Wired Magazine: The New Professors

I enjoy Wired Magazine, most of the time, and every now and then, they come out with a special issue that really gets my attention. The latest (Sept. 2015) is an interesting take on how people learn, with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine on the cover.

Sure, the cynic in me thinks, it’s an advertising place for their Beats headphones and for the new Apple Music (and Dre’s story in Straight Outta Compton), but the article itself about Iovine and Dre is about how the two are investing in a media program in a California university to give students experience in media making and creating a pipeline of talent for entertainment production for the future. I wish I could go there. (Dogtrax Scholarship Fund?)

:)

The magazine then moves into its “Cultural Literacy” section, with focus on Culture, Design, Business, Science and Security, with the lens on people making a difference in the world and ways that people can get engaged in learning on their own terms in these various emerging fields and subfields.

It reminds me, yet again, of how I am teaching to my sixth graders literacy practices that have to be applicable to a world that may not yet exist. As I read through the magazine, it seems as if many of the topics were barely if even on the radar screen five or ten years ago. Flexibility around writing, reading, creating media is a key element, and finding that ground is a challenge for any teacher.

Peace (on the pages),
Kevin

Slice of Life: On A Day When Nothing Happened

(This is part of Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.)

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Nothing happened yesterday. Nothing of note. I am sitting here, early morning with a cup of coffee, mulling over what I might write about for my Slice of Life. There’s always something. But, I can’t find a little nugget to grasp and build a single story around.

So, on the day when nothing happened, here are some small bits of a day that might fold into something:

  • I wrote a blog post in the morning. No one commented.
  • We began an overview of narrative story writing in class, examining and charting out some plot ideas as a way for my students to envision the structure of a story;
  • We did character sketches — short pieces of writing about a character that goes beyond name and description, focusing in on motivation and the strengths/flaws that enrich a character in a story. We used my oddly weird Storyteller Cards for this. The kids loved the cards.
  • It was Picture Day. The weather cooperated, so we were able to do it outside. It disrupted the day’s schedule but we rolled with it.
  • I kept moving forward with Benchmark Reading Assessments in every free moment of the day, and the prospect of weeks of testing this way has me tired every time I think of it.
  • A union meeting after school about stalled contract talks made me weary. I know contract talks are always negotiations, but it seems like we are pretty far apart right now.
  • I was met at home by my son, who asked if I had remembered to bring home the last book in the Maze Runner series. I had. Also, the prequel. He dashed to the car, and came in, book open, already reading the first pages.
  • Restaurant Week is this week in our small city, known for its arts and restaurants. My wife and I slipped out and away from the kids to enjoy a nice meal together at an upscale restaurant we normally could not afford. It was yummy.
  • Confirmed meeting with the owner of a music practice space. Our band is reforming and on the roam for new space to practice in. It’s stressful to be a homeless band.
  • My son decided to go for a bike ride at dusk. “A quick ride,” I said, before heading off to get another son from baseball practice. I came back, and the bike rider is still gone, and the streets are getting dark. Grabbed the dog and started looking, slightly worried (he is known not to always look at street crossings). No signs. I come home, and then see the note from him that he is with a friend and family at the neighborhood school. I go there, and they are just coming home. It’s dark now. I say, meet me at the top of the street. He cruises right home. We have a “discussion” about “listening skills.”
  • Read Aloud to my son and then reading quietly to myself, and then … sleep.

Peace (in the daze),
Kevin

Six Word Webcomic Memoirs

I’ve written about this project before at Middleweb, and yet, every year that I put this Six Word Memoir out to sixth graders as an extension activity, I am always amazed at what they create.

Here are some of this year’s memoirs. I put them into a digital flipbook this year for easier sharing and embedding in our classroom blog site:

Peace (in six),
Kevin

Robots As Publishers: Curation Conundrums in the Digital Age

NWP Daily NewsIt’s been some time since I shared out my curated NWP Daily News via Paper.li, and I use that word “curate” very lightly here, as the robotic overlords who feed on algorithms are the ones who gather up news and sharing from a Twitter list of National Writing Project folks (670 peeps, listed as of this morning … wait .. make that 669 … see below), and somehow, it comes together in what I think is a moderately interesting daily collection of media, tidbits and more.

