Fifteen Days In (Winter Solstice Poems)

winter solstice
winter solstice flickr photo by nosha shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I’ve been writing Winter Solstice poems each day this month, using mentor texts as my inspiration. Here is today’s poem (and take a listen to my audio):

The lantern swinging
bearing down, pressing the dark
to a sliver …
– Tobi Kassim

I am imagining

small darts
of glittering light

Stories unfolding
where context
is everything

And I – I know

I am reader, observer,
listener, writer

and there he is,
penning his way through
another constellation

I weather the uncertainty
and wonder if he, too,
sees my light

Inspired by A Blind Spot, Awash by Tobi Kassim 

To see the entire collection as I am building it, here is the link. And note that the mentor poems comes from Deanna’s collection for writing inspiration.

Peace (and dark and light),

Students’ Perceptions Of Self

Student SelfPerception WordCloud Wall

As part of a social emotional curriculum, we ended an activity around self-perception with students creating Word Clouds of personality traits they would assign themselves, and then used Padlet to make a wall of words. It’s a pretty cool visual (I filtered it a bit for privacy and to make it a little more artistic) that demonstrates some keen insights by our sixth graders.

Peace (and personality),

ChatGPT: Alarm Bells And Learning Possibilities

ChatGPT Play Skit The Case of the Missing Jazz Song

First, it was Wikipedia that would be the end of student research. Then it was Google and other search engines that would be the end of student discovery and learning of facts and information. Now it might be ChatGPT that might be the end of student writing. Period.

As with the other predictions that didn’t quite pan out in the extreme but still had important reverberations across learning communities, this fear of Machine Learning Chat may not work itself out as extreme as the warnings already underway in teaching circles make it seem, but that doesn’t mean that educators don’t need to take notice about text-based Machine Learning systems, a technology innovation that is becoming increasingly more powerful and user-friendly and ubiquitous.

For sure, educators need to think deeply about what we may need to do to change, adapt and alter the ways we teach our young writers what writing is, fundamentally, and how writing gets created, and why. If students can just pop a teacher prompt into an Machine Learning-infused Chat Engine and get an essay or poem or story spit out in seconds, then we need to consider about what we would like our learners to be doing when the screen is so powerful. And the answer to that query — about what can our students do that machine learning can’t — could ultimately strengthen the educational system we are part of.

ChatGPT: Write A Sonnet

Like many, I’ve been playing with the new ChatGPT from OpenAI since it was released a few weeks ago. As I understand it (and I don’t, really, at any deep technical level), it’s an computational engine that uses predictive text from a massive database of text. Ask it a question and it quickly answers it. Ask for a story and it writes it. Ask for a poem or a play (See my skit at the top of the page) or an essay, or even lines of computer code — it will generate it.

ChatGPT: Literary Analysis Paragraph

It’s not always correct (The Lightning Thief response looks good but has lots of errors related to a reading of the text itself) but the program is impressive in its own imperfect ways, including that it had access to the Rick Riordan story series in its database to draw upon. And, as powerful as it is, this current version of ChatGPT may already be out of date, as I think the next version of it is in development (according to the hosts at Hard Fork), and the next iteration will be much faster, much larger in terms of scale of its database, and much “smarter” in its responses.

Can you imagine a student taking a teacher prompt assignment and putting it into the Chat engine, and then using the text as their own as classroom submission? Maybe. Probably. Will that be plagiarism? Maybe.

Or could a student “collaborate” with the Chat engine, using the generative text as a starting point for some deeper kind of textual writing? Maybe. Probably. Could they use it for revision help for a text they have written? Maybe. Probably. Right now, I found, it flattens the voice of the writing.

ChatGPT: Revise This Text

Could ChatGPT eventually replace the need for teachers? Maybe, although I doubt it (or is that just a human response?)

But, for educators, it will mean another reckoning anyway. Machine Learning-generated chat will force us to reconsider our standard writing assignments, and reflect on what we expect our students to be doing when they writing. It may mean we will no longer be able to rely on what we used to do or have always done. We may have to tap into more creative inquiry for students, something we should be doing anyway. More personal work. More nuanced compositions. More collaborations. More multimedia pieces, where writing and image and video and audio and more work in tandem, together, for a singular message. The bot can’t do that (eh, not yet, anyway, but there is the DALL-E art bot and there’s a music/audio bot under development and probably more that I don’t know about.)

