WMWP: Stepping Back but Not Stepping Away

I’ve written many times in this space and others about my first year of teaching – 19 years ago — when the Western Massachusetts Writing Project was a necessary lifeline of sorts, providing me with mentor teachers and ideas for engaging students through writing, and more.

My participation in our Summer Institute my first summer after my first year led to me being invited to an increased role in the writing project site, and then through my interest in technology and the classroom, to rich opportunities within the National Writing Project (connections that remain to this day) that have included CLMOOC and WriteOut and more.

I spent many of my years on the WMWP Leadership Team, mostly as  the technology liaison and then as the co-director for technology, and finally, for the last few years, I took on the role of the co-director of outreach, allowing me to oversee initiatives like social media and partnerships with local news organizations to feature our teachers as writers.

Last month, after a year of transition with an incoming co-director of outreach (Samantha Briggs), I stepped away from the WMWP leadership team. This is all planned and part of the leadership structure of WMWP — intentional transitioning to bring in new people as leaders (like Samantha). Although it feels strange to not call myself a co-director of the Western Massachusetts Writing Project anymore, it also feels a bit freeing. This morning, I started to edit my online profiles, changing my status back to “teacher consultant” and not “co-director of outreach.”

I’m still involved with WMWP, of course, and I continue to facilitate a partnership with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site and will be involved in youth writing programs and teacher outreach, and more through a larger network partnership between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. I also aim, after a breather of time, to offer to be part of the WMWP Technology Team again, but as a member and not the leader (that would be Tom Fanning, who replaced me for that position, as planned).

WMWP has long been my home as a teacher, and remains so. I value my writing project colleagues and the programs and support it offers, and the vision for how best to support teachers and students through opportunities and meaningful professional development. WMWP is still my home, even as my role shifts a bit.

Peace (in transition),
Kevin

Reflections on Facilitation of a Summer Youth Writing Program

WMWP Summer Youth Writing Program 2020: Interactive Fiction

Some observations and reflections 

https://sites.google.com/view/interactivefiction/home 

Positives of shift to online

  • Youth participants were all ready to write every day (opting in to a writing program)
  • No geographic limitations for participation (one from China, with connection to local school)
  • Opportunity for guest presenters (National Park Service Ranger Scott Gausen did a presentation on NPS that led into writing activity)
  • Technology possibilities (different sites, platforms, collaboration, etc.)
  • Combination of (offline) writing notebooks, Zoom chat, and other sites (and media)
  • Mentor texts and tutorials seemed most helpful
  • Lots of Icebreaker activities 
  • The theme of the program (Interactive Fiction) took advantage of technology and distance situation (lots of room for supported, but independent work)
  • Regular email messaging (short information daily) with parents and youth writers together was seen as appreciated by families

Challenges of shift to online

  • Not knowing kids beforehand, meeting only via video, was odd
  • Technological hurdles (nothing we could not overcome) — but mobile vs computer, access/sharing links to sites, slow Internet speeds, helping a student work through an issue from afar (zoom), protected school Chromebooks, etc.
  • Creating the right pacing (over-prepare) of writing activities
  • Hard to read the Zoom room (some kept video off, for Internet reasons, or from typical camp shyness)
  • Two hours each day seemed a lot (even with breaks and offline writing)

What I’d Do Different

  • More use of Break Out Rooms for small group (or individual conferencing)
  • More use of daily Exit Slips to get a sense of my pacing (too fast/too slow/just right)
  • How to better encourage sharing of writing with people you don’t know
  • Ask for student emails (with parent permission) during registration process to make setting up programs/sites easier
  • Mail something (prompt or maybe even a Flat Stanley-ish thing) to each person beforehand with a fun activity to bring in on day one

Typical Day Format

  • Icebreaker/Brainstorming activity
  • Writing into the Day (prompts) and sharing
  • Technology Lesson
  • Playing around time with Tech
  • Break
  • Focus on a larger project (writing process)
  • Sharing
  • Writing out of the Day (if time)

Peace (reflecting to remember),
Kevin

Interactive Fiction with Young Writers (a resource site)

Interactive Fiction Resource SiteLast week, I was immersed in an online summer youth writing program for middle school writers through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. My topic: Interactive Fiction (with a focus on ‘choose your own ending’ formats). I had 12 young writers with me on a daily journey via Zoom of writing, exploring, creating and sharing.