But I received a direct message on Twitter from a person in my NWP network about their inclusion into the “newspaper”  this week and the notice of their Twitter handle in an auto-tweet that comes out every day. They clearly were not happy with it, and they wondered how their Twitter account got so entwined with mine. They suggested that it was a misrepresentation of both of our Twitter accounts. I think they thought I have been intentionally scraping their content and representing it as my own.

Have I, inadvertently, doing that? Not in my mind.

I messaged back to them, politely, and then removed from them from my NWP List, so as to avoid putting them in the same situation in the future. The last thing I want to do is make anyone uncomfortable when the robots take over. To be honest, I’m not sure bringing other NWP folks to their Twitter account or bringing a small spotlight to something interesting that they shared out or wrote about is such a bad thing, but that’s not for me to decide.

Or is it?

Here I am, making a “newspaper” of Twitter folks who self-associate with the National Writing Project, and that message reminded me that I never do ask permission of anyone to become part of my NWP Twitter List. I just add them in. I also assume that the tweets from public accounts are public and that if you tweet something out into the open, then you are signaling your approval in having it viewed and collected  — or, in this case, curated under an unofficial NWP umbrella (“unofficial” because NWP bigwigs did not sanction me doing this, nor did I ask permission.)

I realize now that it is a bit of a can of worms, indicative of the Information Age.

On one hand, I hate the lack of agency I have in actually curating the darn Paper.li thing. I don’t think I can manually add content, just people’s streams of information (or at least, I can’t do that with the free version I use. I’m not sure about the paid version.) On the other hand, I am grateful that the algorithms do all that work on my behalf, so that I don’t have to spend the time each day. Because, you know, it wouldn’t get done, otherwise. I’m a realist.

It’s the typical Digital Age Cunundrum, right? How much agency do I give up to technology in order to achieve what I hope to achieve with the smallest amount of effort? And if I give up too much, am I really achieving what I wanted to achieve?

I don’t have the answer to that. (Do you?)

Instead, I just read my NWP News most mornings, and think, these NWP folks are doing some amazing things, and I enjoy reading about it. I get inspired by them. I learn from them. I guess you could say, I made this “newspaper” for me. But I am happy if others enjoy it, too. I even get a kick when someone who get mentioned shouts out some thanks to me, via Twitter, and all I can do is say, “You’re welcome. I had little to do with it. The robots are in charge!”

What I hadn’t realized, until this morning, is that not everyone would be so open about it and grateful to be part of my NWP experience. I guess that part of curation — the view of the skeptical curatee (is that a word? The one who is being curated?) — never crossed my mind until this morning. Maybe it should have.

Peace (on the page),

Kevin

Getting Sticky with It: Reflection and Revision Practice

rikki tikki exemplar sticky notes

It may be early in the school year, but we’re moving right into the craft of writing. While we will shift into some narrative, creative writing next week, these first two weeks have had a focus on the start of “response to literature” writing pieces. This is a big focus of sixth grade — responding to reading, using evidence from the text, adding insights to understanding.

Yesterday, I shared four “not-really-random” student samples of some open responses that they wrote a few days ago (after listening to Rikki Tikki Tavi, they wrote about protagonist and antagonist), and we went through an activity in which students read the sample responses, identified strengths in the pieces before them, put observations on sticky notes, and then stuck the notes up on the wall where the student exemplars were located.

I like the visual here (who doesn’t love sticky notes?), and I like making the notes about the positive public to the students. But most of all, I loved the conversations we had about “noticing” and “reflecting” on the pieces, particularly as they made connections to their own writing. This reflective stance and being able to see the strategies of others is the first step in a year-long push for reflective practice.

