Presentation: Mentor Texts and Digital Writing

Here is a version of the workshop I gave yesterday at the New England Reading Assocation’s conference on using mentor texts to inspire student digital composition. We had a great session, with lots of sharing and writing and questions. My last topic — gaming as a form of mentor text — sparked some interesting curiosity about how to bring that passion of some students into the classroom setting for writing and learning. We didn’t have answers, but we did have a lot of wonderment. That’s a start!
Mentor Texts in a Digital Age PDF Version
Peace (in the sharing),

Resource Guide: Mentor Texts and Digital Writing

This is one of the handouts that I will be using in my session today at the New England Reading Association Conference. I am exploring Mentor Texts and Digital Writing, and how we can use traditional texts to inspire digital composition in our students.
Mentor Texts and Digital Writing
Peace (in the sharing),

Reflect, Connect with Day in a Sentence

Yo – you may have heard about teachers in the curve using words as a way to connect, reflect and dissect the fragile moments of their days, so let me say to you today that the space is open wide across the geographic divide and I extend a hand to you to come on inside the Day in a Sentence with a moment, a slice, something sad or something nice, something that gives you pause and when you do, listen for the applause across this great big wide world. I have spoken – Day in a Sentence is open! (listen to the prose poem invite)

How do participate?

  • Reflect on a moment or a day or the whole week
  • Boil that moment down to a single sentence
  • Share it out as a comment on this blog post
  • I will gather ’em up and release over the weekend

Peace (in the hip-hop prose poem),





Comparing Writing Process and Game Design

Writing v Game Design
I was thinking again about the many overlaps between the cyclical process of writing and the iterative process of designing a game, and where they so often overlap, even if we use different terms. Neither process is linear, so my chart is not quite accurate as a flow chart. I created this as part of a presentation around gaming and writing that I am co-presenting this weekend for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

Peace (in the game),


Tryin’ 2B Funny: Canned Email Replies, Teacher Edition

Trying 2B Funny Icon
(I just found out that in gmail, you can set up canned, or prewritten, email message replies. I was thinking about what teachers would add to their list of canned replies to parents. – Kevin)

A Teacher’s Canned Messages

  • I’m sorry I missed your email. I’ve been shut up in my house for hours with all these five paragraph essays. Five paragraphs times 100 students is a whole lot of reading. I’ll get back to you when my eyeballs return to normal and my own family is talking to me again.
  • If you have a question about the curriculum, contact the superintendent. I had nothing to do with it.
  • I’m not available right now. I’m busy building a giant converter box that turns letter grades into standardized assessments. Leave a note if you want to use my new invention, too, when I am done.
  • The school day has ended. For once, I decided that my working day has ended at the same time. I’ll respond to you tomorrow. Go toss a ball around with your son or daughter. That’s what I’m going to be doing.
  • If you are wondering about the quiz we had in class today, it wasn’t too difficult but it was designed to make your child think and use their head. And, no, they could not study for it. The question was a real-life scenario that called for real-life problem-solving. I’d like to think that that’s what school is for. If they struggled, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t worry about it.
  • I’ve received your email but I have decided to go on digital sabbatical. You will need to come see my in person if you want to talk. If you need directions to our school, ask your child, My classroom is the one just off the hallway from the nurse.
  • I now see where your child’s lack of spelling, punctuation and vocabulary comes from. (note to self: keep this one on the shelf)
  • Thank you for being such supportive parents. It makes my day how much you care and I want you to know I appreciate the ongoing partnership between you and I about your child. I only want the best for them, and it is clear that you do, too. I’m busy right now but will be back to you soon. Have a wonderful day, Mr. x/Mrs. x.

I’d like to think that last one would be the most used.

Peace (in the funny bones),


Reading with Comics (for National Comic Book Day)

Somewhere, I read that today’s is National Comic Day. I don’t know what that really means. But I thought I would share this video talk from Josh Elder about using Comics for reading instruction, and the relationship between the writer and the reader when it comes to comics. Elder is also a leader of Reading with Pictures, which is publishing an interesting anthology of writers remembering how they began to learn to read with comics.

“With a comic, the moment you open it up, you’re in that story … you’re in that world.” — Elder.

