Making Music: A New Webcomic Adventure

With Boolean Squared winding down for the year (the comic will end temporarily next week, but I will reflect more on that project on another day), I have been interested in creating a series of comics about my life in music (so far).
So, I am turning to ToonDoo to create a series of comics and see how it goes. I’ll be putting the comics in a ToonDoo ebook as I go along. I hope you enjoy them. I’ll be posting the comics — called Making Music — on Mondays, to keep the alliterative theme going.

Peace (in comics),

The first TTT podcast on Teaching the New Writing

Thanks to Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim for allowing me and my co-editors to take over Teachers Teaching Teachers for a few weeks. Paul just put up the first of three shows, in which my co-editors (Anne Herrington and Charlie Moran) discuss Teaching the New Writing. The second show focused on collaboration and this coming week, we’ll be discussing the use of audience when it comes to writing and technology. (I’ll post about that another day)

Go to Teachers Teaching Teachers
See the chat room transcript
Listen to the podcast

Peace (on the air),

Your Days in Haiku as Comic Book Collection

Some of you know I sing the praises of ToonDoo regularly. I find it easy to use, with a wealth of resources. And I had my students do Comic Strip Poetry recently, so it made sense to take all of the wonderful Day in a Haiku submissions and use ToonDoo to create a comic book of your words. I hope you enjoy it and that I was respectful to your ideas (I worried about the tone of the comics for some of the poems).
Here you go:
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direct link to the comic book is here.
Peace (in frames),

Claymation Movies: On the theme of Tolerance

Most of my claymation groups rushed to complete their movie projects yesterday. I wish they didn’t feel so rushed but the school year ends in a few days and those days are jammed with activities. The task before the students: create a claymation movie around the theme of tolerance (related to our literature readings of Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry and Watsons Go to Birmingham).

A few of the groups really got it while some others … not so much. A few of the groups of boys got so into using clay that they lost track of their story idea, and so the movies were more slapstick comedy than development of story. Claymation can really engage students, but it can be difficult to keep some of them on track. Plus, claymation requires the art of patience, which is difficult at the end of the school year to maintain.

But here are a few of the movies to share out (maybe more next week):

Peace (in the little people),

Rockin’ and rollin’ in my classroom

I shared this photo with Photofridays, but it is my set-up this week as we venture into songwriting for the last few days of the year. We listen to a lot of songs (Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls, etc) and then I let them listen to two of my songs with lyrics, as I talk about the writing process, and then I share a song that I wrote with a missing verse.

They write the verse and then come up and sing it with me. I crank up the electric guitar and plug in my drum machine and turn the microphones loose for a while. Most of my students join me (not all, but most) and now we are using SuperDuperMusicLooper software to “write” their own songs, with a verse and a chorus. If we have time, they will then create a Pivot stickfigure movie, with their song as the soundtrack.

If time …

Peace (with amps up to 11),

Your Day in a Haiku

I must be in a poetic frame of mind. So, how about Day in a Haiku, which we have not done in quite some time. You can go traditional 5-7-5 or veer off into your own creative Haku-ish world of syllables and topics. It’s up to you. Please reflect on a day or your week, compose a haiku and add it to the comment link for this post. I will gather up all of our haikus and post them over the weekend.

Here is mine:

Rain days drift upon
us as the summer’s sun seems
nowhere near us now

Peace (in the three lines),


Making Songwriting Visible

My class is moving from poetry into songwriting (even as they finish up a Hyperlinked Poetry Book project) and yesterday, we took a look at a Green Day song (and sang it together, with me on guitar) and some songs that I wrote and performed with my old band (The Sofa Kings). We talked about establishing a theme or message in a song, how most pop and rock songs use a verse-chorus structure, and what rhyming patterns might emerge (mostly couplets).

We’re going to rock the room today, with my electric guitar, drum machine and PA system and a song that I wrote a few years ago that has a missing verse. They’ll write the missing verse (theme: believe in yourself) and then come on up to the microphone tomorrow to perform with me. Then, I want to get them writing their own songs before the school year ends next week.

But this reminded me of a video I made about a year ago as I sat down to write a song. I used my little Flip video to capture my process of writing, rewriting and thinking out loud about what I was doing. So, here I share the video again and also, below it, the song that I quickly recorded after the video had ended and the song came together.

The song: A Man of ContemplationPeace (in the song),


The Voice in the Room is Mine

This is a quick follow up to some of my posts around my thinking around the concepts of Literacy.

Yesterday, I attended our school district meeting that will lead to the launch of a two-year Literacy Initiative for our schools, beginning in earnest in November with two full days of literacy professional development. This is the first time we have used two full days back to back for any one topic, so we are excited about the possibilities here. And there is pressure on the administration to put on a good show that really energizes our teachers. The teachers brought together at our meeting yesterday were mostly k-3 and reading/special education specialists, so I felt as if I had to represent the upper elementary grades as the sole sixth grade classroom teacher. (For some reason, our regional middle and high school are not even involved in the initiative.)

