Terry left a few comments in the margins of my post, about writing about the margins of an article about Digital Writing. His phrasing caught my attention.
As we often talk about extending notes and comments beyond the original source, I took a few of his words (of dogs and poets) and riffed a poem off the top of it. And then I shared it in Mastodon, where I often write #smallpoems with CLMOOC friends Terry, Algot and others.
So, from here to there, and there, to here, and then there again.
I wasn’t sure if other people would follow me up on my invitation. But I knew I wanted to annotate with Hypothesis the opening article in the NCTE journal — Voices from the Middle — about the future of digital writing, by Troy Hicks. Then, I saw a tweet from a friend, Gail, commenting on the article, too, and I knew I had to go ahead and start up a crowd annotation project. I wasn’t the only one wanting to engage with the text.
So, I sent the link out a few times over the weekend, and got some folks to engage with me (including Troy, and I can’t say enough how important it is to a reader to the have writer engaged in the margins in a conversation about the text they wrote.) By midweek, there were nearly 40 annotations — a mix of words, image, sound and video.
You see, this was not just about reading about Digital Writing. It was also an act of using Digital Writing to make sense of the piece about Digital Writing. Sure, a bit recursive, but an important insight. We can talk and write in text all we want about what writing should be. But when the opportunity comes to write with media, to write in the margins of an online text, you need to take the invitation forward.
A few days in to the annotation activity, Terry asked this important question to me and others on Twitter:
I am enjoying the conversation. Intrinsically valuable. Have to ask the question implicit in every annotation mob? Of what use is the conversation going forward and beyond an intrinsic one? Is intrinsic value enough? What could be curated and shared out beyond mere response? — https://twitter.com/telliowkuwp/status/1003632172698361856
I think curation/context of the margins should be next … It would be neat to have different people reflect/curate. I know that is prob unlikely. Still, surfacing ideas is important part of the process. Orphaned comments seem contrary to activity. — https://twitter.com/dogtrax/status/1003745466708832257
So, here I am, aiming to pull out some of the many threads from the conversation in the margins in a way that helps me make sense of it all, and maybe gain some reflective insights. If you do the same, please share your link. We can then be linked together.
Some distinct themes emerged from within the margins of Troy’s text. Here is my sense of the topics that resonated most clearly:
Defining Digital Writing continues to vex many of us in the field of teaching and writing, as we try to articulate what we mean and envision, and then put into practice in our classrooms;
It’s not just the defining of the term, but also whether we even should be using Digital Writing as a signifier. Or it is just … writing, with the digital element just part of how we write. Or, maybe, composition?
The technology itself is less important than helping to nurture student agency on how to best use the technology available at this moment in time to find clarity of thought and intent, and creativity. Joe riffs off Troy’s mention of Snapchat, to show how this social sharing tool has possibilities for sharing stories, not just gossip.
Some of us used the margins as a place to leave poems, inspired by the text. Thanks to Greg, for example, for his small piece. To use poetry to express understanding, or to ask questions, or to further the topic … this is another way the margins can become active and alive in interesting ways. It’s writing about the writing, attached directly to the text.
And then, Terry took that poem and remixed it with image as a digital poem:
Mulling over what forms of media enhance writing, and which might distract, is part of what writers do, and Sheri notes, in a comment about Word Clouds, how she remembered a student using this visual representation of text, and then going much deeper with a reflection on design, colors, fonts and more. This pushing deeper into understanding through reflective practice is important.
The ability for us, as teachers, to expand access and opportunity, and choice, with digital tools for writing and expression remains a challenge for many of us, hemmed in by our current school structure (and funding woes). Terry makes a connection to both Ivan Illich (whose work on DeSchooling was recently annotated in CLMOOC — see that work here and note how one annotated text now connects to another annotated text) and sheep farming, as Terry mentions a certain stasis that many of us find ourselves in. He suggests that words in the margins are not enough. Action and change is required, if we are to reach all our students in meaningful ways.
Greg makes note that the web and the ways we interact with it with our writing has changed, moving steadily away from “the open web” to a more corporate structure. He suggests, and he is working hard, to move us back to the Indieweb concept, including finding ways to give ownership of spaces to students to find their voice and their passion.
