Writing on Eggshells

shellsDamn the uncomfortable readers. It’s time to start writing again.

Some time ago, more than a decade, I wrote on this blog all the time. There were daily updates on what I was writing, links to things that I found, stories about my crazy dreams, and varied random ramblings. Some of those posts are harder to find because I made some dumb decisions about post titles, and I haven’t fixed them all (it’s on my to-do list). The point is that they are there.

I said what I thought, talked about the things I was working on, and described what was going on each day. When I was sad and depressed, I talked about it. I have dysthymic depression, social anxiety, and have had issues with major depression a few times. I didn’t put the names to what I was going through, but I talked about being overwhelmed and sad and scared and anxious.

And that was the problem. My posts made some people uncomfortable. Someone came to me and told me that I shouldn’t write everything I feel because I was “making everyone feel like they were walking on eggshells around me.” I could write about what I was working on, but I was told not to write about being sad or depressed or anxious.

So I stopped writing. I’m a black-and-white thinker, so it was my standard response. I let the uncomfortable readers silence me.

Eventually, I started posting news links. If you check the archives, there are years where nearly every post is a summary of the links I have posted to Twitter about educational news and writing resources.

I wanted to write and post more, but there were people worried about walking on eggshells always in my thoughts. So I said nothing for a very long time. And now, I am going to start writing again. I’m going to say what I want. I’m not sure what has made me brave enough to talk again. Perhaps it’s that I started taking antidepressants again in November after six years without them (when I couldn’t afford them at $800/month). Maybe it’s that I am teaching again. Maybe I just feel like a writer again.

Part of it is that I finally figured out how to move all those news posts to their own page and take back the blog’s homepage. That’s what I am going to do: take back my writing space and say what I want. I will no longer worry about my readers. I will write on those eggshells and post what I want. Here’s to writing whatever I want to say whenever I want to say it.

Revising the Resources List on My Syllabus

Stack O' Books by Kurtis Garbutt, on FlickrThis week’s post on Bedford Bits describes the work I have begun on revising my course documents to make them more visual. The ultimate goal is to make them more engaging and more useful to students.

I started with the required resources, which has been nothing but a glorified book list for as long as I can remember. My revised version still lists books, but I have tried to add some negative space and color to make it easier to read and a bit more friendly.

Read the full details in the blog post on the Macmillan Community site.

 
Image: Stack O' Books by Kurtis Garbutt, on Flickr

Connecting Selber and Halliday

Cover of Selber's Multiliteracies for a Digital AgeEver since I looked at the review of Stuart Selber’s Multiliteracies for a Digital Age in Composition Forum 14.2 (Courtesy of a tip from Bradley Dilger), I have been reflecting on my notes about M. A. K. Halliday’s literacy engagements.

I have a pile of old notes on how I thought Halliday might be used to understand technology engagement from my time at ReadWriteThink when the site used Halliday to structure the site.

Halliday’s literacy engagement system (learning language, learning about language, learning through language) parallels Selber’s. There are nuances that would need worked out, but generally I think I could argue that literacy learning follows the same kinds of meaning making, even when the kinds of literacy are different. I’m just not sure that matters as an observation. What does that knowledge really bring to the conversations and scholarship on literacy?

The Harm We Can Do

Pinocchio by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier, on FlickrSara Kadjer shared “Can Reading Logs Ruin Reading for Kids?” from The Atlantic. The piece dredged up some memories for me, good and bad.

I guess I am an oddity, but I always loved tracking what I read when I was in school. Reading doesn’t really come with a tangible thing to point to when you’re done, and those logs let me say, “Look, I did all this!”

I know there are problems with the pedagogy when tracking takes away from the joy of reading. It made me recall Troy Hicks’ recent blog post on the troubling need to quantify everything students do.

That leads me to my bad memory. On the first day of class in 9th grade, the teacher asked us to write down all the things we read over the summer. I busied myself with a list in categories: mysteries, biographies, historical fiction, and so forth. I had to think in categories to remember them all. As I scribbled titles down, the teacher moved through the classroom. She paused at my desk, and I expected her to be impressed with the list of all the things I had read. Unfortunately, she instead announced to the full class that I had to be lying because no one read that many different books.

I try to remember that moment to remind myself that the long-term harm of my comments as a teacher can last forever. After all, I was in 9th grade a very, very long time ago; and I still remember that moment of shame very well.

 
Image: Pinocchio by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier, on Flickr, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Alphabetic Text as the Only Text

Page from a French ABC picture book for the letter A, showing asparagus and an ostrichI’m befuddled by this MLA call for proposals for a volume on the Changing Role of Writing in Composition.

Everything I understand about multimodal texts tells me that any alphabetic text is not tapping the linguistic mode alone; but from reading this CFP, you’d think that spatial and visual modes (for say a paperback book) weren’t a thing until this “turn toward multimodality.”

I’ve read and reread the call, trying to figure it out. I thought maybe I was just not getting something (blame imposter syndrome). For the life of me though, I can’t figure out how to respond to that while talking ONLY about alphabetic text (which is culturally limiting in addition to not making sense in a multimodal context). I’d really love to submit something to the call; but I can’t figure out how to work within such a limited vision of what it is to be multimodal.

 
Image: abc album p1 by patricia m, on Flickr, used under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Free Access, If You’re Patient and Persistent

Covers of the Journals with Articles included in the Rhetoric & Change CollectionRoutledge (Taylor and Francis) is offering a nice collection of articles to mark the RSA conference this weekend: Rhetoric & Change: A Free Access Article Collection in Collaboration with the Rhetoric Society of America (RSA).

