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Friday, November 25, 2005

A Pittsburgh-inspired poem

I went to the ALAN breakfast and heard Yann Martel speak about how his book, Life of Pi, was an attempt to write a novel where the main character has faith. "Faith" in that larger sense, not pinned-down to any religion, but more akin to hope/trust/Divine; he also talked about the importance of letting that faith guide us instead of buying in to the ordered, logical world. Those words became fodder for the following poem written during the conference and tweaked at home.

This is where the poem begins.

It was all around me when I awoke
Reason’s gruesome presence
everywhere I looked in the room
every corner line square switch
setting me up to agree to its order

to its definition of Me

Choking my sense of Me

I slowly, casually, reached for a pen
Innocently enough

My favorite pen alluded me
In the ordered semi-darkness

Could the laptop be my friend?
My savior?
Sensing an urgency,
I grabbed the laptop and fled

Finding the most comfortable couch in the hotel
I stretched out my legs and set the laptop in its place
My lap
Actually, on top of my lap
Hmm…I wonder what genius came up with that name

There was a warmth to the plastic that soothed my thighs
The laptop was trying to make friends
And opening it
Its brightness was the smile I needed

I felt the need to write
Three words.

Set reason aside
Set reason aside
Set reason aside
Set reason aside Set reason aside Set reason aside Set reason aside Set reason aside
Set reason aside
Set reason aside
Set reason aside Set reason aside
Set reason aside Set reason aside (youknowthatthingcalledreason,placeittotheside…now,doesn’tthatfeelbetter?!)
Set reason aside
Set reason aside
Set reason aside Set reason aside


So I did.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

hp (the other one) saves the day

I've been back for a coupla days now, yet I find this year's experience at NWP/NCTE is still with me, very much on my mind. And it isn't only because I listen to Dawn and myself interviewing Tobin (ie, M.T. Anderson, National Book Award finalist author of Feed, Thirsty, Burger Wuss, Whales on Stilts, etc) every day on my hp iPAQ in the car on the way to work. And at home, before I go to bed. And of course with ear buds in class on Monday night.

I jest. It would be dangerous for me to listen to our interview with Tobin in the car.

I do think often of other (almost) as important events, conversations, and people that were part of the whole whirlwind tour of Pittsburgh.

Every year for NCTE, I choose a theme for myself so that I can approach the same idea from many different perspectives. This year, I had two: 1. visual rhetoric and literature/writing for/with kids and 2. issues of diversity in children's and ya lit. I have to say, either I have gotten better at choosing my sessions, or this year's sessions were of a really exceptional quality.

At NWP, I was part of sessions on new theories of composition and rhetoric, including visual rhetoric; thinking about visual rhetoric when using Movie Maker with a youth summer writing program; using LGBT literature with high school students; making multicultural education academic (a particularly fantasatic session); and using digital photography to get kids writing. At NCTE, I ate cookies at teh same session as Steph; listened to picture book authors talk about the importance of writing visually; and learned how a past-president of NCTE uses Joseph Brouchac's Heart of a Chief to get kids talking about sports teams that use Native American mascots (there's an interesting Thanksgiving dinner conversation).

We talked to Tobin and we talked to Richard Sterling and I learned that sometimes not being afraid to use an opening conversation gambit that makes me look a little well, um, silly (see: M.T. Anderson) (see also: Tony Tendero from Grand Valley) can be a very effective way to get the conversational ball rolling. I'll run a PD about this if anyone's interested. I'll call it "Your Face May be Red, but I Guarantee Your Stuff'll Get Read" ;-)

I participated in many fascinating conversations with vendors in the exhibition hall. This may sound silly, but it was actually helpful in two ways: I never realized how many of the reps are former teachers who love talking about classroom practice. *And* expressing some sympathy regarding the pushing and shoving culture of the book giveaway is a great way to-surprise!-get free books!

I have much more to say, and probably will soon, particularly about the role of the technology in this year's convention, but I'm at the WC at the moment and the next person who is receptioning appears to want to take the desk.

Thank you again to Janet for giving us this opportunity, to Troy for doing all the PD that made this possible, and to Carol Fenn for all her support in the background!! And thank you to all of you for being a part of it, for sharing your thoughts, making me laugh, and reminding me why I teach and why I write.

Happy Thanksgiving/long weekend/first day of snow of the season,

Monday, November 21, 2005

Goodnight Pittsburgh

Till next time, Steel City.

Also, if you're interested, I posted some of my less-professionally-oriented conference moments on my other blogger blog, which I started at an RCWP tech day earlier in 2005:

Take Me to Nobisomania!

Spoiler Alert: It includes the picture of the Holiest Dead Rat in Pittsburgh. The rest of it is nice stuff though. Like milk. You like milk.

On Jim Gee & Technology

Sticking with our tech theme, the last session I attended was on video game literacy and what it teaches us about learning.

Suffice it to say, I am very, very glad I dragged myself back downtown one more time Sunday morning.

I recorded the entire session, and will post the podcast here once I learn how to do so. I have listened to it on the iPod and will pre-warn you that yes, it's all there, but you have to turn the volume WAY up to hear most of it.

Still, it's downright fascinating stuff. And lest you write this topic off before listening to it and/or reading Gee's book, remember that as Gee put it in the session, "The most dangerous book in the world is the Bible--when it's misread, people kill each other." Point being, any and all media are dangerous, glorious, enlightening, mindnumbing, etc. The form and content are fine; it's how you read it that makes it an issue.

Video games are a new art form. Now let's see what they teach us about ourselves.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Parting Thoughts on Pittsburgh; Planning for What’s Next

A safe ride home finds me back in Lansing, with thoughts of teaching, learning, and technology in my mind. Tonight, I sit again in my living room—with reliable wi-fi—and a head full of ideas, most of which will have to wait for me until I get a good night’s rest.

Yet, for final reflections on the conference, I wanted to take a moment… Many of the thoughts that I am reflecting on have already been shared by those who posted earlier today, so I will simply echo the comments on how well RCWP was represented, how much I appreciate Janet’s work at the national level to support and grow the RCWP/MSU Writing Center, and, most importantly the dedication, determination, and good nature of all of you who were able to come to Pittsburgh. I am so impressed by your willingness to take up podcasting and blogging, support your colleagues by attending their conference sessions, share in the excitement of author sightings, and take the time for the collegial conversations that will strengthen our site.

My thoughts tonight are that the ride home from Pittsburgh was, perhaps, one of the highlights of my trip. Aram, Cathy, and Tara are already talking about ways to extend our technology learning from this conference and I am sure that conversations in other cars and planes were similar. I believe that you all have the experience with blogs, wikis, podcasts, digital photography, and other technologies to begin thinking critically and creatively about how to share your knowledge with other teachers and I look forward to thinking about how we can do that.

While I could go on more here, I simply want to close by saying thanks to all of you. Like Janet, I feel that this has been my best conference to date, all because of you, and I am so glad that I was able to support you and share in that experience.

Nashville, here we come!

SO much to say...

Well folks. Here we are at last, the end of our journey. It's been a pleasure. I have so much to say and write and share. A few tidbits that are pending....Ninna and I had a nice 20 min. interview with a National Book Award Finalist, who also happens to be the author of one of our favorite books Feed. We've used Feed for Greenrock in the past and it's a fantastic read. Our interview and cute photograph with M.T. Anderson are awesome. This podcast will need some editing before posting. I also attended some excellent sessions. Ninna and I had the pleasure of visiting some Pittsburgh natives , seeing a great view on top of Mount Washington, and visiting the roof of the convention center where scrolling poetry lined the roof top. Great sessions on discussing hurrican Katrina, grammar in context, the stories of neighborhoods, writing biographical childrens' books, and writing in multiple genres were great.

There is much to say and celebrate. For now that means sleeping in my own bed.

Signing off,

Six hours to go...

