First Day of School: Sixth Graders Speak

It was Day One of the school year, and so I demonstrated to my sixth graders all the steps necessary to creating and posting audiocast to our Weblog site by actually doing it together (in 30 minutes!!) and we ended up with this audiocast:

On the first day of school, my homeroom students created a podcast about their expectations for sixth grade and/or their concerns for the year ahead.

Listen to Their Voices

Oh, if you are wondering about what Quidditch is, here is a visual guide:

Using Vaestro for Audio Messages

After listening to a Going-Back-to-School Podcast by Bud the Teacher and his friend, Darren (at a site called A Difference), on Labor Day, I began checking out Vaestro as a possible source for a deeper use of audio for Weblogs. Vaestro is an online audio messaging and recording/playing system that is free, and may allow for greater collaboration for my students this year.

The site allows you to record outgoing messages and encourages anyone with a computer and microphone to leave a message. It’s kind of like a free online companion to Skype. I found an interesting article by Wesley Fryer about the use of such services for collaboration in education.
As part of this experiment, I created a message and I am hoping some folks will leave me an answer.

Head here to listen and respond to my Vaestro Message.


On the Radio

In the past two years, I have been on the local NPR affiliate (WFCR) two times — first, as a guest commentator speaking of the values of nurturing student leadership and community service at my school (Norris Elementary School), and, second, as a leader of the National Writing Project-funded Making Connections Weblog Project.

As I continue to explore ways to integrate audio into Weblogs, I figured this would be a time to link those two radio files to this site.


My Writing Curriculum Map

I have always shared information with my parents and students right from the first day of school because I believe it is important for everyone to know what is ahead in my sixth grade writing class. It should not be a mystery. This year, I decided to take it a step further and put together an overall curriculum map and distribute via our school website (which is being revamped) and my classroom Weblog site.

It was a valuable experience for me, as a teacher, to realize the scope of work being accomplished by my students over the course of a school year. I also realized that there are endless mini-lessons and activities that fall outside the scope of this generalized curriculum overview. But I guess it is a start.

Here is the curriculum map for parents and students


Writing Curriculum Map

Sixth Grade Writing Curriculum

A resource for parents and students


Unit Name




Start of the Year Activities

(approximate timeframe: September)

  • Oral Storytelling (act out stories with keywords on note cards)
  • Writing Prompts: freewriting (throughout the year)
  • Intro into Weblog Technology
  • Writing BioPoems
  • Read Aloud Plays (cooperative group)
  • Creating Writing Portfolio with goals, reflections, etc.

Adventure Short Story

(approximate timeframe: September-October)

  • Pictures tell a story: safari adventure
  • Conflict/Resolution in writing (puppet skits)
  • WriteSource 2000 – Plot
  • Writing dialogue minilessons
  • Writing an adventure story – project (w/plot peak organizer, scoring rubric)

Descriptive Writing: Monster Exchange

(approximate timeframe: October)

  • Using the senses in writing (alien activity)
  • Monster Exchange
    • Reading Rotten Island
    • Illustrate from listening
    • Creating Monster and description
    • Day in the life of Monster
    • Monster Exchange in classroom

Expository Writing: Imaginary Land Brochure

(approximate timeframe: October-November)

  • Read Weslandia
  • Examining and analyzing travel brochures
  • Creating Imaginary Land and a travel brochure for that land, using attributes of travel brochures
  • Using Microsoft Publisher to create promotional flyer

Theater Writing: Puppets

(approximate timeframe: November-December)

  • Reading Fairy Tale News play (genre of play script writing)
  • Reviewing Plot/Theme
  • Reading ‘Celebrations of World” and discussing common threads (lights, food, family, etc)
  • Prompt: Inventing a holiday and creating story map (setting, characters, plot, resolution, theme)
  • Cooperative Groups
    • Choosing one story map or combining together
    • Writing a script (every group member has role in creation of project)
    • Making puppets (w/art teacher)
    • Creating promotional materials
    • Performing for younger grades
    • Creating movie documentary of the puppet project

