Making on Android for #CLMOOC

I love all the tools I can choose from when I sink into my deskchair and open up my laptop. The possibilities swirl in my mind as I edit videos and images. Yet for most of the world they will turn to the mobile web and mobile apps to spawn their creativity.

That got me thinking about the apps I use as a webmaker on Android. I wanted to share because more and more of learners I work with across the globe use Android as their only computing operating system. Actually in parts of the world over 91% of users have a phone powered by Android.

Then when I played in #rhizo15 and #clmooc I noticed a large proportion of Android users. We all wanted to create an effort to document how we hack and make using our Android devices.

Drawing Cartoons

This is a great animation app for Android. I made a basic video for #clmooc.

I will work on tutorials for all of these later but you get a full range of movements and can quickly make a cartoon. My six year old son put one together in no time. You basically add frame by frame and can move your characters. You can also select multiple backgrounds.

Flip A Clip

This is a great app for making quick gifs. I used it to create a #CLMOOS gif. You basically draw with your finger and then can add frames and trace over what you drew. You then share your files as a gif.


Font Studio

This is a great app for layering images with texts. You get many options. You can use a mask or put words on an image. It is easy to use and very powerful.



Dogtrax is our resident Super artist. Super allows you to quickly do a “madlib” like prompt and add text your images. You can then share it out onto Twitter.

Other Apps

These are other apps I will add to the collection later. I use them all as an Android Maker. The include: Video to Gif, Superphoto, Webmaker, Smart Voice Recorder, and We Video


The Literacy Research Association annual conference presents young scholars such as myself an opportunity to grow our thinking. You can challenge scholars, sit down with literary heroes and examine trends in the fields. It is home.

Each year the new president, who planned the program gets to host an integrative research review. The session, one of the most important o closes out the conference.

This year LRA focused in on  A Conversation about the Contributions of Content Knowledge and Strategic Processing to Reading Comprehension and it was hosted by Anne Marie Palinscar.

The panel included many of my heroes in literary research. First there was Palinscar, who helped to reshape the world of comprehension instruction with the work of Reciprocal Teaching. Anne Marie provided a wonderful literature review of comprehension strategy instruction.  Then Maureen Auckerman reminded us of how strategy instruction is transactional and reviewed the research on transactional strategy instruction. Rachel Brown described the current backlash against strategy instruction. Koider Mokthari, reminded us that background knowledge is just as, if not more important as a mediator during strategy instruction. Finally Shelia Valencia noted that what counts as comprehension is culturally defined.

Slide from Rachel Brown’s presentation


Why this Mattered to Me

Beyond the already stated that the four people on the stage have greatly influences my thinking as a literacy educator this session mattered because I can trace my academic lineage to the ideas of Reciprocal Teaching.

My doctoral work was completed under the guidance of Don Leu at the New Literacies Research Lab. I served as a part of a team who worked with a great cohort from Clemson under Dave Reinking. Together we developed and tested an instructional model of Internet Reciprocal Teaching that built off the early efforts in strategy instruction.  As a 6th grade teacher I often used reciprocal teaching in my classroom.

Background Knowledge Matters

I have also been thinking about strategy instruction in terms of the caveats shared by the presenters. Background knowledge does matter. Knowing more is always better than knowing less and when you read a text when you are familiar with you do better.

Culture Matters

Comprehension is also culturally defined. Knowing more isn’t just declarative knowledge. It is knowing the specialized language of discourse communities. Take Football for example. I enjoy American football and stay well read so I can be the smartest loser in my Fantasy league. My son is into the other soccer. For some reason he has fallen for Liverpool and wants to read up on games. I have tried to translate the articles from British but I struggle. I do not know the language of soccer fans nor do I speak British. Reading an article about a sport from another culture can be anyone’s Waterloo text.

This is true not is sports but in education as well. When Valencia was thinking I could not be helped to think back to David Kirklands work in A Search Past Silence where he documents the meaning making practices of black males. These practices are rarely recognized in school.

We live different literacies every day.

Strategy Instruction Under Attack

I also recognize strategy instruction is under attack. It was deliberately left out of the CCSS. Furthermore Dan Willingham,  just published a piece questioning the efficacy of strategy instruction. I have yet to read the article but Willingham, while brilliant and approachable, is the fertilizer for the well written astro-turf of conservative edreformers bent on privatizing urban education. So the issue matters.