I'm starting this final post as we drive over the bridge on 9th street in Pittsburgh, headed out of town and away from the Westin (my hotel), the Omni (my second home), and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center (that I intend to boycott until they get wireless--who's with me?). This is my second attempt at a posting--last night, I was completely unable to condense my experiences over the past five days into a blog-based highlight reel, but I'm willing to give it a second go. (I have plenty of time, since I won't be able to publish this post until I'm home back home, unless one of the travel plazas has wirelss.) Here they are, the lessons I've learned in Pittsburgh:

  1. The best roadtrip companions are the ones who'll laugh at the same unintentionally-funny roadsigns.
  2. Even I'm bored by Ohio sometimes. (Sheesh, can I-80 be any more mind-numbingly dull?)
  3. The RCWP was very fortunate to be so well represented at the Annual Meeting, to have the access to the technologies and other resources that we have, and to be so well-thought-of by the other attendees. (I can't tell you how many people I met that either knew someone who was a member of RCWP, or knew by word of mouth how many RCWP'ers were in attendance. Towards the end of the second day, I was stunned by how many times the people I talked to mentioned have met someone else from the group earlier in the day.)
  4. I'm not the only one who thinks it would be a good idea to start tying balloons to people from your site to enable you to find them at NWP Socials (said policy to be implemented in 2006).
  5. If one wants one's students to understand the ways in which genres function, one shouldn't declare a day "Letter-Writing Day," or "Description-Writing Day"; or, as the presenter put it while discussing the context-dependent nature of genre, "You can't write a eulogy until someone dies." (This from an NWP-Strand session on genre theory that was very compelling, and at which I was given cookies.)
  6. Presenting at NCTE isn't at all as bad as I thought it would be. (Even had a decent-sized audience, too!)
  7. NWP Technology Liaisons are incredibly welcoming, incredibly dedicated, incredibly bright--they're just incredible people in general, and I was excited to spend two days attending meetings with them, and honored to be accepted by them as a colleague with something to contribute.
  8. Always ask what's in the Pittsburgh Pierogies. Always.

It was a pleasure, one and all--I've emjoyed reading and listening to your experiences via the blog, and I can't wait to hear the rest of your Pittsburgh stories in person.

Signing off from somewhere south of Cleveland (which, I'm told, in fact does not rock),


I'm Leaving On A Jet Plane (not so fast, pal)


I am currently seated in the airport, waiting to board my flight that will whisk me away to Motown, so I can climb into my Cavalier and drive home. I should be home by now (2:30 p.m.) but I remain here in Pittsburgh. Why? That’s what happens to novice air travelers who arrive at the airport 5 minutes too late to have their bags checked and to make it through security. Yes, I disembarked from the hotel shuttle, went to the e-ticket counter, punched in all the essentials, and the machine replied, “Please see the attendant.” I flagged-down a lady behind the counter who quickly informed me that there was no way (Stephanie N., do you recall the name of that RR Company Norfolk & Way?) I could make it through security in time for me to catch the 12-noon flight. She quickly assigned me to the next available ride to DTW, which will depart Pittsburgh at 5:27 p.m. So as I sit in this airport typing, my thoughts drift in particular to my Pittsburgh partners: one van carrying Troy, Arum and their passengers, and the other car occupied by Carlin and Andrea. I’m positive that at this very moment, both vehicles are traversing the highways and byways in a NW direction, headed for Michigan.

So I’ve spent the last 2 ½ hours plugged into the airport electricity and the FREE wifi (Radisson Hotel, please take a hint…) listening to and reading and immensely enjoying our entertaining RCWP blog. This validates the entire NCTE conference experience for me. Thank-you, Janet and the RCWP, for allowing me to participate in this fantastic event. To be able to mingle, rub elbows, and essentially “hob-nob” (to borrow a quote from one of my favorite characters, Professor Marvel, in the 1939 classic film Wizard of Oz) with 5000 enthusiastic and energetic teachers of English is an absolutely uplifting experience. It is my wish that all teachers could have a shot at re-charging their batteries by attending the NCTE/NWP. What were my highlights? From the newcomers breakfast (where I was able to meet and chat with Jackie Swensson who claims our Janet as a relative), to the McCourt address, to walking around and marveling at the David Lawrence Convention Center, to interviewing Jerry Spinelli, to the holiday lighting ceremony downtown with 250,000 of our closest Pittsburgh friends, to Thursday dinner with Renee and Toby, to listening to Carlin and Rob’s magnificent presentation, to the new friends I made, to hanging out and composing in our newly-adopted writing center (known to non-RCWP’ers as the William Penn Omni Lobby), to the many other marvelous sessions I attended, to watching Andrea’s attempt at recreating the ski-jump crash scene that began every airing of ABC’s Wide World Of Sports by sliding down darn near the largest hill in Pittsburgh, to our Friday evening RCWP dinner in 34 degree temps outside the sandwich shop, to stalking our favorite authors, to typing in the airport, it was all wonderful, wild, and more than worthwhile. I am proud of the fact that the RCWP is out front when it comes to technology. We were the “buzz” of the convention. Thank you, my colleagues, for making this an unforgettable experience for me. Please have a safe trip home, and happy holidays to you all!

The Opening of the 95th (Frank McCourt Show)

Opening Session 95th NCTE
November 18, 2005 8:15 a.m.

Pre-program musings early in the morning from downtown Pittsburgh:

This convention room is a monster! There are so many people pouring into this room, yet it still feels like we are sitting in a large airplane hanger. The center has provided numerous screens, placed strategically around the outside of the room, so no matter where one’s seat is, a person still will have a very good, up-close view of the presenters. Frank McCourt just strolled up to the dais. I must admit he looks much older than I expected he would look. He has kind of a rock-star like quality, about him, as teachers are “rushing” the podium to snap his photo with digital cameras, or attempting to introduce themselves and shake his hand.

The program begins with the presentation of the Literacy Award for 2005. The award is going to presented not to one individual, but to a group of people. Many of these folks have been with the WQED since 1954 (or earlier). This is public television at its finest. WQED serves the community by providing educational TV for students, parents and interested persons, not only on the local level, but broadcasts some of its programs nationally.

Agathaniki Locklear is now going to introduce Frank McCourt (I sat next to Niki at the newcomers breakfast at 7:00 a.m. this morning…a very nice woman who is afflicted with laryngitis this day, turning her voice into something reminiscent of an overworked line coach hollering at the Pittsburgh Steelers!) She gives a short bio of Frank, especially plugging Angela’s Ashes, Frank’s first novel that he wrote at the age of 66. She also talks about the newest work, Teacher Man, Frank’s memoirs of his 27-year teaching career in New York City.

Frank McCourt quotes (or what I personally feel were important things the man had to say):

