Slice of Life: Playing Cards and Making Acquaintances

(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.)

We sat in a small circle, three middle school boys and I, and talked through the rules. We were playing UNO on the first day of a summer camp I am helping to facilitate that connects writing and local history, and is a complex partnership between our Western Massachusetts Writing Project, an urban school with a social justice identity, the Springfield Armory, Veterans Education Project and Mass Humanities (which is funding the project).

I won’t go into all of the hurdles we have faced to make this camp actually happen. It’s happening. The kids from this school in the heart of Springfield were engaged and enjoying themselves. That’s enough to cite success.

But this after-lunch scene, with me playing UNO on the grass fields outside the Springfield Armory (and much of the grounds is now part of a technical college) sticks with me. It was so much fun, getting to know these three middle school boys as we navigated the rules, helped each other out, and just chatted away.

Armory Camp Day 1

Day Two starts in a few hours, and we have some cool activities planned — including an re-enactment actress who will give a dynamic presentation about women’s roles in the Armory during World War II — but I already know that one of the boys from the UNO game is determined to get a game of Apples to Apples going at recess today.

I’m in.

Peace (relax),
Kevin

Better the World: Reflecting on #DigCiz Discussions

Person by person

As I mull over the last few weeks of conversations

I’ve been using Vialogues to “slow-watch” weekly video hangouts of folks in the #DigCiz conversation. This “writing in the margins” has helped me slowly think about the topics — to push back, at times, and to agree at others. It often has taken me days to get through an hour-long discussion video. It has been worth it. You are invited, too, if interested.

Thanks to folks like Daniel, Terry, Sarah, Wendy and others who have added to the side conversations along with me. I still wish more of the hangout folks would have spilled into the margins, too, and extended the conversations (as Maha did). I appreciate, too, how Autumm and Sundi have worked to gather voices and perspectives together, and how they have nurtured the discussions in various places.

I have valued of all the points of view.

This whole four-week #DigCiz discussion has really raised important questions, particularly in the role of the individual in a larger data-driven system. Some lingering questions:

  • What rights and responsibilities do we have in that system or that platform?
  • What expectations should people have in those spaces, such as Facebook or Twitter or whatever?
  • Can we change those platforms if they don’t work for us?
  • Do we have agency?
  • How do we best teach young people ways to navigate the terrain with optimism and engagement?
  • Where do we go from here?

We’ve all done much chatting about these concerns, and more, and about how we address civics in the digital age. So, how do we take what we talked about and move it into action? Isn’t that always the conundrum? (See comic at the top for one way I tried to grapple with the question and found myself thinking of Annie Lamott’s Bird by Bird).

I am reminding myself, too, that we all need be more mindful that we can make a difference, one interaction at a time. I was asked by a friend about the following comic …

Think small
The point I was trying to make (and maybe fell into stereotype of academic folks, which is a bit unfair) is that we can all easily get bogged down in jargon and vocabulary and lose sight of the reason why were are engaged in conversations in the first place, which is to better connect with others and better understand points of view.

As a K12 teacher often in the midst of university folks through work with our writing project, it seems as if I am surrounded by vocabulary — you can almost hear some folks planning their next education journal writing or book project as they talk and interact — and I was seeking to remind myself that deeds and actions are important. Talking only gets you so far.

Words matter, of course. But where you take those words is a reflection on who are you and what you really want to see happen. Think small, but get it started. In the end, it has to do with being kind to each other and being open to differences, whether you are online or offline.

Perhaps I remain a bit naive about the possibilities of making the world a better place …

Peace (in the margins),
Kevin

Visual Literacies and the Emergence of “Picting”


visualliteracy flickr photo by alisonkeller shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

The term “picting” is new to me but it makes sense. In a recent piece at The Journal by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway entitled Picting, Not Wriing, is the Literacy of Today’s Youth, the question of whether the visual nature of literacy in the (literal) hands of youth — mostly via cameras on mobile devices — has overtaken the written literacies.

Maybe. I don’t know.

I look at my own teenage sons, and my own adolescent students, and I pay attention to the ways they use Snapchat and YouTube and who knows what other apps to document their world, but are they telling stories? It’s more like the visual elements of their mobile lives are connector points, or documentation hubs of their identity (or projected identities), than telling whatever we want to call a story. Read the comments at the article, and you’ll see a discussion about “story” unfolding along this query.

