No Stories Left Behind

    Will wrote a post recently that is
helping me to connect with a problem that might be beginning to stir in my
blog, as well as others.  He writes/asks:


I read lots of stories about kids who are getting it, even in Doug’s post,
where they are reading and writing and commenting and learning. You read Bud or
Clarence or
Vicki or any
number of others and there are stories that border on transformation. (In fact,
Vicki’s latest post is titled "My students inspire me as they
"get" Web 2.0.") But I don’t read much about the kids that
aren’t engaged. And I’m wondering to what extent that happens as well. And
further, I’m wondering to what extent they compare to the adult educators we’re
trying to teach about these tools who choose not to engage. The simple view is
that this is generational, that kids are more available to the tools because
they live in a connected world or because, well, they’re kids and more open to
new stuff than adults…but is it?


  I don’t think that it’s as simple as a generational thing.  I don’t
think Will thinks that, either, but I do understand where he’s coming
from.  Generation M is plugged in, right?  The rest of us are trying
to catch up. 
    Except that’s not true.  Will has something like two
decades of educational experience.  David Warlick has as much if not
more.  Barbara Ganley didn’t start teaching last week.  Other
teachers in the blogosphere are not new to teaching, but might be the early
adopters of new technologies in their schools, districts and/or
communities.  I’ve only been teaching for four years, so maybe much of Web
2.0 comes easily to me. 
    But that’s not why I’m writing tonight, even though the
question of why blogging is or isn’t for everyone is an important one, worthy
of lots of conversation by folks smarter than I.
    I’m writing because I see a potential problem developing in
and among the edublogosphere that is becoming more and more my professional
space. 
    A few months ago, my wife and I published, in English
Journal
, a column entitled, "Why I Despise Nancie Atwell" by Sarah
J.H. Brooks. (Note: The link requires a paid subscription to the journal for viewing.  Sorry.)  The well-written piece is about the author’s frustration
with best practice texts, specifically In the Middle, one of those books that
my generation of reading and writing teachers is and should be devouring in
preservice coursework.  She’s frustrated because she only sees the success
stories, and not the stuff that didn’t go so well.  Let me be clear: the Brooks’ piece is in no way a condemnation of Atwell’s work.  We need best practices texts, and Atwell’s text continues to inform my practice as a language arts teacher.
    But best practices don’t work for every teacher, in every classroom, on every day.
    Best practice texts are, largely, excellent attempts to
share and promote those lessons, activities, and philosophies that are, at
least in theory, "proven" to be successful in a variety of
educational contexts.  Best practice texts, written by exceptional
educators, have informed my practice, and will continue to do so.
    Many of the blogs that are in the sidebar to the right of
this post on my site are, in my humble opinion, some of the best practice texts
of using technology in education.  I value the good ideas and lessons that
my colleagues in the edublogosphere are sharing on a daily basis.   
    The only problem with best practice texts, too often at
least, is that they turn classrooms into Mickey Mouse spaces where all goes
well and there’s never any trouble.  Every student in these books finds
success in the classroom.  At least, that’s how the texts present
classrooms.
    Again, this is not universal; many good texts share failures
as well as successes, but not nearly enough. 
    I do not want this blog to become a text that misinforms as
it informs. Nor do I want to read blogs
that paint stories of success while ignoring the stories of students lost or
unsuccessful along the way.
    We aren’t
going to learn anything by merely telling half of the story. And omission, intentional or otherwise, may
blur the narrative.
    Now, I’m not saying that this is happening, but, as I
prepare to embark on a larger blogging project than I’ve ever undertaken, I
want to make a public reminder to myself to tell as much of the story as I can,
without shading or blurring information in any way. 
    And
I think it’s reasonable to ask that those of you who are also blogging to do
the same.
     I know many bloggers are doing just that.   I encourage them to keep it up.  Let’s make sure that Will, and all of the rest of us, aren’t missing the stories of those students not engaged by these technologies.

