Monday, August 27, 2012

Why a Self-Portrait?

         basic point & shoot                                  &                  a touch of composing

Question: Why do artists do self-portraits?
Short answer (somewhat flippant): No choice. 
(Support given below.)

As I consider how to begin our first meeting, the inescapable self-introduction looms larger and, if allowed, more revelatory.  For previous beginnings, I’ve dabbled a bit with producing a video for this purpose.  Making a self-intro video also models for teachers of composition.  By teachers of composition, I mean all teachers because we all use wordsmithing to explore our varied contents, and we all have to make a self-introduction.  To “go as you are” or hiding behind the “content” are just variants of self-introduction, and some might be seen as arrogant, unconscious, and/or irresponsible. 

In making the initial face-to-face contact between teacher and students, especially when digital media are prominent in the process, product, and/or subject of learning, a self-intro video looks to be an obvious prop.  That’s what I was thinking when I first did it because of the:
1) subject matter that’s relatively available (existing photos of self & interests), 
2) opportunity to demonstrate the media that would be used in the class, 
3) students’ relatively high-interest in digital media, and 
4) potential for shaping the image to be shown (in other words, I could check out what I was revealing in advance and edit as needed). 

Having now made a few more self-intro videos, I find myself wading deeper into the nature of this.  For example, what do the process and product offer in relation to identity?  Of course, identity is not just a closed box to be found and opened; life is also about the construction of it.  Perhaps the serious implications of constructing the self even frighten us into minimizing the introductory event.  To the extent a person wants to engage, the making of a self-intro video offers the generative resources of photography, music, voice, text, and mixing.

In one of those musings, the question asked at the top came to mind.  I admire artists for their work at the edge of knowing, out on the frontier of culture and consciousness.  The consideration of art also comes in because it takes us further into our engagement with digital media.  As we want move beyond technical skill and further into our capacity, we ask about quality and purpose.  Because we’re not just composing in print media, we’ll want to surpass our traditional standards (e.g., the 6 + 1) with the rich qualities of art: balance, harmony, resonance . . .  The support materials shown below offer expansions into the question of composing and identity.

As inherent to many instructional settings, our course (Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice) essentially begins and ends with the question.  We come to see how all composing reflects in the omnipresent search and revelation: “Who are you?”  In a way, every story and each composing responds to and reveals in relation to the personal and social quest, representation, and construction into true identity.

Support for my response that we have no choice but to do self-portraits includes these:
1. The eminent authority, OED, tells the meaning of compose :
            1b. “To fashion, frame (the human body, etc.)
a1616   Shakespeare All's Well that ends Well (1623) i. ii. 21   Franke Nature rather curious then in hast Hath well compos'd thee.

 13.  a. To address or dispose (esp. the mind, oneself) calmly and collectedly to or for an action or state, or to do something; ‘to adjust the mind to any business by freeing it from disturbance’ (Johnson).

2.  I also appreciate discussion in a recent publication by the National Writing Project: Jeffrey Wilhelm & Bruce Novak’s Teaching Literacy for Love and Wisdom. For example, they show us caught in a whipsaw between control to excess “unless we first manage to induce the preponderance of individuals composing democratic societies to compose themselves. Finding meaning in the individual felt experiences we have each been given, we also each find our own source of personal authority and personal truth through the thoughtful honing of the otherwise arbitrary and vacillating individual will. This personal authority can then become a new anchor for common life. . .” (p. 46).

3. One other terrific resource including both conceptual and practical materials comes from the National Gallery of Art: “Since the Renaissance, artists have used self-portraits to explore a basic question: Who am I?”

Friday, August 24, 2012

Will Our Technology Oppress or Liberate?

