Sweet Dreams are Made of These …

Dreams 2011
This week, my students began their first digital story project. It’s called Dream Scenes, in which they share an aspiration for themselves, why it is important and how they will achieve it. We use Photostory3, and MS Paint for the illustrations, and the small nature of the project is a great way to begin to introduce technology into the writing classroom. The writing is still at the heart of the project. And I get to know them all a little better, too.

This Wordle is something we created yesterday as each of my students in four different classes shared out the theme of their Dream Scene. I like sharing this cloud with them because it pulls together all of the sixth graders as one digital piece, instead of four different classes.

Peace (in dreams),


From Old to New: The WMWP Website

The Western Massachusetts Writing Project launched a new website this month, in our hopes to make our site cleaner and easier to navigate. The change came on the heels of a long inquiry process of how our writing project site can best project our mission statement and our goals to our online audience. It’s still a work in progress, with some areas still under construction and some links still to be added. But I like the new site, and I appreciate all of the world folks put into making it go live. We had lots of voices in the mix because we realize the importance of a strong web presence.

Our New Site
WMWP new

Our Old Site
WMWP Web Old

Peace (in the change),


Moving WMWP onto NWP Connect

Connect WMWP Space
The National Writing Project’s new networking space — NWP Connect — is a move towards making connections among various NWP site members and within sites. At the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we have been using a Ning site for our leadership team (sporadically) but yesterday, I presented to our board the possibilities of using NWP Connect. Among other reasons, we don’t want to keep paying for Ning.

After a tour of the NWP Connect site, we had an engaging conversation about we might best use the main site and our space within the Connect community. There were discussions around:

  • Do we make our space public or keep it private? We mostly seemed to lean towards a public space, particularly as one of our missions to visibility to our teachers and our community.
  • How do we use our social networking site in a way that does not conflict with our website?
  • How do we label and name things in our Connect site in a way that is clear and understandable for users? You’d be surprised at how difficult that can be at times.
  • How do we best integrate the Connect site with our website, so that a user can move fairly seamlessly from one to another?
  • What activity can we launch (book talk?) to get people on the site and writing?
  • Who will be in charge of making sure that every post gets a response?
  • And more …

It was interesting and a good discussion. The key is for us to keep designing our WMWP Space with simplicity of use in mind, and to avoid making another site that people don’t need to go to. We don’t want to stake out some ground that is never used, or replicates what people already have in their professional teaching lives. But we also see Connect as another way to bridge connections with teachers who are part of WMWP and maybe need another line to our organization.

Here is a document I created and shared with our WMWP folks, but it may be helpful for others, too. (Note: The NWP Connect space is not just for NWP teachers. It’s an open place for resources on writing and literacy. Take a look. Stay awhile.) All of the members of the Leadership Team pledged to tour NWP Connect on their own, maybe add a few comments to some posts, and then take a critical look at the WMWP Connect space.
Using NWP Connect

Peace (in the sharing),


A Slow Week for Days in a Sentence

Some weeks are like that. Slow. I had just two responses to this week’s Days in a Sentence, and I appreciate both Cindy (here at the blog) and Brian (over at Google+) for sharing their reflective thoughts.

Cindy writes: Heads bent slightly, pages turning faster, eyes wide open – a groan of frustration when the timer goes – these flashes of my favorite moments this week are only rivaled by the chorus of voices asking my favorite question: “Can you help me find something to read next?” I love that picture of her students, so intent on reading that nothing else matters … including what happens next, and then the turn to the teacher, asking for some guidance on a book. Wonderful.


And Brian‘s sentence is just as wonderful, as he writes of himself as the writer. Brian: “I picked up the pen and a new notebook and wrote before school, during school, after school at my daughter’s soccer practice, in bed before sleep and then again in the morning before school and it has been one of the best weeks in a long time.”

And I will add a second sentence to the mix this week, too. We just finished up our first full five-day week last week and I do a fluency activity with read-aloud fractured fairy tale plays. “The sounds of chatter and laughter filled the room left empty by summer, signalling a year ahead of creative ventures here in our shared space in which I hope they will emerge as confident writers and readers.

Thanks again to Cindy and Brian. I hope you will join us, too, next time for Day in a Sentence.

