Sunday, December 23, 2012

College of Storytellers

            Having just read Tahir Shah’s In Arabian Nights, I find myself wondering about making it a required text for the general education course that I teach, Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice.  In addition to its explication of “teaching story” (as noted in my previous blog), the book offers several compelling features:
  •           Modeling the desire for finding “the story in your heart”
  •       Asserting that no one else can give you that story
  •       Teaching the journey (not just the destination)
  •       Attracting by character, both cultural and personal

            Modeling the desire for finding “the story in your heart.”  To brand oneself with the term “storytelling” in an academic context pretty much says SECOND-CLASS: unworthy of merit, possible entertainment value.  It reminds us of the “fool” in the royal court.  The wisest rulers valued the role in moral advocacy (e.g., peace & justice), but most everyone just wanted a laugh.  Shah’s first pages tell his own real-life hostage crisis, proving this book is not just fun and games; and he reminds us along the way that the place of story in our world is not primarily for entertainment.  Shah’s passion for finding his own story marks most forcefully its priority for finding meaning and vitality in life.  I want my students to know that’s the way I feel about what we’re doing.  It’s so serious we have to be playful, and it’s most serious.
            Asserting that no one else can give you the story of your heart.  My students, like all of us, would like explicit directions, a recipe, the failsafe formula, capital T truth.  Just give me the answer, why don’t you!  In his search, Shah repeatedly hears from his guides that it simply doesn’t work that way.  No one else knows another person’s heart.  Presuming to do so deprives the other of his or her most precious inheritance.  Shah shows the trouble and the joy entailed with unique identity and personal freedom.
            Teaching the journey (not just the destination).  Tahir Shah tells of a treasure chest given to him by his father and of preparing an equally special box for his daughter.   The diamond inside is paper with a story inscribed.  While Shah doesn’t use the term, one classification I’d use for the treasure is “nonsense tale” because it doesn’t have a single clear moral or thesis and can easily be tossed off because it’s not easily opened.  It’s like the peach, having a seed inside that can be trashed as a stone; but when handled with respect, it bears fruit.  First there’s the planting, the waiting, and the shaping of the tree.  While Shah does reach the story in his heart, the experiences along the way are as much, if not more, exciting and illuminating.  Perhaps quantum storytelling suggests it’s both particle and wave; the journey, a wave (zigzag according to Shah); the destination, one particle.
            Attracting by character, both cultural and personal.  I’m amazed at the texture of relationship displayed In Arabian Nights.  Friendship means saying “yes” when asked for a favor without weighing out “what is it” first.  Inequities between males and females are not glossed over—that’s mostly left for other treatises, like Beneath the Veil made by Saira Shah, Tahir’s sister.  In Arabian Nights tells how friendships embody one of the essential conclusions of another if our Good Stories' required texts, On the Origin of Stories: Cognition, Evolution, & Fiction by Brian Boyd.  Our chance for peace and justice may well depend on our enactment of reciprocal altruism.  Shah elaborates how the favor system entails a reciprocal link and how the culture depends on it, along with the sense of honor and shame.  Morocco and the Arab world are not put on a pedestal, but opportunities for the West to advance toward peace can be found.

            In his closing pages, Shah writes of his destiny.  “I see the East through one eye, and the West through the other.  I understand how they both feel, but I don’t know how to tell one about the other.” 
            A friend advises him, “There’s a way to teach.  It’s so subtle that the student doesn’t realize he’s being taught anything at all. . . [It works] in the way that a teaching story seeps in and sows a grain of wisdom.  You don’t see it coming, and don’t know it’s there until it’s working for you.”
            Shah concludes, “What if I could start my own kind of College of Storytellers. . .”

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Story in Your Heart: Teaching Stories, Quantum Storytelling, HorseSense

             In Arabian Nights intersperses daily events of Tahir Shah’s home life at the Caliph’s House, his meanderings in Casablanca and around Morocco, and folks’ tales especially related to Joha/Nasrudin and the sourcebook: Alf Layla wa Layla, A Thousand and One Nights.  In this orchestration, Shah offers entrance into the deceptively enigmatic medium that his father Idries Shah brokered, the “teaching story,” while simultaneously reflecting Tahir’s pursuit for “the story in his own heart.”  I think both Shahs would agree with me in saying that a person cannot find the heart-story in any printed text, including this one; but I’m confident that In Arabian Nights offers a rare and wonderful companion for the journey because it’s enriched with Tahir’s memories of Idries and it features the rich texturing of a father’s nurturing the child, including the responsibility for tending a legacy, bridging the East and West.

   I just counted on my home library’s shelves 28 books of Idries Shah and over 20 on the Arabian Nights (more are at work), but I only recently discovered that Tahir Shah was Idries’ son and that this work illuminates the bridge between worlds and particularly the mysterious interweavings of story, most especially the lamp-trimming of teaching stories.  In Arabian Nights arrived just as I was packing up materials I’d take to the Conference on Quantum Storytelling.  It made the 3-book cut, my limit for an already stuffed computer/camera bag for that airplane carry-on.  The 4-day conference was even more packed so the book returned home scarcely opened; the timing could have been scarcely more perfect due to the way it’s engaged those post-conference musings, the inevitable let-down, and the integration of new friends--so many complexities of timespacemattering.

