just 10 minutes a day…

Watch Face, by Chris Roach, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-NC 2.0 licenseOn Wednesday, I happened upon Daphne Gray-Grant’s “How 5 minutes a day can revitalize your writing.” I am writing constantly, so I’m not sure how much I need revitalized. I do know however that I have lots of quick thoughts or ideas that I want to get down so that I might be able to expand upon them later.

I posted this thought about Gray-Grant’s article on Facebook that day:

Wondering about this gimmick as a writing strategy/resolution. I have so many one-off, short, undeveloped ideas floating through my head. What if instead of saving them for later (which almost never materializes) or giving them up because I don’t have time or the know-how to do the relevant research, what if instead of all that, I try to write them down in five minutes or so?

The 10 in tengrrl makes me feel like that should be ten minutes rather than five, but even ten minutes a day is probably doable as long as I don’t get it into my head that every day has to be a stellar accomplishment. Maybe it’s time to create a new five (or ten) minute blog. I just have to decide whether this is a silly gimmick or a strategy for publishing ideas and stories that I too often give up on.


[Photo Credit: Watch Face, by Chris Roach, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY-NC 2.0 license]

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]

Finding Persuasion in Unexpected Places

SLC2As I did last summer, I spent twelve days this month with my sister on a road trip from Virginia to Utah, with a stay in Salt Lake City for the Stampin’ Up convention in the middle. I learned a number of interesting ideas at the convention, both for my hobby of scrapbooking and cardmaking and for teaching and creativity in general. The most interesting thing that I came upon, however, was the garbage and recycling bins (shown right) in the Salt Palace Convention Center where the event was held.

Read my full post on the Bedford Bits site.

my #clmooc journey so far

Our project for the third week of #clmooc was to make a map of some kind. I took the first option and created this map of my journey in this course so far. If the text size is too small, click on the Prezi logo to see the full-width version.

24 Free Audiobooks to Download This Summer

Sync IconIf you like audiobooks, check out the free young adult audiobook downloads from Sync YA Audiobooks. It’s 24 books—two each week starting on May 30.

I’ve downloaded these books the past two summers, and they are excellent books each year. It’s a great way to build your audiobook library. Each week, they post one recent title, and one classic text that explores similar themes. For example, the first week, they are pairing Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, read by Rebecca Gibel (AudioGO) with The Tempest by William Shakespeare, read by a Full Cast (AudioGO). So even if you aren’t working with teens (or don’t have teens at home), you may find the classics each week worth downloading.

Get more info on their website and check out the Tool Kit for posters, bookmarks, and other graphics that you can download to spread the word about the books.

There’s a linked version of the full schedule on the site, but to
get you excited, I’ve pasted it in below too:

May 30 – June 5, 2013
Of Poseidon by Anna Banks, read by Rebecca Gibel (AudioGO)
The Tempest by William Shakespeare, read by a Full Cast (AudioGO)

June 6 – June 12, 2013
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling by
Maryrose Wood, read by Katherine Kellgren (HarperAudio)
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, read by Wanda McCaddon (Tantor Audio)

June 13 – June 19, 2013
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Will Patton (Scholastic
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya, read by Robert Ramirez (Recorded Books)

June 20 – June 26, 2013
Once by Morris Gleitzman, read by Morris Gleitzman (Bolinda Audio)
Letter From Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr., read by Dion Graham

June 27 – July 3, 2013
Rotters by Daniel Kraus, read by Kirby Heyborne (Listening Library)
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, read by Jim Weiss (Listening Library)

July 4 – July 10, 2013
Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford, read by Nick Podehl (Brilliance
She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, read by a Full Cast (L.A. Theatre

July 11 – July 17, 2013
The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann, read by Peter Altschuler (HarperAudio)
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, read by Simon Vance (Tantor Audio)

July 18 – July 24, 2013
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, read by Erin Moon (Recorded Books)
Hamlet by William Shakespeare, read by a Full Cast (L.A. Theatre Works)

July 25 – July 31, 2013
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen, read by Charlie McWade (Scholastic
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain, read by Steve West (Blackstone

Aug 1 – Aug 7, 2013
Death Cloud by Andrew Lane, read by Dan Weyman (Macmillan Audio)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, read by Ralph
Cosham (Blackstone Audio)

Aug 8 – Aug 14, 2013
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis, read by Katherine Kellgren (Brilliance Audio)
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, read by Miriam Margolyes
(Bolinda Audio)

Aug 15 – Aug 21, 2013
Sold by Patricia McCormick, read by Justine Eyre (Tantor Audio)
Let Me Stand Alone by Rachel Corrie, read by Tavia Gilbert (Blackstone

@newsfromtengrrl for 2013-05-11

Audience, Peer Review, and the MOOC

More empty classroom stuff, UMBCI failed at #WEXMOOC this week. Though admittedly, I feel a little tricked by the nature of the MOOC (defined generally) as well. Our second assignment asked us to reflect on our identities as writers in relationship to three other writers. The assignment gave these instructions:

[W]rite 800-1000 words where you explore connections between your identity as a writer and other people’s identities as writers. Your audience is other writers in this class. 

