Saturday, August 1, 2015

Decomposing Revision

I compost.
            Deep pleasure in trash
            In eggshells and vegetable remains
                        Turning into black gold.
Rich soil from our waste
            Feeding my garden
            And my soul.

I revise.
            Deep pleasure in refuse words
            In messy lines and phrases
                        Turning into golden lines.
Rich language from the wreckage
            Nourishing my audience
            And my soul.

I relish decomposition
            The process of breaking down
            The process of fermentation

            The process of turning garbage into glory.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Twitter as a Tool for Reflective Teaching?

I was doing a session on playing with author blurbs as a way to study genre for our Writing Project Summer Institute.  It was the 3rd time I'd done the workshop this summer and I was struggling to bring the enthusiasm.  This is why I always had my classes reading different novels when I taught high school.  Doing something the second time helps me work out the kinks, but by the third time I'm bored.

As I launched into my mini-lesson about genre as a site of action rather than a form to be filled out, the room was quiet.  I continued on with my metaphor  about writing into a genre being like going to a party - you have to know who the party is for and who is going to be there.  The room was deadly quiet.  People were typing on computers and scribbling notes, but few were making eye contact.  Crap.  I was boring the heck out of them.  I finished up the mini-lesson and moved on to the activity.  I picked up my phone to set a timer and found it exploding with tweets.  Things like:

"Learning how to be recognized in the discourse and push the discourse with @birdawg"

"you can push the envelope as long as you know how to act at the party" birdawg on genre at this rockin' awesome SI session"

Well how about that!  They were engaged in back-channeling about the session.   And I'd hit the nail on the head.  Not only that, but they were re-framing my words into their own, pointing to the things that were important to them in what I'd said.

I started thinking (again) about the use of Twitter in the classroom.  What if students had the access to this during mini-lessons in school?  What if they could point back to and re-frame what teachers were saying.  It would certainly engage their active minds by having an outlet to communicate with others about what they were learning, but it would also show the teacher what is getting through and perhaps even what is causing confusion.

Thinking back on all of this now, I think this type of tweeting would need to be taught.  When I've seen Twitter used in classrooms in the past it's been more about reporting out the agenda for the day . . .  "we learned about worms today"  These posts go a little beyond that, pointing to salient points in the lesson and lending them a sort of "A-men sister" to what I was saying.  It's a little bit of ego stroking for me, for sure and I wouldn't want to turn it into a process of making me feel good about what I was doing in the classroom, but it sure was helpful when I had a break to see that what I had wanted to communicate had made it through and that I could build further on those concepts rather than re-teaching them.

If nothing else, I'm wanting to think more about this.   I'm hoping I get a chance to play with this some during the school year.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Yogi Writer/ Maker - a Revision to Reclaim my Identity

Running and Writing.

I suffer an identity crisis every time I read this piece.  It is the opening of my first book and people who have read it come and tell me how meaningful the analogy is to them - and that always follows with the dreaded question - "So how's the running going?"

The truth is, I don't run anymore.  So then I'm compelled to tell the story of how I blew out my hip on a run when I tripped over the dog and now hot yoga is my jam.  I even published a Digital IS resource about this identity crisis.

It occurs to me now, five years into yoga and nine years after the book was published that there is an analogy to be found in yoga and writing AND in making and writing. It's all in the idea of practice.  Yoga is a practice.  There is no race  or competition to train for.  You simply show up each day and practice your craft.  You listen carefully to your body.

Writing and Making - composing if you will - is a lot like that.  You show up each day and your practice your craft.  You listen to what your soul is telling you to create.  You speak the words that are there - composing carefully.

Sometimes you fly in your yoga practice, nailing each pose with a strong flexible body.  Somedays you are stiff and wobbly and your side crow crashes into a face plant.  On those days you have to revise your practice, to reiterate it.  You have to listen closely to your body and let it tell you what it is capable of this day.  You have to weed out the distractions that are making you wobbly, you have to find your drishti.  But most of all, you continue to practice in the way your body will allow that day.

Sometimes your words or make fly together, speaking out to the world about ideas of importance.  Carefully crafted statements of social justice fly onto the page or into the make.  Somedays, nothing works.  The glue isn't right, the pieces fall apart, the words won't come.  On those days you have to focus on revision and reiteration.  You have to listen closely to what your soul is telling you and get one word down, one piece put together.  You have to try it out and see if it works and if it doesn't, you have to try again.  You have to silence the distracting voices that tell you that you have nothing to say.  But most of all, you continue to practice your craft in the way that your mind will allow that day.

