DOPA Legislation

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

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.


Mission Away from Berkeley


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.

Sofa Kings

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.


Mission to Berkeley, Part Three

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


Mission to Berkeley, Part Two

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


Mission to Berkeley, Part One


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.



The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece

Transforming Words on the Page to Characters on the Stage

By Kevin Hodgson

Note Play 2

There’s a moment in my play where the main character – a little, confused musical note — discovers an exact replica of himself in the musical manuscript through which he is traveling. The other note is exactly like him, except there is one major difference: the twin is happy. Giddy, even. Dancing around with a big smile on his face, the twin of B-Sharp ponders the question of why he is so happy.

“I am in the most perfect place in the most perfect composition by the most perfect composer ever. When I am played, the whole world shudders with joy because I am exactly in the right spot,” the twin states happily, to which the main character, B Sharp, replies: “I wish I could find my spot.”

The character of the twin was something I added in late to the story, and I did that only because another young actor joined the theatrical camp where the play was being produced had joined the cast and desperately wanted a speaking part. How could I turn down a request by this young man to get involved? I sat at the keyboard and thought. The director of the production suggested a few lines for the twin that B-Sharp stumbles upon after escaping the Meter Police, the treble notes, and the first and second endings.

“Maybe you could tell why the twin is happy,” the producer suggested, and that made sense to me, and so I went back to the script that I wrote three years earlier during a month-long Summer Institute for teachers as part of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. The Note Who Got Lost in the Masterpiece originally came to form as a novella that I wrote chapter by chapter during that productive summer, and I fine-tuned it with the help of other teacher-writers. When one of my fellow writers said the story sounded like a play unfolded scene by scene (which I called “movements”), I experienced one of those blinding moments of inspiration. I went home to my acoustic guitar, wrote a few songs and then proceeded to convert the entire story into a piece for theater for young actors.

The script then sat around for three more years, always in the back of my mind – I really liked the story of a musical note who must find his place in a piece of music and feel important and special – yet never produced. Sure, I had toyed with the idea of doing it with the sixth graders I teach and even began producing fractured fairy tales with my classes two years ago with the idea of getting my feet wet as a producer of plays. But my musical was a big production, and one I was wary about taking on while still trying to teach what I knew I had to teach. There is such little room in the current educational environment for a long theatrical production and B Sharp was forced to sit off to the side of the darkened stage.

I was inspired to return to the play when I read about a writing contest being sponsored by the Mult-Arts organization in Amherst, which was searching for stories to produce with its youth summer theater camp, and lo and behold, somehow, I won the contest with my B Sharp play. I later learned there were about 30 play submissions from across the country.

When I was writing the story, I could see it all unfolding on stage, in my own mind, but I was as excited as the twin of B-Sharp to imagine that the story would come to life, with real actors, in a real production. Every request made of me as the writer – such as scaling back some of the musical theory – I agreed to in hopes of helping the young actors find meaning in their roles in the limited amount of time they had to rehearse and learn their lines. I added in the speaking part of the twin. I conceded that my songs, as I wrote them years ago, could be replaced by new compositions by the music director of the camp. I was open and willing for anything.

I just wanted B Sharp and the rest of my characters to find their place on the stage.

And so imagine the wonderment of the writer when I slipped into a dress rehearsal of the play and watched the characters I had nurtured begin to become alive on stage with the help of a group of talented young actors. Little B Sharp was this wisp of a girl but her face and body was all emotion, capturing perfectly the confusion and frustration felt by the lost note. The bass notes were two high school boys and as they talked to B Sharp down below in Bass Land, they towered over her and the effect was exactly what I was going for on the written page. And then the note who guards the first and second ending got increasingly angry at the repeat dot that follows her around everywhere and repeats half of what she has said, it was almost like watching Abbott and Costello trying out a new routine on stage. They nailed the humor just right.

The day of the first public performance, I was as nervous as the actors, I think. Some friends had arrived and I even saw some of my students from a few years ago when I began doing fractured fairy tales in my classroom. The curtains opened on the stage and the set design was perfect – the backdrop were all of a musical motif. Although I was videotaping the performance for posterity, I sat back and enjoyed the show from start to finish, even singing along in my head with some of the songs they used from my original ideas.

