#CLMOOC Book Club: Identity, Representation and the Power of Writing

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We’re reading Affinity Online: How Connections and Shared Interest Fuel Learning as a Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) effort, and yesterday, I shared various ways you can read along with us, too, even if you don’t have the book.

I’m about halfway through the book at this point and I find I am most interested in the vignettes the researchers have pulled together about people who are members of different Affinity Networks. These stories — they call them Case Studies, as they are researched stories — bring to the surface the themes of the chapters, of course, but they also provide a window into the insider’s world of Affinity Networked Spaces.

  • So, we learn about the way fans of wrestling have come together to form an interesting collection of fan writing and fictional competitions told through writing by the fans, connecting a love wrestling and competition with story and character creation/development.
  • We see how a video game system — Star Craft II — had launched an entire universe of gamers and players who want more out of the game, and who have developed more, through strategic play and groupings, with writing at the heart of it all.
  • On Wattpad writing app/home, a group of fans of the One Direction band have invented an entire niche site of fan fiction of the band, writing stories and making connections. They give feedback. They connect stories. They publish to an audience.
  • Video, performance and culture are connecting points for Bollywood Dance, where the American children of immigrants remain connected to heritage through dance, and through shared dance routines and competitions. Making and sharing videos becomes a common compositional practice.

These are the first four Case Studies for the first two chapters, and what comes to the surface for many of these portraits is the importance of writing and identity, of how the use of an Affinity Network for expression depends upon representing yourself with words and media. This surfaces for me because, as a teacher, I often wonder where my intersection with students’ interest in Affinity Spaces might be.

And no surprise — it comes back to writing as a skill from school that translates quite well into non-school activities. Even when an Affinity Network begins to create its own lexicon and style, writing words and sharing stories and making comments/feedback still are central elements, and those are all things schools can offer, even if the student feels disconnected from the classroom experiences.

I’ll keep an eye out on other trends as I read deeper into the book and consider other Case Studies.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

#CLMOOC Book Club: All Entry Points Lead to Learning

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In the past few days, thanks to the folks in the #clmooc book study and the authors of the book — Affinity Online: How Connections and Shared Interest Fuel Learning  — which we are reading to better understand networks of shared interests, there have emerged a number of different entry points for reading the book and engaging in conversation with us.

See you on the pages!

Peace (connected),
Kevin

#CLMOOC Book Club: Making Doodles on the Pages

Doodle Margins of Affinity NetworkSince I splurged and bought Affinity Online, a book some of us are reading together in March in the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC), I am free to mark the pages up as I see fit. Which I do, regularly. I use highlighters to mark text (and to find passages that I am sharing out) and doodles and drawings to represent my thinking.

Doodle Annotation

I was happy to see but not surprised to learn that my friend, Terry, has been doing something similar with his reading (although his process is a bit more complicated as he borrowed the book from the library and needed to photocopy the page). Terry is much more attuned to the colors — his mark-up is a piece of art. Mine is mere scribbles.

AFFINITIES INTRO 1You can’t easily do this kind of annotation with digital versions of the book, which is why I bought it as physical book as opposed to a Kindle version or something else in ebook format.

But, this also isolates the reader a bit to the single book/single page/single reader, and Daniel wondered on Twitter whether a digital version or excerpt of the book is online somewhere, so CLMOOC can use Hypothesis for crowd annotation, and well, I don’t know. But I’ll look around and see.

Peace (drawing it),
Kevin

 

 

 

#CLMOOC Book Club: Affinity Online

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I still remember the student who came back from a weekend trip to Boston, all hyped up about the cosplay convention, and how excited they were during our morning meeting that they had found others who were into what they were into. Their classmates looked on as they explained the concept of dressing up like comic characters and interacting with others as if they were crazy. The student showed us pictures, and we all were intrigued.

The classmates, though, didn’t understand. They were curious because it was different but they sort of shrugged it off as another of this student’s eccentricities. One of many. (Which is why I liked them so much).

