One of the more exciting ventures that I oversaw last year as a leader with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project was a new partnership with our area’s largest newspaper, The Springfield Republican. Inspired by a similar effort at the Vermont Writing Project, the monthly publication seeks to highlight teachers in our WMWP network and the writing that is being done by their students. Among other things, this newspaper connection helps with continuity of the site by keeping our network connected. It also helps get the word out about the National Writing Project.
The basic format is:
- Short teacher introduction into the writing topic
- Samples of student writing
- Resources for other teachers
- Connections to our Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks
You can view PDF versions of some of the features at the newspaper’s online site.
This year, we have some topics in mind, including:
- Family Writing Nights
- Writing in the English Language Learners classroom
- Connecting Writing and Math
- Classroom Publications
This is a new direction for me — creating podcasts that will center on some of my own music and compositions. I am experimenting with OurMedia as the site for hosting the audio files and I finally worked out most of the kinks of the system.
This first edition features the musical play The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece production. The play was produced this summer by Multi-Arts of Amherst and the young performers did a magnificent job. (You can also read my reflection of the experience of watching my play on stage from an earlier post).
Listen to the Dogtrax Podcast: The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece.
Thanks for listening.
Last night, my wife and I went to see the band Los Lobos in concert at a small outdoor arena in our town of Northampton, Massachusetts. They were energetic, playful and brimming with great musical ideas.
What struck me is this — The opening band was The Mammals and they pulled up a few band members from another band called The Ducks on the stage to join them for a few songs (and playfully referred to themselves as The Platypus — get it? Duck-billed mammals?). Then, when Los Lobos hit the stage, they pulled up the violin player from The Mammals for the opening song. And this is common for many bands to do — grab an up and coming musician and give them the experience of a larger stage.
So, I was thinking, that as Susan B. and I work on our NWP Monograph Project about the site structure of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, one theme that keeps coming up is how one program leader will ask someone new to partner with them on a project, and then pass the baton to the new person, who them repeats the process. Just like Los Lobos and The Mammals did on stage last night.
The power of that system is that it works like an expert-apprentice relationship and creates strong bonds for someone new to experiment in a safe environment. Kind of cool to think of WMWP along the same lines as Los Lobos.
One of my own personal goals this year was to learn more about making documentary movies so that I could capture some of the work being done at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, where I am the techology liaison for our network of teachers.
Here are two movie projects that I have been working on:
We are in the midst of making a DVD documentary of our 2006 Summer Institute and I have been sharing the work with our participants through a web-based site. The movie will center on our three main strands: teacher writing; inquiry research; and workshop presentations.
You can head to the Summer Institute movies here.
Meanwhile, I have also been working on a documentary for a Weblog project called Making Connections, which connects middle school students through technology. This project is funded through the NWP Technology Seed Grant Initiative.
Head to the Making Connections movie.
There is a loud and concerned outcry of opposition from writers of educational/technology Weblogs these days over the initial passage of legislation known as DOPA (Deleting Online Predators Act) in the House. The bill is now being considered by the Senate. DOPA seems aimed directly at the worries over such sites as MySpace and the very real fact that some young people are misusing the technology and are being harmed by online predators. Unfortunately, the bill would force schools to block all commercial websites that have any interactive elements.
It seems to me, as it does to most of the voices out there, that the role of educators should be to teach our students about these sites and how to best use them, and to be critical of them, too. The volume of ads alone provide an opportunity to discuss what the owners of the sites are really trying to accomplish. To merely put up a wall is to ignore the fact that our students are probably still accessing these sites at home or at a friend’s home, and they need to learn how best to use Weblogs, Wikis and other sites for creative expression, and they need the skills to protect themselves against any dangers out there. The classroom is one of the best places to learn such skills. The home, of course, is the other place but how many parents are that savvy? (Of course, how many teachers are that savvy, too? It’s a legitimate question).
Teachers and others who believe in the opportunities of the Read/Write Web are being urged to contact their senators and legislators and urge rejection of DOPA. Here is part of one letter:
As the Web becomes more and more a part of the way that kids communicate and socialize, I would submit that we need to focus on educating them in the most effective and safe ways to use these technologies. Banning them is a reactionary response, not a reasoned one. And it is a response whose ultimate motives are spurious at best. Why not, instead, focus our discussions on how best to prepare the millions of new teachers who will be entering the classroom in the next five years to deal with these issues, or on reaching out to parents to make sure they are well versed in overseeing their children’s use of the Internet? — from http://dopa.pbwiki.com/
I just emailed a letter to both Senator John Kerry and Senator Ted Kennedy asking that they find a better solution to protecting our young people and you can do the same, if you would like.
I made it home from California only to find a heat wave sweeping through New England this week. Phew, it sure is hot!it might reach 100 degrees today. I had to catch a red-eye flight on Sunday night because my rock and roll band, The Sofa Kings, were doing a live television performance that I just could not miss. I paid the price with a tired body but received a jolt of energy to my brain from the performance.
The planning for our Monograph Book for the NWP at Work program went fantastic and the use of the web-based Writely as a tool for collaboration seems to be working great. My team members took to the program easily enough and it helped that I could show them the program in person and answer questions right on the spot. At the same time, WMWP Site Director Bruce Penniman was able to read through and offer suggestions to our writing from his cozy spot in Western Massachusetts. He could just have easily have been down the hallway. I really think Writely is the right tool for this stage of our project. Whether it will be the right tool as we move into the future remains to be seen but we all agreed that we could abandon Writely if it felt like it wasn’t working for us. (When I told our cohorts in Berkeley what we were doing with technology and collaborative writing, you can guess what NWP Associate Director Joye Alberts said: “You are going to write about this, right?”
