Book Review: Manhood for Amateurs

I am a fan of writer Michael Chabon (although I can never remember how to pronounce his name, and then when I hear it said on the radio during book interviews, I say, oh, that’s how you say it … and then I forget). I recently finished his collection of essays in Manhood for Amateurs, Chabon’s musings on being a father and a husband in this modern age. Like most of his writing, the essays here are a mix of insight, humor and circling around important themes that really resonated with me as a fellow dad and husband. (Chabon has written The Wonder Boys, The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, and Summerland, among other books).

Chabon’s childhood of comics and pop culture immersion in the 1970s, and his desire to try to balance being a supportive and flexible but not-to-overbearing father, and often feeling as that balance is never achieved, hit home with me. Even the subtitle says a lot: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father and Son.

While not every piece in this collection is strong (if I were editor …), the majority of the essays could easily stand by themselves (and may have already done so in other journals and magazines … I’m not sure). Taken together as a collection, the writings here by Chabon are rich readings of a talented writer working to make sense of his world, even when he all too often comes up short and knows it. Still, his passion for his family, and for learning from his mistakes, is something worth noting.

I notice that Father’s Day is coming up. You may want to consider Manhood for Amateurs instead of a new tie this year.


Peace (in the learning),


Daily News: Common Core/Digital Literacy

Common Core Paper
My National Writing Project friend, Fred Mindlin (@fmindlin), is the “curator” of a daily news feed that features lots of great links and articles and resources about the Common Core, but his lens is digital literacy. He uses the site (which I also use for my National Writing Project daily news), and it automatically gathers up information about the Common Core that is in his group of Twitter friends and hashtag topics.

I often find interesting (and varied) takes on the national Common Core movement, and I urge you to consider checking it out, too. The site allows you to “subscribe” to a paper, and this allows you to get an email update every day about the news. Then, you can decide to follow the link to the paper or not. (Note: there is advertising on the news, but I use the adblock plus add-on in Firefox to remove it all from sight.)

Head to the Digital Literacy – Common Core News

Peace (in the core),


The Wishing Tree

(this is not our tree but an example of one)

I am so thankful for our art teacher. As our school grapples with a serious bike accident involving one of our sixth graders, many of us teachers and students have felt rather helpless about how to help the family and the student, and ourselves. But this weekend, after hearing the news, our art teacher went out and bought a Japanese Wishing Tree, and launched a project yesterday to channel our energy in a positive direction.

And now, in school, students and staff are making notes and origami cranes to our student on our Japanese Wishing Tree, which will be delivered to the student in the coming days. The tree is a way to channel some of our concerns and fears and hopes for our student and to come together as a school community in a constructive way.

I’ll be writing my note today.

Peace (in hopes),


Book Review: Catching Fire and Conflicting Thoughts

I am still reading the Hunger Game series, mostly because I keep getting spurred on by my students, who are devouring the series. Catching Fire is the second book. It didn’t quite hold me as much as the first one, but I am reminded of what I liked about the book and didn’t quite so much like about the movie: the inner voice of Katniss. That first person narrative voice is the most powerful element of the series, in my mind, and the writing in the present tense brings her fears and concerns right to the surface of every chapters. That keeps me hooked.

Here, Katniss is becoming the spark of a rebellion, and then is sent back into the games for a second time. There’s a bit more political intrigue going on, but this book feels like a second of a series of three — sort of like a placekeeper for the larger story unfolding in the dystopian world. I will be heading into Mockingjay soon, if only to say to my students: I read it. I mean, I like the books fair enough, but I see some other books in my stack I’d like to get to, too.

On a related note, there has been a flurry of editorials and letters to the editor in our local newspaper about The Hunger Games series. It began with a regular columnist, whose area of expertise for the paper has been bullying, and she came out pretty strongly against the book and movie. She cited its violence and glorification of killing. She said it has no place in the hands of young people, particularly younger children. Then, she admitted that she had not read the book.

Well … don’t shout out about a book that you haven’t read, for god’s sake.

Her editorial was quickly followed up by a stinging response that called her on the carpet for trying to cast judgments on a book that she has never even read. (Round of applause.) This writer acknowledged the violent theme, but noted that Katniss and others were trying to avoid the games and when forced to participate, mostly regretted the decisions. The writer also noted the political angle, and the Greek mythology that runs through the books. Finally, this response noted that the books are for Young Adults, or teenagers, not little children. The YA label is there for a reason.

That led to an editorial the other day from a local teacher, in response to the letter, in response to the original editorial. (OK< so I love local newspapers for allowing that kind of dialogue on the page to take place.) This teacher is well-respected in our community, and he noted:

“It is my firm belief that it is a great injustice we do our children to expose them to such violence because what it necessitates is a form of psychic numbing. Our hearts and minds are not intended to process this level of killing, let alone of children killing children, and for a young person to read such a book and to find it pleasurable there needs to be a switch that is turned off. “

I still feel mixed about my students reading The Hunger Games series, and I admit that I winced a little when I learned that our librarian had chosen the series for her sixth grade book club earlier this year. I’m no prude, I don’t think, but I know that not all young readers can distinguish the nuances of Katniss and her world (including her two love interests) as part of the larger narrative. This struck home the other day when I was in our library, and I was chatting with our librarian about something related to The Hunger Games (maybe I told her I was reading the second book) and a first grader overheard us, and said:

“I loved that movie.”

We both looked at this seven year old and then at each other, shocked. Until another first grader wandered up.

“Yeah. That movie was scary but cool.”

Yikes. The parent in both of us cringed. And I was reminded of that when I read the teacher’s editorial about exposure to violence in literature and pop culture. I don’t have the solution to fix the world, except to note that MY first grade son won’t be anywhere near The Hunger Games books or movies for quite a few years.

