Reflecting on My Writing Year...Or "What I #Made in 2014"
They keep telling me I have to tell the story of my work. They keep saying, “You have to write it down or the moment will pass. Someone else will write it. And it will no longer be yours.”
In the last year, my inkwell has been quite dry, used up by difficult days in teaching, graduate school, presentations, changing jobs, learning new systems in new places…. The list continues. Over this holiday season, as the time for “resolutions” approaches (read: I never make them), I feel it is time for me to put some new ink in my well, especially since I have read Grant Faulkner’s most recent essay in Poets and Writers‘ Jan/Feb 2015 edition, “More Ideas Faster: Writing with Abandon,” and felt especially challenged to write with the shameless recklessness I did in my younger years when I was less fettered as a teacher and not as entrenched in my own “rules” for making writing happen. Faulkner says: “I concluded that my labored approach [to writing/proess] had smothered my verve.”
I could not relate to this more.
Faulkner also references Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov, particularly brother Dmitri, who claims that when he “fall[s] into the abyss, [he goes] straight into it, head down and heels up, and [he’s] even pleased that [he’s] falling in just such a humiliating position,” which Dmitri finds “beautiful.” It is in this “very shame” that Dmitri begins his work (Paraphrased from Dostoevsky, see full text here – page 135?). I was convicted, cut to the heart, and stopped in my tracks, all by these beautiful words. Faulkner does it right – starts with a mentor text, invokes the styles of said mentors, and challenges his readers to do the same. So here I go, Mr. Faulkner, oh, young man with the amazingly old and revered last name. Here is my year as a writer, and maker, through my very well lit, rear-view mirror.
My friend and mentor Bridget Goree is continuing to teach me how to write on a topic and with depth, and how I should teach it to kids. She is a patient, expert teacher. Let me share, and then invoke in like fashion, this model….
- Show/tell what it was
- Show/tell what it reminds me of
- Show/tell what I learned
“What it was.” Ok. I recently attended the National Writing Project Annual Meeting and the National Council for Teachers of English Annual Convention in Washignton, D.C., in November. In thankfully expected form, each #NWPAM14 session began and ended with writing and/or sharing of writing. In Troy Hicks’, Danielle Lewis Ange’s, and Stephanie West-Puckett’s session on “Makers Unite–and Write! Crafting Democratic Spaces for Making and Writing,” Troy asked participants to write about what we believe is a connection between making and writing. I revisited what I wrote, the subject of which has been a huge part of my journey in 2014 as I have learned about an implementing part of the pilot project for the “hacking your notebook” (also called “21st century notebooking”) with flat circuitry in conjunction with Nexamp, NWP, and others.
Here is what I believe.
I believe in writing as making because when I write, I make meaning. I make sense out of meaning and writing. And when I write, I make the me I wish to be come alive. I realize my own potential and I recognize my own capacity to create, describe, animate, visualize, symbolize, fulfill, and drive. And I remake myself with every stroke of pencil or key.
When my students see writing as making they explore their own thinking and find meaning in as well as “make” meaning happen for them. They find and create a voice for themselves as learners and writers, essentially “makers.” In the process of developing their own voices, they make an identity they wish others to see, not so unlike my own journey or process as a teacher-maker.
He writes. She writes. I write. They write.
We all revise. We all make and are made by our own hands.
So I began my technologically enriched journey as a writer/teacher/learner/maker with this belief. In the #NWPAM14 Opening Plenary, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl reflected on Jim Gray’s words from the fortieth anniversary edition of his Teachers at the Center: “The model we share we made together. It’s deeply local, and we all share the model.” Though about NWP local sites and/or work, this applies to the writer-maker process, too. We make meaning together as we read, write, work, share, and develop our own beliefs about this entire process. Elyse and Jim say we are part of a movement. I believe this “movement” contains a reciprocal component for teaching, learning, or sharing to take place, or make the experience authentic for any of us: reading, writing, and making are interdependent and mutually inclusive of each other. One does not move forward without an investment in the other.
“What it reminds me of.” With that thought, I sort of trip into “what it reminds me of,” from my list above. But I have more. Troy Hicks kicks off his introduction to Crafting Digital Writing with one of of my #top5gurus (Who are yours? Please add to the trend!), Sir Ken Robinson, with this idea from Robinson’s 2011 book, Out of Our Minds: “Being creative involes doing something.” Hmmm. Making. Creativity is defined by its maker-ness. Thus writing, which is borne out of reading, is hopelessly hitched to making, because writing is the something we can do, sort of similar to what Helen Keller once said. Do not refuse to do the something you can do, she says. So we read. We write. And we make.
