Close Viewing of a Video

This is a video shared at the Deeper Learning MOOC about how to engage students in constructive critique. Here, Ron Berger talks with second graders about an art project. I popped the video into Vialogues so that I could do a close viewing of the work and add some thoughts. You can add your notes, too, at Vialogues.
Peace (in the butterfly),

Book Review: Floors

I’ve read some of Patrick Carman’s older YA fiction and found it intriguing, particularly in ways that he (more than many others) is tapping into the transmedia aspects of publishing. Books like Skeleton Creek are creepy and visceral and oddly entertaining, particularly when part of the story unfolds as videos. So, I was anticipating a good story when my son and I picked up Floors, for slightly younger readers, but wow … I really loved the book, and its sequel (Three Below) and the third book is sitting on our book pile as the next one in the read-aloud queue. (I also met Carman at the Dublin Literacy Conference years ago and he seemed like a nice guy happy to be writing stories for a living and thinking even then of ways to push the boundaries of book publishing).

Floors is about a New York City hotel that is unlike any other hotel you have ever imagined, and about about a boy named Leo who comes to own the Whippet Hotel in the first book after being given it by the eccentric owner and Leo (and later with his friend/brother, Remi) explore the strange subterranean elements in the second book and … not yet sure what happens in the third book (The Field of Wacky Inventions) but I am sure it will be just as entertaining. If you are catching some resemblances to another boy and a chocolate factory, that is intentional as Carman riffs off the Dahl idea of a building with lots of secrets and magic and inventions.

You never know what will happen when a door opens in the Whippet Hotel. And just to know, ducks are more important than one would think. My wife thought too much was happening in these stories but my son and I disagreed (although some of the characters could use more depth), and as a read aloud, the Floors books are perfect — with lots of action, humor, villains and the unexpected. My son and I also agreed on this: Floors would make an excellent movie.

Peace (in the book)


Imagination: No Batteries Required

Yesterday, my son pulled a piece of paper out of his pocket and started to make a phone call. I was intrigued, and then I watched as he folded the paper up and then unfolded it, and sent a text. Finally, after yet another fold and unfold, he watched a little television. All this from a piece of paper.

I asked if he wouldn’t mind re-enacting the use of his paper device for me for a video collage. (The image at the bottom is a closeup of some of the “screens”)

I admit: I have some conflicting emotions about what he had created. On one hand, I love when his imagination comes into play. I realized that I had been watching him make the paper device while I was cooking dinner but didn’t know what he was up to. He took it on himself to work it out and to play with it. I love that kind of independent play, and he was also eager to share with me.

On the other hand … it’s an indication of how infused electronics are on our world. We limit television and screen time (although we admittedly struggle mightily with that with our older boys) but when you see the heart of “play” revolving around the replication of a screen that he can’t use, it makes me feel odd, as if it were imagination wasted. I know that this is not the case — that imaginative time is what it is, and should be treasured. And we take steps forward. Today, he replicates what he knows. Maybe tomorrow, he creates the unknown.

One can hope.

Peace (on the paper),

Teaching in the Age of Uncertainty

Frindle: Words from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

It’s interesting that the theme of “uncertainty” has come up for the Rhizomatic Learning (#rhizo14) course this week. The other day, as part of a nine year project with sixth graders to construct an online dictionary of imaginary words, I read out parts of the book Frindle to my sixth graders. If you don’t know the story, in a nutshell, a student (Nick Allen) decides that replacing the word “pen” with the word “frindle” would be a nice way to upend authority.

It does shake up the school, particularly with his teacher (Mrs. Granger) who loves her dictionary and finds solace in its authority. The novel revolves around their battles over words and who has the authority to create language. The story ends 10 years in the future, when Nick’s word frindle ends up in the dictionary and Nick receives a note from Mrs. Granger, informing him of why she relies on words to carry her through the changing times. She cites her teaching career before the age of the Moonshot, and before the age of the VCR, and before the age of Personal Computers. (She also slyly lets him know that she used reverse psychology on him, fighting him every step of the way with frindle in hopes that he would continue his effort. “That sly fox,” he whispers to himself.)

“Words are still important,” she reminds Nick, even as she acknowledges the dictionary can change to meet the needs of the day.

Reading the passages reminds me yet again, as does the #rhizo14 discussion around uncertainty, that I really have no idea what the world will look like for my sixth graders or for my own children, or for me. Ten years? That’s more than a lifetime of change ahead of them and us. Given the pace of the “new,” that’s nearly unknowable. Such thinking reinforces my thinking, as it did the fictional Mrs. Granger, that core skills in writing and language will likely remain central to their lives, even if technology and digital media change they way they interact and communicate and compose language.

In this time of uncertainty, I try to hang my ideas on that hook: that writing remains and will remain an anchor in their lives, and in ours, too.

Peace (I think),

Reading Along the Spine of a Post

Jenny shared an interesting text analysis tool the other day via the #rhizo14 discussions around rhizomatic learning — a Mesostomatic — that takes text and creates a spine. I was playing around with it when she said that she has used the tool to do a close reading of text. That got me thinking, and tinkering, and with my post the other day around the stolen poem, I created a mesostomatic version of the blog post. Then, for the close reading, I put it into Thinglink so that I could add thoughts as I read down the text.


What do you think?

Peace (in the close reading),

Bringing Student Writing into Focus

Walk My World classroom pic2
(a panoramic image of my sixth grade classroom)
The theme this week at the Deeper Learning MOOC is examining student work through the lens of critique. This is always important, and as it turns out, last Friday, we spent an entire Professional Development Day looking at, discussing and talking about a recent cross-district writing assessment. (Our district is regional, so there are four elementary schools, and all of our sixth graders come together at the middle school/high school level).