Strategy instruction is also not without issues. Rosenshine and Meister (1994)  completed an in-depth meta-analysis and found effects sizes varying from .32 (using standardized tests) to .82 (using research created tests). Palinscar and Brown (1984) even noted the lack of transfer of these skills. I belive the wide variance in effect sizes is due to the small and meaningful bump strategy instruction has for our neediest readers, but for proficient readers we maybe wasting their time.

While the metaphor of mind as computer is not new I do not steal it from socio-cognitivists. I poach here more in line with the hacking and making communities that the educational psychologists. After all today’s Self-programmamble readers find themselves situated in contexts that constantly collapse across online and offline spaces and networked and unnetworked audiences (boyd, 2012).


Defining Self-Programmable Reading

The etyomology of self-programmable reader traces back to my dissertation. I tried to name a phenomenon building off a term I stole from Jenna McWilliams, “reading with mouse in hand.” As we moved to trackpads I remixed the term as “reading with cursor control.” I was trying to capture the comprehension monitoring and navigational skills I noticed in the most skilled online readers.

Rand Spiro challenged this construct during my dissertation defense. I had to go back and rename the construct, which of course meant reexamining my data to see if in the act of naming I messed up the “fit” on my evidence. I settled on strategic text assembly. This fit the comprehension monitoring I observed (speeding up and slowing down reading rate and more frequent scrolling) and my theoretical lens of cognitive flexibility theory.

Then came #ccourses (connected courses)  an online community started by giants in the field of #connectedlearning. The objectives of the course were to try out and encourage the values and principles of #connectedlearning into higher education. In order to build up background knowledge for one of the makes we were asked to read (Castellas et al…Fix this citation)

It was there I was introduced to the term self-programmable learner.

and a new type of personality, the values-rooted, flexible personality able to adapt to changing cultural models along the life cycle because of her/his ability to bend without breaking, to remain inner-directed while evolving with the surrounding society

Then we read a piece by Jon Udell on redefining education. Udell tells the story of a friend looking for an employee:

Another version of this same story comes from my friend and former BYTE colleague, Ray Cote, who runs his own software and consulting business. Over dinner a couple of weeks ago, Ray told me that he’s not looking for people who “know” one or another language or framework, but rather for those who can motivate themselves to rapidly acquire these and other contexts as needed.

These ideas  morphed  for me at #LRA14. I think we need strategic reading 2.0. It isn’t a set of practices good readers do in their head but the flexibility to make meaning in ever shifting contexts. A self-programmable reader can acquire and remix knowledge while traversing socially complex texts.

Self-Programmable Reading versus Strategic Reading

Self-Programmable Reading foregrounds knowledge building

While transactional strategy instruction accounted for the importance of background knowledge, in practice these strategies (deliberate goal setting actions) are often still taught out of context or with role sheets. The strategy and not the knowledge is brought to the foreground.

Background knowledge does matter. This is one of the the most stable findings in the history of reading research, but this maybe shifting. While those who know more about a topic will always comprehend more of a text a self-programmable reader maybe able to account for a lack of background knowledge. They can recognize holes in their knowledge and then know the right questions to ask and where to go to ask these questions.

Self-Programmable Reading is Production based

I am not the first, by any means, that comprehension needs to be production based. Peter Smagorinsky and Kristine Gutierrez have influenced my thinking here for a long time. More recently #connectedlearning and the focus on production centered learning has influenced my thinking of meaning making.

I agree with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey that text based talk and text based discussion are at the center of reading comprhenension. When you make reading a production based activities these two elements get intertwined. When students get involved in makes they have to discuss and analyze the text they read.

Self-Programmable Reading is Collaborative

If you are not familiar with the recent work of Jill Castek, Carita Killi, and Julie Coiro I implore you to seek it out. They have been investigating online internet inquiry activities in small groups and comparing this to individual readers. Suprise, surprise collaboration improves comprehension. This of course goes back to the original ideas of reciprocal teaching.

Collaboration though isn’t just about learning gains it is essential in digital spaces. Meaning making is not a singualr act. We do not mean strategy instruction. It is not about novice reader internalizing what good readers do. Instead it is more about strategy exchange. Self-programable readers use strategies like tools and fork them to meet their needs and the specific context in which they are reading.

