Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 31, 2011

the leaves have fallen

       but a few remember

the sun will draw

them forth anew

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The One to Go To

PS. I'll add this at the top in case any reader doesn't know that I am an enthusiastic advocate for all things NWP. My comments are not intended to be critical of the fine conferences hosted by NWP but as speculation about what might be shaped ahead.

On November 8, a general NWP Tech Liaison email appeared in my inbox that prompted me to think/respond.  It probably pushed some buttons because the annual meeting of the National Writing Project was days away and my decision not to attend was rumbling about, stirring up trouble like “what are conferences good for anyway?”  The emailed question asked: “If there was one technology conference that you could go to, which one would it be?” 

Perhaps the external questioner opened the gate for my internal debate to get out.  While I believe authentic expression depends more on inner musing than any external prompt, the coincidence of an outsider’s wonder with the personal interrogation can drag a reluctant witness forward.  Real writing reveals, and maybe I didn’t want to expose my motivations for not attending this week’s professional conference.

Meanwhile on the email stream, several respondents immediately posted helpful specifics.  ISTE ( ) and DML ( appeared with strong recommendations.  Mention was made of a conference on Computers and Writing: .  And an online conference ( was noted.

Because within me a certain discontent with traditional conferences had been brewing for some time, I wanted to push the envelope a bit further.  So I posted a email to the listserv:

   Over a decade about a decade ago, I regularly attended a summer conference that spoiled me; the traditional conference at professional meeting lost appeal.  The alternative conference lasted a week in camp settings and fused story, poetry, and other arts giving time to converse with each other and fostering an interactive embodiment in stark contrast with the anti-agency (in the rhetorical sense) effect of traditional conferences. 
   Special gifts from those moments included building the predawn fire as William Stafford, a few others, and I wrote what we might later share in a workshop.  We listened to Coleman Barks, Naomi Shihab Nye, Galway Kinnell, and others recite their poems from memory; but also Naomi and I conversed while watching our young boys play, Galway and Fran Quinn assigned me a Yeats poem to memorize, and Coleman whispered secrets.  Gioia Timpanelli mentored us in the art of storytelling in ways that still infuse my practice and capacity to enact the truth of story.  While expertise and authority were honored, the authenticity of personal, situated knowing was carefully nurtured.
   For me, the day of reading papers about “research on” is dead and my intention is to no longer support the practice because it perpetuates privilege and denies situated knowing, collaboration, and social justice that mark today’s exigence.  I wonder if one legacy of NWP might be to constitute a meaningful educational space that offers a praxis (along the best of Freire’s lines) conference where liberatory education with digital media happens.  Perhaps that conference is being offered but I suspect the one I’d attend has to be created.

This post was followed with a response that I find very interesting:
Some Canadian friends and colleagues did something along the lines of what you're talking about over the summer:
Seemed useful for them.  And while I love the idea of a physical event, I wonder if we, or some folks like us, could cobble together an informal conversation or working group or something via the web tools at our disposal - some sort of longer, intentional and specific conversation/event/happening around the important elements of our practice(s).  What might such a thing, done cheaply and reasonably and "virtually" look like?  We who live in virtual spaces might could begin to inhabit them more fully, together, on purpose and with intentionality.  

I’m strongly drawn to this cobbling together.  Let’s consider why we’d want a conference.  Three reasons for attending a professional conference come to mind: 1) work incentives, 2) travel/recreation, and 3) personal/professional learning.  I’ve prioritized each of these at different times. The three overlap, of course; they vary in legitimacy and exigence from year to year, and all merit consideration.  My interest has moved primarily into the third category.  And perhaps my priority at this time better fits a “retreat” than a “conference”; at risk of oversimplification, I’m wanting a space to share vision more than to publish accomplishment.

Another distinction that’s very important to me concerns the nature of knowing and the connected question of method.  I’m resistant to the sage-on-the-stage design for professional learning because it risks contradiction with the essential locus of authority and responsibility for knowing which I believe to be gnosis.  Knowing is situated, and each individual has ultimate responsibility for discovering and articulating the responses to important questions and decisions.

At the same time as this individual locus, access to knowing often depends on interaction with others.  Reflection, mirrors, modeling, rehearsal, and companionship are all part of the method.  While I value highly the electronic network’s amazing offerings for my professional/personal learning with the amazing access from my home office (and its proximity to my horse), I also acknowledge my need and desire to engage in physical spaces which enhance potential for experiencing the “word incarnate.”  Spending a week around William Stafford let me conclude that he did walk his talk and increased my sense of the being of a fierce pacifist. 

