wall),
Kevin

Honoring Anne Herrington at WMWP

(I thought I had shared this out earlier but I guess not …. never too late …)

Anne Herrington, whose work in the field of composition and digital writing, as well as her leadership for many years in our Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the National Writing Project, was honored this past weekend with the Pat Hunter Award at WMWP’s Best Practices.

I’ve known Anne for many years and have worked closely with her on many projects, and her work and inquiry and approach to issues always struck me as very insightful and full of wonder. She led our WMWP through a very difficult time in recent years, before stepping down as WMWP site director, and her continued interest in digital literacies in many forms helped inform my own work as a classroom teacher.

Here, Anne accepts the Pat Hunter Award (named after one of the earlier site directors of our writing project whose legacy still shapes who we are) with her usual insightful commentary on the work we do, and the learning community we are part of with the writing project.

Peace (to Anne),
Kevin

Scenes from a PD (Nurturing a Culture of Writers)

Six Word Memoirs

I have the good fortune to be part of a team through our Western Massachusetts Writing Project who is working with an urban middle school around the theme of “Nurturing a Culture of Writers” this year. I won’t say everything is completely smooth and easy. The teachers we are working with are overwhelmed with initiatives this year, and we are having them do a lot of reading and planning around writing with their students.

Six Word Shoutouts

The other day, as part of our opening “writing into the day” activity, we had them write Six Word Memoirs and then, Six Word Shout-outs — noticing someone else and giving them praise. You’d be surprised at how powerful six words can be and how this simple activity, with both its inward and outward look, really changed the tone of the session, and set the stage for some incredible discussions and activities around writing in the content areas.

I worked with math teachers for part of the day, and talking about using writing in the math class is always tricky. We used the “newspaper front page” activity as an example of public writing (which was our theme). We had fun creating articles and then discussing connections to content understanding.

Newspaper Front Page

We were very pleased with how our professional development day went with these teachers, who are all so dedicated to helping their students make progress with writing and higher order thinking. I worry that they are being spread so thin by an ever-increasing series of mandates from their district, and from our state.  You can see it in their faces, and in their body language. I admire their resiliency, and appreciate that they bought into our writing PD over the four hours we were with them.

Peace (in making PD count),
Kevin

The Conundrum of Talking about Access, Equity, and Diversity

The topic at the Connected Courses is all on the topic of access, equity and diversity. While I know the lens is to think about how to build and facilitate online learning spaces that reflect these values, the theme and topic got me thinking about my Western Massachusetts Writing Project. A number of years ago, we were involved in the National Writing Project’s Project Outreach initiative as a way to do some soul-searching about the teachers we were reaching (or not reaching) and the students who were being impacted by our PD programs (or not being impacted).

WMWP Project Outreach from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

The study looked at regional demographics, socio-economics, membership in our local writing project, surveys and written reflections of various people within the writing project and beyond the writing project, and so much more. The result of all that work were clear signs that we were not doing enough to target our urban centers and our teachers of color, and therefore, the students in those urban and rural schools, particularly where poverty was a significant issue. We had some changes to make if we believed we needed to reach a wider audience with our work.

These days, as we consider PD programs for schools and teachers, we now make sure we consider issues of equity and access as part of our criteria. We moved some of our WMWP board meetings into a nearby urban center, away from the University of Massachusetts. We are using NWP funding for PD programs targeted for schools in underserved areas with struggling socio-economic issues.

These insights also led to the collaborative writing of a Vision Statement aimed to reflect a diverse stand.

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.

But I have to say, the push into social justice and the guiding of our writing project into themes of equity and access and diversity has not been without its cost. We’ve lost long-time writing project members who worry that the original mission of helping teachers and their students with writing has been sidelines by the push into a more politicized stance. Some have grown a bit weary of the constant social justice themes. These are not educators who don’t believe in these issues, just that by making them so visible and so constant, we’ve made those themes the emerging identity of the writing project.

Frankly, I find myself mixed on the whole issue. I do believe in increasing access, instilling equity in the educational system and fostering diversity so that we have different points from which to connect and speak. I strongly believe in the ethos of the National Writing Project, of teachers teaching teachers. I hope that the work we do filters down into the classrooms of urban, rural and suburban communities, nurturing a generation of strong writers. I think that our writing project’s advocacy against standardized testing as the sole measure of student growth and, possibly, teacher evaluations is commendable.

We’re planning a spring symposium right now that meshes issues of technology, social justice and educational assessment issues under one roof for discussions and workshops and break-out sessions, and conversations. We’re even trying to hold the symposium in a new UMass facility that just opened up in the large urban center of our region.

