New England Writing Project Retreat

I’m off to Connecticut this weekend for the New England Writing Project Retreat, which is a gathering of the “tribe,” so to speak, as teachers in various writing projects around New England come together to write, share resources and think about our writing project work (we are part of the National Writing Project).

The theme this year is around how to best use technology resources for recruiting new teachers into our sites, and then how to use technology to keep folks connected to the work around the teaching of writing. So, as you can imagine, this is right up my alley!

There is also time to write and tonight, after a dinner and some discussions, we are invited to head out to an Open Mic night and the Connecticut folks are hoping that we bring some writing along to share. There will also be high school writers sharing their work. I love mixing things up like that and I have a poem that I wrote earlier this week that I will read.

On tap for the retreat are topics such as strengthening a presence on the web,  the pedagogy of the socially networked (person? student? teacher? not clear) by my old friend, Paul Oh, who will be bringing in another friend, Andrea Z., via some teleconferencing system (skype?). It will be good to see Paul again and also, to see Andrea on the big screen.

For me, too, it is a sort of return to some old grounds. I went to college right down the street and often hit the bars (and played at a few bars with my band) at UConn, and I lived in Storrs for a bit of time, too. I also wrote at the nearby newspaper, The Willimantic Chronicle, as a sports reporter, although I did not know what I was doing. I guess that’s how you cut your teeth, right?

I’ll probably reflect out about the retreat over at the NWP Walkabout site.

Peace (in Conn),

More Poems with Budtheteacher

Lightning; My First Try
Creative Commons License photo credit: Kuzeytac

Bud Hunt, aka Bud the Teacher (and Bud the Poet, and Bud the Daddy, and Bud the Bowler) has been posting some pretty interesting photographs at his blog site this month, and asking that folks be inspired and write poetry. I get up in the morning, wondering what he will have posted today, and somehow, I find a poem in the morning darkness. I like that kind of inspired writing. Some of my poems are disposable, but others could be worked on in the future. You’ll notice that I am using Vocaroo to podcast my poems, so if you want to hear me reading my writing, you can follow those links at the end of each poem.

Here are  few poems from this week that I wrote that have some potential:

My walls are crawling with sound;
echoes of the past seeping in
through the pores
of the duct tape repairs hastily made to photographs
falling to the floor as a result of the pounding
of small feet, up and down the stairs,
as if the treadmill here never ends and is always in motion.

We’ve placed our lives on top of the others who were here before us,
layering our laughter and sadness and kindness and cruelty
on top of their own: a symphony of living.

In early mornings, when no one is awake but the cat and I,
I clandestinely peel back the wood paneling to get a glimpse
of those who were here before us,
as if some secret to a long life is hidden there behind the facade —
a Chinese fortune inside the cookie shell —
yet all I ever find are uneven walls, unused nail hooks, paint splatters
and a few tattered remains of paper scratched with small indecipherable scribbles,
which I suppose is what we mostly leave behind anyway,
for those who will come after us.

Dear computer,
Oh, how you have served me well these long mornings
as I have tapped away in near silence to the musings
of my mind.
I forgive you the re-starts, the pauses, the endless rebooting and even the lost files:
everyone has their difficulties and my fingers often run too fast
even for me.
You did not panic when the little green XO came into the house,
nor did you bat an eyelash when the laptop arrived like some long-distant cousin.
The open source Netbook did not scare you
and you were silent as a star as I breathed out excitement
about the Macbook at school.
The iTouch no doubt sent a quiver down your motherboard,
but it, too, has its place, in another room,
docked and loaded with music and games and almost out of sight,
out of mind.
Here, with you, I still come to write.
Here, with you, I still navigate the world.
Here with you, I remain.
But I wonder …. will you still be here another year
or are you soon to be gone,
replaced with what the hipsters and hypersters all say will change the world?
I sense panic in your font, old friend, and can only say that we all adapt
when the price is low enough and the interest, great enough.
I remain, still stationary yours,

your movements
bewitch me:

the way you shift on your toes
when you walk down the hallway
makes me feel as if the entire world
has tilted on its axis

the way you hold your pen
as your write your notes
in swirling, romantic lines as if being played
to rhythmic salsa

the way you bend down to talk
to him with eyes wide open and full of interest
in all things Star Wars, Ninja Turtles and the distance
between Earth and Sun

the way you can sit so quietly
and just think

while my mind rumbles with love
over these small moments
that make up the day.