When we integrate technology into the curriculum, we have a terrific chance to reverse a terrible trend.  In The Stigma of Genius, the authors say,
           Descartes, Newton, and Bacon laid a foundation that allowed science and technology [emphasis mine] to transform the world. Commerce increased, nationalism grew, and Europeans could conquer other civilizations at a rate previous unimagined. The rise of modernistic science was closely followed by a decline in the importance of religion and spirituality. . . Rationality became a new deity. . .
           Every part of the universe was quantitative; thus, the goal of science and education was to develop more precise systems of measurement and to commit the results of such measurement to the mind of the learner. . .
          Modernist schools emphasize quantities, distance, and location, not qualities, relationships, or context. . .
           [Teaching and testing focus on] “correct” answers to questions involving names, dates, and places (and even reasons for events as specified by the teacher or the text), answers that are unambiguous and that lend themselves to precise measurement. True or false, fill in the blanks, multiple choice, and matching tests are all grounded in Newtonian-Cartesian cause and effect linearity, for all sets of given conditions there is only one correct final state, one right answer.
           Joe L. Kincheloe, Shirley R. Steinberg, & Deborah J. Tippins, The Stigma of Genius: Einstein, Consciousness, & Education. Lang, 1999, pp. 15-17.

Perhaps we have all experienced “technology” in programmed learning that proceeds from the objective-reality, “modernist” construction of reality.  Today we have the challenge and opportunity to change that enacted meaning of technology and the perverse effects of it.  We don’t have to impose that bias when we bring in technology today, but the danger persists.  Kincheloe and colleagues explain one reason why: “Because we are not educated to think in terms of exposing the tacit assumptions in our practices and conventions, many teachers are oblivious to the fact that they are propagating a specific ideology when they design their tests and teach their classes” (p. 16).  If we want our infusion of technology to be liberating instead of constrictive and in service to  a dominating ideology, we must actively inquire into our experience of media and make it participatory, not unconscious, not robotic.  If we want to build a collaborative enterprise in the capacity of the Web 2.0 paradigm, we must enter courageously into the Challenges of Participatory Learning so that the crucial values are enacted into their deep potential instead of being castigated so that  behaviorist and ethnocentric agenda can be perpetuated.  

Jenkins and others challenge us to reclaim our birthright as educators in providing our children with the best legacy of public education that is increasingly accessible when we optimize the potential of today’s technology.  These values include: play, performance, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation. (p. 4-)

Let’s insist that our accountability measures keep us in alignment with these qualities that we owe to instill in our children.

Henry Jenkins, etal. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Learning: Media Education for the 21st Century. MacArthur Foundation, 2011.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Disfluencies: the Gold Standard

Photo taken by Principal Poling with her iPad

Wouldn’t you know it!  The kickoff for back to school at EKD had a great turnout of parents and students, the classrooms were packed with enthusiasm, and the welcomes from Principal Poling and from the PTA flashed on the screens.  Then off, on, off and on, more off than on in the rooms I checked.  Although the technology flickered, the show went on.  The featured attraction was still meeting the child’s new teacher, and the classroom teachers adjusted to the tech blip with on-the-spot problem solving—brilliant.  At least I thought so.

The University of Maryland Writing Project collaboration with EKD Elementary School for Integrated Arts & Technology is designed to support the integration of iPads, Promethean Boards, and other digital media into the teaching and learning.  I'm still wondering how others respond when our engagement with technology doesn't feel as smooth as the old paper and pencil or as polished as TV programs.  Were any parents, children, or even teachers bothered that the video feed didn’t play smoothly?  

If so, I see this as a great opportunity to initiate the careful work of building an understanding of technology’s place in today’s education.  The more I play and work with the new media and with the notion of Web 2.0+, the more I believe that we’re being propelled into a different paradigm, one that demands we get in the process of adapting to change, dealing with frustration constructively, and erasing hard lines around who is the teacher, who’s the learner, and what’s the knowledge.  We’ll just have to accept that integrating technology right means working and playing at the edge. 

The place to begin might be with a fresh take on the concept of “disfluencies.”  In traditional education, disfluencies point out children who are failing; they mark low ability in speaking, reading, and writing.  Educators, especially as we innovate with new media, must learn to say both “yes” and “no” to that diagnostic tool.  Disfluencies might mark someone in trouble; they might also distinguish a person who is exactly right on track with engagement at the edge of learning.

