The Game: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note:  I used to live for Sundays in football season, just to watch the New York Giants. There were good years. There were bad years. And at night, I would dream in football plays — usually the botched ones. Thankfully, I have grown out of that phase. But I still love the Giants and catch a bit when I can. It’s just not the same.)

I used to dream in football back when I was fan
so that I could redraw the plays the way they should have been played
and not how they came out on the field
It is amazing how invested I could become
from my living room chair, with a beer can in my hand,
and my feet nowhere near the green grass.
And at night, I was the coach,
picking apart the film.
I still watch, but I am not the same;
Now, I wake up at night with worries of my family
or my classroom
my students
or my writing.
The game has changed in ways that I cannot even begin to fathom.

Listen to the podcast poem.

Peace (on the field),

Composing: A visual poem

Take a word. Toss it into this Williams Words generator. Out comes a visual poem. Of sorts. Here is mine, using the word “composing” as the generator text. I am even going to say, this is one of my 30Poems 30Days poems, as a way to honor the non-traditional poet.

Peace (in the visual),

A must-read: The Digital Writing Workshop

I’ll start out by saying that the author of this fantastic new book — The Digital Writing Workshop — is Troy Hicks, a friend of mine through the National Writing Project and one of the chapter authors in my own book, Teaching the New Writing. So, this is not a completely unbiased recommendation to go out and get this book.

But you should, particularly if you are interested in the ways that writing can use technology wisely with students in their role as composers with digital media. In this book, Troy lays out an entire realm of digital tools that are out there than can support and enhance the teaching of writing. He also touches on such ideas as Choice and Inquiry, Conferencing with students, publishing student work to a world audience, and assessing such digital work (always a tricky endeavor in my opinion).

In his opening statement, Troy wisely lays out the rationale for his work:

I argue here and throughout this book that if we engage students in real writing tasks and we use technology in such a way that it complements their innate need to find purposes and audiences for their work, we can have them engaged in a digital writing process that focuses first on the writer, then on the writing, and lastly on the technology. (p.8)

Troy grounds his work in the foundations of the Writing Process movement — where the focus is on the writer’s exploration — but examines the potential of technology for students. Wikis can be collaborative publishing spaces, collaborative word processors (like Google Docs) can show revision history, podcasting gives students a voice to the world, digital storytelling as a way to merge writing with image and more.

Troy also provides plenty of information, such as his chart that shows the traits of effective and ineffective digital writers. He also wisely lays out the various technology and projects along a spectrum called MAPS: Mode, Media, Audience, Purpose, and Situation for the writer.

If you are a teacher interested in moving towards the digital writing world with your students, this is the book to get. Troy has made a useful and engaging book about the transformation going on in some classrooms, but not enough. I will be keeping this book on my desk at school and sharing it with colleagues when I can. You should, too.

Meanwhile, you can also join up with Troy and others who have read the book at Troy’s ning site:

Peace (in the exploration),


Day 11: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s Note: I have three boys. My mom passed away as the second one was nearing birth, so she knew our first, knew of the second but never of the third. I wonder what she would have thought about them and think about how she would have loved to be with them. A poem of memory, loss and celebration.)

How much life we have lived without my mother to see it;
she who died before the second one was born
and never even knew that a third one was destined
and only held onto the first one with such fierce love
that her echoes still reverberate around us.

Listen to the podcast poem.

Peace (in the 30 days),

Day 10: A Double Dose of Poetry for 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: Today, I have two poems on tap for my 30Poems 30 Days adventure. The first is inspired by my older boys playing baseball. They’ve been playing since spring and they continue to play in a large pick-up game three times a week — although now, with the time change, it is down to just Saturday mornings. The poem came as I watched dusk descend on them one night. The second is a request from Gail D. to make a poem with my comic, Boolean Squared, and so what came out was a little rant about kids being locked into standardized education.)

The boys are playing baseball with the Sun again;
the daylight sits, glove ready, on the horizon
as the kids all spill out onto the field after school,
whistling some summer tune
even as the leaves tumble to the ground
as a mattress for winter.
Still, they smack the ball around and shout at the sun
to stay up and be ready and to not give in to the shadows
which creep into the game like a grumpy umpire shouting:
“You’re out!”