Peace (please),


The Path of an Idea

idea path map

Over the weekend, I participated in and watched an idea shift through various iterations and websites/platforms. It began with a viewing of a video, and ended with a podcast. This morning,  I decided to try to chart out the way the idea moved around for me, as I participated in the movement of the idea.
By the way, here is the podcast poem that I wrote:

Peace (in the path),


Trying Out InstaGrok for Student Research

We’re moving into an environmental research project as we shift towards the end of the year, and I know I need to do more to help my students with the research component. I am going to try using InstaGrok with them. This search engine/information collection site seems pretty nifty, and if nothing else, shows how researchers need to collect and then use information in their writing (this assignment is a hybrid of essay and multimedia composition).

At the site, teachers create a class code that students can sign up with (no email required), and then search queries and more can be archived in a document journal, complete with hyperlinks to articles, etc. Check out InstaGrok:

Peace (in the sharing),


Why I Wish I Was on Facebook

I’ve spent more than my fair share of time here, railing against Facebook on many levels: privacy enfringement, ownership of content, use by kids under 13, and just the fact that it is shifting people from an open platform (the web) into yet another closed garden (hello, AOL). And I have tried to remain true to my convictions: I’m one of the few in all of my circles of friends with no turf on Facebook.

But this weekend, I find myself wishing I was on Facebook.

The reason? One of my students has been seriously injured in a bicycle/car accident, and he is in serious condition in the hospital. While our sixth grade teaching team has been in contact with the family, I wonder how the rest of my students are doing, and I know (from past experiences) that they are likely talking and processing the accident on their networking space. For the first time, I wish I were on Facebook so I could help them with that process and keep track of how they are all doing on this extra-long weekend, and be part of their discussions as a steadying force.

I acknowledge that the thing that Facebook does well is connect people together, particularly around tragedy. It offers its users a chance to grieve and connect, and get support. Whether it be a huge event, like the aftermath of a storm, or a smaller event, like a bicycle accident (which, of course, does not seem small to us), the space has its value, and I find myself wishing not only were I on Facebook but that I were friends with each and every one of my students.

As it is, tomorrow will be difficult as we head back to school. We’ll have our Crisis Emergency Team ready early in the morning for students and staff that need time and space to deal with the accident, and we will be talking a lot about how to stay positive for our student and how to try to make sense of unexpected tragedies that befall our lives. Most of all, we’ll be together as a school community — as a sixth grade community —  and I will be there with them and for them, as I am sure their parents have been there for them all weekend.

What I wonder is: have they been there for each other on Facebook this weekend, too? I can almost guess the answer: yes.

Peace (and prayers for my student),



300 Episodes Strong: Teachers Teaching Teachers

TTT tribute comic

It’s hard to imagine what keeps on motivating National Writing Project friend Paul Allison and others to host the wonderful and insightful Teachers Teaching Teachers chat each week but they do it, and this week will mark the 300th episode of the program. I have been lucky enough to have been a guest for a few episodes over the years and even was a guest-host for a few shows as we rolled out our book, Teaching the New Writing (which Paul contributed to).

The TTT show, which takes place over at EdTechTalk (which always deserves its own round of thanks for the hosting of the show and others that it has supported over the years), is often a free-wheeling talk on far-ranging topics, from the changing nature of writing, to using current events for project-based learning, to how the arts influence the rest of the curriculum, to developing an emerging online writing space for youths, to gaming, to the power of teachers being able to share and network with each other, and more. Much more.

Paul and co-host Susan Ettenheim have been the perfect hosts whenever I have been on the show, setting the stage with insightful questions and leaving space for the guests to expand. And neither are afraid to push the thinking forward — extending ideas into possibilities, and then asking: now, how do we make that happen? And then, more often than not, inviting folks back to reflect on how a particular learning venture went, what was learned and again, where do we go from here?

300 shows over six years.

That’s a lot of sharing, and a lot of discussions, and a lot of expertise brought to bear on the world of education. Every year, when I see various blogging awards, I almost always nominate Teachers Teaching Teachers for a category but where to put it? Best podcast? Yep. Best live online gathering? Yep. Best use of audio, and now video, to further professional development? Yep. Best place to re-energerize your thinking and your teaching? You bet.

If you want to learn more about TTT, you should check out Paul Oh’s piece at the NWP site about Paul Allison and the impact of the show on educators:

And Catch TTT’s 300th milestone episode May 30 at 9 p.m. EDT/6 p.m. PDT at

Peace (in thanks),



Conversations with Myself: Thoughts on Digital Rhetoric

I noticed that Troy Hicks shared an interesting video of his children talking about how they use technology to write, as part of his post for a blog carnival on the topic of ‘What does digital rhetoric mean to me?” over at the Digital Rhetoric Collaborative.

Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. (from Wikipedia)

So, given this kind of definition, I guess we might consider what makes digital writing unique in this regard. Like Troy, I decided that this kind of exploration of digital rhetoric should come in the form of a digital piece of writing, so I created this Digital Poster with some of my ideas (around fluidity of writing, connectiveness of ideas, and impact of multimedia). What was interesting is that I first created a short video for the poster, and then realized that I had some counter-points to make. So, like some version of Andy Rooney, I created a second video that took issue with the first video — as a sort of conversation with myself. Finally, I added a third video pulling together those strands and acknowledging that all of these ideas are still in flux. Which is what makes it so interesting to be a writer and a teacher of writing in the midst of all this change.

View the Digital Poster at Glogster (where the videos are a bit easier to see) or see the embedded version below:


Peace (amidst all the chatter),


We Were ‘Picking up the Pieces’

Here is a short clip of my band last night as we tried out the very difficult song (for me, anyway, as the sax player) of Pick up the Pieces by the Average White Band:


Peace (in the funk),