I created this online resource site with tutorials on the three main platforms that we used: Inklewriter, Twine and Google Slides.  There are also some student examples at the top. Feel free to use and share anything that might be helpful. I’ll share out some reflections of running an online summer writing program in a few days.

Go to Interactive Fiction resource site

I’d also like to give a huge shout-out to my thinking partner on designing this online program (an offshoot of a project I do in the classroom with my own students ) to Bryan Coyle, a teacher-consultant with the Minnesota Writing Project.

I had learned through the National Writing Project network (via Twitter) that Bryan was also doing an Interactive Fiction summer program, in the weeks before me, and so he and I chatted via email about program design. Bryan was so generous in sharing his resources, and I was able to adapt some of his work for my own program. He also wrote me a lengthy email after his program ended, reflecting on what worked for him and what didn’t, offering advice on how to proceed in an online environment with young writers one has never met. I am most grateful for the connection.

Peace (make a choice),
Kevin

WMWP: Thinking on Twitter

Last night, I took part in a National Writing Project video conferencing that was themed on how local writing projects — like our Western Massachusetts Writing Project — can broaden its presence in online spaces. My fellow co-director for outreach, Samantha Briggs, and I were invited to talk about WMWP’s Twitter account, which I realized has been around for ten years. The chart above was something I pulled together as I was thinking about the pros and cons of Twitter for an organization.

I had noted in the break-out table discussion that I wasn’t all that certain how successful the Twitter account actually is in reaching our local teachers on a scale that makes an impact. It seems like it has been more successful in making connections to other writing projects, and national organizations. That’s not bad, but I wonder if the focus might need to shift, if we are to be more centered on how to engage our WMWP teachers in the work of teaching, writing and learning.

Peace (in hashtags and tweets),
Kevin

WMWP: After Collecting Our Breath

WMWP Editorial May2020

I facilitated the writing of a collaborative editorial by our Western Massachusetts Writing Project in our regional newspaper, using our organizational presence to urge school officials and policy makers to notice the poverty, digital access and learning issues made visible by the Pandemic’s impact on our schools.

“At some point, school communities will catch their collective breath.” — the editorial begins

We urge leaders to:

  • Notice and make note of the inequities they were seeing now in the time of crisis, so as to address them more structurally later
  • To work to advocate for more equity of digital access, particularly for our rural communities, where reliable Internet is still not the norm, and our urban centers, where families are often struggling to make ends meet
  • Formulate professional development goals to help educators navigate the next wave of Pandemic, so we are not all scrambling as we are now
  • Help teachers be thoughtful in the technology platforms being used with young people, and not trade ease of use for student privacy

And more.

We aligned the themes of the editorial to the tenets of our WMWP Mission Statement, around access and equity and social justice, as well as teachers teaching teachers (and I guess, teachers as writers, too).

The local newspaper — Daily Hampshire Gazette — ran it as the lead piece on its Opinion Page, and it generated some buzz in local education circles. We hope it has some value in the times ahead of us, to use the time of disruption to enact positive change in the lives of our students and the state of our schools.

Peace (writing it),
Kevin

NaPoWriMo: This Remembered Place

(I am participating in National/Global Poetry Month as I continue to write small poems each morning. – Kevin)

Day Twenty Six: This Remembered Place

Knowing as we do now
what it is we did not know then,
what more might we have gathered
if we had that time again?

Your favorite pencil,
maybe, the one with
the short, sharpened stub and
bright blue eraser?

Your sticker packet, perhaps,
its neon artwork stubbornly
affixed to locker doors
and desks?

Your go-to comic books,
I’d ponder, the ones you’d hide
inside your textbook, as if we
never looked?

Or your much-loved pink glove,
with holes in the fingers,
its soft fabric shredded
by tag and run?

Every one – all of us —
left without the other

from this remembered place
now narrowed down
to panels on a screen:

pixelated by presence,
illuminated by absence

Note: I took part in a Saturday writing workshop of ‘teachers as writers” through the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. We started in a video chat, moved offline for an hour or so to write, gathered back into small online response groups, and ended up back together in a large gathering. There were prompts we could use, if we wanted, and I used the “If I Had Known” prompt for my poem, of remembering the classroom space now reduced to video chatting.

