@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-08-04

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@newsfromtengrrl for 2011-08-01

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Changing the Workflow to Get More Done

IMG_6433If you show up somewhere with your shirt on backwards, someone usually lets you know. People realize right away that the picture is on the back, the buttons aren’t where they belong, and the shirt just isn’t right. A friend or kind-hearted passer-by whispers in your ear, or perhaps you catch a look at yourself in a mirror. You excuse yourself to the bathroom and turn things around.

If only everything worked that way. Earlier this week, I was behind on my work. For months now, I’ve been behind on my work. Every day, I do the same thing:

  • Find and post articles to @newsfromtengrrl.
  • Answer any pending email messages.
  • Write the blog posts that are due.
  • Set up outgoing social networking posts for @RWTnow and @BedfordBits.

Intersperse spot checking email, Facebook, Google+, and Twitter, and you have a pretty good picture of my day.

The problem was that by the time I got through finding the articles I post to @newsfromtengrrl, I usually have to stop and go take care of family duties. When I got back to my work later in the evening, I felt anxious and stressed. The “real” work that I needed to do, the blog posts and social networking updates, only got done when I was in panic mode (and often tired). Many times, I found myself in the wee hours of morning sleepily wondering if I could just push a few things off till the next day.

One afternoon this week, I found my stress levels rising. I hadn’t finished finding posts for @newsfromtengrrl, yet I only had about 30 minutes left before I had to clean the kitchen and cook dinner. The inner dialogue started:

Why can’t I ever get enough done? The afternoon is gone, and I still haven’t gotten to the real work. Damn it. I never get to what I need to because of the stupid news posts. But I have to finish the news posts before 6:45 so that the blog post goes up by midnight.

Out of some corner of my mind, a quieter, calmer voice said, “You could change the settings for the blog post, you know. You made this problem when you decided the post needed to go up at midnight.”

It wasn’t just a lightbulb moment.

There were rainbows. And unicorns. And glitter.

For nearly a year, I have been doing my work backwards, but no one had kindly leaned over and whispered in my ear until now! So a couple of days ago, I flipped my work flow. The news articles are the last thing I look for. Writing blog posts and status updates come first. I reset the WordPress plug-in so that my blog posts go up at noon instead of midnight.

It’s made all the difference. Look, here I am actually writing a blog post and the dinner fixings aren’t even out of the refrigerator!


[Photo: IMG_6433 by abbybatchelder, on Flickr]

Memorial Day: Bits Flashback for May 30

Always Faithful, Doberman, Military Working Dog, MWD, World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery located on Navel Base GuamIn honor of Memorial Day, I wanted to point back to an entry I wrote last October on writing about photos. The image I used to illustrate it was the one that came to mind when I thought about Memorial Day this year.

Look back to that entry for some ideas for writing or discussion, and for more ideas for the classroom or professional development, look back to these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.

[Photo: Always Faithful, Doberman, Military Working Dog, MWD, World War II Memorial, War Dog Cemetery located on Navel Base Guam by Beverly & Pack, on Flickr]

Graduations: Bits Flashback for May 16

Lightning!! A severe thunderstorm brought graduation ceremonies at Virginia Tech to an abrupt and very early conclusion here in Blacksburg on Friday night. The keynote speaker never even made it to the podium. Fortunately, students were able to pick up their diplomas on Saturday morning during college and departmental ceremonies. It may not have been the original plan, but everything worked out.

As you reach the end of the term where you teach, I hope the ceremonies and celebrations go well (even if they aren’t what you originally expect them to be). As move on to the second half of the month, take a few minutes to check out these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

  • Now that testing is finished for the year, High School Bits blogger Jesse Tangen-Mills shares some classroom activities that work well for Treating Post-Test Syndrome
  • Andrea Lunsford argues that Texting IS Writing, and that we need to pay very close attention to it and learn from our students how they use this new way to communicate.
  • Mary Tripp discusses Self-Efficacy in the WAW Classroom: Preliminary Research Results. Her report includes interesting student visualizations of themselves as writers.
  • Want to create a super-mobile, super-light virtual classroom? Barclay Barrios describes the system he is adopting for his class this summer in Twitter Me This.
  • Are students doing Long Writing vs. Hard Writing? Traci Gardner explains the difference (and why it matters).
  • Nancy Sommers reflects on her year of teaching and shares some plans for the summer in Looking Back, Looking Forward.
  • Susan Naomi Bernstein reminds students what is important to them—where they come from, what and whom they love, why they have succeeded in the past—in Writing Beyond Stereotypes.