If we are intent on living into our cultural inheritance in terms of collaboration (see Brian Boyd’s On the Origin of Stories) as a positive movement beyond domination and isolation, methods that presume ownership and privileged objectivity should be subordinated to designs that share process and value inclusivity.  Traditional publication, both in print and in conference, have not and do not tend to advance collaboration; merit systems in higher education also perpetuate the cult of the individual and the limits of presumed objectivity.

Even our creativity reshapes when we move imagination and composing into a sphere not constrained by the old paradigm of top-down control (even within the individual).  The musical composer Brian Eno explores this brilliantly:
What we're not so used to is the idea that another great gift we have is the talent to surrender and to cooperate.  Cooperation and surrender are actually parts of the same skill.  To be able to surrender is to be able to know when to stop trying to control.  And to know when to go with things, to be taken along by them. 

How do we compose a collective space where we can support each other in our re-visioning, in our profession, and in our movement toward a more just world?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Shifting Paradigms from Tech to Teach

The image shown above is borrowed from my National Writing Project colleague, Troy Hicks.  He credits the image to Evernote:
I love the spirit of play invoked by the storyboard.  Troy has generously shared this morning his “Five paradigm shifts for K-12 Education” in an on-line audio/video presentation and he invited "backchannel":

Troy’s five distinctions that you'll find in his presentation articulate very important movements necessary if educators are going to seize the day offered by digital media.  In this moment as economic and motivational pressures make almost inevitable a change from print to wired, our profession stands increased risk of an embarrassing and unfortunate replication of “same-old.”  For example, back-lit e-books can be produced and taught like musty re-used textbooks, and smartboards are often simply free of chalkdust.  

If educators are to act as professionals in this crucial time, we must transform.  A fundamental paradigm shift essential to the five named by Troy requires letting go of the rule by dominant authorship (owning & dispensing knowledge) and leaping for an embodiment of shared authority.  It's the kind of leap one makes for a trapeze high in the trees in a ropes course. This leap also requires that we face up to and give up our underlying distrust of authority.  Our children and learners of all ages are in desperate need of leaders who teach from integrity that embodies knowing in our whole beings (mind&body&heart) and that flows from an articulated “felt sense” of the goodness (work&play)of shared authority.

What I’m calling “embodiment of shared authority” exists outside the experiential knowing of most teachers, I believe, because our schooling (including home, church, & workplace) has not regularly engaged us in the feel of positive authority.  Most of what I know of positive authority comes from being coached in horsemanship where power relationships are magnified sufficiently to be articulated and reworked/replayed until harmony and balance are accomplished and named.  It's so important that with the size of the horse’s body and heart and with wise coaching, I could practice as long as necessary to develop “a feel” for good work. 

To my knowledge, in English Education, the prime example of this kind of knowing comes in Sondra Perl’s work on Felt Sense, drawn from Eugene Gendlin’s Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning.   I believe quality work in digital media depends on this kind of felt sense instead of the kinds of knowing that have been and remain hegemonic.

Although we have denounced the funnel-model of transmitting knowledge for a long time, most teachers still feel vulnerable when they are not pre-planned and positioned as expert, when they don’t own pre-made information that can be leveraged “this will be on the test” the way a harsh bit or spurs “motivates” and de-spirits a horse.  Given the accountability madness of politicians and administrators, teachers are at risk for trying to shift paradigms.  Our children are at risk if we don't.

When teachers, often bravely, attempt a more democratic approach to knowledge, I see group activities that feature opinion-giving where any supported statement is relatively valued and/or simulated reproductions of previously discovered knowledge. This happens often in the development of ethical and cognitive development (see William Perry), but we can't stop there.  If we allow stagnation in the "all opinions are equal" stage, we are fermenting a disbelief, sometimes a cynicism, about powerful constructivist knowledge.

Given these obstacles, it’s not surprising that teachers are fearful around leaping into the paradigm allowed by Web2.0 & collaborative discovery.  Mistakes mark the pathway in this paradigm.  

What a challenge we face!  What an opportunity!

Friday, October 14, 2011

National Day of Writing

Some wonders swell up inside so that a single flow of word by word threatens to explode.  I want a multiple canvas like the dazzling array of autumn leaves, fledglings from their summer nest, swirling with these rhythms of gentle rain before and behind, playing in the subtly moist scent, and beckoning with the foggy light framed by crisscrossing tree trunks at the farther reach.  But after a brief multi-sensory indulgence, I’ll settle down to distill a few lines.

