Tag Archives: writing

family literacy

Laura Bentley tweeted this question to me, Kevin Hodgson and the rest of the world earlier today:

@poh @dogtrax Who Inspired You To Write? http://bit.ly/cHfBol I would love to hear reflections from more of my WP friends & all =) #nwp

Kevin and I, unbeknownst to each other (since we responded almost simultaneously on Laura’s blog), both wrote about the influence our mothers had on us as writers. This from Kevin’s comment:

 I guess my inspiration was my mom, who was not a writer but a reader, and she shared her books and encouraged me to read what I wanted. It was that love of reading that sparked the love of writing in me, and in the back of my teenage mind, I had this idea that I could become a writer.

My friend and colleague Casey Daugherty also mentions her mother in responding to this prompt:

Writing gave me a new insight to its value when I started reading my mother’s daily journal entries a few years ago, (she passed away 25 years earlier) and I noticed my own writing began to change with it. So did my motivation to write.

And Brian Fay, another NWP friend, followed up on Twitter by writing:

@poh My mother inspired me to write by showing me writers to read and then fostering the idea that I could be one of them.

This is what came to me, and what I posted to Laura’s blog:

I don’t believe any one person inspired me to write. But I do have a distinct memory of showing my mom a piece of paper while she was in the bathroom getting ready for work. I must have been 5 or 6. The paper was full of my scribbles – child-like attempts at cursive. Despite her busy-ness, my mom took time to pick out the accidental humps of w’s and m’s and probably a few other unintended letters. I was amazed. I had scribbled something and it actually had meaning for another person. I understood then the power of writing.

The thing I didn’t say, for the sake of brevity, is that my mom is not a native English speaker. She immigrated to this country after the Korean War and still has difficulty mastering the diabolical nuances of English. Both spoken and written. My mom to this day will send me letters she has written so that I can copy-edit, make revisions, help her convey intended meaning.

She would never call herself a writer.

And yet, here I am, profiting intellectually and professionally from this act of scribbling – more digitally these days – and sharing those scribbles with others.

Here’s to you, Mom. And to all the parents and siblings and grandparents and guardians who’ve ushered us down this path towards literacy.


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teachers teaching teachers

I was involved with a terrific webcast of teachers engaged in a far-ranging conversation about their new media classroom work and new literacy learning generally. The webcast is in advance of the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia next week.

The program was started by Paul Allison, a high school teacher in New York City (Flushing, in fact, where I was born) and a member of the New York City Writing Project. (Eventually, the webcast will be available online at the Teachers Teaching Teachers website.) Paul acts as host – the Charlie Rose, if you will.

I love the program because like most things constructed by resourceful teachers, the webcast is put together in McGyver-like fashion, seemingly with two twigs and some chewing gum, and yet it runs and functions beautifully. TTT, as it’s affectionately known, uses Skype and an educator-centered online space and the wits and talents of Paul and teacher Susan Ettenheim.

I’ve known Paul for many many years and have seen him do some pretty far-out stuff – my favorite, authoring videocasts while going for long runs. You had to have seen them, believe me. He’s an amazing thinker and a true believer in a democratic classroom. Paul wants kids to push the boundaries and to make school interesting and relevant for them again. His latest project – to have his students call in book reviews from their cellphones to a number that will aggregate their work.

I’m enamored of Paul and his work, though, not because it is experimental, though I do appreciate the courage it takes to experiment in this day and age. Rather, it’s because he can provide sound pedagogical reasons for  why he does what he does. And because he thinks very deeply about the art and craft of teaching with and in new media and is always apt to say something that makes you rethink your assumptions.

It was exciting to hear the work presented by the teachers on the broadcast – two elementary and one middle school, all from different states. Despite the pressures exerted on them to prepare their students for standardized tests, these educators – Robert River-Amezola in Philadelphia, Joe Conroy in New Jersey, and Chuck Jurich in Arizona – find the time to give their students the opportunity to become engaged, digital citizens.

So inspiring, really.

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soup to nuts (redux)

According to an NPR piece that came across my news feed, there’s a fascinating dictionary of American Regional English that has been published in sections over the past 50 years. The final volume, S-Z, will be available next year.

The story begins with an anecdote about Bill Clinton:

In 1993, President Clinton was giving a news conference when someone mentioned that a certain Air Force official had criticized him. “How could he say that about me?” Clinton responded. “He doesn’t know me from Adam’s off ox.”

The piece goes on to wonder if regional phrases are dying off as we become more twitter-ized and therefore more uniform in our online, web-based writing patterns. This seemed to be borne out in the story:

But when this reporter tested out some words from the DARE at a Starbucks in suburban Detroit, none of the patrons seemed familiar with a “monkey’s wedding” (a chaotic, messy situation in Maine); “cockroach killers” (pointy shoes in New Jersey) or “mumble squibbles” (noogies, North Carolina-style).