The authors cite research that does back up, however, how young people are more apt to “compose” with images  – and use writing only as secondary literacy points — than the other way around. Unless they are in school. Then, the equation flip flops. In school, writing is the key literacy skill and visuals are often add-ons.

I think that is generally true (that we value textual writing over visual composition), and while more of a balance would make sense, I still think the teaching of writing and of composition and of “composing” with media is a key anchor of learning in our schools. Whether young people are taking and sharing images with intentional design and composition strategies can probably be debated.

I believe that young people still need to learn and to use those more traditional skills (ie, writing with text) to inform the way they interact and write into the world, whether that writing be visual or not. Note the image I used at the top of the post. The elements of design are becoming more and more important for all of us, so teaching and learning visual literacy makes sense.

I was reminded of the work that Nick Sousanis is doing around the visual narrative. You can read his piece from Digital Writing Month, in which he explores elements of visual narrative with a unique insight.

from Nick Sousanis: Spin Weave and Cut

 

And I was reminded, too, of the way my friend Kim Douillard, a writing project colleague, sees the world through her camera, and shares out visual themes for others to try across many social media streams, every single week. Kim views what she sees through her camera as narrative points, and understands how a picture can be composed. I try to learn from her.

Image by Kim Douillard

 

Not everything we write is story, although a common definition of ‘story’ is often debated in writing and teaching circles. Still, the idea that narrative does run beneath all that writers do is an interesting concept, for sure. See Minds Made for Stories by Thomas Newkirk for more on this.

I wrote this as a comment response at The Journal’s piece:

Writing with text is important. So is visual literacy. Also, add in the ability to speak and listen. Explaining something with video? Yep. That, too. The best approach for us educators is always to find ways to fuse these elements together when working with young “composers” of media. We should teach students how each (writing, visual, audio) on its own transforms a message (if not tells a story) and how each can work in tandem with the other to make a more powerful statement on the world. It is intriguing how visual the world of young people has become and there are many ways to tap into that (graphic novels, comics, infographics, etc). I still maintain, along with others, that the art of writing is still at the center of all these literacies.

What do you think?

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

 

Humans at the Center of Civic Action

Civic Tech by Lawrence G

A #DigCiz post by Meg Mulrooney, which is worth your time as it centers on helping people move from digital interaction into political action, led to me to a post by Lawrence Grodeska, which got me thinking about a concept that came up during Networked Narratives about Civic Imagination.

Empowered by Meg M

Grodeska uses the term “CivicTech” and I think there is a fair amount of overlap between “Civic Imagination” (the idea of imagining a better future and then taking steps to make it happen) and “CivicTech” (which is the idea of making sure we use digital tools wisely and with agency to affect change in the world.)

It’s the hardest thing to move from ideas to reality, from talk to action, and it takes time and planning and a shared vision. Our local writing project site has shifted into connecting Civics with writing, and with teacher leadership, and both of these blog posts may come in handy as educators ponder on their role in the mix of public discourse, and student engagement and leadership.

Someone else shared this video out in the #DigCiz stream, and I appreciated the bend towards “human concern” in a world seemingly overrun by corporate interests, and the way those corporations are influencing the political realm that is impact us as individuals. How to effectively counter that push is the question facing many of us as voters and constituents.

Peace (in the world),
Kevn

Book Review: The Urban Sketchbook

I’m still trying to learn more about sketching. Recently, I took a break from writing for a week to do sketching from my couch, and I found it very enjoyable.

I am still not confident or comfortable with myself as a visual artist — I find myself falling back to words and text to understand and view the world — but I want to become better at sketching. I am interested in how different media forces you to have a different kind of perspective, and how different art changes the way we tell stories to each other (and ourselves).

So, of course, when I saw this book– The Urban Sketchbook — on the shelves of our public library, I had to grab it, take it home and peruse what was inside. If I had any doubts, the tagline on the cover had me before page one: Get Out. Walk. Observe. Draw. Lose Yourself. Create.

First of all, I didn’t even know that Urban Sketching was a thing. Of course, it’s a thing. Folks organize and gather together with sketchbooks in urban centers all over the globe and head out to the streets and city blocks to find scenes to sketch, some of which may be turned into more formal art. Most will not. Most of the art will remain in the books. There’s an informal warmth to sketching.

