#DigiWriMo Collaboration: Our Eyes on the Skies

This week, we move into Visual Literacies with Digital Writing Month. We continue to discover ways to engage people collaboratively, and the latest project is an inspiration by my friend, Kim Douillard, whose weekly photographic prompts are just a wonder in and of themselves.

As Kim is a guest contributor to the Digital Writing Month site this week, I asked if we could take her latest theme of “the sky” and turn it into something larger: a collaborative, global photo journal of people documenting the skies.

You are invited to join us, too. Head to the open Google Slide Presentation we are calling Our Eyes on the Skies, choose a slide, and upload an image of what you see when you look up. Add your geographic location, and name, if you are comfortable.

Peace (in the spirit of collaboration),


Entering the Visual Through the Lens of Google Cardboard

Google Cardboard

I recently got inspired to check out Google Cardboard, the giant company’s cheap answer to expensive virtual reality technology that may (or may not) transform the way we play games and watch videos, and all of that hoopla.

In an ideal world, I would have downloaded one of the instruction kits and spent my weekend piecing together my own pair of Google Cardboard glasses myself. That would be in true Maker spirit.

Alas, I cheated and paid twelve bucks for a pre-made set of Google Cardboard off of Amazon. I have only just started to tinker a bit with some of the basic apps that come with Google Cardboard (some apps are available for smart phones, which then get placed in the front of the eyebox, on a sort of cardboard slot, and the magnifying eyes you look through zoom directly into the screen of your cell phone … it’s pretty ingenious).

So far, consider me impressed, as the depth perception of the Google Cardboard apps are pretty nifty and immersive. You move your head, and the scene shifts all around. You point your eyes towards objects and use a little clicker on top of the eyebox to click the “mouse.” Things happen. You glance up and start flying through the sky. (There is an app for a planetary tour of outer space … I am going to get that one.)

What I wonder about is how storytellers can use this visual trickery for interesting storytelling that pushes the edges of writing, but I suppose we are a bit too early for that to come to play (or if it has, I have not yet come across the app that will wow me … I admit, I have not yet done much exploring on the Google Play store).

And, given the relative inexpensiveness of Google Cardboard design (really, just magnified googly glass eyes in a cardboard box) coupled with the prowess and creativity of app designers, the possibilities for the classroom might not be as far as off as one would think. I like the potential for storytelling. How would you write for the virtual reality device?

As we explore the visual literacies in Digital Writing Month, it will be interesting to think about places where the possibilities of technology to expand storytelling might go deeper, even if the technology is not quite “there” yet. We take in so much information with our eyes, filtering data and making sense of connections, filling in the gaps of what we don’t see — that this kind of virtual reality possibility might bring on an entirely new experience for us as readers/viewers AND writers/composers.

Peace (in the scene),


#DigiWriMo: A Mixed Media Wall of Wonder

The Digiwrimo Quote Wall

There are so many neat things going on with Digital Writing Month but one of the daily activities that I am enjoying is sharing out a quote from Frank Serafini’s Reading the Visual. And when I do, I add it to the “Wall” — a padlet site that I set up to collect the quotes and then I realized: this needs to be an open wall.

So, the wall became collaborative, and there is now just an amazing richness of quotes, remixes, links and other media on the Quote Wall that I just love moving through it, knowing it is being built together, as a network. Just looking at it is pretty cool. It’s like some virtual quilt being pieced together with media.

Add your quote about digital literacy or digital writing. It’s simple to use: just click anywhere on the wall and start writing. Or just peruse the wall. Unlike the famous “gum wall” in Seattle (which I saw in person a few years ago and was both grossed out and mesmerized by the sticky graffiti of it) , which is now being melted down and removed (the gum, not the wall) for hygiene reasons, our DigiWriMo Wall will remain firmly in place … unless Padlet changes things up and takes away my account.

Peace (in the share),

#DigiWriMo: Squish Your Writing (Text Compactor)

Text Compactor

I was intrigued by a technology tool that was mentioned in a recent series by Teaching Channel around digital literacies. The site is called Text Compactor and it does what it says: it takes a block of text and allows you to automatically summarize. You have options on the size of the summary. It is built with an algorithm around word frequency.

Above is a sample. I took a pretty lengthy short story that I am writing (in class, with my students, as they write) and tried to create a very small summary. Not bad, I guess. It seems more like a “blurb” on the jacket of the, ahem, novel I am writing (not) than a good summary of the story so far, if you ask me.

But I might include this site as an extension activity for my students when they finish up pieces of longer writing, and have them reflect on what the technology leaves out and puts in.