(Her first mistake, it seems to me, was going to a suburban Detroit Starbucks to see if people were aware of regional phrases.)

One of the benefits of my job is that I get to meet teachers from all over the country. So I’ve definitely heard my share of regional expressions, which I love. “Rode hard and put up wet” is probably my favorite, said by Amy from Louisville one night describing the way Britney Spears looked as her image flashed across a tv screen. Apparently, it’s a horse-riding expression, so it makes sense that it comes from the land of the Kentucky Derby. And I’m sure you can guess that it ain’t complimentary.

Championing regional sayings is the equivalent to me of buying local to prevent the overrunning of our communities by look-alike chain stores and restaurants.

In fact, more than archiving these expressions in dictionaries, we should be figuring out ways they can be used in everyday speech. A facebook app, perhaps, that flashes and beeps you when your status updates are too regionally bland.

Not for nothin, I think that’s a good idea.

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Spent the day yesterday at the Bay Area Drupal (BAD) Camp learning some basics about Drupal, the open-source content management system.drupal.org

As someone new to trying to develop websites in Drupal, the intro workshop I attended was both amazingly informative and overwhelming.

Apart from the explanations of nodes, modules, blocks, views and panels (whew), what I enjoyed most about the day was the communitarian impulse of the people involved in organizing the event. Kieran Lal, who is billed as Acquia‘s Drupal Adventure Guide, the first speaker during the session I attended, was both open and welcoming to us newbies and talked about his desire to make Drupal more widely available as a low-cost publishing option. Not just for the people in the room and their communities, but also for newspapers and magazines, which are being shuttered left and right in this era of cost-cutting.

Loved this. As an ex-journalist, I’m torn about the financial difficulties newspapers face. Selfishly, I don’t want my dead-tree Sunday New York Times to go away. And yet history tells me that journalism is a creature of evolution and will always exist in some form or another. It’s just the medium that has changed, from town crier to printing press to now blogs and Drupal.

Oh, and I’ve got a website idea … let’s see if I learned enough at badcamp to launch.

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why she tweet

This from Claire McCaskill, US Senator from Missouri (democrat), in a letter to the editor in the May 10 issue of the Sunday NY Times:

After reading Matt Bai’s piece last weekend (April 26), I’d like to explain why I tweet. His thesis is that Twitter is banal and superficial, and yes, it can be. But it has redeeming value in the context of my job.

First, through Twitter, I am able to post information daily on a public bulletin board about serious policy issues. These short messages are intended to drive thought and discussion rather than provide a thorough analysis of the issue.

Second, tweeting is a discipline that keeps me connected. Between hearings and votes, I think of what I want to tell the folks at home – after all, I’m in Washinton to work for them.

Third, I use Twitter because no one can edit me. In a world driven by edited sound bites, and a Capitol Hill culture that parses, obfuscates and works hard at saying nothing, we shouldn’t look down our noses at a few short declarative sentences.

Finally, it’s fun. Part of the problem in Washington is that folks take themselves too seriously. As I tweet about work and even the mundane parts of my life, I’m staying connected and grounded, and I have a smile on my face.

Well put, clairecmc. Let us never look down our noses at a few short declarative sentences.

Here’s her Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/clairecmc (she’s following 1 person and being followed by over 24k)

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the same and different

When I was a kid, we found all kinds of ways to play baseball without having the right equipment or the right number of kids or even grassy infields.

If there were two of us, we’d grab a broom handle and a spalding rubber ball and head over to P.S. 20’s narrow alley where a yellow strikezone was permanently painted onto the red brick school building. A hit past the pitcher on the ground was a single, on the fly a double, past the oak tree a triple and into Sanford Avenue a home run.baseball

Three allowed many more options. My favorite was a game we called tagging up in which one kid stood at home, one kid stood in the outfield, and one kid stood on third base. The kid at home would throw a high fly ball to the outfielder who tried to make as spectacular looking a catch as possible – in full sprint, cap flying off head, wild calls of “I got it!” The kid at third would race home, then, trying to beat the throw from the outfield.

We lived in New York City and a lot of us were poor, or didn’t have parents who understood the culture well enough to know how and when to sign us up for Little League. So we organized ourselves. We watched major leaguers hit and pitch and catch and run, we heard television commentators explain the rules. And then we proceeded to make up versions that had familiar echoes but embraced our context. It was the same, and different.

dComposing is my writing life version of stickball and tagging up. Because writing is both the same as it was during my first job out of college, when I was a beat reporter for a small-town New England newspaper. And so very different.


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