Category Archives: Contemporary Composition

Easy as Pie: Thanksgiving Dinner and Digital Content Creation

Thanksgiving is easy.

Hear me out: Turkey? Stick it in an oven for hours. Mashed potatoes? Boil some water. Yams? Sprinkle some brown sugar. Green beans? Open a can. Even hand-whipped whip cream? Yep. That, too. Whip it.

Even if you end up making a Half-Trifle Half-Shepherd’s Pie Rachel Special, “what’s not to like?” Joey will eat it.

Yes, I have a point.

We like to make Thanksgiving a big deal. Sure there are more mouths to feed, more places to set at the table, more potatoes to peel, but it’s not any more difficult than a single crème brûlée. A good mole? I have no idea where to start.

In the same way, there are some of us who still think that digital content creation—a video, a blog post with an image, a podcast, a visual meme, a musical track, an image collage—is a big deal. I am here to say that like Thanksgiving, it isn’t that hard. In fact, digital content creation has never been easier.  We don’t have to wait until next year for Facebook to provide us with another 30-second video with five of our photos. We can make our own in just about the same amount of time it took to watch it.

Here are my go-to apps for composing-on-the-go:

Animoto

This last winter, my nephew was performing at an Open Mic with his brother for the last time before he left on a two-year service stint. As I watched the performance, I took snapshots and recorded a couple of the songs. And as I went up to the bar to order a hot chocolate, I opened Animoto on my phone, selected a couple of pictures and a snippet or two of the video, typed a couple of words.  Continue reading Easy as Pie: Thanksgiving Dinner and Digital Content Creation

Learning Pathways on ConnectedLearning.tv

What do learning pathways look like as young people move across learning contexts in pursuit of their interests in school, at home, in libraries, community centers and online?

Tomorrow, July 16th, at 1:00 PM Eastern/10:00 AM Pacific, I will have the opportunity to join Elyse Eidman-Aadahl of the National Writing Project, Kris Gutierrez at University of Colorado at Boulder, and Paul Allison of YouthVoices to discuss how youth leverage the opportunities, resources, tools, and connections available to them, and in this process, how learning and literacy practices are shaped. We’ll ask: How do individuals create and transform themselves as learners? How can we design learning environments to be responsive to these pathways? Continue reading Learning Pathways on ConnectedLearning.tv

#AERA13 or What I’m Up To This Week–Other Than 37,989 Feet Above Iowa

I am currently 37,989 feet above the middle of Iowa sending digital messages to people around the world. The next generation will be unfazed with this phenomenon. I don’t think I’ll ever cease to be amazed. Continue reading #AERA13 or What I’m Up To This Week–Other Than 37,989 Feet Above Iowa

Your Voice in Mine

How can I hear my own voice unless it bounces off of yours?

I have had that single line in my mind for years. It isn’t particularly poetic, and I don’t completely agree with what it implies, but I’ve tried relentlessly to write the poem I hear inside it. It has something to do with the way the masses in NYC weave, avoid, embrace. I wrote another line once trying to get near it:

As a child I would drag my fingers through water or hold my arm out car windows to feel this–this particle rumba, this caressing, this giving and taking of space.

I thought of the line and concept again as I was flipping through photographs students in the EXCEL Academy @ NYU had saved while doing some digital writing of their own. I paused. I thought of the conversations we have had this week on #digiwrimo about the changing nature of audience—potential, imagined, intended, unknown, collateral—when our writing occurs in networked digital spaces. I wondered: If the world is my potential (imagined, intended, unknown, collateral) audience, is my looking glass self, is who I am in relation to who I think you are, what is the voice I hear when I write here and like this?

Unsurprisingly, when I looked up the photograph to find who I could attribute it to, I found four pages of “similar images” used in websites all over—without attribution. I thought of replication in the “particle rumba” I hear in voices, the constant “giving and taking of space.” I wondered: When your message, your media, your words can be and are so often available to be appropriated and remixed, what are we able to hear and voice that outside of a digital, networked space are unavailable? What voices do we hear when we are collapsed into audience—viewing our messages and media spin and weave—as we write, replicate to distribute, and write again in response, and in response to response? When we see our digital messages a month, a year, a few years later returned to us, can recognize the voice as it was above the din of all that we can now hear?