If we are going to integrate technology, we’re going to have to take a giant step up because the process of engaging the ever-changing media-scape means that those who succeed are the ones who aren’t addicted to perfection.  They’ll take risks, bumble around, get in the bumpy current, and figure out how to fix it.  They might even like playing in the rapids, the exhilaration, and eventually making it smoother, prettier, and more finished.  We cannot back off, criticize, or even give off bad vibes when our engagement in producing with new media doesn’t immediately coincide with the fluency scores we expected on the old language arts charts.  If we don't step up to a higher-level understanding and enactment of "disfluency," I believe our effort to bring new technology into schools will just turn out to be same-old.

I think we are more addicted to perfection than we realize.  Parents need reassurance that genius isn’t straight As.  Dealing with the testing craze runs past the limits of sanity.  Leadership and authority are going to have a very different feel in a collaborative world; our prospects for peace depend on us adjusting our standards.  When we move to the cutting edge, we won’t look or feel so pretty.  Get over it.

We’re not without models.  Three have landed in my lap recently, and I encourage you to open your awareness to recognize the ones around you.  For practice, try this:
1. Watch the first minute of James Taylor’s “Shed a Little Light.”
2. Then listen to the first minute of his interview at Williams College Commencement  Notice the contrast in fluency.
3. Visit the NPR website for Fresh Air's Terry Gross conversing with Director Wes Anderson.*  Play the audio to hear the disfluencies; the significance comes through most powerfully near the end, at about 37 minutes.  Also look at the transcript where Anderson reveals the metacognitive insight about the nature of intuitive artistry.  For example, responding to Gross’ clear articulation of his thinking, he says:

Yeah. And usually I don't want to - I try - I'm happy to have it described to me later because then I can feel - it sort of gives me a - I like to have a reason afterwards. But when it's happening I want to not be too connected to that. I don't want to be reinforcing my points and making them more clear.

For full effect, listen to the repetitions, sentence frags, vocalized pausing, and other markers of disfluency.  On most measures of school performance, this would receive an F; yet the successful director says that the kind of composing given high marks on most rubrics and test standards would block him from his process in doing good work.  Perhaps those standards can be applied later, but they must not be prematurely imposed or we lose creativity. 

Tolerance for disfluency applies not only in the arts.  Steven Johnson says important innovations “start with a vague, hard-to-describe sense . . . and linger in the shadows of the mind, sometimes for decades” (Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, p. 77).   The Stigma of Genius: Einstein, Consciousness, & Education explores Einstein’s failure in school and the failure of traditional schooling. 

In summary, to move into the new paradigm, I recommend:
1. Experience the vitality at the edge of consciousness enough to fight for it.  We’re going to have to defend “disfluency” if we innovate effectively with technology.  We can do that best when we’re engaging healthy passionate activity that brings the life force more abundantly.
2. Recognize the difficulty that comes in trying to articulate at this place.  The depths of vitality are out past words and yet articulating the experience keeps us in the flow of it.
3. Accept and come to know the “feel” of this process.  (Ira Glass says it may take awhile.) We need to know when "disfluency" is good and when it's not.  "Feel" or "taste" is one key to distinguishing when disfluency goes with a life-affirming experience from when it’s evidence of a confused state.
4. Surround yourself with persons who care about this work/play at the edge.  Nurture the supportive community.
5. Make this kind of learning the professional development model.  It’s about respecting situated knowing, collaboration, and continuous inquiry.  In a number of posts, I’ve shown how our UMdWP work and that of the National Writing Project do this best of anything I've seen in education.