Origins of Words

(approximate timeframe: January)

  • Borrowed Words
  • Jigsaw Words
    • Roots
    • Suffix
    • Prefix
  • Eponyms
    • Create ads for objects
  • Made up Words
    • Frindle
    • Class Dictionary
    • Shakespearean insults
  • Multiple Meanings
  • Slang

Parts of Speech

(approximate timeframe: January-February)

  • Madlibs
  • WriteSource
  • Grammar Rock Video
  • Poster Project
    • Adjectives
    • Adverbs
    • Nouns
    • Verbs
    • Prepositions
    • Pronouns
    • Interjections
    • Conjunctions
  • Writing song in style of Grammar Rock – record and post to Weblog

Paragraph Writing

(approximate timeframe: February)

  • WriteSource Overview
  • Expository
    • Giving directions for Norris/HRHS buildings
    • Writing the steps to how to do something
    • Sharing and posting to Weblog
  • Persuasive Writing
    • MCAS as requirement for graduation?
  • Descriptive
    • Describing Quidditch
    • Stuffed Animal Day
  • Narrative
    • Reading Mem Fox  Wilfred…
    • Writing about object that has strong memories
    • Recording and publishing to Weblog

Essay Writing: Name

(approximate timeframe: March)

  • Prompt: Inventing a Legend of your name
  • Handouts: Genre of Five PP Essay Writing
  • WriteSource
  • Interviewing family: origins of name
  • Computer research/sharing of discoveries
  • Writing essay

Figurative Language

(approximate timeframe: March-April)

  • Hyperbole
    • Davy Crockett Listening Quiz
    • Safari exaggeration sheet
    • Creating own Tall Tale Story
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Personification
    • Writing from view of your house in morning
  • Alliteration
  • Imagery
    • Five Senses Chart – using Halibuts and Hailstones
  • Idioms
    • Phantom Tollbooth
    • Beach Boys lyrics
    • Idiom Game
  • Simile/Metaphor
    • Describe Self


(approximate timeframe: March-April)

  • My America – sense of place/imagery
  • Poetry Exploration Project (finding and sharing poems with class)
  • WriteSource overview
  • Illustrating “mind pictures” from some poems
    • The Raven
    • Paul Revere
  • Reading Love That Dog and share poem styles
  • Poems for Multiple Voices
    • Recording to Weblog
  • Poetry Marathon
  • Animal in Me
  • Haikus
  • Inside this ..
  • Odes
  • Create Poetry Book
  • Letter Writing Mini-lesson
  • Submitting Poetry Journal and letter to me
  • Songwriting

Picture Books Creation

(approximate timeframe: May)

  • Integration of curricular theme (this year – science/ last year – math)
  • Read Aloud Author and From Pic to Words
  • Working with librarian to examine genre of picture books
  • Planning and Writing picture book
  • Using Powerpoint to create and publish
  • Sharing with younger grades
  • Posting to Weblog

Short Story: Trapped in a Board Game

(approximate timeframe: June)

  • Reviewing plot
  • Reading/Watching Zathura and/or Jumanji
  • Writing adventure story
  • Integrating historical figure into story

Tech Book Concept

I was recently asked to join two very established professors in the field of composition — Charlie Moran and Anne Herrington — in launching a book proposal that looks at the convergence of technology and writing. This book proposal stems directly from a conference that the Western Massachusetts Writing Project co-sponsored last spring at the University of Massachusetts that centered on how technology is being used in writing classrooms. The conference was called Conference on Writing, Teaching and Technology and featured a wide range of presenters.
Charlie, Anne and I would like to take it all one step further by focusing in on the stories of what teachers are doing in the classroom to adjust to these changes in grades 4-13. We are still working on the initial proposal for article abstracts (using Writely for collaboration, by the way) but the three strands of focus will be:

  • How is technology changing our perceptions of writing;
  • What are teachers doing to integrate these new perceptions of writing;
  • And how are teachers measuring the outcomes/assessment of student writing.

