New Literacies are …

In preparation for our last session for the Massachusetts New Literacies Initiative, we were asked to make a three-second/three-word video to describe what New Literacies mean for us.

Here’s what I came up with:

Peace (in the words),

Off to NWP Urban Sites: Boston

  • Join NWP colleagues in preparation from Boston as they gather for the Urban Sites Network Conference. NWP Radio will be visiting with keynote speaker Ernest Morrell and the USN Leadership...

Later today, we head off to Boston for the National Writing Project’s Urban Sites Conference. This will be my first USC and I am pretty excited to listen to Ernest Morrell as the keynote tomorrow and to tap into the expertise of teachers who work in different settings than I do.

Ernest Morrell

Ernest Morrell

The conference title is Nurturing Student Writing: Navigating Literacies. Much of the focus of the sessions is around use of media and culture as a way to inform learning and to tap into the expertise of our students. So, while the focus may be on how to engage urban learners as writers and composers, there should be plenty of great ideas in any school.

Some of the sessions that have piqued my interest:

Turning Distractions into Tools: Taking Technology from Their World and Bringing it to Ours
This interactive presentation will examine the integration of writing and technology for a variety of authentic purposes and audiences. Participants will engage in mini-lessons that have been used to guide middle and high school writers to create effective persuasive writing in the form of product reviews. Teachers will analyze and annotate samples of student work and will begin to draft their own consumer reviews on class blogs and wikis. Dottie Willis, Bellarmine University, Louisville (KY) WP; Susan Cintra, Madison Central High School, Eastern Kentucky University (KY) WP

Whose Blog Is It? How ELLs Represent Their Layered Identities in Digital Writing and What Teachers Can Learn From Them
Teachers and students need to recognize each other’s cross-cultural values and individual identities for learning in a globalized community. We will examine how ELLs shared their cultural borderlands, lifeworlds, and individual identities by engaging in peer revision, writing for a class blog, and recording podcasts. Participants will investigate their own cultural identities and propose how they would use this awareness to engage students in further academic writing development. Michelle Ohanian, Mountain View Alternative High School, Northern Virginia (VA) WP

Mapping our City with Stories and Histories
This interactive presentation will show how middle school students investigated the history of their city and wrote about places important to them. They came to know historical characters, use primary source documents, and write about places they love and deepen their sense of identity. Nikole Breault, Southside Middle School, and Meg Petersen, Plymouth State University, Plymouth (NH) WP: The National Writing Project in NH

Reaching Students: Developing Narrative Skills through High-Interest Mentor Texts and Digital Compositions
This session will begin with visiting a short story, Richard Matheson’s “Drink My Blood,” as a model for proper paragraph techniques. The second part of the session will explore the ongoing inquiry work of the UNC Charlotte WP’s Digital Learning and Literacy Narratives Project focusing on the intersection of digital composition and the powerful voices of students who have multiple language competencies. Mike Herrera IV, Texas A&M International University, South Texas WP (TX); Shaftina Allen, Midwood High School; Lacy Manship, UNC Charlotte (NC) WP; Jennifer Ward, Kannapolis Alternative Learning Center; and Alicia Wright, Whitewater Middle School— all from UNC Charlotte (NC) WP

Writing for Change: Giving Voice to Urban Students
by Fusing Writing and Digital Media

Creating spaces for urban student voices means finding ways to make writing relevant, engaging, and accessible. Participants will engage in writing with social justice at the core, explore student writing/digital media products, examine resources for supporting students’ digital learning, and brainstorm applications for their own classrooms and contexts.
Margit Boyesen, Cardiff School, and Janet Ilko, Cajon Valley Middle  School—both from San Diego (CA) WP

Empowering Student Writing through Filmmaking
This workshop looks at how to incorporate filmmaking into expository essay construction, autoethnography, and creative writing. With hands-on strategies for critical engagement within students’ communities, workshop participants will engage in critical writing and produce short films and documentaries to use as examples in their own classrooms. The processes involve pre-writing, sequencing events, revision, and reflection. Peter Carlson, Manual Arts High School; Antero Garcia, Manual Arts High School; and Clifford Lee—all from UCLA (CA) WP

A Technological Dreamer in an Urban Landscape
After having facilitated a successful out-of-school high-tech young authors’ camp, session facilitator Janelle Quintans Bence made big plans for her own Dallas ISD classroom. Blogger, Google Sites, and digital story-telling were to be explored. However, despite having the best of intentions, harsh reality
caused a rethink of a plan of action. Join the discussion of what could have been, what could have been improved, and what could be in the future for digital learning in an inner city class of ELLs. Janelle Quintans Bence, North Dallas High School, North Star (TX) WP

I hope to use my cell phone and Cinch to post some reflections from the conference. I think I have a lot to learn …

Peace (in Boston),

An After-life for Delicious

Here is an email I got from Yahoo, regarding my Delicious bookmarking account. (If you remember, it was discovered that Yahoo was going to be killing off or selling off some of its assets, including the very popular Delicious social bookmarking service.)