It is Strategy Exchange Not Strategy Instruction

Self-Programmable Reading Agency and  Identity work

Agency matters in education and we do identity work when we read, write, and participate in the web. These values must be central for self-programmable readers to develop in their classroom. All the talk about lexile levels and text complexity in the #CCSS ignores this fact. The #CCSS only mention motivation once. To ignore motivation in reading is to ignore the sun in farming.

The debate around leveled texts is the same as well. Choice matters. Reading, writing, and participating give us the chance to try on multiple versions of “me.”…to be continued..and maybe actually edited someday.

Terry Elliot asked me to explain how I try and bring the principles and core values of connected learning into my classroom. This dialogue came about after I posted an ignite talk defining,  or rather poaching, the meaning of connected learning. I use transmedia teaching.

What is transmedia?

Transmedia storytelling involves an unfolding narrative across many digital new platforms. This is different than cross-platform (like a comic book, novel, and movie edition). Transmedia requires the unique content that authors and makers newtowrk together into one larger narrative.

What is transmedia teaching?

My emerging definition of transmedia teaching evolves from the principles and values of connected learning and the work of Gee’s embodied literacies. Gee argues that when we discuss digital technologies for learning we need to always begin with the purpose and and not the tool.

Once we have a pedagogical goal we then “network the tools” (Gee, 4:53). It is in this networking of unique content across multiple tools that defines transmedia teaching.

Every classroom has a space for learning, and this space consists of content (Gee, 2004). I give my students mutliple portals to interact with this content across many different media platforms. Sure we have our main portal (a class website hosted on Google Sites and class network as a Google+ community) but I encourage my students to network to otehr content and tools through this main portal.

As of now I have been more modeling transmedia teaching but hope to see greater diversity in the portals students are using to enter our learning space.

My Transmedia Teaching

I am going to once again refer back to Gee and use portals to define the networks and technologies we use as part of our transmedia teaching. Portals act as generators in that they lead to new content for our learning space (Gee, 2004). These are often digital texts and tools.

The Printed Word

The first technology we use is probably the most efficient tool I know for deep learning. The printed word. We use both a book and research articles (though these are both in electronic form). Our common texts include:

boyd, d. (2007). Social network sites: Public, private, or what? The Knowledge Tree, 13. Available:

Downes, S. (2005). An introduction to connective knowledge. Stephen’s Web. Available:

Gee, J. P. (2013). The anti-education era: Creating smarter students through digital learning. Macmillan.

McVerry, J. G. (2012). TPACK and the new literacies of online reading comprehension. In S. Kadjer & C. Young (Eds.), Research in ELA and technology: An edited collection. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

O’Byrne, W. I. (2013). Online content construction: Empowering students as readers and writers of online information. In K. Pytash & R. Ferdig (Eds). Exploring Technology in Writing and Writing Instruction.

Richardson, W. (2008). Footprints in the Digital Age. Educational Leadership. Available:

Ruffini, M. (2012). Screencasting to engage learning. Educase Review: Available:

Students are also encouraged to share texts from outside our common reads. These pour in from YouTube, Pinterest,  and RSS feeds.

We then interact with this content across different tools and networks and this interaction then changes the content in our space. For example we still use discussion questions and have academically focused discourse around the readings.

Yet I also encourage students to make the reading social. As I read I annotate and share my thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #edu522.

To date no student has joined me. I learned this lesson early on. I do not force students through portals (except the primary portal). Instead I try to model the potential during my normal every day use. So I see Twitter as a tool I am using for instruction that cuts across different networks nodes. It is unique content


We began the class by creating 6 word mainfestos on digital teaching and learning. To accomplish this task we used one of Mozilla’s webmaker tools Popcorn.

Synchronous Video Chat

We also use Hangouts on Air as a tool for both synchronous and asynchronus video chat. This allows us to personalize the class and rely on expression to gauge each other’s learning.

 Screencasts and Online Video

In our current module we are focusing on building online spaces for learning using video. We have been creating a variety of screencasts or videos. The students began by teaching us something that they are passionate about (hopefully non-educational). They then had to choose a pedagogical goal and make a video for that goal.

I tried to model and teach this practice across many different tools. I have used scribing, animations, and screencasts.

I also shared other great content instead of building what is already done. Such as Michael Kennedy’s video on Mayer’s principle of multimedia learning.