Call of the Lonely

Peace (in presence and absence),
Kevin

‘Don’t Call It a Rebellion’ and Other Insights from an Uprising

Shays Seminar Notes and Wonderings

I wrote the other day about facilitating a professional development for teachers, and how we were piggybacking on a seminar about Shays Rebellion at a technical college on the grounds of one of the main events of the uprising. The Springfield Armory, which was known as the Arsenal back then in the late 1800s, is a National Park Historic Site, and part of a partnership with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project in hosting youth and teacher programs. I am a teacher-consultant with WMWP.

The seminar (held on the anniversary of one of the most pivotal events of the Shays uprising) was well-attended, and the six speakers all touched on different but interlocking topics — from the causes of the uprising (mostly, taxes and ineffective government) to the results (the making of the Constitution and Bill or Rights) as well as how language frames what we often refer to now as Shays Rebellion.

One of the speakers —  author Dan Bullen — bristled at the use of the term “rebellion” and urged us to call it Shays Resistance instead. He explained how the government, alarmed at the farmers rising up with arms to shut down courthouses and storm the Springfield Arsenal, labeled it as “mobs” and “anarchy” and more. Instead, as the research shows, the men who who joined Daniel Shays and other leaders were mostly peaceful, but pushed the edge of limits by a government that was beholden to the business class, and where debtors prisons were the norm. (Dan Bullen is going to come to our next PD session as a guest and resource)

Even a federal designation of Shays Rebellion Day in the 1980s by the federal government through executive order by President Ronald Reagan, and its chief sponsor — US Rep. Silvio Conte — shows how modern politicians seek to twist language to their own message. One of the speakers focused on this executive order to show how historical events become a prism for messaging.

We’ll be grappling with some of this use of loaded language for political gain in our upcoming smaller PD sessions (there are more than a dozen local teachers involved in our work) and how the echoes of civic action from the time of the post-Revolutionary War still resonate today — from eerie parallels to the most recent Housing Crisis/Recession (common people lost their homes to speculative traders as banks got bailed out and regular homeowners were penalized for the shady dealings) to the rise of youth over issues of importance, such as climate change and gun control. (Many of the followers of the Shays Resistance were also young men, in their late teens or early twenties).

One of the more intriguing presentations was an archeological dig of a remote mountain location in Vermont, where Shays and his followers escaped to after being hunted by the Massachusetts militia, and they set up a large settlement there on Egg Mountain which had long been forgotten and grown over. The presenter has spent a few years, including working with students over summers, to slowly uncover the network of homes and buildings of where Shays ended up for a number of years, as an outlaw or hero, depending on the perspective. Connecting archeology to local history is always a cool inquiry, and his was a pretty fascinating story.

Peace (rising up),
Kevin

PS — Here is Dan Bullen on our local radio station, talking about his interest and his book project centered on Shays

Drawing a Line from Shays Rebellion to Civic Engagement

This morning, as part of an ever-expanding partnership connection between my Western Massachusetts Writing Project and the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, I am helping to facilitate a gathering of more than a dozen educators for the first of three sessions that centers on Shays Rebellion as a historical event, with resonance into the modern day of civic engagement, leading into student service-learning projects.

For this first session, our group is merely attending an all-day historical seminar at a Springfield college, with authors and historians exploring the impact of the post-Revolutionary War event here in Western Massachusetts in which a group of farmers and former solders rose up in arms against the ineptitude of the government, and demanded action to improve their lives.

This curated piece by the Massachusetts Historical Society — This Convulsed Commonwealth — is a good primer for Shays Rebellion, giving the reasons behind it, the ripples of fear it sent through the new US government, and the aftermath.

This Professional Development project is funded through generous support of the National Writing Project and the National Park Service. The armory site was the scene of one of the most intense clashes of the rebellion, as the so-called rebels (they would have called themselves patriots) marched to the national armory, in hopes of breaking in and stealing arms and munitions to help their cause. They lost that battle.

