What Maggie Says: Informational Text Writing


At a professional development I was co-facilitating the other day with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, we were very fortunate to have Maggie Roberts (from Teachers College) skype into our session to chat with us about the idea of informational writing. This has been one of the topics that we have been exploring with this group of teachers for much of the school year, and Roberts thoughtful analysis and sharing of strategies and conceptual ideas around the shifts to more informational writing was very helpful.

What I found most useful were Maggie’s overview of the qualities of informational writing:

  • Focus on the topic – narrowing the focus of the writer from general to specific;
  • Organize with a logical structure, so that the pieces fit and work together;
  • Group ideas in a meaningful way that is clear and compelling to the reader;
  • Use transition language — from paragraph to paragraph, from idea to idea, etc.;
  • Tap into specific terminology and vocabulary of the subject, and ensure the reader understands;
  • Elaborate with detail;
  • Structure the writing — flow from start to middle to finish.

I think we all found these ideas handy to keep in mind when our students are working on informational text, and we even talked a bit about how students have an internalized understanding of fiction (because it is a central part of their reading and listening experience) but not so much with non-fiction, and that makes moving from reader to writer all the more difficult. It requires much scaffolding and mentoring.

I also liked how Maggie explained three main ways to think of research:

  • Lived experiences (personal)
  • Text-based reading (traditional research, online and offline)
  • Investigation of sources (interviews, experts,etc.)

This validates the students’ view of the world even as it encourages an unfolding of experience to how others see a topic. That was a nice way to frame the idea of research from our notion of “open the book, take notes” to “what do you know, and where can you go to find out more.)

Thanks, Maggie!

Peace (in the visit),


Hanging Out on the Making Learning Connected MOOC

MOOC Hangout image

Terry Elliott and I are the two main facilitators for this first week of the Making Learning Connected MOOC, and last night, we hosted the first in a series of Google Hangouts. We invited a few guests and then spent a thoughtful hour last night talking about the art of “making,” the rationale of the MOOC, and how folks can be active participants in learning this summer. We invited a few folks (Michael, Gail and Christina) from the weekend’s first Make Cycle to share their own thoughts, too.

All in all, it was fantastic.

You can see the video archive and some notes from the chat room over at the Making Learning Connected blog.

We were certainly busy this weekend, enjoying the ways that MOOC participants have been representing themselves to each other as part of the first Make Cycle. We’ve had photographs, videos, animation, online biographies, avatars, and much more, and the range of work by people is just stunning. Our hope is that the energy of this first week continues into the other weeks of the MOOC, and that even more folks join in.

It’s not too late. Come join in the fun.

Peace (in the sharing),


Duke Rushmore sings, But It’s Alright

Here is some video from a recent gig of my rock and roll band, Duke Rushmore. We had just learned this song and the singer just learned the riff on xylophone (as well as just learned the xylophone), so we pulled a woman from the audience (it was her birthday!) to hold it for him, and for someone to sing to. (I am the saxophone player). Right before the song started, she turned to me and whispered “I don’t want to do this!” but the drummer counted off the song and we were off. She ended up having a birthday to remember.

Peace (in the tunes),

Making Learning Connected: Introducing … the Animated Me


We kicked off the first day of the Making Learning Connected MOOC with a flurry of activity. It was so energizing to see the variety of ways that folks are diving into the first cycle of making, by creating representative media to introduce themselves. We’ve already had audio, video, artistic, interactive, and more examples.

This animated introduction is how I introduced myself to the community. Since I am asking folks to explain their process of making, I should do the same, right?

First, I used an app called Animation Desk. I paid the upgrade version, but there is a free version, too. It’s a pretty powerful stopmotion animation app. It’s not the simplest one out there, but I like the options for what you can do, and to be honest, I think I have only begun to scratch the surface.

I decided to draw a picture (note: I am not a visual artist and I don’t even play one on the Internet, and I don’t have a stylus so everything is finger-drawn, as if you could not guess) and I thought about having important elements of my life revolve around me. So, I began with my kids, then my wife, and then music and writing and teaching. Perhaps it goes without saying, but this took quite a long time. You have to play with every frame. (I later kicked myself for not doing a simple thing — I should have had my eyes following the movement. That would have been cool. Oh well.)