            Quantum Storytelling and Teaching Narrative were two of the three constituents in my conference presentation title, the third HorseSense.  Similar to the way Tahir Shah composes apparently distinct layerings In Arabian Nights, perhaps the strands are one.  Living story unites and vitalizes.  One reason, probably primary, that I committed to participate in the Conference stemmed from my desire to read the persons, vastly more important than the words or even recordings of proceedings.  Shah notes repeatedly the derision among Moroccans for written text (and for televised soap operas); personal discovery, coffee-shop conversation, full-sense perception and silence clue the discovery and incorporate matters of the heart (and soul).

          Perhaps today, Rumi might say “like every other day,” is the end of a world. Time and space and what matters have spun together yet more amazingly.  I’m more certain of the story in my heart and filled with gratitude for living story and for friends, both new and old.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Technology 's Gift to Documenting a Collaboration

Documentation for Collaboration between School and NWP Site

            Both time-intensive and quite significant, the decisions about documenting the process of collaboration merit elaboration and continued reflection.  With the support of a grant from the National Writing Project, the University of Maryland Writing Project (UMdWP) has been very fortunate to connect with an elementary school that is implementing 1-1 iPad and iPod touch technology into its instructional program.  The school is an integrated arts and technology magnet for the Washington County Public School system in Maryland.  I’m director of UMdWP, project director for this collaboration, and “production manager” for our documentary videos; in this blog, I feature two of our methods of documentation.
1. Developing “cases” of best practice.
            As UMdWP has specialized in DMAL (digital media and learning, Henry Jenkins’ term), we’ve explored the development of documentary videos that provide both an opportunity for a teacher to articulate his/her best practice and for our site to prepare resources for professional development.  We believe that the punitive policies toward teachers and schools are in part due to our being too modest about the excellence of teaching.  Identification of and broadcast-worthy documentation of best practice have potential to redress this negative PR situation.
            As part of developing cases of best practice, we intend to produce documentary videos that focus on specific instructional activities of particular teachers.  In the resultant production, a 3-5 minute video shows the teacher explaining the activity, referencing Common Core Standards and foundational theory, and illustrating with samples from classroom instruction, student process and work.
            While the “finished” video provides a resource for subsequent professional development, perhaps even more important is the process of making it.  Teachers who are often too modest even to name their excellence are supported in seeing their distinctive value and in articulating it.  This process increases transferability and adaptation appropriate for situated learning.  The documentation also pushes our collaboration to honor the variety of contributions across the staff, thereby extending recognition beyond the narrow spectrum targeted in high-stakes accountability.
            As any choice carries special considerations, documentary videos demands particular cautions related to confidentiality.  Visuals showing faces, names, and/or work samples require care that persons are protected from anyone who might harm or misuse.  Secondly, to the extent the production is published, attenton to the quality of sound, image, and other production considerations increases.  Fortunately, digital media are now available at reasonable cost and high quality, but this still depends on good technical practice (e.g., use of tripod, limitation of background noise, use of good production program) and artistic choices (e.g., shot selection, mixing, composing). Our work at UMdWP has benefited especially in this regard by bringing in a consultant from our sister site, Bonnie Kaplan of Hudson Valley WP.  A third consideration concerns the context of a “model.”  When a documentary video is published, the risks of inappropriate transfer expand, and the need increases for guidance and coaching in making good situational adaptations.
            We are still in the documentary video process with this collaboration.  Samples made from work with UMdWP’s Teacher Consultants who are working in Title 1 schools include ones I’ve made with Shana and Michelle.  Here are links to the videos:

Mentor Text with Michelle  
The image at the top of this blog shows Michelle and a frame from the video that features one of her students' drawings.  The mentor text was a promo for visiting Ocean City and Michelle's students made a "promo" for their home community with images and text.  

Digital Media with Shana.
Shana describes her work using digital media to engage 3rd graders both in an after-school club and in her classroom. She credits the University of Maryland Writing Project and National Writing Project with support of her learning to use digital media for herself and for her students. Shana's a member of UMdWP's Documentary Video Team. Production made in Camtasia.

            Our documentary video work in process includes a teacher using iPads to complement the class' work in STEM.  The teacher reflected that students in a science project often get so involved that they don’t take notes on their emergent hypothesis testing and then do not have the detail they need to write up the research, but with their iPads they eagerly took photos that were valuable in subsequently describing and analyzing their study.

Use iPad to record the height of tower
Use recorded measures to hypothesize about structure  

2. Records of teachers’ implementation and their comments. 
            A second and equally, if not more, important form of documenting is coming through our good fortune of collaborating with a school system commited to technology and with a principal having special expertise in technology.  The county system employs an online system, My Big Campus; and the principal has been very effectively using its Discussion Board feature to have faculty comment on their practices.   For example, she recently asked them: “In what ways have you used your iPads/iPod Touches to improve digital writing and collaboration?”  The teachers’ responses in the Discussion Board provide written records of their choices among apps, their uses of them, and their satisfaction.  Students’ work has also been produced in Discussion Board and is available for documentation.
            Here’s a visual of the Discussion Board and below that is some information about My Big Campus.

