Philly Reflections: National Writing Project Day Two

Yesterday was the official start of the National Writing Project Annual Meeting, with long sessions in the morning and shorter ones in the afternoon. Many of the workshops were centered on developing and supporting the work at our writing project sites.

I attended an always-interesting session called Writing in the Digital Age: Learning Environments and Student Writing (which I led a few years ago myself). Here, four different teachers presented various pieces of student work — podcasting, video storytelling, voicethreaded poems, and blogging connections. We broke off into smaller groups to examine the work and have a discussion around what we saw and what we could take out of it.

The first group that I was part of was a project from Hawaii in which teacher Cathy Ikeda brought us through how her students used voicethread to publish a version of the “I am” poems that connected students to their sense of place and culture through metaphors. I loved the students that used their voice, not just typed writing, but Cathy said there are technical issues at her district (too many computers accessing the net, and not enough wireless room — making audio difficult at times). What I really liked is how she published the threads to her school website and then invited family members not only to view and listen, but also to comment and give feedback. When we talk about the affordances of the media, this is a great example. How else would you have grandma leave a message for you? (as was the case with at least one of the young poets.)

Next, I sat in with Dawn Reed, who did an amazing podcast project with her speech class around the “This I Believe” concept from NPR. We listened to a student from Germany use his voice to encourage Americans to be open to new ideas. They also published to a blog (to the world!) and expanded their ideas of audience. (Note: Dawn and I are presenting together on Saturday at NCTE and she wrote about this project — with Troy Hicks — in our Teaching the New Writing book.)

Later that day, I ventured into a workshop called 21st Century Literacy and the Graphic Novel. This was a fascinating look at how the use of comics and graphic novels can open the doors for some of our students. Presenters Bee Foster and Anastasia Betts gave us a lot to think about. Bee, in particular, did a fantastic job of showing us examples she uses in her classroom to support the deBois’ theme of “twoness” in character and adversity, race and self.

Anastasia also gave out a top ten reason list for using graphic novels in the classroom (which you can find at her website, along with the slideshow presentation and various handouts) which include:

  • It’s visual
  • It’s relevant
  • It’s manageable
  • It’s rigorous
  • It’s engaging
  • It’s positive
  • It’s 21st Century
  • It’s communicative
  • It’s brain-based
  • It’s cross-curricular

This morning, we have the general assembly — more than a 1,000 teachers and educators who cherish writing and students in one room, together — and BILLY COLLINS is the guest speaker. I can’t wait. (Gosh, he better not disappoint me, right?)

Peace (in the sharing),

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