Want to try it out? Choose someone else’s blog and pop it into the Text Compactor and see what happens. Share it out with the #digiwrimo hashtag. Get all squishy with it.

Peace (in the compactor),


#DigiWriMo: Changing Fonts and Typefaces (A Pedagogical Reasoning)



(Periodic Table of Fonts from Cam Wilde)

I was in a PLC (professional learning community in garbled edu-speak) last year with a cohort of reading specialists. Although I teach reading, I am a classroom teacher, not a reading specialist. I was in that PLC because our district was launching (yet another) math initiative and I am an ELA teacher.

I didn’t mind. I learned a lot from hanging out with these interventionist reading teachers.

At one point, we started to talk about digital reading skills (ie, reading on the screen and how different it is from reading off the screen), and I brought some of my knowledge and perspective into the mix (citing work that folks have down at the University of Connecticut with Don Leu with online reading comprehension and others). But it was a comment that another teacher brought up that had me thinking a bit beyond what I was expecting.

She noted that students in classrooms where teachers use interactive whiteboards see the whiteboard as a sort of “primary text site” for the learning environment. Daily agendas, and messages, and interactive activities … they all spring from the huge digital board hanging in the front of the room.

She then noted how many of her students with learning disabilities often have trouble with “fonts” — of the physical act of reading letters in fonts that are unfamiliar to them (vowels, in particular, can be troublesome). To help address this issue, she has been suggesting that classroom teachers regularly change the fonts they use on their whiteboards, to give students a wider range of “reading” the style of letters and to expose them to different design practices of writing.


And so, that’s what I have been doing this year, changing the fonts on my whiteboard on a regular basis. Most of the time, students don’t say a thing. Sometimes, though, they ask about a letter or a font design. We’ve talked about how some fonts conjure up certain emotional responses from the reader, and how different publishers use different families of fonts.

As adults, this kind of “reading” skill gets overlooked, as if design were not important to reading. But just like anything, if a reader gets stuck on the screen — if they can’t quite figure out what is being written — then the flow of reading is impacted. By immersing young people into the basics of font design, and by showing them various models of it, we can expand their knowledge.

Certainly, my students will spend inordinate amounts of time choosing fonts when they are writing. I often have to say “You have five minutes to find a font and then get writing” or else, time will pass and only a sentence will be written. Yes, it will be a lovely font, but not enough writing to justify it.

Peace (in design),

PS — I once published an entire collection about font, design and writing at the National Writing Project’s Digital Is site. You can view that collection here.

#DigiWriMo: Turning Spam into Stories

The Spam King

Whenever Terry Elliott comes a-knockin’ on the blog and finds something worth commenting on, I get a special treat: He takes whatever the spam filter spits out (words to make sure you are human, human) and turns it into a little story or fake explanation or sentence or something.

It occurred to me that what Terry is doing is telling stories in a way that could only happen in a digital space where you arrive only a visitor (I am logged into Edublogs so I never see the spam filter when commenting on other Edublogs spaces). In effort to honor Terry as spam writer, I gathered up some of his more recent “stories” and published them in Notegraphy.

Read the Collection of Spam Stories as left by Terry Elliott at my blog.

I suspect Terry doesn’t even remember most of these, as they were written not just “in the moment” but in the brief interlude after writing another comment on another topic altogether. Here, too, is an element of digital writing: if we are not collecting and curating our writing, how does it exist beyond the moment it is written and posted?

And, would we honor this kind of writing in our classrooms? Would we “see it as writing”? I highly doubt it. But outside the school? Definitely. So, how do we resolve this expanding definition of what writing really is? In many ways, this is the underlying essence of Digital Writing Month, right? What does it mean to write digitally and how do we honor the unexpected writing that emerges from writing with technology?

Meanwhile, Terry has cordoned off a space at the Digital Writing Month site for experimenting and riffing off various ways to use media to write. He’s “talking through” his process of writing and making digitally. Check out what he is working on. Get inspired. Write and Connect.

Peace (and thanks to Terry),

#DigiWriMo: Writing in the Margins (Discourse on the Side)

In the Margins1

In a recent discussion before the launch of Digital Writing Month, the idea of writing comments in the margins of collaborative documents as an act of shared composition became a topic of conversation for an edition of HybridPod. We were talking Google Docs, in particular, and it occurred to us (Chris Friend, Maha Bali, Sarah Honeychurch and me) that students probably need some explicit teaching of how to write in the margins of documents, particularly shared writing pieces.

