We’ve moved into a curriculum unit called Digital Life, in which we examine technology and digital media, and privacy and data, with sixth graders, and we begin this work by talking about avatars and identity.
Our discussion leads us to two main points about avatars: they are designed to be a privacy buffer between the user and the digital space they are in(using art instead of image), and avatars offer a chance for a user to project an identity, or a sliver of identity, into the world. We get to craft how the world sees us, if only in a visual way.
We work on an activity in which my students quickly design a paper/sticky note avatar for the classroom window before exploring some online avatar creation sites.
There are plenty of sports and game themed avatars (two of the most popular things my students do) in the mix but also, you can see more than a few avatars that have hidden stories that make you wonder as you look. I don’t have my students defend or explain their avatar, only make and share. We then put the sticky note avatars up on display as a visual reminder that we all inhabit both digital and classroom spaces together, and that we all have different interests and different identities.
Each year, as I begin a unit called Digital Life, I ask my sixth graders to take a survey, and the results help frame discussions about the role of technology and media in their lives.
Personally, I look for trends across the years of doing versions of this survey (Facebook, almost non-existent now; Snapchat, increased use; less negative experiences; more adults talking about technology; etc.)
Yesterday, I had my students work on a small piece of writing, in which they explored the question of “why I write” and then we did a class podcast of their voices. I am always so pleasantly surprised (should I be?) about the depth of their thinking about why they write, and am always so hopeful afterwards that our work around writing has some resonance with them.
Here are the podcasts from all four of my sixth grade classes:
Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, now in its tenth year (I believe), through the support of the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations, like the National Writing Project. But tomorrow is a Saturday.
Today is when I will do some activities with my sixth graders. I had hoped to try to do a Zine project, but I dropped the ball on my planning and worries about time necessary to do a quality job. So, I am pushing the Zine idea out further into the year. (I connected with our city library, which runs a Zine project for teens, and they have some examples and resources I can borrow.)
So, I am going to do a version of what I have done other years, which is to have my sixth graders write about why they write (the theme of NDOW is Why I Write), and then share their ideas in the classroom. From there, students will volunteer to do an audio podcast (when I mentioned this the other day, they were excited about it), and then we’re going to use Make Beliefs Comix site, turning the writing piece into a comic.
I hope to have a Wall of Comics about Writing in my classroom by the end of the day and to have student voices released into the #whyiwrite world, too.
These are voices from last year:
And a few years ago, I asked my colleagues at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, why do you write? This is what we said.
What about you? What will you do? Why do you write?
At our recent Western Massachusetts Writing Project conference, the keynote speaker was educator Kelly Norris, whose new book — Too White — explores her identity and her story through the lens of race, bias, empathy and social justice.
Here, she reads some of her recently published book:
Interestingly, during the Q&A period, Kelly responded to a question about addressing difficult issues like these while working in a relatively insular school community, and Kelly mentioned how difficult a role that can be. Particularly, she noted, when she always seems like “that person in the room” who raises questions and challenges assumptions and bias.
Then, while watching the video archive of a Studio Visit for the Equity Unbound course, I heard the same phrase by some of the guests, noting that they often feel like “that person in the room” and put on the spot.
Compassion is a word that comes to mind after readingJarrett Krosoczka’s new graphic memoir entitled Hey, Kiddo. I’m not speaking of the compassion of the reader to his story — although one gets to know of his struggles and his family’s love for him despite the situation, and certain compassion is activated — but of Krosoczka’s compassion for his own younger self.
There’s a real spirit of fighting against the odds in this story, and of finding the people who will be there to support you along the way. If you are lucky. For surely, just as Krosoczka’s story shows how far he came with a mother with a heroin addiction and a father who did not reach out to him until his late teen years, there are so many kids — they’re in our classrooms if we look close enough — who are struggling without the support Krosoczka was able to get from his grandparents and extended family.
If you don’t know of Krosoczka, he is a talented storyteller and graphic artist, known mostly among my students for his Lunch Lady series. But he has also done other stories that reach an elementary audience. Hey Kiddo is very different in style and substance and depth (not to take away from Lunch Lady) — even my 14-year-old son, picking up my copy of the book, which I told him he really should read, asked: “He wrote the Lunch Lady? This seems … very different.”
What emerges from Hey Kiddo is the power of story, and the way he was able to use art and comics to find his way forward through his childhood struggles. It also points to the power of adults encouraging those talents. His grandparents — rough and endearing — were his vital support network, providing opportunities for his art (one birthday, he got a drafting table from them; another time, they surprised him with lessons at an art gallery that proved to be a critical juncture forward.)
I also appreciated the end notes, where Krosoczka writes about the writing of this story. How difficult it was to tell. How important it was to tell. And when he talks about his choices for the book’s artistic style – the reasons behind color hues, or the meaning of background images, or the rationale for frames spilling into each other — it is nearly a master lesson on making comics.
This book is more geared for middle and high school and adult readers, just in case you are in a school setting thinking of adding this to your library because of Krosoczka’s name and his previous work. While advanced elementary readers might be interested in his story, know that the references to drug abuse and other traumatic events are central to Krosoczka’s story. That said, there’s nothing here that does not reflect the larger world and nothing so graphic that even an elementary student would be alarmed by. Still, I ‘d suggest you read it first before bringing it into your classroom.
And of course, you should read Hey, Kiddo anyway. It’s that good.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
During a freewheeling exploration of possible song ideas for a recent musical project — A Whale’s Lantern: Field Trip — I put forth a suggestion that my partner and I work with some past audio sounds of a classroom of students working to hack the game of chess.
The theme of the collaborative music project was ‘school.’ I tinkered with something to show what I was thinking — with bass and synth and some effects on the student voices to expand the atmosphere — but we decided to go in another direction instead, cranking out a three minute rocker called Outcast Kid.
Still, I liked how the use of student voices informed a piece of music. Or might have, if we had developed it further. Take a listen:
I still like how the sounds of the kids becomes the atmospheric element of this groove. You can just hear my voice, asking questions of groups of students, and then explaining the games they were making with a modified chess board and assorted other things, like dice.
For the past year or so, I have been involved in three rounds of a music project called A Whale’s Lantern. Folks in the Mastodon networking space are randomly paired with other volunteers, and then they have an extended period of time to write and record a song on a theme. The most recent theme was along the lines of school.
The third iteration — entitled Field Trip — just dropped yesterday on Bandcamp, and my contribution was a garage-rocker called Outcast Kid. My partner was a keyboardist/artist (whose artwork is the cover of the album) and our song’s lyrics are about finding a mentor in a mixed up world and feeling less on the fringe because of your interests as a result. I’m on guitar and bass and vocals.
Take a listen:
If you are interested, here are links to all three rounds. Each time, my contribution and partner and resulting song has been very different from the other, and that variety is intriguing.
This is the digital annotation workshop for WMWP’s Best Practices. While this is here for participants in the workshop itself, anyone else who might be visiting (hello to you) is free to explore and join us, too. Although, the first part — where we write on paper — might prove trickier for you than for us.