“All the religions are spread out for me like a buffet. Nobody but the teacher knows what it likes to teach. When was the last time you saw a teacher on a talk show? But politicians have their noses stuck into education…it’s all about the money. Do politicians interfere with the AMA (out of the way doctor, I’ll show you how to remove that spleen). It just pisses me off! We test them, test them, test them. Teachers must teach to the tests and all the joy is sucked out of the classroom. I’m on my soapbox! Teachers get very little exposure in the media; we’re not a glamorous profession. Why don’t you go out and sin so we can get more media attention. If we could pin the “sexy” label on teachers, we would be on our way. Politicians don’t understand what it is like to go into a classroom. When I first went into the classroom, I didn’t know my ass from my elbow. Blackboard Jungle was the movie at the time, and what was unrealistic is that Glenn Ford only had one class. The rest of the time, he spends walking the hallways bothering kids. If you have a first hour class, and it contains seniors, you might as well be an undertaker…they are asleep (if they are even in attendance). Politicians still do not understand this! They don’t cut teachers a break! Teaching is a 24-hour a day profession that follows me everywhere. Teach America: bright individuals that are all very happy, and the principals protect them. They talk about their experiences and they get a lot of attention, but in two years they are gone, the contract ends…did they give back? They have an idea of teaching as a nice profession but they don’t know. Any teacher who has worked more than 5 years should be invited to the Oval Office to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor…or a flak jacket. The real reward is what’s in your heart when you go home at the end of the day. Sometimes it is not a reward. There is an insult to the image of a teacher now. We have all experienced it. There’s no occupation that requires more doing than teaching. And the salary…we all pinch pennies, especially if we are raising families. The energy that a teacher expends is immeasurable. On my first day of teaching, I got into trouble. It involved a sandwich. Pete threw his brown paper bag lunch at his adversary and I made my first sound of my teaching career…HEY! Stop throwing sandwiches! And the result? They had to recognize that I was the boss, that I was in charge, that I wasn’t going to take that shit. I picked up the sandwich (a grand description of a wonderful sandwich follows, too much for me to type here)… and I ate the sandwich! That was the break through that connected me with kids. (9:00 a.m. and I ate a kid’s bologna sandwich). They might put a letter in your file…please don’t, I’ll never be a principal. You do various things to survive in the classroom. Another break through for me: Mikey hands me a note from his mom…obviously forged blatantly by him…these are brilliant notes written by the kids…here was American HS writing at its best…raw, real, exciting…trying to write as their parents would…they didn’t realize their parents’ actual notes would be dull…you’re so lucky to have a teacher like me who has taken the excuse-note and turned it into something to study…you will use them for the rest of your life…a rhapsody of excuses…for the first time I saw HS students so immersed in an activity that they had to be urged out of the classroom by friends to go to lunch. If only school boards would leave us alone to do our work…quit sending us so many memos. The last day of my teaching career the teachers gave me a lunch…I felt cast aside, I wasn’t significant anymore. But when I went home, I thought, I’m glad I did that! It was a great career.”

Initial Impressions from the Omni

Here is my first podcast from the William Penn Omni.

"I'm a big kid (podcaster) now!"

This is me creating my first podcast at the William Penn Omni Hotel.

I finally got a podcast!

Well, Janet, I did it! I overcame apprehension and fear that I would impose or irritate some unassuming subject. (Although my first attempt to secure an interview failed, as the man looked at me and said, “I don’t think so.”) After choking under pressure and watching amazing podcast opportunities go by more than once, I finally worked up the nerve to approach Jack Gantos after his presentation about memoir. To be honest, I didn’t really know who he was as he first began to talk, but once he started telling stories, I knew I stumbled on a gem that would turn out to be a highlight of the conference. I was wishing I had recorded his entire session; it was like a stand-up routine – he was SO funny. He talked about snooping through underwear drawers to find and read diaries of the people he babysat for as a teenager. He talked about the social implications for a teenage boy to keep a “diary” (the ‘Hello Kitty’ kind with a lock and key.) And, he told his true story of sailing a boat filled with marijuana from the Virgin Islands to New York, getting caught, spending a year and a half in prison, keeping a secret diary in the white spaces of a large book by Dostoevsky, transition back into society and deciding to write for kids. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk more to this guy.

Once I track down Troy, we’ll see about posting the podcast with unique writer.

Safe travels.

Safe Travel and Thank You

Good Monring, all my fellow RCWP'ers! This year's convention was my best ever because of you. Your excitement and enthusiasm, your wonderful adventures, and your inspiring presentations absolutely made my conference. I wish you all safe travel home.

Paul asked when we were going to get together to de-brief, and I would love to do that if you feel you're able to spare any more time. Remember I mentioned the possibility of getting together on a Saturday morning to make holiday gifts for family members with tech help available if we need it. Anyone interested in culling out some favorite family photos and music, adding some narration and making iMovies for some of the folks we love? Or publishing our own cards? Or...?

Or would a night meeting over some shared pizza work better (Cathy made me hungry with her description!)? Thank you so much for coming and for sharing your experiences with those who couldn't make the trip!

Ross Burkhardt Interviewed US!!!

This podcast shares one of the greatest moments Nicole and I have experienced: the evening Ross Burkhardt (Nicole’s author boyfriend) interviewed us for his next book. Woo-hoo!

Initial Podcast in the Van on the Way to Pittsburgh

On the road again… we are traveling toward Pittsburgh, and playing with the ipods. Our first podcast attempt was fun!

Warm Pizza and Cool Conversation

We stopped in to a cozy little Sicilian pizza shop and happened upon a group of elementary teachers from Pennsylvania. It shouldn’t surprise any of us that they were having a great time, and that they had the same concerns and issues in early ed that we see. They graciously agreed to a podcast interview over the excellent aroma of cheese and pepperoni.

M.R. Robinson Dinner

This podcast includes conversations with past NCTE presidents, a librarian from Colorado, and fellow Michiganians at the annual Scholastic Dinner.

Getting Ready for an Interview with Ross Burkhardt

In this podcast Nicole Lerg and I share our excitement as we get ready to present and then meet with Ross Burkhardt so that he may interview us for his next book.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Jim Burke and some groupie

This one goes out to Andrea. Groupie extraordinaire. I hope this photo is the icing on the cake of a wondrous convention for you, Andrea. I, the photographer, appreciate your enthusiasm for your profession. Your dedication and intelligence will serve students well for many years. And if Jim Burke sparked some of that...well, I think I need to get on that groupie wagon, too.

A moment in time with Nikki Giovanni

Little did I know when I took the book off the shelf at home that Nikki Giovanni would read from it.
Possibly the most exciting moment for me at this convention was when Nikki (“Ms. Gionanni” seems so impersonal) searched the audience for a copy of her poems. Being in the front row and having my copy of Ego-Tripping on my lap, I held it up and offered it to her.
Now, I’m not much of an emotional guy. Though I consider myself a poet, I don’t tear up very often.
That moment, as I handed my book to its creator --- to one of my poetry idols --- I felt a rush of emotion starting in my eyes and spreading quickly in all directions. Jumping off cloud ten (one higher than cloud nine since Paul used that phrase in the previous blog entry), I sat down and anticipated her reading of “Nikki-Rosa.”

[Note: It may be important for the reader to understand that “Nikki-Rosa” was marked with a little slip of paper…it being one of my favorite poems for the last 15 years and one I use when I teach about Nikki’s work and about ‘voice’ in poetry.]

She prefaced her reading with a comment about one of the lines in the poem. She explained that “I really hope no white person ever has cause to write about me” really meant that she didn’t want anyone who “thinks white” to write about her. The thought crossed my mind that she might be talking about me. That she might have been giving me permission to write about her…as long as I ‘get it,’ as long as I’m not “white” in that arrogant, self-absorbed, pretentious, hateful sense. [Reader, you’re going to have to judge for yourself, or trust me --- I don’t think white. I’m one of the most colorful thinkers you’ll meet.]
Well, she read her poem from her heart, which is the only way she knows how to do anything, I think. Ideally, a poet would have every poem he or she’s ever written etched indelibly in her head, but this is far from an ideal world and I actually even reveled in that fact. She needed the text. It not only allowed her to use my book, it confirmed that she’s human and mildly forgetful as she ages…like some other poet I know. ☺ Though she rarely looked at the text, it was there in front of her. That same book I had read many times, that I had passed around the room and had my students fondle.
Yes, she signed the book. Yes, that’s me in the photo with her. It really happened.
She also spoke very warmly about Rosa Parks, the subject of her newest book, Rosa. It was intriguing to hear she met Mrs. Parks in an airport, unplanned; there was definite pride in her voice as she shared that Mrs. Parks knew of her work.
That moment in time was worth the drive to Pittsburgh for me. If I could drive 5 ½ more hours and have a similar experience with Garrison Keillor or Maya Angelou or e. e. cummings, I’d be on the road right now.

On Cloud Nine (or how to interview a world famous author)

Ok, it was truly a stalking to rival what Andrea Z. did yesterday with/to Jim Burke. I laid the groundwork for the entire bloody affair yesterday. I met with a rep from Random House and asked what my chances were to securing an interview with one of my favorite YA authors, Jerry Spinelli. The young lady, Adrienne, informed me that Mr. Spinelli was a really nice fellow and, if time allowed, he would probably be amicable to speaking with me.

