Poems with Mary Lee: Burn This Castle Down

Mary Lee posted an image this morning of a castle, and I imagined it a flat place, full of stereotypes.
Broadway tower edit
And so began my poem …

I light a match
to this cardboard castle
and burn the story to the ground,
finally free after so many years
of the roles into which we have been thrust:
the hero in shining armor
the damsel in distress
the fool juggling lives before the fickle king.
So now begins the new adventure,
free from the shackles of past
riding hard and fast
into the fading sun.

Listen to the podcast:

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Peace (in the restart),


Poems with Mary Lee: Choices at the Sushi Bar

Mary Lee had an interesting video up this morning to inspire poetry as part of her month of sharing resources from Wikimedia Commons. The video (above) is of a revolving sushi bar, and that got me thinking a bit about how the range of choices might actually be limiting.
Here’s what I wrote:

The predator hunts,
biding his time,
as his dinner cavorts
with others in line.

One might think
there were hours to wait,
as dinner flows by
on a small blue plate.

Another night
with too many choices,
the predator slinks home
in his stomach, the voices

call out for some meat,
some rice, some fish,
something of substance
from the small moving dish.

But, alas, that won’t be
so he takes out his bread
spreads peanut butter and jelly
and slinks off to bed.

And the podcast:

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Peace (in the poem),


Western Massachusetts Writing Project is …

Created with Haiku Deck, the free presentation app for iPad
Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project is nearing a 20th year anniversary, and I have been tasked with pulling together a video montage to show at our celebration event coming up in a few weeks. One of my colleagues had collected some quotes from folks at a recent event about how they feel about WMWP, and I decided to use some of those with HaikuDeck, and then later, I will move the slides into the larger video.

Peace (in the celebration),


Poems with Bud: The Deep End and Silence

Bud posted a few new images this week to inspire poetry. The first is of an abandoned shopping cart at the edge of the ocean. Here’s what I wrote:

I’m not sure what’s taking him so long
to get the groceries:
the list was simple enough –
a gallon of milk,
a dozen bananas,
a little bit of orange juice …
I wonder if he has gone off the deep end

And the second is a quiet scene — just two people holding hands, walking down the street. Here’s what I wrote:

She’d like to think
the silence,
a blanket;
She’d like to think
the fingers,
a thread;
She’s like to think
their dreams,
a quilt;
She’d like to think all that
but she’s just not sure,
and he’s not talking as they continue walking
into the quiet.

Peace (in the poems),


Student Interactive Fiction: the Home Space

norris interactive fiction site
Our school just began the switch into Google Apps for Education, which means I finally get to use Gmail and other Google tools for the classroom with a little more ease. I decided to try out the Google Sites option as the space to host students’ Interactive Fiction stories that were created in the past three weeks (Another two classes will launch into it this week.)

Please visit our space and read some of the stories created by sixth graders. Follow the branches and try not to get too lost!

Peace (in the stories),

PS — you can follow our work over the past few weeks with this link, too.



Poems with Mary Lee: The Rubik Cube

Mary Lee has been posting some nifty images and media files over A Year of Reading, and asking us to write poems inspired by the work. It is part of her push to share more about Wikimedia Commons. Yesterday, she posted this animated image:
PocketCube (small)
By Silver Spoon (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons
It reminded me of a conversation I inadvertently eavesdropped on the other day between a boy and his father. Which led to this poem:

“It only takes 20 moves,”
the boy whispered, as his father stared
at the young fingers
quickly swiveling and twisting the color tiles,
remixing the cube back towards its original and perfect state,
“and I can do it in less,” the boy boasted,
barely looking at his hands in movement,
matching up colors in a blur of speed
and confidence.

Instead, the boy gazed intently at his father,
seeking a compliment, or comment,
or an acknowledgement at the very least,
but all he got was that dead-eyed look of an adult
suddenly realizing just how difficult it would be
to put his own fractured world back together in just
20 moves or less.

Peace (in the cube),

When Trademarked Products Enter the Testing Environment

Product Placements and Testing

I wrote this comic after reading a piece at the Washington Post about the creeping (creepy) influence of trademarked products into standardized testing. The article notes that Pearson does not appear to have gotten paid for including the names and trademarks of commercial products, and its inquiry found that the products were references in the original texts used for the assessment .. yet how can we NOT wonder about the influence? We have to. Testing situations have to be above reproach when it comes to our kids.

Peace (in product-free assessments),


Joining in with Mozilla’s Teach the Web Initiative

I am going to try my hand at being part of Mozilla’s Teach the Web MOOC. The project seeks to help folks explore the ways to remix and rework and hack the web with various tools (some of which I have used before) in ways to put more agency in the hands of users.

I’m curious on a number of levels:

  • How can I do more to make the Web work for me?
  • How can I envision these tools in the classroom with my students?
  • Is the MOOC format a workable model for me?
  • How can I connect with a larger community of educators and others with similar mindsets?

I’ll see how it goes. You come, too. We’ll learn together.

Peace (in the stepping forward),


NCTE: Avoid Machine-Graded Writing Assessments

Thank you, NCTE, for articulating a strong position on using computers to assess student writing in standardized testing. The National Council of Teachers of English published a position statement this past week that strongly denounces the shift towards having computers and software programs assess student writing, particularly in relation to the coming Common Core assessments that so many of our states are now part of.

The position paper notes:

… we can cost-effectively assess writing without relying on flawed machine-scoring methods. By doing so, we can simultaneously deepen student and educator learning while promoting grass-roots innovation at the classroom level. For a fraction of the cost in time and money of building a new generation of machine assessments, we can invest in rigorous assessment and teaching processes that enrich, rather than interrupt, high-quality instruction. Our students and their families deserve it, the research base supports it, and literacy educators and administrators will welcome it.” – from NCTE

The position paper also cites the many reasons why computers often fail in these machine-scored scenarios, noting:

  • Computers are unable to recognize or judge those elements that we most associate with good writing
  • Computers are programmed to score papers written to very specific prompts, reducing the incentive for teachers to develop innovative and creative occasions for writing, even for assessment
  • Computer scoring favors the most objective, “surface” features of writing (grammar, spelling, punctuation)
  • Computer scoring systems can be “gamed” because they are poor at working with human language, further weakening the validity of their assessments
  • Computer scoring discriminates against students who are less familiar with using technology to write or complete tests

And last, but not least, and perhaps most important of all:

Computer scoring removes the purpose from written communication — to create human interactions through a complex, socially consequential system of meaning making — and sends a message to students that writing is not worth their time because reading it is not worth the time of the people teaching and assessing them.” — NCTE

The paper then goes on to cite alternative ways to assess student writing, including the well-researched method of portfolios. Whether PARCC and Smarter Balance folks are listening, or care to listen, is a whole other matter. If they need any help, the writers of the position paper helpfully provide a long list of annotated articles on the topic.

Peace (without the machine),

PS — Thanks to Troy Hicks for sharing the link via Twitter. Troy is one of the authors of the position paper.