reCommitting to our deeper whys

To kick off a semester like no other–amid a pandemic, insurrection and impeachment in the US, and multiple other crises the world over–I asked future educators to take a moment to consider why they want to teach, who they will be teaching, and what it means to teach with attentiveness to literacies and technologies in the current moment by watching a video from Dr. Ernest Morrell where he discusses his approach.

We then shared a commitment we’d make for our future teaching. I present, Our Commitments…

Continue reading reCommitting to our deeper whys

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Inspired by educators, my commitments for fall 2020

Life has been, and is going to be, a bit extra for a while.

Luckily for me, this summer I had the chance to teach a course called #tch432 Technologies Across the Disciplines and even with all the pressing stresses of now, it was a breath of fresh air.

I was reminded again of the commitment educators have to do right by their students. Of course there are exceptions in this world, but not in the group with whom I’ve had the privilege to work.

I have seen teachers rethinking their favorite tried-and-trues due to issues of equity that remote teaching in the middle of a global pandemic brought to light. I have seen teachers commit to critical openness to others’ world views balanced with more urgency to speak up about and take action in combating systemic racism in the structures and practices of schooling. I have seen teachers try new tools, means of expression, and ways of connecting via new media–even when it is frustrating and out of their wheelhouse–in the hopes of widening their network of colleagues and broadening their own repertoire of tools to have at their disposal.

I felt reenergized and ready to make a few commitments of my own for Fall 2020. Thanks to amazing colleagues like Dr. Robyn Seglem (@rseglem) and Dr. Shamaine Bertrand (@dr_s_bertrand), among others, I have already been able to begin:

composing in image: doodling into the new year

As a jumpstart in my writerly life, I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. We’ve since expanded on the idea with international colleagues into #modigiwri. Join us and here goes!

When I started the challenge to write and post everyday—just 150 words—I did not anticipate the way this would blossom. If you check out the #modigiwri feed on Twitter, however, you’ll see the kind of growth that’s possible when you are connected to generous, creative, and dedicated colleagues. Kevin was critically pondering this positive, generative energy in a recent #modigiwri post, actually. Here it is: Call Me Naive, We are Part.

So one way (there were other creative branches as well!) that the folks who are participating in the More Digital Writing or #modigiwri challenge have taken the original 150-word challenge has been toward abandoning words all together. Well, first, a conversation about the constraints of digital composing tools inspired Wendy, I think it was, who suggested that folks try to write with just 150 and she came up with a dictionary game to spark that writing. (Wendy is that right?)

Then, Terry asked this question:

Continue reading composing in image: doodling into the new year

when more is more: failing up in a 30-day challenge

As a jumpstart in my writerly life, I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. We’ve since expanded on the idea with international colleagues into #modigiwri. Join us and here goes!

So, I’ve been failing miserably at the 30-day writing challenge to write at least 150 reflective words and post them. I have done better at responding to my challenge friends—albiet always a day late! I am grateful for their patience with me.

The same holds true for #modigiwri. That hashtag has taken off! You should check out the feed on Twitter. It’s on fire. Oh and Sherri pulled together the folks who are blogging with #modigiwri. So you can check those out as well:

But I digress.

Above, I italicized “and post them” because I have done some offline writing. And actually, I have been seeing some of the effects of my 30-day challenge activity as pitiful as it is. I was remarking to Darlene, and another colleague who mentioned being in a major writing slump, that I have felt the influence of writing and posting more and more frequently. For instance, I am working on a chapter right now. Using the proposed abstract, I was doing what I always have done, and was moving text around and extending some sentences, but I was not happy with how this was beginning. Here’s a sample of the proposal:

In this chapter, I suggest three ontological orientations for lifespan writing research. These orientations are framed by the provocation that comparative frameworks dominate methodological approaches in studies of writing development. When oriented to the comparative only—such as comparing age 8 to age 12 or designing before/after interventions—chronological time, age, or curricular sequences play an a priori determining role in findings. I suggest that a way to work both with and beyond comparison is to reflexively consider how we are oriented ontologically toward the methods and theories we take up in lifespan writing research…

Smith, A. (in preparation). Working title: Prepositions through the lifespan. R. Dippre & T. Phillips (Eds.), Approaches to Lifespan Writing Research: Steps Toward an Actionable Coherence.

