March Book Madness: Vordak the Incomprehensible

I was amused when a student of mine picked this book out of my library. Vordack is slightly unsual — a funny book about how to be a villain. (It’s hard work!) She loved the book, which surprised me further — I never would have known. Here is her glogster project about Vordak the Incomprehensible: How to Grow Up and Rule the World by,eh, Vordak himself. This is part of my March Book Madness feature.

Peace (in the lair of amusing villians),

Slice of Life/#blog4nwp: A Found Poem

Slice of Life 2011During free moments yesterday, I was reading many of the blog posts from National Writing Project teachers and supporters yesterday as we launched into a #Blog4NWP weekend to let our voices be heard about the importance of the NWP in our teaching and writing lives (read mine here).

I was often struck by some powerful phrases from many of my NWP colleagues and decided that it might be interesting to try a found poem from various blog posts. So, with sincere apologies to many of the bloggers whose words I have “borrowed” here (and possibly adapted slightly), I present my found poem and podcast. The links in the poem should bring you to the original post.

Dancing on the Surface of Water: A Found Poem
(listen to the poem)

When 130,000 teachers
reach 1.4 million students,
how can you argue that these professionals are not finding powerful ways
to motivate,
to educate,
to push learning in new directions ….

Great teaching is not as simple as breathing;
it doesn’t come out of a sparkling spring bubbling up from nowhere
as if it were some magic elixir handed down in secret handshakes
in shadowed hallways.
Great teaching comes from mentors,
from connections,
from learning together what works
and what may not work,
and reflecting on how we might adapt next time
to make more impact.

The small pebble of federal support creates a ripple effect
extending out,
expanding across classrooms
and schools
and cities and towns everywhere,
allowing us some precious moments to dance upon the surface of water.

We reach out our hands to our young writers — the struggling and the confident —
so that they, too, may make sense of their world on the page.
When they discover their power as a writer, their lives may be altered forever.
We teach for moments like these
and celebrate their arrival with the intangibles of
and wonderment,
and community.

The National Writing Project has been a refuge,
an intellectual and professional and collegial home
that has done more for us as teachers of teachers than even we might have first imagined
when we gathered together with strangers one summer
only to emerge as colleagues
– and as teachers of writing, it has meant more than we would have dreamed possible.
Each summer, teachers from across each state meet for weeks
to eat, sleep, dream and inhale writing.
They come together to do the essential, albeit difficult, work in their classrooms
of moving pens to paper, of words to the screen,
of thoughts into action,
of transforming young thinkers into powerful writers.
It is only because we are teachers
that we can truly begin to conceive of ourselves as writers.
We are dedicated to the development of networks.
And writing.
And, of course, to thinking

We’re counting on you, our government leaders,
to be an authentic audience for us
and our students.
We ask that you show support for the young great American authors working across
information age media that you —
with your support and with your ears open to the possibilities
of teachers learning together —
will help us as teachers to
and celebrate
even in these times of fiscal constraints.
We’re counting on you.

Peace (in the poem),

Slice of Life: Rally for the NWP

Slice of Life 2011

This is going to be a short Slice of Life today because most of my writing energy was taken up with composing a piece about saving the National Writing Project. We lost our federal funding and this weekend, those of us who are online are trying rally support for our organization by blogging and lobbying our legislators. If you have been part of any NWP event, or understand its importance in helping teachers, I’d encourage you to blog about it as well.

This is my post: Why the National Writing Project Matters

And organizer Chad Sansing has more information about the #blog4nwp weekend here at his own blog.

Me? I seem to have lost some of my actual voice with a cold (just in time for a four hour workshop tomorrow around digital storytelling) but my fingers are working just fine, and my other voice — my digital voice — feels pretty strong today.

I hope you can join us as writers, or at least, as readers and supporters of the National Writing Project.

Peace (in the rally),

Why the National Writing Project Matters

The National Writing Project has lost its federal support. Money to support the NWP, of which I am an active and vocal member and advocate, was on the chopping block during recent budget cuts. (See NWP Executive Director Sharon Washington’s response). It’s still too soon to say what the direct impact will be of losing that support, and what our local organizations (like my Western Massachusetts Writing Project) will look like in the near future. It’s been difficult to even digest the news, to be honest.

But we won’t go quietly.

Today and into this weekend, many of us with online voices are joining together for a Blog4NWP event (spearheaded by Chad Sansing, of Virginia) in which are using our spaces to lobby our representatives and our friends to push for reconsideration of the NWP’s importance in supporting teachers and their students.