Reflection will move into revision, if all goes according to plan. But you can’t revise if you don’t see what needs revising, right?

Peace (in the reflect),
Kevin

Reading about Writing about Writing about Reading

Reader writer writer reader

I remember the first book I encountered about a writer writing about writing. It was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and then I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, which led me to Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek by Annie Dillard, and then onward into the world of authors unveiling the art of writing. (Stephen King’s On Writing is a more recent one in the mix.) It was a magical experience for me to find those kinds of books as a young writer, and I continue to devour these “let’s pull back the covers and show the inside” stories even today.

I am most intrigued about the relationship between writer and reader, and the narrative gaps between them. And I am conscious of this, as best as I can, when I am using technology and digital media to create a piece of writing. The role of the reader, I think, is changing, becoming more assertive, more part of the “story of the story.” Mulling over how an image replaces text, or how a video disrupts the narrative flow, or the well-place/misplaced hyperlink, or the use of an audio to add a layer of sound … these are all part of our emerging world of writers in the digital spaces, right?

The question of how far does the writer go and how much space does the reader need/want is one of those running rails that always seems to hover over my keyboard when I am trying to create something that I hope will find an audience. When I am working on short-form writing, in particular, I am keenly aware of the reader and work to find a balance between the gaps. Of course, there is a lot of unknowns in the writer’s perceptions, too.

This week, I came across an insightful piece about writing in The New Yorker by writer John McPhee, who shares stories about his life as a staff writer and teacher of non-fiction writing but he also helpfully narrows his piece to the art of “omission.” What to leave out. The dictate of the Green # (see article for reference). Not just for publishing reasons (we need more space so get cutting) but also, for the sake of the reader engagement and involvement. Parse your story down and let the reader build it up.

McPhee cites Hemingway, of course, and others, and he says that consideration of the reader does a writer well.

“The creative writer leaves white space between chapters and segments of chapters. The creative reader silently articulates the unwritten thought that is present in the white space. Let the reader have the experience. Let judgment be in the eye of the beholder. When you are deciding what to leave out, begin with the author.” (John McPhee, New Yorker, Sept. 14, 2015)

Taking his advice, then, I bid you leave.

Peace (_______in the gap________),
Kevin

Mad Circles of Possibilities: Mapping the Unknown

Where I'm At Tube Map

I’ve long been fascinated by maps. When I was a kid, it was the maps in our textbooks that always got my attention. When I read comics (most of the time), I was stare at the maps for long stretches, imagining the world of heroes and villains. When I read a book that comes with a map, I am almost always invariably sidetracked, running my finger along the lines and trying to decipher the information of the narrative along the visual latitude and longitudes of someone’s imagination.

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So, coming across Aaron King‘s Tumblr blog this past summer was like a present all wrapped up each day in my RSS feed. At Comic Cartography, King finds maps from all sorts of comic books and then posts them at his site.

That was good, but then he self-published his own little chap book about maps called Comic Cartography: Maps from Comic Books and Essays Thereon that I just love (only five bucks!).  I mean, the maps he includes are cool. But it is King’s written insights about why we love maps and how they fit into our literary terrain that captured my attention. He connects them to the theories around comics, too, showing how inferential thinking and the use of art to inform story is a key component to the comic world.

King notes how some writers use maps to begin a story:

“With this softer invitation for reader closure in prose, introductory maps are used as a form of paratext, informing the reader without being part of the story’s prose.” (King)

He also notes, in a nod to the intricate maps that are part Lord of the Rings and other epic stories:

“The power in these maps lies in the amount of drama and story implicit in each of them. They jumpstart your imagination while teaching you about the world …. the mind trips in mad circles of possibility, of what comes next.” (King)

King explains some unknown terms, for me, about understanding maps. Some are heterodiegetic (the maps exist outside of the story narrative — we see these at the start of a book or inked into the cover design of a book) as opposed to homodiegetic (the maps are part of the plot of the book and play a role in the narrative).