Why Not Write

The pre-dawn blessing whether mist
or stardust pitter-patt across the tin
roof, the meadows, seacoasts, wherever
the pattern of our lives’ promises lies.

Our dog dances begging breakfast while
our destiny twinkles hope, composing.:
Will we write peace today?  Will love
letters mark our shape in morning light?

Some friends are promoting a National Day of Writing for October 20, 2011 and others ask what might we do in our classrooms.  I believe in little more than integrity so I write myself and count my blessings:  1) a room with a view of seasonal splendor, 2) the luxury of stolen moments, 3) a quiet space where falling leaves whisper secrets and stars still make constellations, 4) the marriage of rich experiences and multiple literacies, 5) friends who care to listen . . .

Friends at the National Writing Project, NCTE, and the New York Times Learning Network share suggestions for writing toward and on this National Day.  These include:

Monday, September 12, 2011

Art Animates

In his conclusions regarding the development of cognition, including the role of story, Bryan Boyd (On the Origin of Stories) summarizes: “We instinctively make learning enjoyable for children by making it social, by making it play, and by making it art, by appealing to the cognitive preferences that art animates” (p. 407).

If we applied ourselves to our capacity along these lines, classroom management issues would be sufficiently attended, perhaps even extending all the way to the best we can do about world peace.

The lesson from yesterday’s ride flitted in, midway through, as most insight comes, by accident or grace, depending on how we name it.  I’d been asking for simple quality, requesting flexion to the inside, wanting the soft and light lift instead of the resistant pull.  We’ve been around enough times to know that lightness comes from a light touch, not from heavy-handed demand; but when the request yields no change, we’re told to make it clear, with the stick if necessary. 

Playing that pattern, our ride deteriorated: stronger requests produced stronger resistance.  Perhaps I tired and simply asked gently and mindlessly asked gently again, forgetting the dictated pattern that called for a stronger demand.  I woke up finding a softer bend.   Perhaps I also realized that after the first request, I’d checked myself and corrected my slumped shoulder before asking gently again. 

While I was not being coached during this ride, I’d been in conversation an hour before when the effects of our unintended cues, like dropped shoulders, had been articulated.  Maybe those echoes penetrated the formulaic and opened the grace of the immediate.

So I worked a new pattern:  0) get proper preparation, 1) ask gently, 2) if the desired response doesn’t happen, check myself and make corrections, 3) ask gently again.  Boyd says that art and the development of consciousness value pattern as well as novelty and creativity. The quality of our ride changed.  We suffused with satisfaction. 

A few minutes before, I’d almost called it a day.  We would have missed the animation, the restorative gift of artistic expression.  Perhaps the animating powers of art wait patiently for a release of old patterns held too tightly.  Perhaps the insistent preference for light, held with respect, plays about a breath away.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Breaking Horses and Corporate Take-Over of Schooling

 A few days ago, I received a message that prompted me to pull together some musings.  With Ann-Marie’s permission I’m copying her message and then sharing my response.

Hi Joseph,

Watching the movie Secretariat got me to thinking, and perhaps you are the best person to answer this esoteric, philosophical, spiritual question.

Given all of the characteristics of a thoroughbred racehorse, including a dominant personality, how does the rider get it to stop or redirect its efforts?
In the movie, I noticed that it takes a certain type of rider to ride a racehorse.  The owner had to find the right rider (personality type) for the horse.  But what happens to the horse when it's past its prime for racing, but still wants to race?  What happens if one of them - either the rider or the horse - loses the drive to race and the other does not?  How do you redirect such a horse, especially if racing is all it’s ever known?

Will redirecting a horse break its spirit, even if to continue at high performance poses risks?  Is there a way to reduce the drive for high performance without breaking its spirit, or is this an impossibility?

Let me know, thanks.


Dear Ann-Marie,

What wonderful questions you are asking!  Most are beyond my resources to answer in a direct way.  In saying that, voices (probably from students) get stirred up, mumbling about me, “you don’t go in direct ways anyway.”  To address those voices, I will first indicate some sources related to the questions at the concrete, literal level; for example, what happens to thoroughbreds taken off the track and what’s involved in “breaking” a horse?  Then I’ll move into the wondering at the deeper-level because that’s what really connects me with horses, and I suspect that’s where your questions are rooted, and because that’s where the “esoteric, philosophical, spiritual” realm invites us.  Horses, in a literal-symbolic dialectic, provide a magnetic field and a powerful mirror, even a magnifying lens, for going further into the “meaning of life”: how to engage the spirit-filled race, how to keep alive fire in the belly, joie de vivre, carpe diem . . .