As Chad writes:

On March 2nd, 2001, President Obama signed a spending bill to keep the federal government operating during budget season. The bill cut federal funding to the NWP as part of a Congressional effort to eliminate earmarks – federal funds legislated to support certain programs like the NWP. While pork-barrel projects are, perhaps, easy political targets for elected officials looking to make names for themselves as no-nonsense fiscal conservatives, the NWP is not a pork-barrel project and it makes no sense to eliminate funding to the NWP, a program with a proven track record in raising student achievement that provides teachers and students with authentic opportunities for communication, inquiry, and problem-solving – opportunities to practice those deservedly ballyhooed skills our students need to be college-, community-, and life-ready.

Here, I’ve tried to come up with a list of Reasons To Support NWP:

  • It’s Effective. No other professional development organization that I have come across has been more powerful than the model that is at the heart of the National Writing Project: teachers teaching teachers. The experts in the network are teachers themselves, sharing their best practices and pushing each other to continually move forward with instructional ideas and innovations. The organization began with a small group of teachers in Berkeley, talking about writing, to become something larger. But it’s heart is the same: What I know, I pass on to you, and what you know, you pass on to me, and what we both don’t know, we learn together.
  • It’s Far-Reaching. Whether it’s how to help rural teachers and their students in isolated areas, or urban teachers and their students in city centers, or considering how writing is changing in this Digital Age with multi-modal composition, or working to celebrate and support English Language Learners, or considering the possibilities of curriculum change like the Common Core or simply creating networks of teachers who come together to write as writers on regular basis, the National Writing Project is woven into the threads of the educational tapestry. It is about the major trends facing education and it is always moving in a direction that signals thoughtful, reflective work.
  • It’s About Students. Whenever I am in a room with NWP folks, the talk almost always turns to our students. It seems to be a common lens — this question of, how will this help MY students? You may think, well, of course. You’re teachers. But I have also been in lots of rooms with non-NWP teachers at non-NWP events, and the tone and tenor of the conversations are often different than at NWP spaces. The role of the student is never more front and center than it is when NWP teachers are talking about the struggles and successes of a young writer.
  • It’s About the Doing. The hallmark of a dull professional development session is the talking head at the front of the packed hall, disconnected from the folks there. I’ve been in that hall, all too often. Take a look at the audience, and they are most likely trying to check their cell phone or mobile device. In NWP sessions, the participants are almost engaged in activities, inquiries and construction of shared knowledge. The hands-on work of teachers actually and actively writing, sharing, reflecting, or constructing something new, or some twist on the old, is built into the foundational philosophy of NWP’s mission. You should always expect to be writing when you come into a NWP-led session.
  • It’s about Leadership Opportunities. One of the things I have always marveled at with the larger NWP network is how acute folks are at identifying leadership in its teacher cadre, and then, bestowing responsibility on them. I am quite certain that the NWP teachers who take on projects and other initiatives are also teachers who are doing the same in their own schools, now that they understand how to tap into that passion for change and learning. Leadership in NWP is not necessarily a title that you wear on your shirt. Leadership in the NWP means seeing a direction ahead, getting resources to support your vision and then finding similar-minded folks to come along with you.
  • It’s About Connections. I can’t even begin to name the incredibly talented folks whom I have worked with over the years on NWP endeavors. Bonnie, in Hudson Valley, and I are partners in many projects. I am forever indebted to thinking partners like Troy Hicks, Paul Oh, Christina Cantrill, Andrea Zellner, Bud Hunt and many others. I’d be hard-pressed to find a more willing audience for feedback and even more hard-pressed to find folks who are willing to share themselves and their work so often. The NWP is my professional network. It is not the only one, but it is the most powerful. And in the end, I think it my students who benefit from the influence of my NWP friends. I’d like to think, too, that I am not alone in this sentiment.

I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

I’ll leave you with information from Chad about Blog4NWP Day. He asks that we, “Please support the NWP by sharing your experiences with the project, its institutes, its teacher consultants, and the resources it freely provides for all teachers. As you post,  send the links to Chad via Twitter (@chadsansing, by @ or DM), or email your link to him. He will collect and publish the links at his blog:  If you tweet about NWP, please include @EdPressSec, @Ed_Outreach, @nwpsiteleaders, and @whitehouse in your tweet. Let’s use the hashtag #blog4NWP. If you post before or after this weekend’s window, please let me know and/or use the hashtag to make sure I pick up your article for inclusion on the #blog4NWP archive post. Please also consider sending your writing as an email to your local and state representatives in federal government.

