The Traveling Raisins of PhotoFriday Fame

I think I neglected to show this video here. Bonnie Kaplan and I launched a project last year with our friends in the PhotoFridays Flickr group to send two little California raisin characters around the world. As they landed in different locations, folks took pictures of them, shared them with our Flickr group and the mailed them forward to the next person (Flat Stanley … eat your heart out!).

When they finally came home, I took all of the images, wrote a song and then used Animoto to mix it all together.

Here you go:

Peace (in the journey),

The Internet Mapping Project: My Perceptions

Kevin Kelly has an interesting project going on — asking people to visually map out their perceptions of the Internet World and then sending it in to him for a collection. I decided to use Boolean and Mr. Teach to get at my own perceptions of the passive and active divide I see with my students — at home, they are passive; in school, they are active. These are broad generalities, of course, and there are many exceptions to the rule. I added in Funk to remind us not to forget about those kids being left behind in the digital revolution.

Be sure to visit Kevin Kelly’s site. It’s a fascinating look at people’s perceptions.

Peace (in the map),

What my theories look like in action …

Yesterday, I posted some ideas that I have when it comes to Literacy. As I thought more about it over the course of the day, I began to watch the work my students were doing through that same lens. I thought it might be useful, then, to reflect on what I saw and why it seemed important.

A little perspective: we are near the end of our poetry unit (songwriting is on the horizon to end the year!) and students have a poetry journal that we have been using just about every day. I would say they have about 15 to 20 poems in their journal. Yesterday, we first took one of those poems called Inside This … (which uses figurative language to get at the essence of an inanimate object) and podcast them for our class blog site. Then, we began an assignment called Hyperlinked Poetry Books, in which they take at least six of their favorite poems, create a book in Powerpoint and then learn and use the architecture of hyperlinks to create a series of “connected paths” between their poems so that the book is no longer linear.

First: the Inside This podcast poem.

This short poem covers a lot of ground. My students have to use the Figurative Language techniques that we learned about earlier in the year — reviewing similes, metaphors, alliteration and more — as part of their writing toolbox. They are writing to learn by exploring some object from an entirely non-physical perspective, with a poet’s stance, using tools that are a center of the curriculum. The Stakes Approach is on full display, too, as they move from low stakes (their journal) to high stakes (the podcast for a web-based audience). The various elements of language arts are on display — writing the poem, reading the poem for errors, speaking the poem for podcast, and then listening to others (and later, at the blog, to themselves). Certainly technology is here, with the podcasting, but this prompt does not push its way into other curricular areas.

Next: the Hyperlinked Poetry Book.

Since this assignment is self-evaluate poems that they have written, my students must look at their own writing through the eye of an editor. How will they choose which poems to feature? This, in itself, is a writing process. And part of their book are two reflections: which poetry style did they enjoy and why and which did they not enjoy and why not? Again, the Stakes Writing approach encompasses much of this work, as they move from their own journal (low stakes) to sharing with their writing class (mid-stakes) to potentially sharing their poems with the world on our blog site (high stakes). This is not even a graded assignment, but NOT ONE of my 75 young writers even asked about that. They were totally engaged in creating this book of poems and links.  For most, this assignment will cover writing and reading in the Language Arts umbrella, but for others, they might add them reading their poems — pushing the spectrum out a little further. The technology and writing are hand-in-hand for this assignment, as they both publish their writing on a digital platform and learn how hyperlinks are the backbone of the Internet through shared informational traits (why did you choose that keyword? What connects this poem to the next? How do you avoid setting up an “endless loop” between two poems?). In some years, we do write poems around curricular areas (we read math-themed Poems for Two Voices this year but did not write our own) and so my concept of writing into other curricular areas … not so good again.
Peace (in sharing),

Articulating some thoughts on Literacy and Writing

I’ve been asked by my school principal to join in a conversation on Monday about literacy and Language Arts in our school district. Our district focus next year will be to revamp our Language Arts curriculum, or at least move in that direction, and the administration is trying to bring together some teachers to discuss what literacy should look like in our schools.We’re planning a two-day Literacy Event for our district in the fall, too, and they want to get ideas from us.

I am trying to articulate what my own ideas are about Language Arts before that meeting and so, true to my nature, I am using this writing as a way to process some of my thoughts. Bare with me and please feel free to add your own ideas.

