The Leftovers

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At a recent event I had the joy of reintroducing Kindergarten activities to a group of educators. It was a simple project, really. With magazines, calendars, and books (yes, BOOKS) in hand, these very serious adults took on the task of cutting and ripping and tearing pieces in order to create a new piece of artwork. The fancy term, of course, is remix. It is a buzzword of this digital literacy age we’re in, and really an important way of thinking critically and imaginatively. Dr. Donna Alvermann and UGA doctoral candidate Crystal Beach set the stage for this particular presentation two years ago with their Becoming 3lectric project that set out to study remix in the digital space. The three of us collaborated on this event and presented together.

The energy in the room resonated with laughter and chatter – just as it should for a group of adults exploring their inner children. They shared their creations and admired each others’ work and the stories that accompanied them.

At the end of the session one participant struggled with how to connect everything together in her own mind relating to her students, her classes, and her own realities. She enjoyed the project itself because it was a fun release in an information heavy conference, but the rationale for its importance eluded her. In her attempt to make me understand, she pointed to the discarded remnants of the pages she didn’t use and said, “But what about the leftovers?”

The leftovers. I was in the process of cleaning the room for the next session coming in, but her question stopped me cold. Maybe it was the moment, but I suddenly thought, not so much about the leftover materials, but about the leftovers. The materials, after all, were outdated and used things that were already bound for the refuse bin, so the paper scraps and bits were not the actual issue, at least not in my mind.

No, what struck me was that, in my enthusiasm for a hands-on fun learning experience, I neglected to fully engage a whole segment of the audience: those who are uncomfortable with the messiness of learning unless they understand the rational behind it. Most people are game to try new things if they know why it matters. Some people don’t need to know why before they jump in with total abandon. And others, like myself, enjoy the process of constructing meaning from the exercise that makes sense with our own points of view. Most of the people who chose to attend this session fit one of these three categories, but there was a under-represented fourth group that deserved a better answer that I was unprepared to give.Virtureal

So, why do this project and how does it fit into the real world of the English Language Arts classroom?  I think one reason is the connections we make between others who wander the planet with us. When we remix work done by others into something new, we insert our lives into theirs and we become co-constructors of meaning and relationship even though the players may never meet.

What do we know based on this interaction? Maybe knowing is in the experience of mingling our thoughts with the ideas of others. Dewey wrote about the experimental practice of knowing and certainly remix is active experiment. What do we learn about ourselves, our identities, and maybe our insecurities through a process of remix? Are we making a statement that perhaps our version of other people’s work is superior? Or do we unveil our own uncertainties about our own contributions to the dialogue around us?

This is a discussion worth having, particularly as paradigms about education and knowing shift under our feet. Once education focused on survival skills and community support. It was practical, ensuring students could read and write enough to be considered literate, and to be able to function sufficiently in mathematics to be a contributor to a local economy. More recently the standardized multiple choice test became the dominant measure of knowing something.  This policy, long criticized by classroom teachers, now faces refinement and no one is quite sure yet what the next step will look like. But educators still hold to the heart of their passion: teaching students, not to take tests, but to survive and thrive in a rapidly changing world. Remix may not change the world, but it can change a child in a classroom who is given the freedom and opportunity to explore him/herself by interacting with the words and art of those who have gone before.

And that’s why it matters. Not just because it’s fun, but because the opportunity for reflection and connection creates meaning between generations and people and cultures. Because, while there may be students who know who they are and don’t mind messy exploration, there are others who identify more with the leftover scraps than the whole pieces. I created this piece with the same scraps that had so bewildered our participant.  The purpose may not always be obvious, but it is present.

There are no leftovers; only beauty waiting to be discovered.

There are no leftovers; only beauty waiting to be discovered.

 

 

 

 

 

References

Dewey, J. (1984). The play of ideas. In J.A. Boydston (Ed.), John Dewey, the later works. Volume 4: 1929,  The quest for certainty. Carbondale and Edwardsville, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.

Ganzel, B. (2007).  Education in rural America. Retrieved from http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/life_12.html

 

 

 

 

 

Persist to Learn

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Sometimes learning requires both persistence and ingenuity. There are days when students run into the same obstacles over and over again. But a good teacher will not remove the obstacle. A good teacher will wait while the student figures out a different approach to the challenge. Of course, it would be far easier to just give the right answer or even give explicit direction, but in the long term, how does that benefit the student when the next obstacle comes along? It takes an incredible amount of self-control to watch students work things out for themselves, but the joy when they DO overcome is immeasurable.

Identity formation and Walking

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I wrote this on Medium and thought I’d share here as well.