Why is it that every time you whisper,
I see lightning
flashing across the horizon
with sharp lines snapping and crackling;
but whenever I hear myself talk,
I only hear thunder
rumbling deep inside
on inaudible frequencies that shimmer and fade.

Come join us for writing poems over at Bud’s blog. Come on. You can do it, too.

Peace (in the poems),

Powerless: A Prezi of Reading Responses

Most of my students are embarking on a month-long independent reading project where they get to choose their own books, do a project at the end (I made Glogster one of the options and I bet a lot of kids are going to use that …. mark my words) and answer some basic questions about theme, character development, plot, etc.

They also have to keep a reading journal and I am really pushing them away from summarizing the text, which they all seem to want to do even though I say, “I have probably read most of your books and I don’t need to know what happens in the story. I want to know what you think about what is happening.”

To help them, I do provide a list of possible entry ideas to help spark their writing, including connecting their lives to the story in the book, pulling out quotes or passages and reflecting on them, and asking questions about where the story is headed. But I know a lot of them will struggle with these critical thinking prompts, so yesterday, I modeled some responses based on the book I am reading in class (I read while they read) that was recommended by my friend, Tony. The book is Powerless by Mathew Cody.

I put my sample responses into a Prezi and walked my students through my thinking process, and I already saw some positive results in quality of responses. It reminds me of how important it is for me to share my own thinking and reflecting, and make that process as visible as possible.

Peace (in the prezi),
PS — here is an interview with the author of the book:

Why Use Infographics?

I would love to do more with this concept of having students create interactive Infographics (which are really just design-rich online posters that distill information in graphic form), but I am not there yet. I can see some possibilities with Glogster, though, and so, that is something to pursue on the horizon. Larry Ferlazzo had this piece on this blog the other day and I love how it is an Infographic to explain why and how you would use Infographics .

Why Use Infographics?

from The Infographic Showcase.

Peace (in the poster),

Being Persuasive

While working on persuasive writing this week, my student teacher and I had our students come up with a topic and develop a paragraph on that idea. Yesterday, my students published their writing at our class blog. And those that were able to finish early then went onto our ToonDooSpaces site and began creating a webcomic around the topic of their paragraph.

Here are a few pieces of writing that I thought were interesting:

I don’t think schools should make their students wear uniforms. The reasons why I think that are because students should be able to wear what they want, not what teachers make them wear. Another reason is because kids like to express themselves through their clothes that they wear and they can’t do that when they are forced to wear uniforms that look the exactly the same as everybody else. Also uniforms are ugly! They are colorless, patternless, and you look like your going to work every single day because some uniforms have ties. Some schools make their students wear uniforms because you can tell your students apart from other schools on field trips, but many times there are other schools that have uniforms which can mix students up with them. Some uniforms might not be comfortable, distracting students from their school work, and they can take creativity away from students, because their wardrobe for school is all the same. Those are just some of the reason why I don’t think schools should have uniforms.

In my opinion, electronic devices should be allowed in school. They are capable of helping the students learn new things. Students will get more involved by using electronics. The devices can promote education for the students. The students can learn from using electronic devices for educational purposes. Another reason would be that electronics save money. Paper, books, and other school supplies will not be wasted when electronics are at hand. Teachers will not need school supplies if their school provides electronics. I believe students will be more involved if using an electronic. They will pay more attention to their studies because of the device they are using. Students are interested in using these devices, so it would help to have electronics in the classroom. Also, teachers and students will be able to communicate with electronic devices by email and other programs. Students will be able to ask questions and learn more from their teachers. The students would also learn responsibility. When they handle electronics, they learn about how to take care and use them, too. The students would learn about technology, along with responsibility. They will be using complex devices and learning about the different applications on them. Electronics are easy to handle and they work efficiently. They are lighter than books and won’t be as hard to carry for the students. Students will get to explore with electronics. They can search information needed for their academic study. Many schools should consider purchasing electronics for their students to enhance their education. Electronic devices can broaden a student’s imagination and create a better environment for the school.

