What I wrote about when I had nothing to write about

In my first year as a newspaper reporter, there were days when I had not beat to cover and no assignment, and I would be hanging around the office, desperate for something to do (I was paid per story). One day, my editor told me to get in my car and drive around. He pointed me to the smallest town in our coverage area. It was a community of about 100 people, tops.

Head there and find some news, he said. Something must be happening.

I did as he told, although I was skeptical. I got into my car and drove. I wandered through the small town in the middle of the day. There were no stores there, just homes, and everyone was at work or doing something else. They were not making news on their front porch.

Keep looking, my editor said, when I found a pay phone to call him. Knock on doors, he suggested.

Instead, I drove to the next town, where there was a convenience store and grabbed a soda and a snack. I relaxed for a spell. I drove again into the small town, just wandering. Just looking. And finding nothing.

I returned later to the office, my notebook empty. I worried about facing the editor, whom I wanted to impress.

Well? my editor asked. What did you find?

Nothing, I said. It’s quiet.

Some days are like that, he said, surprising me. I’ll pay you anyway.

I went home that night, not having written a thing.

Some days, there’s not much to write about. But still, I write. You just read it.

Peace (in the remembering),
Kevin

NWP Funding: Sen. Scott Brown responds …


I guess I wasn’t expecting too much from my Senator when I sent him a letter to please lobby on my behalf for continued federal funding for the National Writing Project. Right now, there is no direct funding for NWP in President Obama’s educational plan (see more details).

I know Sen. Scott Brown is a Republican still trying to find his political footing in Washington, but I still hope he heeds the call of us Massachusetts teacher and constituents when it comes to the importance we place on the National Writing Project in terms of professional development and impact on the classroom.

A few months after I wrote to Sen. Brown, I received a letter from him (his office) in mail. It was obviously a form letter of sorts, with general statements like “I support initiatives that improve our schools …” and ” …I am committed to working with my colleagues to find bipartisan solutions to help students and schools succeed …”

I am hopeful that he heard my points.

Peace (in the response),
Kevin

Guest Blogging at Two Writing Teachers

I have the privilege of being a guest writer over at Two Writing Teachers (another blog that should be firmly fed into your RSS Reader as Ruth and Stacey are thoughtful users and reflective writers of literacy instruction) this morning as I explore a “Make Your Own Adventure” project with students.

Oh, and I made the post by creating a ‘Make Your Own Learning” website, with links to follow and decisions to make.

Come join me over at Two Writing Teachers.

Peace (in the choices),

Kevin

Leadership Day 2010: A Webcomic Message

Leadershipday2010

Scott McLeod, whose blog Dangerously Irrelevant is a must have for your RSS for his thoughtful views, is launching the fourth annual Leadership Day, in which he urges educational bloggers to craft a message for school administrators about the impact of technology on learning.

As Scott writes:

“Administrators’ lack of knowledge is not entirely their fault. Most of them didn’t grow up with these technologies. Many are not using digital tools on a regular basis. Few have received training from their employers or their university preparation programs on how to use, think about, or be a leader regarding digital technologies.

So… let’s help them out.”

This year, I decided to create a comic — just to go a different route. I hope you consider adding your own two or three thoughts into the mix. If so, be sure to go to Scott’s blog post and add the hashtag #leadershipday10 to your tag and also fill out Scott’s form where he keeps track of things.

Leadership Day 2010 Comic

(a larger version of the photo is here)
Peace (in the sharing of ideas),
Kevin

Writing a Story in Reverse, with friends

collabstory2

You know that movie by director Christopher Nolan — Momento – where the action moves in sequence from the finish to the start? I’ve always been intrigued by how Nolan could not only conceive such a thing, but how do you pull it off? I was reminded of the movie yesterday as I launched a collaborative story project via a site called Today’s Meet.

Today’s Meet is a backchannel site that can be used during lectures and conferences. It’s a nice design. Easy to use. Each new post in the channel moves to the top, sort of like a blog. I was playing around with it the other day and wondered if it might be possible to use it for writing a story.

The trick would be that the story would have to be told in reverse by the writers, who would have to add their next part of the narrative in time sequence before the part they are reading. In other words, if a character is eating an apple, the next part to be written would be the character getting the apple and preparing to eat it, and before that, the character expressing hunger for an apple. Everything is one-step backwards.

Which means I had to start the project with the story’s ending and then allow folks to backfill the plot. Here’s my first post, which is actually the last few lines of the story: By the time it was all over, she wondered whether the device would actually work the way it was designed. She honestly did not know.

I know. Confusing. But intriguing as a writer who likes to explore the off-kilter world of composition. And eleven brave folks, mostly from my urgings over at Twitter during the day, joined me, adding elements of the plot during the course of the day. Oh, and each post could only be the size of a tweet — 140 characters. Thanks to: Tony, Cindy, Matt, Larry, Sabi, Linda, Gail, Dennis, Doris, and Mike for coming along for the ride. Your words were magic! (and thanks to connections with the National Writing Project, since a number of our writers are part of my NWP network)

The plot of our collaborative story revolves around a woman who has been given some sort of secret device and needs to meet her friends, who are not showing up. There’s a hint of danger in the air, and secrecy. A few minutes ago, I ended the story with the first line of the story: It all began innocently enough.