The assignment seems like the usual stuff of the composition classroom. The audience is quite often other students enrolled in the course. I hadn’t thought through how literally this fact was true however nor how different my audience is in the context of this particular course.

Audience analysis is, of course, my job in a writing project, and I blew it this time. The assignment tells us that we are writing to the “other writers in this class.” Unfortunately, I didn’t think enough about the people who make up WEXMOOC. I imagined the group as somewhere between a typical first-year composition class and what we called a trailing section (that is, students who either took a remediation course or had failed FYC the first time through, so they were off sequence, taking a first semester course during second semester). Some of the students in WEXMOOC are that sort of typical first-year comp student, but there are a lot more international students focusing on Global Englishes than is the norm. Many of the students in WEXMOOC mention other languages that they use. Writing what I think is a good piece or what I believe a typical FYC student would think met expectations fails to connect with these readers. I needed to pitch everything to a global reader and to avoid any moves that did not follow clearly from the assignment. I didn’t think about my audience thoroughly enough to realize that my approach was completely off.

The MOOC is an empty classroom. I can’t see the audience. I do not know them, and because of the huge number of students involved, I probably never will know them. I have to guess at their demographics. I’m not sure where to do research to find out the composition of this particular MOOC. The success of WEXMOOC relies on understanding your readers, but that information is hard to find. I wish the course included more discussion of the audience itself. I would never give an assignment like this without spending time analyzing the audience as a class as well as analyzing several other audiences for comparison. Given that we have limited ability to learn about the members who make up this course, we could benefit from a deeper exploration of this particular audience.

Audience analysis is only part of the problem however. The members of this course need significantly more training in peer review, especially given the structure of this MOOC. Peer review is actually the part of this course that matters. My writing doesn’t need to be what I would call good. It needs to be something that this group of students will peer review as good. Completion in the course relies not just on completing the writing and doing peer reviews, but also on earning a specific average on a 5-point scale from peer readers.

From what I can tell from the two peer responses that I have gotten so far, my readers expected a clear, optimistic conclusion in this assignment. I compared my own background to three others, reflecting with some pessimism on the unfairness of literacy acquisition. It was not an especially brilliant conclusion, but it did follow from what I had discussed. My readers, however, weren’t prepared for anything but an obvious, optimistic conclusion. They wanted me to end with some plan to fix the unfairness that I discussed. They want me to be a better person, not a better writer. One even suggested that I should take some classes in a foreign language so I could relate to the writers I used for my comparison. That is life advice, not how peer review advice. My readers wanted a pretty fable, tied up with a life lesson.

Completion in the course relies entirely on successful peer review. The WEX Training Guide is a good document, but I don’t think it’s enough. It includes only one example review, and that paper was written by a graduate student. That sample isn’t close to the reality of the four papers I gave peer feedback on. Students need more example papers and feedback, including some examples that deal with issues that reflect those students in the course face. An FAQ might even help if it addressed questions like “What if the text doesn’t match the assignment?” , and “Should I mention grammar problems?” As a teacher, I know how to deal with those issues, but I’m not sure that the average student in this MOOC does. Leveling a group of readers for a fair assessment takes time, but when peer feedback matters as it does in this course, you have to take that time.

I opened by mentioning that I feel a little tricked by MOOCs. The pedagogical necessities of MOOCs have created a writing classroom unlike any I have encountered before. This week, WEXMOOC reminded me that the teachers in a MOOC only supervise what is going on. Work is not assessed from a teacher’s perspective, but from the students’ point of view. Writing to peer reviewers is quite different from writing for an objective teacher. Everything relies on those peer reviewers in this course. The size of the course and the range of student writing abilities mean that the staff of a MOOC can never respond adequately to all the writing that students do. If peer reviews matter to the success of a MOOC however, students need more scaffolding to do the work effectively and need a better understanding of one another if they are to meet the expectations of MOOC students as an audience.


[Photo: More empty classroom stuff, UMBC by sidewalk flying, on Flickr]