This morning, Troy chauffeured a number of us to the convention center. Jerry wasn't scheduled to show until 9:30 a.m. Peering at my watch, and noticing that I had quite a while until the "golden hour," I suddenly heard and felt the rumblings in my now empty stomach. I commenced to take the shoe-leather express to the Steel City Diner, a Pittsburgh ptomaine palace of legendary status. At the completion of my very filling and very inexpensive breakfast, the official hunt was on. Neither snow nor rain nor sleet nor dark of night...or a full stomach could keep me from my appointed appointment with the certainly unsuspecting Mr. Spinelli.

I sashayed up to the booth, purchased a hardcopy of Stargirl, and stood in the queue with the other Spinelli minions. When it was my turn, I introduced myself to the author and explained my situation. Would he be so kind to grant a few minutes of his valuable time to participate in a RCWP podcast? Jerry's answer was a resounding yes. However, he would not be available until noon. I told him, "Don't worry, after 25 years with the MSP and yesterday with the lovely Ms. Z., rest assured that I know how to follow (stalk) people."

At noon, I met my subject and we strolled over to tables that were set up at the front of the demo hall. The interview, which you can listen to on our blog, was the highlight of my trip to Pittsburgh. Jerry Spinelli, world famous, award winning author, took the time to speak with a third-year teacher about his novel Stargirl. A more gracious, sincere, and down-to-earth person cannot be found. Thanks, Jerry, you've made my day (and given me lots of information to take back to the Lakewood Middle School 8th grade Language Arts students!)

Interview with Matt Rolph

This is my
podcast with Matt Rolph, Plymouth WP, New Hampshire, at NCTE.

Interview with Mark Overmeyer

This is my
podcast with Mark Overmeyer, author, at NCTE.

Interview with Oyster House Bob

This is my podcast with Oyster House Bob, bartender at the original Oyster House in downtown Pittsburgh.

Interview with Jerry Spinelli reference Stargirl

This is my podcast with award winning author Jerry Spinelli conducted on 11/19/05 at NCTE.

Point State Park

NOTE: This post, composed nearly 21 hours ago, is just now making it onto the blog due to poor wifi access, little time, and a need for sleep.

Friday Morning... Sunny, Chilly, and Beautiful

I write now from Point State Park, at the convergence of three rivers, industrial commerce, bustling traffic, and the spray of a magnificent fountain.

Across the Alleghany, Heinz Field glistens with its ketchup-colored logo and mustard-looking seats.

The Carnegie Science Museum, irregular in shape and sparkling in the light sits on another point near Heinz, a cone-shaped antenna (is it real?) pointed to the sky.

Across the Monongahela, a trolley carries it passengers up and down a steep incline, carved over the centuries by these three rivers. I come to find out that this is the The Duquesne Incline.

The Ohio looks out to the west, snaking under a bridge and out of my horizon. Behind me, the downtown of Pittsburgh, a place where I have barely just begun to explore, but will on my walk back to the convention center.

Why am I here now? I had the opportunity to meet with Kyoko Sato, NCTE President, and talk with her during a taxi ride from the Omni (NWP Headquarters) to the Hilton (NCTE Headquarters). These are the types of meetings and conversations that conventions allow—these captured spaces, these few moments between sessions. This is time to really talk to others, to share one’s work, to become involved on a larger level. And, now that I have had a moment to talk, I now have a moment to reflect before heading east on a five block walk to the convention center.

So, I walked out to Point State Park, moving slowly amongst all the bustle and rush about me. This is, oddly enough, a peaceful place in the middle of an urban, industrial city. Steel, in the form of bridges and buildings surrounds us. For a moment, I needed to stop, stop to see Pittsburgh for it’s natural beauty and man-made beauty, too. I got to walk in the remnants of the first fort on the point. History surrounds me, too. There is more, but no more time for now.

The pictures, taken with my iSight video camera, are grainy and do not do the area justice. But, it was all I had to capture an image, and I wanted show something of my own trip within a trip, here in Pittsburgh.


It’s Friday night. I’m tired…nope, nope that is an understatement. I am exhausted. Yet, I am refreshing and recharging in a way that can only happen at this amazing NWP/NCTE celebration of teaching!

The past two days have been jammed packed. Topics that I’ve been processing start with my sessions on Thursday. (Detailed notes are in process.)

I attended an invigorating session on ways that writing projects support new teachers. As a new teacher myself, I easily found my place in this conversation about what our core values are and how we address those in supporting new teachers.

After the session, warm welcomes were given by fellow Writing Project folks. Lunch on Thursday resulted in a cold walk, food from the Sixth Street Grill and an amazing conversation about teaching, differentiating instruction, differences between grade levels, and parent communication.

Session two on Thursday included a conversation on teacher research and the various formats of teacher research within schools and Writing Projects.

Thursday night we went to the ELL social. It was very cool to visit with colleagues. We met Richard Sterling, the Executive Director of NWP and had a nice conversation with him. It’s podcasted in an earlier post.

There has been time to reflect and think and wow do I have more processing to do….

Today, I also attended great sessions. From discussions about the impact of disaster on our nation such as hurricane Katrina to the stories of our lives and the ways to help students develop their writing about where they are from, to grammar in context, to blogging conversations, today has been great. What wonderful conversations. What wonderful brain food.

Signing off. Still exhausted. Take care all.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Women Who Changed the World

I read the post on our fear (or maybe it's dread) of researching, and I thought of the woman I consider my "research mother," Janet Emig. When I read THE COMPOSING PROCESSES OF TWELFTH GRADERS, I remember just leaning back in my chair and thinking, "Wow!" Talk to kids about their experiences as writers. Take careful notes. Read their papers. Read their papers again. Take notes on your reading of their papers. Talk to them again. Take notes as you talk to them. Study your notes. Think hard. Learn...to be a better teacher. Today, the recipient of one of CEE's awards stood up and explained in detail how Janet Emig's work had influenced her own. Janet Emig. What a woman!

Frist annual Jim Burke fan club meeting

My day began early and uneventfully. Dawn broke over Pittsburgh as I boarded the 6:30 am shuttle to meet up with Paul at the first timers breakfast. There, the speaker exhorted us first timers to submit proposals for Nashville. I began to think. Hmm...if I want to come next year...anyone want to present in Nashville with me? Let me know. My email is alzellner@comcast.net. Maybe we could present on 'blogging from the convention' or 'how an iPod can get you conversations with your favorite authors.'

Which brings me to my next point...what a day we had for meeting authors!!! I know I've heard a number of stories (and hopefully soon-to-be posts will elucidate them) about how we, armed with the confidence provided by a knowledge of Voice Memo on an iPod, introduced ourselves to our heroes and struck up conversations that may not have otherwise occurred.

Which brings me to Jim Burke. Early in the morning, Carlin called to say that there had been a Jim Burke sighting. This only fueled my enthusiasm and I resolved to head straight for the Heinemann booth to arrange an interview for our little blog. As Paul and I walked toward the booth, I felt an unnatural attraction to one paticular corner. There, tucked away on a three-legged stool, was Jim Burke. I beelined for him, my heart beating fast as I zeroed in on my target. I couldn't believe it! It seemed as if fate had intervened and finally, finally, I was going to meet my idol. I introduced myself, Paul, and our mission. He consented to an interview, which you can hear in the post 'I found Jim Burke!!!!', and he was soooo nice. Just as I imagined he would be. However, I was a little starstruck. In fact, Paul spoke with him more than I did, and he was the object of my admiration. But it worked out just fine in the end. Thanks to Paul's excellent conversational skills, I think we have quite a decent podcast.