What struck me most, though, is that this student was sharing this sliver of life with us not only because they had  taken part in the event gathering, but also because they had discovered an online space where they were now writing fan fiction stories and connecting with others in the cosplay community.

This memory came back to me as I began reading the new book that folks and friends in the Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration (CLMOOC) has begun reading together for our March book club. The book — Affinity Online: How Connections and Shared Interest Fuel Learning — is a researched dive into the current field of how young people are finding more niche homes in online spaces where they connect with others through shared interests, and use writing and making and remixing to showcase their talents.

At CLMOOC, we will be sharing some guiding questions in online spaces over the month of March, sparking discussions. Even if you have not yet read the book, we hope you might have ideas to contribute. Write where you are, and share where you can. We’ve often defined CLMOOC as its own Affinity Space, but maybe that is an idea to grapple with, too.

The book contains overviews of different themes but also rich stories of young people and their affinity spaces — the first chapter, for example, gives us insight into a network of people who knit on the theme of Harry Potter in Ravelry; how writing fan fiction in a professional wrestling fan site opened the door for expression; and how a video game community of players expanded the sense of participation beyond the game itself.

I’m thinking, as I read, not only of this former student but of others, too, who shared their online creative lives with me, and those who never did share (perhaps the sharing would ruin the magic or perhaps the sharing would bring ridicule) but who are no doubt actively involved in some way or another in what interests them.

As a teacher, this brings all sorts of thinking to the surface, although the one main considering I always have when I think of Connected Learning in terms of my classroom is: Does the presence and knowledge of a teacher/adult ruin the experience for the young person engaged in an Affinity Space that resonates with them? In other words, by bringing these niche elements into the classroom and anchoring them as a learning experience, do we take all the magic out of it for them?

I suspect, yes, it alters the experience, but whether that is in a good way or bad way, I don’t quite know. I remain sensitive to this issue, particularly when a student shares such interest with me. I continue to search for the balance of encouragement as learning opportunity and respect for the spaces they inhabit as individuals.

Peace (may we all find that space),
Kevin

Book Review: The Library Book

What a writer Susan Orleans is. In The Library Book, Orleans shows her skills at weaving a deep dive into a topic (public libraries), history, crime (the fire at the Los Angeles library), and her own personal story (she writes this book for her mother, who is dying as she begins this book and has died when she ends). Orleans’ talent is such that you don’t even notice the way she has artistically structured all of this — you only know that you are in deep, and you don’t want to stop reading.

This is more than a book about libraries. It is a book about the heartbeat of shared public spaces, about the ways a community gathers together, about shared experiences, about the power of stories to guide us forward, about how we preserve the past to guide us into the future and navigate the present. It is all that, and more.

The Library Book is also an ode to our geeky hearts, those of us who loved libraries as kids, who still love libraries as adults, and if you are lucky like me, those of us who are married to a librarian. (I quickly passed this book to her). Orleans’ narrative focuses on the fire that nearly destroyed the main library of Los Angeles, and then weaves her stories of the people, the books, the experiences that connect to the library, before pulling back on the larger picture of how libraries function in our communities as vital cogs beyond literacy.

You don’t need to love libraries to enjoy The Library Book. But it helps, and if you don’t appreciate libraries before reading this book, you certainly will afterwards.

Peace (in the stacks),
Kevin

Book Review: Unbound (A Novel in Verse)

This book packs a powerful voice — that of nine-year-old Grace — into its pages, and Ann Burg’s Unbound never lets up. Grace is a slave, sent to the Big House to help, but even her mother and step-father know she will have trouble keeping quiet. Grace is a girl with a mind of her own, and slavery’s injustice gnaws at her.

In fact, it is Grace’s words that set the story into motion, as she and her family escape the plantation in the night, making a run for Freedom, with a capital “F” even if Grace does not know what or where that is.

Burg’s historical references to the Maroons — communities of escaped slaves that did not head north to Canada or elsewhere, but instead, stayed hidden in the South — is a fascinating piece of forgotten stories, and Grace’s harrowing adventures into the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina remind us of these stories of slaves who risked everything to leave the shackles and to help others along the way.