We live in a connected world. That said, we seem to be more isolated than ever before. There are coffee shops that promote face to face conversation by eliminating wifi and informal games that require groups in restaurants to put down their mobile devices (because the handheld technologies are far more than phones these days) or foot the bill for the entire party. Ray Bradbury saw it coming and wrote about it (remember Mildred’s “seashells” from Fahrenheit 451?)

The challenge for those of us who choose to embrace the digital spaces is to create authentic connections with people across time, distance, and cultural differences. For me, it’s one of the most exciting things about #walkmyworld. Because it is designed to be a fun collaboration of identities around learning events, the stress level for perfection is reduced. Even though the learning events include content instruction that is easily augmented in particular classrooms, the tone is light and engaging, so the threat level is low. People from around the world come to play, and it becomes a true multi-cultural experience among like minded people of all ages. There are elementary and secondary students, graduate students, pre-service teachers, and professors all involved, but no one is an expert. Instead, all participants are learning and sharing together in a virtual community of equals.

Since this is my third year as part of Walk My World, I think I have a sense of what to expect: expect the unexpected. Unexpected learning, unexpected friendships, and unexpected glimpses into a digital identity still in formation and ever evolving. This is how a connected world can work: people being authentic, sharing an experience, and learning how to walk together.

Walk My World

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It’s here! It’s time!

Walk My World begins its third iteration this week. I have helped craft the learning events and I think this will be the best year ever.

Join the fun here! The first week is all about getting set, so jump right in!

 

Wasteland

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This image has been sitting in this draft for months, so long that I don’t remember the original purpose. I think it had to do with a #clmooc challenge over the summer, but I can’t be sure. Still, it is a powerful image that I can’t bring myself to delete, so it must be something to explore.

Fig.1 Drawing by Belgian artist Yslaire

I titled this post Wasteland when I put the image in place; perhaps it is the title of the piece, perhaps just my impression, but when I look at it my mind goes to the cruellest month  underscored by the organ and guitars of Baba O’Riley. The image, I am certain, refers to neither of these, but in my mind they are inexorably connected.

Wasteland is a place beyond hope. A place where there is no escape from monotony and tedium. In this image, the television screen acts as hypnotist, so mesmerizing the viewer that he forgets he is a winged creature, made to soar.

 

And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,

http://www.bartleby.com/201/1.html

We too often allow life to put blinders on us. Even if we resist the allure of the screen (be it television, computer, or smart phone), we manage to stay in the parched shadow of the red rock, afraid to venture out into the unfamiliar until we, too, forget we have wings to fly on the fresh winds  of the exodus from the wasteland to the promised land.

The best question ever.

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“But is that how it really happens?” (Flower & Hayes, 1981). That may be the best question I’ve ever read when it comes to writing theory. As a teacher I have taught all kinds of writers, and each one seems to have a personalized path for working out a writing process. I give them tools and ideas and theories, but the bottom line is I don’t stand over them and dictate their processes.

This is not to say that I don’t believe there are more efficient ways to construct a document or compose a text. There are standards that must be met, and audiences need to understand the final product. For years I taught the traditional linear model because it was one I knew and it was one that worked for me. I still work from outlines most of the time, even if the outlines are in my head. I teach and speak from outlines, not scripts. I invented clever acromyns and graded outlines more stringently than papers. (Actually, I was on the right track with that; the process matters most in high school composition classes.) Over time, though, I realized that some students wrote the outline to turn in, but never actually used it. Often they scratched out ideas, composed an outline because I told them to, and continued on their merry way. Flower and Hayes (1981) articulate my personal reality when they write, “An important goal for research, then will be to discover how this process of representing the problem works and how it affects the writer’s performance” (p. 369).

I love this concept of planning instead of formula. Not an outline (unless it works for particular students), not a five-paragraph essay (a term I have rebelled against since I started teaching), but some kind of internal representation of what the writer knows and what s/he plans to do with that knowledge. Of course, orgainization matters, but it can look different for each individual. Outlines work for me, mind maps work for my husband, and I’ve had some success with students using photographs to organize their thoughts.

Flower and Hayes (1981) use the term translate to describe the process of converting ideas to language. The idea of translating ideas to text makes more sense than telling students to organize their thoughts and write, which is the more traditional model I have used in the past. There’s something more organic about translation. It seems to incorpoate more of the process between the mind and the written page, including discussion and experimentation. It encourages revision as part of the process rather than as a way to fix mistakes.  I think this idea is why I have shifted all my writing and all my students’ writing to Google Docs.  Being completely online, work can be easily shared with others who can interact with the author, asking questions, noting errors, and helping clarify the ideas as they move from vague thoughts to something more fully developed. Planning and brainstorming can happen at the same time through the affordances of the comments and chat box when multiple people have access to the document.  My students have been more deliberate and thorough in their peer editing in the comments than when I used hard copies and rubrics, partly because they feel comfortable conversing in an online space. That conversation becomes part of the writer’s translation process. Similarly, I can look over the shoulder, so to speak, of the writer and help when needed in real time, beyond the classroom clock.

