Workshopping in the Digital Age: A Close Reading of Franki and Troy

Students as Writers and Composers

I finally got around to coming back to an interview with two of my favorite people — Franki Sibberson and Troy Hicks — as they sat down for an interview for Language Arts to talk about Digital Writing Workshop. (You can access the article as a PDF at the National Writing Project site).

There are a lot of great insights and honesty in their conversation, and as I sought to reach closer, I started to grab some quotes from the text in order to pull them out for further thinking.

I was nodding my head here, because, like Franki, I hope I stay in tune with my students and their interests when it comes to thinking of ways that technology and digital platforms might push their own writing and compositional strategies further along. I’d also add that, along with listening, we teachers need be doing the technology, too. Snapchat, Pokemon Go, and others are unknown terrain unless you try them yourself. You might decide, this does not have application for my classroom (for now). At least, you will know from the experience.

I like Troy’s point here, that the technology should have a rationale or basis for use in composing. He uses a heuristic called MAPS (mode (genre), media, audience, purpose, situation), which is very helpful in this regard, as it allows teachers to consider such things as audience and intent. The technology is not just an engagement factor — it’s an intentional design of the classroom experience to help students explore writing in different angles, with different strategies, for different reasons.

Here, Troy is talking about how to expand the notions of Mentor Texts by drawing from the world outside the classroom, from Pop Culture and beyond. Like Franki, Troy notes the importance of “listening” to students, to figure out where interest lies and then tap into that for learning.

This is so true, and I have written at times about this, too. Some days, when we are moving into something new, things go awry, and the room is full of noise and seemingly chaos. I say, seemingly, because, as Franki notes, often amidst the chaos is some interesting reflections going on. Part of our role as teachers to find focus on the reflection (the process is more important than the product, most of the time) and draw that out, highlight it, make it the learning of the day. And keep calm.

That same theme of analyzing process points is what Troy is discussing here, when the question of “How Do We Assess Digital Writing?” comes up. He notes how technology has the potential to uncover compositional strategies, and make a digital piece more accessible for comments and review and revision. If we can take our eyes off the final product and keep them attuned to all that goes into that work, we can assess learning in a more strategic way.

Thanks to Troy and Franki for sharing their ideas. I found it useful and helpful, and I hope some of their words inspire you, too.

Peace (sharing it out),
Kevin

 

Not Even Remotely Visibly True: More Distorted Graphs

I’ve spent the last week or so making another push to create a series of Distorted Graphs as a way to engage with the politics of the US Presidential Campaign. What I am doing is creating graphs and charts that look sort of real, but which have no data underneath. I am making it all up.

Why?

Mostly, I am seeing how I can use visual misinformation (which I clearly label on all of the graphs) to make a political and satirical point about the state of politics. I am also curious to see how something sort of polished might appear to be true, and how to remember not to trust my eyes with charts and graphs and polls and such. Although I try to poke at both sides, I don’t try to be “fair and balanced” with it.

But I am having fun. So there.

This round (done entirely in Haiku Deck and exported out as image files) began with an interview Donald Trump did about his “regrets” over some of his comments. Who really believed that? Seriously.

Distorted Graphs

I was wondering where Bernie’s folks have probably gone. Then I saw the news that he bought a $750,00o summer home, and the word “hypocrite” started to flow from my GOP friends. Would Bernie be inviting all those young people to his $750,000 home for a little summer break? I doubt it.

Distorted Graphs

The presidential debates are coming soon. Will they tackle important issues? Or will the idea of wondering what Trump will say trump anything of substance?

Distorted Graphs

I had a strange moment when I could not, for the life of me, remember who Clinton’s vice presidential running mate was. Really. Then I thought, it can’t be just me. (Note: his name came back to me not long after I forgot it. I didn’t Google it.)

Distorted Graphs

All of Trump’s rhetoric over “rigged elections” and “rigged polls” had me looking at my own Distorted Graphs. Rigged? Well, yeah.

Distorted Graphs

The Clinton Foundation is still a headline. I wondered if there was talk about changing its name. The “staff” referenced here is rather nebulous — did I mean I secretly polled the staff of the Clinton Foundation or my staff here at Distorted Graphs? (Hint: One of those organizations has more than one person. The other does not.)

Distorted Graphs

Just the idea of Trump flipping and flopping, and then getting heat from his own party and supports for it, is worth a graph.

