Book Review: An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

Now, this is an interesting little book. If you just saw the cover —  with two cute animals in Indiana Jones-style gear examining a map on the wall by light of a torch — you might think it would be aimed at the elementary school age of readers, but you would be wrong.

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments: Learn the Lost Art of Making Sense by Ali Almossawi (and illustrated by Alejandro Giraldo) is less a book led by graphics than a book supported by graphics, and it is packed with heavy philosophical thinking more attuned to high school or college. The illustrations support the text in a way that makes difficult ideas more accessible.

The focus on this topic is an intriguing one, particularly in this day and age of “Argument” writing and reading and analysis with the Common Core shifts. This small “picture book” is really a book about “logical reasoning” that looks at common errors of argument, deconstructing fallacies of making arguments along a continuum of thinking: from circular reasoning to appeal to irrelevant authority to the slippery slope to affirming the consequent.

Each single-page inquiry into bad arguments comes with a graphic and a caption and Almossawi notes in the preface that: “This book’s novelty also lies in its use of lively illustrations to describe some of the common errors in reasoning that plague a lot of our present discourse …. (the illustrations) are discrete scenes, connected only by style and theme, which better affords adaptability and re-use.” (page 3)

Even though much of the content was new to me (some of of it reverberated with a high school class I only vaguely remember and some of it reminded me of a workshop given by a Western Massachusetts Writing Project teacher on the art of debate), I was drawn in by the ways Almossawi explains these fallacies, and how the illustrations tell a story of the fallacy or connect to literature allusions in a single frame.

While I won’t likely be bringing much of this level of terminology into my classroom, I found the book gave me a more steady underpinning of the understanding of argument itself, and that knowledge should help with the teaching of argument to my sixth graders later this year.

It helps that we are in the year of the presidential elections, where arguments will be no doubt abound as will use of many of the “logical fallacies” outlined in this book.

I wonder how many Donald Trump has already broken? Genetic fallacy, anyone?

Peace (in the logical of the illogical),


Student Reflective Voices in the World

I shared this out on Twitter yesterday, but I wanted to include it here at my blog, too. As part of the National Day on Writing, I had my students reflect on the theme of “why I write” and then we did some class podcasting.

I was blown away by the depth of their reflective stance around the act of writing.


I don’t know why I am surprised — I know they are strong writers and I know we do a lot around reflective stance — but still … hearing them telling the world about why they write, in their own voice … it’s a beautiful thing.

Peace (in the voice),

A #Whyiwrite Collaboration for National Day on Writing

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing adventure with Two Writing Teachers, and for the National Day on Writing 2015).

Why I Write for NDOW

Over at our iAnthology writing space, an unofficial online site for National Writing Project-affiliated teachers to hang out and write each week, I put out the call for teachers for today’s National Day on Writing celebration. The Day on Writing is hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and supported by a wide range of other organizations, including NWP.

(View the slideshow in Google Slides)

Each year, there is a theme, and this year’s theme is “Why I Write,” a theme that was explored during the first years of NDOW (National Day on Writing) and provided some interesting depth to responses of writers in all age groups.

I’m doing a podcasting activity with my sixth graders today. They wrote a prompt yesterday about “why I write” and I will be showing them Garageband today, and we will be using my Blue Snowball microphone for sharing out thoughts with voice, and then connecting with the world via the #whyiwrite hashtag on Twitter. I love getting voice out in the mix.

For this collaboration with NWP teachers, I went a simple route with a low technology threshold. I set up a Google Slideshow and sent out the link, asking folks to choose a slide and write. (I will be doing a similar activity this coming weekend at an event for Western Massachusetts Writing Project). The whole idea is to invite us in as writers, and explore writing from a meta-thinking angle.

The range of reasoning, and how writing so deeply impacts our daily lives, is at the heart of this kind of prompt. From the joy of writing to the need to understand the world to coming to terms with loss to tapping into childhood memories, the responses hit on many topics, all with a three word prompt.

So, why do you write?

Peace (in the words on the page),


Exploring Mobile Webmaker: i am small on the screen

Merely ... A Webmaker experiment

Mozilla’s pivot to mobile makes sense from its worldwide view and mission of connecting people around the world and giving them tools to “make the web.”  Most people in global communities use mobile devices, not desktop computers.

While I personally mourn the loss of Popcorn Maker (oh, I miss it terribly, and all of its remix media possibilities) and celebrate the new and improved Thimble tool (with file uploads and multiple page possibilities), I was sort of left out the mobile app experiment because I did not have an Android phone.