Inspired by Darlene’s idea of writing different memoir beginnings, I thought: “Why don’t I just write a possible new beginning that’s totally different from what’s here?” Let me tell you: Ever since finishing the behemoth called a dissertation I would have never thought that. “Why don’t I just write a possible new beginning?” Please. Every word since that experience has been precious and some painful.

However, among other things, writing and hitting post or making efforts to write and hit post every day is helping me feel the weight of every word less and less. Writing nearly every day has helped me feel for the first time in a very long time that if I don’t like what I’ve written I will be able to write something else. I can’t emphasize enough how radically different that frame of mind is. It’s such a relief.

So, here’s another take at the beginning that may or may not stick this time, and I am totally fine with that. (It also shows, dear challenge buddies, that I have been writing…just offline! Now to go do some creative digital remixes and composition with the #modigiwri folks!)

DRAFT: An orientation is consequential. The angle from which we witness an encounter like a car crash, for instance, heavily influences our perception of what occurred. Did the blue car pull out first? Did the red one slow down? The answers to these questions are not just dependent on empirical evidence, but are also based on the relative perspective from which we experienced the accident. Conceptual and ideological orientations operate similarly. When reading the methodologies of a research report, you can often anticipate the findings. That’s because perspective from which the researcher took on the project limited her field of vision theoretically and methodologically. For these reasons, when it comes to understanding a person’s writing over the lifespan, it matters, or rather, it’s consequential, what ontological orientations the researcher takes up.

Smith, A. (in preparation). Working title: Prepositions through the lifespan. R. Dippre & T. Phillips (Eds.), Approaches to Lifespan Writing Research: Steps Toward an Actionable Coherence.

What do I learn from this? To write more (when it’s hard and feels heavy)…I need to be writing more. It sounds counterintuitive, but I am finding that the weight of each word is distributed across blog posts and high-stakes academic texts and comments on social media and tweets. When there are more words being written there are more words to share the weight of writing.

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the gentle stretch: a review of year-end reviews

As a jumpstart in my writerly life, I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. We’ve since expanded on the idea with international colleagues into #modigiwri. Join us and here goes!

It’s New Year’s Eve and the year-end reviews are streaming on every channel. Top tens, new goals, all the works. I was reminded by a colleague that these reviews, doing them yourself and seeing others post them can be discouraging, and if you are extra tough on yourself, counterproductive.

Then I saw this tweet from Sofia Quintero which she ends by saying, “Stretch yourself but be gentle.” This got me thinking about physical stretching. You can hurt yourself if you go too fast and too hard. But if we ease into a stretch and go gently, our reach extends and the deep warmth of the stretch is actually soothing.

So, how do we bring this idea of the gentle s t r e t c h to reviewing our work and world? Well, I’ve been curating a set of year-end reviews since I’ve been wanting to do one. Here are a few that I think would lead to something productive:

  • I love Michelle Boyd’s Year in Review questions (linked in her tweet below). They sound like the perfect gentle stretch: productive, insightful, and kind to yourself. They aren’t super judge-y, and I think they are also open enough that you can drift in your reflections. I think drifting is important to helping us see what we are associating with other things and helping us get to the core of our hopes.
  • Annual Planning That Works: This is the most thorough and time consuming, I would imagine. This is Kerry Ann Rockquemore’s holistic life review that she does with her partner. Kerry Ann is the founder of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. All of her work with NCFDD includes reflective rounds of assessing and adjusting. So, I am sure this is a killer deep, long stretch. So do as she recommends and go somewhere relaxing and rejuvenating so that you are helped in being gentle with yourself.
  • Betina Hsieh’s reviewed her year by using a scripture, and I think that or a meaningful quote or word would be equally powerful in producing a review that is a stretch, since you’ve chosen something you aspire to in order to interpret your year, yet gentle in that you can interpret the quote as you wish and as it applies to different aspects of your life.
    Antero Garcia posted his review of the year focusing on What I Worked on This Year and Why. I love this approach as well because it surfaces the effort and production that is often unseen, which is part of being gentle with our judgements of our own productivity. It also focuses equally on articulating our deep whys, which not only is gentle as it reminds us of our purposes, but can also be a stretch as we can see how our alignment is (ooooh, that goes along well with the stretching metaphor) between our deep whys and our effort.