Just this week, I came home to find a special prize in my mailbox. It was my copy of Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis: Intersections and Challenges, an edited volume in which I have a chapter with Glynda Hull. In it we detail the digital writing processes of Tyson, a high school student in the South Bronx, as he layered text, photographs, visual transitions, quotes, music, and eventually a film clip made by a young woman in India, Bakhti, whose work he had gained access to through a closed, international social network. Through this composing process, Tyson reframed the message he was intending to express, and this was no small shift: from “wanting lots of money” to the importance of exploring the concept of struggle through historical, global, and caregiving lenses. Tyson’s voice was accented by images, textured with quoted passages from a book, and (re)tuned to (and by) Bakhti’s voice—all through appropriation of other voices and their messages.

I’ve come to realize that we don’t have to be typing simultaneously in a GDoc to have your voice in mine. In contemporary composition, in digital writing, you are my collaborator when I sit to write. I hear @slamteacher‘s poetic strains and @jessifer‘s short, snappy refrains. I hear what @elemveee is reading and how @maryannreilly is seeing. I hear these in my voice, and your voices give my messages texture.

*     *     *

This post was originally written and posted for Digital Writing Month. As one of the final guest posts of the month, it ended with the closing below, which I think, months later, is still apropos, especially given the connections and collaborations that have stemmed from Digital Writing Month—most notably my work with Kevin Hodgson to further interrogate the concept of “digital writing.” That conversation can be navigated here. You know, you should really check out Kevin’s latest installation of that conversation. It uses VoiceThread to engage and connect others in our conversation—and is in regards to communities online. It’s probably why I have been thinking of reposting this to my site lately. That and the tweets from Joyce Carol Oates this morning:

*    *    *

How very exciting that the last day of this month does not mean the end to our digital writing! For many of this month’s participants, I’ve just begun to hear you. (And let’s be honest, the first I heard from you was probably a #TvsZ zombie groan.) I can’t wait to hear more. I can’t wait to dance the particle rumba, to collaborate from a distance, to hear my voice in yours and your voice in mine.

Writing for Self and Others in an Era of Shared Social Realities

The following is a Guest Post from Julie Warner, a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on literacies and an instructor of writing at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia. It is based on research presented at the 2012 Literacy Research Association conference (précis is available here). Julie tweets with the handle @newliteracy.
CC license: Attribution Lau Sew

When I was a young girl, I kept a diary. Since I was the oldest of four siblings, it had to come equipped with a lock (the kind that was more of a suggestion than an actual deterrent). Accordingly, my younger brother at one point read my diary; it was so embarrassing. And so when I was witness to the blogging phenomenon years later, I thought it strange to put one’s diary on the Internet for all to read.

But that’s just what the teens I was studying were doing: recounting the events of their days, processing the meaning of said events, and expressing hopes and dreams, all online for me and anyone else to read. I became intrigued as to how they thought about their audience when they were blogging in this capacity. The three teenagers upon whom I focused all offered some variation of the same idea: that the blog was “just for me.” However, the genre of the blog, by nature hosted online and thus quite public, told a different story.

Continue reading Writing for Self and Others in an Era of Shared Social Realities

Creating Conversation: Composing in the Digital Age

Update: You can now navigate this conversation here.22477440_4366572e31 (1)

One of the many potentials of the shifts in re-envisioning writing in multimodal spaces is the chance for new conversations — for stretching out thinking beyond your own physical space and joining in discussions about the changes now underfoot. During November 2012’s Digital Writing Month, educators and writers and others from across many teaching levels and learning domains — from public schools to college universities and beyond — were engaged in a deep exploration of digital tools and ideas, and many participants shared reflective practice on what those digital choices were doing to their conceptions of writing.

As fellow explorers during Digital Writing Month, Kevin Hodgson and I have decided to continue that conversation through consideration of digital literacies and contemporary composition by coordinating a multimodal conversation that begins with the idea of Digital Writing Month and then stretches outward from there. We will be jumping, leaping and diving from digital media platform to digital media platform in their conversation, as we first reflect on literacies in the 21st Century and then ask, and respond to, each others’ questions.

Kevin is a sixth grade teacher in Western Massachusetts and a member of the National Writing Project. He is the co-editor and writer of Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom. You may already know him as @dogtrax on Twitter. I am ecstatic to learn with him! (And, by the way, most of the text in this blog post was written by Kevin. Gotta love collaboration!)

We hope others to join us as we build this digital tapestry of ideas and reflections! We’re excited to announce that we’ll be hosting this conversation on the National Writing Project‘s Digital Is website. The exchanges will take place on Kevin’s Digital Is blog posts and my Digital Is blog posts. Please visit and join us in the comments…and feel free to respond using the same platform we used! We are also using the hashtag #modigiwri on Twitter to link the conversation together.