*See NY Review of Books, Wes Anderson's Worlds by Michael Chabon. Adapted from the introduction to The Wes Anderson Collection by Matt Zoller Seitz, to be published in October 2013 by Abrams Publishers.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Firebird & the Horn

"The Fire Bird" 

Computer Drawing by Rachel Barnhart

Most everybody jumps when the firebird bursts into the room; and when it happens, a few hide, but most want the ride, “Let’s go—right now—before I think about it.”  Until that blaze rushes in, we might just sit around, forever twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the brilliant leader or the stupendous project.  Too many sit waiting too long and wrinkle up, bored and cynical.  You’ve seen them hanging around the lounge, back row of the meeting, mumbling.  They missed it and don't believe it exists, not anymore.

That’s why we need the old tales, to reassure us of the passionate life, of work with meaning, of true love, or something close enough.   The firebird carries our longing, and the world needs our burning commitment to social justice, to creative expression, to graceful age. 

So looking for the firebird is right, but looking means more than sitting around.  Firebird stories hold advice about how we might prepare the way, how to invite the visitor, and how to attract the passionate opportunity.

For example, we have to contain want-to and have-to, like Odysseus held the shape-shifting creature, until the tension releases insight.  My previous blog told of this prerequisite.   

The firebird wants to fly in schools today on the wings of digital media and social networking.  Many of us are a bit frightened by the wild energy.  I like the way Ms. Rowland put it, “We, the teachers need to find a way to mesh the substance with the spectacle.”  We’re wise to see in the flash of media lights and excitement the risk of losing content. 

We also don’t want to forfeit the development of character that some of us treasure in traditional drill and practice.  Capacity to do good work includes persistence in a non-glamorous task, without getting sugar cubes at each incremental jump.  But let’s not make it either-or; don’t conclude that the new media bring only frills and playtime.

One reason we’re taking on tech integration is because fusing the spectacular nature of media engagement with complex curriculum promises high-level learning. The case of “gaming” gives a good example because innovators are finding applications that involve not just playing games but also have learners designing games.   They’re finding that game design sustains work and it motivates complex planning and articulated composing, as well as stimulating design, movement, characterization, and cooperation among designers.  That’s the fire of containing opposites.

There’s another bit of advice in the firebird stories, one I’d rather skip past, but to do so would likely bring consequences.  So it’s about sugar cubes—or more honestly, about chocolate desserts.  I confess to writing in my blog more and to promoting them on twitter and other places.  Where has this increased motivation and work output come from?  

I’d rather not admit it, but it might be because I discovered blog statistics.   I like seeing the chart that shows the number of views going up (even while I know all “views” are not legitimate readers).  I have to confess that my motivation to write isn't purely intrinsic, but has been fueled through online publishing and social media.  

Composition teachers should be dancing in the streets because access to publishing for real audience has never been so open, and the motivational power for learners to want to revise is at our fingertips if we have the creativity and imagination to focus it.

Our firebird story told us about this also, but it’s taken me about a hundred tellings to catch it.  When the traveler is directed to the youngest sister’s hut, the warning is that the Baba Yaga in the third hut is meaner than the others and escape will depend on immediately taking the horn and blowing it three times, each time with greater volume.  Only after the third and loudest blast does the Firebird flash in and offer that ride of a lifetime.

I’d never attached much meaning to the horn before, but insight fluttered in while I was wondering about this strange thing I'd started doing: writing the blog, clicking on the icon for Twitter announcement and agreeing to participate in the NWP Connect site and our Facebook organizational space.  I was blowing my own horn.  That’s what the traveler had to do before the Firebird flew in. 

Maybe a person has to be willing to blow his or her own horn before the firebird, the passionate moment, flies in.  Given our access to social media and the push for networking, it’s worth thinking about.  Hmmm.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Wanna Vs. Hafta

Imagine a frustrated parent with a more frustrated child who whines, “I don’t want to write a stupid paragraph with all those vocabulary words!  I want to watch my music videos” while secretly texting friends.  Many of us, adults and children, are stuck in a forced-choice dichotomy in terms of literacy attitudes and practices.  Either I do what I “want-to” (yippee!) or what I “have-to” (groan).  Even the Common Core Standards risk this problem as in the continuation of the artificially-hard separation of fiction vs. non-fiction when real-world discourse has narrative and description across text types.