Distorted Graphs

The most ridiculous stories in this latest news cycle, I think, has been one questioning Clinton’s health. One can’t help but hear Monty Python in the head (“I’m Not Dead Yet”) as this foolishness goes on.

Distorted Graphs

Peace (we always tilt towards it),
Kevin

PS — here is the entire collection of Distorted Graphs, which began in the Primary Season

Graphic Novel Review: Tetris (The Games People Play)

The other day, I found myself with a few dull minutes to spare while waiting for my son. What did I do to kill the time? Tetris on my Android phone. It’s amazing that this simple game still holds appeal in this modern age,  but it does. A new graphic novel Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown not only explains the appeal of the puzzle challenge on the brain and psyche, but also explores the fascinating history of the game itself – from origin to launch to pop culture icon.

The appeal of Tetris has to with the psychology of games, and Tetris hits it on all cylinders. There’s the frontal cortex, trying to flip and slide the shapes while they drop. There’s the rush of finishing a line. There’s the quickening pace of action. The player hits a “flow.” It’s all part of the psychology of game design.

Then there’s the rich history of the game itself. Developed by Russian computer scientist Alexey Pajitnov as a side project during the Cold War, in the early days of PCs and video game programming, his Tetris concept of interlocking blocks first took root in the old USSR. Then the game was smuggled out of Russia on floppy discs, and then the game became the object of a global bidding war between companies in Japan, Europe and the United States, even as the political structure of the USSR made negotiations nearly impossible.

You may remember Tetris as the anchor game on many early gaming systems — including Game Boy — but how it got there is an amazing tale of politics and copyright and deceit, and lots and lots of money. Box Brown weaves the tale wonderfully in this graphic novel, which could find a home in a high school classroom where gamers and historians collide.

Peace (block by block),
Kevin

PS — I received an early copy from First Second Publishing to review. The book is out in October.

Visual Slice of Life: Leaf on Car Window

I glanced out the sun room window yesterday morning and saw this leaf on the front window of my car. It had rained the night before, so water droplets were still-life portraits on the glass, stuck in motion. I kept looking at the one leaf, though, and thought: I have to take a picture of that leaf.

The curvature of the car window made for both an interesting shot, and a tricky one to pull off. It was like looking over the edge of the globe … the view became distorted, in an interesting way.

I was just using my Android phone for a camera, but I found it interesting how a slight placement shift of my hand and phone would change what the lens was focusing in on. Sometimes, it would be the leaf. Sometimes, the droplets of water. Sometimes, the trees beyond the car.

When I was looking through the shots later, I thought it would be cool to use the Fuse app to “blend” some of the images together. It helped that the angles had the leaf in different spots, and that the light created slightly different hues of color.

I could not help but tinker, too, adding an interesting filter effect for this one, which looks very “artsy fartsy” (official terminology). Look at those drops of water near the bottom of the image … magical.

I find it interesting how one small moment – a leaf stuck to a car window — provides so many different ways to “look” at the world, and a perfect visual Slice of Life.

Peace (it looks wonderful),
Kevin

App Review: Gum

I am intrigued by ways in which social media and technology bridge the gaps between real space and virtual space. So, augmented reality apps are interesting (if still a bit complicated to use). Virtual reality ideas pique my interest. So when I saw someone share out about the app, Gum, I thought I would give it a shot.

Gum is an app that uses the bar codes on products (such as food) as a means to leave comments and texts related to those products. So, for example, if I open up the Gum app and connect it to the bar code of my older son’s favorite food — Ramen Noodles, chicken-flavor — I can leave some thoughts about the noodles. Anyone who uses the Gum app and scans in the bar code of Ramen Noodles (chicken) will now see the comment I left there about alternative uses for Ramen noodles.

And they can leave their own comment, too.

(Try scanning the bar code here of my Ramen Noodle package)

I left a question on the other kid-fave food in our house — Annie’s Mac and Cheese (purple box). Maybe someone will answer it in the future, using the Gum app. I’ll get a message if someone does. (I hope someone does).

(Try scanning the bar code of my Annie’s Mac and Cheese box)

I had thought, initially, that I could maybe upload an image with my text (and even crafted a comic for the noodles), but I guess it is just text connections across social media space with real objects. I’m still interested, and wonder how a network like CLMOOC might tap and hack into this kind of app for some connected project. How might we riff together with a connection to physical space with Gum?