Peace (in the sharing),


Book Review: Reality is Broken

(This book is going to be part of an online discussion at the National Writing Project Book Group, so I will hold off on a lot of details about the book here. — Kevin)

I guess the title says it all for the underling premise of Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal. She’s certainly someone with a lot of credibility in a lot of circles — as an academic and as a gamer, and game designer, too. This book delves into the many ways in which reality for many people is boring, unfocused, and unmotivating, and how gaming can bring new possibilities for increasing our satisfaction with reality by inserting challenges, rewards and connections into life.

“If you are a gamer, it’s time to get over any regret you might feel about spending so much time playing games. You have not been wasting your time. You’ve been building up a wealth of virtual experience that …can teach you about your true self: what your core strengths are, what really motivates you, and what makes you happiest.” (p. 12)

McGonigal has a lot of good points about the benefits of gaming to engage us, particularly when she delves into the global social game movements that connect people across the world for information building, cooperative challenges and problem solving that could have an impact on the real world (which is the concluding premise — to solve world problems we need to create a gaming mentality). She also notes that the sheer number of hours that young people are playing, and the complexity of games that people are playing, is changing the way people interact with the world. And if you buy into the 10,000 hours argument of expertise (see Malcolm Gladwells’ Outliers), we are now seeing a generational wave of gaming experts emerging in our ranks. (Although, I wish those hours were creating more than just playing).

But I did find much of the middle of the book veering off a bit too much into happiness quotients and other topics that I had trouble buying into, and I found myself muttering at McGonigal more than once. Some of it felt wish-washy. I understand that she was trying to lay her groundwork for why gaming can positively impact reality, but I didn’t buy all of it. I’ll leave it at that for now.

Still, the book does a nice job of taking a step back from an individual gaming experience and argue on behalf of the gaming experience itself. And as a teacher who is still grappling with the possibilities of how to work gaming into my curriculum in a meaningful way, McGonigal is an experienced voice to turn to (watch some of her video presentations — she’s a great speaker). She really does know her games, and her gaming experiences as a designer were interesting to read about.

I’ll be interested to know how my NWP friends felt about the book when the discussion goes live sometime in early October. I have a ton of pages in Reality is Broken with note tabs, ready to be reviewed again in a few weeks.

Peace (in the game),


Mea Culpa: My Expensive Projector

(See more of my series about the smarty pants board at Boolean Squared)

Since the start of school last year, I have had a Promethean Interactive Board in my classroom, but you would never know that it was an interactive device. It was a nice projector. An expensive projector. Whenever we watched videos, it was like having your own little movie theater in the classroom. It was a beautiful experience.

But it wasn’t interactive. The pen was in my desk and I did everything on the computer.

Writing this post makes me feel guilty, given how much I explore technology, but I wasn’t all that impressed with the possibilities of the whiteboard. There were also some issues with the pen that goes with the board, and a connection error that popped up from time to time. I could have figured it out, I suppose, but instead,  I sort of just blocked out a desire to learn at some point. That’s my mea culpa here. I had a piece of technology that our school invested in and I sort of avoided learning how to use it, even though right down the hallway, my science colleague quickly became a master of using her board for interactive activities and she was completely open to showing anyone how to use it.  I felt even more guilt in June when our principal announced he wanted to see the upper grade classrooms all using the voting system for a  lesson plan that he would observe. Yikes. (He got too busy … so he never made the rounds, but his message was clear to us that he wanted to see results of the investment. It was a kick to the seat of the pants that I needed, that’s for sure. Suddenly, I began wondering about the board in a new way.)

So, what was up with me? Was I scared of the interactive board? (naw, although it could be frustrating at times when it didn’t work quite right). Was I feeling strange being the one to ask for help around technology when usually it is the other way around? (maybe, a bit … maybe more than a bit?). Did I even give the thing a try to see how I might use it? (only a chance and little more) Was I not sure how it might fit into my ELA curriculum? (that’s part of it). Was there not enough professional development with the purchase of the board? (yes, not enough)

This summer, I decided that I could not let an expensive interactive board spend another year as a glorified video projector. When my science colleague offered a morning of tutorials this summer, I jumped at the chance to learn more about using it for Activotes with our voting devices, and containers for grouping ideas, and a few other things. I dove in, and promised myself I would give this board a chance to show me some things.

So far, so good.

