Student Book Glog: The Underdogs by Mike Lupica

This is another in a series of projects done around independent reading. You know, Mike Lupica has done more to get my sporty boys reading than any other authors (except maybe Rick Riordan), and I was happy to see this student immersed in this novel about a sport he loves to play. The book is The Underdogs.

Peace (on the field),

The Ted-Ed Experiment

This is pretty cool, and I am trying to figure out how I can use all of the features of the new TED-ed site with my students. I’m still not certain of the whole “flipped classroom” model, but perhaps this kind of site (that allows you to not only access amazing videos but also curate your own) might be a way to experiment a bit with the idea.

The new TED-ed Site is worth checking out.

Peace (on the TED),

Remembering Bird: A Visual Poem

I’m migrating a bunch of old videos from Google Videos into Youtube, and it has become sort of like a trip into my video composing past, in a neat way. A few years ago, I gave a keynote at the Hudson Valley Writing Project and then sat in on a session around poetry and digital storytelling. I had Charlie Parker on my mind, I guess, and wrote this:

Peace (in the sharing),

Student Book Glog: School of Fear by Gitty Daneshvari

I’ve seen some students walking around with School of Fear (and thought, to myself, with that demented teacher voice, how appropriate … heheheh) and you can’t help but think, here is a book where the cover certainly attracts your eye. All the students who have read it have said they really liked it, so I’ll put it on my future reading list, too. This student worked hard on her digital poster project, and struggled a bit with what to say. In the end, she did fine, though.

Peace (in the school of no-fear),



Free Comic Book Day!

Tomorrow (Saturday) is Free Comic Book Day. Go down to your nearest comic book store (do you have one?) and grab a few free comics. They’re not always the very best comics, to be honest, and you may need to make sure they are appropriate for whatever age kids you are going to share them with, but … did I mention free comics?

The website for Free Comic Day (now 10 years old, apparently) has more information, including a handy tool to find comic book stores where you live. I usually go with my sons, and we all get handfuls of comics. I bring mine into my classroom for my students. They love it.

The Cognitive Choices of Choose Your Adventure Stories


I have long been fascinated by the genre of Choose Your Own Adventure books (and how to flip that interest that kids have in those stories by having them plan and write them). I’ve used wikis to have my students create their own, and will probably do that again before the end of the school year, and I have presented the concept of merging technology and writing with those kind of stories that branch out in different directions.

See my Threaded Adventure resource

The other day, I came across a website that just blew my mind. It is a comprehensive look at how Choose Your Adventure stories unfold, and the researcher (whose name I can’t find) took a real analytical approach to what it means to read one of these books. They examined the books across the years, using colors to chart the various endings and choices. Using all sorts of data analysis and graphs, the writer really unpacks the critical thinking that goes into being an active reader. It’s fascinating.

“… their interactive function is to create a gameworld for the reader. This is part of the wonder of these books – they took a pre-existing set of interface conventions designed for utilitarian search tasks and mapped a new activity onto it. They were effectively a new kind of software application for the oldest information-display platform we have.”


I had not really considered the books in terms of gaming, or even software design, and yet … that makes complete sense now that I do consider it. The non-linear, problem-solving approach that puts much of the agency in the hands (or eyes) of the reader makes for such a different kind of experience when you are reading Choose Your Own Adventure stories. It made me wonder about why these kinds of narratives are not more in vogue with apps and ebooks (only to see that, indeed, there is a line of the books now available for the ipad)


CYOB Adventure Graph

On the flip side, having students plan and write these kinds of stories is an interesting endeavor. At least with my sixth graders, some “get it” and some don’t – mainly because of critical thinking skills. Those who get it compose rich stories with multiple exploration points, and some narrative branches will even arc back with others. Those who don’t get it still follow a very linear path — and who can blame them if that is all that they ever read. The use of the powerful “hyperlink” opens up possibilities for this kind of writing, though, whether it be via a wiki or powerpoint or even a folder of Word documents. (or even using Google Docs forms to do the same thing, which is another interesting twist).

And, if you want to stretch it even further, you can now annotate videos on Youtube, and create visual Choose Your Adventure stories. I did this experiment a few months ago when I was writing about mentor texts. Watch the video and click in the video to make your choices. Notice how the viewer is the one with a bit more agency than usual, just as the reader is with the books.