What resonates is Grace’s inner voice, brought to the surface with talent and compassion and spoken poetry by Burg’s writing. It’s nearly impossible to read Unbound without your heart jumping to save Grace from the violence and struggles of her times, and to give her strength on her journey.

Unbound never loses track of the internal narrative struggles — the doubts, the joy, the love, the worry — of young Grace, even as the novel reminds us of yet another chapter of our country’s horrible past and the yearning of those in chains to be free.

As Burg noted in her Author’s Notes at the end of Unbound:

The choice to brave the wilderness rather than suffer the brutality and humiliation of bondage is a towering testimony of an oppressed people who risked everything for the chance to be free.

Peace (and Freedom),
Kevin

Book Review: The Poet X

Voice is what surfaces with absolute clarity in Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, a powerful narrative poem structure of a young woman pushing against the cultural barriers of her first-generation Dominican family in order to find herself. Xiamara Batista, or X, the main character through which the book/poem flows, is a cauldron of confusion, at times defiant; at times, fragile.

Where X finds herself is in her poetry, words as a source of expression. And slam poetry — the art of performing your poems to the world — is also where she loses herself.

When X’s mother, whose strict and confining cultural expectations of her daughter become an increasing source of tension and anguish, finds her daughter’s poems, in which X writes of a budding romance, she destroys her daughter’s book of poetry. X is distraught and angry, until she realizes her poems are in still in her head and in her heart.

The Poet X is a reminder that stories and poems flow through us all. And that these can become the threads of how we linger on our family, the past and the future. You won’t soon forget Xiamara Batista after reading this novel in verse.

Her words will linger.

 

I would say that this book is perfect for high school students, particularly those who don’t often see their own lives reflected in the books of our classrooms, but it may be a bit edgy for some middle school readers. There’s a real-life tension here, although nothing that would preclude this from being a potential classroom book. You might want to read it first. Well, of course, you should read it anyway.

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

 

Book Review: The Art of Screen Time

Journalist and mom Anya Kamanetz approaches screens and family with a balanced eye in her book — The Art of Screen Time (How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media & Real Life) — and for that, I want to show appreciation. She doesn’t shy away from the troubling aspects of too much screen time for kids and parents. Nor does she ignore the positive possibilities.

Instead, she gives a nuanced look at research and findings around the impact of screens on kids, and the role of parents in the age of the digital entertainment world, and reminds us that all we can do is our best.

She borrows and remixes Michael Pollan’s phrase about food, with a technological twist: “Enjoy screens. Not too much. Mostly with others.” I think that is good advice, even as I both see the benefits as a teacher and father, and worry about the impact of digital devices on developing brains, including my own children.

I appreciated her findings from surveying other parents about how they approach limiting screen time (something my wife and I grapple with at home with our youngest, a teenaged son) and how our difficulties are not isolated. It seems like many of us as parents are finding this a difficult world to navigate. How much screen time is too much screen time? What are the lasting effects of decisions we are making now? How can we find more balance for us and our kids?

Kamanetz looks not just at how kids use technology, but also how parents are becoming the role models for kids, and not always in good and positive ways. She explores the mommy-blogging world (something I sort of know about but not really, and I am both disheartened to see it commercialized and heartened to see there are places where good advice and caring communities exist).

The most important piece of advice — the one huge researched take-away for all parents that sticks with me — is to protect the sleep patterns of your children. No devices and no screens in bedrooms, and turn off screens an hour before bedtime. The sanctity of sleep is key to the development of a growing brain and emotional self.

In a nod to the world she is writing about, where time seems slippery and tl/dr (too long, didn’t read) is a cultural shortcut, Kamanetz even has a final chapter in which she summarizes her book into a five-minute read (sort of like a bulleted cliff notes version). You could read that, of course, but I suggest reading the entire book, and thinking about technology, our kids, ourselves and the world in a critical and constructive way. It is worth it.

Peace (on this screen and beyond),
Kevin