What reviews have you found insightful and productive? Please add them in the comments below and I may be back to add some more in to this list as well!

As always, I apologize that WordPress has begun to force ads on each post. Please ignore any ad that follows. I have not vetted and do not support whatever is advertised below.

the meditative pace of reading

As a jumpstart in my writerly life, I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. We’ve since expanded on the idea with international colleagues into #modigiwri. Join us and here goes!

Due to some recent life experiences, I imagined I might have the opportunity for some more time for reading. And by reading, I mean longform reading. That is something I had not indulged in in a long time—especially fiction.

In fact, I always feel guilty when I have my students review Pew Research Reports and inevitably several choose the libraries reports that show shockingly (every time) that not only is reading in America not in decline, but circulation at libraries is up (and used most by Millennials–take that generation snobs). More recently a study reported the following:

According to the research, Americans read a mean average of 12 books per year, and the typical (median) American has read four books in the past 12 months. And this has largely been the case since 2011, proving that Americans aren’t dropping their reading habits. And since 2012, a total of 74 percent of Americans have read at least one book in the past 12 months — not exactly book worm levels, but much less scary than most stats would have us believe.  —Kerri Jarema for Bustle

I thought those numbers were a misprint. 12?! I mean, even 4?! Then again, at this time of year folks are posting the lists of books they’ve read, and maybe those numbers are accurate. I mean, check out President Barak Obama’s list. If he can fit these all in…

So….who is not reading? Me (along with 22% of us).

Tonight I finally started one of the books: Open City by Teju Cole. It was recommended to me years ago and I purchased it promptly. Embarrassingly, and even though it doesn’t seem possible, the page edges have started to yellow.

The first time I sat to read I read one and a half pages. No joke. That’s it. That’s all I could get through. Not that I didn’t have time. I just didn’t have patience for the pace. I was loving the prose, but between each word I lifted off the page to read swirled a million other things. My mind flitted from mundane responsibility to tasks to projects to conversations.

I sat the book down deciding to just keep it there and to try next time.

Next time? Four pages.

This time though I realized as my mind flitted through what I had been able to get done that day (not a lot—not a good sleeping day for the little one), I remembered that I had read a post by Betina Hsieh on mindfulness (with technology) and she reminded me of several of the practices of mindfulness, like awareness as noticing without judgement. It got me thinking that reading a story or novel takes a different kind of mental pace and focus. I could think of reading as a form of meditation where the intense focus on the present (another practice) is on the present-elsewhere that the words take you. It has been so long since I’ve read in this way that I think this is a practice that I will have to get reacquainted with.

So here’s my plan. Open City is sitting by the rocking chair. Bad Feminist is sitting where I do feedings. Interpreters of Maladies is in the bathroom. Her is by the sofa chair in front of the fire. I will not whiz through any one of these books; rather, I will let myself linger a bit longer in each of these places, practicing the slow meditative pace of reading’s transportation.

Just FYI, when I was faced with the prospect of being bedridden for a while and then having to slow down and sit for long periods to feed a new child, I thought I should ask for book recommendations. Here are the ones friends and colleagues suggested when I asked:

  • Crossing to Safety
  • A Man called Ove
  • The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
  • a. S. King
  • Neil Gaiman, American Gods
  • Brown Girl Dreaming
  • All the Light We Cannot See
  • Magesterium series
  • Lockwood and Company
  • Anything by Jonathan Stroud. Lockwood, Barthemeas, any…
  • The Color of Water: James McBride
  • The Invention of Wings:Sue Monk Kidd
  • Blackmore: Julianne Donaldson
  • The all girl filling station’s last reunion: Fannie Flag
  • Kate Morton
  • The Cross Gardener: Jason G Wright
  • Neil Gaiman, Ocean at the end of the lane
  • Exit West, a novel by Mohsin Hamid. (It’s short, but it took me awhile because the language is exquisite.)
  • Karl Ove K — My Struggle
  • Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Nobles

The top photo is from my visit with Queens Paideia School. You can read more about my visit here!