Curious about all this, I’ve been reading the work of folks like Eric Curts, of the Control Alt Achieve blog, who used the ChatGPT as collaborator to make his blog post about the Chat’s possibilities and downsides. I’ve been listening to podcasts like Hard Fork to get a deeper sense of the shift and fissures now underway, and how maybe AI Chats will replace web browser search engines entirely (or not). I’ve been reading pieces in the New York Times and the Washington Post and articles signalling the beginning of the end of high school English classes. I’m reading critical pieces, too, noting how all the attention on these systems takes away from the focus on critical teaching skills and students in need (and as this post did, remind me that Machine Learning systems are different from AI)

And I’ve been diving deeper into playing more with ChatGPT with fellow National Writing Project friends, exploring what the bot does when we post assignments, and what it does when we ask it to be creative, and how to try push it all a bit further to figure out possibilities. (Join is in the NWPStudio, if you want to be part of the Deep Dive explorations)

Yeah, none of know really what we’re doing, yet, and maybe we’re just feeding the AI bot more information to use against us. Nor do we have a clear sense of where it is all going in the days ahead, but many of us in education and the teaching of writing intuitively understand we need to pay attention to this technology development, and if you are not yet doing that, you might want to start.

It’s going to be important.

Peace (keeping it humanized),

Poetry: Take A Line and Write

Sommer's basteln
Sommer’s basteln flickr photo by Isaszas shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

I continue to write a Solstice-themed poem each day this month, inspired by mentor poems shared by my friend, Deanna, at her Solstice Advent Poetry Calendar. I would not say all of my poems are directly related to Winter and the Solstice, but they are the soft heartbeat behind the writing.

I have long found the method of reading a mentor poem, then pulling out and centering on a single line or evocative phrase, and then writing a poem riffed off that original is a creative and productive method for me. It’s as if my poem response is swirling around the original, even if the line I have borrowed is not the true center of the mentor poem (often, it isn’t).

Here is today’s poem (inspired by a line in a poem by Sara Teasdale) and here is a link to my own calendar, as I share words and voice.

They took the wind and let it go
— Sara Teasdale

I become all pocket
when you
become jacket

This gale wind, captured,
sure makes such
a racket

in protest
toward surrender –
no matter the outcome,

nothing makes us
happier than when
chaos will cease,

jiggling with change,
in the moment
before release

Inspired by Places (iii. Winter Sun) by Sara Teasdale

Prompt via Winter #SolsticePoem Prompts (via Deanna): 

Peace (and poems),

Words And Voice: Winter Solstice Poems

My National Writing Project friend Deanna has shared out another wonderful collection of writing prompts for poetry for December, this time with the theme of the Winter Solstice. I am trying to use her daily poem prompt for my own writing, and gathering the words — and audio, when I can — to a collection on a calendar, Advent-style.

See Deanna’s mentor poem prompts (and maybe use a few for your own writing).

Peace (and poems),

CLMOOC Calendar: December Soundtrack

CLMOOC friends gathered and created artwork for a collective calendar for the 2022 year nearly a year ago now. Download it for free, if interested.  I composed a short piece of music for each month as my contribution, and I am sharing out each month’s track at the start of each month.

In my last composition for the calendar project, I spliced in a sax solo from a holiday song that my friend, John, and I wrote and recorded in the studio.

Here is December:Gifts of Peace

Peace (listening in),

Book Review: This Is What It Sounds Like (What The Music You Love Says About You)

This Is What It Sounds Like Cover

Give me a book about music, and I am a happy reader.

This new book by Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas goes beyond that. This Is What It Sounds Like is a tour de force, a well-written invitation to think about our choices in the music we listen to and that we love in the moment and over time, and Rogers (who is the primary voice here) is the perfect tour guide.

Rogers’ background is impressive, beginning as someone who helped build recording studios, to a stretch of time as a producer/engineer with Prince, to a producer of many other artists, to her time now as a cognitive neuroscientist and professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Ogas is a published author of books about the brain and the way we think.

The book weaves in and out of Rogers’ stories in the music recording field, but finds it anchors in some key areas as the book explores why we love the music we do, why everyone’s tastes in music will be different, and how we can expand our ideas of not just what art is but how art provides an opportunity to enrich our lives.

The chapter titles give an overview of the topics of music listening:

  • Authenticity
  • Realism
  • Novelty
  • Melody
  • Lyrics
  • Rhythm
  • Timbre
  • Form and Function
  • Falling In Love

In each section, the reader is given insights on the listening to music that is intriguing, with “Record Pulls” — the sharing of songs with others that gives an insight to someone else on your own personality. The songs we share with others say something about ourselves, and Rogers believes in the idea of “Record Pulls” to shine a light on not just our listening but aspect of our personalities. (You can even join the online Record Pull that they have set up at their website:

All in all, this book was beautifully written (a few sections veer deeper into brain science, in relation to music, but it was definitely approachable to the general reader) and the insights had me thinking in new ways on songs and artists and music that have defined who I am for years.

I highly recommend This Is What It Sounds Like. Plus, you can listen in to the Virtual Jukebox of songs referenced in the book.

Peace (and song),

Collection of Comics: Poetry Comics Month

I’ve been making comics in the form of poems (or poems in the form of comics) periodically this past month as part of an invitation by Grant Snider (of Incidental Comics) to be creative. Grant makes very interesting comics, full of thought and literary themes. Mine were all over the place but still fun to make (I made mine in an app while Grant hand-draws his).

I gathered the collection into a single video for curation.

Peace (and poems and comics),