What vehicles may look like …

We’re moving towards the end of our Vehicles of the Future project, in which my students are envisioning a time when we move beyond fossil fuels to power our transportation vehicles. Later today (fingers crossed), I will be showing each of my four classes how to use Voicethread, and they will be adding a podcast descriptive paragraph to each of their illustrations of their vehicles. They’ve been working on the pictures on and off for a few days now, and yesterday, I said: that’s it! Everyone is done today!

And they were, except for about three students who had been out of school for a day or two in the last week and were a bit far behind.

As luck would have it, in my mailbox yesterday afternoon was the latest issue of Time for Kids magazine, and the cover story is all about the world of electric cars. Yep — another perfect fit with Time for Kids (a few weeks ago, just as I was about to talk about our work with Voices on the Gulf, TFK ran a cover story about the recovery efforts in the Gulf.) And I see there is a cool timeline of invention of the electric car, which is a nice touch for our work around informational text. (Now it makes me think: could I create a timeline of when my students’ imaginary cars would be released to the public? How would I go about doing that? Hmmm.)

The Voicethread projects will also be for Voices on the Gulf but I will try to share out how it went here.

Peace (in the future),

WMWP’s Journey of Language Diversity Inquiry

Two years ago, our Western Massachusetts Writing Project went through an intensive self-look at the work we were doing and the teachers we were serving (or not serving) through a National Writing Project initiative called Project Outreach. The results of that study is now shaping the way we view ourselves as an organization of writers and teachers, from the places  where we are offering our professional development, to ways in which we advertise our work, to the philosophical backbone of the decisions we make as an organization.

This year, we are launching into a theme of Inquiry around Language Diversity, and so many of our programs will be viewed through this lens. For example, this Saturday is our annual Best Practices event — a fall gathering for workshops and reunions — and the sessions hing around the theme of language and diversity. One session is about Code Switching. Another is about Validating Culture Wealth and Knowledge of ELL students. Yet another is helping students advocate for themselves.


Meanwhile, in conjunction with a UMass professor of linguistics (Lisa Green), our site is launching a year-long inquiry study group called Language Diversity in the Classroom. These sessions will center on attitudes towards language, native languages of all students, and how to understand and use language diversity for learning opportunities.

Finally, our WMWP Executive Board is going to be doing various pre-meeting readings around the diversity and language issues, and using those readings for our writing-into-the-meeting activities. The other day, we began with a passage from Paul Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and used it as a prompt to write about our own “hopeful inquiry.”

The passage from Friere ended with this:

“For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”

Here’s what I wrote, hanging on the “invention and reinvention” of the Friere passage.

I am the bear;
transformed by inner dreams of slumber.
I emerge hopeful, into the world
that I never saw coming,
yet brace myself for changes afoot.

A yawn; the pain of hunger;
I am driven forward towards new terrain
in hopes I find footing
along a path that I will create here myself.

I invent this world anew
each time, each season, I emerge from darkness
into light.

What’s your hopeful inquiry?

Peace (in the sharing),

Book Review: Because Digital Writing Matters

(hear the podcast of this review)
I’ll admit many biases with this review. I am an avid supporter of the National Writing Project, which has given me many opportunities and connections as a teacher, writer and technology dabbler. And I get mentioned in this book, too. (More disclosure: NWP helped co-publish our book, Teaching the New Writing.) So, take my words for what they are — a reviewer who is deeply connected to the work highlighted here, including being an attendee at some of the conferences where conversations helped formulate the start of this book project.

But I think Because Digital Writing Matters (to be published this fall for $15. Disclosure: I was sent a review copy) stakes out some important ground in defining the role that digital tools have on the writing classroom and instruction. The book also lays the groundwork of rationale for using various elements of technology in all classrooms, not just writing classes. Writers Troy Hicks, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl and Danielle Nicole DeVoss center their arguments on a number of hooks, including documenting the long history of the National Writing Project in the field of exploring technology and writing, advocating the use of professional development to help teachers not just use but also reflect upon the use of technology, and pushing forth the call for more schools and teachers to consider the possibilities of publishing, rhetoric, voice, mixed media and more that technology brings to the table.