We hope to have a call for proposals out in the next few weeks and I want to tap into the Technology Liaison network for possible submissions. For myself, I feel honored to have been asked by Anne and Charlie to help edit this future collection that I can see being a very valuable resource for many classroom teachers.

Dogtrax Audiocasts: A Musical Exploration


I have been writing songs on and off for the past 20 years with a variety of bands and throughout that time, I have often turned on a tape machine or recorder and tried to capture the songs in some fashion or another. The advent of easy-to-use coversion technology has allowed me to convert many of those analog files into mp3s and there they have sat, collecting dust in folders.
The idea of audiocasts has intrigued me for some time now and I figured this weblog was as good a space as any to begin creating a series of audiocasts that track some of my songs over the years. So when a friend of mine recently asked me to share some of the songs, I figured now was the time to give it a try. (It is possible they may retract that request upon listening to what I have to offer, but … too late now.)
And so, I begin my journey with this first audiocast, which is a bit embarrassing to release since it features some of the earliest songs I ever wrote and recorded. It was in 1985 and I had just picked up the guitar and didn’t know what I was doing. Not that this stopped me, however.
Thanks for listening (in advance)

microphone Listen to the Dogtrax Audiocast: The Wicked Early Years

Also, this is a running archive of the audiocasts I am creating (so far, only one other file is out there but more are on the way — next up: The Rough Draft Revolution):


Tech Grant Proposal

This summer, while in Chico, California, I attended Tech Matters 2006 through the National Writing Project and all members of the institute are encouraged to submit a grant proposal that supports technology at our local writing project site.

My proposal is designed to help connect the writing projects in our renewed state network and provide assistance to various project leaders within our site, as well as other TCs, in using Weblogs, wikis and audiocasting.

Here is an overview of my grant proposal.


Tech Matters Minigrant Proposal

Weblogs, Wikis and Audiocasts: Integrating Emerging Technology into the Classroom

1.      Project Title and Summary

If site leaders and teacher consultants are to utilize the possibilities of web-based applications for publishing, collaborating, and communicating, then they will need to have time and space to learn and understand the technology. This project – called Weblogs, Wikis and Audiocasts – offers three separate workshops for teachers in our network, with an emphasis on project leaders, to create and use Weblogs, experiment with wikis and begin creating and posting audio files.  One goal of the initiative is to establish a local network of education-related Weblogs and resources for our region’s teaching corps.  Another facet of the project is designed to strengthen our NWP state network through the creation of a series of newsletter Weblogs as a way to disseminate information across the various sites but all linked together with a main site.  Finally, our WMWP 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.  This system will also be used for the state network.

2.      Description of Project Plan

Technology integration at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been an ongoing initiative for the past decade as more and more of the site’s projects are using interactive media for communication, collaboration, and publication. This grant program aims at supporting those endeavors and encouraging our teachers and leaders in this direction as a way to maintain continuity of teachers interested in technology and support the capacity of the site by providing project leaders with practical knowledge of the possibilities of Web-based applications.  The grant project will be divided into two phases:

The first phase involves the site’s purchasing server space with the capacity to host a network of Weblogs and other future content management systems for both our local site and our Massachusetts state network of Writing Project sites.  Our intention is to establish a multi-year agreement with a hosting company that will allow the Weblog project to become stable, and then to integrate the costs of such hosting services right into the annual budget of the site/state network.  We include the state network in this phase because one vision of the newly-energized state network is to find ways to create an overall identity for the Writing Projects in Massachusetts.  We believe that Weblogs can provide interactive space for sharing news and information.  Each site will have its own Weblog-based newsletter that will then be funneled through a main state network site.  We intend as one of the goals of this grant to establish server space and create newsletter space for each site in our network.