Here is a look at what we can expect today:

The Final Fight at Sheffield – Tim Abbott, Regional Conservation Director, Housatonic Valley Association. Master’s Degree Clark University

Shays Kerfuffle: A Peoples Perspective – Daniel Bullen, Author. Ph.D. New York University

Archeology of the Shays Settlement – Stephen Butz. Author. Master’s Degree Cornell University

Three Men in Debt – Tom Goldscheider Farrier. Master’s Degree University of Massachusetts

More than a Little Rebellion – Barbara Mathews Director of Academic Programs Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association. Ph.D. Brown University

The Contested Meanings of “Shays Rebellion Day” 1986 – Adam Tomasi Student Northeastern University. BA Wake Forest University.

Our aim with the PD is use the stories of Shay’s Rebellion with teachers to think about Civic Engagement (the buzz word in our state and elsewhere) in the classroom, and to help formulate plans for student service learning projects in their own communities. Not to foment a new rebellion, perhaps, but certainly, we will be talking about the movement for gun control and for the environment as examples of national and global student-led movements. We have guest speakers lined up as well as activities around writing and deeper learning.

In the week leading up to today’s Shays Seminar event, we have asked participants to do a little research on the people who involved in Shays Rebellion, and to narrow the focus on their stories. In a shared document, participants’ insights into the motivations and impact of actions of these people — some famous, but most of the figures chosen are common people, caught up in the movement on either side — have humanized a historical event.

I chose Jonathan Judd, who hailed from the town where I teach. Judd changed his position about the Rebellion, ending up supporting the suppression of the revolt. As I note, I’ve had some of his descendants as students, so I was curious to learn more about him.

I have had some students who are descendants of Jonathan Judd, of Southampton (where I teach and where the Judds are still prominent), so I was curious about this man. It’s interesting how he seemed to lean back towards the idea of the Monarch for at least lending stability to governance, in contrast to what he saw as mob rule with Shays. This led him to go to Springfield to protect the Supreme Court from the mob. I wonder if he ever changed his mind about the actions of the rebels?

Peace (past and present),
Kevin

PS — my fellow PD facilitators and I have grappled with how to spell Shay’s Rebellion, or Shays’ Rebellion, or Shays Rebellion. The Massachusetts Historical Society notes the difficulty in a common grammar.

The historical folks note:

Grammarians seem to be as divided over how to spell the possessive form of Daniel Shays’/Shays’s name as historians have been over the causes and consequences of “his” rebellion. The Chicago Manual of Style would make it “Shays’s,” but notes, “feelings on these matters sometimes run high.” The Massachusetts Historical Society library conforms to the spelling of Library of Congress subject headings, so has it, “Shays’ Rebellion,” but authors who have written about this topic are almost equally divided. An early history of Pelham, Massachusetts by Charles O. Parmenter gives us an alternative by referring to it as “The Shays Rebellion.”

WMWP: Takeaways After Reading ‘White Fragility’

Our Western Massachusetts Writing Project leadership team is reading White Fragility, by Robin DiAngelo and we will be having a book discussion next week, facilitated by one of our WMWP colleagues. It’s a book on my radar for some time because it has been mentioned so often in so many circles, so to read it knowing we will be discussing it together as a group of teachers is helpful. (DiAngelo, who is white, is a diversity trainer, brought into companies and organizations to confront racism and she brings many stories into the book of how difficult those conversations can be).

It became clear rather quickly that I am a target audience, all the way. White male. Living in a neighborhood that is predominantly white. Grew up in an apartment complex, predominantly white. I teach at a suburban school, predominantly white.

DiAngelo’s book frames such white experiences in a way that makes sense — once you let your defenses down — but it takes courage to step back and see it as it is. Even if we suggest we are open-minded and not racist, her message is that our culture is, inescapably, and therefore, we, the white population with much of the social power and financial capital, bring that history and those societal influences to the table with every single interaction we have.

I appreciated the various ways DiAngelo names these things, such as the defensive reactions that white people have when called out for saying something hurtful, or the excuses white progressives have for why they are not racists, or the way we use “color-blind” as our defense, or the various triggers for white people when race becomes a topic of conversation, and more.

Honestly, I started the book thinking, I won’t see much of myself in there. (And double-honest, this was not my first choice from our list of possible texts — I had hoped we would read the New York Times series about the start of slavery — The 1619 Project) I consider myself rather progressive. I am leader in WMWP, which espouses social justice and works race and equity into our programs. I teach my young white students to question the world. I run a diverse summer camp project in our large urban center. I have my own personal history, in which I was the only white soldier in a military platoon of black soldiers, the outsider for a long time. And on and on.