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Small Sticky Notes, Loosely Yarned

    My CSUWP colleague Megan Freeman and I are at the Colorado Language Arts Society Regional Spring Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado this weekend.  (Man — lots of capital letters in that sentence!)
    We’ll be presenting a session tomorrow on blogging and podcasting.  You might remember that I wrote about planning a presentation on blogging in a location where there will be few computers and no Internet access.  We’ll be showing off some solid educational blogs, but I really hate presentations that are lecture-y.  I like to do stuff.
    So, we’ll be having our participants creating their own blogs using masking tape, paper, sticky notes and yarn.  Here’s the plan:
    When folks arrive, they’ll be asked to do some freewriting about a current concern or problem for them in their classrooms.  We’ll give them some scratch paper.  Then, we’ll forget entirely about the writing and go through a brief introduction of blogs, podcasts, and RSS.  Very, very brief.  In ten minutes, I’ve got to define those three things and share several examples.  Megan will spend some time talking about Internet safety and the work she’s been doing with her poetry club.    (Go and read some of their poems.  Really.)
    It’ll be tricky.
    Then, we’ll be "publishing" everyone’s writing from earlier using the walls and the masking tape.  Participants will have the chance to check out the session "aggregator" by walking around the room and responding to posts by commenting on them (via the sticky notes). 
    The yarn is the part I’m most worried about.  Ideally, if our hunch is right, we’ll begin to see patterns in the texts that show up.  Connections, if you will.  Some posts will be connected by topic.  Others will be connected by the commenters who make connections.  The yarn will go up on posts that have some sort of connection to each other.  I’m hoping that folks will actually begin to see, in a tangible way, the web of connections formed by what they write and think and comment.  We’ll debrief that at the end of our session.  (And I’ll have a camera on hand to document the whole thing.  We’ll record the session, too.  Might be podcast worthy.  Might not be.)
    What do you think?  You’ve still got about fifteen hours to talk me out of it.  If the whole thing crashes and burns, we can at least listen to some good podcasts. 
    If only I had thirty spare computers and a reliable hotel Internet connection.  I bet Will’s got Wi-Fi.   Oh well, we’ll settle (tomorrow) for our sticky notes and yarn. 

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Our First Podcast

    Our first podcast is up over at OldeSchoolNews.  Melissa, our first student podcaster, did a great job of reading her profile of our school’s counselor.  She was very nervous, but ultimately very proud of what she accomplished. 
    More to come, I hope, as students begin to get their current round of writing finished.  The comment to the story is just why we’re publishing student work. 

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Want to Publish?

    Had a great first day with other teachers from other parts of the country.  We got right to work, though, in true Writing Project fashion — and I expect I’ll be quite tired by the end of the weekend. 
    Regular readers of this blog probably know that one of the major ideas behind the NWP is that the best teachers of writing are those that are writers themselves.  This teacher writing takes a number of forms, this blog being my primary writing environment.  Others write poetry, professional articles, keep journals, write fiction, etc.  But one end goal of writing is getting that work read, or published.  (I’ve been having some interesting conversations lately about whether or not publishing via blogs is really publishing.  What do you think?)
    Megan, one of the CSUWP‘s group of pretty amazing teacher consultants, has put together a really handy resource to help folks who are looking for places to publish.  Here’s a link to her three-page spreadsheet of literary journals that accept either poetry, or fiction, or both. 
    What other handy "Where do I get published?" resources do you know about?

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My Last Newspaper Column (For Now)

    A couple of weeks ago, I submitted my final newspaper column for the time being.  The newspaper is going to replace me with student writers, which is quite fine with me.  I’m a writing teacher — I love it when kids have something to say AND a place to say it.  The local newspaper is a great forum for students.  That said, though — if you need a weekly newspaper columnist, let me know.  I work cheap.
    Anyway, here’s the last piece.  Hope you enjoy it.
_________________

When I was
in high school, my father wrote me a letter out of the blue.

