The Last National Writing Project Annual Meeting Hurrah?

NWP Presentation Materials

It’s not easy to write the title of this post nor its contents, even while staying positive in spirit and tone.

Tonight, after a day of teaching, my wife and I head to St. Louis, Missouri, for what may well become the last Annual Meeting of the National Writing Project. The federal education department shut off the last bit of support for NWP’s work with teachers/professional development. While NWP will surely survive in a diminished form with other partnerships and initiatives, the lack of support by the Trump Administration (which had already started to diminish in the Obama Administration, too) will pose difficulties for many of the NWP sites around the country, I am sure.

The writing, so to speak, has been on the wall for years, even with the documented success of the writing project’s impact on classrooms and schools (see this report). A recent newsletter update from NWP indicates this kind of event may now fade away in its current form, which is the coming together of NWP educators to learn together, to share together, to connect together. I think I may have only missed one or two Annual Meetings since I started teaching more than 16 years ago. I suspect it is expensive to host these gatherings, and when looking at the bottom line, it makes sense that this would be something to cut (or merged into NCTE as a strand, perhaps?)

At a recent leadership retreat for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, this topic of reduced and loss of NWP funding was front and center as we talked and set forth plans for the coming year. We know we can’t expect some rich benefactor to step in (but, heck, we’re open and ready for it to happen), so our site work around professional development and offerings for teachers will have to find some balance of bringing in funds for that work to pay for other projects. The fate of our core Summer Institute is OK for the immediate future, but unsteady in the years ahead.

In St. Louis this week, I am part of a presentation with the National Park Service that looks at how we can use National Parks and Historic Sites for engagement of teachers and students. Our work here with the Springfield Armory site has been fruitful for teachers and young people, particularly during our summer camp program. That project, which I facilitate, is funded through the Mass Humanities organization, for which we are thankful, and for which we know might be model of partnership support going forward. Still, small NWP grants have helped pave the way for this work in the years past.

So, yes, we will celebrate the National Writing Project at a the St. Louis gathering of the Tribe that has always energized us (and not far away, the National Council of Teachers of English meeting will be starting its meeting, too … another Tribe), and we’ll worry about the future of NWP, too. I consider the National Writing Project and the Western Massachusetts Writing Project my professional “home” and the prospect of such uncertainty is unsettling. It also makes me wonder which charter school, private venture, religious school is getting Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attention instead of the NWP.

Peace (in Missouri),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Unexpected Poem

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

You may not believe me on this but it’s true. I was at our local library, and I often kill time there by looking at the rack of “recently returned” books to see what other people are reading. Sort of a like a literary voyuer. I was scanning the far side of the rack when I saw a small book of poetry and art about the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, which is where I live.

I sat down, flipped through the pages, perusing some of the writing and enjoying the art of where I live when I landed on page 82. And I saw my own name and one of my poems. And that’s when I remembered — in one of those odd “oh yeah” moments — submitting a poem to a local anthology about ten years ago. Publication took time, and I guess I sort of forgot all about it. This book was published nearly four years ago, I see.

Ghost Train poem in Anthology

But there I was, a poet in the collection. Of course, I checked out the book from the library, and showed my family the poem with a mysterious ‘turn to page 82.’ (My middle son then flipped to the bios, and saw his own name referenced, which gave him some excitement). The piece is all about the train tracks that have been transformed into bike and hiking trails in our neighborhood, and the ghosts of the past that ride with the present.

Interesting, right? Serendipity. Or something.

Peace (you never know),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week Three (Text Connections)

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I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. 

In many ways, this chapter’s exploration of story and text is why I wanted to read this book in the first place. I am intrigued by how video games may or may not push our understanding of story into new directions, and how “texts” might play a role in the player’s experiences and learning.

James Paul Gee Quote13There is certainly an immersive quality to media-rich storytelling, and video games — if done well — pull you into that story in a rather disorientating way. While Gee explains how many games give you teaser introductions as a way to “teach” game mechanics for the user, most successful games weave the design of play in the design of narrative in ways that are intricate and finely woven. As Gee notes, sometimes the player doesn’t realize that they are being surrounded by story.

