I could not attend NCTE annual converence this year for reasons related to the ways the federal government has withdrawn most of its support for the National Writing Project, but I have been following some of the threads on Twitter when I could over the weekend. In particular, I was curious about the work being done by my friends via Marginal Syllabus with annotations and margin writing.
I could not help myself. As I saw people working on a hallway activity of making and then tweeting out notes on cards with quotes on Saturday, I started to make margin notes on the notes of the margins from here at home, and sharing them back into the stream. For a bit of time, it felt like I was there, with them.
Thanks to Adam, Sam, Jessica and Carolyn for letting me play with their work. I hope the workshop for the digital annotation was an interesting and illuminating session. Knowing the folks running it, I bet it was.
Yesterday, I had my students work on a small piece of writing, in which they explored the question of “why I write” and then we did a class podcast of their voices. I am always so pleasantly surprised (should I be?) about the depth of their thinking about why they write, and am always so hopeful afterwards that our work around writing has some resonance with them.
Here are the podcasts from all four of my sixth grade classes:
Tomorrow is the National Day on Writing, now in its tenth year (I believe), through the support of the National Council of Teachers of English and other organizations, like the National Writing Project. But tomorrow is a Saturday.
Today is when I will do some activities with my sixth graders. I had hoped to try to do a Zine project, but I dropped the ball on my planning and worries about time necessary to do a quality job. So, I am pushing the Zine idea out further into the year. (I connected with our city library, which runs a Zine project for teens, and they have some examples and resources I can borrow.)
So, I am going to do a version of what I have done other years, which is to have my sixth graders write about why they write (the theme of NDOW is Why I Write), and then share their ideas in the classroom. From there, students will volunteer to do an audio podcast (when I mentioned this the other day, they were excited about it), and then we’re going to use Make Beliefs Comix site, turning the writing piece into a comic.
I hope to have a Wall of Comics about Writing in my classroom by the end of the day and to have student voices released into the #whyiwrite world, too.
These are voices from last year:
And a few years ago, I asked my colleagues at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, why do you write? This is what we said.
What about you? What will you do? Why do you write?
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 May 2018 edition of the NCTE journal – Voices from the Middle — arrived in the mail and immediately caught my attention. It’s part of a series of “What’s Next” themed editions of the journal (an edition about what’s next in reading was intriguing), and this one is entitled “What’s Next? Digital Tools and Social Media” and, if you know me at all, you know that is something I am interested in as a teacher and a writer (and a parent).
I was not surprised to Troy Hicks writing an introduction of sorts, as he framed the way technology is shaping our writing practices, and how our writing practices is shaping our use of technology. Yes, it goes both ways, and Troy has been writing and sharing and teaching us strategies about digital writing for many years now. (And Troy, thanks for the shout-out in your piece.) I was interested in the way Troy ended each section with an insight about digital writing, and what it means as we look ahead to teaching and writing.
In other articles in the journal, I appreciated the exploration of digital imagery as a connection to understanding and uncovering the inner lives of our students, the strategies for battling the fake news phenomenon, how infographics might extend writing practices and the use of argument, and the way technology might open more doors for students of color to have a voice in the world. There are solid classroom examples, and lots of resources, to explore in these pieces.
Overall, the theme from this wide range of writers and teachers is to remember that technology is a tool, not the thing. Students need to remain at the center of the learning and the writing, and educators — from the veteran teachers (like Chris Lehman’s piece about the imperative of pre-service teachers getting experience with digital literacies and Linda Rief’s piece about long-time teachers relying on students to teach us) — and the key to the work we all do to adapt to the changing world is, as the Cathy Fleischer notes, is “making this work sustainable” by connecting and sharing with other educators.
You can access a few of the pieces for free at the NCTE site, but many of the pieces are in the journal that comes with being a NCTE member. Since Troy’s piece is open and free, how about joining me in using Hypothesis to annotate his column?
