How’s it goin’?

December 1, 2009

I had an amazing experience at the Minnesota Writing Project last summer.  My final piece for the summer institute is entitled “Getting Lost.” I wrote about two life-changing events: buying my first house and the end of my relationship of nearly eight years.  I’ve decided to use this piece for my final writing project.

I love “Getting Lost” and a part of me is anxious about trying to adapt it into a digital writing piece.  I know already that I can’t be too attached to the entire piece.  I will probably have to edit out some words and shift things around to make it work with images and sound.  I’ll also need to resist the urge to use every photo I’ve taken of my house since I first saw it in mid-January.  I don’t want my viewers to overdose on images.  I’m excited to find music that conveys the mood of these two milestones in my life.  I plan to use a few songs that I will probably always, for the rest of my life, associate with the relationship.  Like the songs that Curtis put on a mix tape he made for me in college before we even started dating.

Below is a sneak peak.  I dug out this strip of photos this morning.  I haven’t looked at them in over a year.  Already, looking at them is bringing back a flood of thoughts and emotions.  I’m a little nervous about where this project is going to take me emotionally.  I feel like I’m on the verge of opening up a big Pandora’s box.  But I’m also hopeful that this whole process will be therapeutic for me, just like it was last summer.  Here goes nothing….

And the winners are…

November 20, 2009

Blogging has been a fun adventure.  I was tentative at first because my writing would be public.  I was no longer just writing for the instructor.  But I loosened up after a few posts and I love writing for an audience now.  Knowing that peers and colleagues will be reading my writing ups the ante and, consequently, enhances the quality of my writing.  The feedback from others has been encouraging and that has boosted my confidence in my ability to produce something that other people actually want to read.

Most professional post: I can write, but can I tell a good digital story?

This one is professional but still personal.  I wove together a citation from the readings with my own thoughts and anxieties about digital writing.  I also offered two good links to sites where readers could find examples of really touching, sometimes hilarious, oral storytelling.

Most creative post: Storytelling

I actually made a Voice Thread!  I matched text to images!  I learned so much from this process so, although the final product is most likely too long (given what I know now about how to make a digital story), it was well worth it.  I always learn best by doing.

Best designed post: Bonjour!  Nous sommes mercredi.  Comment ca va?

This is just the winner by default.  It was the only candidate.  Overall, the design of my blog was nothing to write home about!  I almost totally neglected design and have only one image on my blog.  I certainly could have spruced up my entries with more visual images, especially because my posts were quite long.  That much text can be off-putting.  Next time I blog, there will be more images!

People’s Choice Award: over my head

From day one, I’ve been impressed with Debi’s ability to write and engage her reader.   Her writing is honest, thoughtful, funny and engaging.  I read her writing and want to be her friend.  This post especially was just so darn entertaining.  Her lead hooked me, and I wanted to read more.  I learned new things about students on the autism spectrum.  Since September, Debi has woven the class readings together with reflections about herself and her job as a special education teacher.  It was always pretty clear to me that a lot was going on in her head each week, and she was able to convey all of that deep thinking clearly in her writing.

Collaborative Writing? Yuck.

November 10, 2009

I’m trying to reserve judgment when it comes to collaborative digital writing. But my efforts have obviously failed.  When I think about collaborative writing, this is just about the first thing that comes to mind:

Meetings: None of us is a dumb as all of us.

Go back and click on that link.  You won’t be disappointed.  A friend of mine had this Demotivator in his dorm room in college. Like meetings, collaborative writing can be painful. Don’t get me wrong–I loved working with Molly and Maria two weeks ago on our soldier Photo Story.  They knew exactly what they were doing, I learned a lot and our final product was really cool.  But I also remember sitting around a computer in 1997 with six other people trying to collectively write a position paper on whether bison that wandered out of Yellowstone National Park should be killed because they might transmit brucellosis to cattle.  It was awful.

I realize that times have changed.  New technology has made collaborative writing a less painful process.  I can imagine using a wiki to write a research paper or an editorial for a newspaper.  Both of these would require writers to research and then weave the research into a cohesive, well-written final product.  I think that editorials and position papers especially could be stronger because participants would have to collectively decide which arguments are the most persuasive and then expand on those.