The rest of today was a whirlwind. I have posted the results of my other adventures on the Red Cedar Writing Project Wiki. I loved Frank McCourt. I promised myself that I will be just as outspoken as he is when I am 60. I am never going to shut up, let me tell you. The point of this being that I would really like for all who saw Frank to add to my notes of his speech on the wiki.

That's all for now. My work here is done.

To the Bat-Wiki!

One of the presenters at a session I attended today mentioned offhand that in his class, he introduces wikis this way: "The internet is very big--there's an awful lot out there. This [wiki] is where we'll put only what we need." I like that idea--using the wiki as a funnel to direct the massive quantities of information available online into a manageable and far more useful/usable stream. To that end, I've begun building a list of the websites that have been recommended to me by fellow conference/meeting-goers over the past few days on my wiki-space: http://tinyurl.com/7u3a7 . (I've tiny-urled the link, because it was extremely long, but rest assured, the link goes to the RCWP wiki.) I've started annotating the list, and hope to finish it before I head home on Sunday. Please feel free--nay, encouraged--to add any links you've come across in your travels, or to supplement the annotations as you see fit.

"I ate the sandwich!"

Years ago, when I was an overwhelmed college student trying to find time to read for "fun," I bought Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes. Though I'll admit, I never actually finished it, along with other books during my college experiences, he definitely inspired me to read, and finish, Teacher Man. How true is it that we "have to find our own way." So, for those of you who couldn't be at Frank McCourt's opening speech this morning, let me be an advocate for a man I know little about.

Day Two

Well, Becky and I are sitting in the 3rd row of the ballroom, awaiting Frank McCourt’s entertaining opening speech. I bought his newest book Teacher Man last night, and will try to read a few pages before he hits the stage. We both thought our presentation yesterday was just great and productive and not nearly as scary as we predicted. It was a cold (strike that, very cold) night, and poor Nicole had the usual delays out of the Detroit airport and didn’t get into town until about 11:00 last night. She’s a trooper, though, taking one for the team. ☺ We’re excited about our NCTE sessions coming up and although on little sleep, we know we’ll be ready for our presentation later today. And of course, for our dinner out with the gang tonight!

Okay, maybe I’m just emotional b/c of lack of sleep, but was Frank McCourt the most inspiring or what?! He was so friggin’ funny and honest and empathetic. He can tell a story about a bologna sandwich like it was the written gospel. He reminded me to find the laughable gems (Toby) in my profession.

And then I go to a so-so session. . . ;) No offense.

Next was a superb duo speaking about Asian-American and Native-American literature and film.

And now, I’m about 14 seats away from Joseph Marshall III, author of several books about his native Lakota traditions and incredible storyteller. Very cool. I took it all in, and as much as I wanted to storm the stage and tell him how truly awesome his stories are and how much I love teaching each, even though I’m just a boring old Canadian-Irish-German American, jealous of the tenacity and humility of his culture, I didn’t. ☺ I sat intently, took it all in and left (but not before snapping a quick picture) for memory’s sake.

This has been such a great day. . .sitting in the learner’s seat again.

I Found Jim Burke!!!!!

This is the result all of my admiration: an interview with Jim Burke. Here is the podcast of our conversation.

Great News!

Hi All,

I wanted to let you know that I was able to get my ipod working last night and I am looking forward to doing my first podcast today. Reading the manuel provided some answers, along with four hours of charging! I just made an entry on my first wiki page after listening to great inspirational messages in the general NWP meeting this morning. I am off to my first "Sessions at a Glance". I can't believe how fast the time goes!


"We must change the way we teach." --Richard Sterling

Richard Sterling's keynote speech at the NWP general session was a call to arms for every teacher in America (and the world). New technologies are changing how we think and communicate (exhibit A: I submit this blog during the general session--btw, he gave RCWP a 'shout-out' in his speech b/c we're communicating our experiences in real time with blogs and podcasts. Go us!).

Over 12 million teenagers are actively publishing on the internet via blogs, personal webpages, and more. Students often write more outside of class than in it now. How can we adapt to meet these needs? How can new technologies impact learning?

Let's re-imagine our schools to engage students.

As he talked about the high level of engagement with video games, I wanted to stand up and yell "You should all read Steven Johnson's book!" Alas, I maintained my composure. But seriously folks, this is a great read. He analyzes how pop culture texts (TV, video games, the internet, etc.) are all actually making us smarter as a result of the mental processing that occurs in our heads. Watching "The Sopranos" is actually good for your noggin, and the same goes for video games. He still encourages moderation--7 straight hours of Grand Theft Auto isn't good for anybody--but when used appropriately, new media are actually helping us grow dendrites.
In other news, my search for a podcast interview with poet laureate Ted Kooser was met with very polite rejection. His ride was leaving. I'll try again tomorrow.

Inquiry & Inspiration

Most of my sessions thus far have revolved around the subject of teacher inquiry. It seems to me that so often when teachers hear "research" or even its friendlier synonym "inquiry," we freak out. Sounds like work. And work is, well, work. But...
"Research is a high-hat word that scares a lot of people. It needn't. It's rather simple. Essentially research is nothing but a state of mind...a friendly, welcoming attitude toward change...going out to look for change instead of waiting for it to come. Research is an efffort to do things better and not to be caught asleep at the switch. It is the problem-solving mind as contrasted with the let-well-enough-alone mind. It is the tomorrow mind instead of the yesterday mind." --Charles Kettering
Well put, Mr. Kettering. So why are so many of us scared of research when it's something that any active and reflective (and if you're here right now, you are) teacher already does? Every day?

Here's one very solid reason for engaging in teacher inquiry. Teacher research can cause change. We teachers are exceptionally guilty of complaining about political and public mandates on our jobs without actively influencing those same policy makers. But if we have our own research to pull from, WE become the experts, and WE can influence policy. Want to change test culture? Gather evidence from your own students showing the damaging effects of constant testing. It's an empowering and inspirational notion.

Keeping the Writing Central, or There’s a reason it’s not the “NTP”

Today I attended two Tech Liaison (TL) workshop sessions and two TL general sessions, and though I've been thinking about how I'd blog about this first day almost from the start of the first session, it's hard for me to separate out what I learned from each, because there were so many times that themes were repeated and expanded upon that it's difficult for me to think of them as separate experiences. Still, there were several threads that ran through the entire day--—let me try to tease them out.

Thread #1: the tech liaison is an important part of the site leadership team. This was mentioned at least once in every session I attended, and at first, I thought, Well, sure, it's an official role, it's part of the leadership team. But when I began to think more carefully about what it means that the NWP has required each site to identify a tech liaison--what that means about the way this organization thinks about technology, about collaboration, about the necessity that learning happens in a community--—well, let'’s just say I began to get a bit overwhelmed at the enormity of what this role could be.

Thread #2: the tech liaison is many things to NWP sites. This thread started with the first session I attended (for TL newbies) and continued on through each session and every conversation I had with my new colleagues, all of whom were interested in what we were doing at RCWP, and all of whom were enthusiastic about discussing their current projects and goals at their sites. (Also, all of them knew [of] Troy, though that'’s an entirely different story. I'm beginning to think I could have been upgraded to the Westin penthouse suite if I'd mentioned Troy's name at check-in.) In that initial session, the presenters had us brainstorm about the role of the TL at our sites. Here's what we came up with: the Tech Liaison is a bridge; the expander of a site's tech presence; a website developer; a provider of professional development opportunities; a developer and maintainer of internet databases and listservs; a leader of group of minds; a part of a larger tech team; someone who doesn't need to have all answers; someone who enables, empowers, inspires, facilitates, and educates; a creator of online communities for networking; a creator and facilitator of workshops; an important part of the leadership team; a maker of decisions about the site as a whole and the ways in which that site considers and employs technology; a resource for teachers to feel more secure about technology in classrooms; an email connection; a maintainer of the continuity connection; a source of pd information; the person people come to with questions about classroom technology; a catalyst; a connection; a pioneer; the one who opens doors to cyberspace, and who makes constellations in cyberspace to help Teacher Consultants begin to navigate.