The biggest lesson for me as I've grown from the running analogy to the yoga analogy is a spirit of playfulness.  When I read that running piece I am struck by the hard work, the slogging through pain.  Yoga is playful and so should writing and making be.  It's a choice, approaching with this spirit of play.  Making a mess and seeing what will happen is the heart and soul of writing and making.  And that sense of play is far more encouraging to me as a writer and a maker than the drudgery of trying to craft perfect words or compel myself up a monster hill.  

Friday, March 13, 2015

Notice & Note

Written in response to "What is the Role of Talk" in Beers and Probst's Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading

Co-constructors constructing knowledge
Questions - real questions
That probe and problematize
Talk that matters
Voices that matter
Learning that matters

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Is it a "Make"?

I wrote earlier this week about a "make" I did with a group of high school students using literary terms to create stop-motion videos.

I've been wondering out loud for days - is this a "make" since I gave them the instructions to produce a stop-action video that exemplified their term?  In my mind one of the things that makes a "make" is the freedom to get in there and mess with things to see what happens without a lot of instructions.  I've been wondering if my attempts to make "make" "count" for school had gotten in the way of the play and tinkering I discovered this past summer.

As a group the UNCC Writing Project has identified a "make" as something that "invites students to make things with words, with natural and man-made materials, and with their ideas of how to make their worlds." (from Intersections Grant)

Check.  Students worked with play dough and legos to represent their ideas using a stop action app.

Further "make" "gives students opportunities to play with, try out, or represent ideas through physically and digitally making things and then sharing drafts in progress" (from Intersections Grant)

Check.  Students played with the play dough, legos and apps and shared their drafts in progress with each other and with our Google + community.

Finally, "make" "use[s] content specific to grade levels' course of study and are literacy rich, asking students and teachers to share, reflect, loop back, remake, revise, remix, and connect with others." (from Intersections Grant)

Check.  Students used the literary terms specific to their course to do all of these things as they created their videos - several different iterations over the 40 minute period - and shared those videos with others.  While they were working, I wished for a boom mic to drop down and record the rich and conversations they were having about not only the literary terms, but the materials they were working with and the process they were going through.

Below is a simple video with some of their reflections.

So while in the beginning I was feeling like this assignment was just sort of on the spectrum of make because it was "assignment-y" I'm feeling now after really breaking it down like it was a real and powerful making experience for the students and for me.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Making Our Words

Looking at a stack of literary terms a teacher wanted her students to learn and thinking about our Educator Innovator Project along with some cool stuff a colleague of mine, Steve Fulton, was doing with stop action video  I thought, “why not make stop action videos with the literary terms? 

I've written here about my thinking on making, its importance, and curricular connections. Since that posting, I've gotten a lot more comfortable with "make."

Our Educator Innovator grant is focused on the concept of “make” and its connections to the ELA classroom.  In our minds, our students will become Hacktivists, hacking into materials and creating products that act on the world for social justice in some way.  At its core English Language Arts is about acting on the world.  Too often students see the course as reading literature that is completely disconnected from themselves and answering questions about it, or perhaps writing and essay about it.  They do not see the literature as examples of ways authors are acting on the world around them and they certainly don’t see their own writing (and making for us) as the literature of the classroom.  The concept of Hacktivism gives us a chance to make the acting on the world front and center in our classrooms.

But, as I planned the lesson for the stop action literary terms, I was struck by all that I was asking the students to do in about 40 minutes.  I was asking them to learn the stop action app (We used Lego Movie) choose materials from boxes of legos and play dough, define complex literary terms and then find ways to represent them in a stop motion video.  This seemed a bit overwhelming, but I really felt strongly about exposing them to the idea of Hacktivism, so I offered bonus points (always a good incentive) for anyone who could work in the Hacktivist angle.  What surprised me was the way in which the students lit up at the notion of Hacktivism.  Granted, this could have been because they were seniors and they have to have some sort of service angle in their senior exit project, but many of the students simply seemed excited about having an avenue to act on their worlds.

One group of students created the following video about the term deus ex machina.  In the video, not only do they resolve the conflict with an improbable event, (the moon falls from the sky and crushes the policeman) but they speak out against prejudice against non-traditional relationships through the interspecies relationship they represent in the video.

We posted all of the videos up to a shared private Google + site where the students could view and comment on one another's work.  The videos became the literature of the class and one of the avenues by which the students could see the literary devices in action.  They were also able to see one another acting on the world through the videos and comment on that aspect of the work.

For me, all of this hacking, making and learning comes back full circle to the notion of author's purpose and why the concept is so key to what we do in ELA classrooms - making our words.