  • We write to learn. This is a central tenet in my thinking. We use writing to understand the world, to make sense of information and to reflect upon our own experiences. Writing gives us private inroads into making sense of things. When we write, we organize, articulate and explore the things we know, the things we want to know, and the things we don’t quite yet know.
  • Language Arts is all four spheres. Yes, we focus a lot on writing and reading, but listening and talking are also important elements of literacy. I wish we did more in the areas of listening (I try to work that in to as many lessons as possible) and speaking (beyond just oral reports).
  • A “Stakes Approach” to writing provides multiple opportunities for expression. I stole this one from my friend, Bruce Penniman. The Stakes Approach is built on the concept of tiered writing opportunities, moving from low stakes (journal writing, writing for the self, etc) that is not necessarily shared with anyone to mid stakes (collaborative writing in the classroom, informal projects, etc.) that is for a comfortable audience to high stakes (published work, performances, etc.) that moves into the bigger world. This spectrum of writing allows students to try on different hats and use different voices and concentrate on different skills. (See this Google Doc for my own organization of Stakes Writing).
  • Writing across the Curriculum is a key to learning. We need to integrate Language Arts more into all curricular areas so that writing is not just stories composed on paper, but thinking put into words. Math, in particular, gets short-changed with our fairly rote district-wide curriculum. It’s mostly drill and kill, and not the reasoning. For me, this has meant writing prompts connected to social studies, and digital projects connected with Science and Math. I’m not doing enough, but I am aware how important it is. (Note: my colleagues in the other disciplines do a lot of writing with the students, too, so it is not a vacuum.)
  • Technology and multi-media should be components of Language Arts. Students are highly engaged and very aware of audience when they start using technology for showcasing their knowledge and understanding. They rise to the occaision when they realize that they are in the high stakes field of writing — the web is the world.  The Web 2.0 opportunities opens up many doors for collaboration, integration of resources and multiple angles for students of all diverse learning backgrounds. Even the NCTE has come out strongly in favor of this kind of literacy. Given the world today and the world unfolding for tomorrow, to ignore this possibility to help show students how to “create” and “compose” (a better term) with technology would have terrible consequences.

What do you think? Am I on the right path? What am I missing?

Peace (in articulation),

Day in a Transition with Jo

This week, Day in a Sentence shifts over to Jo’s site and her theme is appropriate enough for many of us in the United States who may be moving into vacation time. She is asking that we consider the concept of “transition” in our Day in a Sentence. Intriguing, right?

Come join us by heading over to Jo’s blog and adding your own reflective sentence. We’d love to have you in the mix.

Peace (in sharing),


Tonight on Teachers Teaching Teachers

(This is an announcement about tonight’s webcast about the book I co-edited)

On June 10th join editors of Teaching the New Writing, a new book from The National Writing Project, a MacArthur grantee. They will discuss new directions in student composing as the boundaries between written, spoken, and visual blur and audiences expand.

Editors Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project will address these and other questions in this interactive webcast on June 10th, drawing from insights and discoveries they made while writing their new book, Teaching the New Writing. The book pulls together teachers’ stories, practices, and examples of students’ creative and expository writing from online and multimedia projects such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and electronic poetry.

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, codirector of the National Writing Project will be with us as well.

This is the first of three Teachers Teaching Teachers shows this month that will focus on this book. Next week and the week after, we will have various authors from the different chapters Teaching the New Writing on the show.

Please join us at at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times

Spotlight on Digital Youth

Thanks to Gail P. for sharing this video and this series. It’s a fascinating look at kids with digital tools from Edutopia. This video is of Jalen, who is a cartoonist, gamer and more.

Peace (in the digital world),

Social Networking with the Writing Project

A few years ago, during a session with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project‘s Summer Institute, I was discussing how we were going to use blogs and a networking space of the National Writing Project for sharing and reflecting and connecting. I went slow and step-by-step. I could see, however, that many in the room — these mostly veteran teachers — just could not wrap their mind around what we were asking them to be doing with technology. I tried to create mental pictures, drew a diagram on the whiteboard and racked my brain for other ways to explain it.

But many remained confused and one person got so frustrated with me, she stormed right out of the computer lab. I was taken aback, to be honest, because the term “blog” had long been in popular culture and MySpace was all the rage in the news. I thought they would have some cultural references to at least get a hook on. (Some teachers that summer did “get it” but not many.)