 “My Big Campus provides an engaging online environment to promote blended learning within a safe monitored platform that balances educational use of Web 2.0 with network and student safety.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

About Quantum Storytelling

“Be not the first by whom . . .” 

I’m not, and even trend more toward “the last to lay the Old aside,” so those who know me might double-take when I mention I’m participating in the Second Annual Conference on Quantum Storytelling.  What’s that, they ask, quantum storytelling?  It’s as if I really slipped out of the saddle into the NewAge horse trough this time. 

I’ll admit I’m still a bit cautious about the title, but my reservations have been attended by my background check on the conveners.  David Boje is not only well published, grounded in the same theorists all the rage with our doc students, he’s also a masterful blacksmith.  Grace Ann Rosile backs up her academic credentials with the equestrian practice that carries for me about the most convincing and compelling reality check of all.

So what is Quantum Storytelling?  I don’t know.  Enough.  Boje emphasizes “datability” which looks to me like a mini-version of the richly textured phenomena that characterize the research reports I’ve come to value.  He also names “little wow moments” because a datability offers a telling bit of “timespacemattering.”  A  LWM holds clock-tick-seconds that memory, or the heart, makes as eternal as anything I’ve seen in this world.

I can’t give the date for when it happened, but I’m certain that I’ve come to trust not the publication record or the marquee billing, instead I follow the longing in the fiber of my being that keens on integrity.  The big-word dropper has to have the smell of fresh rain.  When I’ve seen David at the forge and Grace Ann riding in the arena, and when he talks of the lesson of the lent hammer and she of the tending of a spent stallion, then I’m drawn to explore the simultaneous flow of wave and particle in the living story, the antenarrative, the making of social justice in small business.

I’m going because I believe this trip, unlike the huge professional conventions, promises to enrich the experiences like the one that’s still flowing from yesterday’s ride.

I planned to arrive at the arena late, late enough to have limited counsel;
for I doubted that my performance with Leg’cy would stand scrutiny.
For several weeks, she’d been “off” when trotting left with a sort of limp,
and I knew we’re not at the top of our game going any which way.

Yet as chance would have it, my unsolicited advisors had overstayed;
such was the inviting day, warming, and a horse barn brings curiosities,
conversations.  So the three coaches soon were advising: more inside flexion,
this way, no, that.  How is she today?  Looks sound.  Push with that inside leg—
Kick if she doesn’t move over.  Give on the right rein.  Your other right!
Sit up.  Steady.  It’s not a rocking horse. Breathe, through your hands.

I wasn’t sure in the first quarter-hour if all this direction was helpful.
The work was hard.  I like the light touch; they pushed me to be stronger.
Then I began to notice that the affirmations connected with a pattern:
a contact so close as if my fingers were inside her teeth—then release—
as if the holding goes right past a tight rein until the other disappears.
Time, too.  That’s timespacemattering.  And gone, so delicate, it’s easily
neverwas.  A dance notion had flitted in much earlier, but in rhythm
unfamiliar.  More strong-strong-strong-soft, than iambs; a different pulse,
seeming inconsistent.  Could it be the hand containing us
is pressing more, demanding no more separation of particle from wave?

Since I began this with Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism, it seems apt to conclude likewise, with a few less familiar lines:

            ‘Tis more to guide than spur the Muse’s Steed;
            Restrain his Fury, than provoke his Speed;
            The winged Courser, like a gen’rous Horse,
            Shows most true Mettle when you check his Course.

I’m going to the Quantum Storytelling Conference with this love of the muse, horsemanship, and I’m checking on our course.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Nurturing Gnosis

I'm in a strange space here having abandoned my blog for seven weeks.  Wow.  I thought it had been a month.  I feel apologetic, but no one out there is complaining.  I reconciled myself (I thought) long ago to the blog-audience-fiction; consequently, to writing for myself, to self-publishing, and to the relative safety of self-criticism.  That's part of nurturing gnosis, perhaps; it's the cut-off from external voices.

Much of this seven weeks has involved intensive writing, and the composing has been on that other side: external audience, publishing, and criticism.  At least the past seventeen days have been because it was on November 12 that I first heard of the Conference on Quantum Storytelling, the first time I'd even heard of "quantum storytelling" for that matter.  And it does matter because "spacetimemattering" came in that window and intersected my self-imposed exile.  That sounds too harsh; maybe I should say that QS and the associated sandwich-word companioned my meditative hermitage.

The right name stays elusive, probably in the chicken-hut zone between the two italicized phrases that contains the tension between want-to and have-to.  I think that's the inn of gnosis-nurturing.  That B&B tends the sense of authentic knowing, of being right on track with "all-I-can-be" or "who-I'm supposed-to-be" and "why-I'm-here."

I've been remembering the long days I sat in Mom's old chair nearer the hearth, alongside Dad in his similar but distinct armchair recliner, in his final days.  I knew they were special then, and I'm appreciating them now for the way our mostly-silent communion confronted those ultimate questions, the ones that often get displaced with busy-ness and distractions.  Nurturing gnosis might mean making time along the way to let the big questions permeate spacetimemattering.