Thread #3: there's much work yet to be done. This was the rallying cry today--not just from the workshop presenters, but from the participants, as well. I had conversations with colleagues from all over the country who were facing challenges at their sites. There was the woman who had just recently become her site'’s TL and who now finds herself responsible for redesigning her project'’s entire website; I met another woman, also a new TL, whose first responsibility in her new role was to rebuild the contact info database that her disgruntled predecessor had destroyed when she left. I met TLs who were concerned with how to help teachers at their sites who have plenty of enthusiasm but little access to technology, and I met TLs who were interested in strategies for helping teachers working in schools with almost unfettered access to technology but no real idea how to go about it. I heard writing teachers expound on the values of wikis, of blogs, of audio-performance, of digital video, of Inspiration, of hypertext, of PowerPoint, and then I heard a number of willing and enthusiastic TLs from a range of sites say, "Yes, but HOW?"”

The only answer we had, though we didn'’t always put it this way, was that the writing always has to remain at the center of our work. As one participant put it at the end of he day, "“It's the NWP, not the NTP--we need to keep the writing central." Another participant I was talking to said it this way: The technology should facilitate the learning, not drive it. Even though today provoked more questions than it answered, it was wonderful to spend an entire day in the company of people who could agree on that much.

Networking at ELL

Here's Dawn, Renee, and Richard Sterling. Sorry bout the bluriness.

pics to go with cathy's post

Gonna try this one more time. Hopefully, you will see a couple pictures of the church and graveyard that Cathy mention. Gonna post the pic of Dawn, Renee, and Richard Sterling in a moment if this works.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mrs. Fisher, I'm on My Way...

I called school today to give our Red Cedar address to Greenwood's infamous school secretary, Mrs. Fisher. (I was hoping that she might pass it along so that my students might access this site). I started rambling on about our blog and podcasting, yaddah, yaddah, and got a "You're doing what?!" I love Mrs. Fisher. Maybe I'll interview her using my brand-spanking new San Disc when I return and bring her into this still somewhat foreign world to me.

Anyhow, I moved on to tell Mrs. Fisher all about the gorgeous lobby of the William Penn Omni Hotel, the location of my group's two presentations. I described the 50-foot high ceilings (yes, I'm exaggerating...but only a little), the gilded architecture and lighting, and the brilliantly illuminated Christmas tree. Her response? "Don't forget to come home." Bless her. She understood that this place is pretty darn special.

Yes, I have enjoyed my Pittsburgh experience so far. Even the talking part--somewhat. Today during my group's first break-out session of our presentation, I froze up. Troy was my partner for the small group talk, and he tried to kindly turn the floor over to me. I looked at him and thought, "Oh my goodness; this is just like talking in front of my my principal!" And I looked around the table to see at least ten technology experts (those who talk "geek speak," as one commented). Holy cow! At that point I felt too self-conscious to process the words that I needed to say in front of these worldly folks!

But I made it. I stepped up to the plate in that fantastic hotel and reminded myself that I was doing something that I ask my students to do every day...take a risk. I am so thankful for the Eleanor Roosevelt quote that Troy employs on his digital portfolio: "You must do the things you think you cannot do." How can I ask my students to respond to this philosophy unless I model a go-get-'em behavior myself? So here I am , eeking out a voice for others (and myself?) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The fancy hotel with two-ton chandeliers, a Nutcracker-esque growing, glittering Christmas tree, and gold-covered walls...well, these things are just the really great perks of a phenomenal learning weekend.

So yes, Mrs. Fisher, I'll come home. And you'll hear my voice a little louder when I do.

Richard Sterling and those ripples

Every so often, I am reminded of how fortunate I am: I have a job I love with co-workers I love and a boss the whole world loves.

Lest you think my nose is looking suspiciously brown, I'd like to contextualize my comment a bit.

I wasn't sure if I could come to Pittsburgh. My grandfather, with whom I am very close, in the space of approximately 4 weeks has gone from a man who still ran, by himself, the golf course he built entirely on his own to a man who has to use plastic cups to avoid glass shards when the container slips out of his hands as it so often does. It was a hard decision to make, but knowing that people were coming and going from and to Michigan almost every day, I figured I could catch a ride home if I needed to.

I'm glad I did. In the short time since I arrived, I have had numerous reminders of how Janet is one of those people she refers to in her own blog; where she goes, the water ripples. I once read a book which commented on ripples...how remarkable that stirring up a few molecules, causing the simplest of changes, can leave behind a visual reminder that the change force was there long after it's gone.

Consider our podcast with Richard Sterling (though kindly disregard the little nervous hitch in my voice when asking how initiatives like NCLB have influenced the direction of NWP). You'll notice he mentions Janet, by name, twice. You'll notice he refers to Red Cedar as a stong site. You won't be able to see the light of recogntion in his eyes that we saw when we said where we were from (though you can see a blurry picture of him with Dawn and Renee...kindly also disregard the fact that I had my camera on the wrong setting and focus on the fact that it's Dawn! And Renee! And Richard Sterling!). You can't see those things, but you should be able to hear the respect in his voice when he refers to Janet. You should be able to hear how the fact that we work under her guidance lends us an immediate credibility we might not otherwise have.

All day, I have experienced these reminders of what a ripple-impetus Janet is. From the Writing Center director from Arkansas who remarked "Of course I've heard of the MSU Writing Center!" to the warm hug I got from Elysse accompanied by the comment "Of course I remember you! You work with Janet!" I have felt so welcomed in ways that exist only because of Janet's commmittment to giving people opportunities. Heck, the fact that I'm even here -as are more than a dozen of my absolutely amazing colleagues-people I'm honored take the title of "educator" with me-is another proof of Janet's belief in educators and her willingness to back that up with action. Even when she is not physically in the room, she has stirred up the molecules enough that we can see the effects of her presence. For that, I say thank you Janet.

So Many First!


Writing teachers sure know how to pack a day. Since this was my first trip to Pittsburgh I took the hotel clerk's advice and I started my day early so I could take the Wyndham Hotel 7:30 AM shuttle downtown to the David Lawrence Convention Center, where I was scheduled in a great session on Starting, Developing, and Enriching Inservice Programs. However, to my dismay the driver informed me that he wouldn't be taking any riders downtown until later in morning because he needed to shuttle people that were interested in getting places in the Oakland area first. I am making a note here ... register for a hotel for NWP earlier next year. Preferably in a hotel closer to the convention center. By 8:00 AM the other NWP attendee and I agreed to try the busline. We asked for advice from some friendly folks here on the streets of Pittsburgh and made our way downtown. We had to make one bus switch; then $1.75 and 50 minutes later we arrived at the conference center.

Following the morning session my head was swimming with ideas and possiblities for RCWP future inservices. We heard from three great lead sites, processed, and wrote about our own site's inservice progress through poetry. Yes, poetry. It was awesome! I pulled out my ipod to catch some of the great conversations only to discover that it wasn't working. My "first" that didn't work out. I will try again tomorrow.

There is nothing quite like the hum of teachers as the flood into the hallway following a session where they have had time to connect and share with colleagues. And, it is always a challenge to locate and make connections with friends.

Nina, Dawn, and I fought the wintry winds as we looked for a place to eat lunch. Although the food was great, the company and the conversation was richer. It is in talking that my thinking become clearer. We might have lingered longer except for our desire to head back to our afternoon sessions.

What Does It Mean to Look at Leaders and Leadership Capacity Across Urban, Suburban, and Rural Writing Project Sites? I was wishing many of you would have been sitting beside me during this session. There was ... there still is, so much to ponder. Who do we see as leaders in our site? Where do our leaders come from (i.e. places, groups, constituencies, gender,etc)? Where does our site offer entry points for site leadership? Who is missing from our leadership table? Whose voices are needed to bring new perspectives to our leadership table? What actions can we take to build our capacity for bringing those voices to the table? What is our strategic plan to increase site capacity for building diverse leadership? I took lots of notes and would love to hear your thoughts.