Finally I screencast all of my feedback to students at the completion of each model. Due to the personal nature of these videos I do not share them here but I find it to be one of the best tools in my transmedia teaching toolbox.

Each of the videos I share are create are designed to introduce or reinforce new content while also modeling how a digital text and tool can be used.

Dispersed Media

We also have content joining our space from areas outside of the classroom. The video I shared on connected learning was uploaded by someone else to Vialogues.  I then reshared this with the class. Another Vialogue was then posted as a response to my video on  affinity spaces. This unique media made its way into the space we use to learn.


Transmedia teaching builds on the values and principles of connected learning. By having content networked toggether across many different digital texts and tools we strive to reach our shared pedagogical goal.

I am not there yet. I haven’t got the civic engagement component totally built into the classroom yet. We do, those of in the class, have a shared purpose united around a pedagogical goal of improving our instruction with digital texts and tools.


It’s amazing how the smallest comments can have large impacts on ones life. I once spent hours coding and then just I simply quit. The year was 1987. I  stood as a scrawny 6th grader in fron of a class getting ready to demonstrate a progam I created in BASIC.


The computer I used was a few years old (1983-1984ish). I am not sure of the brand. My father got it has a hand me down from a neighbor.  We called it a PC compatible. It had two 5 1/2 inch floppy drives and you had to use a separate boot disk to start the computer.

When I moved to Pennsylvania from Texas I took to the computer and began to teach myself BASIC and DOS. I had these manuals you could use as self teaching guides. I was so proud of my program. I created this code that allowed the user to generate a number at random. A spaceship would then scroll up the screen based on the number you rolled.

I thought it would be great to show the program when we had to do a demonstration speech in 6th grade. My father dragged the computer up the stairs of East Ward Elementary school and I set it up. Lets just say I did not get the reaction from the audience I expected. Hours and hours of writing code were reduced to a thrity second demo.

Then a student ( who will remain anonymous) ask why I did not use a particular component in the computer or a different language. I remember not even knowing what he was asking about but for some reason I felt defeated. I assumed I would  never know or maybe never afford. Who knows, but on that day I gave up.

That was the last program I ever wrote.


Instead in middle school I discovered social computing. I would troll Prodigy and find interesting things. I got my hands on computer files that taught me how to make free pay phone calls, remove the scramblers on cable boxes for HBO, and other nefarious activities.

I did not take computer programming in Junior High or High School. You had to take computer science first before programming which would teach PASCAL. The pariah status I felt in 6th grade and the social pressures of middle school, combined with memories of reformatting spreadsheets kept me far far away.

Returning to Code

I began experimenting with HTML as a teacher when I needed to create my own websites. I realized the joy I remember having in searching for patterns on code. I could stare at the source code of pages and see poetry. There was alliteration in those lines.

Still I could do just enough to mess up websites.

Then as part of my PhD work at the New Literacies Lab I had to learn some basic XML. We were creatign a simulated internet and these ran on xml scripts. I didn’t do much more than changing timing, texts, and dimensions but I found it enjoyable.

Just recently, like last week, I took my first stab at moving from HTML to CSS. You just cannot use HTML tables anymore for the mobile web. I had to learn some CSS. I was able to name and make a few objects and even made them float.

Should I continue?

I have ideas. I want to see them come to. I just wonder if my time should be spent learning to code. I registered for #CS50 Havard’s MOOC for coding but haven’t gotten past week one.

I wonder if I should just be an idea guy. Should I instead look to work with programmers and instructional designers to develop my ideas?

I do see poetry in code, but poetry is hard.

I wanted to explore to modes for creating meaning as  a goal for both  #OOE13 and Connected Educator Month #ce13. I first focused on my practices as a blogger and a teacher of writing. This played out here on my blog as I documented my recent learning while creating new content and connections.

Now I am ready for the step. Ian O’Byrne and myself have launched an open netcast/vodcast/talkshow network. We want to create a space for teachers to watch and host shows relevant to their literacy lives and literacy practices. Welcome to the Networked Learning Collaborative.


We went live on Monday with out first show, Tech Talk  hosted by Ian. The show focused on specific applications of a digital text and tool in the classroom. As of now we have four monthly shows.

  • Tech Talk
  •  Digitally Literate
  • Spherical
  • TechTrenches

We hope to offer more shows in the future as collaborators join the network. Basically we created a WordPress site, used a video theme. We then host the shows on Google Hangout on Air and embed the shows on our network. Each show uses TitanPad for show notes and a  chat room.