Peace (in the NWP),


PS — Here is an ongoing collection of posts during the #Blog4NWP effort (Chad is keeping the full list at his blog):

#blog4nwp Posts

Kate Willaredtsave the NWP

Mary Tedrow – Mourning in America

Joseph Kahne – Congress Decides Literacy is a Bridge to Nowhere

Delaine ZodyDo you teach writing?

Susan R. Adams – How a Teacher Becomes a Writer

Leslie Morton – I started thinking numbers…

Ellen SheltonWhy the National Writing Project Matters

Jeromy Winter#blog4nwp

Kristin H. TurnerThe Best Gift I Gave Myself – NWP

Bryan Crandall – In Support of the National Writing Project

Pam MoranI Write for Savannah

Chad SansingA student voice in games-based learning

Britton Gildersleeve#blog4nwp

Paul OhWriting is Thinking

Lisa @teachingfriendsWhy We Need to Save the National Writing Project

Chad SansingTo President Obama

Kathee GodfreeThe Value of the National Writing Project

Slice of Life: Atomic Blur

(This is part of the Slice of Life Challenge over at Two Writing Teachers)

Yesterday, we spent about an hour beginning our class discussions about our game of Quidditch (which we play at our school every year). The choosing of a team name can be tricky, but like most everything with my class this year, the process went rather smoothly. I love this class. We brainstormed about 20 possible names, went through a voting process and narrowed it down to a name that they all seemed to like.

We are Atomic Blur.

I can’t help but wonder if the situation in Japan has influenced their name choice. Another team is Biohazard, and a third (whose name escapes me right now) also seems to hint at the disaster in Japan.

Today, I am going to have them write fictional “back stories” to the names of their teams, suggesting they invent a superhero character with the name of their team. I jumped onto our webcomic site this morning and quickly created this one as a starting point.
Atomic Blur

Peace (in the blur),

March Book Madness: Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles

book cover of   The Nixie's Song    (Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, book 1)  by  Holly Black and   Tony DiTerlizzi
This is part of my March Book Madness series of posts. Mostly, I have been sharing out student work. But I also throw in my own reviews now and then, and here is one for Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi that I read aloud to my six year old son.

I’ll have to be sort of blunt: I didn’t like this one. And I don’t think my son did, either, although he enjoyed the illustrations of the giants, faeries and other enchanted creatures. But he wasn’t clammoring for me to cuddle up on the couch for read aloud (which is not like him) and I felt as if we needed to finish it just to finish it and move on to another book, and not to finish it because we were so engaged in the story.

And that’s disappointing because we both loved DiTerlizzi’s The Search for WondLa. That book had rich characters, an interesting plot with several story arcs and a setting that was full of wonder and surprises.

This book, which is an offshoot of the original Spiderwick Chronicles? Meh. We never really connected with the main character (although there was something there about this boy that I wanted to see further developed), the plot seemed strung together rather quickly, and it really felt as if someone had made a sequel to famous movie but only half-heartedly (as if, well, money for a follow-up were the reason, not the art itself). At least, it was short.

I admit that I picked this one up by mistake, thinking it was part of the original Spiderwick series. But I don’t think my son or I have much interest in reading more Spiderwick at this point in time. Enchanted creatures or not, the writing left me bored and dreaming of something better to read with my son.

Peace (in the book chronicle),

Slice of Life: A Whole Lot of Words

Slice of Life 2011


This is the number that reflects the grading I have been doing for the past five days in between sports events with my sons, lesson plans for school, teaching, eating, sleeping, talking to my wife, petting the dog and doing all of the things that people do when not working.

2,964 is the number of Parts of Speech words I have been looking at through my teaching lens, examining and, in some cases, explaining in writing why “to” is a verb in that case and not a preposition. I have 78 students, who each had to color code Parts of Speech words in a project (identifying words in their own writing). There were 38 Parts of Speech that had to be identified for each student.
Partof Speech Projects 2011
Here’s the break down of the words I read:

  • 790 nouns
  • 790 verbs
  • 395 adjectives
  • 395 adverbs
  • 234 prepositions
  • 234 pronouns
  • 78 conjunctions
  • 78 interjections

And overall? They did great. I am very impressed by the effort and hard work that went into this project. I’ve written before about how odd it is to have kids pick apart writing to get to the word level, but I was most impressed by the writing itself. They had to write a narrative about themselves to use as text for color coding. It’s nice to see how far so many have come from where they were as writers at the start of the year.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was sick of Parts of Speech right now. (so are my students).

Peace (that’s a noun, right?),