Ben Folds Five and … The Fraggles?

My kids never really got into The Fraggles, for some reason, but anything Henson is OK by me. Here, Ben Folds Five includes the Fraggle cast in a music video. The bigger idea is how the resurgent Henson Company is tapping the Muppets and their kin back into the pop culture discussion, after years on the outskirts (Thanks a lot, Disney). Plus, it’s Ben Folds. ‘Nuff said.

Peace (in the tune),


Say What? Helping Confused Readers Cope

crazy reading passage
Before we start off the year with novels and short stories and such, I spent quite a bit of time with my sixth graders, talking about reading strategies. This is even more important these days, when our new curriculum (Common Core) calls explicitly for more complex text, close reading skills, and pushing young readers to the stretching points. There are going to be times when they will be scratching their heads over something they have read, but not quite understood.

I tell them that when that happens to me, and it is a book I have chosen to read, I often given the text another try, paying closer attention, and if it is still beyond my understanding, I abandon the book. But, I remind them, with a text assigned to them, they don’t have that option, so they need some strategies for making some sense of confusing text.

This activity uses the very short story above (which I believe I found in some materials from a special education conference around dyslexia and reading difficulties, as a way to demonstrate to teachers the struggle that some students go through). First, I have a few students read it out loud to the class (much laughter). Then, I read it, in my best “read aloud” voice.

We then work through a series of questions, such as when did this story take place, who was in the Nerd-Link, what happened there, what did the ditty strezzle do, and what did Pribin chife to Flingledobe. There are typically many looks to me like, what? But I refer them back to the text itself, and remind them that they don’t need to interpret the meaning of the words, just the meaning of the story.

Then, we have our discussions, and it ranges from reading strategies and clues (quotation marks indicate communication, subject/predicate shows who is doing what, parts of speech help identify unknown words and phrases, etc.) They really get into the fact that they could make sense of something that does not make sense (more laughter when I say it like that), by becoming detectives examining the passage closely and by parts, instead of giving up on it. These are skill that we will work on all year long, but this kind of nonsensical prompt helps set the stage for those discussions.

Peace (in the story),


Book Review: Just My Type


I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book by Simon Garfield. But Just My Type, which looks at the world of font typesetting (yep – you read that right), is a fascinating look at how the way our letters and words look impact what they mean. There’s a history of typesetting and font creation here — from Gutenberg on to the present — and Garfield takes a number of side exits to look specifically at some styles of type and their founders. This book makes clear just how much artistry and work goes into the things most of us take for granted and how the aim of designers to make their work invisible to the average reader.

I’m developing a resource over at the National Writing Project’s Digital is site around font and writing — inspired by reading Garfield’s book — so I won’t get too much into the ways this topic might have us think about writing and design in new ways. Still, for what could be an arcane topic, Garfield’s lively writing and ability to explain font architecture to the layperson (me) made for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

And I know longer look at public signs on display and other kinds of writing the same way, either. Now, I think: what is the writing itself trying to convey? That’s the power of fonts.

Peace (in the font),


Student Dreams and Aspirations

Dreams Word Cloud 2012
We’re moving into our first technology project of the year: Dream Scenes Digital Storytelling. The other day, they began writing the prompt that will become the script of their short digital story, and I asked them to share out the dream or aspiration or goal they have for themselves so that I could make this word cloud that we will share.

I love the variety and the reach of ideas.

Peace (in the dream),


Preferred Text: Audiobook vs Video vs Book

This comic captures an interesting and engaging series of discussions I had with my sixth graders yesterday, as I probed them about the kind of “text” they most prefer. I suppose the results are not surprising to any of who work with young people, but the conversations themselves were wonderful — articulate kids talking about their strengths as readers across mediums. It was pretty fascinating.
Webcomic Reflection: Books vs Video vs Audio


Peace (in the text),


A Column on Co-Teaching and Collaboration (podcast)

I had a column published the other day in our local newspaper’s education section, in which I talked about the way that co-teaching with a special education colleague for a few years has really helped me become a better teacher. I learn a lot from my co-teacher. The column is a variation of a post I did here at this blog some time back. I recorded the column as a podcast, too.

Peace (in the sharing),


More Consideration of Video as Text

I have been curious about ways I can bring in the concept of “video as text” to my students other than “here’s the video” of the story we just read. That seems too passive, and with our new curriculum standards requiring our students to be critical consumers of media (across many platforms), I want to find more and varied ways of getting my students to experience video as an extension of their understanding of writing and composition. The other day, I wrote about using the site, What’s the Big Idea?, for work around the philosophical concepts of lying by using short film clips to complement our engaging discussions.

This week, as we introduce our student to literary concepts that will play a role this year (protagonist/antagonist, foreshadowing, conflict/resolution, setting, etc.), we begin with a read-aloud of Rudyard Kipling’s classic Rikki Tikki Tavi story. Normally, I read the story over a few days, engaging in discussions and then students write a response around a question. Then, after the writing, students get to watch the 1966 (!) television version of the story.

This year, my co-teacher and I decided to try something a little different. In thinking of video as a potential text, we read the story up until a dramatic stopping point. Yesterday, instead of continuing to read the story, we had our students watch the video. We did this for a number of reasons: it reminded all of the students about the story so far (including those who were absent) and it required a deep listening and viewing skill as the story drew to its dramatic close. We scaffolded our graphic organizer, and they took notes as they watched, and last night, their task was to write a paragraph response.

That doesn’t seem like a dramatic shift for thinking of video as text, and yet, it is. The visual was the story, and I’ll be curious to hear their responses to conversations today about how they felt about using the video, and how it was different than us reading the story to them (and how it would have been even more different if they had been given the story on paper to read quietly). That kind of critical analysis is important, particularly if we extend those ideas for the videos they watch online (who is producing it and why? what techniques to you see?), commercial and political advertisements (close reading skills of video), and more.

In fact, we’re starting a digital storytelling project today – our Dream Scenes project — where their “text” will be a video, and so we’ll be moving from them being the consumers of the video as text to the creators of video as text, and you can be sure we’ll be reminding them of connections to the Rikki Tikki Tavi experience. And we will be visiting this theme all year in writing/reading class. It’s an important skill and awareness that all of us should be developing with our students, in this very visual age.

Peace (in the vid),

PS — I highly recommend following the work of Frank Baker, who often writes at Edutopia about media education. His Media Literacy Clearinghouse is a wealth of information.

Summer of Video: The Bike Trail Project

The other day, I shared out what my youngest son has been up to with a flip video camera, but really, he has been mostly inspired by his 14 year old brother, who has developed a real gift and feel for video. This stretches way back to when I taught him about stopmotion. (see his old website where he posted a bunch of his movies)
This summer, I saw a contest through a local group that promotes our rail trail/bike path, and I suggested that he create a video and enter (and maybe win some prize money). He got together with a bunch of friends, and they created two videos. The first one is slightly funny (or hilarious, depending on your age) and the second one is more serious, with interviews of folks on the trail.
My son did all the editing in iMovie, which I never taught him. I like how he is seeing the editing process as composition (notice the slow-down effects, the moving between interviewees, and angles.) Both videos came out great, particularly when you consider that no adult had anything to do with the planning, shooting and editing.
The Fun One:

And The Serious One:

Peace (on the rail),