If I were to focus on the surface on your questions, I might point to a couple of organizations and their work. 
  •     The Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation ( ) funds a number of programs for “retired” racehorses. 
  •     Lynn Reardon recently wrote about her journey in tending such horses.  My review of her book is noted at .  Lynn’s story tells of her move from the DC corporate world to her heart’s work in Texas, near Austin, where she transitions horses from racing to other work/play.
  •      Closer to home, you can find Jo Deibel at Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue ( ). 
  •      Books featuring the term “horsemanship” explore the connections with horses that respect their spirit.  A few I’d recommend are: 1) Tom Dorrance. True Unity: Willing Communication between Horse and Man.  2) Ray Hunt. Think Harmony with Horses: An In-Depth Study of Horse/Man Relationship.  3) Robert Miller & Rick Lamb. The Revolution in Horsemanship & What it Means to Mankind.

One reason why I can’t approach your specific questions more directly is that I’m not attracted to the horse racing industry (nor to any of the competitive structures that seem to me to treat the horse as more of an object than as a respected partner).  A horse offers a human a relationship and a rare opportunity for telescopic insight.  For me, tending this relationship in the discipline of dressage gives the clearest and most profound access to engagement with power in a positive sense. 

Although some complain that I don’t answer their questions directly, I believe I’m simply  going toward the essential question.  The hard questions are accessed through symbolic processes, “mirrors,” and that’s the kind of work/play I seem given to do.  Like many others, including CG Jung (who titled his autobiography Memories, Dreams, Reflections instead of Concrete Details about My Life), I often find the symbolic more real than the literal. 

The essential questions end up at “g/God.”  I use quotation marks because I believe it’s presumptuous to claim to know the ultimate source, and yet we’re given “spirit,” given the drive to know, and given freedom to search (or not) and to explore knowing in multiple ways.  Strange even to me, the horse seems my best venue, opening ways of knowing (including gnosis) that are relatively closed in our culture’s dominant operationalizing of knowing.

And it seems to me that even through seeing a horse-movie, you’re asking the “g/God” questions.  Any contemporary teacher who is more than semi-conscious must face the spirit questions in witnessing the broken-spirited or at least dulled-out spirits in the classroom.  What happened to those exuberant pre-schoolers?  Your questions about redirecting the fire of a racehorse mirror the agony of educators who despair the strangling of schooling.

As indicated at the outset, I suspect what’s stirring up these questions runs considerably deeper than the surface.  The place I’d move into this swirl involves the opportunity I’ve come to treasure in relating to a horse.  I’ve learned that when I go to see Leg’cy, our relationship takes precedence over performance; this mostly invisible connection must be tended even as our workout demands technical precision:  inside leg to outside hand, shoulder up and back, foreward seatbone on, relaxed lower back, heels down . . .  The discipline of this work/play calls for our best attempt at being impeccable and demands a commitment to move toward perfection.  We aim not at winning any competition other than doing the best we can.  The parallels with conducting the good life present themselves again and again.

If a horse has a healthy desire to run, perhaps to win, as the Secretariat movie spins the story, I’d see several options including letting it run free with other fast horses.  As just mentioned, however, horses are magnificent mirrors and sometimes humans project their desires.  The horse’s size and strength magnify the mirroring, thereby offering opportunity for the human to gain insight into shadowed perceptions and understandings, especially concerning power, trust, relationship; in short, to living the passionate life even amid continuous change and redirection.  I believe a horse often desires to please a human and goes into battle, over jumps, or into other competitions in a form of trust even when the results may be harmful.

Living into any purposeful relationship with as much fidelity, respect, and integrity as we can muster leads us to insight and appreciation for our particular natures and for time/space characteristics.  It’s easy to call these particulars “limitations,” but perhaps that word choice along with its meaning limits the appreciation for who we are.  Even as perfection eludes achievement, perfecting is a way of life.