My 25 page, single-spaced, paper for the Conference on Quantum Storytelling goes in today.  I'm thinking this blog might be a space to muse over segments of it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Leapfrogging Past I-Dunno

          When my college students genuinely say, “I don’t know,” I want them to check out the kind of knowing that they’re referencing.  I’d like them to realize that only one kind of knowing appears to be unavailable.  But don’t stop.  Don’t turn up the earplugs.  Don’t tweet.  Instead look for an opening into other knowings.  Then “I-don’t-know” might start transforming. 

Instead of that ever-red stop sign, it might even make a Hogwarts-porthole.  It might offer scary admission into personal authority and crack open a closed system.  Formal education has discredited so many knowings.  The red squiggly line that pops up under “knowings” documents the prison bars that arrest our freedom and keep us from claiming creativity and reaching insight. 
            English teachers, like me, have responsibility for grammar school instruction that inclined the developers of this Word program to impose the default that says a singular knowing is superior to knowings.  Our education system has put in prison phenomenology, analytical psychology, instinctual knowing, knowing by “feel,” the essence of many spiritualities, and many other –ologies as if one epistemology has the iron-fist authority of truth.  That’s criminal.
            Perhaps I’m making a big deal, but think about what’s happening when highly intelligent young adults stop their inquiry process with the phrase “I don’t know.”  They do so because twelve years of schooling has force fed the lie that knowing equals a direct link to a textbook line or lecture note.  I’m especially agitated because I see the affordance of digital media endangered by this stranglehold.
            In our course on Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice, when I don’t respond critically to “I don’t know” and when instead I encourage the student to go on anyway, I love seeing color come into washed-out faces.  Eye-windows clear and open onto greater vistas.  I hear wonder, wandering, and imagination even when the articulation breaks up into disfluencies.  Sometimes then I glimpse the wanderer wincing, probably in memory of being struck by the iron glove for not sounding rehearsed and fluent, for daring to diverge from third-person, from objectivity, from the straight-lined highway. 
            Robert Bly published Leaping Poetry about 37 years ago, opening with his translation of Ortega y Gasset: “So many things fail to interest us, simply because they don’t find in us enough surfaces on which to live, and what we have to do then is to increase the number of planes in our mind, so that a much larger number of themes can find a place in it at the same time.”  Bly invokes the ancient "time of inspiration" and calls for dragonsmoke: “a leap from the conscious to the unconscious and back again, a leap from the known part of the mind to the unknown part and back to the known.”  On the waves of Web2.0 today, our imagination sniffs dragonsmoke, anticipating being powered up with multiple knowings and leaping in digital media productions.  But this potential explosion of creative energy will not vitalize schools and classrooms that are managed by wardens instead of inspired by poets.
            Right about here I’m wanting to leap in two different directions.  One goes on the smoke trail that offers to inform the nascent genre/s of digital media production into a different discursive form, one that leaps with the creative associations begging in the buzz of adjacent image, word, sound, and effects.  The other direction keeps more to the initial track in this post about dealing with “I don’t know.”  So for now, let’s simply footnote for later elaboration the dynamic in “leaping poetry” that links to the psychoanalytic construct of “amplification” (Jung on the nature of psyche) and that keys the design of high-quality digital media production.
            For now, while leaping poetry points to a special discursive form, the focus here is to liberate knowing.  Learning should be free to romp in multiplicity.  Learners can highlight LEAPING as an essential attribute of knowing; we don’t have to show almost mindless reaction to a break in straightline thinking as if it’s a command to stop.  “I don’t know” could signal a leap; we don’t have to hear a command to stand at attention until the external authority gives the next straightline step. 
            For an example of a wrongheaded action along these lines, look at the Common Core Standards, at least as I fear they are interpreted and enacted and assessed.  The emphasis on expository writing threatens leaping because the tradition in exposition emphasizes straight lines.  Straight lines can be good; but when play and creativity and imagination risk extinction and when an innovative resource comes in the door, the point of emphasis needs to wise up.
            The search for meaning and purpose and identity signal the promise land, and kids of all ages scent the lip-smacking flavors in digital media.  But devices never automatically make us free and good.  We’re at such a huge moment in education with the dramatic potential of new technologies.  Let’s not kid ourselves about the power they bring for engagement.  The chance for liberation flips equally or more likely to greater control.  Let’s not lock the infusion of new technologies such as 1-1 iPad/equivalent devices and co-learning with smartboards in the jail cells; when the testing industry and political jailers cling to the laws of print culture, they’re marking innovative practice as criminal.  That’s bad.
            Digital media promise civic responsibility, creativity, cognitive growth, and much more (see eight essential elements of digital literacies); this horizon honors collective intelligence, negotiation, play, performance, and much more (see Confronting the Challenges ofParticipatory Culture). Digital media production promises so much when it gives good visual images that are composed artistically along with powerful words on screen and in voice tracks as well as authentic sound and purposeful movement.  Note that all the resources (visual image, text on screen, voice track, sound track, transitions and other effects) are led in by crucial modifiers (good, artistic, powerful, voice, authentic, purposeful); quality in the infusion of technology demands professional leadership.  In today’s culture, teachers are not trusted to do this, and the failure of our political system is to substitute test for trust.
            What tyranny to test out, to extinguish with high-stakes assessment, these essential dynamics and their potential for advancing peace and justice because they are not as easily red-lined with “standards” of spelling, pre-digested topic/thesis statements, “the” 5-paragraph essay, number of syllables, “t-units,” and similar analytics of a dead monarchy.
            One closing note for now: I’m not advocating abandon.  All opinions are not equal.  Real education includes learning to tell better composition, more sound thinking, more just ecologies, and responsible liberty and justice for all.  Learning worth having affirms leadership that enthuses authority and loves.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Dense fog warning.  That’s the “special weather statement” through the late night to mid-morning.  That’s the Special Whether Warning—whether or not the light will get through.