The discussions were rich and fruitful, centering around ways to connect literacy ideas across grade levels, provide some ways to track progress of students and open up collaborative discussions among teachers from various schools and grades.We talked a lot about the common things we are all doing and how we can learn from each other.

I noted at one point that so much of our talk was centered around reading skills and that writing was getting short shrift … again. Why do we do that? Why does reading take over writing when it comes to literacy? Where is the balance between the two? (And listening and oral language skills never even got onto the table, to be honest) Luckily, a colleague jumped in and passionately explained how good writing is also good reading, and that teachers often cut writing because they don’t know how to teach good writing skills to students. Our administration seemed to hear that loud and clear.

I had my own ideas, of course, and made sure I was up high on my virtual sandbox, advocating that any new literacy work should also include the technology and media skills of the 21st Century. When it came time to try our hand at a Vision Statement, mine centered on using multi-modal platforms for reading and for writing, and for writing for an authentic purpose.

But I was mostly alone on this topic and I know it will be a tough sell for teachers who don’t use technology themselves in their own classrooms to think about how they could actually use it with students. I argued that the reading and writing that goes on outside of school in our students’ real lives (text messaging, web reading, online collaborative games, etc.) needs to be reflected and used inside the classroom if we want our students to make sense of the skills we are teaching them and for those skills to have value for them. Everyone listened respectfully, but my soapbox did not lead to any discussions or further talk about Digital Literacies. It was a sort of an awkward silence.

So, we’ll see where all this leads in the next two years.

Peace (in the talk),

Praising The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


I just finished up Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and it just blew me away with its voice, power and creativity. No wonder it won the National Book Award a few years back. It was one of those books that stays on the peripheral vision and then, finally, you get to it and you now know why it was always out there, waiting for you to read.

The book follows the life of high student student named Junior, who is a Spokane indian who lives on a reservation and realizes he has to get off the reservation or else he will die — either tragically and quickly (through some alcohol-related incident, he is certain) or slowly (through the loss of his dreams). So, he decides to attend school at the white high school just outside the skirts of the reservation and doors both open and close for Junior as a result. He never quite fits in with his new school (he’s the line Indian) and his friends back home (including his best friend, Rowdy, a warrior of the modern day reservation) think him a traitor for leaving their school.

The book is illustrated with comics, although it is not a graphic novel. But Junior makes comics to understand his life and the world around him, and the book uses this form in imaginative ways (thanks to illustrator Ellen Forney, who is featured in a Q&A at the end of the book that is quite interesting to read).

I don’t usually dog-ear books but I did to this line by Junior:

“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

Isn’t that a great line? I love that line.

Then, later, as Junior is talking with his new white friend, Gordy, they realize that the comics are actually a serious interpretation of the world. Junior tells Gordy:

“I take them seriously. I use them to understand the world. I use them to make fun of the world. To make fun of people. And sometimes I draw people because they’re my friends and family. And I want to honor them.”

One of the issues he struggles with is poverty. See this sample illustration at a moment when his “white” friends suddenly realize how poor he really is (he can’t pay for food at Denny’s):


Pick up this book if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Peace (on the pages),

Collaboration with Writing/Technology: Teachers Teaching Teachers

Teaching the New Writing

Teaching the New Writing

On Wednesday night (9 p.m. eastern time), I will be guest-hosting this week’s edition of Teachers Teaching Teachers as we continue to explore the book I co-edited — Teaching the New Writing. This week, we’re going to focus in on the theme of collaboration with some of the chapter writers. It should be an interesting talk about how technology and writing can foster good collaboration among students.

Here is the notice from the National Writing Project site:

You are invited to join teachers across the globe for a special interactive Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) webcast, titled “Teaching the New Writing: Exploring the Collaborative Nature of Writing and Technology in the Classroom,” sponsored by the NWP Technology Initiative.

Balancing Acts

As educators move forward into the terrain of digital literacy and learning with their students, part of the challenge is balancing the innovation of new technology with the accountability of assessment.

The recently published book Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom explores these balancing acts through case studies of elementary through university-level classrooms where teachers are integrating technology with writing and where the assessment of the digital work and student learning is being explored.

Chapter authors Paul Allison, a high school teacher, technology liaison at the New York City Writing Project, and facilitator of TTT; Glen Bledsoe, an elementary teacher and teacher consultant at the Oregon Writing Project at the University of Oregon; and Jeff Schwartz, high school teacher and member of the Bread Loaf Teachers Network, will share examples of their classroom practices to prompt a discussion about the collaborative nature of writing when using technology in the classroom.

Their work includes the collaborative creation of a classroom digital production, students bloggers forming connections within an online social network, and writers using audio and video to share their work.

How to Participate

The event takes place on the Teachers Teaching Teachers webpage on Wednesday, June 17, 9–10 p.m. EST / 6–7 p.m. PST.

Teachers Teaching Teachers webcasts are live each Wednesday night, 9–10 p.m. EST / 6–7 p.m. PST.

Download instructions for listening and chatting during a live show (PDF).

I hope you can join us in the chat room and listen in to the conversations.

Peace (in sharing),