We make sense. We make meaning. We make things for people to share or that we can share with others. We make stuff for people to quote. We make Truth, Power, Change. And we make it all, with just a pencil or a keyboard.
“Show or tell what I learned.” Well, how do you make this succinct? I saw (read: experienced) Sir Ken Robinson speak at the SMU Tate Lecture Series for my birthday in 2013 (read: a life-altering, awe-inspring 60 minutes of hearing him speak so simply yet profoundly, and a great way to enter a fortieth anniversary of my own). I still carry around my little packet of tiny notes I scribbled during his talk. I attended (read: experienced) the #hackjam at NCTE in 2013 and was challenged to rethink my concept of “remix” in teaching, learning, reading, writing, and sharing, as I “made” new meaning out of often overlooked and underappreciated materials (read: a life-altering, heart-palpitating 60 minutes of stepping outside my comfortable conference self to do something completely different). I also listened to and participated with (read: experienced) Jie Qi, Jennifer Dick, David Cole, and Paul Oh sharing about the 21st century notebook project at NWP’s Annual Meeting in 2013, learning how circuits can illuminate thinking in notebooks (read: also a life-altering 90 minutes). Though I needed some additional tutorials, and knew nothing about circuitry short of putting in my own light bulbs and fixing a lamp kit and flipping a switch, all three of these events in 2013 jump-started (read: electrical re-animation of the machine that is me) a new idea that innovation needs to take center stage in how I am developing a literacy platform as a teacher, as a learner, and with my students.
So moving forward, I cannot help but look backward at my journey from A to B. From a series, closed circuit, to a parallel, more well-connected circuit of learning, making, and writing. Paul Oh, whom I am privileged to call a friend (read: really a #top5gurus member and also a great writing and educator mentor, particularly when it comes to understanding Connected Learning and becoming an Educator Innovator), asked us to write about what innovation looks like in our teaching context in his #NWPAM14 session, “Educator Innovator and You.” My reflection seems to pull the many strands of these thoughts together from this already too-long blog post:
For me, innovation has changed in the last year as I changed jobs and focus. Last year, innovation was always about bringing science and engineering into the classroom by any means necssary, via project based learning, even by hook or by crook. Literally. We built. We hot-glued. We filmed. We made learning alive. We even lit up the place. Literally. Students always led this charge. I simply facilitated.
Though this period of making ended for me as a teacher at that location, this new school year has put innovation in a less-than-preferred back seat at my new school where I now teach freshmen, who take loads of technology classes but no engineering classes. It’s PBL. But no STEAM. Just STM. No E. No A. No making. No dirty hands. No glue stuck to the table or smears of glitter all over everything that is or isn’t nailed down. Don’t get me wrong: the level of digital making is at a massive high. It is the physical, hands-on making that is missing. To get a new crop of students to desire hands-on making or maker-based learning is hard. To teach them to inquire, or want to inquire, is diffcult. The “innovative spirit,” once birthed by engineering teachers which I capitalized on in English classes, now falls to me, the C-in-science, ill-confidented, I-don’t-do-maths English teacher, to bestow or instill.
To me, innovation is Newtonesque: If I as a teacher, learner, or maker, have seen farther/further (both metaphorical and geographic?) than others, it is becuase I have stood on the shoulders of my previous giants in this realm. I stand on Robinson, and Hicks, and Kittle, and Oh, and Cole, and Qi and Dick, and Gray, and Eidman-Aadahl, and NWP and NCTE #hackjammers and…. The list goes on. This year, innovation, and thus a new era of making, for me rests not only in facilitating giants for students to then stand on their shoulders, but also in convincing a group of ninth graders, who lack so many worldly experiences that they cannot access much of what we read without help, to climb up on the new giants I introduce.
Innovation now exists for me rife with a great deal of perspiration, anxiety, and responsibility. But it is the bridge to making, learning, writing, and reading. It is the key to making meaning, because innovation is the something we can all do to move forward.
So what I made in 2014 was this: a journey, a start, and a first attempt at publishing some version of the story of my work. Thank you, Grant Faulkner, for jump-starting my idea machine to #writewithabandon shamelessly and headfirst in to the abyss of…. whatever is out there for us to write about. Thank you, gurus, distant teachers, and giants, for providing shoulders to stand on so I can have students climb up over both of us to see further and farther. To make sense. To make meaning. To make learning real.
And to write about it alongside, and beyond, all of us. Hopefully with said shameless abandon.
(Let’s create a real trending topic, shall we? Thanks, Faulkner and @NaNoWriMo – #writewithabandon.)