Yesterday’s special insight flashed by so fast, unplanned, of course, for how else would in-sight appear.  It must be like the apparitions at the peripheral edge, creatures not especially shy, but insistent on special sight, demanding an attention worthy of gold.

I did allow the fragment to voice.  For she first flitted by pretty inarticulate, in the dark drive to work, light rain falling.  Driving well in advance of the morning rush, my mind rehearsed the tale of “Golden Water,”* the feature for class a few hours away.  (See footnote for background on the story.)  As brainwaves carried recollections and associative connections, the frame of Alf Layla Wa-Layla, also known as A Thousand and One Nights or The Arabian Nights, brought in the wonder about Shahrazad, more about the Sultan who put to death each previous night’s wife.  Ah, yes: the monstrous opportunity.  That’s the genie in the bottle.  Oh, right—the cynical voice tosses aside genies and reaches instead for the alcoholic beverage or an equivalent tranquilizer.

But if we stay sober enough, focused enough, we can look into the twilight zone, into the fiction for the true.  When a story gifts us with a shock that says “outrageous!” we have the whether-warning: whether we can enter the symbolic space that makes new meaning or not.  Most times, it’s not.  The opportunity gets shelved until we make time and space to wonder.  And life easily fills with distractions, the “news” that’s really not enlightening, the shows that are only showy, superficial.

Consider taking a wonder off the shelf.  Like this one about the Sultan & Shahrazad, like the Genie in the bottle; for the bottle can be seen as holding our insatiable soul  and “the killing of spirit is happening every day,” not just in fairytales.  Teaching stories invite us to wonder about the Sultan-Shahrazad drama inside us.  The quotation marks just above mark what I said in class., but don’t worry—it zipped right over the heads of all of us, including mine.  After all, it’s not something that will be on the test.  Ha!

I wonder.

And if I wonder long enough, asking for more than the temporary fixes, the spirit in the bottle bubbles up with the effervescent proof that the water of life is no fairy tale; the Golden Water story tells the truth.  The truth about hiding in Bud Light, about lies forthcoming in the Big Debate, about undecided voters who ask for falsehood rather than look at the costs of war, of big oil, of choosing clan and comfort and certainty over the flickering scary conscience. 

The Sultan woke up from his living-nightmare after hearing enough stories, after living with love, after passage through the underworld and coming out anew.  The renewal we want comes in shedding the caterpillar skin of egomania into a radical realization of our interconnections.  See—that doesn’t even sound like news; we’ve heard similar words before.  Perhaps what we haven’t realized, like the Sultan, is that we have more than newsprint; we already have children.  Shahrazad has borne them; but like the Sultan in “Golden Water,” we don’t see what’s right before our eyes.

Our litany of stories hold secrets about the gold in life, and when we wake up from living the nightmare, we’ll see them.  Well, we may have to enact them, but the creative insight is already here.  This resonance we’ve worked for gives the glimpse of magnetic light; in order to “get it” we have to articulate, to view from multiple angles, to gain perspective.  Rilke** likens this to circling round the ancient tower, at least his poem helps me fancy a way to take a next step from sensing resonance (no mean task in itself) to personal enactment and that probably means also social identity, in other words: peace and justice.

* Google Books has a record of Alaeddin and the Enchanted Lamp 1887 that tells of Galland’s hearing the story of the “Two Sisters who Envied their Younger Sister” [the basis for McCaleb’s “Golden Water”] (May 29, 1709) as recorded in Galland’s diary and “The Enchanted Horse”(May 22, 1709) from “a Maronite scholar by name of Youhenna Diab, who had been brought from Aleppo to Paris by Paul Lucas, the celebrated traveler and with whom he evidently at once broached the question of the Nights, probably complaining to him of the difficulty (or rather impossibility) of obtaining a perfect copy of the work; whereupon Hanna (as he always calls him) appears to have volunteered to help him to fill the lacune by furnishing him with suitable Oriental stories for translation in the same style as those already rendered by him and then and there (says Galland) ‘told me some very fine Arabian tales, which he promised to put into writing for me.’”  p. xiii-xix
Hanna did not write out the two noted but Galland “composed the five remaining tales contained in his eleventh and twelfth volumes (i.e. Ali Baba, Ali Cogia, The Enchanted Horse, Prince Ahmed and Pari Banou and the Two Sisters who envied their (p. xxi) younger Sister,) upon the details therof taken down from Hanna’s lips and by the aid of copious summaries made at the time.” xxii

“The genius of the Nights and the secret of their appeal lie in their reconciliation of opposites.  Whether they are fables, fairy tales, romances, or comic as well as historical anecdotes, they interweave the unusual, the extraordinary, the marvelous, and the supernatural into the fabric of everyday life, in which both the usual incidents and the extraordinary coincidences are but the warp and weft of divine Providence, a fabric in which the sacred and profane meet.  Their meeting place is in the details—the unabashed, straightforward, matter-of-fact details that secure the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief and open the way to a mysterious yet immediate world of wonder and wish fulfillment.” p. xvi (Husain Haddawy, The Arabian Nights II, Norton, 1995).