It made me feel good to listen to the applause at the end of the show and one member of the audience – another teacher, it turns out, who has taught music to younger students – shook my hand and said, “If only we had something like that when I was teaching … even I learned some new things about music today.”

I felt the warm glow of praise, as much for my writing as for my teaching, and silently thanked the young actors who encompassed my creations on the stage. Later, I actually did thank them and, even more, I thanked the producer of the show.

“I just hope we did justice to your vision,” he said.

That, he did.


Here is a scene from the first act of the play:

Meter Police: There’s been a bit of commotion in this sector of the score and we want it stopped right now. You chords have to know your place! I swear, sometimes I think you notes don’t even know the difference between the mad rush of Allegro and the slow drone of Adagio. What’s the problem here? Why all the fuss?

B-Sharp (stepping forward slowly): Uh, sir. I’d like to leave.

Meter Police: Leave? Leave? You can’t leave. You’re right where The Composer put you. Do you think you know better than The Composer what kind of chord is needed in this particular measure? Is this what you are saying? (glares at B-Sharp)

B-Sharp: No, sir. It’s just … I’m not wanted here. I’d like to leave.

Meter Police: That’s for The Composer to decide, young note, not us. You must remain where you are until The Composer decides otherwise, if he decides otherwise.

B-Sharp (in a pleading voice): Perhaps, I could just go to that rest over there for a little while? Until The Composer comes back?

Meter Police: Absolutely not. Now you stay in your spot or you’ll be one sorry tone. (and with that, the Meter Police buzzed off)

(B-Sharp sighs and seems depressed. Then he perks up, looks over to the four-beat rest one more time.)

B-Sharp (to himself): I’ve got to do it. I can’t stay here any longer. I’ve got to at least try to get to that rest, no matter what it takes. (pause). It will take courage, that’s for sure. (pause). OK. I can do it. I know I can. First, I just need to get away from this measure. (pause as he moves slowly). There. I did it. Now, on to the rest.

F Minor: Hey, what’s he doing. Look at B-Sharp – he’s moving. He’s not supposed to do that! What will The Composer think!

(The other notes begin to move about in excitement, pointing to B-Sharp, whispering among themselves about what B-Sharp is doing. Meanwhile, B-Sharp keeps moving when suddenly a Whole Note jumps in front of him.)

Whole Note (in a bulling tone of voice): Uh-uh, kid. End of the line. No note gets past me. You’re not going to make me the laughing stock of the symphony. Get yourself back to your chord like a good little tone. You heard me. Go on. Beat it!”

B-Sharp (looking frightened by the Whole Note but trying to remain brave): No! I won’t go back. And you can’t make me! I’m getting to that rest, one way or another. (And then the two notes begin to wrestle each other, slapstick comedy, with the Whole Note much stronger than B-Sharp. After a minute, B-Sharp falls to the ground, yelling out: Ahhhhhh!!! and the curtain closes as the lights black out.)

Blink: A Multimodal Poem

As noted down below in this Weblog, I have been working on a multi-media poem that seeks to utilize some of the emerging technologies as a canvas for creative expression. My idea was to try to write something that could be reflected in a Read/Write Web format and see what happens with it. And so, my writing — can we call it that? — is a mix of words, images, and sound.
Are you interested in experiencing Blink Blink Blink?

This link will take you to my poem.

As part of the process, I also recorded an off-the-cuff audio reflection that is embedded in the poem page but which can also be listened to independent of that piece.

microphone Listen to an audio reflection about the poem

I would love to get any feedback on the poem — does it work for you as a creative piece? Does the technology get in the way or does it complement the writing? — and you can use the comment feature on this item to do so, if you would like.


Reviewing Will Richardson’s Book

Will Richardson’s book about integrating emerging technology into the classroom — Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms — is a wonderful resource that is rich and instructive. I bought the book as soon as it came out this past spring and then wrote a book review about it for a graduate class.

Here is my book review

As an experiment for that class, I also created an audio postcard for Will.

microphoneHere is the audio postcardmicrophone

Finally, Will Richardson wants you to comment on his book, through use of a dedicated Wiki, of course.

