Tag Archives: writing

Begin Again

Solomon's Seal and Dragonflies
A favorite spot in my spring garden

This blog post is inspired by two people. Tim Stahmer has been blogging consistently since the early naughts. I’ve had blogs setup as long as he has, but I never got into the rhythm. But, like many of us, he found himself feeling unsettled in this era of the unknown and it impacted his writing, partly because he wasn’t sure what to say.

Jennifer Orr, meanwhile, has been giving us all a glimpse into the world of teachers right now. As always, her courage to share her deepest fears and griefs and joys inspires me.

I started the year with good intentions and enjoyed blogging in January, partly because I gave myself permission to write about whatever I wanted. I posted a few thoughts early on in the crisis but, like Tim, I ran out of energy and wondered what I had to share.

I admire Jen’s courage to speak her truth. Through her eyes, we also see the lives of her students and their families. And, she reminds us that the wires and switches are about connecting people and supporting community. We can fix the technology problems, but there is an emotional toll that will be harder to repair. We need more teachers to tell their stories all the time but never more so than now.

So, to Tim’s question, what can I say? I think I’m going back to my January philosophy and writing about what comes to mind. I am back to baking regularly with two different sourdough starters. My flower gardens are coming together and there are lots of lessons to learn while weeding. Meanwhile, my husband is putting in extra tomato, squash, zucchini and cucumber plants this year,  thinking that our local community, a food desert, will benefit from fresh produce this summer. I will be channeling my grandmothers as I pickle, can, ferment and freeze. I’m back to reading after struggling with concentration.

For now, I’ll end with a potentially helpful resource for those who are struggling with connectivity. The Commonwealth Coalition, of which VSTE is a proud member, has created a wifi hotspot map for the state:

I like that one near me is at Moores Swamp Church. But it is a picture of inequity as well. Rural folks expect to drive longer distances for services but, at this point in time, Internet is like electricity. It needs to come directly to the house.

Good Habits Are Hard to Start

My exchange with Sheri Edwards of the What Else blog about our mutual love of crocheting and how we learned was featured as part of Edublog’s round up for week two of the #blogging28 challenge. While I basked in the glory, I also forgot to blog yesterday.

Have I already run out of things to write about? No…but I have moved further into the new year with its work demands and I haven’t quite gotten the habit in place yet. I have thought about potential topics but not made any notes so they die on the vine, as it were. I could expand on the twitter conversation I had with a few folks about our process:

I hope this didn’t sound flippant. I take my audience seriously but as I went on to share on Twitter:


The #blogging28 challenge allows time for posts to percolate by suggesting doing one blog post each week. And, by encouraging participants to comment on others’ blogs, connections are made that can lead from comments to full blown posts in the same way these Twitter posts led to this post.

I think I am behind on commenting on blog posts and want to explore some new writers. The Edublogs week two round up has a list of participants at the end of the update.


My last post was at the end of January, just about the time that I finished the data collection for my dissertation.  I spent the next five months analyzing and writing and successfully defended my study on June 3, 2009.  It took the rest of the summer to finish it and then I plunged back into work.  A combination of feeling pretty broke after not working for several months and a worry about being bored led me to take on several different projects, all of which seemed to have major deadlines in October and November so all those hours I freed up by finishing graduate school (I figure somewhere around 30 hours a week) were suddenly filled.  Any plans I had for posting some blog entries or even twittering were abandoned.

But now the work load has subsided a bit and I actually spent today reading and crocheting rather than working.  I got on my computer to check in to the online classes I’m teaching and to harvest a few crops in Farmville.  And, I had an urge to write, too. It’s funny…I was really worried about being able to find the time and energy to read once I finished my degree.  So many people had told me that they hadn’t been able to read for a long time after finishing their degrees.  And reading whatever I wanted was one of those things I kept promising myself that I was going to do when I was done.  So, I made an effort to read and even did some writing about my reading on my personal blog.

What I didn’t seem to be able to do is write professionally.  In fact, the last thing I wrote was a proposal for the American Educational Research Association conference.  I’m happy to say it was accepted.  I’ve been doing a lot of creating or what you might think of as 21st century writing: a website for a STEM project, the first in a video series called Math in Real Life and two episodes of a new podcast.  I’ve also been doing a lot of data work including Moodle administration, survey development, and a conference handout book.  And there’s been some flash programming for a kids’ website I’ve been working on with my husband. But, with the exception of some personal journaling and a few blog posts about books, I haven’t been writing, not even Twitter posts.  I should be working on an article about my study and I have passing thoughts about twitter posts and blog entries.  But I just can’t commit to the process.  (Just as an aside, this is my second stab at getting this blog post done.)

I’m not sure about the source of the block.  I do know that I find it difficult to write off the cuff they way I used to when I wrote blog entries.  They weren’t completely stream of conscious but I certainly didn’t draft them the way I did my dissertation.  The first three chapters of the study began as the proposal so they probably went through somewhere around 8 to 10 drafts and were written over the course of a year.  The last two chapters only went through two drafts and were written in about three months.  But that was three months of almost full time drafting, writing and revising.  It was intensive but also satisfying and productive.