Now I do (long story, another day), and I went about exploring the free Webmaker App this weekend to see what Mozilla has been up to as it focuses in on mobile technology. I know the app is only the beginning (or so I think, as it seems in beta) and it wasn’t bad.

Nothing overly impressive yet, either, as far as I can tell, but I was able to make a website poem within minutes, and once I got myself situated, I found it fairly easy to use. I could see the threshold for using this app to be very low for most people. You can make the web within minutes.

View i am small on the screen

I purposely did not include any images or graphics with my small poem, as I was trying to keep the design simple, with words and links to side stanzas broken off from the main trunk of the poem. Basically, the editing mode gives you branches to create multiple pages and buttons as links to those pages. The downside is that viewing of the finished project is best done in the app itself. On the web, the poem looks scrunched up, at best.

But maybe that claustrophobic effect is effective for a poem whose theme is the smallness of the web. I’m going to nod my head and say, that was my purpose as a writer all along. (You believe me, right?) The poem became digital within the constraints of the technology.

What will you make?

Peace (here),

Post-#CLMOOC-cards: It’s Not the Technology; It’s Us


Sometimes, we get so wrapped up in the technology and all of its fuzzy coolness of opportunities available to us with apps and websites and more that we forget that it is not about the technology at all …  it’s about the connections that technology facilitates.

Heck, even I forget.

And then I get reminded by an event or project, and I am always deeply appreciative of the opportunity to take a step back and notice what is really happening beneath the surface of connections.

Recently, a small group of folks from the summer’s Making Learning Connected MOOC (long since ended) signed on for a “postcard project.” Karen Fasimpauer has led the way after getting inspired by, and sharing out, a post about mailing out postcards in the digital age. Someone suggested CLMOOCers could do that, too, and before you know it, a Google Doc was set up and folks were signing up to become senders and recipients of postcards.

Karen calls it “the happy series” and well, how could you not smile when reading about that idea?

My first postcard was a bright one from Karen, and (admission) I had already sort of forgotten about the postcard project when her lovely gift arrived in my mailbox. It was burst of sun in a hectic week. I was immediately reconnected with her, and with the postcard group, and with CLMOOC again. I took a breath in a moment of pause. The collapsing circle of everyday life sort of expanded out. Seeing her handwriting made the note more personal, and inviting.

Her words made me happy.

Karen’s postcard to me also reminded me to get my act together and find some postcards, which I did, and as I was writing them out, I wondered about what to say. I ended up using the imagery on the postcard as inspiration for “question poems” that became the text of the postcards. I had a special thrill as I went to the post office, asking how to send postcards overseas.

My poems were then in literal flight, and my connections to other educators were strengthened by a few words on a sheet of cardboard with a picture on it. I may likely forget about the project again until another postcard arrives in the mail and then, I am sure those connections will surge back.

Tweet collage of postcards

And I will be happy again.

The technology facilitated the connections, to be frank, but it has been the connections themselves that have outweighed the technology. The handwritten postcards are a reminder of the humanity behind the tweets, the blog posts, the videos and vines, and all of the flashy hoopla.

It’s about us. It’s always been about us (and that includes you).

Peace (on a stamp),

#4TDW Blog Carnival: Why (Digital) Comics Matter

(This post is for a blog carnival about digital writing, as part of the Virtual Conference on Digital Writing)
My Meandering Mind and MeA few years ago, I had one of those “aha” moments that forever changed my perception of young readers and writers. I had entered the local comic book store with my son, with the intention of joining something known as 24-Hour Comic Day. It is an event that challenges people to write a 24 frame comic in a 24 hour period.

My oldest son was into making comics, and I was curious. I also came armed with some ideas of my own, telling the story of my relationship with my brother in Brothers on Ice. I was expecting a few people to gather for the event.

What I witnessed, instead, was a book store that was nearly wall-to-wall writers and illustrators, sitting and standing in every place possible. And nearly all of them were young people. And many of these writers were boys, the very demographic of young learners that I often had trouble reaching as readers in my classroom.

Yet here they were, writing for hours at a time, collaborating with others, sharing work and gathering feedback. It was as if I had stumbled upon some secret writer’s society, and perhaps that what it was.

When we think of Connected Learning principles, finding your niche and interest remains front and center, and for many young people, writing comics and reading graphic novels hits that vein.

