Another Way In: Comics to Visualize Literature

We recently finished up The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi. It’s a book that is quite challenging for my sixth graders — difficult vocabulary, twisting plot arcs, a vernacular that feels strange on their tongue. But it is such a great book and full of so many things to talk about: race, class, gender, foreshadowing, character development, etc.

In order to help them visualize some of the more intense action scenes of mutiny, punishment, challenge and confrontation, I had my students draw some comics. What I found is that by giving them a fun, simple way to “see” the action, they seemed to better understand the consequences of the scenes.

So, until a movie version of the book gets made, we have some comics:

Peace (in the sharing),

Western Massachusetts Writing Project Is …

I was inspired by an NWP friend’s Animoto of her writing project, so I copied it a bit for our Western Massachusetts Writing Project. This will become part of our new website and social networking space. I used elements from our Mission Statement as the text.

Peace (in the WMWP),

Thinking about the Challenges of Tech PD

Over at our iAnthology network, our discussion around the book Because Digital Writing Matters continues. This week, we dove into the topic of “professional development” with technology. Since this is a book written by National Writing Project folks, and since the iAnthology is made up of NWP teachers, it makes sense that we think through the issues of how best to bring technology to the table of professional development.

Here is what I contributed earlier this week, via Cinch.

Peace (in PD),

The Environmental Essay Voicethread

I knew that when we launched into our recent essay project around environmental themes that we would be sharing them out at the Voices on the Gulf website. We’ve been using the site now and then throughout the year for inquiry work around the environment, starting with the Gulf Oil Spill and then shifting outward.

But I was worried that essays would become too text-heavy, particularly when there are close to 80 of them. I finally decided that I wanted our students to podcast their essays, and Voicethread seemed the easiest and most logical way to do that, since all of their podcasts could be collected around some general themes and pulled together in one large project that could be embedded in multiple sites.

Here, then, is the Environmental Essay Voicethread. We’ve left a slide open for viewers to leave their own comments, too, so feel free to share the thread with your own students and ask them to contribute.
Peace (in the threads),

WMWP: Tapping into our Mission Statement

WMWP Mission Brainstorm
Yesterday, members of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project leadership team met to begin a discussion about the future of our organization now that federal support for the National Writing Project has disappeared. It’s an uncertain time for us, and for all NWP sites. And the discussion is sure to stretch into next year.

The activity that started us off was to look deeper at our WMWP Mission Statement, which we developed last year after a year of inquiry work, and which now is something that we see as our guide forward. We spent a lot of time, and a lot of reflective thinking, on the writing of the mission statement. As we struggle with where funds should go, and how to gain more support, our site director, Anne Herrington, reminded us that we need to maintain the values that we hold dear in the WMWP. The mission statement can help us in this regard.

We spent some time reading the mission statement and pulling out words and phrases that seemed most important, or most central, to us. Then, we shared out those phrases and discussed what they meant. The Wordle above are some of the central ideas that came out of that discussion.

This is our full mission statement:

The mission of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project, is to create a professional community where teachers and other educators feel welcomed to come together to deepen individual and collective experiences as writers and our understanding of teaching and learning in order to challenge and transform our practice. Our aim is to improve learning in our schools — urban, rural and suburban.

Professional development provided by the Western Massachusetts Writing Project values reflection and inquiry and is built on teacher knowledge, expertise, and leadership.

Central to our mission is the development of programs and opportunities that are accessible and relevant to teachers, students, and their families from diverse backgrounds, paying attention to issues of race, gender, language, class and culture and how these are linked to teaching and learning.

We then began to talk about what programs represent those ideas. We’re trying to determine which areas of WMWP should remain the central backbone of who we are and what we do. It was decided that the Summer Institute, the English Language Learners network, our Best Practices conference, professional development with schools and continuity programs for teachers must remain a top priority.

The message that came out from the meeting is: we’re down but not out, and we will find  a way not only to survive, but to thrive. I don’t think we are afraid to change, as long as we keep the values of our program alive. Coming at it from that angle gives a clearer sense of possibilities, I think.

Peace (in the writing projects),

Environmental Essays: The MultiMedia Poster Collection

This is the first in a series of posts about the ways in which my students shared out their Environmental Persuasive Essays via technology and media elements. Here, some students worked on Glogster to create a multimedia companion to their essay projects. The goal was to have a media project that complemented the persuasive stance of their essay writing.
The Environmental MultiMedia Poster Collection
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Peace (in the podcast),

Some More Thoughts from the NWP Web Retreat

We’re still working here in Kansas City around creating interactive, social networking spaces for National Writing Project teachers. I’ve been using Cinchcast to add some reflective podcast thoughts. Give a listen if you want to hear what’s been on my mind after a full day of “playing” and “building” in the Drupal site:

Peace (in KC),

Some Initial Thoughts on NWP Web Presence

I am in Kansas City with a whole group of very talented and smart representatives of the National Writing Project where we are exploring ways we can use a new NWP Social Networking site to the advantage of the teachers in our various sites. Last night, we had some initial activities, including discussing the elements of a website that makes us want to come back it time and again. Themes that emerged included:

  • Usefulness to a specific interest
  • Fun, and use of humor
  • Collaborative elements
  • The voice of someone with experience
  • Multiple points of entry to content
  • Easy to navigate
  • and more

We then broke into our site teams (I am here with a wonderful teacher from the Springfield schools) and worked on a paper activity using widgets that might be available as we work today to design our space. My partner, Anne Marie, and I talked about simplicity of design and which elements would allow for the easiest way for our teachers to enter into conversations. It was pretty interesting and will lay the groundwork for some activities today.

Peace (in the NWP),

Connecting with NWP (Connect)

I am off to Kansas City today to join so many other colleagues in the National Writing Project to learn about and go deeper into the fairly-new social networking platform of the NWP, which is called NWP Connect. With federal support now gone for NWP, a lot of sites like my own Western Massachusetts Writing Project is gearing up to use an online presence to keep a firm foothold in the world of teaching and professional development, and keeping our NWP folks connected.

This week’s NWP Web Retreat should allow us time to conceptualize how that might look and how we might use this new space for both connecting to the larger NWP network, and also, constructing smaller “communities” for our sites right in that larger space. For us at WMWP, this dovetails nicely with an ongoing effort to revamp and relaunch our website this summer. We’ve had lots of ideas in the past around lesson plan sharing, writing spaces, professional development, and more that could find a home inside the NWP Connect space.

The retreat also comes right before an important meeting we are having at WMWP on Monday in which we really brainstorm what our network will look like as funding comes to a close, and how we can best survive. I am hoping some of the ideas from this weekend will help me share out some possibilities with online spaces during those difficult conversations.

A few weeks ago, when we started the planning, I sent out an email to all the folks going to the retreat. I shared out a Prezi Meeting space and asked them to consider using it to write three words that describe their online selves — sort of an identity idea. A handful of my friends took me up on the offer, and the Prezi up above is the result of that sharing via Prezi Meeting (which I hadn’t used before, so I was curious to see how it would go).

Peace (with a little bbq sauce on the side),