This is fairly new to the teaching of writing, right? How many of us design a lesson around writing in the margins of books or stories and what that means to write? Mostly, this is because we traditionally all had only one story or one book or one text, and it was ours to write upon, highlight in pretty colors, mark up with Sharpies or crayons or whatever. It’s readability was only dependent on whether the writer could read it and make sense of it.

One text. One writer. One reader.

Collaborative writing in a digital space turns that on its head a bit. Now, it might be one text, but it might be multiple writers crowding into the margins, and it might be multiple layers of readers — the ones doing the writing, together, and maybe even an outside audience of readers.

One text. Many writers. Multiple readers.

In the Margins2

Interestingly, I noticed this idea of “conversations about the writing” unfolding in my own classroom after a lesson on using Google Docs for peer review for short stories. My lesson had each student connecting digitally with another student, but once they knew how to share and get comments, they were sharing and asking for feedback from all sorts of friends … even students who were in our school district but not in our school.

I had to quickly give an impromptu lesson about the role of commenting, and the word “resolve” in Google Docs. Actually, that word become an anchor point in the discussion that Chris, Sarah, Maha and I had: what does it mean to “resolve” a comment? And who makes that decision? How do we un-resolve a comment? Does “resolve” mean I agree with you or does it mean I don’t want to see your comment anymore?

In a recent professional development workshop with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, I had a group of teachers annotating an article together by Victoria Alessi, to show the power of collaborative writing in a “close reading” activity. I actively encouraged “conversations in the margins” about the text, and told them that I would be sharing the annotated document back to the writer, who is part of the Long Island Writing Project.

The results were interesting and fascinating, as this room of educators, who did not really know each other, began to unfold a conversation about teaching writing. In the margins, sharing and understanding were taking place in a room of clicking keys, which then led to a wonderful conversation about teaching and writing and teaching writing.

Peace (off the sides and everywhere possible),

Slice of Life: On Identity, Geolocations, Games and Collaboration

(This is for Slice of Life, a weekly writing adventure hosted by Two Writing Teachers. But this also dovetails into extending the Making Learning Connected MOOC work into the year beyond summer AND how collaboration is a key element of Digital Writing Month underway this month. Phew. Connections flying all over the place.)

I’ve been interesting in finding ways to bring more of the ethos of Connected Learning that forms the heart of the Making Learning Connected MOOC (CLMOOC) into the world beyond the summer months. Certainly, I try to infuse it in my classroom around choice, and digital writing, and collaboration.

But I have been trying to pay attention to opportunities when I can surface Connected Learning with other teachers, particularly in off-line professional development, where participants may be less likely to have ever heard of Connected Learning or the CLMOOC.

This past weekend, I led a three-hour workshop called Make/Hack/Play (thanks to Bud Hunt for the title of the session .. Bud did his own Make/Hack/Play workshops) for the New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE) and we dove into hands-on activities in order to talk about what Connected Learning might mean in practice. I was joined by a Western Mass Writing Project colleague, Justin Eck, who is working in a graduate course and designing his own MOOC right now.

We worked on avatars in order to talk about identity — first, with Wiki Stix at the tables and then in online avatar spaces —

NEATE Make Hack Play

We created conceptual maps in order to symbolically situate ourselves in the world — first, with paper and colored pencils at our seats, and then in online open mapping programs —

NEATE Make Hack Play

We considered the literacy elements of game design — first, by hacking the game of UNO and then, by sharing out the new rules with others, and then in online, by discussing Gamestar Mechanic as a space for putting game design into practice for an authentic audience —

NEATE Make Hack Play

The activities sparked rich discussions from elementary teachers through university professors, and I believe that the participants came away with a clearer understanding of how Connected Learning taps into the authentic interests of young people and still provides rigorous academic learning, all in a fun and engaging way.

Would you like to collaborate with us? Sure, the session is over but our Literary Landscape map is still wide open. Here’s what we were doing and here’s how you can contribute. The idea is that we are collaboratively creating a map of settings of novels, all tied together on a single map.

First, think of a favorite novel with a distinct setting.

Second, go to the Google Map.

Third, search for the location of the setting in the search bar of the map. Go to that location.

Fourth, click on the “add marker” icon (it looks like a push pin) in the tool bar and drop it onto the map where the novel’s setting is.

Finally, add the title of the book to the text box and use the camera icon to search for an image of the book to attach to your pin.

I look forward to a larger literacy landscape developing … with your help.

Peace (in the collaboration),


#DigiWriMo: The Tensions of Teaching in the Age of Digital Writing

I had the oddest experience in my classroom the other day. My sixth graders are in the midst of writing short stories in their new Google Docs accounts. It’s been a great writing experience. We’ve done collaborative peer reviewing, and I’ve been able to keep track of student progress. Most of my young writers are finishing up the story and now moving into the editing/proofreading stage.