James Paul Gee Quote12Here, Gee is analyzing in detail how we “read” video games by playing video games, and what is going on with the learning process in doing so. He argued that games are, in fact, rich in various texts, some more visible than others.

James Paul Gee Quote11A section in the book about the written or digital instructions that come with games (which may be less and less part of the gaming experience now) are often part of the “semiotic language” of the game, in that the vocabulary and language of instructions are in tune with the mechanics of the game design system. Reading them in isolation is disorientating. Picking and choosing parts to read, when you need them — as gamers do — surfaces a language all of its own, with transactional values.

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The real “reading” happens with the “playing” and that moment when the story and the game merge together seamlessly is the reason why players play these kinds of games (with a narrative arc).

James Paul Gee Quote9The player, and the choices they make along the way, act in partnership with the writer/game designer, so that agency for character development and plot arcs are done in mutual agreement, even if that thread between writer (game designer) and reader (game player) is not always evident.

James Paul Gee Quote8What I appreciate here is that it has me thinking again of what writing is, and how writing changes with digital media like video games. And therefore, how can I as a teacher help my young students tap into that immersive element to bring new ways to write?

Peace (game on),
Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (The Getaway)

Has it really been nearly 12 years since Jeff Kinney put out his first Diary of a Wimpy Kid book? I just put down his twelfth book — Diary of  Wimpy Kid: The Getaway — and thought to myself: I remembering reading the first of these dozen books out loud to my oldest son, now in college, when he was nine years old, and my youngest son is in seventh grade and was only two years old when the first one came out. The middle child was in there, too.

Yikes!

When I brought home The Getaway this past week, I wondered if my youngest would want to read it or would he be too old for it now? Well, he was adolescent cool about it, but said he’d “take a look,” and then read it in one sitting in about 30 minutes.

These books are still light and funny — short on depth and long on humor and gag jokes — and the adventures move along. The Getaway is no exception, as Greg Heffley and his family head off on a holiday cruise to a beach resort that sparks a week full of disaster, right from the airplane flight to the resort where they are staying.

Funny ensues.

As always, Kinney’s artwork is hilarious, without being too mean to his characters. And there is a gentle vibe under the surface of his jokes. I appreciate his books for what they are. And just look at the bookshelves to see the Kinney Effect in action. Tons of books have copied his style of storytelling of cartoon and text. Some of these are good, but many are just pale imitations.

Overall interest by my students seems waning in The Wimpy Kid series (no mad rush to order them via Scholastic books, as in the past), but I can tell that Kinney is still having a blast as he is writing and illustrating his stories. There’s something to be said about the infectious energy of a book like this. And I had to pass one of my copies to a student, who begged me to be able to read it over the long weekend.

So, there’s that.

Peace (going away),
Kevin

Music VR: Step Inside the Songs

Google and Sound Exploder (a cool podcast in which musicians dig deeper into their tracks) have created a pretty interesting new music experience called Inside Music. Only a few tracks are available right now, but the website brings you into an immersive 360 degree environment with all the tracks of the songs separated out, so you can isolate tracks and remix different elements of songs.

They have also put the code out for GitHub, as they invite other musicians and others to replicate the experience with their own songs and own tracks. I don’t know how to do that, but it would be fascinating to try it out with an original song some day.

Check out Inside Music

Note: in my Chrome browser on my laptop, the site didn’t launch right. It might be because of some of my ad blocking or maybe some other settings. I’m not sure. In Safari and Firefox, though, it all worked fine and was very cool. And I want to try it out on my phone, maybe with Google Cardboard.

Peace (sounding fine),
Kevin

Book Review: The Hate U Give

If this book doesn’t win a slew of awards this literary season, I don’t know what will. A debut novel by Angie Thomas, The Hate U Give is a powerhouse of a story, gut-wrenching in its emotion and evocative in its experience. While often marketed as a way to understand the anger and frustration of the Black Lives movement, this novel is so much more than that. It’s a window into the lives of young black lives whose stories are often forgotten in literature, and in those very same news stories.

The story here does seem all too familiar. A young black man is shot and killed by a police officer. The officer is defended in the media, an the dead man is labeled a thug and drug dealer. The protagonist of the novel — Starr — was not only at the scene at the time of the shooting, but she knew the victim since childhood. She’s a witness, determined to keep her friend’s humanity in focus.