Peace (in the frames),


Tryin’ 2B Funny: The Child Left Behind

Trying 2B Funny Icon
(Note: I sent this in to McSweeney’s for a contest they were having to find new columnists. I didn’t expect to win. I didn’t. But, that means I get to share this little bit of satire here. My aim was to take aim at No Child Left Behind.- Kevin)

Notes Sent to the “Child Left Behind”
By Kevin Hodgson

Hey Kid,
Sorry about that. There was a mad rush to the bus and kids were crawling all over the place. I thought I had the right count before I hit the gas, but I guess dropping out of high school to get a job driving a school bus has its limits. Counting squirming heads was never my strength. Stay in school, kid. If you make your way back to school, I mean. Gosh. I really am sorry about leaving you behind and I hope your parents aren’t all that mad at me.
Peace out,
Brian (the bus driver)

Dear James,
I want you to know that I thought you were with us. I could have sworn you were with us, that you were making good progress with the rest of the class as we exited the Museum of Musical Instruments. But it’s early in the year, and to be honest, I haven’t yet memorized all of your names and faces yet. Did you realize how closely you resemble Sam Tinson? It’s uncanny, really, and when he got counted and then crawled under three seats in order to steal Stephanie’s snack, I thought it was you, and counted you. I know this push for “individualized students” in our schools means I should know better, but I’ve taught this way for the last twenty years. I’m glad to hear that you took the cab back from the museum, although I wonder who will be the one will have to “pay” for it? Probably, me. The teacher always gets the blame. But, don’t you worry about that, James, you just keep doing what you’re doing. Whatever that is. Or maybe you could try to do better. Can you do that for me?
With apologies,
Mr. Hanniford
PS — I still for the life of me not remember what you look like …

Dear James Marshall,
You may not know me, but I am the United States Secretary of Education, down in Washington DC. I work right next to the president! That’s right — the president! I heard through the news that you were “the child left behind,” and I wanted you to know that this is inexcusable. Even the president said so. So did the last president. There should be no child left behind, ever. Unless the state .. err, I mean, your teacher decides to apply for a waiver. Then, we may leave a few children left behind. Not many. Not enough to fill a bus, that’s for sure. I just wanted you to know that I am concerned about the education you are getting at that school and there will be accountability measures brought to bear. Count on that!
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Washington DC (next to the President!)

Yo Ugly Face!
We didn’t miss you at all. And in case you didn’t know, we got pudding pops on the bus ride home, as a reward for good behavior. Mr. Hanniford said “incentives are key to learning,” although I heard him muttering under his breath about something to do with reform or conform or something to Mrs. Shinklemeyer. Since you were left behind, I slipped under the seats and got a second pudding pop when Mr. Hanniford came around. It was good! I feel incentified!

Mr. and Mrs. Marshall,
I am writing to you to let you know your son, James, left his writing notebook here at the Museum of Musical Instruments on that fateful day which has been covered by all of the city newspapers. His name is on the cover of the notebook, and although I know he had a stressful day here at the museum — or rather, on the way home from the museum — I am surprised to find that his notebook is completely empty. There’s not a single note or sketch anywhere in it. In fact, it seems as if he were ripping pages out to make paper airplanes. We found a few in the giant Tuba section and wondered how they go there. Now we know. Is that the kind of effort he often puts into his school assignments? No wonder he was left behind.  Maybe he should try a little harder. The notebook will be at our Lost and Found window, if you want it back.
Yours in the Arts,
Susan Chancing, youth coordinator of the Museum of Musical Instruments

Peace (in the satire vein),


(Interactive) Book Review: The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

All the promise in the world hasn’t yet translated into digital books truly taking advantage of all of the affordances of the digital canvas. I keep waiting, and waiting. Honestly, I am not sure exactly what I am waiting for but, like the famous expression about pornography, “I’ll know it when I see it” or I will know it when I experience it. I hope.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is an interactive book on the iPad that comes pretty darn close. It’s beautifully designed; it draws the reader in with both the story and the interactive elements; and when you first read it, the next thing on your agenda will be to read it again. And again. Trust me. We can’t keep the iPad and Morris Lessmore out of our kids’ hands — and they range in age from 7 to 13. The writers and creators of this beautiful story have done it right — from the ways in which the reader can play music, to creating a swipe of blue across the grey sky, to the animation, to the ways the books in the library read the first lines of famous novels; to the story itself (about the wonderful magic of books that we read and the stories that we write, and how those stories linger on even after we die). Each page holds a little treasure to be savored.

I wish there were more books out there like The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. Why aren’t there? It may be that the confluence between design (so important) and rich storytelling have not yet found enough common ground. It seems like most ebooks are really just games disguised as books instead of books as an immersive experience. Kudos to the group that pulled this book together. And I wait for the next one.

Peace (in the interactive),


What Digital Dream Scenes Look Like

We’re now well into our first digital story project — Dream Scenes — and a few students are already finishing up. Some are still illustrating. That’s the nature of digital work, though. You need to be flexible about the pacing, and then set up hard deadlines so that even the slowpokes get the work done. Here are two projects that are mostly completed right now.


Peace (in the sharing),