The second phase will be a series of three separate workshops designed to provide WMWP project leaders and other teacher-consultants with a one-day hands-on experiences using Weblogs, wikis, and some Internet-based publishing of audio files so that they will be better informed on how to use these tools in the classrooms and within their WMWP projects.  All teachers will leave the sessions with WMWP-networked Weblogs to be used as appropriate for their situations, wiki accounts, and MP3 voice recorders for capturing and posting audio files.  The three workshops will be scattered across the 2006-2007calendar to provide as much flexibility for participation as possible.  We expect to limit each workshop to 10 participants to provide for authentic hands-on experiences.  There will be a nominal fee of $25 for participants as a way to buffer the costs of purchasing voice recorders and to exact a commitment to the workshop from the participants.  As our program leaders and teacher-consultants begin to create and use Weblogs, we will then establish a main trunk site connecting all of our Weblogs together.  This network will not only create an excellent forum for others in considering ways to use Weblogs in education, but also establish a community of educators using technology.

In term of site leadership, Technology Liaison Kevin Hodgson will also work during the first workshop session to identify a co-leader for the second and third sessions as a way to broaden technology leadership for the site.

3.      Criteria

One of the goals of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project has been to use technology as a tool for keeping our teacher-consultants and program leaders connected with the work of the site. The integration of the technology liaison as a thinking partner into the site’s leadership team is one example of this direction. The active use of a Western Massachusetts Writing Project on-line newsletter is another.

The main question we are trying to address with this project is: How can we put more tools of the Read/Write Web into the hands of our project directors so that they can understand the possibilities and then use that technology to strengthen their own programs?  Our grant proposal addresses both continuity – teachers will continue to see our site as a leader in technology beyond the Summer Institute, and the network of Weblogs will create an interactive identity for our site as well – and capacity as our network of Weblogs becomes a model for other teachers.  There will be three workshops in the series and Technology Liaison Kevin Hodgson will also identify emerging leaders by asking a cohort from the first group to help co-lead the second and third workshops in the series.

A secondary question is: How can technology assist in the further strengthening of our state network?  The purchase of server space and Weblogs within that server space should allow the various sites in the network to interact and learn from each other, and perhaps, foster some collaborative projects in the future.  Susan Biggs, the WMWP Professional Development Coordinator and the director of the Massachusetts state network, will help facilitate the integration of Weblogs into the network.

The last question for our site is a practical one: How long will the National Writing Project provide free Weblog space, and how can we, as a site, become independent of the NWP Weblog initiative?  It has become clear that sometime in the future, the availability of free Weblogs from NWP may end, so we realize that we need to establish our own network for future planning.  This grant will help us establish server space for current and future needs of the site.

WMWP Technology Liaison Kevin Hodgson will be overseeing the grant program in partnership with Site Director Bruce Penniman.  This grant proposal has been created as a collaborative venture using the Web-based Writely application.  Kevin will also be consulting with the WMWP Technology Team, which was created as part of the NWP Technology Seed Sites Initiative, on ideas for the workshop series, state network of Weblogs and server space purchase.  The Technology Team is comprised of former site leaders, University of Massachusetts professors, and teacher-consultants.

We hope that the creation of a network of Weblogs at an individual NWP site can become a model for others to follow, and one aspect of the workshop series will be a reflective piece of writing for teachers and project leaders to consider the best applications for this technology.

4.      Timeline





Fall/Winter 2006

(completion date: December 31)

1.    Advertise the workshop series, with initial personal invitations to project leaders. Teacher-consultants will be alerted through e-mail, newsletters, and flyers/workshops at the WMWP fall conference.