What happens in the aftermath of a shooting of a young black man by a white police officer in an inner city neighborhood is what swirls around The Hate U Give (titled after a reference by rapper Tupac Shakur) but what really gives the story resonance is Starr herself, who struggles both with the aftermath of the shooting, the Grand Jury testimony that inflames the community, and the way she straddles two worlds that constantly tug at her identity. She lives in the urban neighborhood but goes to school in a suburban mostly-white school.

I appreciated Starr’s voice here, and lingered over the ways that she both struggles and rises to the occasion when needed, and how her family — despite all the violence around them — closes in with protective spirit when needed. Starr’s family does not give up on their neighborhood, even though the reality of their situation forces them to move.

The book is driven by the echoes of a violent act, yet the story is tinged with hope, too, as Starr rises from it all, a character we can believe in and root for in all of her complexities of a black young woman in America. A novel like this transports you beyond the headlines. It brings you into the lives of people living in the places where that violence, and injustice, is threaded into the fabric of daily living.

Peace (let it be),
Kevin

In Kintsugi: The Writer’s Voices in the Reader’s Head

In the latest edition of the Kintsugi magazine — an online publishing experience of gathering writers across the Mastodon network — I wrote a piece for the third editing, thinking about the experience of reading in online spaces, and how the voices of writers inhabit my reading experiences.

Mastodon Mag Comics (art for my articles)

My piece is at pages 16 and 17, but you should read some of the other pieces there, too. I’m enjoying this writing experience, and how being within a networked space allows words to tumble into other stories and insights. I appreciate Erdal as curator and editor and cheerleader for this publishing venture.

Peace (sounds like),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Maps in the Mailbox

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

In the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) this month, we’re centering on the theme of maps, in all sorts of ways. Geographical maps. Game maps. Learning maps. Systems maps. Imaginary maps. It’s all connected to the idea of #Mapvember, and the way we can visualize the known and unknown worlds.

As part of our monthly CLMOOC postcard project (where about 70 of us have signed up to send postcards to each other from time to time, either one postcard a month or season or year, or more, if you are so inspired), the theme is also mapping. I found these very cool postcards called Map of the Heavens, which are elaborate celestial maps from a museum collection that are just fascinating to look at.

Map Postcards for Mapvember

Yesterday, I popped a dozen postcards into the mailbox, sending my maps (and my text on the postcard was a compass map of my writing life) to places in the United States and way beyond (Scotland, Australia, Canada, etc.)

I love this way of connecting throughout the year, beyond the traditional CLMOOC Summers.

Peace (find your way),
Kevin

Games, Learning, Literacy: Week Two (Digital Identity)

James Paul Gee Quote4

I’m off on a new reading adventure, diving into James Paul Gee’s book — What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy — with discussion prompts by my friend, Keegan. This reflection is centered on Chapter Three in the book.

The topic of digital identity and digital persona and how we project both who we are and who want to be (or at least, want to be seen as) is an intriguing topic made relevant by the ease of identity flux in online spaces and video game environments.

Gee’s critical look at how video game players use identity to bridge the span between real life (who I am in the real world) with gaming (who I am in this immersive world) to a third aspect (how decisions I make in this immersive world pushes against my real world identity) is pretty interesting. I am particularly attuned as a teacher to that third piece — of how one world overlaps with the other — in what he calls “projective identity.”

James Paul Gee Quote5

I appreciated how Gee brings this look at video games back to how it might have importance in the classroom. He uses a science classroom as an example, showing how we want our learners to imagine themselves as scientists when learning about science. They take on the identity of a scientist, and that overlap between what they know of science and what they think a scientist may know (and how that is made visible) is a key element of learning through hands-on work and playfulness.

I think this does happen in many areas, such as history (read like a historian for multiple perspectives) and math (explain your answer in terms someone else might understand) and Language Arts (write a story from a perspective of the character, paying attention to voice). But Gee notes that we don’t always make this visible to students, even though many already do this in the games they play outside of school.

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As always, Gee gives us a lot to chew on.

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Peace (across identities),
Kevin