Now, there are things I don’t like about our process — including the use of rubrics that we did ourselves design and a few other things — but the fact that our school administration gave us an entire day as a grade-level team (there were 10 of us who teach sixth grade in the room, and similar meetings were happening with other grades around the building) looking very closely at student writing samples, and then spending a long time discussing what we were seeing … that really was priceless. We looked at structure, at voice, at syntax and grammar, and the development of an idea. We argued (politely) about what we saw and didn’t see, and listened to our colleague’s views on what they saw. Although we did not have a specific protocol for the critique (as suggested by DLMOOC), we did have the rubric to guide us and for all 10 of us to be looking at the same pieces of writing and talking on the same page is incredibly important.

We did not use this, but I like this resource out forth by the DLMOOC folks:

It was so much better than if our district had hired some outside consultant to talk to us about rubrics or assessment. The process valued us teachers as professionals, with knowledge and experience, and yet, diving deep into student work as a group is a very different experience than diving into student work as an individual. When I assess my students writing, I can’t shake what I know about these writers as people and I often discover that I reach a ‘groove’ with a stack of stories or essays, and in doing so, begin to lose a focus.

Assessing student writing is difficult work. Working with colleagues is valuable, even if the process is still a little bumpy. We found examplars and anchor papers from our work on Friday. These were collectively agreed upon, after long deliberations. Our fear is that this process stalls at some point — like you, perhaps, we’ve been inundated with initiatives that seem to vanish over time before they are completed — yet my hope is that writing remains in the focus of our work as a staff.

Going deeper with critique begins with a conversation.

Peace (in the deep),



Slice of Life: The Unexpected Text

(This is for Slice of Life with Two Writing Teachers.)

sols_6 (1)

We were just coming out a freewriting session – a quiet space where students can write whatever they want, as long as they are writing. As usual, I opened the floor up to sharing. Usually, with freewrite sharing, the collection becomes odds and ends of unfinished ideas — scraps of poems, a comic strip, a journal entry, a string of sentences that don’t necessarily make sense. My students love freewrite time because it gives them freedom but I can’t say that focus is the key ingredient for many of them.

Still, I let them go. Writers write.

So I wasn’t expecting much for sharing. Even so, I always enjoy this mini-celebration of writing in all of its messy glory because you never know when something interesting might surface. And so it did. I won’t go into deep details on the piece because of the personal nature of it, but one of my students — a solid writer, for sure, but often a surface writer, skimming along the top of the story — raised his hand to share.

What came out was a beautiful personal narrative that begins with him looking out the window at home and moved into becoming a wonderful meditation on dreams and aspirations, and hurdles, and connections to family for support. The class listened in silence as he read his piece, loud and articulate, and when he was done, he looked up and smiled. He knew he had written something powerful, and that he had shared powerful words. We knew it, too.

It was an expected text that changed my teaching demeanor for the day – one of those moments when you realize that you really are in a room of writers, even if they are just 11 years old and trying to find a voice. Here, this student found his voice, and shared it with us. It was a glorious slice of life.

Peace (in the days),

More Video Composition: Learning Walkabouts

I am still playing around with a new video app — PicPlayPost — that allows you to mix and stitch multiple videos together into one. It’s pretty nifty. The other day, I tried it for a short poem just to experiment with different angles and how to arrange the sequence of videos (with the app, you can have them run all at once or one after another).

Then, after some snow yesterday, I went out and used the Learning Walk/Walkabout idea to capture my yard for the #walkmyworld project. I’ve done this periodically with still images, but it was interesting to see it as a video montage.

When my friend, Molly, saw the Learning Walk, she took some video of where she lives in Florida and emailed me the videos. I then worked them into the montage as a collaborative effort — with her Florida videos mixed in with my Massachusetts video. I’m always up for a collaborative idea.

Peace (in the screens within screens),

My Nerdlution Wordvention Project: 50 words, 50 days

It wasn’t that long ago that we wrapped up Nerdlution — a 50 day project designed around a resolution. Mine was to visit 50 blogs and leave a comment every day (see my reflection). Well, Nerdlution 2 is now upon us (no rest for the weary) and I almost declined participating because of some other projects underway. But, what the heck? Why not! And I am going in a completely different direction for this round.

My goal: Invent two new words for every letter of the alphabet, complete with definitions and examples. That means that my Nerdlution project — which I am calling Wordvention — will probably go on for 52 days (a new word each day, doubling up on the alphabet). Or I may find days when I can do two words. I don’t know yet.

If you are wondering where this idea came from, my students are learning about the Origins of the English Language right now and this week, as we wrap it up, they are going to be inventing three new words, one of which will get shared at our Crazy Collaborative Dictionary wiki site (which grows by about 80 words every year and now has hundreds of invented words). Plus, yesterday, at the library, I saw this book on the shelf and took it home to read and enjoy. Talk about inspiration.

So, this morning, I got started and created this word for the start of the Wordvention Project.
Nerdlution Wordvention A

I was thinking last night about the best way to collect the words, and realized that Notegraphy is a perfect platform — for short texts but very visual design. So, that’s where I will build up my Wordventions over the next 50 days. I’ll try to share here every now and then, but I will share at Twitter with the #nerdlution hashtag more often.

A word a day …. keeps the boredom at bay.

Peace (in the invention),