If we cling, consciously or less so, to the old separation of style and content, we limit the capacity for the integration offered in new media.  For example, composing in digital media allows the verve of visual images and musical soundtrack to propel idea generation and stronger voice, but not so much if we insist that the script (the content) gets written before the digital media program (treated as style) gets opened.  Teachers who incorporate digital media witness much more commitment to revision, but this happens best when persons move fluidly across the visual, vocal, text-on, and other tracks.  Persons composing in Web 2.0 also get excited as they connect with real audience and while they are reaching personal insight, but not when same-old pedagogy of read-the-teacher’s-mind and write-for-the-teacher gets imported into the new technologies.

As we move toward big picture literacy,[i] therefore, the chances for success are enhanced as we dissolve the false dichotomy of want-to vs. have-to.  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Henry Jenkins & MacArthur Foundation) emphasizes the need for increased play in our work and for creativity in our problem solving.  In order to embrace the new technology and to shift into the participatory culture of Web 2.0, teachers simply have to give up the dominant model of knowledge and authority.  Because the media changes so rapidly, no one commands the knowledge; in contrast, it’s collaboratively constructed, de-constructed, and re-constructed with multiple perspectives.  The one-right-answer increasingly is illusion, and teachers who fear losing control in a participatory culture where no one commands stored-up, pre-digested, knowledge are simply lost.

If not one-right answer, we can still insist on better responses.  Some opinions, processes, and productions can be conceived and judged better than others when we advance in intellectual and ethical development.  To make these judgments of quality, we need “big picture” standards that allow for the artistic, the creative, and the cooperative.  This progression in consciousness and in civilization also advances peace and justice

For educators to enter and to negotiate big picture literacy successfully, we’ll need to act with passion for our profession, commitment to a renewed understanding of our discipline, and engagement toward collaborating with all participants.  Metaphorically, we need the firebird.  In the story of Ivan and the Maiden Tsar,[ii] the firebird doesn’t appear until Ivan has managed to pass the false-dichotomy test twice.  Still, the burning opportunity might be missed if the stage had not been set by the early advent of the beloved and by the bold break with the dominant culture.  Ivan had to do away with the tutor and instantly leave home even though the destination was completely unmapped.

For our journey into tech integration to be successful, we need to contain both intrinsic (want-to) and extrinsic (have-to) motivations.  Like Ivan on the firebird, we’ll need a scary spirit of collaboration, flying across to a changed paradigm of literacy where composing in all media, including digital, engages the joy of personal creativity along with the satisfaction of meaningful social relationships.  

The requirement of leadership, mentor text, and authority does not disappear, but it must transform.  This blend of want-to and have-to also pushes for a more sophisticated management of frustration, a more complex view of disfluencies, and more inclusion of artistic standards.  These challenges are marked for exploration in subsequent blogs.

[i] Supt. Wilcox’s Theory of Action: “Big picture literacy is a critical twenty-first century skill. Reading, writing, speaking, thinking, viewing, understanding and fluency with technology are literacy skills.” Washington Co. Academy, Aug 2012, slide 10.

[ii] Sources and interpretations on this story include:  Alexander Afanas'ev (Collected by). Norman Guterman, Trans., Russian Fairy Tales. NY: Pantheon Books, 1945. "The Maiden Tsar," pp. 229-234.  
Bly, R., & Woodman, M. The Maiden King: The Reunion of Masculine & Feminine. NY: Henry Holt, 1998. 
Meade, M. Men and the Water of Life.  “The Firebird,” p., 209-. NY: HarperCollins, 1993.

Monday, August 13, 2012

DMP #3. On Frustration & Failure

In my previous two posts, I’ve suggested an entryway into DMP (digital media production).  
Step 1. Get a taste of fire early on in order to sustain the hard work and to move through failure.
Step 2. Invest in a sustainable network of resources and supportive colleagues.  
Now for Step 3, let’s work on the proper “set.”  In other words, attitude check. 