Dear Delicious User,

Yahoo! is excited to announce that Delicious has been acquired by the founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. As creators of the largest online video platform, Hurley and Chen have firsthand expertise enabling millions of consumers to share their experiences with the world. Delicious will become part of their new Internet company, AVOS.

To continue using Delicious, you must agree to let Yahoo! transfer your bookmarks to AVOS. After a transition period and after your bookmarks are transferred, you will be subject to the AVOS terms of service and privacy policy.

That is good news, but I have to admit, I already made the full switch of my bookmarking over to Diigo, and like it. My decision was based on the concern of losing my hundreds, eh thousands, of bookmarks. I can’t say I have yet tapped into all that Diigo can do, but I do like it.

I’ll probably still allow the service to move my Delicious bookmarks to its new platform, if only because I am curious about what these two are up to with their new company.

Peace (in the bookmark),

Enviro Essay Prep: TFK has Perfect Timing

Magazine Cover

It’s not often that the perfect resource lands on your doorstep just when you need it, and yet, this year, the magazine Time for Kids has seemed to be consistently doing that. Perhaps it because we are doing so much work around environmental issues, but the magazine for students has been a wonderful resource for my classroom. (No, I am not a paid flack for Time, but really, for five bucks a year, this magazine is a steal, particularly when it comes to non-fiction reading and current events.)

Yesterday is a prime example. I’ve written about our work around developing a persuasive essay on an environmental theme. We’ve done the brainstorming, and the graphic organizing, and today, they will begin the writing of the introductory paragraph. I was looking around for some reading to keep exposing them to environmental topics when, bam, here comes my supply of Time for Kids with a double issue all about the environment. It was jam-packed with interesting articles on rain forests, the Everglades, endangered animals, kids who are making a difference and more.

We read through a few of the articles, sparking a lot of discussion around the balance between environmental projects and economic growth. One feature in particular was helpful — the opinion piece on the phase out of incandescent light bulbs in which both sides of the debate laid out their case. This is exactly what they are doing in their essays, so we were able to pick apart some of the rhetorical devices and weighed words used when making an argument to persuade the other side.

Meanwhile, today, as they start working on how to begin their essay in an interesting way, I am going to share my opening paragraph on my own essay I am writing (with them) on Fuel Cell Technology. I have used the comment feature in Word to make notes to them about what I was thinking as I was writing — a sort of meta-writing made visible. A lot of my students were feeling as if they weren’t sure what goes into an introduction as opposed to what goes into the body of the essay.

Here is what I will share with them:
Opening Paragraph Sample for Essay
Peace (in the world),

Some Messages for Japan

As a small group of students and I work to organize a benefit concert to raise funds for Japan, I have been trying to keep them interested and knowledgeable and engaged in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. We’re going to be working on paper cranes and more.

Recently, I brought our classes to a site created by Google called Messages for Japan that allows you to write a message to the people of Japan. The site automatically translates English into Japanese, and then pins the message on a global map. The kids were pretty interested in the language conversion (we talked then about how Google’s technology does that) and in reading other messages from around the world.

Here are some of our messages, and the conversion.

Peace (for the people of Japan),

Now, where were we …

The Monday after spring vacation is always an odd day, as kids re-adjust to the routines even as they are staring at the end of the school year not long down the road (I think, for us, in about eight weeks). And let’s face it: it’s a bit odd for me, too, to get back into my rhythm of teaching.

As usual, I was up way too early, thinking about the day’s plans and how to engage them back into our work. I decided we’re going to hold off for a day on digging into the sections of the novels they were to read over vacation (The Watsons Go to Birmingham and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle) since I know there are going to be some who did not read or did not remember to bring their books home. This gives them an extra night to catch up before we head into the center of both stories.

We will likely spend a bit of time working on our graphic organizer for our Environmental Essay Project as I work with them on organizing thoughts on the wide range of topics they have chosen to write about.  Later this week, the real writing begins and I want them to have as many organizational strategies as we can muster to keep them focused.
Student Topics Environmental Essay

So, what will we do, then?


I won’t get to our official poetry writing/reading unit for another few weeks, but still — it is April. I think what I will do is pull out Walt Whitman’s O Captain, My Captain and read it to them. We used a Time for Kids article before vacation to learn more about the Civil War and we talked a lot about President Lincoln’s role, and assassination.  (And who can resist the classic scene in The Dead Poet’s Society, right? Poetry is of the heart).