Troy shares various links to various sites and applications and platforms where one might explore further some of the potentials extensions of writing. I re-found Voyant through Troy’s piece. It is a writing analysis tool that has many bells and whistles as it creates a snapshot analysis of writing. Here, I took a paragraph from Troy’s piece and put it through Voyant. What does one do with this? I suspect one would dig in and then find ways to remix the analysis, to surface and uncover things below the writing itself.
At the very least, this tool gives your writing a visual look. At worst, it makes your writing become a meaningless analysis, where you lose all context of theme. So, in an effort to play with the concepts of digital writing, I used Troy’s words, to make the visual, that became the basis of a poem about losing meaning when writing gets reduced to its parts:
And finally, Troy, in being part of this discussion about his own text, notes his appreciation for this kind of discourse. What this does is keep the text alive and out in the open. Which, I contend, is important for any consideration of the future of writing.
The beauty of Hypothesis is that the annotation doesn’t have to end now. It can restart anytime you arrive and make a comment. So, whether today is today (my time) or a year from now (your time), please do come in and add some thoughts. Reflect. Connect. Write about writing.
The last round of this year’s Writing Our Civic Futures from Educator Innovator and Marginal Syllabus is a chance to engage with the first part of writer/educator Steve Zemelman’s new book From Inquiry to Action: Civic Engagement with Project-Based Learning in All Content Areas.
You can access the chapter via Hypothesis (free and powerful open source annotation platform) and Steve is right in the mix, too, interacting with readers in the margins of the text. In his book, Steve lays out the rationale for student engagement that moves into social and political and community action. His emphasis is on impact in the local communities.
And I come away from reading this piece over a few weeks with some lingering reactions. The first is that I find myself in a defensive crouch as Illich attacks traditional schools from all different angles, arguing that teachers are ineffective, that schools only care for students as cogs in the business machine, that funding is misspent, that curriculum is merely a means to keep young people in line, the entire educational system is designed to slow down learning.
I won’t say some of his criticisms don’t have some merit, even today, decades later. But I felt as if he were attacking me personally, as someone who has dedicated my career to teaching and working with young people. It may be that I am too sensitive and ready to shout back (which I did in the margins of Illich’s text).
Still, Illich has some interesting points that do seem to coincide with the principles of Connected Learning — particularly around the concepts of student choice, peers as powerful motivators, project-based learning (which is what Charlene to first suggest this text for annotation, I believe), finding mentors in the field to help guide understanding, and building networks through technology to expand access to materials and information.
Remember (and I remind myself), he wrote all this during the time of Mainframe Computers and microfiche files. He was envisioning an expanding educational system that allowed students to think and learn beyond the walls of the classroom, to follow their interests. He talks about poverty and urban schools failing their students. Those are insights to wonder at with appreciation (too bad I find his writing tone off-putting and snobby in its own way).
I’ve enjoyed reading and interacting with the other readers of the text, and marvel that there are more than 130 annotations (so far) about Illich’s views, and that many of the annotations have responses and discussions unfolding. It’s pretty cool.
The deeper I am reading into Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society, the more annoyed I am getting at his view of teachers, like myself, in public schools, like where I teach. His accusatory tone and finger-pointing of the problems of the world seem to fall squarely on the shoulders of teachers. In some ways, this echoes the political landscape of today, with the kind of sentiment stated by Betsy DeVos and her crew, although the recent teacher actions are visible public counters to this narrative.
Which is not to say that every teacher in every classroom is doing what they need to do for all their students. There is plenty of blame to go around for why too many of our students are not getting the education they need to live the life they deserve. But Illich has all teachers in traditional settings in his crosshairs.
That said, I am enjoying the ability to annotate and discuss his book in the margins via Hypothesis, as a part of a CLMOOC Pop-Up Make Activity, and others are in the mix with me. I have just finished the section section and am moving on to the third.