When we enter the opportunities of new(er) media, it’s easy to track in (unintentionally, of course) some mud from previous work that we don’t really want mucking up the clean surface.  One of the most important muddy-ups involves what happens if we don’t redefine our perceptions of experience.  In the terrain we’re trying to leave behind, our bodies tensed with resistance regarding what we called “frustration” and “failure.” 

In this new space, we will miss our chance if we let that kind of tension and negative affect close us off to potentialities.  It won’t be a new paradigm unless we change.  The nature of learning in a changed paradigm has a different texture and feel; our tendency is to tense up at aliens.  Get over it.

One of our leaders in Game Design, Katie Salen, even says that her school uses the term “iteration” instead of “failure.” Maria Popova’s blog  Brainpickings offers terrific guidance on transformation.  On August 10, she featured 10 rules; for example, Rule #6 “Nothing is a mistake. There's no win and no fail, there's only make.” Also see Popova’s links to previously discussed themes and materials, including “Bertrand Russell’s 10 commandments of teaching, the importance of embracing uncertainty, the pivotal role of work ethic, the intricate osmosis between intuition and intellect, and the crucial habit of being fully awake to everything.”

A similar conversion is needed with frustration.  I’ve learned in my work/play with riding horses that I must breathe into “frustration” and allow it to transform.  Unless and until I stop tensing up at the signals I used to know in a negative sense of being frustrated, we’ll just keep going in circles at the same level of performance until I give up and quit.  I’ve learned that what I used to know as frustration sometimes marks and makes the vital horizon of a new plateau; it’s the nervous energy that recognizes a challenge.  It may take us several iterations before we climb up (and we’ll slip back occasionally), but I have a message for that thing that wants to say, “This is so frustrating!” I say, “No. No. This is OPPORTUNITY. This is what you've been working for.”  Sometimes the message works with a gentle tone; sometimes it takes a kick in the butt.

To adapt to the new paradigm, I often find myself looking for reassurance into William Stafford’s advice.  When persons asked how it is possible to approach the standard he followed of writing a poem every morning, he grinned, “Lower your standards.”  It feels that way, and I believe that in order to compose, especially in the demanding form of digital media where so much is possible, we must be gracious enough to pass through frustration and failure into a transformed way of making meaningful work/play.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Bread, Water/Wine, & Thou: Resources to Sustain DMP

the web can be a thing of beauty (& sustenance, too)

Best not to launch a serious journey without chocolate.  In order to sustain DMP (digital media production), invest in a supportive network.  Some folks may be able to keep up with the rapid advances in digital media on their own, but I can’t and don’t want to anyway.  The few minutes spent scanning the NWP Daily, the Connected Learning Network, and my email for “ScoopIt Daily Summary” works like morning coffee.  The occasional in-person retreats with colleagues, phone calls, and Google hang-outs provide essential fuel and opportunity to get tips and emotional support.

Here are a few suggestions:

1.  Connect with the National Writing Project .  You can join Connect and Digital Is from their website.  NWP has established support systems and important links with MacArthur Foundation and other leaders in digital media work/play. 

2. Invest in your Personal/Professional Learning Network.  Twitter and Facebook provide efficient ways of sharing resources, publishing notices of blogging, chats, and other opportunities for keeping up.  Kevin Hodgson’s NWP Daily almost always has updates I want to know about.