Head to Will’s Wiki


Reviewing Will’s Book

(Note: I wrote this book review for a graduate class semester — Kevin)

Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classroom

Will Richardson

Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. 2006. 139 pp. $27.95. ISBN 1-4129-2767-6

To deny the tidal wave to technology at the fingertips of students these days is to deny the reality of the world. It is a losing battle. As educators, no matter what discipline we find ourselves in, we must not only be aware of this fact, but we must also be willing to explore, experiment and entice our students towards learning with the tools now emerging from the newest version of the World Wide Web.

Will Richardson, who has been a prominent name in the world of educator-bloggers for almost five years, argues strongly for teachers in his new book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom to embrace these changes and to utilize technology in all curriculum areas as a collaborative opportunity that weds the theories of writing to learn with emerging technology. While some experts in the field of composition’s Writing to Learn movement extol the virtues of the act of writing as a way to process information and provide critical thinking skills, Richardson takes it one step further and articulates an argument that technology is more than a tool for schools. It is a conduit of collaboration, critical thinking and cross-disciplinary learning.

In the course of this book, Richardson touches on a wide range of subjects, as the title of this tome suggests, but he does so with an even balance of pedagological theory, classroom examples, and practical advice on how a teacher can experiment in the various fields of emerging technology. He also writes with a very engaging voice, offering assurances and confidence to even the most neophyte of his audience. For teachers who worry that the shift into technology means more computerized scoring programs and more games for students to play on the machine during recess or so-called “enrichment” time, this book provides a path to something different.

Richardson notes that there is a growing gap between today’s students, whom he refers to as Digital Natives (a label generated by design guru Marc Prensky), who have grown up understanding the computer as a source of entertainment and resources and are not afraid of their desktop, and the greying cadre of teachers, whom he refers to as Digital Immigrants, who are trying to either learn this technology in context with pre-computer days, or are ignoring the wave altogether.

Giving credit to technology pioneer Tim Berners-Lee, who is often cited as one of the few visionaries who theoretically paved the way for the graphic-orientated World Wide Web that is now in existence, Richardson calls this trend of engaging writers via technology the Read/Write Web, and he strongly suggests that passive use of technology (i.e, gathering information) will be replaced by active users (i.e, the writers of that content) who will have to learn new skills around the concepts of collaboration, hypertexturalized reading and globally-published content. This, in turn, will change the term “literate” when considering students to mean far more than reading and writing. Richardson forcefully argues that digital literacy will be the key to the future. He postulates, too, that this influx of digital information and skills is creating an entirely new genre, which he terms “connective writing.”

With characteristics such as an electronic format, public audience, thematic-linked ideas, multi-media expression and collaborative tools, this new genre is “…a form that forces those who do it to read carefully and critically, that demands clarity and cogency in its construction, that is done for a wide audience, and that links to the sources of the ideas expressed (29).”

“Right now, teachers are employing Weblogs and Wikis and the like in ways that are transforming the curriculum and are allowing learning to continue long after the class ends. They are tapping into the potential of the World Wide Web that is a conversation, not a lecture, where knowledge is shaped and acquired through a social process, and where ideas are presented as a starting point for dialogue, not an ending point. In case after case, the walls of the classroom are literally made irrelevant by the creation of communities of learners that span oceans, races, genders and generations (126).”

The book is divided logically into sections on Weblogs, Wikis, RSS feeds, the Social Web, digital images, podcasting and screencasting, and what Richardson calls “the big shifts” for educators now and into the future.

As a brief primer:

Ø Weblogs and Wikis are online publishing tools, with Weblogs providing more security for owners while Wikis are the ultimate in open publishing, as anyone can edit and post their writing to a Wiki site;

Ø RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds are applications that allow you to collect and collate information from the web by bringing it all to a single source, such as a Weblog;

Ø Social Networking is a model of collaboration, as users connect information with others in the field through websites and bookmarking systems;

Ø Podcasting is the publishing of audio content to the Web;

Ø And screencasting is the marriage of image of a computer screen to audio narration.