It looks like a grand collection; however, the fact that you have to read and download everything one-by-one leads me to believe that Routledge is more interested in trying to keep you on their site than actually providing free access to key pieces.

A well-designed site would have a “Download All” option. I would have been willing to fill out a short survey and give them my email address for such access. Sure free != easy, but it could and often should. Shame on Routledge!

Tools for Teaching Accessiblity?

Look out! Blind People cyclingSo I’ve been considering some of the issues that have been raised at the 2015 Summer Seminar: Access/ibility in Digital Publishing, trying to figure out where I fit in. I have some experience with many different kinds of issues, but I haven’t completely figured out where I belong in the conversations the group has been having.

So I began thinking about how many students (and probably many authors) respond to concerns about making their work accessible. There’s push back, reluctance, and sometimes even refusal. It’s more than simply not wanting to do the extra work or not knowing how to do what’s necessary. I think it’s a failure to understand, even to recognize their privilege—and as a result, an inability to know what needs to change to make a project more accessible.

An example might help. Let’s say a writer adds a photo to something. She might understand that she should include an alt tag for that image, but does she understand how to write a rhetorically effective alt tag? Does she know about long descriptions? Has she ever interacted with a reader with low or no vision? How do you teach someone not to see so that she can understand the needs of her readers?

As I tried to puzzle out this complicated task of extending accessibility of a project (and we are talking about extending. These projects are already accessible. They are just not accessible to everyone or in every way possible), so as I was trying to puzzle out making a project accessible, I began wondering about the opposite (so to speak) of the task. Would I ever ask a person with low or no vision to make a project more visual by adding color, illustrations, and design elements? If I did, what kind of support would I need to provide her? How would I help her understand visual aspects that she (possibly) had never seen and might never use as she herself accessed a text? How would she know if she was meeting her goals?

A sighted writer who has never consciously worked to make a project accessible to someone with low or no vision likely feels she’s confronting similar constraints. She cannot see the absences in the project that she needs to fill out, and she doesn’t understand the extent to which she needs to fill them out. Her privileges as a sighted writer is not obvious to her.

So my question, or perhaps the challenge I’d love to address, is how do I find ways to help those who do not need alternate accessibility paths understand the task of adding them to a text? What tools are available to help such a writer understand the accessibility needs? I’m not looking for the tools to add accessibility, but teaching tools and strategies to help people understand why those accessibility tools are necessary and how they add layers of access to the project. What tools can help her understand the difference between simplistically making something accessible and making it deeply accessible?

I think there are some obvious strategies that people use, like trying to read a text with a screen reader and working to notice what is missing and what doesn’t work. There are accessibility checkers online that people can apply to their texts. I’m not satisfied that tools like these are the best solution. I’m not sure what is.

Faking Social Media Updates

One of my favorite projects has students creating social media updates from someone else’s point of view. Students choose fictional or nonfictional characters and then create Tweets, Facebook status updates, and Instagram posts.

Three Little Pigs Tweet

The challenge is that I don’t want to encourage students to litter the Information Superhighway with dozens of throw-away accounts, used for maybe a dozen posts and then abandoned. For me, a collection of tools that let students fake social media updates has been the answer. I’ve listed my favorites in a post on my Bedford Bits blog.

[Photo: Fake Tweet created by tengrrl with simitator.com. Three Pigs profile photo by sarahemcc, on Flickr.]

 

Remembering Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou visits YCP! 2/4/13Poet and author Maya Angelou died Wednesday, May 28, in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Angelou is considered one of the finest poets of her generation. In addition, she authored several books chronicling her youth and adolescence, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Find related web resources and lesson plans on Angelou on the ReadWriteThink calendar entry for her birthday. For excerpts from an interview with Angelou, consider sharing ‘Fresh Air’ Remembers Poet And Memoirist Maya Angelou with students.

A simple way to remember Angelou in your classroom this week is to ask students to explore some resources about the author and then use one of ReadWriteThink’s interactives or mobile apps to write about her:

 

[Photo: Maya Angelou visits YCP! 2/4/13 by York College ISLGP, on Flickr]

This Week on ReadWriteThink, for August 1 to 11

244.365 - September 1, 2010August is a hopping month on ReadWriteThink. With teachers getting ready to head back to the classroom, the calendar is jam-packed with resources to help make the first days full of fun learning.

You can find back-to-school booklists, icebreaker activities, and community-building resources on our back to school calendar entry. In the featured classroom activity, students share details about their lives with one another using the interactive Graphic Map and share their memories in small groups or with the whole class.

If you’re looking for STEM activities, it’s a good time to talk about computers and the prototype for the World Wide Web, which was created in August 1990. Budding astronauts can explore the first satellite picture of Earth, taken in 1959.

This week’s featured birthdays focus on President Barack Obama (August 4), French author Guy de Maupassant (August 5), science writer Seymour Simon (August 9), and writer Alex Haley (August 11). In sports history, the first woman swam the English Channel (August 6).

This week also marks the anniversary of our national museum. The Smithsonian Institution was founded August 10, 1846. Today, it has expanded to a network of 16 museums and 129 affiliate museums—including the National Zoo and the National Air and Space Museum. Celebrate by exploring an exhibit online and writing “A Day in the Life” narratives that tell about a person, animal, or object they saw in the exhibit.

In addition to those timely topics, check out these new resources for more ideas for the classroom:

[Photo: 244.365 – September 1, 2010 by meddygarnet, on Flickr]