This book, a collection of ideas and resources by writer/illustrator Sergi Camara, is a fine introduction, touching on tools of the trade, the reasons why people sketch, the impact of social media on sketchbooks and collaboration, and more. There’s even an interesting introduction to the history of sketching.

I felt a bit like an outsider here, but the text and images and examples of sketching was very inviting, and I didn’t feel as intimidated by the art as I thought I might be.

I don’t live in an urban area. That didn’t matter. Carmara’s book gave me ideas on how one might view the world from different angles, with an eye for colors and lines and shapes and contours.

I’m still learning.

Peace (looks like that),
Kevin

 

Amplifying the Work of Others

Ampen don't Dampen

Ampen. Don’t Dampen.

My friend, Terry, wrote this phrase elsewhere in a discussion about “hospitality” and his words stuck with me, for its spirit of generosity of others. I hope I do that with my close reading activities, with quote pulling, with comic making, and with the remixing stories of others and sharing back.

By amplifying the work of others, we amplify the thinking of ourselves, for when you choose what to focus on in the work of others, you share a bit of yourself, too. This approach is also a way to counter the selfie-centered heart of technology. Turn the lens on someone else, and make a connection.

Peace (amplified),
Kevin

PS — Is ampen a word? I don’t think so. A quick search came up empty. Is it important? Nope. I still love invented language, and ampen to me signals a variation of amplify, but with softer and kinder tones.

Slice of Life: We’re All All Right

(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.)

I took my 12-year-old son to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 for the second time (we first went on opening weekend) because his friend had not gone yet. That seemed a shame. We had a blast in the cold theater on a hot day and my son’s friend loved the movie.

Once again, the scene where Cheap Trick’s Surrender plays hit me the heart of memory, reminding me of playing that song in my college-days rock band, Rough Draft.

So, I dug our cover of Surrender out. It was part of an audio track to a cable television recording we did, and then the studio lost the video tape so we don’t have that, only the audio. Maybe that’s a good thing …

That’s me singing and playing rhythm guitar. We used to have so much fun with that song. It was not a band of finesse. It was a band of loud energy. Rough Draft, indeed. Three of us from that band are still very close, and we get together once a year. In fact, that reunion is coming in two weeks.

We’re all all right!
We’re all all right!
We just seem a little weird …

Peace (no cheap tricks),
Kevin

PS — bonus song? Only if your ears can take it. This was early song of mine for Rough Draft. I was just starting to do some writing.

Thinking it Through: I’ve Got Comics On My Mind

Digital identity dispersion effect

The conversations around the #DigCiz hashtag have certainly gone into different directions this past week. I’m still trying to create comics based off discussions, and blog posts, and tweets, and whatever folks are doing. The comic above, for example, was in response to wondering how people represent themselves different in different digital spaces, and how our multiple identities are both connected an disconnected.

There’s been more wrestling with language, too, and what words one uses to describe connector points. Communities. Networks. Conversations. I don’t even know anymore. Let’s just talk and worry about what to call it some other time.

Networked community or community network?

We circled back to a talking point from a few weeks ago, too, on whether online sites should be open for readers to engage the writer, or closed to the readers to protect the writer. I fall on the side of open.

Open or closed?

Interestingly, hashtags themselves became a topic of conversation, and what it means when discussion centers around a shared hashtag. Who owns it? Are there rules?

See ya at the hashtag

And what happens if you break the rules? (if there are any)

Break the rules, pay the price

There was the theme of “hospitality” that many of us grappled with this week. I see it as, how do we welcome newcomers and encourage latecomers, and connect with those already there. Whatever “there” is. Or wherever. See? Language!

Build it but they won't come

A discussion of what does the host give up of their identity and authenticity to make the guest comfortable led to this:

A messy world

This is what I hope will happen …

Ponder the positive

… but then, not long after, I was critiquing Google and other companies for siphoning up our data even while pitching educational sites to kids. Sigh. So much for pondering the positives.

But … the slip was momentarily … for the idea of remixing and collaborating and making stuff with others still keeps me involved and engaged, and hopeful, and I hope you find a way in, too.

Open for Jamming

Peace (framed),
Kevin