So, concluding with your initial questions: yes, the drive to race can be re-directed and without breaking the spirit.  In my view and experience, racing is not the constant but points toward the inner fire that compels one toward perfecting.  In order to do this, the mirror and the coach are invaluable.  Perhaps some can walk the path of perfection alone, but I find good teachers and learners of inestimable value.  A good horse and it’s even better.

Best wishes,

Friday, July 1, 2011

Are Teachers at the Edge?

First off, I’ll freely acknowledge that my perspective might be due to age and my preferred view of peaceful landscapes and deep woods; nevertheless, I’m compelled to voice a concern for the well-being of the people who hold the future in their hands: our teachers.  In taking the temper of K-12 teachers around the end of school year 2010-2011, I’m sensing the edge of breakdown and detecting signs that it’s more widespread than I’ve felt in about fifty years.  The political climate with massive layoffs, funding cuts, and accountability attacks weigh heavily in the polluted atmosphere; and the extended fear tactics that desiccate our overall environment, especially for the decade since 9/11, should alert us to a weakened resilience in persons in extended stressful conditions, like those of most classroom teachers.

Given this perspective on the threatened and precarious state of so many dear folks in key positions involving international security (yes, classroom teachers), I’m prompted to reconsider my planning for the next school year.  As director of the University of Maryland Writing Project, as teacher educator, and as concerned citizen of our global village, I’m wondering about prioritizing the “greening” of teachers.  Regarding our summer programs, increasing numbers of educators reluctantly dropped out with hesitant “excuses” that I took as valid reasons for taking care of themselves; the beautiful faces of those who showed up anyway appear to cover a fragile, stressed interior.  Our time together is no less sweet, no less profound, and no less promising for extending the miraculous work done by caring teachers; but the need for more frequent visits to the water of life seems urgent.  I want to put on our calendar and make accessible Educator R&R.

Contemporary R&R, in contrast, sometimes has the nutritional value of a Smokey Bar. Renewal wants more than Friday-Night Lights, extra sleep, and brain-deadening media; we must offer better nurturance than fast food and TGIF happy-hour stupor.  I’m not attacking chocolate and coffee equivalents that get a person by.  I am asserting that the sub-strata of emotional, mental, and physical health must be attended.  I wonder how many persons who are dangerously out of balance, even teetering on the edge, are aware of it.  Do they know anything better? Perhaps some have lost touch with the feel of holistic good health.

I’m not just talking regular organic granola bars either.  High-quality professional development stays on the menu.  For example, I’m underlining Katie Wood Ray’s distinction of writing as teachers-of-writing (somewhat different from writing as writers) for our program.  We’ll still do our teacher inquiry workshops.

At moments of burn-out, however, I believe we need more than professional development and pedagogical reflection.  My teachers may require something restorative in a way somewhat different from the intensive institute, the star-studded professional conference, and the Saturday Seminar. 

We must contact the wellspring, write for our lives, right our lives; and that may mean making silence in sanctuary spaces, making poetry in communal moments, and laughing, of course.  More than our usual “enough to get by” can be added to our calendar. 

I know I’m not creating the wheel; writing retreats happen.  Let’s prioritize them, cultivate them, infuse them with our love and get our teachers to them.  In our National Writing Project communities with shared values, particularly the commitment to social justice, we already have a vital resource for restoring and maintaining balance.  Let’s commit to caring for our national, global treasure.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Making Meaning. Part 6: Sample of Process Work

Part 6. Sample of process work.

Our draft:
My first thought was I’m about to die like Daniel in the lion’s den.   As the mind drifted away, my body thrashed weightless, a snowflake in a gust of hot breath.  The shark’s teeth flashed lightning and the waves crashed thunder.  From some alien space, muffled cries of my rescuers flittered, fading fireflies in the night.  Even then, arms reached out to me, beacons of hope, drawing me, most of me, into the lifeboat.

This post is Part 6 of "UMdWP 1st Day Summer 2011 on Glogster.

Making Meaning. Part 5: Contextual information.

Part 5: Contextual information.

Our opening workshop for the University of Maryland Writing Project’s summer program offered important insights into the challenges of making meaning.  Cory fashioned her workshop from her engagement with Harvard’s Project Zero (footnote 1), especially involving “artful thinking” and figurative language.

In fine workshop fashion, she took us into the experience that was similar to what her 4th graders do but that was translated so that we were doing the learning, not just hearing about it or role-playing as if we were nine-year-olds.  The work of art was the same one that her students studied: John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark (1778).   She led us step by step through guided practice in which we followed routines from Artful Thinking.  This included noting visual details, describing them in similes, translating selected similes into metaphors, and drafting a memoir.  She used think-pair-share in leading this activity.