Technology clearly has a place in the world of Writing Across the Curriculum, as Richardson provides multiple examples of ways teachers in the various disciplines can use technology. For example, a Weblog could easily become an e-portfolio for students in any discipline, as they collect and highlight their best work and provide immediate research links to data or relevant information. The interactive feedback from readers, which is the backbone of a Weblog, provides many opportunities for revision and editing, and the audience for the writing can be the world, which is an incentive for any student. Or students in science, for example, could use a Weblog to post questions for real experts in the field being studied, or collaborate from a distance with other students on scientific inquiry experiments where data is shared and compiled as an online report, with revisions made as others outside the group offer feedback. There are no geographic walls when using a Weblog, and educators could use this to their students’ advantage.

Any disciplinary class could create an online Wiki encyclopedia for their field by having students work together to compile knowledge (think Wikipedia on a smaller scale) and some examples are already out there as models. One site that Richardson touts is a Wiki called Planet Math, where teachers are compiling information about every known mathematical concept, with experts and observers adding their thoughts. But he also suggests that students in any class could create a similar project on any subject, creating a resource pool of collective knowledge.

Even more radical, Richardson suggests, would be teachers and professors who opened up their curriculum content and syllabus for addition, deletion and editing by students taking a course. Students could add pertinent links, provide questions and topics of discussion, and lead the course in directions that interest them. The Wiki allows such a student-empowered movement, and Richardson does not shy away from the reaction some educators would have over such a possibility.

Creating audio recordings, which would come after extensive research and writing, might be used in the field of history or social sciences as students give “virtual tours” of places and capture the sounds of the present in order to study the history of the past. Richardson even suggests that the free Internet phone service, called Skype, could be accessed by students in any content area to interview people from around the world, then save the file as an audio file and post to a Weblog or Wiki. Prior to the interview with a scientist, or politician, or someone else, the students could use the Internet to research issues and consider questions for the interview subject. It would be a full circle of technology, with student inquiry and publishing at the center.

The RSS feeds would be a perfect fit for the field of political science, as students learn to compile current event news stories or sites about issues that are having an immediate impact on the world (Richardson notes such events as the tsunami in Asia, and the hurricanes of the Gulf Coast as examples of students using real-time information from people on the ground to understand the world). And digital imaging sites, such as Flickr, are loaded with tools that can be utilized in any classroom. For example, at Flickr, students can add “notes” to a photograph and Richardson mentions one elementary student who used a picture of a model she had made of Jane Goodall’s camp in Africa and then added notes, so that when the mouse was dragged over the image, descriptions of various sections of the camp would be displayed for the viewer. Such a tool could easily be used to document a Civil War battlefield in social students or the dissection of an animal in science, Richardson notes. Or a student may create a poem with imagery, and then connect key words to images found on the photo site. All of this echoes the multi-modal work of theorist Gunther Kress and his views on image, design and literacy.

The end result for any teacher, however, is the act of teaching these new literacy skills to their students, and then loosening the reigns of control and authority so that students can actively engage themselves in the learning process. Instead of the sole voice of authority, the teacher must become, in Richardson’s words: a connector of information, a content creator for students to tap into; collaborators with their students; coaches to help guide their students; and change agents who understand the pace of advancements is rapid and unforeseeable.

There are numerous strengths to Richardson’s arguments about educators needing to lead the way with integration of technology into the classroom, not the least of which is that our students will be immersed in even greater amounts of data and content as they move into adulthood and they better be prepared. The software and programs he highlights are often free, or inexpensive, and designed for novice technologists. However, access to computers remains a daunting issue in education and educators cannot assume that their students will have computers for use at home. Some school districts are loaded with computers (often the wealthy districts) while in other schools, the computers are held hostage by technology coordinators uneasy with the idea of data flowing in two directions. This book is more user-friendly for teachers and students with access to the technology than those without such access. Meanwhile, Richardson amply addresses the privacy issues of students, and this is one thing educators should be considerate of.

For anyone in any curricular discipline who is interesting in understanding the emerging world and wondering how they can podcast or blog their way into the future with their students, this book is a wonderful resource. It provides both a theoretical framework, solid examples and practical steps to integration of writing and technology.