(#modigiwri is a play on #digiwrimo, which was the hashtag for Digital Writing Month. Our #mo doesn’t quite stand for month…We’re hoping you can infer its meaning!)
//www.flickr.com/photos/clearlyambiguous/22477440/
CC license: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clearlyambiguous/22477440/

You Say Hello & I Say Goodbye

This is a post.

This is a post about how easy it is to write words.

This is a post about how easy it is to write words just in case I forget in the next 29 days.

Read on. You’ll see why.

It’s November, and that means it’s Get That Writing Done Month.

Of biggest fare is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and though I am registered on the site, it is mostly for their awesome progress widgets and community write-in sessions. I am not writing a novel. Oh, no.

It is also #digiwrimo (Digital Writing Month), which is the month I wish I was having. In a part-essay part-poemSean Michael Morris shared a vision of digital writing that I want to be.

So let me do Mr. Morris’ piece justice and rather than just quoting him, I am going to make it full-blown poem:

This is Third-Order Thinking,
a found poem from an essay by Sean Michael Morris

this writing right here
cannot know except as it is made useful
excerpted | repurposed | discovered | reimagined | plagiarized | undone |
made poetic by an accident (our always already ironic)

if what we say is made valuable
by what readers say with what we say
({re}constructed, not just interpreted
{re}built, {re}fabricated, {re}purposed)
we must write accordingly

thoughts of the writers
(corrupted)
lie between the words
({re}corrupted)
and the way
they’ve been assembled
like archaeologists we detect
meaning
lying below
meaning
our texts, the many layers of Troy

but the real {novelty} of digital writing comes
when words are reflown

no longer responders to History
no longer makers of Literature
we are the writers of partially-realized ideas

and their rewriters.

[btw, to me this “third-order thinking” echoes the kind of the self-reflexive and hospitable stances we (my co-author Glynda Hull and I) noticed in our work with youth who were composing…actually…I should say, that chapter has now been realized in print in Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis: Intersections and Challenges. It’s totally worth checking out, imho.]

But no, although I am going to dip my toes in #digiwrimo whenever I can, my month is going to be more of the #acwrimo (Academic Writing Month) variety. In #acwrimo, instead of a cray-cray 50,000 word goal, you come up with your own daily achievement. My plan was to get going under the radar, see how successful I was and eventually add my goals and amazing progress to the Accountability Spreadsheet. But last night, in a midnight stupor, I outed myself. And I might as well let you know I am row 189 on the spreadsheet and you can also watch my “progress” on the calendar widget above and on the bottom of every page: green = I’m truckin’ | yellow = meh | red = kick me

Poster by James Provost

So here goes. 30 days to done. You won’t see me here very often, unless I need to remind myself that 500 words is cake, a simple early-to-rise hour, a great #digiwrimo prompt, a get-er-done moment.

How about you? You taking the plunge?

To DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or to DREAM (DRop Everything And Make)

20120914-131047.jpgLast weekend, as I was walking to my weekend office (my favorite cafe in El Barrio, East Harlem Cafe), I passed the corner of 105th and Lexington, which had been under construction for the last months. Suddenly, I heard someone calling my name from inside the building. Sure enough it was Manny Vega, visual artist and mosaicist extraordinaire, who is well-known for his restoration of the Spanish Harlem mural on 104th and Lexington and the mosaics in the NYC subway station at 110th street.

20120914-131059.jpgHe was working on his newest project, a mosaic realization of the appliquéd series of public art that runs along the businesses from 104th to 105th in East Harlem (featured in the NY Times). In the renovation of the building at 105th and Lexington, the art there had been removed in pieces, and the folks at 7173 Associates, LLC, and the owner of the long-standing neighborhood perfumerie, Exotic Fragrances, had decided this was not a loss they would let the neighborhood feel. Expected to run 20 feet long and 7 feet high, Espiritu: A Visual Prayer in Glass and Stone for the Here and Now, is Vega’s gift for the streets of East Harlem. It will be unveiled October 6th at 3:00 p.m.