Listen to the podcast poem.

And now, Boolean Squared poetry.

Peace (in the poems),


Day Nine: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s Note: I wrote this the other day, when the switching of the clocks wreaked some havoc on me.)

I’ll just put this extra hour in my pocket
for some day when I really need it —
when I am on the run with time flying by
as the list of things-to-do grows longer
than the clock itself

I’ll fold up this the hour and tuck it inside my wallet
next to the expired credit cards and unintelligible phone numbers,
knowing that it is there for me like some golden drachma
to be slipped inside the Time Machine

You’d know what I’ll do with this hour?
I’ll kick back with it, relax and try not to think of next year’s Spring
when the world takes back its loan
and pushes me behind once again.

Listen to the podcast of the poem.

Peace (in the time),

My Teaser Video for K12Online Conference

I’ll be writing more about this as the month rolls by, but I created a quick teaser video yesterday for my session at this year’s K12 Online Conference (ie, “The conference that never ends …”). My session is all about a Google Map/Earth Project in which students created a Heroic Journey story that spanned the globe.

Peace (in the journey),

Reflecting on a Literacy Conference

Yesterday, I joined about 20 of my colleagues in a bus trip to a Professional Development Conference in New Hampshire put on by Heinemann and featuring Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, who have developed many resources for teaching and addressing literacy in the classroom.

First off, let me say that I hate conference halls where a hundred or two of us sit at long tables and listen to a single speaker. There is such little engagement between presenter and audience (I speak; You listen. It’s like the old school way of teaching, right?) and my mind drifted quite a bit at times. I noticed a lot of people in the room with their iPhones out, playing games and checking messages. (I didn’t bring my iTouch so I was safe from temptation). One of the things I love about the National Writing Project is that most sessions are hands-on engagement and I forget that not all professional development is the same way. (But: why not? I guess you can get more money from a huge hall of folks than a small room of folks.)

That said, both Fountas and Pinnell were excellent speakers and they tried their best to keep us interested as we moved through elements of their Continuum of Literacy program that centers on literacy development from kindergarten through eighth grade. They have a real research-based approach to literacy, although the focus is on reading more than writing (with a slight nod to New Literacies tossed into the mix but only slight).

Their concept of Guided Reading for students and of finding various levels of literacy so that you can best help the individual student is fascinating and something our school has moved to this year (well, we are moving towards that direction) and I am trying to absorb as much as I can. I still worry about how I am going to assess 75 students three times a year, and then develop plans for each of those readers. That’s a bit stressful.

Another thing I admire of Fountas and Pinnell: their assessment of student comprehension is based on three tiers:

  • Thinking within the text (literal)
  • Thinking Beyond the text (critical thinking)
  • and Thinking About the text (what the writer did).

This really makes a lot of sense to me when thinking of ways to teach and assess student comprehension skill

“Teach the behavior, not the text.” — Fountas.

I love this quote — based on their own lengthy descriptions of reading behaviors that one will see at different reading levels — because it will require me to make a shift from class novels to something smaller and more individualized and I am just trying to get my mind around that shift. She notes that class novels are not bad, as long as they are not the only literacy experience the students are having (they’re not, but still … class novels are a big part of my reading program).

She said class novels allow all students to “experience the text” but not necessarily “read the text” and that makes sense to me. So, I will be rethinking things in the months to come, that’s for sure.

One more thing she said, in regards to paying attention to fluency. Reading a word is not the same as understanding the thoughts.:

“It’s not about reading the words. It’s about teaching them (students) how to read the language.”

They played a number of video clips of teachers working with students and that was helpful, particularly when I saw a clip of students using the beautiful novel, Seedfolks (which I used once with a pen pal project), and got that aha moment again (meaning: check my Scholastic book points and see if I can get a set for my class).

So, there you go: my own view of the conference.

Peace (in the sharing),

Day Seven: 30Poems 30Days

(Poet’s note: This is a love poem to my wife.)

I could listen to your tea kettle for hours,
just to hear the way your day will begin
with hot liquids in a cup and thoughts moving through you
as you stand before the steamed up mirror,
brushing your hair in rhythm to my heartbeat.

Listen to the poem as a podcast

Peace (in the love),