I was reminded of this because yesterday, I worked with this coming summer’s group of Summer Institute teachers and it was a world of difference. We use a closed Ning social networking site (see above) for our institute and within minutes, with no fuss, we had all fourteen teachers signed up, writing, commenting and changing their homepage themes. Another few minutes and they were registered with the National Writing Project so they could take part in the eAnthology, a wonderful closed writing network tool that connects participants in summer institutes across the country. Before my hour was up, everyone was online and connected and no one seemed overly confused or pissed off at me (I like that).

Is this emblematic of the shift that we keep talking about? Has Facebook made it easier for us to talk about social networking? I think so, although only a few hands went up when I asked who uses technology with their students. But they seemed ready to learn and to be more open to new ideas. I left satisfied that this group might use our Ning site in the month between yesterday’s orientation session and the day when the month-long institute kicks off in July.

Peace (in the shift),

PS — Don’t know what a National Writing Project Summer Institute is all about?

At our site, the goals of our institute are:

  • to help participating teachers reflect upon their own expertise as teachers of writing and share this knowledge with their peers;
  • to help participating teachers organize and prepare ways of presenting this expertise to teachers outside WMWP;
  • to make available to participating teachers the latest theory and research in the field;
  • to help participating teachers see themselves as writers.

The Invitational Summer Institute program embodies these four goals, which reflect the philosophy of the National Writing Project. Participants will prepare and present professional workshops, read currrent theory and research in their chosen area, conduct informal action research projects in their classrooms, do their own self-directed writing, and help their colleagues with this writing through writing response groups.

Talking up the book on Teachers Teaching Teachers

Teaching the New Writing

Teaching the New Writing

This coming Wednesday (June 10), I will be joining my colleagues Anne Herrington and Charlie Moran and others to discuss the book collection that we recently published called Teaching the New Writing (put out by Teachers College Press). In the book, we feature teachers who are using technology with writing in this age of assessment and standardized testing and examining how they are balancing those ideas. We think it is an important book (of course) and the three of us will be talking with Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim on Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast (and later, podcast) about the book project.

I invite you to join us, if you can. You can listen to the webcast and ask questions in the chat room.

Then, on the following two Wednesdays (June 17 and June 24), we will be bringing in some of the chapter writers to talk about their various projects — such as podcasting in the speech classroom, collaborative digital storytelling in the elementary classroom, a poetry fusion project, and more.

You can find Teachers Teaching Teachers on EdTech Talk.

Here is the announcment from the National Writing Project site:

You are invited to listen and interact with teachers across the globe during a special Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast, titled “Teaching the New Writing,” sponsored by the NWP Technology Initiative.

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 and accountability of assessment.

According to the editors of a new book, Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom, one way to study these balancing acts is 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 explored.

Chapter topics range from creating digital picture books with middle school students to podcasting in a high school speech class to blogging in social networks to multimedia composition with preservice teachers.

Join editors Charlie Moran, Anne Herrington, and Kevin Hodgson, all from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, for the June 10, 2009, edition of the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast as they discuss the book and talk about some of the discoveries and insights they made as they worked with the chapter writers.

How to Participate

The event takes place on the Teachers Teaching Teachers webpage on Wednesday, June 10, 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).

Peace (in the sharing),

The Claymation Project: Tolerance

We have ambitions. And focus (for the most part). But whether my class can complete stopmotion claymation movies before our school year ends in three weeks is uncertain. We’re going to try. We’re going to try. And boy, they are very engaged for a June project.

Since my literature groups just read two books that center on racism and tolerance (The Watsons Go to Birmingham and Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry), I decided it might be interesting to have them create short claymation movies on the theme of “tolerance.” And so, we have stories developing, and clay characters being created, and next week: let’s get filming!

One group of boys who have been loving the study of Sparta in Social Studies are working on a story with Spartans and how a group of hero-warriors come to understanding the differences of others. One particular student is very adept at clay and it is pretty amazing to watch him in action (his mother has been giving him clay to keep him busy since he was a little dude).

(These pics are also shared over at Photo Fridays)

I’m excited but stressed about finding enough time for them to create a movie they will be proud of before the school year ends. I’ll need to keep moving them along, pushing them to focus, and hoping the technology works as it should.

Peace (in frames),