The theme is a celebration of moments in my life where spirit has been the vehicle for living. It has been an amazing experience to share these images with everyone as folks have provided even more meaning to this project with their own association with my art and the realm of the spirit. -Manny Vega

And if I wasn’t already lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with such a vibrant art community, Manny Vega has been kind enough to take me on as an unofficial, part-time mosaic apprentice. We had met at East Harlem Cafe, where a commissioned piece hangs announcing their name. We began to talk technique and tools, and pretty soon, I had my first assignments. I studied, up close and personal, the mosaics throughout the subways stations in NYC (and got a more than a few weird looks as I stood nose to tile) and then on a trip to Russia, the Byzantine style that Vega practices. With pieces of construction paper and scissors, I drew then places tiles in channels, a Byzantine-style technique that creates the movement, depth and life seen in Vega’s creations.

It was a Saturday, and I had a long to-do list awaiting me, but I did what any sane person would do with your mosaic mentor working on a landmark piece. I dropped everything and went to get my pieces and tools. I returned and we worked alongside each other with a stereo blasting the local flavor for hours. Manny showed me a new fastening technique, and let me use a new clipper tool to practice making curved pieces that “fastened” into the next stone. (You can see magnified sections of some of his work here by running the mouse over the image. Watch for the channels and how pieces are cut to fasten into each other.) He told me that as tile and glass becomes malleable and the pieces begin to run as you intend in the channels, the therapy sets in. The mind and body and the creation become one. And, as usual, he was right. I was transfixed and healed. I tweeted and an old student of mine responded brilliantly:

This got me thinking. Just a few nights before during #literacies chat, we had been discussing contemporary digital literacies while listening in to the National Writing Project’s bi-monthly radio program. We had this little exchange:

20120914-131124.jpg Part of Manny Vega’s mosaic mural Espiritu will be a piece that features The Trickster, a mythical creature that shows up across time and cultures. As a mosaic, Vega is afforded the ability to insert actual dominos and dice in his rendition of a modern-day Trickster, who gets around via skateboard. The dominos and dice are physical manifestations of the hustle, of the gamble, of the games today’s Trickster uses to entrap us. This physically-realized aesthetic and referent would not be possible in any other medium.

I think this is the approach we need to take when thinking about digital literacies. What are the affordances of the medium that—if we took advantage of—would result in compositions that could do and be things otherwise not possible? A few of my grad students took to defining contemporary literacies last semester. Some of the results are here. Doug Belshaw, of the Mozilla Foundation, is writing a white paper on web literacies right now, and he is looking for input. What do you think these affordances are that we should be attending to in schools today?

One of the changes I see as necessary, is to stop saying literacy when we mean reading. Literacies in contemporary times (and perhaps always) are equal measure reading and writing/interpreting and composing. In a forthcoming chapter in Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis: Intersections and Challenges, I explain (with co-author Glynda Hull):

Via digital means we are now easily able to compose in multiple modes and, with access to the Internet, to do so in response to and in collaboration with international others. Such practices are, in fact, increasingly viewed as central rather than peripheral to literacy (Andrews & Smith, 2011). Critical reading implies a reader’s active response, as Rosenblatt (1938/1995, 1978/1994) long ago taught us. The interpretation of written language and image resides at the intersection of text, the reader’s personal experiences with other texts, and the social world. In a digital age, a reader’s response can become manifest materially (cf. Coiro & Dobler, 2007). When readers engage with a blog, for instance, they are able, indeed expected, to click on links, add comments, and reblog or remix content. Such response is a customary, expected part of the reading experience. Thus, the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing becomes tighter in the digital sphere, making authorship more obviously tantamount to readership, and vice versa.

One way we could do this is change the DEAR program (Drop Everything and Read) and institute a DREAM program (DRop Everything and Make). As my old student Emily implied, this would include making meaning from existing texts, along with making new ones. I know from my Saturday afternoon with Manny, making is not just critical and creative, it can be healing.

(The #literacies chat also led us into another fascinating discussion of the boundaries of writing when considering contemporary digital composition. I’d love to continue the conversation on that topic that started here.)

My Month as a “Disconnected” Educator–Part II

In Part I, I described Connected Educator Month, and how I have purposefully “disconnected” this month by heading out to the mountain deserts of my youth, and next week off to a sleepy, coastal Mexican village. Like today, I check in every once in a while, which is the only reason I even found out about the Connected Educator Month activities, which inspired these posts.

So, what have I learned from being “disconnected” this month?

For one, I can appreciate the feelings described by some of my #teachread grad students who tried out various social media venues for the first time in our course. Some of them discussed the feeling of disconnection when they limited their engagement online to the occasional required post and response. I have been feeling the same as I glance at updates and posts by colleagues and not really read them, let alone respond and engage in the conversation. Other students talked about feeling like they were lost in a constant, fast-moving stream of words when they were trying to read, write and collaborate online. And yes, I have been so infrequently looking at my Twitter feed this month, I have felt out of sync, which has led to even less interaction on my part. I have learned that it is not about being connected or disconnected; rather, it is being engaged in conversations with others—exchanging, interacting, participating—that has made my personal learning network meaningful.