But I also know that I am a very picky writer.  I grow easily frustrated with people who don’t know how to correctly use a semi-colon or who use the word “effect” when they should use “affect.”  I am hyper-concerned with formatting.  I click on Print Preview like 18 times before I print a paper.  I can’t send out the team newsletter without editing it for content, punctuation and spelling.  It’s embarrassing but true.  And I prefer to keep those little neurotic habits to myself.  Collaborative writing promises to expose me for the super freak that I really am.

That being said, I know that working together with others can bring clarity to my writing.  I absolutely loved getting feedback from my writing group at the Minnesota Writing Project last summer.  I needed four intelligent, opinionated and supportive women to be really honest and frank with me in order to grow as a writer.  I listened closely to what they had to say and, as you might expect, we didn’t all agree.  But unlike collaborative writing, I still got to make all of the final editing choices. The writing was mine from beginning to end.

I worry that collaborative writing would involve too much compromise–on ideas, arguments, organization, opening lines, etc.  And I am concerned that all of that compromise might result in a product that, in the end, no one is really too happy with.

I love good storytelling.  I listen to episodes of This American Life on my I-Pod when I take long walks in the summer.  I also love waking up to public radio’s Storycorps when my alarm goes off on Friday mornings.  I don’t necessarily need images to enjoy stories.

However, I am almost always deeply moved by digital writing.  Last week, for example, I almost cried when I saw the digital writing that we created in just 45 minutes of class time.  The addition of voices and images enhanced our storytelling.  They didn’t overwhelm or cheapen it.

I say this because recently I had a conversation about digital writing with a colleague who is also a gifted writer.  He feels that digital writing cheapens writing because it speeds up the writing process.  Bloggers just “throw up” on the page and that passes for writing.  They aren’t as careful with their words. Writing, he said, should come from a place of deep contemplation. Years of thinking.  Novels are good.  Blogs are bad.

I definitely think amazing writing can come from years of thinking.  But I also think there can be honesty and poignancy in blog posts, podcasts and Voice Threads.  It’s not an either/or.  Digital storytelling is different from simple written text.  At the heart of both though is the quality of a person’s writing and storytelling abilities:

If students don’t take time to write the stories they want to tell with the computer, they won’t get below the surface of their ideas. They may create beautiful slide shows, but they will not tell stories that matter (Miller, 2007, p. 173).

I actually think digital storytelling is more challenging than just writing text. Good digital stories match text to images, voice-overs and music in a cohesive, beautiful way.  Clarity and brevity are important.  So are transitions, pacing, the order of the images and the sound and tone of your voice.  That’s a lot to consider.

Digital storytelling is pretty scary.  I’ve had a lot of training in how to write a good text (upwards of 20 years), but pairing text with audio and images is new to me.  And I have a lot of respect for people who can tell an evocative digital story. My underlying fear is that I’m not creative or artistic enough to tell a good digital story.  Art has never been my strong suit.  But writing has.  I worry that this writing challenge is going to be too much for me.

Storytelling

October 27, 2009

Whoa–there went two hours of my life that I won’t be getting back.  I just finished my second VoiceThread.  I made a mistake and visited a classmate’s blog and saw her beautiful VoiceThread before I posted mine.  I had to go back to the drawing board.  Mine was silly in comparison.

I’m happy with my final product.  It’s not a bad first draft.  For my VoiceThread, I went back in time to the summer of 2008 when I spent a month in Europe.  I dug out the text of an email that I sent to friends just a few days before I returned to the US.  I’m proud of the email because it took courage to write and send.  The trip came at a pretty rough moment in my life, and the letter reflects the mix of emotions that I felt at the time.  It is playful, honest, joyful and also bittersweet.

It was tough to match visual images to the text of my letter.  I took very few pictures while I was in Europe, and the ones I have didn’t necessarily convey the story I wanted to tell.  For example, I wrote about Kathryn, a woman I met in Strasbourg who I respected enormously.  I have one photograph of Kathryn, and she is sleeping on a train.  Kathryn is an incredibly dynamic woman, but as you might expect, the photograph doesn’t convey that dynamism.