**  “I live my life in growing orbits. . .” p. 13 in Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, translation by Robert Bly.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Go Ahead, Teacher, Say, “I Am a Writer!”

            I’m a bit confused.  What keeps persons who almost effortlessly do messages (for example: email, give directions, jot to-do lists, take notes on phone calls, on meetings) from claiming that they are writers? (See debate in the Atlantic .)  If I were asking a congregation of hermits, that’s different; but teachers!  I’m guessing it’s an indictment of our education system that disempowers do-ers.  Maybe I’m more troubled than confused.
            I’m troubled because I agree with Wilhelm & Novak about the urgent necessity for individuals to compose themselves so we can compose democratic societies (Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom, p. 46).  And going further, we can’t wait to claim the name “writer” until we produce good writing because as Peter Elbow points out, the place of resonance probably comes in where “writing breaks down.”
            And it’s in the resonance (“where the writer has gotten a bit more of his or her self in or behind or underneath the words—often a bit of the unconscious self,” p. 10) where the vitality can be found that’s essential to composing ourselves, our relationships, our social order.  It’s in writing where we practice composing, where we get ourselves ordered, get clear enough to talk sense, to give directions, even to twitter.  William Stafford put it: “the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe--/should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.”
            Wallowing in disfluencies isn’t the pigsty of writers; but to fear chaos threatens our capacity to create order.  The poison of red ink lining out a misspelled word, a comma splice, split infinitive, or (one of my grumps) the use of “less” rather than “fewer” (insert frowny face) might have lost us our inheritance as world-builders, as stewards of a more peaceable kingdom for our children.  It’s time to take it back.  Write!  Write at the edge of consciousness.  Call it writing when you condense hours of living into an accurate status update, when you post on the board directions for the day, when you reflect on the years that composed your capacity so that you can revise what happened today so that tomorrow’s lesson flows with more meaning.  The art of writing participates in the “Meaning of Design” (Denman W. Ross, thanks to Brain Pickings) and happens when we move from disarray to order. 
            Try it, if you like.  Let your resonant field find the word/s (see the display at the top left) that points to the place in your teaching or life and that wants your composing-self to move it to the language that swirls in the creation (suggested by terms in the top right).  See: You Are a Writer!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Everyday Heroes Joining Up with the Digital Natives

the model
the plan
the production

It’s 4:12 AM. Carrying my travel mug with the second cup of hot coffee in one hand and my slightly-open laptop in the other, cradled so the backlight illuminates the stairs sufficiently that I don’t stumble in the dark, I climb back to my home office; sleep’s abandoned me due to gurgling consonants that’re trying to make meaning at education’s surf-edge.  “Disharmony” and “respect” want to enter the conversation about this convergence of “situated learning” and “infusing technology.”  Maybe we’ll morph into a third or fourth space, but equal or greater chance is that inertia or the huge gravitational pull for “same-old” will prevail. 

At least in the pre-dawn hours, I plead for a radical stance in which we honor the courageous acts I’ve witnessed this week.  I saw everyday heroes who laid down their veteran classroom-teacher authority and launched forward into the vulnerability of tech infusion, into the terrain where a potential gang of elementary school digital natives held the advantage with faster fingers and more fearless risk-taking, with greater familiarity of the iconic screenscape, and superior surveillance skills in the technosphere.  Which of us is the alien lifeform here?

EKD Elementary, the partner school with UMdWritingProject, is strongly engaged in the infusion of technology with the 1-1 iPad initiative.  This engagement is also happening significantly in the spirit of Web2.0 involving participatory learning (Challenges of Participatory Learning) and situated learning (Lave & Wenger). 

In order to have integrity with this activity and spirit, our plans for professional development (PD) need to be in fashion with the rapidly evolving context.  For example, in this first week of rollout, teachers are discovering the enacted capacity of all participants as apps they’ve just found expand the response field; the nature of the educational experience dramatically reforms with each step.  To bring pre-packaged PD (even the fed and state mandates for CCS, the county design for curricula, or the NWP-inspired model) onto this dynamic arena would be a travesty; yet, if we act with integrity to the courage of the teachers, our enactment of PD as co-participant will shatter the norms, will threaten to shake the comfort that we all find in our familiar authority stances, our packageable knowledge, our PD pedagogy, our usual delivery systems, and almost all of our previous experiences. 