Even more, Google docs allow easy illustration through the drawing features of the software and the ability to easily add images, video, and audio links.. Some students need illustrative tools to put the ideas down without the requirement for finding the right words. Flower and Hayes (1981) discuss the generation of information through multiple symbol systems including movement and images (p. 373). Those non-word iterations, no matter what they are, become a step in the translation process. There is something about the online shared nature of Google that gives students a form of permission to try. As other companies improve their document sharing and editing capabilities, there will be other options, but Google docs, at least for now, is the best tool I have used in the classroom to encourage experimentation as they compose. There is a lot of freedom in translation, freedom to work in a linear manner or recursive, freedom to express ideas in symbols other than words, and freedom to easily engage with other people throughout the writing process.

 

References

Flower, L., Hayes. John R. (1981, December). A cognitive process theory of writing. College Composition and Communication. 32[4].

Whistling: A #DiGiWriMo Collaborative Mystery

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DiGiWriMo gave me a great excuse to try something new with my students. Because I teach three very distinct classes, I was intrigued by the idea of a collaborate project across all three. One class is all online. One is face-to-face, and the third is a hybrid of the two. I intend to write up the process and how it worked, but for now, here is the story they wrote, as they left it:

 

“A fish can’t whistle, and neither can I.” Sharon said that to me a million times, and now I can’t believe she’s gone. It’s funny how little things can turn into the things you remember the most. It isn’t the cases we solved together. It’s the inside stories, like her silly quotes, that nobody understands except for me. People don’t know why I’m smiling at when I look at her picture. They think I’m crazy but they don’t understand our little private jokes about pretty much everything under the sun. Like how she used to make fun of me when I ordered the Double Sumo meal at our regular Tao Min lunches. “Know your limits,” she would say. And I’d laugh and order it anyway. And take half of it home.

My reminiscent thoughts are interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. “Already miss her?” says the deep voice behind me. As I turn away from her picture, I see Lieutenant Sam Marshall, the lead detective on Sharon’s murder case. He hands me an envelope. “This is for later. Not today. But later, when you’re ready.” I peek inside and see photos, presumably from the scene where Sharon died in a bizarre head-on collision with the wall near the restaurant we spent most of our shift lunches. “Thanks,” I mutter. And I tuck the envelope in my jacket pocket.

After the funeral, I walk into my bedroom and watch my coat fall limp on the bed frame. I grudgingly gather the will to open the thin envelope and dump the contents on the bed. Pictures scatter. A car, a deployed and shriveled airbag, trunk slightly ajar, the concrete wall scarred from the drag of the driver’s side door, damage that indicated how my partner died. There are other random marks on the wall, but that’s not unusual in this part of town. Graffiti is pretty common. I’m relieved to see no pictures of Sharon’s body.

 

Ring. Ring. I wake up and realize I’ve slept in the clothes I wore to the memorial. “Dispatch. Code 187. Officer Castillo. Report to PB gas station on Main and Truman. Officers already on scene. Suspected homicide.” I report back, “I need a shower and my body calls for a cup of coffee before I head out. If there are officers already there, they can wait another ten minutes.”

As I pull up the yellow crime scene tape over my head, I scan the scene. I see a body hanging down from the rafters with a pool of blood on floor beneath his feet. At the moment the medical examiner’s team is preparing to take the body down. I look around. The place is a mess, there was obviously a struggle. “Eddie,” I hear a solemn voice. “Come look at this.” I walk over to Detective Marshall, who is holding a camera and pointing at a paper near the cash register. I look at the counter and see a sheet of paper with blots of red. “What in the world. What do you think this is?” I say. Marshall replies, “I don’t know. It reminds me of the blood stains on the wall where Sharon… uh…” What blood stains? I don’t remember anything but graffitti on the wall at Sharon’s crime scene. I shake my head and turn my attention back to the case at hand.

Detective Marshall snaps more pictures, so I make my way around to the corpse, now on the floor. He looks familiar – like I should know who it is. The medical team extracts an SD card from his mouth and places it in an evidence bag. “Take a look at this.” I’m handed the plastic bag and figure this needs to be brought to the station to find out what is on it.