See this screenshot? This is just one page of frames.
Welcome animation screenshot

Next, I exported the animation out of the app, and it allows you to export directly to sites like Youtube. But I emailed the file to myself, and then dumped it into iMovie, where I added the titles, voiceover and soundtrack, and then hosted it up on Youtube, in order to easily share with the Making Learning Connected community.

I hope it captures a bit about and maybe inspires you to try something different.

Peace (in the MOOC),


The Making Learning Connected MOOC is Now Live


You may be a little weary of my chatting up the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration (MOOC) that I have been involved with over the last few weeks with the National Writing Project. I’m excited about it. I’ve shared out a lot of teasers, but today, we officially launched the MOOC and I want to invite you to join us. If you are a little leery of the time involves, it’s OK. You truly will determine what works for you. If you just want to lurk, go ahead. Just tweet every now and then? Fine. Go knee-deep into the activities? Even better.

There are plenty of informational pages along the top of the MOOC site, by the way, in case you are curious or have questions about how the MOOC might unfold. This one — Getting Started — is the perfect place to begin.

But I encourage you to come along for the ride. The opening post was published this morning, encouraging you and me and us to craft an introduction to ourselves, considering some use of media or symbolic representation. Who are you and how can you represent yourself to the world?

Check out the blog post for more information about the first Make Cycle of the MOOC. I hope to see you there, here and everywhere!

Peace (in the MOOC),


Help Me Create a “Hacking Literacies” Workshop

This summer, I am working with an urban high school as part of a bigger initiative to nurture academic progress in English Language Learners and struggling students. My role is to design an interactive workshop (four days a week, two hours a day, for five weeks) and I have decided to do it around the concepts of “Hacking Literacies and Video Game Design.” I won’t get into all of the overarching goals, except that the main ideas are to make students creators of content, analytical observers of media, and connecting those elements to game design and portfolio/publishing. Much of this thinking has been supported by the work I have been doing with the Teach the Web MOOC these past few weeks. (So, thanks!)

I am hoping others might help me think this through. I have put the overview into a Shared Document with CrocDoc and I am asking for comments, suggestions, etc. I love how the document can embed right here, and you should be able to make notes, annotate it, etc. Go for it!

Peace (in the hack),


Making Learning Connected MOOC Countdown ….

Tomorrow marks the official launch of the Making Learning Connected Massive Open Online Collaboration, and boy, it is exciting to think about getting this adventure off the ground after weeks of planning. As one of the facilitators, I have been working hard with the others to get all the pieces in place necessary for you to have a grand ol’ time this summer. (What? You haven’t signed up? Come join us.) We have tutorials, guides, suggestions, and more … all with an eye to help you get the most out of the MOOC.

On Saturday morning, we will be posting our first Make Cycle post (we’ve designed the MOOC around Make Cycles, which will have various themes to consider), followed by a newsletter, and then the start of some introductory activities. We’re aiming to ease folks into the MOOC experience.

I created this diagram to help me visualize how the interactions and connections might take place. Since we’re really honing in on the open part of the adventure, the sharing and connected spaces are decentralized, hovering around the participants. That mean that things may be taking place in different spaces, at different times, and the challenge is to keep some of those threads together. Maybe this will help you conceptualize it, too.

Making Learning Connected Overview2

We will be repeating this message a lot: You are in charge of making meaning of the MOOC. You enter the conversations and Make Cycles where it works for you, you participate when you can, you guide your learning. It’s OK to lurk and check things out, It’s OK to just follow on Twitter, or take part in our Google Plus community, or to blog in your own space, or write in your network area. This MOOC is about you, not us, although we do hope you will make connections.

So, come on and make something with us this summer. We can’t wait to connect with you.

Peace (in the adventure),

WMWP: Writing to Go

WMWP Writing to Go

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project just published a second round of profiles of teachers with lesson plans around writing, complimented by student work. It is called Writing to Go, and I was lucky to have been asked to contribute to the publication. My topic: teaching the synthesis of reading across multiple texts and using evidence from those texts in analytical writing. (This is also my main teaching goal this year).

The book has a wealth of great ideas, from using images to inspire writing, to how to build a sense of community through reading and writing, to using primary sources to inform writing, to how to best analyze the potential of quotations and dialogue. Writing to Go was rolled out at the WMWP 20th anniversary last week and will go on sale through the WMWP office and website in the coming days. It also provides a nice look inside the work being done by various WMWP teachers.

Peace (on the pages),