Perhaps I had a hard time with this project because I started with a text.  I also limited myself to my own photographs.  At times, online images may have suited my story better.  For instance, in my letter I describe my joy in discovering a Starbucks in Vienna (before you judge me, please listen to my story to understand why I went in and bought a coffee there).  I probably should have just used an image of the Starbucks logo, but I resisted doing that.  It was my trip and I wanted to use my photos.  In the end, not all of my images match my text, and that affects the quality of my storytelling.  There is a disconnect between what I say and what the viewer sees.

I am still intrigued by visual storytelling.  I think visual images are incredibly powerful, and I get goose bumps when I watch the StoryThread I write because. I love how the sound of a person’s voice can hint at so much about his/her identity.  Is this writer young or old?  Man or woman?  Joyful or sedate?  A native English speaker?

That being said, I’m not too crazy about the sound of my own voice.  And I messed up a lot when I tried to record.  It’s not so easy to read text without making any mistakes.  I have more respect for news anchors now.

I see lots of potential in using VoiceThread in my kindergarten immersion classroom.  I am excited to use it to record my students speaking French and then match their voices to visual images. This could build their confidence and also help them match oral language to more concrete representations of words and concepts.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

October 20, 2009

I’m going to start with an excuse.  I came down with a bad cold (the same junk that everyone else seems to also have) just about two weeks ago.  It, shall we say, limited my ability to participate in the online role-play.  I spent a lot of time in bed and watching episodes of “The Good Wife” last week instead of posting to the Ning. 

Alright, excuses are done. 

My online persona was a caricature of a stay-at-home Super Mom who wants her children to experience every opportunity under the sun.  I chose an image of a woman posing with her picture-perfect family in order to complete the caricature.  She lacked depth.  I had fun pretending to be her, although mostly I made fun of her and that feels icky.  I rehearsed a lot of old stereotypes.

For the most part, my posts and responses were silly.  I did  little persuasive writing and instead posted silly comments about how I hoped my children would wait to have sex until they were married and even semi-mocked another character who was deaf.  The forum was difficult for me to navigate.  I had a hard time knowing what was out there on the Ning.  I’ve come to rely on Facebook’s format that screams out at me “Hey, pay attention to these photos your friend just posted!” or a bunch of status updates that leave me thinking “Wow–who is this balloon kid that everyone is writing about?”  I needed a news feed that showed all of the recent activity so that I knew what was out there and who was interacting with whom. 

In the absence of a central online meeting place, I found myself slipping into the lazy role of not bringing anything new to the table, just critiquing the arguments that everyone else introduced.  I appreciated all the information that others posted.  I loved having a forum devoted to a single topic with lots of diverging opinions and research.  In this way, the role-play felt like a great example of collective knowledge and collaboration.

My feelings about the value of digital technology didn’t change much.  I still feel like it is valuable.  It’s also inevitable and I don’t think people can opt out.  But to me digital technology doesn’t make me feel like I do when I sing in French with a class of 5-year-olds, get a hand-written postcard in the mail or hike in Glacier National Park.  I think the really “stoopid” thing is thinking technology will ever replace those experiences in life.  It does, however, bring some pretty amazing things to us–like a bunch of Happy Birthday messages on your Facebook that make you feel loved or video footage of yourself presenting at a summer institute. 

I liked the role-play because it forced me to think more closely about technology and consider the issue from a different viewpoint because, in my real life, I’m no Mother Hubbard.  In the end, it helped me clarify how I feel about the value of digital technology.  And clarity is always a good thing.

Playing Around

October 7, 2009

As I read Jenkins this week, I thought a lot about what I have learned from role-play and simulation in my own life.  A little warning here: this is where I “out” myself as a total nerd.  I joined the debate team in high school and spent weekends arguing topics such as “Public health concerns justify compulsory immunization.” I debated five rounds each tournament and had to check the postings before each round to see if I was “aff” or “neg.”  I was never very good at debate because I lacked self-confidence.  But I understood the competing interests and arguments really well because I had to stand up in front of a judge and my opponent and argue (in a very structured format) either for or against each topic.