To be present to the present when it is so dynamic demands a degree of attention and a kind of consciousness that strain the limits of already fatigued humans.  Acknowledging this stress is crucial so that we place high priority on nurturing the “community of practice.”   We, as leaders, need to affirm that it’s more than enough 1) “simply” to name the evolved living space, 2) to articulate the dynamics propelled by changing roles in the interaction of technology, learning, and curricula, and 3) to endorse our identities in the transformed space. 

We also can actively learn in the manner of the students/co-learners in their science and STEM lessons.  They relish the building of their towers.  They use their iPads to record their experience.  Then they rely on the recorded and recording support of technology to articulate their activity, to theorize their practice, and to construct knowledge.  Similar dynamics characterize other classrooms, but each one is distinguished by the situated learning that is true in the inherent and distinct presents. 

Our professional present deserves equal respect and therefore forms its unique character 1) as we rely on recorded and recording technology in articulating and documenting our practice, 2) as we theorize our practice in making connections with enacted curricula, authentic assessments, and valid standards while forming meaningful words, images, and representations, and 3) as we construct and affirm our situated learning in the nurturing of our community of practice.

Typically our comfort zone supports the initiation and sustenance of effort.  Typically comfort results from the predictability of experience, from stability of environment, and from trust in relationships.  When we enter this world of technology infusion, we’re sacrificing at least the first two of these three contributors to the support needed to risk learning.  We must, therefore, devote more attention to trust in relationships, to nurturing the community of practice.

We can do this by reversing direction: instead of bringing in outside expertise, we can prioritize the situated learning.  To do this, let’s begin with and spend most of the PD session having the teachers represent and articulate their experience.  Representations come from: recorded images, artifacts, student work, re-constructing explanations, rephrasing students’ comments, telling about preparation and in-flight decision making, and especially finding the “ah-ha moments.”  These should be prioritized, not the “problems.”

The teachers work in teams so that each team has persons at different stages of implementation and persons with complementary perspectives.  Our leadership team has persons with specialization in curriculum/standards, in Web2.0, in school organization, and in the broader society.  Each team should include one of those leaders who talk little but attend for insight that can be subsequently used for “theorizing the practice.”   Perhaps ¾ of the PD time is spent in representing and articulating the classroom experiences and the final quarter relates the representations to the renewal of the curriculum, to standards, technology, school organization, and society.  Overall, the entire event should validate the community and the everyday heroes.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Composing via Dialog among Image, Word, & Tech Features

When I’m reading or listening to our profession’s conversation about digital media production, a particular statement sets me off.  My roughed-up rendition of it goes, “Don’t let the students put their grubby paws on the production platform (e.g., iMovie, Movie Maker) before they have written a good draft.”  As elaborated in previous posts, Taking Tech from Glitz to Deep Learning and Identity Construction, I am aware of the dangers of the glitzy side of technology, but to handle it by “Do Not Touch” tosses out too much of the generative power.  Classical rhetoric began with the canon of “invention”; the dynamic features of digital media offer to fire up that reservoir of imaginative resources.  Let’s learn to use it.  As illustrated below, digital media programs can power up effectiveness in “ideas,” “organization,” and “voice,” in the language of contemporary rubrics and standards.

Composing with digital media, in my view, should not be imprisoned in the linear structure of print before media, write-the-script before opening the program with images, music, and technical effects.  This position reminds me of the notion that you start an essay with a thesis statement.  Such directives seem to come from persons who don’t know “writing to learn” and who haven’t experienced their voice-over forming and transforming in the dynamic exchange among image, word, and other tech features.

The dialog among image, word, and tech features brings in special effects that are not available in the prioritizing of word processing that usually dominates composing in schools.  I’m often pleasantly surprised at the inspiration that comes from the verbal, visual, physical reverberations.  For example, when putting images into iMovie on my iPad, I decided to play with the montage feature.  (Montage is defined in Pinnacle’s Help Manual: “supplied motion graphics templates with spaces provided for your own media. Think of using a Montage when you need an instant title sequence or a dramatic transition.”)

 I hadn’t planned on using a montage but was curious about how it worked.  So on a whim I dragged one onto the top track to see what it would do.  While not expecting to keep it in the project, the spinning shift from slot 1 to slot 2 must have made an impression because this montage later paid off by whirling in a brainstorm for the whole design.

This is how it happened.  As noted in the previous post, in making this digital media project we started by assembling ten images that came out of our working with narrative theory and playing with stories.  My set is shown in the previous blog & the categories are:
1 Photo of self that you like &
2 Photo of self that you don’t particularly like
3 Community with which you identify
4 Community of aspiration but not membership
5 The stranger from the Kanu story with whom you are most connected/identified
6 Representation of the mature masculine as developed in Kanu (other stories)
7 Representation of the “daughter of the village” from the Kanu story
8 Most important story you’ve heard
9 Landscape/seascape/skyscape of “destiny”
10 Image of obstacle/monster/villain

I told the students that this set was just for starters.  They’d probably need and want to add images and would certainly need to reorganize them in making the digital media production that showed and explained their own identity construction.

 In composing their projects, I told my students to imagine order coming out of disorder.  Look at the array of images and see which one might point to a state of confusion, chaos, nonsense, misdirection, or false identity.  Then the sequencing of the images can show how the construction of identity tended to the trouble.  As they pondered this, their voice-over would be composing to explain the movement and the construction of identity.

