Saturday, October 31, 2009

Collaborative 5M plus G project

Our collaborative digital writing project Thursday night was one of the most profound experiences I have ever had as a student. To begin, Candance brought images of soldiers to the group with the story of how she had seen all these young people in camouflage at the University and how she began to think about all those who would not return home from war alive or whole or innocent. Then someone told of hearing the news that President Obama had made a secret trip to Dover AFB that night to see the caskets of soldiers returning home and talk with the families who had come to greet them. Once the class digested this information, Candance then broke us up into random groups to design and produce six multimodal, multimedia, multigenre pieces. I honestly thought I could not do that, the pain in my gut was so intense--like a rock, I said--just due to the content.

My group of three included a woman who is my friend and shares many of my values about war and peace; she is also a 'smoother.' The other woman in my group is someone who I don't know except through her blog and class participation. It is a testimony both to the quality of the individuals who chose to participate in this class and the trust level that has been built as we struggle together that we were able to work through my recalcitrance. We came to a consensus about genre (a letter from a child to father about what is going on at home) and media (voice thread, which two of the three of us had struggled with for our last assignment) and how we would have three voices so each of us had ownership and input. And we did all this in an hour.

What was also amazing was the depth of every other group's responses to the challenge. The variety didn't surprise me; I expected that. And you could tell that some voices were very near the surface--a letter to a baby yet unborn by a new dad, another to a child explaining why mom isn't home for her first birthday, a postcard home. How moving the poetry of the piece on memories! And then, the Recipe for a Soldier, Entry #5, for which, the group explained, they deliberately found images of people from many different races and places. It is haunting and aching and beautiful and sad. A wonderful creation.

Thank you to whoever suggested we end the class with the voice thread about the Peace Garden Bridge on this blog as a transition to the outside world. I think it was good to end with hope.

I have been sharing the experience with everyone--my husband, my student teacher, my girlfriends at coffee this morning. Thank you, Candance, for giving us both the tools and the climate in which to use them, when some of our souls were being laid bare.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I was so excited to read this article; it articulates and echoes my experience as a teacher and even to some extent as a student. As I read the Unfinished Music #1--John poem, I flashed back to my sophomore English lit class at Gustavus. In an effort to be multi-cultural, I guess, we were reading Crime and Punishment. My emotional response was so deep that a regular essay wouldn't do, so I wrote poems about each of the main characters. The professor accepted them (I still had to write the essay, but it wasn't docked for being late). This certainly wasn't my first piece of authentic writing, nor was it deliberately multi-genre, but it is one that sticks in my mind until today.

As a writing teacher for intermediate age students, I encouraged students to explore writing in a variety of forms and used a variety of models with them. One form we used for several years was creative non-fiction about an animal. Students could choose from many styles such as picture and description, narrative plus details, or non-fiction text plus poems. For the teacher, was hard to keep track of what each student was doing--where in the writing process they were, authenticating their voices--after their research was done, but the final products were all keepsakes. I think this kind of project using visual storytelling tools would be even richer.

Another section I enjoyed was Interview with a Skeptic. I haven't read Billy the Kid, but Ondaatje is probably better known for The English Patient. This is one of the few movies that I saw before reading the book. The book was rich with poetry and deliberate ambiguity. I didn't finish it, it was too "maddening," as Romano suggests Ondaatje can be. Romano has me interested in reading Ondaantje. I remember reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and enjoying its lists of tools that read like poetry. And I still use a piece of advice the author gave his student who thought there was nothing to write about in the little college town: begin with one brick in the building across the road. Get down to the nitty gritty, the particular, the basic building block, then write your story.

I think that a digital component or two will enhance and make more real the multi-genre experience for today's students. Reading Romano, I get it.