As always, I apologize that WordPress has begun to force ads on each post. Please ignore any ad that follows. I have not vetted and do not support whatever is advertised below.

Nothing to Write Home About

As a jumpstart in my writerly life, I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. We’ve since expanded on the idea with international colleagues into #modigiwri. Join us and here goes!

So, I am supposed to be writing and posting at least 150 words a day, and I have some lovely colleagues who have taken off with the #modigiwri challenge (check out this Wakelet curated by Wendy). You can get a taste of the range of digital writing they are sharing and responding in the short exchange below.

And where have I been? Well, for the most part I’ve been doing the holidays that we celebrate…and still adjusting to life with a newborn. And I have written some—about 150 each day at least. I just haven’t posted them. They haven’t felt post-worthy. My fragments have felt, well, like fragments. I have been inspired by how beautifully Darlene (who inspired this jumpstart) weaves together the everyday and the truly meaningful, and how Betina addresses the atrocities of our world head on, and how creative Wes is in the variety of his posts. And so I aspire to be more like them in my writing. In the meantime…I need to meet this challenge and post something even if I feel I have “nothing to write home about.”


The theme of dots and connections has bubbled up in the #modigiwri activity (see Sheri’s post), and so I’ve been thinking I’d just let the fragments be just that—fragments or dots with no apparent connection, or maybe they’re just hide and seek connections that you get to make! I’ve got it, let’s pretend this a Choose Your Own Connections activity…

A One-Item Favorite Things List

Some of the posts have reviewed folks favorite things, and so far I have only one thing I want to write about…tea, particularly, licorice tea. Let’s be honest: Licorice tea is part dessert, part warm cozy blanket. I try to rotate through teas a bit—another favorite being a Ginger Dragon that is made by a local coffee shop here—but I always come back to licorice.

I started thinking about this when Betina mentioned having a warm cup of tea next to her as she wrote a post, and it made me think about how important a warm cup of tea has become in my writing process. It helps me focus, and triggers an enjoyable reflective posture for me. Those are lovely and helpful, but if I’m honest, this “favorite thing” may be a crutch. A warm drink, big windows, people to watch, and background conversations (though not too loud)—these are the features of the ambiance of my writing environment, not my ideal writing environment, but what has become a necessity. (I even have the Coffitvity app downloaded on my phone. It creates a pseudo coffee shop sound for you. I’m sick. I know.)

This writing challenge is helping me challenge this crutch, thankfully. I am finding myself writing at night, on the couch, with Dragon dictation, with one hand while holding a baby with the other, all times and in spaces I don’t usually get writing done in. And it has, at the same time, reminded me that even if I can’t get all the features together, I can quickly grab a cup of warm licorice tea as I sit for a bit to write. And by association, in that way, writing can be part dessert too.

Tick Tock, Tick Tock

Time is one of the many things I am not taking for granted anymore as we head into 2019. I have such a newfound appreciation of it. For a long while I’ve been fascinated with time (eg. here and here), but mostly the long expanses of it, and for the theories and physics of it. With the brand new addition to our family this last month, now I am appreciating the practicalities of minutes, hours, and afternoons like never before. I’ve never realized how long the night is, and how many hours there are from 5:00 am to 8:00 am. I’ve known that my colleagues with young children were miracle workers, but now I know they’re time wizards.

Up Next

I have a growing list of things to read bookmarked online and piled next to my desk. Here are a few. If you read them first, let me know. Maybe having a bit of accountability to someone else might help me get some reading back into my life! (Or maybe not…see the Time fragment above…)

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mo(re) #modigiwri!

I do love how connections among educators and creatives can snowball (in a good way) online. Two days ago I elbowed my way into a challenge from Darlene Kriesel (@darlenekriesel) to write at least 150 words every day for 30 days. It reminded me of the collaborative energy that was generated in #clmooc and I wrote a post to that effect.