During the discussion, I was stunned with my partner’s comment about the value of this activity for her elementary students.  She pointed out that they often had great difficulty making sense of metaphors when reading and that if they went through this step by step construction of a metaphor first, they would then be much more likely to read poetry with meaning and perhaps even with pleasure instead of failure and frustration.  This artful thinking routine moves from description which emphasizes what the composer knows, goes into comparison which while involving unlike objects still works in the known, and thus scaffolds the construction of metaphor so the initiate grasps the mystery of layering same and different together.  Emily Dickinson comes in range: “Touch lightly nature’s sweet Guitar/unless thou know’st the Tune. . .” (~1876, #1389).

This post is Part 6 of "UMdWP 1st Day Summer 2011 on Glogster.

[1] Information on Project Zero can be found at: ; artful thinking at: and ; and figurative language at: .

Making Meaning. Part 3: Transcript for XtraNormal Video

Part 3: Transcript

(If you had any difficulty making meaning of the video, try looking at the transcript.  A couple of notes about the text are shown at the end.)

Watson: Hey Sharky, do you see the Towers of London sticking up all over the Harbor of Havana?

Sharky: My dear Watson, why get distracted by the periphery of our canvas? You don’t have to search out something new all the time.  What is spotlighted?

Watson: Hmm. My naked body and my eyes looking back at you?

Sharky: Yes, it’s elementary.  And by using your two routines what did you learn?

Watson: Leona said her students have trouble reading metaphors.  Like if Ravitch* says teachers are robots, they’d go huh?  But if they made their own comic following Cory’s step by step going thru what they see, what it’s like

Sharky: That would be basic similes.

Watson: Yes and then making them into metaphors.

Sharky: I see and why would teachers be robots

Watson: Because they’re given a script to teach to the test.

Sharky: And what’s wrong with that.

Watson: Hmm. Let me put it this way: it’s like what happens when a person’s exuberant swim in the Caribbean gets ravaged by shark teeth.  The love of learning is damaged or killed.  Teaching to tests is deadly.

Sharky: I see you’ve learned my methods well, Watson.

Watson: Actually, Sharky, it was more about getting passionate about Web2.0’s paradigm of learning.

*Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing & Choice Are Undermining Education. 
See also:

This post is Part 3 of "UMdWP 1st Day Summer 2011 on Glogster.

Making Meaning. Part 2: Remembering the Struggle

Part 2: Remembering the struggle.

View the short video and note any places where you feel confused.  This activity might increase awareness of the difficulty that are obstacles for developing readers and English language learners.  From this increased awareness, we can better plan instruction that will increase success. 

Some of the possible difficulties include: 
1) Decoding the sounds due to the computerized speech or the speaker’s dialect. 
2) Lack of prior knowledge. 
3) Lack of contextual background.
4) Unclear allusions.

This post is Part 2 of "UMdWP 1st Day Summer 2011 on Glogster.

Making Meaning. Part 1: Introduction.

Part 1: Introduction

Expert performance depends on developing multiple routines, with lower-level operations functioning “on automatic,” so that conscious attention focuses  on more complex operations and on fine-tuning adjustments.  Expert readers often forget the subordinated functions that enable them to extract accurate meaning from a text.  Reading depends on 1) selecting the correct phoneme for a letter like “c” that has multiple possibilities, 2) deciding which of the acceptable definitions of a word fits with the context, and 3) figuring out figures of speech, allusions, ironies, and many other subtasks.  A good teacher remembers the basic operations and finds ways to assist would-be readers who are struggling.

This post is Part 1 of "UMdWP 1st Day Summer 2011 on Glogster.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Curating #EngChat on Unlocking Adolescent Literacy

Curating Twitter’s #EngChat Archive (6/13/11) on Unlocking Adolescent Literacy
Moderators: Kylene Beers & Bob Probst.  
Archive available at: 

Presuming to “curate” this chat: Joseph McCaleb (@dochorsetales)