Peace Garden Bridge Dedication I

Monday, October 26, 2009


I have jumped into a lot of technology and enjoyed playing the NING. However, I am being thwarted by some glitch in doing the voice thread, an activity which excited me a lot. I sorted through literally hundreds of photos, chose eight, decided on my purpose, wrote my narrative, revised my narrative, did several practice rounds, and then.... I couldn't get voice thread to record my voice! Fearing I would not get it done, I resorted to typing comments so I can post it in a timely fashion if I can't figure out how to record my voice. I've attached the microphone to every possible port; received messages that it was installed; updated my Adobe Flash; pressed record numerous times, but can't seem to make myself heard.

I see a lot of school applications for voice thread. There are some wonderful examples linked to the site. What an option for a book report! You could do multiple meaning words with each student giving sample sentences. You could use it to articulate with a social studies or science--vocabulary development as well as explaining experiments. And I love what peers have posted so far.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Digital writing in a summer tutorial

I really enjoyed reading the article, True Adventures of Mummies, Vampires and Schnauzers assigned for this week. Ms Solomon got to know her students at a more intimate level due to the small group situation; the digital writing gave the students an audience for composition other than 'just the teacher' and she used it to everyone's advantage. She really learned about 4 C's, however; Copyright was an important issue along with Composing, Computers, and Commotion. I also wonder how Murray or Donald Graves (see my first post) would feel about the "Commotion" aspect of digital writing. Digital writing involves active collaboration as well as individual creativity. That is different from traditional narrative or expository writing or even memoir, all of which can be done without direct input from other sources (people, videos, etc.)

Of course, the success which Ms Solomon felt and the reflection she was able to achieve were possible because she had only three students plus time after summer school to do her reflection without planning her next unit. Can you imagine negotiating this kind of activity with a classroom of 24 second or third graders without other adults and crash-proof technology? I am happy to read about this experience but feel caution about its widespread implementation.

Response to role-play

As you can tell if you've figured out who my character is, I am really enjoying the NING role-play. It's good to hear so many voices, not just teacher voices, on the NING. I love the teens and the overachieving Luddite mama as well as those characters who are sharing research. It's affirming when someone responds to my comments. The role I chose, school board member, allowed me to comment on many postings. Sometimes I would challenge the posting, sometimes agree, and sometimes ask questions hoping to further the conversation. I was able to bring in some of my research, but I really appreciate what others brought to the role-play. Sometimes I have to recheck profiles or miss a relevant response in time for my character to respond, but it's been fun. It has also been very time-consuming since one doesn't know when who will respond to--or initiate--a discussion. Sometimes it's hard to follow a discussion because it's not clear where it gets posted, but that's a technical type of glitch.

I have used role-plays much like other teachers, both to work through social situations in the classroom and to enhance curriculum. My sense from our role-play is that adding the computer as communication vehicle is a step away from the community that is possible in a classroom. It's great for us to do 'at home' or 'on our own time' as adults, but I'm not sure I would advocate this use of digital media at the elementary level yet. However, the research presently going on in Sweden might change my mind.(thank you to Becky for this link).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Checking the Blogs

Inspired in part by the fancy blog that Janice found, I began looking for ESL blogs. I haven't found anything that comes close to inspiration for me. There's a very attractive blog by Daniella Munca , but her students are young adults and she herself is a university professor. Michelle's blog is obviously for and by older students. Most of the other links I looked at were teacher pages--lists of tips or websites or commercials for programs--rather than classroom based. I suppose I could look further.

I did check out the list of Edina teacher websites that Molly Schroeder listed in her recent email to staff. Pat and Wally at Highlands included this link to Common Sense Media which cautions parents about children's internet use of social networking sites. Many of the sites had links to newsletters and some had homework postings. Most did not include students' work or input. I guess a lot of us are at a novice level in this new digital world.

(Updating on Sunday, October 4): Not a blog, but a really cool integrated classroom project in St. Paul can be found on You Tube. Students were studying 'bug haiku' by Japanese poet Issa, learning Japanese, learning about insects, playing with millipedes, acting out poems, creating art and animation, and so much more.