We’re having discussions and feedback in the margins of the text, with a focus on how Illich’s views on education (published in the early 1970s) on student agency and individualized student learning might connect/disconnect with the principles underpinning Connected Learning. It’s been interesting to read this piece with that frame in mind.
So far, I see nearly 75 annotations have been made. There’s room for you.
My latest post at Middleweb for my Working Draft column is all about digital annotation tools, and how they open up a text to the world for conversation. In particular, I reference the Marginal Syllabus/Educator Innovator’s Writing Our Civic Futures project, which is underway now with its January text.
I forgot about this post and left it inside my draft bin as other things came up. A few weeks ago, I did a BookSnaps project with my students — using Google Draw to annotate the first page of an independent book, and then created this video with the results.
As part of the ongoing Writing Our Civic Futures project, through Educator Innovator and Marginal Syllabus, a crowd annotation of Linda Christensen’s deep article on how she turned her classroom around to focus on the lives of her students is underway.
And you are invited.
The project uses the open sourced Hypothesis tool, which allows for discussions and annotations in the margins of online documents. Linda Christensen is also participating, so you might have a chance to dance in the text with Linda. The article — Critical Literacies and Our Students’ Lives — was first published by NCTE via In the Middle, and Christensen’s views about how to pivot towards authentic stories in times of testing is an important sharing moment.
I’ve been moving some of my annotations of the paper version of her piece to the online piece, via screenshots. But you can add text, images, gifs, videos, sound, and more in Hypothesis, creating a multimedia collage of thoughts and connections.
I was fortunate to be invited to take part in a video conference with Linda and some other educators to talk about what she wrote and the nature of public annotation of writing, as sort of a preview for the annotation event. She was very open and insightful, and I most appreciated her thoughts when I asked her about how she was feeling about opening up her words to annotation in the commons. (see her response)
I ran across a reference to an idea called BookSnaps that seemed intriguing so I followed the thread to Tara Martin’s blog, where she shared out information about how to use digital tools, particularly Snapchat, for annotation and layering of media.
Watch Tara’s short talk/presentation about the idea:
I was intrigued because I am interested in finding more ways to engage my sixth graders with annotation and digital tools, for many of the reasons that Tara gives: the ways annotation focuses attention, how it helps us remember, how to it makes visible the learning of a text.
While Tara shares about Snapchat as the platform, I was more interested about using something within our students’ Google accounts, to make it easier to teach and easier to save. We are in our Independent Reading unit right now, so this is a perfect way to share the first pages of books they have chosen, I am thinking.
My sample — for Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust, see above — was done in Google Drawing and it all went quite well, using call-out text boxes for the writing and some images searches for the “stickers.” There’s not a lot of space, so finding focus will be key, as will setting parameters for how many overlays can be on a page. I can see my kids getting carried away with images.
Tara does have a video about using Google Drawing that helped me think this through:
(Note: Google has now changed the way one can take image snapshots within its system, so the direct method that Tara mentions in her video may no longer work. I used PhotoBooth for my sample, but Tara kindly mentioned a free extension by Alice Keeler for Chrome that takes pictures and puts them into a Google Drive folder, which can then be moved into Google Drawing. I tested it out and it seemed to work quite well.)
I envision this BookSnap idea as one of the first steps of our work with digital annotation, and the connection to Snap Chat (even though we won’t be using it) with layered text and layered image, and sharing, should grab my students’ attention. And sharing out books, and reading about what others are reading, is always a powerful sharing experience, made more fun with layers of annotation.
I’ll let you know how it goes …
If you are thinking that the use of Snapchat App is of interest, this video by another teacher (not Tara) gives a good walk-through of each step along the way:
I saw this piece via CNN that explores print text vs. digital text with learners and I thought it would be worth giving it a closer read, given my own interest in digital writing (whatever that is) and digital reading. I am using Hypothesis — an add-on that allows for collaborative annotation of digital text — to annotate the article. The nice thing about Hypothesis is you don’t have to annotate alone. Come join me.
I also put the piece, even though it more about reading than writing, into my occasionally curated Flipboard Magazine: Along the Edges of Digital Writing, which you are welcome to read and subscribe to, if it interests you.