Peace (yum … gum),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Secrets of Solace

My son and I stumbled into The Mark of the Dragonfly at our local library by sheer chance. The cover caught my eye. Sometimes, that’s enough. But the story kept us intrigued, as writer Jaleigh Johnson wove a tapestry of a world that was as immersive fiction, as if Johnson had stumbled into the lands only to tell us the story. In this place, magical and mysterious objects fall from the sky in a meteor scrap fields — things from other planets, perhaps. There is a lot not yet known in this story Johnson is telling of this place.

Now comes The Secrets of Solace, and while this young adult novel (we have an advance copy thanks to my wife, a librarian who visited a conference and came home loaded with books) is not a true sequel to The Mark of the Dragonfly, it is still set in the same world, and the war that had begun in the earlier book is now the backdrop for The Secrets of Solace.

PictureJohnson has not just woven a world out of imagination, she also pays keen attention to character development. Here, we have Lina, an archivist apprentice, who is hiding a secret from her people: the discovery of an airship buried deep in their mountain stronghold. Another character, Ozben, is a prince in hiding, and together, Lina and Ozben must solve the mystery of this ship in order to bring an end to the war that threatens to unravel the entire world.

With mystery and adventure and solid writing, Johnson hooks the reader early with character backstories and then steps on the gas with thrilling adventures, and once you know the ship, you will never look at your car or an airplane the same way again.

Peace (in all the worlds),
Kevin

I Am The Stamp: A #CLMOOC Poem Becomes Song

Postcard mashup

One of my favorite post-CLMOOC (Connected Learning MOOC) connections is the Postcard Project. I’ve written about it before. Last week, Wendy Taleo wrote a very interesting poem, after “reading” the stamps on the postcards making their way to Australia.

Read Wendy’s poem.

I wasn’t the only one who wondered of Wendy’s poem could be remixed into a song. Ron L., one of my regular musical companions and gifted artist, also had the same idea. So I took a chance at it, and boy, it was a bit more difficult than I thought. Mainly, I had some struggles because they were Wendy’s words. I didn’t want to change what she wrote too much ( I did ask her permission to remix and she graciously gave me the go-ahead, noting too that all of her material is Creative Common licensed.) I tinkered with words and phrases.

Turning Wendy poem into Song to sing

The final paper had lots more of those scratches. The difficulty was finding rhyme and rhythm to my guitar part, while still maintaining the Wendy-vibe of the poem. The result was a chorus that I wrote, and then a sort of Dylan-like singing of the verses to make them fit into the structure. Some parts work better than others, as song, in my opinion, and I wish it all worked better than it did.

I told Wendy and Ron I would try to make a demo of whatever I came up with. Here it is:

Still, despite my own “hearing what could have been better in my recording,” I love the concept of a song for the stamps on the postcards that we send, and the personification of the object as it travels through the world, bringing words and stories and art to each of us in the mix.

Thanks, Wendy!

Peace (sing it loud),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: March (Book One)

I know a bit about John Lewis just from my various readings about the Civil Rights, and even into the modern day. Lewis is one of those who led the floor fight on gun control this past year. But this first in a series of biographical graphic novels about John Lewis’ life, called March, was a powerful reminder of why change was needed in our country to end legal segregation and how brave the people were who fought for those changes.

Lewis, who remains an influential Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was at the forefront of student demonstrations in Nashville and communities around the South, particularly as part of the protests to test the limits of the Jim Crow laws at lunch counters.

The overarching narrative of this series of graphic novels is the March on Selma, but this first book is more about Lewis as a young man, growing up on a farm and beginning to not just notice the racial injustice of the world. He also begins to see his won part in bringing it to an end. Or at least, trying to.

March (Book One) is a powerful story, written well and drawn in black and white ink. I’d be tempted to bring this in as part of our work around Civil Rights with our reading of The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1963 but some of the language in this graphic novel has me a little antsy about that for my white, suburban classroom of sixth graders. Instead, I might pick and choose some sections, particularly where it connects to the lunch counter protests and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, which gets references in some of the primary source materials we read in class around the Civil Rights Movement.

I since read the second March book (I believe a third is just out) and found it just as engaging, if not more, than the first book. Even though I know how the Selma March ends and how its legacy ripples into the present, I am curious to go deeper into John Lewis’ story, to better understand the man and his deeds, and the fabric of our country.

Peace (let it be so),
Kevin