I start the engine of my car and begin heading to the station. How did I miss the blood with the graffitti? I must have been more tired than I thought. I resolve to look again when I get home. First things first: what is on this card and why was it forced between the victim’s back molars?

 

The data comes back from the lab. All this information looks familiar. I remember this case. It was one that Sharon and I worked together on a few years back. The dead guy was Luis Sanchez.He had strangled one of our best coder/analysts just as we were about to break open a drug ring in town. We had Sanchez, dead to rights, until some careless idiot in the clerk’s office misfiled some pertinent paperwork. The judge had to let Sanchez off. We were furious.

As I am waiting for the pictures to come back from the PB station, another call comes in over the scanner. “Dispatch. Code 187. Officer Castillo. Report to Motel 23 on 23rd Street and Holyoke. Officers already on scene. Suspected homicide.” Again? Two homicides in one day? Our town is pretty quiet, so this is weird. Once again, I head to my car.

This hotel is old. Not exactly a place I’d want to call home, but it’s a roof and a bed if you’re desperate. The first thing I cast my eyes on is a beat up truck, resting on the chock block that’s supposed to stop a car before it does any damage to the building. Nice thought. I look in the window and see the usual mess of a laborer, complete with empty bottle of Mountain Dew…healthy.

I am greeted by Detective Marshall, camera in hand. “You might want to look at this. It’s kinda creepy.” For Marshall to call something creepy is creepy itself. It must be bad. I walk into the room and see a trail of blood drops running around the bed that leads to the contorted body of Steve Lorne.  I turn to Marshall, “What the heck?” Marshall shrugs and points to the television, illuminated by static. There I see it. More blood. I take a closer look and flash back to the earlier scene with the red marked paper. The marks seem to be similar – and definitely intentional.

“Do you have any pictures from this morning?” I say. Marshall and I walk to his car and open his laptop. He loads the pictures from his camera and we both look at the images. There is no doubt. The marks are exactly the same. “The one this morning turned out to be Sanchez’s blood,” Marshall tells me. “I’m betting this one is this guy’s. I’ll let you know the minute the labs come back.” Marshall prints out copies of both blood stains and hands them to me. “See if you can figure out what these mean” he says. I nod and head back to the station, pictures in hand, and my head spinning.

 

This dead guy is too familiar. It hits me then. Sharon and I worked this case a year ago when Lorne killed the owner of a Japanese restaurant across town. The restaurant was famous for its Fugu – and only the most daring diners would attempt to eat it because of its reputation as a killer dish. The place never recovered from the owner’s death and closed.

I decide to take a second look at that case. Number 10020023. 23. Same number as the motel. I figure it’s a coincidence and turn back to the photos.

I’m interrupted by a call from the lab. Evidently, the Mountain Dew bottle tested positive for tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin found in Fugu. Lorne must have been feeling the burn in his mouth and the confusion and muscle weakness that precedes death when he crashed. How he made it to his room, I’m not sure, but he couldn’t have lasted long once he got there. Gruesome way to die, if you ask me.

I pull up both case files to see what could link them together besides the fact that they were our – Sharon’s and mine – cases. And both killers got off scot-free. It hits me. The way they were killed–strangulation and Fugu poison. Some weird connection to the cases in front of me. And then the blood. Something in the back of my mind tells me I’m missing something huge. The killer has to know what cases Sharon and I have worked as well as have access to those case files. The only people who would have access to that information and who have been around long enough to know what cases Sharon and I have worked are Sharon and Detective Marshall. But Sharon is dead….

 

Two days later, I get a call informing me of another murder. On top of the three crime scenes the station is already overwhelmed with, the death of Frank Kelly is added to the list. Kelly’s case is one we all know too well because Kelly was the reason Sharon became a cop to begin with. He killed her cousin – the whole family, actually. Kelly left the house burning, all bodies inside except for Sharon’s cousin, Barbara whose body was never found. He had stabbed the rest of the family before burning the house. I was a new cop, then, so I only know the story from the reports I read and from what Sharon told me. Sharon was always driven to get a conviction for Kelly, but he managed to keep delaying trial. Good lawyers for him, but Sharon was angry at the system for letting Kelly go on with his life while her family suffered. Her primary motivation in law enforcement was to find justice for families of victims by good police work. She may have been a jokester about my eating habits, but she was dead serious about her job.

It only takes ten minutes to get to the apartment building in this case. A quick glance tells me that this is much more violent than the other two this week. Hanging from a fifth floor window is a guy – obviously dead based on the fact that it’s only his foot keeping his body from falling to the ground. I can see from the parking lot that there is something on the window.