I will be hosting two shows Spherical and TechTrenches.


Each week the show host will interview an author. We will discuss what it means to create meaning through multimodal composition. How does design affect meaning making? Where do bloggers develop their ideas? What posts do they believe are most influential? What connections have they made? How do blogs serve their reflective practice. Most importantly we will discuss writing as a window on to our lives.



The show focuses on an educator who brings the principles of connected learning to their classroom. Once a month a teacher will join us as a feature guest. They will share a specific project or idea in the class and reflect on what went well and what needs to change. Our guest will highlight their personal growth as a connected educator and their long term goals for student learning.



I have lurked. I have laughed. I have never launched into my own learning into DS106. For those that do not know D106 started off as a class into digital storytelling and it has evolved into one of the most active communitities for mutlimodal composition.

I always saw my favorite Twitter folks discussing #ds106 and #ds106 radio without knowing what it was. After struggiling to find a MOOC that met my needs as a learner, and after hving a positive experience with almsot completing the #CLMOOC I decided to give #ds106 a try.

Expertise without Authority

I think I enjoyed the CLOOC because it was a community and not a class. The members were people I respected as authors and makers before the class began. I have found that expertise missing in other MOOCs I have tried. No one was pushing my thinking. We did not delve into particulars of theory of Design, literacy, rhetoric, research design, etc.

Maybe the audience for the type of learning I was looking for isn’t that massive. What I do love, and I stress to my writing students, is that writing takes a community if we are to learn the cultural practices of meaning making.

That is what CLMOOC and from what I can see so far DS106 represent. It is expertise without authority. It a group of authors willing to explore the boundaries of multimodal composition in ways I have never thought of.

My First Creation

After perusing the DS106 website late last night I discovered the daily challenges. Yesterday’s challenge was satire. I fell in love with satire, like many, when I first read Catch-22. I followed this up with a study of Satire in college.

So I used Mozilla’s xx-ray Goggles to create a satirical news article.

 Where do idea come from?

As a writing instructor I promised my students to try and make my writing as transparent and open as possible. Yesterday I shared my pre-writing process. Today I wanted to talk about where ideas come from.

Ideas are dialogical. They develop through a dance of experience with other texts often taking the lead as a partner. To say I own my ideas just makes no sense. Ideas cannot be owned as they are entertwined in the fabric of yesterday’s stories.

So how did the idea for my Nemo story develop?

  • First as I stated I enjoy satire. True story: back in college I was a political science major. I was taking a class in comparative politics looking at Lenin, Roosevelt, and Hitler. I was also enrolled in acreative writing class on political satire. We had to write a story based on Swift’s Modest Proposal. I think my piece was on ending poverty by inoculating minority babies with the HIV virus. So my roomate, stumbling around, found a draft, and then saw all the Hitler books on my shelf and came to the obvious conclusion I was a secret neo-nazi.  So satire has been with me a long time.
  • Then last year I was taking my children to the mystic aquarium. Folks hate visiting museums with me. I want to read every placard at every exhibit. It was there that I learned of the mating habits of clownfish. I know, an exciting topic.
  • At the time I thought that this would make excellent satire. I shelved the idea away. Then when I saw the daily challenge on DS 106 it just popped back into my head.
  • So I Googled, “Finding Nemo.” and realized it was ten years old.
  • Then I Googled, “New York Times Lawsuit.” I needed a mentor text to serve as a template for the article.
  • Next I Googled, “Clownfish Wikipedia” so I could get a modicum of the science write.
  • Finally, I Googled the education director of the Mystic aquarium to add some authority to the piece.

Looking at this process my writing spanned over a decade (centuries if you count Swift). It is really a remix of a half dozen sources and the inspiration I have found in the writing is making crowd.

It saddens me when I walk into classrooms and see prewriting taught using some perfunctory graphic organizer that every student must complete. We send the message that creating new ideas requires a formulaic approach. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Prewriting, like writing in general, has as many methods as their are writers. Instead of one specific strategy we need to build in multiple opportunities for our students  to explore meaning making within a community of writers.

My Reflections

In a previous post I documented the complexity of my own prewriting process. I decided to once again collect artifacts of my work and then reflect on my own thinking.