Now, just a couple of days later several people have responded by sharing, expanding, and branching out on the idea. The energy is just bubbling over!

So, one of the branches came when Kevin (@dogtrax) reminded me of our first real online exchange as colleagues. We engaged in a conversation by sending each other multimedia posts we had created, and we also posted reflective process notes about how we had created our multimedia artifacts.

We used the hashtag #modigiwri to stand for “more digital writing.” (We had just finished the #digiwrimo [digital writing month] and didn’t want the conversations to end!) That was in 2012! Time flies. Well, yesterday Kevin went on a hunt for the conversation and posted what he found here: Searching for Curation: A Nearly-Lost Conversation about Digital Writing. In looking back, he realized the conversation was never rounded out…and it looks like it’s time!

So, we’re inviting you to engage in a combo of these two challenges, writing digitally every day to jump start your writing… and sharing and responding to others who are doing the same!

The writing can be about anything and come in any form. Use the hashtag #modigiwri if you want to help people find your posts!

Continue reading mo(re) #modigiwri!

Why am I whistling while I work?

I am participating in a 30-day challenge to reflectively write at least 150 words and then post online. Here goes!

I am going to let you in on a little secret. I’m writing an academic piece right now…and it’s really easy. That’s not something that is often said by me or in the circles I run. So, it has come as a bit surprise to be honest. I don’t know exactly what the difference is, but I have a good guess. I think there are at least three components:

  1. I don’t go back to work for a bit.
  2. I have text to start from, and I mean not just an outline, but developed text that has been tested on others.
  3. I am saying what I really want to say.

Let’s break this down (with the help of some 90s hits). I want to see if I can replicate this in the future, because I will probably not get this exact mix of components again.

Continue reading Why am I whistling while I work?


Here I am again. It’s nearing the end of the year and I have a moment to catch my breath between semesters. (Yes, my life is measured in semesters. Such it is with a school-for-life type.) I’ve had this site now for seven years, and for the first couple of years it was such a hotspot for thinking, reflecting, and connecting. And then, for some reason, and I really can’t put my finger on a single reason…so, reasons…I became less and less active. For the last four years at least I have been been trying to jumpstart this site. It honestly needs a shock right to the heart.

Then I saw that Betina Hsieh has started a 30-day challenge with some colleague-friends. They are writing and posting at least 150 words each day, and for accountability, tagging each other. It hit me –> friend accountability. I should have learned this years ago through the collaborative energy of #clmooc or my “public shaming” pacts with by good friend Tim Fredrick (if we didn’t write, the other could shame us publicly as they wished)! I am such a fan of Betina’s reflective writing on her site The Life and Times of an Evolving Academic that I thought I should follow her lead. Then, graciously, Darlene Kriesel (@darlenekriesel) invited me to join in! Before diving in, I wanted to make sure I would be able to commit and be accountable to the others—as I have learned, particularly from Terry Elliott (@tellio) in #clmooc, reciprocity with colleagues online is the lifeblood and source of collaborative energy.

So, here I am. I was looking back to see what would be reasonable to commit to doing. Two years ago (where did last year go?) I wrote a post where I mentioned a very cool postcard Kevin Hodgson (@dogtrax) had created with a data display to account for his resolutions from the year before. So, I thought I could take an accounting of my online reflective writing to see what the hard numbers were for my writing-to-date. And it was worse than I thought. Not only have my posts decreased to a dribble, but my interaction via this site has fallen to the early day numbers when I was making very few connections and having even fewer conversations here. And that was the whole purpose. Take a look yourself.

A Day in the Life of a Blogger.png

So, what have I concluded from this accounting? I may not make it beyond the 30 days, but if I have friends willing to lock proverbial arms with me for the next few days, knocking out 150 a day just might be enough of a chest compression to get some blood flowing in this site again. So, yes, I’m in. Let’s jumpstart this! (455 words…booyah!)

As always, I apologize that WordPress has begun to force ads on each post. Please ignore any ad that follows. I have not vetted and do not support whatever is advertised below.

Anna Smith, PhD, educational researcher & teacher educator blogging about composition in the digital age, contexts for learning, theories of development, and global youth.

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