In working on my production, the dynamic of word, image, & tech made magic.   Some part of my mind held words from John Gardner on the purpose of art as ordering chaos, and this apparently provided a foundation for my process of composing.  Then, surprisingly, it seemed the whirling montage took the lead as I saw how it visualized the meaning as identity formation because ordering chaos involves a spinning out of control and then landing anew.  What images might go in slot 1 and slot 2?

In looking at the array of ten images, I found my focus drawn to the two horseman:

 Abrakadabra--that’s it: begin the production with the vision of the mature masculine (also expressed in Buck Brannaman’s text:  “I know what . . . feel is . . .”) with the second image showing me whirling in prefiguring the new identity. 

My change of identity has involved coming to know “by feel”* in addition to the other kinds of knowing, mostly cognitive, that are valued in academic circles.  The identity construction extended to communities of practice in education, not only in horsemanship.  And thus the dynamic of word, image, & tech gave me the stuff for my production: the structure, the articulating words, and the fire to do it.

The burst of composing, “invention,” also led to the subsequent ordering of my draft.  I imagined how #8—important story (mom & L; Epam2) could follow; and being put in the context of this production, I also gained a deeper understanding of that “nonsense tale.” 

Next, I began to see how the “stranger” (biting fly) and the “monster” (baba yaga) played a role in my engagement with the two communities.  Finally, the sunset (journey) initially looked to be a good closing but when re-arranging the images on the storyline, it provided a good visual and metaphor for the journey earlier in the production; and the horseman image (#7) promised a better closing as it provided the coherence of returning to the beginning.

A few sources on “feel”:
Damasio, Antonio. The Feeling of What Happens: Body & Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Mariner, 2000.
Desmond, Leslie & Bill Dorrance.  True Horsemanship through Feel (2nd Ed). Lyons Press, 2007.
Gendlin, Eugene. Experiencing & the Creation of Meaning. Northwestern UP,1962/1997.    See his notes at end that summarize Hussrl and others
        Focusing. (Second Edition).  Bantam, 1978/1981.
Perl, Sondra.  Felt Sense: Writing with the Body. Boynton-Cook, 2004.
        Sheridan Blau reviews Felt Sense:
        Also see Perl’s book:  On Austrian Soil: Teaching Those I Was Taught to Hate. 
            Albany, NY: State University of New York, 2005.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Identity Construction: Changing Confusion to Order

John Gardner in his 1978 book On Moral Fiction challenges us against triviality, disillusion, and deconstruction; instead our composing should meet the significant nature and purpose of art.  It’s about “a game played against chaos and death . . . Art asserts and reasserts those values which hold off dissolution, struggling to keep the mind intact and preserve the city, the mind’s safe preserve. Art rediscovers, generation by generation, what is necessary to humanness” (p. 6). 

 My previous post elaborated the difference between composing a cutesy intro piece (e.g., my 1 Min Intro) and a more thoughtful work on identity construction (e.g., my On Knowing).   When composing their projects, I told my students to imagine order coming out of disorder.  Each of us had assembled our own array of ~ten images,

and in that set we could search for the nascent confusion, chaos, nonsense, misdirection, or false identity.  I believe composing our projects, as well as our lives, focuses when we look steadily for an imbalance that can be tended with the resources of imagination, creativity, and collaboration.  To do this requires a clear vision that’s not obscured by deception, dulled senses, or glitz.

While I’m a strong advocate for infusing digital media into our K-16 curricula, I also urge an increased vigilance against the dulling of or distraction from our sense of purpose.  Technology offers escape and entertainment; it can also serve our engagement with art, working in line with Gardner’s summons to bring order out of dissolution.  Our digital media project on identity construction, then, needed to emphasize the detection of and naming of the disorder that was to be attended in our composing.

I saw this happening in my own process.  As described in the previous blog, I caught myself almost missing an opportunity to discern a generative place of disorder because I’d picked a relatively trivial photo for the not-liked image instead of one that pointed much more perceptively to an important disturbance.

The initial photo was picked because I was bothered by the superficial appearance of my jeans tucked into my boots; when I realized this was more surface-level than I wanted, I found a better one.  The second one worked better because the disorder points to an imbalance about something of personal significance.  I knew I cared more about the quality of my horsemanship than I did about my exposed boots.

For me, the first image lacked the power to generate exploration into identity that I found in the second.  In making On Knowing, the image that reflected my loss of balance pushed me to look hard into what part of my identity needed work. When the disorder is detected, then the sequencing of images can be arranged to show how the construction of identity tends to the trouble.  As we ponder the ordering of images, words are generated to explain and justify the choices; this organically provides a draft script for the voice-over of the digital media production. In a subsequent blog, I’ll elaborate how this dialog among image, word, and tech effect generates the text better than a pre-written script.

Once again, I want infusion of technology to serve the big purposes of education instead of getting stuck at the technical level (e.g., pushing buttons to jump game monsters or moving pretty pictures around on a storyboard or movie track).  In this case, the emphasis on identity construction pushes past pretty photos to discerning which image opens insight into valuable knowing, character development, and social justice.