I run up the stairs and by the time I get there, the medics have pulled the dead guy in. Sure enough, it’s Frank Kelly. I’d recognize his ugly face anywhere – even bloodied and swollen in death. I let the medics do their thing while I look around the room. I see Marshall with his camera and he waves me over.

“It’s another one,” he says, pointing at the window. Plain as day, I see the image and I suddenly feel nauseous.

“Marshall!” I say. “When did Sharon and I take that Psych course with all the Rorschach ink blot studies? Wasn’t that just a month or so ago?”

“Yeah, why?” Marshall looks confused, but smirks at the memory of all the complaining I did about having to do the stupid course.

I pull the pictures out of my pocket – when did I put them there? I sort through until I find the two blood marks and compare them to the one painted on the window. They’re all the same. I point this out to Marshall who tells me I’m seeing too much into it and that my mind’s playing tricks on me.

 

I looked back at Kelly’s body which the medics weren’t finished with yet. He looked like he took a beating and he was stabbed multiple times before he was hung out to dry. I thought back to the cases from a few days ago and Sharon’s case; they all had the blood blots to connect them, so they had to have the same killer. But either Kelly fought his murderer to his death or his murderer had some grudge against him and took it out on his body. Who could know these specific cases? No witnesses. No accomplices. I look over at Marshall again. Sharon and Marshall are the only ones who could have known about these specific cases and Sharon is dead, so that just leaves…

 

“Marshall,” I say, “I need to clear my head. I’m headed back to the station. Let me know if…” As I’m crossing the room my eye falls on the couch which is strangely normal-looking. On it is a book, open to reveal a highlighted sentence on page 43, “A fish can’t whistle, and neither can I.” The Tao of Pooh. I pick up the book by the corner and put it into an evidence bag and put it in my pocket. I have to think.

Once I got back to the station I make my way back to my office, stopping for a cup of coffee. Jack, one of our techs comes up and says, “Weird about the missing bodies.”  I just look at him.

“What missing bodies?”

“Well, isn’t this the guy who killed Sharon’s relatives? I remember that the cousin’s body was never found in that case. And then, of course, no one ever found Sharon’s body..er…um…right?” Apparently my face gave me away. They never found Sharon’s body? And never thought to mention that to me?

 

In my office, I take a deep breath and pull out the pictures from Sharon’s case. I glance through them looking for anything that might have been missed. When I get to the last one, I look more closely at the graffiti on the wall. And then I see it. A red Rorschach blot in the middle of the crazy mural of spray paint. How had I missed that before?  Upon noticing this I pull up the case (noticing that the case ends in 43 – another weird coincidence) on my computer. There is nothing about a body in the report.  “Jack was right!” I say it aloud, even though no one is in the office but me. I call Marshall and demand to know why he never told me that Sharon’s body was missing.

Marshall replies with “you never asked”. I could punch him, but know he probably wanted to keep me out of the loop because she was my partner. Evidence was one thing, but a missing body was another, I guess. In any case, now I have four Rorschach blots in blood, three cases Sharon and I worked together, and two missing bodies. Something doesn’t add up.

I keep staring at the four pictures until my eyes blur. I hear Sharon’s voice in my head laughing during the course we took. Being cops, we had a hard time taking it seriously, and we joked around a lot. The best joke was the day we were “analyzed” and Sharon came back with a “diagnosis” of “borderline psychotic with violent tendencies”. We laughed about that for days.

 

I shake the memory from my head and look out the window. I see a shadow passing by and I hear someone whistling, badly.  I could swear it is Sharon. I know her walk and her attitude better than anyone else. And Sharon’s fish-whistle quote was partly funny because she couldn’t whistle herself out of a paper bag. But it can’t be her – I’m seeing ghosts. I figure I need to get out of the office.

I decide to walk a little. There’s a park by the restaurant where we used to have lunch. I’m not hungry enough for a Double Sumo meal, but I figure the air will do me good, even though it’s getting dark. I look in the restaurant window at our old table, wondering how all these cases intersect. It’s obviously got to be the same killer, but why are all the bodies there except Sharon’s and her cousin’s? Why are the dead killers’ murders so obviously connected to their crimes?

My phone rings, but the number is “restricted”. When I click answer, the voice on the end stops me in my tracks.

“Hello Eddie.”

 

Contributing Authors:

Sawyer Stromwall, Lisa Kawamura, Connor Horne, Anna Laarhoven, Hudson Stromwall, Ted Ingram, Danny Glenos, Bri McGhee, Laney Hall, and Charity Campbell.