I’ve done many versions of this prompt – Why I Write — over the years of the National Day on Writing (which is today! Why do YOU write?). I decided to think about memory and remembering, and used the Lumen5 tool to make a short digital poem.
The annual National Day on Writing, hosted by NCTE and other organizations like the National Writing Project, is coming again this week. On Friday, Ocober 20, the National Day on Writing — with the theme of Why I Write — will again take to the social media airwaves. Join the mix. Add your voice, your words, your images, your videos. Whatever.
Yesterday, as part of the National Day on Writing, my four classes of sixth graders went into a reflective pose, and wrote about why they write. I invited them to come into our “podcast station” (a comfy chair, Snowball Microphone, and Garageband up on the screen) and share their words with the world. Many did. It was wonderful.
For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.
I’m sorry I forgot your name. I apologize if my eyes darted quickly from your face to your name tag, and then back up to your eyes as you began to speak. Did I look confused? Lost? Or out of place when we were talking? I probably was. My brain was working to remember your name, to place you in my constellation. I blame Google for making me stupid. No. I blame genetics and memory cells. Darn you, Mom and Dad.
The fact is that as much as I love coming to educational conferences and hanging out with everyone in person after all the time that we spend in online spaces exploring writing and making cool stuff, I am finding it a wee bit trickier over the years to remember all of you when we finally get to a face-to-face situation. That’s not completely true. I never found it easy and I always thank the Conference Gods who provide us with name tags.
It’s not you; it’s me.
You seem to have no trouble remembering me. I appreciate that. Perhaps my restless online presence translates into a strong physical presence? <Cue laugh track>. Of course, you would not likely recognize me from my “dogtrax” avatar. Unless you squint your eyes, use your imagination and maybe do a few shots of whiskey first. And by the way, if we are at the same bar when you do that whiskey shot to spark your imagination, call me over. I am buying. We can imagine together.
Maybe it’s my walk and not my avatar that you recognize. My wife says I have a distinctive walk, and one of my former colleagues who I ran into at NCTE (no, I did not recognize her when she called out my name and she even taught two doors down the hall from me … 11 years ago … But still, I should have her face in my memory banks, right? Right. Sigh) said she recognized me from afar from the way I was walking down the hallway. I find that hard to believe. Do I have a funny walk? I personally think it is the rest of the world that is slightly off-kilter. I walk with perfectly normal strides.
But, if you recognized me by my walk or from my avatar or from some various hangout or whatever (maybe even from that whiskey bar), and I failed to do the same of you and your walk, I am so sorry. Perhaps your walk is on the so-called normal scale. There were a lot of people there, after all. (although now that I think of it, if we did hang out in that whiskey bar, both of our walks might be a bit funny by the end of our conversation.)
Still, when I hear someone saying “Kevin” or “Dogtrax” from across the room, I think: This .. is … so … cool. Someone I know is here. I get excited about the connection. I do. After all, what we do online should spill to what we do offline, if the possibility exists. When it happens, it’s an amazing connection, like some two-pronged electrical plug. Inevitably, though, I draw a blank when your hand reaches out to me and I feel dumb (again …. Google) and scramble my brain for your name. I mean, you took the trouble to remember me. I should remember you. I quickly calculate, what space were you in with me? What projects did we collaborate on? Are you sure we know each other? I don’t want you to ever think that what we did together is inconsequential nor without meaning, which is why a small panic builds inside of me. I valued our work. I just can’t retrieve your name from my data banks right at this second.
I have decided a strategy is in order. So I have begun stringing various name together, sort of like lights on the holiday tree. Or a run-on sentence. Names name names. I just need to make sure none of the lights go out on that string of ours, and I will be good to go. There’s a whole year to go until our next big conference. A whole year to learn how to remember.
Or a whole year to forget … Damn it. See you at the bar. I’ll be the funny-walking writer who looks a little confused. Come on over and let’s talk about things for a bit. Make sure you introduce yourself first.