I have also learned that—like most things—this connection or disconnection thing is not a binary situation. While up at a cabin in the desert mountains of the southwest—disconnected as I can be from the world this month—I have been learning and thinking and…well…connected.

My niece and nephew visited for a night and in the morning my nephew and I sat sipping hot cocoa, listening to the different bird calls from the trees to our right and left, when we noticed an ordinary brown bird lift its wings and rise from the sagebrush in front of us. Suddenly it was no longer brown, but a soft blue, like water flying. We looked at each other and then back to the area to see if we could see any others like that one, and soon enough we saw three more. I asked him if he knew about birding. We didn’t have a bird identification book on hand, but we did have an Internet connection in that corner of the porch. I dug out my laptop. We sat comparing the birds flitting just a few feet in front of us to the pictures and descriptions online. We talked about search terms and categories that would result in a proper identification. And suddenly, we came across the Indigo Bunting. There it was, our deceptively bright blue bird. My nephew, who is starting 2nd grade this week, said, “I need to write this down.” And he went inside to dig out a pad of paper and pencil.

We talked about the genre of field notes, the type of information that goes into them, and how their sentences sound. As he wrote his entries, we talked about letter-sound correspondence and spelling patterns. At some point, he said it would be easier just to write the sentence from the website we had found. This led to a great discussion about attributing source material. We took a picture of his book to send to his parents once we were in cell phone coverage, and then realized that family and friends could be involved faster if we posted the picture to Facebook. In moments we were also responding to comments about our birding activities.

Photo taken with a potential app in mind–capturing petals, stems, leaves and soil.

We took the newly formed field notebook on an adventure walk to a reservoir three miles away, during which we took pictures of birds with my phone and he later drew them in his notebook as we sat next to the reservoir. On the way, my niece and I discussed the need for bird, insect and flower identification apps for the phone, about how apps are developed, and what we thought photos would need to entail for automatic identification through an app. We then started taking the pictures with this in mind, discussing what we would need to include in the frame of the photo.

And then we ran into an entomologist, who was riding along on his bike along the dusty path, and he gave us directions to a place that had books on birds, flowers, and of course, insects of the area. (He also described the red velvet ant he found just feet from us in a failed attempt to turn my nephew from birds to insects.) We had a choice at this time to walk an extra mile in the hot midday sun to go look at the books or we could hitch a ride with a neighbor in an air-conditioned car back to the cabin. It wasn’t even a question to my nephew who wanted to see all the books and hold them in his hands.

I’ve learned that this Connected (or in my case, “Disconnected”) Educator Month (see Part I) isn’t like the “paper or plastic” question. Contemporary composition, like my nephew’s field notebook, isn’t a pad of paper or laptop question either. It isn’t a choice between books or apps for bird and flower identification. It isn’t drawing or taking pictures.It isn’t experts IRL (in real life) or comments on a post. Even if you’re “disconnected,” our world and how we experience it is still (re)shaped by these digital means of connection. Of course we could dicker about the degree of my disconnection, but even when I wasn’t using a digital device, my conversations with my niece and nephew and our expectations were influenced by the possibilities of “connection.”

Concluding Thoughts
(in which I connect my experiences and mix my metaphors)

This has led me to think about something I heard in a tweet or a blog post (link me if you know the source) as a possible new literacy strategy for my “disconnected” and “lost” grad students, who were just dipping their toes into the swift stream of digital reading, writing and collaboration available nowadays. Someone advised followers to treat online collaboration and connection as if it were the radio. You tune in and immediately have to contextualize the conversation in order to make sense of it. By merely listening in and making inferential leaps about the genre and the references people are making, you can eventually grasp it. I like this analogy. I think it works.

I’d also say that unlike the radio—and even unlike radio call-in shows—this particular swift-moving stream is even more meaningful if you jump in or—like my niece from a slippery stone she was standing on next to the reservoir—slip in. (Her feet got quite slimy, but she reported that the cool water made it all worth it.) It isn’t just about the information that’s out there that our current devices and apps allow us to get, nor is it the kind of the messages we can now send; rather, it’s the possible conversations and ideas that ignite between people that makes “connecting” worth it. The possibilities surround us.