This idea of a map laying outside the terrain of the story is what fascinates me, because it comes like an invitation to the reader to take a journey beyond the story itself. It also lays down the possibility, made clear by the map, that worlds might fold into worlds, and that the writer has a larger vision than the story you are currently reading. The story, in other words, is beyond this story.

You are invited to imagine.

my map

I’ve done some mapping with my sixth grade students as part of writing activities, and we have explored map making in the Making Learning Connected MOOC, showing connections within a learning network, and allowing participants to pin themselves onto a collective map.

I even did a paper circuitry activity with fellow teachers, asking them to make a map with important nodes. Some chose professional circles. Others chose more personal journeys.

What maps shape your world? And I wonder, is our reliance on various Map Geolocation Apps changing the way we view maps as representative of the world, and what lies beyond the edges of the known? Is our world becoming a bit too well known? What mysteries unfold off the map?

There be dragons there …

Map of Childhood - #walkmyworld totem

Peace (amid the terrain),
Kevin

Book Review: Odd Type Writers

 

Now here is a book for those who not only love to read (me!) but also those who are curious about the writers behind the books we love to read (me!). Odd Type Writers by Celia Blue Johnson is a light-hearted, whirlwind tour of the eccentricities of many of the most famous writers, with all of their quirks and processes laid bare for us to marvel at or wonder about.

Johnson explores through research the elements of where some writers wrote, their odd routines, the foods they had to eat when writing, the color pens and inks they used, animal companions and more. Yes, writers are quirky characters and this book really brings that to the surface (making my own quirks as a writer feel a bit normal).

You might think of this as a gossip book about Joyce, Dickens, Woolf, Wharton, O’Connor, Capote and many others, and I suppose you would be correct. But there is a certain humanity that comes to the surface, too, when you dive into the lives of famous writers and the passions that drove them to create great art.

Peace (under cover),
Kevin

The Beginning and the Ending: An Image

Start of fall, end of summer
Kim had us thinking of how to capture the start of something or the end of something via an image, as part of our Photo Fridays adventure. (Actually, she is gathering folks to do an image a day for September. I don’t think I can do it, but you might want to try. At least, follow along with her ideas for photos as literacy.)

I live in New England, and already, the trees are beginning to change. We know it’s coming, this thing we call Autumn, but to see it happening in a few select trees (the same trees, changing first every year, and those are the trees we think of the dreaded Harbinger of Winter on the Horizon.)

I found this leaf on a walk and it seemed to perfectly illustrate the start of something (Autumn) and the end of something (Summer) with its color pattern. The deep green, run through with golden brown. It is as if the leaf was resisting. Resistance is futile.

Autumn is coming … maybe it is here.

Peace (in the air),
Kevin

 

Two Funny, Slightly Scary Pop Culture Moments

Last week, there were two moments that stood out for me on the first days of school because they shone a light on the influence of pop culture and television programming on my sixth graders. Both were funny, but also … a little disconcerting.

First, every morning, our school has the typical “morning announcements” on our system television, and music comes on as a way to alert us to turn on our televisions. The music choice is recommended by students, but ultimately approved by a teacher in charge of morning announcements. We have preschool through sixth grade in our school, so no Kanye … if you know what I mean.

On Friday, the theme from the Little Einsteins show came on, and with the very first note of the melody, my entire classroom of sixth graders began singing the song. It was an immediate thing. A chorus of voices. I was laughing, but thinking: Wow, they remember this theme from when they were toddlers. That’s a commercial hook.

Second, earlier in the week, we were going over some vocabulary words, and I was explaining the meaning of “lofty” and how to remember its various definitions. I referenced Bob the Builder, which has a character named Lofty, and one girl mentioned how they were revamping the cartoon for a new generation of kids.

“You know your childhood is over when they remake your childhood cartoons!” she moaned. She’s only 11 years old. I hope her childhood is far from over.

Peace (in the think),
Kevin