As we were working on it, I was reflecting on whether this is a possibility for the classroom. I suppose, but I think the backwards-design of the story would be way too complex for my sixth graders. Their critical thinking skill levels are such that they need to see things develop in proper chronological order. But it might be possible with high school students. A few of the posts to our story seemed out of sequence, or slightly jarring to the posts around it, and the problem with Today’s Meet is there is no editing. You write, you post, you’re published. That’s tricky business for writers.

Go read the Collaborative Story-in-Reverse(note: I had to update this as a PDF file because the Today’s Meet site expired on me.

It was a fun experiment, and I kept checking in to see where the story was unfolding towards. We never really answered crucial questions (what is this device anyway? And why such secrecy?) but I think the story is interesting to read.

Peace (in the collaboration),

Kevin

Backwards Story Writing: Using Today’s Meet for writing

today's meet

I’m not sure how this will work, but I want to try an experiment and I want to invite you along for the ride. Yesterday, I discovered a backchannel platform called Today’s Meet. It’s a nice, simple site to use, and is designed for the audience to “talk” during lectures and presentations, etc.

I wondered if it could also be used for a sort of collaborative writing, although the trick here is that the postings are done in reverse time order, so that the last part of the story has to be written first. That means that the first part of the story — the introduction — will need to be written last.

Do you follow me?

Oh, yeah, and you can only write in 140 character bursts. Forgot about that.

One nice element of Today’s Share is that you can click on the “transcript” link and see the postings in reverse order (so, from latest to oldest) and there is a “presentation” link, too, that shows you what folks have been writing.

So, visit the Today’s Meet that I set up for this writing activity: http://todaysmeet.com/Collabstory and see if you can add a piece to the story puzzle. There is no login or anything. Just create a name and start writing and we’ll see where it goes.

I wrote the ending already:

By the time it was all over, she wondered whether the device would actually work the way it was designed. She honestly did not know.

I have no idea who she is, what the device is, nor what it is designed to do (nor why it needs to do what it is designed to do). And why doesn’t she know? I have no clue.

Thanks for joining me! Spread the link through your networks, too. Not only for the writing, but also to explore the site for possible use in your classroom. That’s what I am doing.

Peace (in the collaboration),
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

Slice of Life: The Backyard

(this is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers)

We had some visitors over to our house for a gathering of our families. We were just finishing up dinner of grilled meat and salad on our deck when one of them noted how much he likes our backyard.There were five kids scrambling around the place, with us shouting out our mantra of: “Put down that stick. You’re going to hurt someone” to apparent kids-with-short-term-memory-loss because we had to keep saying it over and over again.

It’s funny, though, how sometimes it takes another person’s view to remember why you like something. When our visitor said that, I looked at our backyard. I do like it. It has a short fence to keep the kids (and the dogs) in (mostly) and it’s a good size for small games of ball.  Whiffle ball is best. There’s a maple tree that continues to grow like its on some Mother Earth steroids, almost to the point that we are getting a bit worried about the tree’s size, and a small vegetable garden that my wife tends, fighting the good fight against the onslaught of weeds. I remove myself from that action, since I can’t stand dealing with weeds. A rope swing on the maple tree is a place for the boys to gather and play. Or squabble, depending on the day or the hour.

I was out there in our backyard yesterday, mowing, and thinking about a neighbor down the street who does not mow at all. He and his wife let the flowers and weeds take over, so that their property is a pretty interesting mix of all sorts of growth. During the height of flowers season, their space is a canvas of color, and a field of bees. I was wondering about why we mow our yards. Who was the first person to do that? Oh well. I do like the look of it when I am done with the cutting. The trimmed grass makes me want to grab a baseball and toss it around.

Yeah, I like the yard. It’s home.

Peace (on the deck),
Kevin

RAW INK: Connecting readers and writers online

This comes via a National Writing Project friend, Paul Hankins, who joined others down in Texas to talk about and create resources around digital media for the future Digital Is … web portal (I have a few resources already on there).

I like how Paul talks about the connections of reading and writing, and also, I am fascinated by this online space where young people can interact with authors and booksellers (as long as nothing is commercialized). RAW INK is home down in Kentuckiana, a term I hadn’t come across before.

Thanks for sharing, Paul!

RAW INK Online Promotional Clip from The Crossings in Austin Texas from Paul Hankins on Vimeo.

Peace (in the books),
Kevin

The Strength of the NWP Walkabout

As many regular visitors know, I am part of the National Writing Project, which is a national organization of teachers who seek to instill writing and exploration across the curriculum (and into technology). Yesterday, I noticed a post in my RSS reader from a NWP blog where I have posted now and then from conferences.

The site is called NWP Walkabout and it’s a really fascinating inside view from various events where NWP folks are gathering. NWP Co-Director Elyse Eidman-Aadahl wrote a post noting that in just six months, the NWP Walkabout site had gathered about 15o posts from folks (the most recent being a twin gathering of NWP folks around rural sites issues and a professional writing retreat around technology).

The posts are a wonderful insight not only into the work of NWP but also into the work of various conferences, and I love the wonderful array of voices that come through at the site. The site is run on Posterous, which means that folks only need to have email access to create posts, and when they attach things like images, audio or video, those media files automatically get embedded into posts (Posterous might be an easy way for a teacher to set up a simple blog.)

Check out NWP Walkabout. Toss it into your RSS reader. Even if  you are not part of the National Writing Project, you will find useful information.

Peace (in the walkabout),
Kevin