I was wrong. I saw myself all over the place in White Fragility.

This is her whole point.

If we don’t intentionally notice and own up to our views, we will never make progress, never take forward steps. She suggests that no white person will ever be free of racism — it’s engrained too deep in our society — but that we can make progress in addressing those issues, in making amends when we make mistakes, and in looking deeper at ourselves, not blaming others.

We live in a time — The Time of Trump — when the very issues that she writes about – defensiveness, blaming the other, turning racism around, ignoring the inequities, fear — seems to be on the front page, every day, either overtly or inferential, and on the political stage. with regularity. If Stephen Miller is whispering in your ear and if Breitbart is your alt-right source for news, then the world is skewed and will remain so.

But voting out Trump won’t change the racial currents of our country. Maybe some of DiAngelo’s suggestions can help make a different on a small scale, person to person, and that is ultimately where change can happen. Maybe it starts in our classrooms. Or so we can hope.

Peace (digs deep),
Kevin

Slice of Life: What I Wrote In Our WMWP Writing Marathon

Writing Marathon at SPAR(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I helped organize and facilitate a writing marathon for the National Day on Writing and Write Out on Sunday at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, and like the 18 educators who signed up to take part in the event, I wrote my way throughout the afternoon, inspired by the museum and its archives. We had themed inspiration stations set up around the Armory to help spark ideas.

You can sense in my writing some the tension behind being inside a historical place that made the weapons that helped the US win wars through guns and arms. This is a tension I always feel when running programs for teachers and summer camps for middle school students at the Springfield Armory. I once wrote about this idea and titled it What To Do When Your Classroom is Filled with Guns.

Here are snippets and rough pieces of mine from each of the writing areas.

Writing: The Welder

Special Photo Exhibit

The Welder

Obscured by
flames and fire —
the welder molds
iron and steel
into arms —
the camera rebels
the bright heat light
shrouded by aura,
and those of us who watch
from time and distance
only notice the moment,
frozen

Writing: Dear Women of the Armory

Industry Display: Worker Group Photo

Dear Women of the Armory,

Thank you. I’m sure stepping into a national arms manufacturing plant — with the world at war and no end in sight — could not have been an easy choice. Maybe even you had your doubts — about war, about guns, about your own skills. I am sure Society’s story of you until now, as a woman, was at home, not here, but events forced Society’s hand. And you answered the call. You learned a complicated, intricate job. You were part of a team. You made a difference. Who knows what price you paid. Did you leave children each day or night at home to come here? Did you have a husband at war, always on your mind? Did you worry about the outcome of the battles abroad? Whatever it was that kept your mind concerned, you did your job here, and you did it well. You may not have realized it at the time, but your efforts and the efforts of many more women like you began a cultural shift in the way women would forever be seen in society. You changed the world. Thank you.

Wartime Sisters passages

Reading an excerpt of The Wartime Sisters novel and Taking the Character for a Walk (with apologies to author Lynda Cohen Loigman)

Millie rarely wonders too much at the gun beyond the assembly line, where her fingers move over the lock plate as if it were the most common task in the world. It’s all motion — this goes here, this goes there. Millie only sees the moment in front of her.

It’s at those other times, when everyone has gone home and her own shared household with her sister goes quiet, that she thinks more about what her work really is, and how what she is building day after day will be used. A bullet, in the chamber, fired down the long barrel, flying through air, penetrating a target. And the target, she knows, is a person, a human person, and that person might be killed by the very work she is doing.

She is the first step in the death of someone.

Or the first step in saving someone’s life, she tells herself, too. Not killing someone. Saving someone. A brother, or a father, or a husband, or a neighbor. She nearly convinces herself of the truth of it.

Writing: To Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Poetic Response to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s ‘Organ of Muskets’ (1844)

Whose dark future
hides in the barrel
of the guns in this
tune-less accordion —

surely, ours;

and I fear the sounds
grow ever louder, never
fainter —

Will it ever cease
into peace?

Or will the bullet travel faster
by the hour?

Why is it that power only finds
its home in violence, and never
in understanding –

Such silence

Peace (writing it out),
Kevin