I took a picture of my process that emerged when writing yesterday’s post on Affinity Spaces. It started with me grabbing a pice of scrap paper and jotting down a few ideas. There was no real organization just a chain of thoughts.


I then went to wikipedia to do a quick crosscheck of my facts. I am not one of those educators who thinks to ban Wikipedia. Instead I embrace it. I go to wikipedia for quick fact checks and to look for primary sources.



This lead me to the work cited page and I realized, “DUH, you own this book (or at least the rights to it).” So I grabbed my iPad and went and scanned Gee’s 11 principles of affinity spaces.


After a quick refresh of Gee’s writingI returned to my original scrap paper ideas. It was time to organize my thoughts in my final step of prewriting. During this step I thought about the organization of ideas. I also considered how my organization affected my design choices. This last step is a critical process for multimodal composition. One must consider how design can enhance rather than detract for your ideas. For me this was a matter of determining my heading levels throughout the post.


My Thoughts on Pre-Writing

So much more happened to generate my post than what the picture captures. I have long joked that I do my best writing when walking the dogs. How can we teach and model that to writers? Prewriting for me is an embodied cultural experience. I pace. i chug coffee. I may even throw stuff. Can I hang that poster in my room? “Good writers throw things?”

Yet when you walk into most classrooms, especially at the elementary level (too many writing practices are assumed in secondary education), you do not see writers struggling with ideas or trying to create new meaning. All too often they just complete the district wide graphic organizer.

Some Take Aways

After thinking about how i work through multimodal composition I had a few thoughts I wanted to share.

Writing is an Embodied Cultural Practice

I know I have discussed this idea before but it is worth reiterating. We cannot look to writing as a set of discrete skills. Instead writing is best taught when we use student writing to build both their sense of identity and agency. First students need to see themselves as writers. Writers who grapple with ideas like every other person who has put thought to paper. Students also need to find agency in their words in order to understand that their meaning has power that can affect their lives and the lives of others.

In terms of pre-writing this embodied teaching would require students to interact with a community of writers with varying expertise. They could share their reflections on generating ideas with the class or with other writers on

Teachers also need to share with students to understand that their are multiple pathways to knowledge when pre-writing. Instead of demonstrating one graphic organizer include mini-lessons on multiple graphic organizers for multiple purposes. Let students choose and reflect on a system that works best for them. this could include formal outlines, bulleted outlines, Venn diagrams, concept maps, expository pillars, Vee diagrams, etc.

Pre-Writing and Multiple Source Reading can not Be Separated

Expository writing is a dialogical conversations with the texts we read. One of the major shifts (or better practices as I prefer to call them) is the use of sources when writing. This of course means that educators can not draw a false line between reading and writing during inquiry learning.

In my example above I first recalled information I have come across in the work of others discussing JPG’s affinity spaces (Black, Schraeder, Brown, etc) and from reading the primary source. I used Wikipedia as a secondary source. I then returned to my book. The act of prewriting was in itself an act of synthesis and of multiple source reading.

Screencasting Alone can not Capture the Complexity of Multimodal Composition

For my dissertation I watched hundreds of hours of video as students completed internet inquiry tasks. During my time at the New Literacies Research Lab I did the same. In all of the research the students had to finish with some sort of multimodal composition.  For my dissertation this involved posting a response to a discussion board (the post did not use academic discourse not multimodal design…but more on that later).

The point is I tried to capture the synthesis of ideas just by recording screens. Based on my reflection above this violated basic ecological validity. It isn’t how I synthesize and plan writing when reading multiple sources online.

At the very least an study looking at prewriting and multimodal composition must allow for and document any paper based notes. I would say the same goes for any assessment that attempts to score students synthesis of readinr or their prewriting.

In all honesty because writing is an embodied cultural practice it would take much more to document pre-writing when planning for multimodal composition (or any writing actually). For example I could forsee an ethnography of bloggers that requires video of the workspace; collection of all artifacts, paper and pixel based; reflective blog posts or journals by the bloggers discussing their decisions in the creation of both copy and design.

Then maybe we can capture the complexity of pre-writing. Then maybe we would know exactly how many writers throw stuff.

Related Posts



Karen Brennan sparked my thinking today. She presented her work on using Scratch. The programming, games, and stories children created made a large impact on everyone at the conference.

For me it wasn’t the take away of creative computing I found most moving. It was Brennan’s point that making take two things: creating and community. She argued that you can’t have interactive writers without both.

I witnessed this yesterday, but it wasn’t with coding,computers, or even a classroom. I saw the synergy of creating and community in a dingy basement in a dark dusty bar.

Ian and I were heading home after dinner and wanted to stop in somewhere. We like dives. Dust on the floor, ripped stools, and low lights. That brought us to CanTab in Cambridge. It also brought us to a community of creators.

After sitting down we saw a steady stream of people heading to the basement. We asked what was going on. Turns out CanTab is the home venue for the Boston Poetry Slam team. Turns out Wednesday is Open Mic night. Turns out this was the last open mic before Boston hosts the National Poetry Slam.

What we witnessed encapsulated Brennan’s lesson about community. The camaraderie among the poets flowed through the room. Poets did parodies of each other’s work. Talked about revising together. Read about being struggling artists.

For the CanTab crowd community leads to creation, and creation leads to community. This was Karen Brennan’s take away. So what does this mean for teachers and participants at MNLI?

Community of Writers and Readers

When I am awed by quality literacy teachers it always comes back to community. The students in the room feel, no they know, that they are among readers. They know they can turn to other writers for support. Just like the students in Brennan’s study who remixed, offered feedback, and helped each other grow. A great literacy classroom builds upon community.


Each year at MNLI some of the administrators choose the creation of a PLC, professional learning community as their project. I cringe a little. You can’t force community. Most PLC’s that exist in schools are simply committees that meet more frequently than others. Can schools use PLC’s? Yes, but they need to be interest driven and faculty lead. They need to have open memberships and recognize and build expertise.

Coding as Poetry

The CanTab experience was a serendipitous connection for me. I have little experience with code. In 6th grade I did a show and tell using Basic and made a rocket ship take off based on a dice role. Then during my dissertation work I had to edit XML files as we made a simulated environment. I do not know code but I do see poetry in code. I see these patterns that somehow standout like stanzas. What I saw at CanTab was the type of creating Karen Brennan wants out our students.

It isn’t just about creative computing and interactive writers. We also just need learning experience that create a community of learners both offline and online. We need interest driven classrooms that recognize student expertise. We need connected learning.

A day of makes. That is my take away. Polly had a wonderful keynote ready on the power of creativity in school but she quickly pivoted. Polly decided, correctly, that talking about creativity does not hold the power of unleashing a room full of makers. She posted a series of pictures and ended with an image of bear and a girl on the bed.


Teachers were given no real instructions. Just tell a story in video and share it everyone in the room. No we won’t tell you what tool to use. No we won’t tell you how to share it. You can see many of our bear makes by searching the #NewLit hashtag on Twitter.

It was the most powerful keynote I have heard without hearing a single word. Creativity Matters. Makers Matter. Community Matters.

I then attended Ian’s Digging Deeper session on Online Content Construction. We have spent many late nights and long car rides dissecting the construct. Ian, however, framed this in a recent chapter.

He detailed five steps: planning, generating, organizing, composing, revising. I felt after listening to the talk that something was missing.

“I am done with my make. No what?” In the world of writing we always had publishing. Yet that seems to be a key difference in the digital world. You can’t simply be done when you publish. There is a social element involved.

So I thought about it and thought about, and thought about it. Is it publishing, promoting, sharing? I settled on two possible contenders: Branding and Sharing.


I thought branding maybe the missing step because we talk a lot about digital footprints. Branding would encapsulate cross platform posting. The goal would be to drive traffic back to your content or digital hub. Thus branding would also involve metrics. I am a firm believer we need to get our students thinking about analytics early. Branding would involve audience building.


My other thought was what was missing from Ian’s model is sharing. If we defined it as sharing than we mean publishing. Sharing also details a community. In order to establish that community we would hve levels of expertise. I am reminded of fanfiction sites, minecraft, or scratch. Sharing also would mean a dialogue among makers as revisions, critiques, reviews, and other elements are discussed.

A false dichotomy?

Maybe the OCC model does not need a choice between branding and sharing. Maybe it always comes back to purpose and audience. Depending on your purpose you may want to brand the content you construct. You may share your makes within a community if it is an audience of peers.

Much like Goldilocks I maybe searching for the “just right” answer. I just hope, “I don’t miss the bear.”