In late spring of each year, I followed the same group of kids to the state capitol to be a part of Youth Legislature for four days.  Basically, a bunch of high school kids go to the capitol and pretend to be senators, representatives, reporters and pages.  Together, we recreated the legislative session.  Each year, we elected a governor, secretary of state and majority and minority leaders for each chamber.  Rock stars emerged over the course of four days.  They were the kids who could stand up and make very compelling argument for or against legislation.  They also had considerable networking skills and buttered up other legislators to get support for their bills.

As if that wasn’t enough, I joined the Mock Trial team in college.  It was sort of ridiculous.  Basically, college students stage 3-hour-long mock trials with lawyers and witnesses.  The lawyers give opening and closing arguments and direct and cross-examine witnesses.  They are serious and poised.  The witnesses are more theatrical and funny.  I was also pretty bad at mock trial, but I still know how to object on the grounds of “lack of personal knowledge” and to ask the judge for permission to approach the bench.  I could have learned these things from Law & Order, but actually putting on a business suit (yes, we did wear suits) and living out the courtroom drama helped me understand what it’s like to actually argue a case.

All of this to say that when I first saw the words “role-play” and “simulation,” I thought “Oh no, that’s not me.”  Well, it turns out that it very much is me.  I have done lots of role-plays and simulations.  And these have been some of the most powerful learning experiences of my life.  In debate, mock trial and Youth Legislature, I got, as Jenkins writes, “a chance to see and do things that would be impossible in the real world” (p. 25).

In some respects, I feel my classroom is a big role-play.  I play a role with my students because I pretend I don’t speak English.  My students are required to communicate in their non-native language at school.  They get to use the French language to really communicate with other people. That would never happen unless they grew up in a bilingual home or lived in a Francophone country.  We don’t do many formal role-plays and simulations in my own classroom, but my students have lots of opportunities to play. I especially love to watch them play in the kitchen and  act out stories with the animals and dinosaurs.

I know I should have them do more role-plays.  For example, when we talk about flowers in the spring, my students could act out the growth of a flower.  They could also act out the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Boucle d’or et les trois ours) in December and January when they learn to tell the story in French.  They already do very basic online simulations with coin exchanges when they play Everyday Math games on the computer. Perhaps we could also do some simulations together as a class.  It would be interesting to see if and how these simulations and role-plays deepen my students’ understanding of the French and the concepts we are studying.

First Stop: Wikipedia

September 28, 2009

Wikipedia is usually the first place I go whenever I want to find out more about someone or something.  On Saturday, for instance, I wanted to learn more about Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary) who recently passed away from leukemia.  I went to Wikipedia and learned that she was born in Kentucky but grew up in New York City.  She was also married four times. For some reason, this sort of inane information is really interesting to me.  I kind of like to read about nothing which is why I enjoy People and US Weekly so much.

Typically wikipedia.org is a good starting place, although sometimes it is disappointing.  The entry may be too short and not very helpful.  Or an inordinate amount of space is devoted to a single incident in a person’s life while other important information is completely omitted.

From Wikipedia I do a Google search and usually end up clicking on the first few hits.  I usually try to piece together information from the different websites I visit.  It’s not a very scientific process. I think the “controversy” or disagreement surrounding a topic is interesting.  Mostly it just serves to remind me that there is a lot of misinformation out there.  Or perhaps a lot of people just believe different things.

In general, I think I’m a pretty efficient Internet browser.  I can usually find the answer to something in a minute or two.  When I look at my browsing history, it tends to be pretty long and extensive even though I may have only been on the Internet for fifteen minutes.  I also know how to narrow down a search using key words.

In terms of news websites that I regularly visit, I just have a few “old reliables” that I look at every day.  Those websites are: msnbc.com, helenair.com (my hometown newspaper) and mpr.org. Sometimes I’ll hit the Star Tribune website too.  I like those sites because I know my way around them, and I trust what I read on them (although I must admit that the quality of reporting in my hometown is not sensational).