The question was, how do I bring that passion for making and writing into my classroom? And, I wondered, was there a way to fuse technology and digital literacies with comics? This seemed like it could be a natural fit, given the elements of comics as a medium of literacy, with its use of:

  • partnership between image and words
  • inferential thinking and writing with narrative gaps
  • sequential versus non-sequential storytelling
  • visual representation of ideas
  • collaboration of writer and artist

This began a journey, still unfolding, in which I first worked with students at a digital writing camp around webcomics for a few years, and then moved the concept into my classroom. Since then, making comics and its digital cousin, webcomics, have become a regular activity for my students. From writing prompts to text analysis to collaborative retelling of stories, comics are a common medium for us.  We don’t always go digital, either. Sometimes, it works best to let the young artists create off the screen. Here is one page from a class paper comic that was part of our discussions around the reading of The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. Homer Figg comic

Still, the digital does provide for interesting possibilities. We also use webcomics for a project at the start of the year, where students explain their aspirations for the future. This Dream Scenes project is a natural fit for comics.

Dream Scenes 2015

What affordances do webcomics, with their digital nature, have over regular comics? Scott McCloud dove into this issue in great detail in his Reinventing Comics book (a follow up to his now-classic Understanding Comics tome, which is like a bible for comic lovers). Interestingly, McCloud wrote this book in 2000, just on the cusp of the real digital revolution. Still, his insights into possibilities were prescient.

Whether by choosing a path, revealing a hidden window, or zooming in on a detail, there are countless ways to interact with sequential art in a digital environment. Most important, the mere act of “reading” — moving through — digital comics should be a deeply interactive experience … Comics in a digital environment will remain a still life — but a still life we explore dynamically.” (McCloud, Reinventing Comics, page 229)

Webcomics as disruptive narrative

A few ideas about the possibilities of digital comics stand out for me:

  • One has choice to use art within a comic system or draw your own;
  • There are no limits to numbers of frames/pages;
  • Other media — hyperlinks, videos, etc. — can be embedded into webcomics;
  • Publishing and sharing is often a click of a button away — an audience is close;
  • Collaborative features are often built into webcomic sites;
  • Comments and feedback are often part of the system.

Want to examine a possibility of the webcomic world? Check out Randall Monroe’s xkcd webcomic, where Monroe regularly experiments with the possibilities of webcomics along with traditional comics. His piece — Click and Drag — is one example of how he is pushing the edges of possibilities. As the title implies, you click and move through a comic that goes on and on and on, telling a narrative outside the frame.

It doesn’t end there, though. Because Monroe has a large audience, they began to take his comic and remix it and crowdsource elements of it together. Check out the wiki page about the comic. See a map that someone built to represent the entire comic. Venture into a more zoomable remix of the comic to get a better sense of scale.

I also adhere to the notion of “write alongside students” and that includes “make comics alongside students,” as evidenced by a few comic series that I have done over the years. The most prominent was a regular comic strip about the so called “digital divide” between students and teachers that I named Boolean Squared, and which ran on the website of our regional newspaper for two years before I retired the idea.


If you are seeking more resources around bringing comics into your classroom, feel free to use anything I have gathered at my Comics in the Classroom website, which I share with teachers on a regular basis.

Go ahead. Start a panel. Who knows where it will bring you.

Peace (in the frames),

PS — as I writing this piece, Edutopia put together a “Five Minute Film Festival” on the use of comics in the classroom.

Graphic Novel Review: Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales

My fifth grade son let the first book in Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales  that I brought home from the library sit around for a few weeks. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the historical perspective, or the dense pages of graphics and text. I thought the title alone — One Dead Spy — would draw him in.

Then, he picked it up and wouldn’t put it down.

Soon, we were ordering the second book from the library — Big Bad Ironclad — and now he is clamoring for more from writer/illustrator Nathan Hale (yes, that’s his name) who writes his graphic novels with Nathan Hale (the figure from history) in the lead role, trying to stave off his execution as a spy by weaving out stories of history. It’s more lighthearted than that seems, I realize, even though Hale (the writer) chooses some pretty, eh, interesting stories to tell (the Donner Party, the start of the Civil War, etc).

But, the stories from history are alive and enriched by Hale’s use of the graphic novel medium, effectively using history as the springboard for some fascinating storytelling. Each page is rich with humor and information, and packed with drawings. These are truly novels, in graphic form.

There’s also a cool Q/A with Hale about making comics.

And Hale has started making some videos about the making of the books, which are pretty nifty.