3. My interest in narrative discourse often gets nurtured by Gregg Morris’ Scoop It site.  I maintain a Good Stories site for my college class on digital media and plan to do another one for our University of Maryland Writing Project collaboration with Emma K Doub ES.
4. Check out print resources (duh).  Here are a few from my bookshelf & electronic files:
Alexander, Bryan. The New Digital Storytelling. Praeger, 2011.
Ballast, Kerry. Heart and Voice: A Digital Storytelling Journey.  On  2007. .
Buckingham, David.  (Ed.) Youth, Identity, and Digital Media.. MIT Press, 2008.
Fryer, Wesley. Playing with Media. Speed of Creativity Learning LLC, 2011. (kindle)
Gee, James Paul.  New Digital Media and Learning.  MIT Press, 2010
Greenhow, Christine; Beth Robelia, & Joan Hughes. “Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take Now?” Educational Researcher, 38 (4), 246-259. May 2009.
Herrington, Anne, Kevin Hodgson, & Charles Moran (Eds). Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, & Assessment in the 21st Century Classroom.  NWP, 2009.
Hicks, Troy.  The Digital Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann, 2009.
Hobbs, Renee. Reading the Media: Media Literacy in High School English. TC Press, 2007.
  Digital & Media Literacy: Connecting Culture & Classroom. Corwin, 2011.
Jenkins, Henry.  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  MacArthur Foundation, 2009. (available free pdf).
Jenkins, Henry.  Convergence Culture.  New York University Press, 2006.
  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MacArthur, 2011.
Kist, William.  New Literacies in Action: Teaching and Learning in Multiple Media. TC Press, 2005.
Lambert, Joe.  Digital Storytelling: Capturing Lives, Creating Community.(3rd Ed.) Digital Diner Press, 2002/2009. Center for Digital Storytelling.
Lankshear, Colin & Michele Knobel. New Literacies: Everyday Practices & Classroom Learning (2nd ed). McGraw-Hill, 2006.
McKay, Katie.  Building Culturally Responsive Units of Study: From Texas to Mexico and Back.  December 1, 2009  
Morrell, Ernest. Linking Literacy & Popular Culture. Christopher Gordon, 2004.
Myers, Jamie and Richard Beach.  “Hypermedia authoring as critical literacy,”  Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 44 (6) March 2001.
National Writing Project. Because Digital Writing Matters. Jossey-Bass, 2010.
Ohler, Jason.  Digital Storytelling in the Classroom.  Corwin, 2008.
Richardson, Will. Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powrful Web Tools for Classrooms (2nd Ed.). Corwin, 2009.
Stephens, Liz Campbell & Kerry Ballast, Using Technology to Improve Adolescent Writing. Pearson, 2011.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Having published about 50 video productions in Vimeo and YouTube, I thought it about time to glean across the work-play done in the past four years.  For example, what have I learned about the composing process in digital media production (DMP)?  My first experience was in our University of Maryland Writing Project in a 2008 summer institute workshop about using PhotoStory3.  I’d put up considerable resistance to crossing the frontier from consumer to participant into Web2.0 but was immediately and surprisingly tantalized with the prospect for composing on multiple tracks: still images, video, voice-on, text-on, sound/music background, transitions.  Something in me leaped at the huge opportunity in representing reality in ways that opened insight and that explored potential world-making and consciousness raising.

After trying PhotoStory a few times, I was pretty sure that it was just too tedious and linear for me.  It imposed a print format onto digital capacity.  In a world with many uncertainties, I’m pretty darn sure that a taste of fire keeps hard work going and that BORING kills effort, etc.  I continue to hear folks saying that teachers should learn in the program that their kids will use and that you should write out the script first, and I still contend that would have killed or maimed the DMP drive in me.

So I looked for a program in which I could feel the dynamic combustion when these multiple tracks do their magic.  I bought Pinnacle Studio 12 and it was worth it.  By the next summer, I was able to enjoy making my workshop digital.

And I’m not limited to high-tech schools with multiple-track production programs. When I carry the enthusiasm for DMP and Web2.0+, we will continue to discover how to forge the lightbulb energy of whatever tech we have with the creative minds of learners.

In short, I push for teachers to experience their own flash of insight and joy of creativity when they engage DMP.  We need to invest in edge-of-consciousness composing instead of take-out whatever’s in your pocket, backpack, or bag.  We should take the time to leave the mundane and go search out what’s personally and socially compelling, make our rough etchings there, and love it when they transform into the articulation of deep meaning and feeling.  I’ve done this with teachers in Reins of Power.