But it seems to have ruined me for writing anything else. I want to edit every sentence, labor over every work, craft each paragraph.  I worry about having something important to say and whether I should be adding citations.  The freedom I used to feel as I wrote blog entries eludes me.

So, for tonight I’m going to stop and publish this…just get some words moving around.

Random Friday Round Up

A gloomy day here.  The rain brought down the leaves and it is starting to look like winter.  The dogs are sprawled around me, snoozing, and I can’t muster the energy for a thoughtful blog post.  But, I do have a few sites to share on several different topics so here’s the random Friday round up:

Miami Book Fair Celebrates 25 Years:  I heard this story on NPR yesterday as I drove back and forth across the state.  The founder of the fair is an independent book store owner in Miami and he reflects on how things have changed since 1983.  When asked about the challenge of selling analog books in an increasingly digital age, he comments that he is “selling the past.”

Guest Blogger on Eduwonk:  I credit Andrew Rotherman (aka Eduwonk) with helping me pass my comprehensive exams at William and Mary.  Today, his guest blogger is none other than Margaret Spellings, soon-to-be former Secretary of Education.  She writes about a new report from the Department of Education that details five areas in which federal, state and local goverments can collaborate to support the use of technology in education.

I Think I’m Musing My Mind:  I’m sorry that I can’t remember who steered me to this piece by Roger Ebert but I’ve read and re-read it several times since.  I found myself highlighting several of his key ideas that resonated with me in this thoughtful reflection on his writing:

The Muse visits during the process of creation, not before.

Of course I don’t think only about writing. I spend time with my wife, family and friends. I read a lot, watch a lot of politics on TV. But prose is beavering along beneath, writing itself. When it comes time to type it is an expression, not a process. My mind has improved so much at this that it’s become clearly apparent to me. The words, as e. e. cummings wrote, come out like a ribbon and lie flat on the brush. He wasn’t writing about toothpaste. In my fancy, I like to think he could have been writing about prose.

Collaborating with Diigo:  From jdtravers, an excellent video with practical tips for using Diigo to comment on student work.  My own experience with Diigo expanded this week.  I blogged about the Bauerlein article and then used the highlights from Ruben Van Havermaet to explore more about new media, including spending a few hours reading Andrew Plotkin’s interactive fiction game Shade.   And, Jeremy Douglass’s website made me think about what it means to be an English major in the 21st century as I approach the 25th anniversary of my own graduation.

Writing Across the Technology

This article from The Miami Herald was featured in today’s ASCD Smart Brief.   Richard Sterling, former director of the National Writing Project discusses the potential for online tools for teaching writing:

Sterling believes blogs, MySpace, Facebook, e-mail, IM and texting all have potential for improving a student’s ability to write. While some critics worry about how the abbreviated nature of online and text communication ignores basic grammar and spelling rules, Sterling isn’t concerned.

”Creatively abbreviated words like GR8 and issues like not capitalizing after punctuation don’t worry me — and some changes may eventually become standard,” Sterling says. “Students are savvy, and they will learn to adjust the way they write to fit the audience.”

That last bit–writing to fit the audience and, increasingly, the format–is one of the most important ideas for me as I always found it a difficult topic to deal with in the traditional classroom where it seemed as though I was often the only audience.   The article goes on to quote KC Culver, assistant director of the University of Miami Writing Center:

‘Discussion boards, blogs and wikis present a huge benefit: They give students a real audience, rather than the outdated `student-to-teacher’ writing,” Culver says. “Students put more effort into their critical thinking and writing because they want to be the post that gets commented on. In composition, we like to talk about reading and writing as an ongoing dialogue. With the Internet, this becomes a reality.”

The ideas about audience really hit home with me.  I recently submitted an article to a practitioner journal.  When the editor returned it to me for revisions, one thing she mentioned was that it sounded too academic for her audience.  And she was right.  I’ve been doing so much writing for my graduate courses that it was tough to change gears for a different type of publication. I do know that my writing style changes as I move from academic writing to this blog to a discussion forum to an email.  Lately, I’ve also been playing a bit with Twitter…just what can you achieve in 140 characters?

Finally, the article goes on to talk about “new” types of writing, specifically those incorporating multimedia, which I see as an essential skill in the digital age.   By learning to create multimedia, we are better able to read and understand it ourselves.  Again, it was a lesson I had to learn.  When I set about to make my first long (12 minutes!) video, I started with words and wrote a multi-page, single spaced script.  But, as I sat down to do the creating and editing, I realized I simply couldn’t get all those words into the movie.  Instead, I had to trim the script to just one page and let the images and video clips I used do the heavy lifting for me.  It was a new way of thinking about writing for this old-school English major.

Through all of this, I worry that the standardized tests are limiting the way teachers approach writing instruction with all the focus on writing the five-paragraph essay.   It’s not a terrible form to master in terms of the concept of building an argument but it is pretty artificial when we consider all the formats available for students.  In addition, the writing process is turned into a simple formula (brainstorm, draft, revise, publish) that does not help students understand its recursive nature and skips over the whole idea of reading and writing as a dialog.  Wouldn’t it be fun to have a writing prompt like the one Hall Davidson gave us at the VSTE conference last year: tell a story in six words.  Now there’s a challenge to your writing skills!