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, 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 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),


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),

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________),

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.

Embedded image permalink

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),

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),

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),


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),


Me — on Medium — Writing

Me on Medium

I’m trying out the idea of writing posts over at Medium, a publishing site that I have been following and reading for some time now, but never took the plunge into posting to beyond a comment here and there. For now, I am revamping some of the material that I have posted here, at my blog, for over there, at Medium.

Check out my posts at Medium:

Medium is an interesting site, as it is trying to find some ground between long-form journalism and small form writing. It seems a bit as if other journalist groups are linking into Medium to publish/republish content. There are a lot of technology-related pieces (and too many tales of the “start up” culture for my tastes, as it feels as if companies are using their Medium stories of being a start up to get publicity to get funding … is that too cynical of me? It may be that I don’t quite know Medium’s audience)

Still, some of the education pieces that I have read have been pretty insightful and intriguing, and my reading of those pieces gave me the courage to wonder if I might add my voice to the site, too.  Why not, right? Writing and posting to Medium is certainly easy enough with the publishing tool they provide.

I’m in …. how about you?

Peace (in the new),

Phew … The First Week Sets the Stage

First week of school

This is the first year that I can remember that we started school on a Monday and went five days to Friday. Normally, we come mid-week for a few days and then hit the ground running the next week. Instead, we had five full days and now a three-day weekend before coming back to a short week.

I admit: I was exhausted yesterday afternoon.

But I think my new students – 76 sixth graders — are wonderful, and engaged already. Here’s a bit of what we accomplished in our first five days of school:

  • Community Building (but I wish we had time to have done more … I will write another time about schedule changes this year that have taken away from this)
  • Created accounts and created avatars in our webcomic site
  • Finished up an introductory webcomic (an activity called Pro Card), which gets us ready to dive into our first year real project next week, called Dream Scenes
  • Did two writing prompts, including a creative writing/expository writing/art element about an imaginary treehouse
  • Introduced vocabulary and set the bi-weekly system in motion
  • Read a short story and began to connect with literary concepts (protagonist/antagonist, foreshadowing, etc.)
  • Worked on an organizational chart for planning a literature response piece, which will get written next week
  • Laughed a lot and had students feeling like writers

That last one is important, even if it is not on the standards. It sets the stage for all the hard work and deep writing I hope we can accomplish as the year progresses.

Peace (on Saturday),



Book Review: The League of Seven

I introduced by son to the concept of Steampunk with a read-aloud of The League of Seven, by Alan Gratz, and he was intrigued by the elements of alternative history (in which electricity is bad) as much as the development of a new book series. Gratz has a nice pacing to his writing, and although this is the first book (we meet only three of the seven heroes who will have to saved the world), those three are interesting.

The story revolves around mythology, with a mix of traditional and non-traditional stories of evil lurking below and ready to rise. In this book, Archie Dent is our protagonist, and he envisions himself the leader of a new League of Seven (each generation has a league to fight evil), although twists at the end change this expectation in intriguing ways. But I won’t give it away.

In this world, Edison is the evil genius, and electricity will help the evil creatures (Titans, in Greek Mythology, I assume) rise from their prisons in the depths of the Earth. Archie’s parents are part of the Septemberists, a collection of people who work to keep the world safe. But they get, well, kidnapped (in a way) and Archie must save them, along with two new friends with different, special abilities.

What unfolds is an adventure and immersion into a world both like and unlike our own, and the League of Seven has us hooked as a read-aloud, and now we wait for the second book (The Dragon Lantern) sometime later this year.

Peace (in the place),