I do have a complaint that I need to voice before I move further here. The authors end up defining digital writing as “compositions created with, and oftentimes for reading and/or viewing on, a computer or other device that is connected to the Internet. (page 7)” My sense is that this definition probably came following lots of discussions and debate. I can appreciate that. Digital writing is not clearly defined elsewhere, either, as it is still an emerging concept. Here, though, it’s that “connected to the Internet” phrase that I have trouble with because I don’t think all digital composition needs to be connected to the world via the Internet. Sometimes, we make digital writing on our computers or mobile devices, for ourselves. A digital story, for example. I know that the writers here are trying to demonstrate the predominance of the connected world, the networked spaces that we increasingly inhabit. For me, that connection is important but it is not the end-all-be-all of digital writing.

That aside, there are many things that stand out for me in this book (which is the companion to NWP’s Because Writing Matters, which laid out the rationale for writing as a means of learning across all curriculum). Among the points where I grabbed my highlighter and marked up the text (much to the surprise of my sons, who kept asking me why I was writing in a book):

  • I like and think it is important that much of what we are calling writing falls under the term of “composition,” which involves using elements of words, audio, video, image and more to create a sense of meaning. That mixed-up, mashed-up element is highlighted throughout the book, as is the need to be able to teach those elements to our young writers/composers.
  • The book highlights many NWP teachers in the classroom, showcasing a wide range of projects on various themes: engagement, assessment, curriculum alignment, etc. That is very helpful to have. I know a lot of the folks mentioned here, and admire their work immensely from afar. I like that they are being recognized, even though there are plenty more NWP folks doing amazing work, too.
  • The chapter on the ecologies of digital writing was fascinating for me. I guess I hadn’t given this idea enough thought when it comes to the physical setting of a connected classroom. I have thought about the online environment, but pulling these two strands together (physical and virtual space) was an interesting turn.
  • I appreciated the long list of “traits and actions” that are associated with digital writing because they highlight a vast array of elements of what is going on when young people compose with computers and devices. This list runs from creativity/originality to observations/inquiry to the remix culture. Plus, I am a sucker for lists.
  • The sense of play is all over the stories in this book. We need time to play with technologies ourselves, and we need to give students the time to play and experiment, too. It’s hard to overstate this.
  • The authors use the phrase “double helix” to describe the meshing (or not) of technology curriculum standards with writing standards. I love that phrase because it shows both the connections and the separate qualities of both.

The book ends with a powerful call for educators of all stripes to get engaged in the digital world and listen to what our young people are saying about how they communicate, and to recognize the power of technology in the emerging literacies of young people.

…more and more, our students are learning to think, to read, and to ask questions in networked environments, enabled by computers, mobile phones, e-book readers, and other technologies. They will encounter information requiring them to think critically because information travels quickly, in multiple modes, in many different directions …. In short, we need to do what we have always done as educators: guide and respond to our students’ writing even though technologies continue to change. (page 150)”

I’d put this book right on the shelf next to Hicks’ The Digital Writing Workshop, Will Richardson’s Blogs, Wikis, Podcast and other Powerful Tools, and other books that continue to make visible the shifts that are going on underway in education and in our lives.

(See more information about the book at the NWP website)

Peace (in the sharing),

Joel Malley Video: Writing in the Digital Age

This is worth a view, as fellow NWP teacher Joel Malley (who blogs at Buried in Wires) gives us some insights into the digital work of students and the classroom environment of his classroom. Joel produced this as part of an upcoming appearance at a Congressional briefing around technology and writing in conjunction with the National Writing Project, the College Board and Phi Delta Kappa.

Writing in the Digital Age from Joel Malley on Vimeo.