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.


[Photo: Lightning!! by aresauburnâ„¢, on Flickr]

Preparing for the Last Weeks of the School Year: May 15 to 21 on ReadWriteThink

More empty classroom stuff, UMBCThe school year is soon coming to a close. Students will make their way to summer camps, family vacations, and nearby pools and parks. Before you face that room of empty desks, spend a few minutes thinking about the resource that worked best for you this year, make plans to reflect with students on all you’ve done during the year and encourage families to keep students learning during the summer months. Check out the calendar entries, lesson plans, and classroom activities below for this week and the approaching last weeks of the school year on the ReadWriteThink site. Have a great week!

New Resources

From the Calendar

Connecting with Other Teachers

If you have feedback or questions about ReadWriteThink, all you have to do is contact us.


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

Another Trauma Narrative: Bits Flashback for May 8

KeyboardOn Saturday, Black College Wire posted an article on a composition assignment that had consequences the teacher never expected. The teacher, Lisa Carl, asked students to write “either a first-person autobiographical account of a significant event in their lives or an analysis of a graphic novel or anthropological classic.”

In response, student Jessica Martin wrote the essay “I had an affair with my high school teacher,” which was later published in the N.C. Central University’s newspaper, the Campus Echo, as part of an annual collection of first-person narratives. The student’s account has resulted in campus scrutiny of her decision to write the essay and the newspaper’s decision to publish it—as well as the arrest of the high school teacher she wrote about.

As I read about the aftermath of the essay’s publication, I thought immediately of Holly Pappas’s Trauma Narrative post last month and how pertinent all the questions she raises are in this situation. It’s worth rereading Holly’s piece and thinking about how it applies and the new questions that it raises.

While you’re looking at past entries, also check out these Bedford Bits posts from last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.


[Photo: Keyboard by cheetah100, on Flickr]

Bits Flashback for May 2

Day 4: Truffle sleeping on the job again (and browsing dogster.com)!Did you stay up late last night watching the developing news (or maybe grading papers)? If so, it’s possible “Parts of your brain could be sleeping right now,” according to a recent study.

The NIH-funded study of the brain activity in rats found that “if you deprive them of sleep (aah, sleep), parts of their brains take a nap anyway. Even though they appear awake and active, brainwave measures show that scattered groups of neurons in the cortex are nodding off on their own.” Okay, so there may be questions about the research that readers bring up in the comments, but if you need an excuse for not getting enough done today, it’s a handy study to be able to mention.

Before you head off for a nap though, head on over to Bedford Bits for classroom activities and teaching strategies, which were posted last week:

A Few Extra Links

Let us know what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.


[Photo: Day 4: Truffle sleeping on the job again (and browsing dogster.com)! by star5112, on Flickr]

Cake! Bits Flashback for April 3

Chocolate cake sliceThe solution to writer’s block is cake! A round-up of Tips for Fighting Writer’s Block, from the Inside Higher Ed’s University of Venus blog, includes everything from setting rigid deadlines to sitting down for some cake and coffee.

Cake may not be the answer to every problem, but it can’t hurt to give it a try. My suggestion for curing writer’s block? Why not take a break and read one of the new entries posted on Bedford Bits last week?