It was a short piece, a one-page
note about the excitement of the “adventure” that I was on (I was on a church
mission trip at the time, and was not told where we would be going or what we
would be doing until we arrived.). My
mother also wrote a letter, making for quite a special moment when I opened the
“care package” from home.

I still
have the letters in a box of treasures that I’ve kept from my childhood. I’ll always have them, because the words are
permanent, forever there on the paper for me to read and reread whenever I need
a reminder of that special time. I also
keep a collection of the letters and cards my wife has written for me. They are in a special place where I can reach
them whenever I want a reminder of special moments.

Writing is
a way to make a mark on the world and on the people and issues that we care
about. We write to share our
experiences, our questions, and ourselves. At school, we teach students the conventions of writing so that they can
communicate their thoughts, ideas, questions and experiences with whomever they
choose to share them.

December being
a month of gifts and giving, there is no better time to share your writing with
the people who are important to you. Here are a few prompts that you might use to complete a writing project for
someone special this holiday. Sit down
and try to get some writing done. You
might choose a night as a family to sit down together and write presents for
each other this year, or for family members in faraway places that can’t be
with you. Remember to use all of your
senses in your writing – each sense of taste, touch, smell, hearing and sight
can bring something special and memorable to your essays, stories, letters and
poems.

 

  1. Write about how your family spends the holidays. Who or what makes that time together special? What unique family traditions do you have? Ask someone who knows how they might have gotten started and write down what they tell you.
  2. Think about the places that you travel during this time of year. Who do you travel with? Where do you go? How do you get there? Have any crazy things happened during your travels? 
  3. In many families, holidays involve some pretty important shared meals. Write about a family meal that you remember as being exceptionally good or special or downright unusual. Was it the quality of the food? A special family dish or treat? Smells or tastes? Who was there to share the meal with you? What made it such a special or strange occasion?
  4. Put all of the names of your family members into a hat. Ask each family member to draw one name. Write about the family member that you’ve picked. What makes them unique or special in your family? What would you like to tell them that you’ve never had the time to say or share? Is there a special memory that you have that you would like to get down on paper? Take an hour as a family to write about each other.

Whatever topic you choose to write about, make sure that you
share your writing with your family. You
can publish in a variety of ways:

    • Send out the best family writing in a holiday letter or card.
    • Box  and wrap special pieces and give them as gifts.
    • Post all the writing on a family website. Share the website with friends and family all over the world.
    • Type up the good stuff, frame it, and hang it somewhere around the house where
            you will see it regularly.
    • Set  aside a corner of the fridge for your writing. Take turns being the “featured author” at home.

 

Take the time to write with your family. You will truly treasure the stories and
experiences that you have to share with one another.

 

Bud Hunt is on the board of the
Colorado State University Writing Project, teaches at

Olde Columbine High School in Longmont, Colorado,   and blogs at www.budtheteacher.com. Send e-mail to budtheteacher@gmail.com

 

 

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My Dream Blogger

    Dana posted recently, asking folks who their dream bloggers might be:

Who would you like to see start blogging?

I would love to see Jim Burke and Carol Jago
start blogging. Both have contributed so much interesting dialogue to
the field of English Education that I can’t see how they can fail to be
excellent bloggers. Of course, there is that sticky problem of how much
time they already devote to their careers…

    I followed the question into the comments and saw that someone had suggested Stephen King.  I pondered who I might like to see blogging and one name popped into my head almost immediately:  Robert Fulghum.
    Robert Fulghum was the writer that taught me that writers write because they’d like to have a conversation with you.  Writers write because they want to come into your home, sit with you, share a story, and then leave to think about what you talked about.  I love to read the man because I’ve always thought he seemed to so honestly tackle the topics he writes about.
    I could be dead wrong, but let me have my moment, okay?
    To get back to the matter at hand — I thought that I’d love to read a blog by Fulghum, so I did a quick search to see if he had one.
    He kind of does — albeit one without RSS.  But he’s worth visiting every now and again, just to check in.  The discovery was a nice surprise.
    Who else is worth checking in on from time to time?

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