Peace (in the sharing),

Bailing out on NBC’s Teacher Town Hall

I’m sorry to report that I spent about 20 minutes of the 2 hours with NBS’s Education Nation’s Teacher Town Hall yesterday, and then found that the lack of focus of discussion made my brain ache, so I sort of bailed out on it for other things. I imagine I was not alone, nor do I doubt I was alone in thinking just how Charter School-centered much of things seemed to be. Or was I just seeing what I thought I would be seeing? That might be possible.

I tried my hand at about eight to ten chat posts, but none of them got through the logjam of comments. Some were great. Some were not-so-great, but honestly, the wave of information was just too much to assimilate and make sense of, and therefore, for me, it was a fairly meaningless venture.

But I am sure NBC will make a big deal of the backchannel chat room, which had thousands of teachers in it. A lot of folks on Twitter reminded us that many of us do that kind of backchannel conversing about education and schooling every single day on blogs, on Twitter and elsewhere. So if you felt empowered by the NBC experience, come join the mix.

So, I am not sure what to make of the Teacher Town Hall. It’s nice that so many educators rose up and got involved. That’s good. But there were too many of us to have any real message being heard, in my opinion.  And why did I get the sense that maybe someone was filtering the chat room comments? Is that possible? Of course, it is, but I am not sure if that was the case.

So, now I brace myself for the next wave of post-Waiting for Superman media frenzy and continue my work of planning out engaging lessons, helping my young students become better writers and readers, and finding ways to continue to push myself as a professional. I suspect you are probably doing the same, and making a difference in the lives of your students.

So, I applaud you. And maybe that voice won’t get lost in the mix.

Peace (in reflection),


Education Nation Summit Today

NBC News Education Nation Logo

I signed up to participate in today’s Education Nation Teacher Summit, did you? (It’s at noon, est) And now I might have a family conflict — a birthday party for my youngest son that I may or may not need to stay for — and I just listened to a video message from NBC anchor Brian Williams explaining that the ideas of the teachers will be brought forth to the upcoming Education Summit that NBC is hosting.

I should hope so, because it does feel as if teachers are getting the short end of the rope with all of the media coverage around education. The New Yorker had a great piece by Nicholas Leamann called ‘Schoolwork‘ that argues that schools are improving and students are learning more than ever before, but that you would never know it by reading newspapers and watching television news. Leamnn goes on to note that there are still troubles in urban districts that are the result of socio-economic-political reasons but that to make grand statements about the failure of education is misguided.

This is a great quote from that piece:

Education is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution; the creation of the world’s first system of universal public education—from kindergarten through high school—and of mass higher education is one of the great achievements of American democracy. It embodies a faith in the capabilities of ordinary people that the Founders simply didn’t have.

Read more http://www.newyorker.com/talk/comment/2010/09/27/100927taco_talk_lemann#ixzz10czt1GNW

And my friend, Bill Ferriter, wrote a powerful piece in response to Oprah, NBC and others in the recent media blitz that seems to target public school teachers. Bill vents some anger and makes the point that education reform has consistently not done what it has promised to do, and the fingers keep getting pointed to us, the classroom teachers.

Bill write:

Instead, you’re content to patronize the American schoolteacher. You’ll celebrate the mythology well enough—praising the matronly, apple-wielding women who you learned from—and then ignore the reality that your unwillingness to believe that we might just know something about how to save our schools has destroyed any chance that our schools will be saved.

I’ll try to participate today, if I can, although I wonder about how one voice might affect the nation. But perhaps, as we tell our own kids, one voice added to more voices creates a call for action, and that means that teachers (and not just our unions) need to be involved more deeply in changes that are to take place in how we teach and what we teach.