  • Holly Pappas discusses her techniques to foster a sense of curiosity, inquiry, and wonder in Learning to Ask the Questions.
  • A picture might be worth a thousand words. But words paired with pictures? That’s worth even more! Andrea Lunsford discusses Words . . . and Images, and teaching graphic novels.
  • What role does the Writing Center play in Writing-About-Writing? Blogger Doug Downs explores how tutors contribute to the pedagogical approach in WAWriting Center.
  • What kind of progress students can make in one semester? Barclay Barrios shares another student paper and his comments in More Sample Work: Student Progress.
  • High School Bits blogger Jodi Rice asks why people read literature and what reading will look like in the digital age in Storytelling 2.0.
  • Where does the military get names for their operations? Reflecting on the Operation Odyssey Dawn, Traci Gardner talks about Naming and the Rhetoric of War.
  • Susan Naomi Bernstein reflects on classroom assignments and her own writing in Writing for the Catastrophic Moment.

A Few Extra Reminders

We’re still looking for suggestions. Tell me what you want to know about teaching writing or about using digital tools in the composition classroom by leaving a comment. Your response will help shape upcoming posts.

[Photo: Chocolate cake slice by alexanderward12, on Flickr]

Turning Blog Posts Into a Book Draft

2010 NaNoWriMo Winner BadgeAfter thirty days of thinking, sorting, and scribbling, I turned a variety of notes and blog posts into a very rough and informal book draft of 52,967 words.

Now as I confessed a month ago, I went about the process as a rebel—writing a nonfiction, academic piece and borrowing from existing work as appropriate. Fortunately, rebellion is sanctioned in this contest, and I am now officially a National Novel Writing Month winner for 2010.

The Secret to My Success
I would never have taken on this project without a little nudge from Literature & Latte’s Scrivener NaNoWriMo 2010 Trial, a special trial version of a wonderful word processing program for Mac (and coming soon for Windows). Ryan Cordell reviewed Scrivener for ProfHacker, and that’s when the program initially caught my attention. When I saw that the Literature & Latte folks were offering a discount for NaNoWriMo participants, I knew I had to download the program and give the month-long writing event a try.

After a few days, I realized that Scrivener had completely changed the way I work on a longer document. Honestly, the program made it possible for me to see how my practice of writing short pieces could work in the context of producing a larger document.

I write dozens of short documents every month, almost always blog entries composed in Dreamweaver for upload to a blog platform like WordPress. When I’m not writing blog entries, I am writing very structured pieces like lesson plans and strategy guides for ReadWriteThink.

My greatest fear has been that I would never figure out how to write another book. I’ve become so used to these shorter, structured pieces, that I just couldn’t think through the problem far enough to understand how to structure and write a fluid, longer piece.

After playing with Scrivener a bit, I realized that I could create and import dozens of shorter pieces as Texts, arranging them in folders, and dragging them around on the cork boards until I had what I wanted. I soon had six chapters sketched out, and I ultimately ended up with 73 short texts sorted into those folders.

Admittedly, the draft is not close to finished. There’s little flow or consistency at this point, but when I realize that I went from 0 words to a fleshed-out folder outline and over 50,000 words in a month, I know it wasn’t just the pressure of the NaNoWriMo deadline that did it. The secret to my success was that Scrivener allowed me to collect my existing blog posts, compose some additional short texts, and end up with a book draft.

My Take-Away Lesson
After participating in NaNoWriMo, I realize that I was letting my belief that I had to have a finished idea for a book in my head block me from getting started. Working with Scrivener helped me recognize that my practice of writing short pieces could still work when I composed a larger book-length manuscript.

As I worked on my draft, I quickly learned that I could turn my blog posts into a very rough book draft simply by sorting things into reasonable categories and adding some missing pieces. My take-away lesson is to remember that I don’t need that finished piece figured out to create a longer text. I just need to be open and creative about how I fit my ideas together.

The Outcome
So here it is 30 days later, I have a roughly-arranged manuscript, which I’m currently calling Designing Digital Writing Assignments.

I’m not sure when I’ll get the manuscript finished or if I can find a publisher. I’m trying not to worry about that right now. It’s enough of an accomplishment to realize that I now know how to turn my blog posts into a book draft. I even know what I want to write a third book about and how to do that. Besides, I need to get back to anxiously checking my email for that 50% off discount for Scrivener that I should get from Literature & Latte as a NaNoWriMo winner.