More first: Sightseeing in Pittsburg. On our walk over to the Omni William Penn Hotel Ninna, Cathy, Tara, Dawn and I spotted a quaint little courtyard and went in to explore. The establishment sign on the door noted the Pittsburgh HPY Club. Just as we were about to leave the receptionist invited us in and shared the history of the club. I wish I had access to my digital pictures so I could share a picture of our discovery. Further down the street Ninna showed us a beautiful, historic church ... more pictures here too.

We arrived at the Omni cold, but invigorated, and headed to the 17th floor to socialize and network with National Writing Project TCs from across the nation. I met Carlin two years ago at just such an event in San Fransisco and now she is here as a RCWP TC. Yea! This year I met Richard Sterling ... a big first. Please check out Dawn, Ninna, and Troy's podcast of his interview.

Hunger and exhaustion were approaching so Paul, Toby and I set our sights on another historical spot, The Original Oyster House. Established in 1870 it's walls showcased photos acrossed the decades. Look for Paul's podcast: An interview.

Another first for me ... heading back to Wyndham, by myself, wanting to prove mass transit is practical. I boarded two wrong busses (I thought they were the right ones). I spent too many cold minutes waiting for the wrong busses. I made it onto a bus that was heading in the wrong direction, but would eventually take me to Oakland and stop near my hotel.

This ends my first day and my first blog from the NWP Convention in Pittsburgh.


And the teachers shall lead them...

So, as luck would have it, my dinner provider tonight was the same young man who last night asked me whether the New Jersey English teachers were here yet. I asked him tonight if he were looking for a particular teacher, and he said yes, that his high school English teacher had always told him to ignore the chaos swirling around him and stay focused on his goals. He just wanted to let her know that he's in the 3rd best culinary arts school in the nation and pursuing his dream of becoming a chef. Ahhh...the ripples we create in the universe. I wonder whether this teacher will ever know the influence she had on another life.

Pittsburgh...the sights, the sounds, the people. This is THE windy city today, and at about 20 below zero, we are moving briskly. We walked from the Omni Hotel, where our first presentation today was held (as part of the National Writing Project) and the Convention Center several blocks away. We took a scenic route, as Ninna wanted to show us a very old church, a huge black stone cathedral. There in the middle of the highrise buildings, were centuries-old headstones right in the city block. After walking to the convention center and getting the registrations packets, we took another path back. On this trek we came upon another gem amidst the towering buildings. Nestled impossibly between skyscrapers was an old brick and flagstone courtyard. The ornate iron gates were inviting us in, so of course we entered. It turned out to be the Harvard-Yale-Princeton Club. At one time it was a brothel and monks lived there. Presumably not simultaneously. I have photos. Very interesting.

Interview with NWP Staff Members

This is a podcast with the hardworking (and I am sure, underappreciated) National Writing Project staff.

Interview with Richard Sterling

We got a great interview at the ELL Social... Here is our podcast with Richard Sterling, Executive Director of NWP!

More blogging on this soon,
Renee, Dawn, Ninna, and Troy

Snapshots of Pittsburgh

I am in the lobby of the Omni hotel listening to the dulcet tones of the local piano player, sitting with executives and tourists and convention attendees. I stare at my screen as I sift through the moments I most want to capture for our little blogging community.
First of all, I feel I am under a duty to discuss my grander plan for the NCTE/NWP experience. I plan to stalk Jim Burke.
Now, for those of you who may not be members of the Burkian fan club, let me wax poetic. I begin with a history: when I was becoming a teacher, I was coming to education through an indirect route. My cohort was designed for people entering the profession as a second career. Therefore, it was sort of a crash course. Jim Burke's English Teacher's Companion became both my lifeline to effective English instruction (or at least a semblance or beginning of one) as well as the bane of my existence, as I knew I could never reach such lofty heights of pedagogy. Jim B. became both guru and guide, and he looked so darn dreamy on the cover. I recall him, leaning slightly to the left, gaze leveled directly into the camera, assuring me that I, a mere mortal, could convey all of the aspects of English to my willing and eager pupils with ease. All I needed was a well organized website (http://www.englishcompanion.com/) and a few graphic organizers from his Tools for Thought (note: all titles available through Heinemann publishers). And now, Jim Burke and I, for the first time, are in the same city! Clearly, I must get an interview. This becomes my higher purpose. Please check out our 'podcast from the car' for more of me gushing about Burke. Hopefully, at this time on Saturday, I will be posting the success of my quest to meet Jim Burke. Stay tuned for further details.

Almost Hemingway-esque

How cool is this? A tall wing-backed chair, the keys of a grand piano being tickled in such a way that the music is soothing, and the elegant lobby of the William Penn Hotel as the setting for musings about my first visit to the Steel City. Who knew Pittsburgh could or would be this great? I am reminded of a story from this summer's RCWP session where old Ernie H. ambled into a small, Northern Michigan coffee shop, on a blustery day, to write (I believe Mitch brought this tale to us.) After consumining a couple of cups of joe, I believe he switched to a much stronger concoction (was it rum?) and continued to write. Although I have yet to taste an adult beverage today, I still feel like the "late outdoors-afficionado" who seemed to enjoy writing in "different places." Who else, as a third year teacher, has the chance to compose in such an elegant and interesting venue! Thanks, Janet, for a wonderful opportunity to be involved in this neat adventure! More to come.......

Shuttle, shuttle everywhere and no place to ride

Upon my arrival to Pittsburgh International Airport, I gathered my bags and called for the hotel shuttle. The friendly voice at the other end indicated that my chariot would be arriving within 10 minutes at door #8. Sashaying through the doorway, I was greeted by a cold blast of Pittsburgh wind. The Radisson Greentree shuttle arrived, operated by Jim, a recently retired Pittsburgh fireman. I hopped in the front and was quickly followed by 7 other teachers who were booked at the R-G. Jim completed loading the bags and climbed in, ready to throw it into gear and head east (I think?) His cell phone jangled to life, and the kind voice that had spoken to me earlier told him that four more teachers were just lifting their bags from the carousel in the airport and would be outside in a matter of moments. When the four women showed, Jim told them that he could only fit two into the van. The other two, unfortunately, would have to wait ONE HOUR for the next shuttle. Not acceptable, according to the 8 of us already inside the warm van. We squeezed together, I sat on the console, and we jammed the other 4 into the vehicle with us. We had TC's from New Mexico, Ohio, Kentucky, S. Dakota, and Michigan. The discussions ranged from snow to some early morning starts to the Wolverine - Buckeye clash this Saturday to Jim's retirement pension. All in all, it was a great trip with some new friends!

Day One. Done.

This has been a harried and hectic day, full of late starts, partial podcasts, and, yet, staggering successes. Our digital portfolio presentation came off as a seamless set of transitions as groups rotated between Aram and Becky, Cathy and Anne, and Tara and I. We were able to talk with each group at length about the digital portfolio project and we were continually reminded about the strength of our community and the innovative nature of our technology-learning model. To my group, I thank you for all the work you have done and the outstanding ways in which you represented your work today. Thank you.

Also, I was part of the team that organized the TL general session. As Stephanie noted, the day was filled with great questions, incredible connections between TLs, and, alas, no room for her (or me) at the Westin penthouse. Having been a part of planning this day for months now, I was happy to see it come to fruition and, more importantly, see that all the TLs there, especially Stephanie and Mike, enjoyed the day.

One final note for tonight. We are new at this podcasting thing and Audacity, iPods, servers, feeds, and the like are not always cooperative. Ninna, Renee, and Dawn scored big with the Richard Sterling interview and we got it out on the feed, no problem. Andrea’s podcast appears to be downloading with some trouble. Other podcasts rest on computers, yet unposted. So, tomorrow will be a day of catch-up and tech troubleshooting. More on that soon.