Come join the adventure with The Mysterious Fruit story.

Peace (in the choices),





Student Book Glog: Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk by David Sedaris

I have to admit: when a student came into our independent reading unit with this book by David Sedaris (ironically, the ONLY book by Sedaris that I have not read), I was more than a little surprised. A sixth grader … reading Sedaris? But I only reserve my “no way” for books that really don’t belong in the hands of an 11 year old, so if she was game — why not? What I like is that she was a pretty critical reader of the stories in the collection. See her digital poster on Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk.

Peace (with the funny stuff),

Remembering My First Stopmotion Movie

I was in my YouTube account the other day and noticed that there is now an option to move all old videos from the former Google Videos into YouTube. Nice! I thought I had lost a lot of those movies (I used to use Google Videos all the time). Here is the very first stopmotion movie I created, many years ago now, that uses an original song and an art figure that is trying to dance. It’s still fun to watch (for me anyway).

I remember all the logistics of trying to get the camera right, and learning how to use the capture software and then MovieMaker. Luckily, a friend from the National Writing Project — Tonya Witherspoon — was a good mentor, and it was her enthusiasm that got me started.

If you are interested in stopmotion moviemaking, I have a website resource that might be handy for you and your students.

Go to Making Stopmotion Movies

Peace (in the motion),


Considering Common Core: Why Fiction Matters

If you, like me, are in a state that has fully adopted the Common Core, then you know one of the major shifts in literature is away from fiction and into informational text. That’s not to say that we are to throw away all of our novels and short stories, and stop writing poetry and narratives, but the emphasis of the Common Core is clearly on non-fiction, informational writing and reading.

For many of us, particularly those of us who teach in elementary levels, this is going to be a huge shift in what we teach, how and the resources we have available to us. Although we do use smaller non-fiction texts in my classroom, much of the reading that we do right now is fiction: novels, short stories, narratives, poetry, etc.

The rationale, as I understand it, is that being ready for the world of work and college requires analytical thinking skills and understanding of the world, and the writers of the Common Core seem to believe that non-fiction is a critical component to that kind of learning. Fiction is still part of the expectations (and in Massachusetts, our state has put fiction in greater measure than some other states thanks to our state officials using their “wiggle room” to add in more fiction standards), but reading and writing and research will mostly unfold around informational strands in the new standards.

I had this in mind as I was reading a great piece in the The Boston Sunday Globe last weekend.  In the piece, called Why Fiction Is Good for You by Jonathan Gottschall, the idea of reading fiction as a way to explore the world, make moral decisions, and use critical thinking skills for a whole range of reasons gets its due (although the act of writing fiction is barely mentioned.) Gottschall notes that recent research around the brain and stories seems to indicate just how important this connection is:

This research consistently shows that fiction does mold us. The more deeply we are cast under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence. In fact, fiction seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than nonfiction, which is designed to persuade through argument and evidence. Studies show that when we read nonfiction, we read with our shields up. We are critical and skeptical. But when we are absorbed in a story, we drop our intellectual guard. We are moved emotionally, and this seems to make us rubbery and easy to shape.

But perhaps the most impressive finding is just how fiction shapes us: mainly for the better, not for the worse. Fiction enhances our ability to understand other people; it promotes a deep morality that cuts across religious and political creeds. More peculiarly, fiction’s happy endings seem to warp our sense of reality. They make us believe in a lie: that the world is more just than it actually is. But believing that lie has important effects for society — and it may even help explain why humans tell stories in the first place.


When we think of how learning informs the future citizens of the world, we want to remember that a balance of texts is a key consideration, and as this article shows, the reading and understanding of fictionalized stories is not a frill, but an important part of how we come to understand ourselves and the world in which we inhabit. I surely hope that the push into Common Core does not mean that there are classrooms where these ideas are not longer fully explored.

As he writes, fiction shapes us — for the better.

Fiction is often treated like a mere frill in human life, if not something worse. But the emerging science of story suggests that fiction is good for more than kicks. By enhancing empathy, fiction reduces social friction. At the same time, story exerts a kind of magnetic force, drawing us together around common values. In other words, most fiction, even the trashy stuff, appears to be in the public interest after all.


Peace (in the real world of stories),