Field trips are an important part of school life. My 1st reason is field trips teach
students about the outside world. If they learn about their community, they might want to get involved in helping the town. My second cause is students need a break from school tests. Maybe plan tests a day before a field trip so that the students have something to look forward to. A third reason why we should have field trips is that sometimes kids learn better by doing hands-on activities rather than taking notes. And because of that, students would do better on quizzes and tests. A last support is that the students might want to do their work. If a field trip is coming up, you might have to get a certain score on a quiz to go. That’s why field trips are so important.

Do you know of any child who really enjoys homework? Like I thought, no. Well, kids shouldn’t have homework for multiple reasons. Reason one, is that kids have six hours of school, which means six hours of work. When kids get home from a hard day of schoolwork, the last thing they want to do is homework. The second reason why kids shouldn’t have homework is because homework wastes children free time, such as spending time with the family. If kids are doing homework, they will not spend quality time playing with their siblings or spending time with their family. In addition, kids lose exercising time, like playing outside, because of homework, thus making them not as healthy. A fourth reason children shouldn’t have homework is because homework can make kids stressed. An example is, the child has a really long and hard math packet that is due the next day. Struggling on it and staying up late can make the child stressed about the deadline and the difficulty level, and the child will be deprived of sleep. Which leads into my next point. Homework can make a child tired because of the reasoning in my last point. In conclusion, children should not have to deal with a type of schoolwork, after school ends.

( By the way, I am writing this for homework.)

We’re going to try to encourage some of the kids to submit their pieces to our local newspaper, which often runs short editorials by young people. What we are hoping for are multiple ways for our young writers to see themselves as published writers — from the blog to the newspaper.

Peace (in the writing),

The Evolution of Teachers

A post by Larry Ferlazzo (always worth adding to your RSS, by the way) led me to these two videos that track the evolution of teaching and education. (Oh, and Larry got the link from somewhere else, so the path continues …) I’ll embed the second video (1900-present) here and then give you the link for the other. They are long, but interesting to navigate through, if you don’t have the time to watch the whole thing. The videos seem to have been developed as part of an education foundations class by university students. That strikes me a great project.

The Evolution of Educators – Part 1 (1600-1900)

The Evolution of Educators – Part 2 (1900-Present)

Peace (in the evolution/revolution),

Books, Boys and the Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth

Phantom Tollbooth

I am a bit jealous because tomorrow night, the Mother-Son book group that my wife and middle son are part of are going to be discussing The Phantom Tollbooth …. with author Norton Juster, who wrote this classic book and who works as an architect in a nearby town. One of the moms is a former journalist and she picked up the phone on a whim, called Juster up and asked if he might be willing to sit down with a bunch of boys to talk about his character, Milo, and the strange journey he goes on.

Juster said yes, and so, tomorrow night, they are meeting at a local restaurant. Pretty neat. I can’t make it because of other family events, but I sure wish I could be there, too.

I loved Tollbooth as a kid, and I use it in the classroom as read-aloud in some sections when talking about idioms and other figurative language techniques. The inventiveness of the language as it weaves around the story remains interesting, I think.  I am always surprised that very few kids even know of the book anymore, and I hope my reading of it in class sparks some interest. I know the book used to be a regular part of a fourth-grade curriculum, but not anymore.

Remember the movie version created by Chuck Jones? It used to be available at YouTube, but not anymore. It may have run into copyright problems. Someone did post it on Vimeo, so you can find it there, if you want.