That’s about all for now. More from the Omni, tomorrow, when we get there early (we plan…)

It's No Steel Town

Having never been to P-Town before, I am pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the city is architecturally and geographically. I expected a foggy, dismal welcome as we made our way through the hills and dales, similar to the setting in the highly acclaimed film Slapshot. haha It's a blue-collar steel town, right? After all, no one had ever raved about their wonderful weekend in Pittsburgh. Well, I was mistaken. The waterfront and steel bridges, as well as the gorgeous city scape last night, have been nothing less than amazing. I'm looking forward to getting to better know this city, as we sit here in the Omni lobby preparing for our first presentation upstairs.

Arriving in Pittsburgh

Anne and I drove down to Pittsburgh last night like the rest of the crew. I am not a very good passenger, but I have to say my car sickness was minimal and I didn't complain much at all.

Just like a family trip, I started to get a little giddy as we got closer to Pittsburgh....and then - all of a sudden - we turn the corner and voila! the city of Pittsburgh stands before. It was everything I never expected. I had this vision of a town similar to Detroit, kind of slumy and dark. But it wasn't like that at all. Being from small town Corunna, and living in the cereal capital of the world, Battle Creek, I can't wait to explore all the Pittsburgh has to offer.

Now, we all sit in the lobby of the Omni and await 1:00, when we have to present to tech liasons from all around the United States. I am not nervous yet, but I am sure, like my trip to Pittsburgh, as soon as it gets close I will get a little giddy.

You shall know them by their taxi drivers...

and their room service providers.

On my way in last night, my taxi driver was Henri who came to this country from the Dominican Republic. Henri and I had about 20 minutes to talk on our way from the airport to the Doubletree. We talked about our families and about freedom. Henri told me stories about the times he feared for his life in the Dominican Republic--while going to the dentist, going to vote, going anywhere late at night. He said he despairs that Americans often lost sight of the freedoms they have.

We then launched into a discussion of education, and particularly of English education. Henri told me about the way in which his teachers had inspired and fed his love of reading. He asked what I had brought to read, and I told him only professional books. He was horrified and asked if I would like him to take me to a bookstore before we went to the hotel. He said it would only take minutes because if I hadn't yet read it (I hadn't) I should buy One Hundred Years of Solitude--the book that had most recently changed his life. For the remainder of the trip we discussed the books that had changed both our lives and the teachers who had inspired such a love of reading and learning.

I was still thinking about that encounter when my dinner arrived. The very young man who delivered it asked if I were "with that meeting of English teachers." When I told him I was, he asked, "Do you know if the New Jersey English teachers are here yet?" Evidently he was from New Jersey and wanted to find the teachers from his hometown. I told him I didn't know, but that there would be a message board in the Convention Center and he could leave a message for them there. He said, "I just wanted to tell them thanks."

Teaching, some days, may feel like a thankless act. It's not. Across this country are people whose lives have been changed by English teachers and by the books that teachers have introduced them to. I must say, I am so proud to be a teacher and so proud to be here surrounded by so many wonderful colleagues. Conferences, for me, are in part about becoming inspired all over again with this wonderful profession.

And the fine folks who are pictured here? They're just a few of the nation's finest...and my inspiration!

Late Night, Early Morning

A late night and, now, early morning in Pittsburgh. Things went well getting here last night as Aram, Tara, Cathy, Andrea and I made our way across Ohio and into PA. The images that Mitch shared echo our experiences, too, although it was much darker and we had a little dusting of snow to make things interesting.

More importantly, we recorded an inaugural podcast in the van. Cathy will have to post it later today, so look for that coming soon. Hopefully. Wifi is spotty, and expensive, so far. I am on the free hook-up in the hotel lounge, but I don’t know of any other place for free access right now. So, podcasts and blog posts may be sporadic.

Well, we have a taxi on the way and need to get moving. Paul, Aram, Toby, and I are on our way into Pittsburgh. I am preparing for a big day with NWP Technology Liaisons. More on that later, too.

At the Omni...

Well, we are at the Omni, in the lobby, blogging, podcasting, and, to some degree, panicking. After some problems with Audacity, uploading files, and creating user accounts on Blogger, we seem to be in business, for now.

This has been, unfortunately, an eventful morning. We began by waiting for a taxi, and then a complimentary shuttle, at the Radisson, neither of which ever came. This all stems from my original reservation with the Omni being cancelled. Somehow they overbooked and sent us to the Radisson, a “mere” three miles out of town, with a free shuttle.

At 7:45, we decided to brave the Pittsburgh traffic, and with Aram navigating (as only he can – bless the man), he helped a few RCWPers and other TCs from Third Coast and Idaho get to the convention center and the Omni. Well, an hour later, we got to the Omni.I was, to say the least, late to the session that I was supposed to be facilitating. I thank Peter and Paul for helping get that session going.

At any rate, things are going, people are podcasting and blogging. File uploads and crappy internet connectivity are a problem, but we will manage. We are off to present our session in just a few moments, so more on that afterwards.

Here I am

and off I go.

Must sleep off the effects of an amazning triple pepporoni and double cheese pizza...mmm...I'll tell you all about it tomorrow. zzzz...g'night

I love Pittsburgh!!!!

It's a great feeling to visit Pittsburgh for NWP/NCTE!!! NWP sessions coming soon...ready, set....sleep...go! Safe travels and see you soon.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Pittsburgh: Birthplace of the Ohio River

The Danger Cart (also known as Mike's van) made it to Pittsburgh as well, safe and sound, with just the right amount of adventure along the way. We even got a nice welcome to the city as Mike turned onto 10th Ave to drop me off at the Westin--the Convention Center (that's the really bright thing to the right, next to the river--and i apologize for the smeary nighttime image, but I had to take it through my hotel window) is flying a huge banner that says "Welcome to Pittsburgh, National Council of Teachers of English 2005 Annual Convention. We're glad to have you here!" I'm hoping that the Omni will have a similar (but larger, naturally) sign welcoming the National Writing Project teachers. If it doesn't, I might go down tomorrow night and "revise" the Convention Center's sign for them. Anyone with dark clothes and their own ladder is welcome to join me. :)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to review the handouts for the workshops I'm attending tomorrow, and then I'm turning in. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow! Posted by Picasa

Road Trip, Pitt Style


So, so long in every direction.

But, I have finally arrived in Pittsburgh, and in searching for the Sheraton (where the wireless internet works great!), managed to see quite a bit of downtown. Nice place!

See you all soon

See you in Pitt

I'm leaving in about an hour. I just wanted to make sure I had my blog in order before I left. Looks like I'm good to go!


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

So much to say, so little time

Hello, fellow bloggers/travelers ---

Our journey is upon us
The day is here
We'll learn with abandon
We'll present without fear

We'll talk to each other
Sometimes face to face
When we can't find each other
We'll fill a blog space

I'm not much of a rhymer
It feels so contrived
But once you get started
It's a lot like dancing on your tippy toes with a whole bunch of people giving you a weird look

Peace & joy,

Hello From Toby

Hello RCWP TCs,
I just know you're going to have a great time in Pittsburgh.
If this is your first NWP / NCTE national conference, you're in for a real treat.
It will be exhausting and exhilarating.
I'll look forward to seeing everyone in Pittsburgh and I'll do my best to get on to our new Blog each day.
Thanks to Janet and Troy for setting this up for us!
Travel Safely!

Test Run

Just a test, prior to heading for Pittsburgh!

Welcome to the RCWP Podcasting Network.

This is an introductory podcast to test Blogger and Feedburner.

More soon.

Welcome to the Red Cedar Writing Project Blogging/Podcasting Network

Begun as a way to document and share our experience at the 2005 NWP Annual Meeting and NCTE Convention in Pittsburgh, this blog will serve as a space for teachers from the Red Cedar Writing Project to communicate with one another and other interested educators.

We plan to update the blog and perhaps add podcasts from Pittsburgh, so stay tuned!