You know, I was reading this short piece by Roald Dahl about how he went about writing stories, and creating characters. He was writing this piece to kid readers. But he made clear that every narrative needs a villain, and the more you can cast that character as the one to despise, the better, because then when that villain gets its due, you can cheer. I worry that we teachers are being cast as the villains here in this emerging national narrative. We may not all be heroes, but we’re not villains either, and it is the kids who get lost in this kind of debate, I fear.

Peace (in making change),

Envisioning the non-Fossil Fuel Future

My students are in the midst of a class project in which they envision a time when we move away from fossil fuels as the source of energy for transportation vehicles. The Vehicles of the Future project is something I often do at the start of the year, but this year, we are tying it into our discussions around the Gulf Oil Spill and our work at the Voices on the Gulf website.

We had some rich conversations this week around our reliance on oil and gas, and why that was, and what were some of the positives and negatives of living in a society that relied so heavily on these non-renewable energy sources. Then, they got to work with their creative ideas.

This Wordle image is the result of using an AnswerGarden prompt, where students submitted their proposed alternative energy source. You’ll notice a wide array of products.

I am trying to determine now if I want them to podcast their descriptive writing with their illustrations, or whether there is a better way to go about it. I might do Voicethread, if I can things set up for them do the voice easily enough. Hmm.

Peace (in the future),

Observations from an Open House

I went to my son’s Open House last night. He’s in seventh grade and goes to a different school district than where I teach, so I am always curious to know what other teachers are doing.

First of all, he has an energetic team of teachers, for sure.I wish they had more of an online presence so I could see what is going on from home (only one of the team has a website) and I wish they had an online homework site, like we do. But, we can’t have everything we want, and overall, I was impressed by the experience and enthusiasm of the team.

The science teacher spent five years living on a Tall Ship off the coast of California, working with classes of kids who visited for five days at time to explore the ocean. She’s admittedly marine-biases, but who cares … she has a passion for science.

The English teacher is also his homeroom teacher, and her class seemed a bit cluttered, in a good way, and it looks like there is a lot of Mark Twain on the curriculum for the year ahead. That’s a good thing. She talked a bit too fast for my liking, and asked us to multitask (filling out forms while trying to listen), so I am not sure I got half of what she said. I hope my son does better at listening than I did.

The math teacher seems nice, and knowledgeable. This is her first year at the school after spending ten years teaching math at a nearby urban school district. She seemed happy to be here, and her calm demeanor will be probably go a long way in there.

The computer teacher is a former sixth grade teacher, and is a bundle of hyper energy (compliment). I’m not all that impressed that the curriculum is so Microsoft-centered (Publisher, Powerpoint, Excel), and asked about Open Source. But he seemed ready to galvanize the classroom teachers around using technology, and the school has a fair share of it: two rolling laptops, two labs (with a third being built), and a boatload of new desktops that are being distributed to classrooms.

The social studies teacher also seems great, with a focus on world politics, and she has her own weblog. We chatted briefly about her wanting to have students publish more work, as opposed to her posting assignments and resources. Maybe I can help her with that.

My son is a reluctant singer in school chorus, so maybe as little said about that is best.

I think he’ll have a good year.

Peace (in the house),

Tracy Hosts Day in a Sentence, as transition

dayinsentenceiconOver at Tracy’s blog, Leading from the Heart, she has posted this week’s call for Days in a Sentence, but with a theme of transitions (See her picture to understand the big transition coming in the next few months).

How can you capture a moment, or a phase, of transition in a reflective sentence? Come join Tracy and us and add your own thoughts to this week’s Day in a Sentence.

Also, I am going to be “transitioning” Day in a Sentence over to Bonnie (of Digital Bonnie), letting her do most of the hosting and asking for help with co-hosting this year.

When Bonnie and I first took over Day in a Sentence from The Reflective Teacher a few years ago, we saw it as a way for the two of us and volunteers from you to host the concept. But mostly, my blog became the launching site. Now, we are going to shift to let Bonnie’s blog become the main launching site. I hope you continue to follow us, and contribute, there.

Peace (in transitions),