And then, I am going to pull out some of our Poems for Multiple Voices, and see what kind of cacophony of words and voices we can create with poetry as a class. (And in a bit of a connection to my book review the other day of Practical Poets, I have a whole collection of poems for two voices that celebrate mathematical ideas which are a hoot to read.)

We’re easing back into learning …

Peace (after the break),

Ewan McIntosh: Seven Spaces of Technology

The Seven Spaces of Technology in School Environments from Ewan McIntosh on Vimeo.

This is a fascinating look at the concept of “spaces” when it comes to technology and learning. Ewan McIntosh really brings is into the ecology of the mind with his presentation.

He lays out:

  • Secret Spaces
  • Group Spaces
  • Publishing Spaces
  • Performing Spaces
  • Participation Spaces
  • Data Spaces
  • Watching Spaces

It’s worth watching the video and reading his blog post because it forces you to draw back and see the classroom from other angles.

Peace (in this space),

Bored? Make a Stopmotion Movie!

My six year old made this movie, mostly by himself, the other day when his calls of being bored got to me. I helped with the technical aspects but he designed the set, shot most of the video, and came up the story idea. He then watched it about 25 times in a row and is very proud of his movie. I love that the tools are such that even a six year old can imagine themselves a movie producer and then go and produce a movie (without any of those pesky actors to deal with, either.)

Peace (in the frames),
PS — If you want to learn more about stopmotion movies, check out my website resource Making Stopmotion Movies.

Earth Day, Animated through the Years

I showed this video to my students last week as they were getting ready for April vacation and moving into an environmental writing project. My co-teacher and I laughed a the t-shirts in the piece, but my students had no idea why we were laughing.

Peace (in the history),

Book Review: Practical Poetry (across the curriculum)

Just in time for the push of Common Core curriculum alignment by our state, and many other states, Sara Holbrook’s Practical Poetry: A Nonstandard Approach to Meeting Content-Area Standards is, well, practical and useful and full of interesting ways to merge poetry with math, science and social studies. I was lucky enough to receive this book from Lisa, thanks to a poetry contest she held at her blog (Effective Teaching Solutions), and the other night, as my son was in basketball practice, I dove in.

Holbrook is a poet who has gone into many classrooms to work with students, and her insights are valuable around the ways that poetry can engage and connect writers with various elements of curriculum, without making it boring. This is creative learning.

She notes that poetry is one of those topics that seem to be left out of discussions around curriculum change, particularly as we move into more expository writing (ie, the Common Core) and leave more narrative writing behind. But she lays out a strong case for keeping poetry alive and well in our schools.

She argues that writing poetry:

  • jogs the memory
  • demands keen observation
  • requires precise language
  • stimulates good communication skills
  • encourages good organizational skills
  • encourages reading fluency
  • helps us learn about ourselves and our world
  • is a powerful language all of its own

While she begins with a look at the Language Arts classroom, she then shifts gears into how to bring poetry ideas into math, science and social studies in meaningful ways. While she acknowledges that some might scratch their head on these connections, she patiently lays out her rationale for each subject area, gives specific lesson plans and provides many student and her own exemplars.

When it comes to math, for example, she notes that both mathematicians and poets have similar intent: “We look for patterns in the world. We attempt to find a pattern that we can apply in order to define the unknown. We first look at nature as a whole and then attempt to break it down into parts. We use symbols to represent the unknown while we are in the process of defining terms, and we use comparative techniques to communicate with one another (58).”

I love that.

In science, she does something similar, but with physics. “Poetry’s mission is to understand the universe — physics’ mission is the same. Both condition the mind to search for an answer, to stimulate imagination, to look beyond the status quo. The arts and sciences are intertwined more than either side seems to want to admit (92).”

Again, I love that.

And in the field of social studies, she notes that the lens at which we make sense of the social and political and geographical contours of our lives and the lives of others also connects with poetry.

“And nothing gets a poet’s pen twitching quite as quickly as a good controversy. At the heart of every change or conflict in the written history of the world has been some bothersome poet spouting off on one side or another. The personal quality of a poem makes all those dates and events not only more interesting but more memorable. Poems are letters and snapshots from the past – ‘original source documents’ ; they’re like reading someone else’s mail versus reading a telephone directory. And memorable is definitely an advantage when test time comes around. (128)”

Yes, she hovers around our testing society and what that often means for creative writing, and again, she strongly makes the case that poetry is another way to help students achieve on standardized testing by moving beyond the drill-kill methods. There are ways to meet curriculum standards AND still spark creativity in our students. We need to remember that.

My sixth  class will soon be moving into poetry and I am going to have Holbrook’s book of ideas right on my desk. I also will be bringing it to meetings I am sure we are going to be having next year as we re-configure our district’s curriculum map to align with Common Core. I don’t want to lose poetry, and Holbrook’s Practical Poetry may help me make my case.

Peace (in the poetry),