A sample from the script:

Officer Short Shrift: Now then, would you like a short sentence or a long sentence?
Milo: Well, I suppose a short one, if I have a choice.
Officer Short Shrift: How about “I am”? It’s the shortest sentence I know.
[Writes “I AM” on his pad and hands it to Milo]
Milo: It’s very kind of you to give me… such a short sentence.
Officer Short Shrift: And when do you think you can go to prison and start serving it?
Milo: Serving it? I guess I can’t, not until I get back from Dictionopolis and the Castle in the Air.
Officer Short Shrift: The what in the what?
Milo: Why, the Castle in the Air.
Officer Short Shrift: Boys are guilty of everything! Guilty, guilty, guilty…

Peace (in the tollbooth),

Video: Kids Talk About Bullying

Our local newspaper — The Daily Hampshire Gazette — ran an outstanding piece this morning (and another one coming on Monday) in which they convened a cross-section of kids to talk about bullying. This comes in the wake of the local high school girl who killed herself after being bullied and the district attorney pressing criminal charges against some of the kids who bullied her. (You may have heard about it on every tv news station in the world). The students in the article here are thoughtful, articulate and need to be heard by every adult.

One message that I heard loud and clear in the article is that kids feel that teachers often wait too long to address issues, acting only when the bullying has gotten big and not stopping it when it starts small. These things can snowball easily within social circles, the students note, and they feel frustrated and abandoned when teachers don’t act right away on complaints.

The newspaper shared a video of the interview session, which is worth sharing.

Peace (in the hallways),

The Super-Duper-Alley-Ooper-Zooper-Gooper Play

My student teacher is teaching a unit on paragraph writing and we introduced a writing prompt the other day in which our students had to design and then explain a play in our game of Quidditch (see the tutorial video for more info). We are working on strong topic and closing sentences, and use of transition words. We also had them diagram out their play (which reminded me of a video from fellow National Writing Project friend Bee Foster around the literacy of a football play)

It was a blast to hear some of their ideas and talk about engaged in writing … they were intent and purposeful, for sure. I also wrote and designed a play with them. My play is the Super-Duper-Alley-Ooper-Zooper-Gooper Play (and I made them say it with three times fast), and like theirs, it requires some background knowledge of how we play our game of Quidditch. But you’ll get the idea.

If your Quidditch team really wants to score with style, then you need to learn the Super-Duper-Alley-Ooper-Zooper-Gooper play. First, the seeker, beater and chasers have to work together as a team. This play begins after your seeker catches a snitch. Second, when the opponent seeker sets up to make their own catch on the next possession, your beater should be ready to knock them out of the game for five seconds. Meanwhile, one designated chaser should be moving near your team’s seeker, who catches the snitch away from the opposing team. The beater now moves along with your chaser, who sets up to catch the quaffle pass from a teammate. Finally, the beater knocks out any defenders as the chaser scores a goal by hitting the high corner — scoring three points in a matter of seconds. Repeat this play as often as necessary and your team is sure to emerge as victors at the Quidditch Championship.

Peace (on the Quidditch field),

Some Quick Thoughts on Digital Composition

A few friends of mine — Troy Hicks, Andrea Zellner and Aram Kabodian — are doing a virtual presentation for NCTE, and they asked folks to create a short video about our thoughts about writing in the digital world. Here is what I gave them. (More information is here about the session, which takes place on April 15. Bonus: Bud Hunt and Sara Kajder are also on tap for the day’s sessions — too bad the three-day-conference costs $250, though. That’s half the cost of an iPad, for goodness sake.)

Troy and others are building on his work in the book, The Digital Writing Workshop. And over at the Ning site for his book, Troy has started a conversation around ways to use technology with poetry. I added the ideas of using webcomics and also of creating hyperlinked poetry books. Maybe you could add your own ideas?

Peace (on the digital canvas),

PS — Hey, this was the first time using my relatively new Mac laptop for recording any kind of video and using iMovie at all. I like it, and need to really find more time to delve into my classroom Mac.