The task of editing is difficult work for them, as it is for me when I write, and probably for you, too. So, I pulled out an activity around editing and proofreading, where we talk about some basic proofreading and editing marks that they can use to mark up a draft before moving into a final draft. I gave them a one-paragraph story that I wrote, and told them it had 18 errors. Who can find them all and use the proofreading strategies?

That’s the lesson and activity, right? Mark up the text to practice improving a text. Talk about technique and put it into action. Then, do the same with your own writing.

Except …

… I was halfway through that explanation to my students when I stopped and realized something rather important. It was one of those “duh” moments.

Here, my students are writing their stories in a digital space. Proofreading symbols? Marking up the text with pencil? Unless they were going to use a Sharpie on the computer screen (please, don’t), the lesson itself seemed out of sync with the ways in which I have them writing and revising with technology.

With computers as their medium for writing, I should be teaching them cyclical revision strategies — revising as you go, and then circling back around to keep an eye on audience. Keep shifting from writer to editor, and back again. Use the tools (spellcheck, etc) at hand, wisely.

Carrots (to insert text), circles (for spelling errors), paragraph indentation symbols … they all seemed rather meaningless when we write for the screen. Unless I want to print out 80 stories (many are now running 5 to 6 pages of text) … and I am not going to do that for this project. (Among other things, including disconnect from the medium of the story itself, it seems a waste of paper).

I forged ahead with the lesson, however, framing what we were doing with editing and proofreading in terms of being able to “see errors” in your writing (which is not easy) and know where changes have to be made. They had fun trying to figure out the errors — they made a game of it.

Me? I have to think about revision, too. Lesson plan revision for writers in a digital age.

Peace (in the think),

Storyjumpers 2: Holding a Map Up to the Light

(This is part two of a Storyjumper activity for Digital Writing Month, where we are handing off stories to each other on blogs and writing the story forward. Bruno W. started us off with a personal narrative, and I am taking part of what he wrote and moving into a story. — Kevin)

Story jumpers at digiwrimo

The paper note spilled out of the computer case, fluttering into in hands. I wasn’t expecting that. Not at all. But I was intrigued. Much of the wording on the paper had been smudged by water or by time, or both, but the story itself ended with these intriguing lines:

A few more days later, I realized it was again different: They are more proofs that I didn’t imagine this story, I didn’t dream it or exaggerate it. This part of the story is so trite you barely need a proof, other memories, encounters are more exceptional, surprising that I’ve been relieved to find some tracks of them. Like the sand that you find in the morning, in your pocket reminds you that a dream could have been more than a dream.

Most of my friends know I am someone who takes pleasure in old worn-out devices. I gut them out on my workbench in the basement, working at the insides with some magic that even I could never explain — I just know — finding a way to get the old machines up and running again, pulling them out of sleep.

This particular laptop and case – with the lettering saying “Bruno W., Strasbourg, France, 2015” and nothing more — was retrieved from an old shop that my friend, Sarah, visited while overseas on a trip searching for ukeles. She’s a uke collector. And she calls me strange for my obsession with technology.

My circle of friends, they know my hobby and they indulge me. An old phone. A cracked PC. An iPad with bad battery.  They all come my way eventually. And I often return the favor by fixing their devices for free. Sometimes, it’s only a reminder that “plugs go into the outlet.” Other times, it’s me, digging deep into the engine of the device. Is there anything more pleasurable than ripping out a hard drive? I don’t think so. There’s a certain satisfaction I find with taking apart something that others think can’t be taken apart, to see technology as story of parts.

I think of myself less as a fixer of technology than a reconstructor of stories.

I held the Bruno paper print-out in my hand. It was clearly the ending of some story, of a narrative. I tried to imagine who this Bruno was. I could hear his voice in his words.

Who was he writing to? Was it some loved one? Some invisible audience in the world? Was it a story he hoped others would read? Or was it some private tale, and now, as I read his lines, were my eyes were intruding on a private moment?

I turned the paper over, seeking understanding.

Faintly hidden, no doubt from the passage of time, I saw the faint pencil outline of what seemed to be a map. I held the story up to the light, trying to make the lines more visible. I was reminded of my childhood interest in detective gear, and the trick of writing in lemon juice as invisible ink. I squinted. The light filtered through the paper like an onionskin. An outline emerged. It was indeed a map and on the map, I could just make out some lines of text and a set of arrows that seemed to be leading towards ….

(the end of the chapter. Maha Bali now takes it from here …)

Peace (in the exquisite corpse story),