Still, when many discussions come filtered through the social justice lens, it can feel as if the “writing” part of things and the “teaching” elements get lost in the rhetorical shuffle, replaced by a political action lens. And to be honest, the teachers we are most trying to reach with our social justice themes are swamped with other requirements for their profession. Adding a symposium or weekend event to their over-worked schedule is tricky and requires a bit of public relations/media savviness of our part. We need to make the offering practical while also diving deep into some sensitive issues.

The topics of “access, equity, diversity” are so highly rhetorically-charged in education that we sometimes lose sight of the kids, struggling to learn in classrooms in schools without enough resources. And don’t forget the teachers, our colleagues who are stressed by the increasing strain of data collection and growth charts. It’s all about the balance.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin

 

Poetry Analysis with Meme Creation

I had the good fortune to sit in on a workshop at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the topic was how to use memes for literary analysis, with a look at poetry in particular. The presenter was a middle school teacher, Jacqueline Desmarais, and she had us looking at memes and then using them to analyze Emily Dickinson’s poem, I’m Nobody – Who Are You?. This piece speaks to fame, and privacy, so connects nicely to the issue of viral media in this modern age.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one’s name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!

Jacqueline asked us to create a few memes, based on the poem itself, and here are two that I came up with, as rebuttals to privacy issues.

gcat

pearsonmeme

Next, we had to write an analysis of our meme creation, which is a smart way to bring thinking into the activity.

This is what I wrote:

I chose Grumpy Cat and Dos Equis man for my two memes inspired by the Emily Dickson poem, I’m Nobody. Staying within context and structure of the meme can be tricky, as you are fitting an idea into a prescribed slot. Plus, the visual literacy skills rise to the surface here. Add in the tone of humor or satire or sarcasm, and you notice rather quickly that tere’s a lot going on with composing a meme.

For the Grumpy Cat meme, I used the caption “Face Recognition Software Found Me …. It was awful.”

For the Dos Equis meme, I wrote, “I don’t always share my data with Pearson…. but when I do, I’m Nobody.”

I was aiming to get at the poem’s central idea of controlling your identity, and keeping that privacy sacred. In these times where corporations are leveraging technology and digital media, and social networking spaces, for their own financial gains, it is increasingly difficult to keep that privacy wall up, short of not participating in the technological revolution now underway. With our students, this is an issue, and teaching them about the benefits and the drawbacks of engagement with digital media and online spaces is a critical part of preparing them for the world.

We can do this without the fear tactics – of bringing in the district attorney’s office and state police units to talk about violations and legalities. We need to put the agency of privacy and identity into the hands of our students. They need tools. They need clear information. They need us to be on their side, and not always in a punitive manner. Using memes to help teach this lesson could be just one way into the digital composition.

What I was thinking was a natural extension from this lesson is the idea of a remix, of changing the tenor and tone of the meme, and for making their own localized memes – cultural references that only can be “read” by a local audience (school-based, for example). This would provide some intriguing discussions around the concept of viral information, in both the possibilities and the drawbacks.

Peace (in the meme),
Kevin

WMWP Keynote Anne Marie Osheyak: We Are Not JUST Teachers

Anne Marie Osheyak was our keynote speaker at last weekend’s Western Massachusetts Writing Project Best Practices conference. Anne Marie is the 2014 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year and an advocate of social justice in education, as well as a powerful educator with strong views on the profession of teaching.

This video collects some of the elements of her keynote address, which was met with a standing ovation from the conference as she reminded us to “reclaim our voices” as teachers in this age of data points and assessments, and that none of us are “just teachers.”

We ARE teachers.

Peace (in the talk),
Kevin

What’s Your Community? The National Day on Writing

Paper Circuitry NDOW Collage4 2014
Today is the sixth annual National Day on Writing, sponsored by the National Council of Teachers of English and various partners (like the National Writing Project) and this year’s theme is Writing Your Community. I’ve been mulling over how best to do this, and decided that mapping out communities — either literally or metaphorically — made a lot of sense.

Check out this workshop that I led at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project this weekend, in which we played around with paper circuitry to illuminate nodes on maps of our communities. This workshop was part of our annual Best Practices conference, and the group of teachers were highly engaged in this hands-on activity around transforming notebooks with circuits and lights.

Peace (in the notebook),
Kevin

Short Video Vignettes from WMWP for #OurNWP

As part of an effort to create an archive of the National Writing Project for its 40th year anniversary (called OurNWP), I went into our Western Massachusetts Writing Project video archives and pulled out a few short pieces that we have done in the past few years, usually around the National Day on Writing. I love how our voices come together as teacher, writers, colleagues.

I also donated to the cause, as the effort to create the archive is slated to require about $100,000 to complete and NWP is halfway there. I gave a donation in honor of a past WMWP Director, Charlie Moran, whose work in the field of writing, and with our writing project (as a founding member), paved the way for many a great idea, and whose thinking has always pushed me forward, particularly around the ideas of digital literacy.

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin