Archived Webinar: “Multimodal Composition: Beyond Boring Nonfiction”

Earlier this summer, I was invited to collaborate with colleagues from the organization who runs Wonderopolis, the National Center for Families Learning, to co-lead a webinar with their Developmental Editor, Wendee Mullikin.

We discuss ways in which teachers can use Wonderopolis as engaging texts for their readers, pivoting into ways that these “wonders” can then become mentor texts for students as digital writers. To consider more of my thinking on this, please review my post from earlier this year for the Educator Collaborative blog, “From Wonder to Writing: Invite Students Into Inquiry Through Online Articles.”

The Vimeo link is now live – enjoy!

Wonderopolis: Multimodal Composition–Beyond Boring Nonfiction from NCFL on Vimeo.


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Digital Diligence (SIDL 2019 Keynote)

For the fourth consecutive summer, I am honored to present the Thursday morning keynote at the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. Over the past year, I have become increasingly concerned about dire headlines that move beyond the “kids these days” kinds of arguments we have heard in the past to a deeper, more disconcerting tone that suggests our brains, as well as our culture, are disintegrating. Thus, for my next book project, I am working on a new idea, one that I hope will catch hold amongst educators and parents: digital diligence.

From my work over the years on digital writing and connected reading, and from two decades of teaching, I feel that we need to change the tone of the conversation about educational technology. As we look at 1:1 and BYOD programs, as we consider the hundreds of possible tech tools we could use to scaffold learning and support creativity, why is it that we seem to keep moving back to the most reductive, mundane uses of tech? In our conversations about digital access, usage, and, even “addiction,” are we (educators, parents, medical and mental health professionals, and the media) asking the right questions? Moreover, are we modeling and mentoring tech use for our children and students, or simply managing it?

Thus, today, we will engage in two activities that, I hope, move us toward digital diligence. By this, I define digital diligence as an intentional and alert stance that individuals employ when using technology (apps, websites, software, and devices) for connected reading and digital writing, characterized by empathy, purpose, and persistence. In particular, we will take a digitally diligent stance to better understand how knowledge is created within the Wikipedia community and explore opportunities for civil dialogue using social media.


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Teaching, Learning, Living: Using Writing to Nurture Personal and Professional Growth

Links from Presentation


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Can I Cite That – Drew University (October 25, 2018)


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TCW Symposium Keynote


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Preparing to “Build a Better Book”

As often happens in my professional life, earlier this year, I was invited to lead a session broadly related to teaching writing and digital literacy, specifically for middle school students. Unlike my previous experiences, however, this particular opportunity came from CMU’s Center for Excellence in STEM Education‘s partnership with the Build a Better Book Project. In short:

The Build a Better Book project, based at the University of Colorado Boulder, works with school and library Makerspaces to engage youth in the design and fabrication of accessible picture books and graphics… Through the Build a Better Book initiative, middle and high school youth develop technology skills and learn about STEM careers as they design and create accessible, multi-modal picture books, graphics and games that can be seen, touched and heard!

So, in this case, I was invited to lead a session on a topic that I had quite a bit of experience with (teaching character development in writing), but needed to think critically and creatively about how to present the idea, taking concerns about accessibility into account. And, as often is the case, I turned to my PLN for help.

Originally conceived as the “Tactile Picture Books Project” at the University of Colorado Boulder, I quickly discovered that another digital literacies scholar, Bridget Dalton, was part of the research team. Reaching out to her, she shared her scholarship about the project and the four core experiences for any tactile book workshop:

  1. “Introduction to the design task and audience”
  2. “[t]actile sensory immersion”
  3. “[t]eams’ making of tactile pages to retell a picture book” (and presentation of that book
  4. “[r}eflection on the experience.”

In the sense that students will already be immersed in the process, I’m fortunate that my lesson will come on the second day of a multi-day experience, focusing mostly on steps 3 and 4. They will have had some experience understanding the design task and the audience of visually impaired readers, as well as some tactile sensory immersion. When I see them on day two, my goal will be to help them think about ways that authors describe and develop characters in picture books. So, I am working on the retelling, but also the annotating. Taking what I learned from Margaret Price at DMAC earlier in the summer about annotations for accessibility, I will ask students to both write descriptions of the character as well as to use tactile materials for creating far, mid, and close-up representations.

The challenge, of course, is that helping them figure out how to create tactile books – as well as annotations – that accurately and creatively represent those characters.

Thus, I wanted to find a children’s picture book that – both literally through images as well as figuratively through language – “zooms in” on a character. I want them to write/create three different perspectives of the character – long shot, medium shot, and close up – both in writing and with crafting materials.

To that end, I again turned to my PLN to find an appropriate picture book, and Colby Sharp suggested Mother Bruce, by Ryan T. Higgins. His suggestion did not disappoint. Mother Bruce is perfect, with images of Bruce the bear from afar, from nearby, and in extreme close-up. Coupled with a flipped lesson from Aron Meyer on “Using the Zoom-In Strategy to Enhance Narrative Writing,” I will use a series of images from Mother Bruce to then have students think about descriptive words for illustrating characters in terms of shape, size, and proximity.

So, these slides represent my general thinking about how I will approach the lesson. We will look at the generic images, do a read-aloud of Mother Bruce, then look again at the images in the book more carefully, with a lens for both annotation and tacitly illustrating them:

Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 1
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 1 (Images from Mollie Bugg)
Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 2
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 2 (Images from Ryan T. Higgins)
Build a Better Book Lesson - Slide 3
Build a Better Book Lesson – Slide 3 (Resources adapted from Sight Word Games and Interesting Things for ESL Students)

So, the lesson focuses on the words…

  • What would a description of Bruce need to include when we “see” him from a distance? At a mid-range? Close up?
  • How can we use different words to describe shape, size, and proximity?

And the tactile elements…

  • What would his fur or nose feel like from far away? Close up?
  • What about the additional features of his body and face? Eyebrows? Snout?
  • How can we change shapes and texture to help the reader know that the image is a far shot, mid shot, or close up?

My goal will be to have them create the three tactile representations, as well as write the annotations for the tactile books as a way to supplement the readers’ experiences. Though we will probably not have time in my workshop to invite the students to audio record these annotations and connect them with Makey Makeys, that would be one extension that could make the text even more accessible, and is in line with the Build a Better Book pedagogy.

In sum, this is an interesting way to cap off a busy summer of professional learning. When the CMU STEM Ed Center invited me to do this work at the beginning of the summer, I had no idea what I would do. Yet, the challenge was given to me, and I kept thinking about the possibilities with each opportunity that I had to learn throughout the summer. I look forward to seeing how students responds to the lesson and, in turn, what they might do to more completely and complexly represent Bruce through both their annotations and tactile pages.


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NWP Midwest Keynote

Can I Cite That?

Examining What Counts as Evidence in a Digital World

“Students have a greater role and responsibility in creating new knowledge, in understanding the contours and the changing dynamics of the world of information, and in using information, data, and scholarship ethically.” ~ ACRL


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