My students do not go on the Internet at school.  As I read this week’s chapter, however, I started to think that perhaps I am the one who needs a tutorial in how to use RSS feeds and bookmarking software to look for resources online, especially teaching resources.  I have spent HOURS online looking for good lessons, activities and worksheets to no avail.  I don’t quite know why that is. Perhaps there is just an inordinate amount of bad stuff out there.  Maybe I am more critical when it comes to teaching materials.  Maybe it’s because just when I’m on the cusp of finding something good, I discover that I have to pay money to access it.  It’s awfully discouraging. Often it’s just easier to wade through books with teaching materials than it is to search online.  I would like to find some good reliable teaching sites to visit on a regular basis.

On a side note, before my students and I head to the computer lab, I have to make sure they have adequate receptive skills to handle listening to instructions in French about how to log on and use KidPix.  Typically, we start going to the computer lab in December or January.  I still struggle to come up with meaningful technology lessons each week, and this is a site I go back to again and again for ideas. It’s been a lifesaver.

In search of a good blog…

September 20, 2009

I went in search of a good blog today.  I had to do this because I never read anyone’s blog.  I began by searching to see if any of my favorite writers had good blogs.  I didn’t have much luck.  Then I had the idea to go to my alma mater’s website and browse through a list of Mac grads who maintain blogs. I clicked on the name of a guy who used to sing in the men’s a capella group and discovered his daddy blog.  From his blog, I clicked on a link to a wonderful blog called Cry It Out: Memoirs of a Stay-at-Home Dad.

Cry It Out is a daddy blog written by Mike Adamick, a successful author who lives in the Bay Area.  His work is regularly featured on NPR, on news websites and in national newspapers.  Needless to say, he is an excellent writer, and his blog is good primarily for that reason.  His writing is honest, funny and engaging. It can also be quite beautiful and poignant.  For example, in a recent post about traveling to Europe with his wife and daughter, he wrote:

She has stripped us naked.  A country we had seen two times before is suddenly new again.  Our familiar haunts are more inviting than we remembered.  The food is tastier, even the greasy offerings in the menu touristico. Everything is a wonder. Everything is a delight.

Everything is magic.

The blog has a good layout and a nice banner.  Adamic also spices up his blog entries with really beautiful photos of his daughter and their life together.  He also has a photo of the day, an incentive to visit the site often.

The most obvious way in which this blog exemplifies networking is that the author has several links to other mommy and daddy blogs.  Moreover, the whole process I went through to find his blog (starting in a familiar place that eventually led me to his blog) demonstrates how the Internet is a big web of connection (a big network, if you will).  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I found something good by starting with something I knew I already liked (Macalester).  It’s kind of like finding a good realtor, a good yoga class or a good restaurant: it’s probably best to start by asking your friends or colleagues for recommendations.  That way you can bypass some of the bad stuff and hopefully end up with something good based on the advice of people that you trust.

My Dreams

September 17, 2009

I aspire to become more comfortable with digital writing.  I have a very limited web presence.  Mostly I just have a Facebook and even there I have a lot of anxiety about posting status updates.  I post once a month or so and when I do, I hope to be funny, clever and memorable.  I worry about the immediate reaction I will get from my audience (really, they’re just my Facebook friends). I’m anxious about typos and misplaced punctuation and read carefully before I click on submit.  I’ve even had to retract a couple of things because I immediately felt bad after posting them.  For example, last year I wrote “Kelsey sure hopes her ex finds someone special on match.com.” That came down pretty quickly.

I’d like to quell some of my worries about publishing online.  I hope that learning more about the software and programs that are available will help me feel more comfortable about using technology.

I’ll admit that it’s hard for me to imagine my kindergarten students using blogs, wikis and podcasts.  But I’m excited about the prospect of creating my own video essays or movies in French to share with my students to supplement the kindergarten curriculum.  French resources can be very hard to come by, and I think that digital writing could be quite useful in an immersion classroom because visual representations are so important when teaching children a new language.