Peace (in the tales),

Digital Writing Month: Push Up Against the Edges

Check out this quote from a blog post by Michael Manderino at his blog, Pedagogical Consciousness:

.. we should treat songs as texts and albums like literature …

In this wonderful analytical post, Michael deconstructs the experience of listening to the band, Best Coast, and makes the case that the act of listening is akin to the act of reading (so, I am going to flip that, and suggest that the act of writing music is akin to the act of writing. I don’t think he would disagree.) He goes after mood, and sound, and then image and video sequencing. He touches on the lost art of album design. He views the experience through multimodal eyes.

The overall impression that I get (or I should say, gets reinforced by Michael’s analysis) is that the “composition” here is the collection of media parts that wind their way into the whole experience, and when thinking of how technology is shifting our notions of what writing is, this kind of analysis is insightful and metaphorical: if technology allows us to move our stories into multimedia, what does that do the story itself that we writers write, and that our readers read (or our viewers view, or listeners listen).

Michael, in fact, even notes that the use of a blog makes a difference in the writing of the analysis itself, and of course, he is write. The affordances of a space where links can be embedded, and media shared, and more, lends to something deeper and richer.

Analyzing the individual modes are insufficient to recognize the cross modal dependency to communicate the narrative.  We need to foster instructional opportunities to recognize these sites of multimodal intertextuality.  Music is an optimal media source for doing so. — Michael Manderino

It’s as wonderful muddle that we (writers, teachers, readers) find ourselves in, mainly because we are still in “the moment” when all of this is unfolding. When you are in the midst of change, it’s difficult to know where it will end up. Writing is in the midst of change. I don’t know where it will end up. You don’t, either. That doesn’t mean we give up and moan about the old days. It means we are in the midst of adventure, so gather up your compass and backpack, and head out into the edges of the world.

So, what do we do? We play and reflect.

In November, I am helping to facilitate this year’s version of Digital Writing Month (DiGiWriMo) with my global friends, Maha Bali and Sarah Honeychurch, with support by the folks at Hybrid Pedagogy. We’re inviting all sorts of people in all sorts of fields to write guest posts and we hope to suggest some activities that will get participants thinking about what we mean when we talk about “writing” in this digital age. Interestingly, November is also NaNoWriMo, so lots of folks are digging into traditional writing and storytelling. Maybe some will find some convergence points in November.

We’ll be facilitating discussions to explore the shifts in writing, the way image informs a composition, how audio and listening tap into something intriguing, and how transmedia/multimedia composition might alter the experience of text for a reader/viewer/listener/player.

Need help to consider what it is all about? How about this interactive?

We hope you come along for the adventure. Come on over to the Digital Writing Month website. If you add your name to the newsletter, we’ll send you updates on posts and activities in November. Get making and creating.

Peace (inside the text),

Slice of Life: Out in the Orchard

(This is for Slice of Life, a writing feature by Two Writing Teachers. You write, too)

apple picking oct2015

“… and no climbing trees.”


“No climbing trees. That’s what the rules are. We pick apples, not climb trees.”

“These are the best climbing trees in the world.”

“Still, no climbing.”

He sulked off. I understood. An apple orchard is a dream field of climbing trees, but I also understood the reasons why the apple orchard owners would prohibit it. Think of liability. Think of kicked apples.

I was Mister No. But I could see what he was thinking. Apple trees do make for some fine climbing, with branches close together like steps, and the insides of the tree curving and hidden, like some secret fruit-scented tunnel off the ground.

It’s a banner year here in New England for apples, and you can see clusters and clusters of apples on just about every single tree in the orchard we visit as a family. Some family drove in from Rhode Island to experience the start of fall colors (already spectacular) and the picking of apples. Yummy.

“Why do they get to go in the tree?” He pointed to some kids in a tree, as their parents looked up from below.

“They shouldn’t be.”

“But, they are.”

“I know. They aren’t following the rules.”

He crunched an apple angrily.

In summer, we go blueberry picking. In fall, it’s apples. It’s more than an excuse to get the family together. It’s also a way to remind us, and our children, that food comes from somewhere, and that the farmlands of New England hold a special place for all of us. It’s a reminder of things we often forget.

“Stop that.”


“Don’t throw apples like grenades.”

“Why not? There are apples everywhere. A few more on the ground won’t make a difference.”

“It’s the …”

“Rules. I know.” He dropped the apple and huffed off, disappearing into the green branches of a tree. An apple came zooming out of the tree. I chose to ignore it.

This year’s apples are juicy and sweet, and a reminder of the wet spring we had so many months ago. It’s interesting how one season affects the other, and how we forget about the recent past until some faint echo sneaks up on us again.

Peace (in the orchard),