2.    Purchase server space.

3.    Purchase voice recorders.

4.    Discuss the sequence of activities for the workshop series – what is most important for teachers/leaders to gain?

1.    Kevin Hodgson

2.    Kevin Hodgson, Bruce Penniman

3.    Bruce Penniman

4.    Kevin Hodgson, Technology Team

Spring 2007

(completion date: April 30)

1.    Offer first full-day workshop at UMass.

2.    Identify possible program co-leaders from this cohort for future workshop sessions.

3.    Begin working with Massachusetts State Network on use of Weblogs for newsletters.

1.    Kevin Hodgson

2.    Kevin Hodgson

3.    Kevin Hodgson, Susan Biggs

Summer 2007

(completion date: July 31)

1.    Offer second full-day workshop at UMass, with new co-leader.  Use examples from the first workshop to help advertise the project.

2.    Begin to establish a main site for newly-created teacher/project Weblogs.

3.    Explain and demonstrate the possibilities of Weblogs at the Summer Institute.

1.    Kevin Hodgson, co-leader TBA

2.    Kevin Hodgson

3.    Kevin Hodgson, SI co-leaders

Fall 2006

(completion date: October 31)

1.    Offer third full-day workshop at UMass.

2.    Create a main network of Weblogs for the Massachusetts state network system.

3.    Share results of workshop series with NWP network at Annual Meeting in New York City.

1.    Kevin Hodgson, co-leader TBA

2.    Kevin Hodgson, Susan Biggs

3.    Kevin Hodgson, co-leader TBA

Beyond Fall 2007

1.    Continue to purchase server space/content management system

2.    Plan for another series of workshops for the 2008-2009 school year

1.    Kevin Hodgson, Bruce Penniman

2.    Kevin Hodgson, Technology Team


5.  Dissemination Plan


·          Presentation of the use of Weblogs in the classroom at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project Best Practices Fall 2007 Conference.  Participants in the workshop series will be asked to present case studies to fellow teachers.  Technology Liaison Kevin Hodgson will facilitate the session.

·          Presentation of the workshop series and state network project at National Writing Project annual meeting in NYC in 2007.  Kevin Hodgson will be the main presenter, but the co-leader will also come along as a co-presenter.  Invitations will be made to participants as well.

·          Presentation of the state network design at the New England Writing Projects Annual Retreat in spring 2008, using the same plan as above.

NEA Magazine: technology in every classroom?

The latest edition of NEA Today (September 2006) contains an interesting question in its debate section. It asks, Should technology be used in every classroom?

Supporting this concept is a history teacher from Tennessee, who notes that, “In almost every field of work, some type of technology is used. Students must be prepared.” The teacher goes on to note:

BY using technology in the classroom, we’re speaking their language and teaching them in a way that they might learn. Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Estrada once said, ‘If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn’.” — Keith Parker

On the opposing end of the argument, a math teacher from Virginia says that technology can become a crutch for students more than an active tool for learning. He refers to reliance on calculators for basic computations and that “Some of my colleagues in the English Department atttribute their students’ writing skills, or lack thereof, to the heavy use of instant messaging and spell check.” He argues that there is more need than ever for direct instruction by educators.

Our generation learned how to read,write, and do arithmetic by learning from our teachers’ example — with pencils, paper and our minds … Yes, technology is an integral part of this process (learning), but that does not mean it is a required component of every classroom setting.” — Timothy Kubinak

It is an interesting debate and both teachers bring up vital points. Perhaps there is a middle ground here, too, which is that not every classroom should be forced to use technology. Too many teachers feel the pressure to do so and lack either the interest or training or understanding to do a rich integration of technology tools, and the students are the ones to suffer. But for those teachers who can envision a change in the classroom for the better — either through more motivated students or critical thinking — we need to find ways to support those efforts.

On the last page of the NEA Today, there is another very interesting column from Glen Bledsoe, who worries that the data being collected through technology for administrators to created a sort of remote controlled classroom.

You will start your computer upon arrival at school each morning and find your instructions for the day waiting for you. Like a good soldier, your part is not to question but to obey. You will be measurable. Technology at last will make teachers accountable.” — Glen Bledsoe

Glen reminds us that students are individuals and not blips of data, and it is the classroom teacher who is most acutely aware of this fact. It is a fallacy to rely on software analysis to attend to our students with a wide variety of needs.