     Twitter at its best refines all the stuff that’s out there; at its worst, it proliferates an already overwhelming overload of verbiage, word-garbage.  In my estimation, the construct of “curation” assumes significance in relation to the need to sift the volume effectively and efficiently.  The construction of meaning has long (perhaps forever) marked the edge of human consciousness and civilization.  Looked at constructively, Twitter pushes this edge and offers a playground or workshop to practice curation.
     As Twitter-users shape this new public forum, practice comes in several ways.  First, participants choose persons and hashtags to follow in order to manage the flow.  We also mark distinctions with RT (retweeting), like, and block. 
     “Chat” particularly pushes the need to curate due to the speed and volume of relatively disconnected messages.  Unless managed, the disorganized pattern of input produces a kind of dizziness (as noted by Probst at the end of this #EngChat session).  Despite its disorganized character and the resultant dizziness, many participants also note the value of the chat.
     I sometimes cope with this richness of confusion by skimming during the live chat, possibly throwing in one or two tweets, but mostly waiting for the archive.  In the case of Unlocking Adolescent Literacy, I found a considerable number of tweets and topics that were particularly provocative.  Without planning to do so, I seemed to curate for myself and since the heritage of that construct includes sharing, I decided to put my selection, sorting, and occasional commenting in a semi-public space.  I’ve moved tweets into categories that contributed to the construction of meaning that I found useful.  Of course, other curators would and should do this quite differently.  (**For resources on "curation" see the end of this post.)

On defining “Next” Practice as preferred to “Best” Practice

@KyleneBeers Bob & I have been talking about "accepted practices," "best practices," & next practices. What next practices are important?
@KyleneBeers @leslie_salley We don't talk enough about next practices; best practices are about what HAS worked; Next is about what will work
@KyleneBeers  Next practices, by definition, will fail and as we get better at them they will eventually become a best practice
@hrmason @CBethM @KyleneBeers Have to create the env. where failure is acceptable. Goes against they're hearing abt education right now.

@BobProbst @feministteacher --"Next" practice is untested, experimental, likely to be inadequate at first but with potential to grow.

@budtheteacher @kylenebeers @bobprobst I think we miss too many of the basics - doing good work is never old fashioned or out of style

Suggestions for best next practices

@spillarke @kylenebeers One next practice in my own classroom would be digital fluency--fluency using digital tools much like reading fluency
@mrspal next practices would be digital literacy in writing, collaborating & reading
@budtheteacher @KyleneBeers Too often, folks rush the digital and forget the good.
@KyleneBeers @spillarke  Yes to digital fluency. Fluency allows for a degree of automaticity & that allows more ability to cope with complexity.
@KyleneBeers @williamkist  Interesting next practice--that type of writing that encourages that fluid of thinking. Like it.

@MaryAnnReilly @KyleneBeers Next practices, like that so much better than "better". Focusing on composing as a way of being in the world

@mrspal   next practices would be digital literacy in writing, collaborating & reading 

@LindaReed Next practices-creating and sharing new thinking with those outside of your sphere of influence.

@katyvance  I think one of the best examples of "next practices" in literacy today is the idea of transliteracy def on left

@williamkist @KyleneBeers Helping kids with learning to write in an online (screen-based) format (with hyperlinks) should be a next practice.

On Storytelling as a best next practice (extended into digital media)

@erinneo I'm changing next year to a model of storytelling to improve literacy. I think 'hearing' the story is important but getting lost
@erinneo @spillarke @maryannreilly I think an important question to ask students is if they are ready to take their own story seriously.

@BobProbst @erinneo--Most people like being read to. Storytelling and reading aloud capture many kids who think they don't like reading

@erinneo @BobProbst Hearing a story told well is a powerful experience, and I think a skill that can/should be taught.

@padgets  there are some really great websites to help students bring stories to life like Story Creator 2

@gmfunk @erinneo @BobProbst I teach oral interpretation (storytelling) in speech.

@cybraryman1 My Story Telling page (+ Digital Story Telling page):

@gmfunk @KyleneBeers Part of being good storyteller is thinking about the audience's understanding. Composing story to be understood

[Tweets I could have offered on this topic:
@dochorsetales Recommend Origin of Stories (B. Boyd) to connect narrative w/ social justice (evolving human capacity for cooperation)
@dochorsetales Recommend all of Vivian Paley (eg Wally’s Stories) for rich text of a masterful teacher telling (w/ exquisite narrative) power of narrative in classroom community ]

MaryAnnReilly Let's not forget that text can mean many things. I think photovoice is a fab way to build a comm set of texts
Just need a camera (phone will do). Cd post as a set on flickr.
@MaryAnnReilly @PaulWHankins sending them home w/ a camera to document an aspect of their lives & combining those images into a class text, is:)
@MaryAnnReilly @gmfunk Photovoice seeks to put cameras in the hands of ord people 2 document their lives. Shooting Back on Reservation" is an ex.
@MaryAnnReilly @judyjester Caroline Wang's work. here's a link I have used it a lot as a teacher.