Meanwhile, Bruce and I are also using Writely to begin putting together our Tech Matters Minigrant Proposal. I just finished a draft of the application and now he will review it, offer suggestions and/or make changes via Writely.
This is my working summary:
If site leaders and teacher consultants are to utilize the possibilities of web-based applications for publishing, collaborating and communicating, then they need to have time and space to learn and understand the technology. This project offers three separate workshops for teachers in our site network, with an emphasis on project leaders, to create and use Weblogs, experiment with Wikis and begin creating and posting audio files. Another facet of the project is designed to strengthen our state network through a series of newsletter Weblogs as a way to disseminate information across the various sites. Finally, our site will use some of the grant money to establish our own content management system so that we can independently oversee an emerging Weblog network for teachers and project leaders.
Our cohort of writers in Berkeley spent a good deal of time thinking about what we mean when we say continuity for our writing project sites. The book series we are working on is joined by a common thread of continuity and sustainability for various sites of the National Writing Project.
Here is what I wrote when asked about what continuity means for me:
At a very basic level, I see continuity as tapping into the energy of the Summer Institute for other levels of our site’s work. Teachers come out of the SI brimming with ideas, confidence and enthusiasm for implementation into their own classrooms – which is very important – but also with the sense that they are now part of something larger than their classroom and school. Many realize they can make a difference on a larger scale and this is where the seeds of leadership begin. That period of time following the SI seems to be most crucial for keeping people connected to the site. If too much time lapses, the energy begins to fade. Life impedes on the memories of the summer. If we can find connections that are relevant – and work on their new ideas and concepts and bring them to fruition – then we are more likely to have them emerge as leaders of the future. Continuity strengthens the site on so many different levels and outreach by the leadership team is important. For example, we tapped an SI graduate from last summer to be the editor of our online Weblog newsletter and I am now considering a replacement from this summer’s crop of teachers. There has to be a continual movement of people and challenges with support to keep people engaged. A site that ignores continuity runs the risk of fading away at some point in the future.
Meanwhile, the entire group brainstormed about continuity and came up with this list of ideas:
- Capture energy of SI
- Intellectual home – remodeled over time
- Honor the mission of the site
- Nourish and learn from NWP fellows
- Leaders open to change and ideas
- Having a place where people say ‘yes’ to ideas
- Imagine the possibilities
- Grassroots approach
- Social aspect – friendship and professional level
- Director gives out “keys to the office” – openness/access
- Mentor for leadership
- Challenges of diversity of teaching experiences/communities
- Addressing tensions within site
- “Never step into the same river twice”
- Continuum of Continuity
We had a lovely dinner last night with all of the folks who have descended upon Berkeley for the Monograph writing adventure. I had the pleasure of sitting next to Shirley Brown and our table had a long discussion about public relations and the reliability of journalists I spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter so I had some inside info); the pros and cons of Charter Schools; how to mainstream autistic children; and many other interesting areas. Today, we head over the main offices of the NWP on the campus and get to work on some initial writing and discussions with our editors. Susan and I get to work with Tish, from the Vermont Writing Project, which is very neat since it wasn’t that long ago that I stole their idea for collaborating with the local newspaper to feature our teachers and students.
I realize now what a great variety of projects are being delved into here on the topic of continuity and sustainability at the writing project sites.
- Creating Learning Communities — New York City WP
- Presenting Collaborative Networks — Rhode Island WP
- Visioning Retreats — Prairie Lands WP
- Study Groups on Race and Homophobia — UCLA WP
- Leadership Inquiry Seminars — Philadelphia WP
- Strategic Planning — Western Pennsylvania WP
- Site Structure and the Role of Tech Liaison – WMWP
Fresh from the cross-country trip to Chico, CA, just last week, I was airplane-bound once again today as I made my way to the bastion of liberal thought — Berkeley, CA, (favorite sign so far: “Support Stem Cell Research — Grow Bush a Brain”) — for another adventure with the National Writing Project. A co-director at our site, Susan, and I are here to launch a Monograph Book about the way our Western Massachusetts Writing Project site re-organized itself a few years back. Some impetus for that change came as the site was relaunching its web site and the redesign of the web presence forced our leaders to re-imagine the structure of our entire WMWP organization.
I immediately noticed a difference between Chico and Berkeley — it was very cool here, and I completely underpacked. Apparently, I still had the 110 degree heat of Chico in mind. So, as I wandered through the streets of this very lively and fun place, I bought a sweatshirt to keep me somewhat warm for a few days. I wandered around town and the campus for a few hours today and sat under a grove of eucoplytus (I had to look up the spelling of that one!) and did nothing but think for a bit.
Tomorrow, Susan and I begin some writing in earnest and begin planning out this book project. I am suggesting that we use Writely as a collaborative site for writing and we’ll see how my partners feel about that.
This summer, I had the honor of watching a musical play that I had written during my Summer Institute at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project transformed into action on the stage by a summer theater camp. It was an amazing experience and so, being a writer, I wrote about it.
Thanks for reading my blog.