With a taste of fire, we can burn through the verbiage of imposed standards to construct experiences in our classrooms that reach to the essence where light and heat prove the value and touch the joy of learning.  That’s starting right.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

And Questions Not Asked

After gleaning a few big questions yesterday, a postscript floated by: and what about those that go unasked?

Parsifal looms up huge.  In that variant of the Holy Grail legend, as I remember it, Parsifal alone of all knighthood was granted admission to the grail castle, only to err grievously.  He failed to ask the question.  This champion of righting wrong, the tournament master, the paradigm athlete, clung naively to his mother’s injunction to ask no questions.  Some versions allow redemption, the long journey into questioning.

Strange, isn’t it, what get adopted as the unforgiveable sin, and whence grace.

On the one hand, we have this voice commanding politeness, courtesy, respect, humility; and, on the other, comes the challenge: Sin boldly.  It’s the high-wire act.  Or the razor’s edge.  A bit less dramatically, it’s the challenge of riding dressage: charge up impulsion and hold it in collection.  It’s called True Unity.

In writing this post, I’m thinking I should add Parsifal to my Good Stories course--not the whole story, but the part developing the consequence of unasked questions.  I want to push gently against the college student culture that sits silently in lecture halls, that limits dynamic engagement to texting.  Can they see themselves in Parsifal, the knight of power, the mama’s boy?  He might foreshadow being devoured by the great mother, an uncontested submission to the leash against freedom.

The truth of paradox, of course, demands attention also to the Arthurian tale I love most: “The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnell.”  This one revolves around a question upon which Arthur’s life depends: “What is it a woman wants most?”  And, while I won’t give away the exact answer here, the essence of it is freedom.  Some interpretations of this story say that the threat to Arthur is really a conspiracy to lead him to this realization.  Freedom and unity are paradoxically the same.

We must question.  We must err in order to go right.

Arthur’s challenge, like Parsifal’s, contains the unasked question.  What does the other want most?  And in this quest rests the destiny of the realm.  Whether man or woman, whoever is in command, must submit to interrogation; without such examination, authority cannot be authentic.  Human and divine sanction depend on working at the edge of consciousness where there are only questions.  Perhaps it’s the place out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Big Questions

                          In the little garden next to the bewitched house, there were twelve lilies . . .

Larry Ferlazzo invites on his blog : “Do you know a story/quote that can be used to show the importance of asking good questions?  Thanks for marking this distinction of good stories and storytelling.  Here are a few of my favorites:

When the princess (emergent feminine) discovers she has twelve brothers (full masculine) who fled due to threat of their father, she travels immediately to the center of the forest.  There she is asked the fundamental questions expressed in almost every quest: Where are you going? (destiny) Where do you come from? (source, ancestry, inheritance) and Who are you? (identity).
From Grimms’ “Twelve Brothers”.  William Stafford’s haunting poem also deals with this question: Who are you really, wanderer?  “A Story That Could Be True,” in The Darkness Around Us is Deep

When the one in search of the beloved reaches the place of prophecy, the question at the threshold of life and death asks: Are you here because you want to be or because you have to be?
From “The Maiden Tsar” in Afanasev’s Russian Fairy Tales. Also developed in Robert Bly & Marion Woodman’s The Maiden King.

Where’s my home? When the creatures beg the creative source for a place to build their nests, to raise their young, to share beauty, they’re told that the time has come for them to participate in the act of creation.
From “Dawn of the World” in Jamake Highwater’s Anpao.

When the chief’s most-loved daughter has been taken to the world above the world and the chief asks, “Who will venture to the other world to bring back love?," only the strangers offer.  Only the ones who’ve been rejected by the way things are have the courage, the heart, and the wild knowing to enter the mission.
From “Kanu Above and Kanu Below” in Margaret MacDonald’s Storyteller’s Start-Up Book.  MacDonald adapted the story from Ruth Finnegan’s Limba Stories and Storytelling.