@RdngTeach @clix Students could choose Animoto, MovieMaker or Photostory.

@RdngTeach @MaryAnnReilly Something so powerful when kids use words, pics and music to convey meaning.

@techielit  I plan on using for book trailers. I like that I can host Jaycut on my class website - easy for students.

@GreggGraham Agree w/ @PaulHankins IMO, storytelling - a human universal - is the foundation upon which we build student's literacy.

On Mirrors (&Windows)
@Shamlet @erinneo @spillarke @maryannreilly It's important to make texts mirrors, so kids can see the reflection of their own story
@spillarke Exactly Right! RT @shamlet: It's important to make texts mirrors, so kids can see the reflection of their own story
@PaulWHankins @BobProbst This group is primed to the three way mirror approach to literacy: looking back, looking in, and looking forward.

@MaryAnnReilly When selecting a range of texts for a class to choose from, impt to remember mirror & windows. Representation matters.
@MaryAnnReilly Voice happens alongside choice.
@MaryAnnReilly @feministteacher essay can be the underlying script to a game. It can Pine Point.

@maricelignacio Completely agree! RT @writer #engchat spoken word poetry often mirrors thinking in essay so we gather and reread & dig in then write our own

My note: As with any human activity, storytelling and storytellers are not automatically good.  Narrative can be used distract and manipulate.  Out of semi-consciousness or more evil motives, persons tell stories that do not resonate with truth or morality. The need for clean windows and mirrors is huge.  And this has always presented a major task for education.  The efforts to privatize and de-professionalize teaching escalate the crisis.

What is Adolescent Lit:
@RdngTeach @PaulWHankins I agree it is connections, but I also think adol lit is where it becomes about making those bog world connections
@RdngTeach @PaulWHankins I think adol lit is also where it focuses more heavily on those "big world" connections

@KyleneBeers  Novels named: Giver, Hatchet, Outsiders, Terabithia, Watsons, Bud, Not Buddy, Among Hidden, Holes, Riding Freedom, Tuck Evlastingand Maniac Magee and Esperanza Rising
@BobProbst @PaulHankins @KyleneBeers Ad Literacy is in part an ability to change your mind as a result of reading and talking.
@BobProbst @KyleneBeers Think we need focus on ad litrcy because beliefs and attitudes grow ossified in those years. Kids need to stay open.

@PaulWHankins: To awaken adolescent literacy, we must affirm how our students are already literate. Hard to find voice if convinced you're dumb.

@mardieteach @RdngTeach I've been thinking a lot about teacher's intuition: Ability to make those decisions on a moment to moment basis

@AtlTeacher @hrmason @ecarboni here's a discussion board my students created on goodreads with their independent novels

@MaryAnnReilly @judyjester I ask Ss to document what literacy means at beginning & end of course. Changes r significant.

Other assorted interesting items

@MaryAnnReilly Negotiating curriculum. Composing ourselves. Priveliging w "talking" with variety of languages

@KyleneBeers  Seems we need to use some of the writing lang w/ reading--we ask students to revise writing; can ask to revise understanding

@BobProbst @leslie_salley I read AP exams for about 7 years, mostly to find out what bright kids around country could do. An experience...

@gmfunk @KyleneBeers No place for choice or digital lit or writing on tests CCSS  will narrow curriculum. My district moving that way nxt yr

@techielit  Here’s the short videos I put together to announce the nominations for the Caesars

@KyleneBeers @writer  So agree that they need volume, but they also need to learn how to read with deeper understanding.

Conclusion, Extensions, and Next Time
@KyleneBeers  The hardest questions will take serious thinkers, risk takers, dedicated tchrs.Not more mandates.Not another kit. Thinkers...

@LYRichardson @KyleneBeers Hi, book you edited, Adolescent Literacy:Turning Promise into Practice is such a gem. A Twitter  topic for fall?
@Dwight_Carter: RT @PaulWHankins: Glad to see @WilliamKist here. #engchat-ers should not miss The Socially Networked Classroom. Great resource for the literacy discussed.

@mrami2: 6/20 #engchat w/ @emsingleton @magpete55 @ 7PM EST - How will you grow this summer? Summer PD ideas. Pls RT.

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