I have already used the interactive board for a voting activity around literary devices that sparked some interesting discussions; used the containers for a lesson around building supporting details around a topic sentence: and I designed a vocabulary review lesson that seemed to have helped bring the words into my students’ heads in a different way. I’ve had kids writing, drawing, adding content to prompts, and all sorts of things. The students do love to use it and do seem engaged in the activities. A few students asked if we could do our vocabulary quizzes on the board, instead of on paper, telling me they think they would do better that way. I’m not so sure about that.

I still have a ways to go in this relationship with the whiteboard. Next, I need to start using the data generated by the student’s votes to see who really is getting a concept and who is not, and I need to keep using the tools I know how to use and adding new ones as the year progresses so that the board can keep adding another layer of possibilities for my students. I don’t want to lose what I have learned through inactivity. And maybe there are more tools and possibilities that I just don’t know about yet. In fact, I am sure about that.

I’m still not convinced of all of the claims of an interactive board transforming the classroom learning experiences. And I am not really sure the money invested in boards is quite worth it, given the high needs of all sorts of areas (our school could use more math and ELA support teachers and I wonder how many of my colleagues in the building were doing what I was doing — using the board as only a projector), but at least I can walk in the classroom each morning without the guilt I felt of looking at this expensive board hanging on my wall. I’m making a place for it in my curriculum.

Peace (in the confession),


What I Already See in Their Writing

Observations on Paragraph Writing
We started the year off, writing. I don’t assess this early writing (which is a reader response paragraph) but I do make general observations about trends that I am seeing and then I share those observations with all of my students as “teaching points” to begin to move forward. The writing samples were OK — not particularly strong, but not too particularly weak, either — and the slide above indicates things I will be returning to early in the school year with them.

Peace (in the points),


(Abandoned) Book Review: The Doom Machine

All the reviews said The Doom Machine was a great read. It came highly recommended from our school librarian. But … eh … I couldn’t finish it. I don’t know if it was me or the book, but I could not get my mind past Mark Teague’s writing. While I have loved his work in picture books (The Dear Mrs. LaRue books are a riot) and find him to be funny and imaginative as a storyteller, The Doom Machine could not hold my interest, even with the neat drawings and sci-fi element. And I kept with it for almost 120 pages, thinking: this is bound to change for the better at any moment.

It didn’t. The writing felt choppy, and lacked a certain flow. It was as if he were trying to fit his picture book writing style into a novel format. That doesn’t work. (Which, if you think about it, is an interesting ideas — that the genre influences the writing, and how does a master of one genre make the switch?)

I put the book down and stuffed it into the pile of books for my classroom. Now, as I write that, I wonder if someone will say, You don’t like it but you’re going to put it in front of your students? Good question! Yes. I’m not the arbiter of everything that’s good (again, most reviewers of the book gave it high marks), and I bet someone will like this story of a boy and girl on an alien spaceship trying to save the world.

It just won’t be me.

Peace (in the doom of the book),


Inviting You into Days in a Sentence

Hello out thereeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

I’d like to invite you to join our reflective Days in a Sentence collaboration. It’s just another quick way to take a deep breath, reflect in writing and then connect with others of us who also need a moment to think bigger, wider, deeper about what is going on in the days of our lives (random soap opera reference).

Here’s how it works:

  • Think about a moment in your, a single day or even the entire week
  • Boil it down to a single reflective sentence
  • Use the comment feature on this blog post to share your writing
  • Sometime over the weekend, I will gather the Days and publish them together

It’s easy and it’s open to anyone. Come write with us!

Here is mine:

I gave the most enthusiastic cheer of the week as our technology dude told me that while I was meeting with parents in our Curriculum Night, he had finally finished replacing all of the keyboards on our old PC cart, which means I can finally do our beginning-of-the-year digital story project.

I can’t wait to read your reflective sentence.

Peace (in the moment),


Remembering 9/11: A Memory Project

Our sixth graders are too young to remember 9/11. But like many schools, we wanted to honor the memory of the loss and tragedy during the 10th anniversary and keep it part of our current history of how the world can change on an instant. So my social studies colleague designed a family interview project, and I put a voice recorder in his hands (his first time trying out podcasting). My role here was mostly only media producer, taking the voices of our students and some footage of the Gallery Walk posters, and putting them together. I hope you find it as powerful as we did.

Peace (in the shadows),