Know your audience

MAKE IT HAPPEN

“Start with a reasonable goal, develop a plan, then record your workouts and progress,” says Martin. “If that’s not enough motivation to not skip workouts, find a coach or a training buddy who can help you keep your feet to the fire, and announce your goals to friends, family, and coworkers.” Social media is a good place to declare your running plans, too, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, dailymile.com, or runnersworld.com (Forums or The Loop). If all else fails, for every mile you run reward yourself with $1 toward a trip or something else you desire. Just don’t confuse consistency with rigidity. It’s okay to skip a run for a legit reason; it’s not okay to repeatedly skip them if your reasons are as thin as an Ethiopian marathoner.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY 6

via 2012 Running Resolutions at Runner’s World.

In the march toward defining my New Year’s Resolutions, I was reading this article today. Bob Cooper of RunnersWorld.com does something simple and brilliant that works toward the argument of knowing your audience. After building a case for each resolution and providing starting steps, he includes one other piece of information – a degree of difficulty.

It’s a perfect example of writing with your audience in mind. The folks stopping by RW are looking for a challenge. They hit the road or trail each day looking for something a little more than they found their last time out. Cooper includes no explanation for his designations, but that doesn’t matter.

When we talk about creativity and approaching problems from new angles, it’s often implied that type of thinking needs to be gigantic and disruptive at all times. Cooper manages to be fresh and creative in his writing with the addition of a three words and a number.

Now, how do you teach this kind of thinking?

Things I Know 336 of 365: You don’t need good grades to be a teen drug kingpin

From today’s Send Me A Story via longform.org (emphasis mine):

According to law-enforcement officials, the sale of B.C. Bud has become a $7 billion-a-year industry. Though marijuana remains illegal in Canada, the stance of the government regarding pot is far less hysterical than in the United States, with laws enforced sporadically and penalties never especially stringent. “Americans like to think they can stop this,” says Donald Skogstad, a defense lawyer in British Columbia who specializes in pot cases. “The Canadian border is five times longer than the Mexican border. There is no fence, no barrier at all, just a curtain of trees. Right now, they’re catching all the dumb people. That’s all the Americans get. They’ll never get you if you’re doing it properly.”

Smugglers have buried stashes in semi trucks filled with wood chips and driven across the border. They have hidden pot in buses, in horse trailers, on trains and in mobile homes driven by gray-haired retirees. They speed across the border on snowmobiles. They kayak backwoods rivers, or fill the fiberglass hulls of yachts and sail down. They fly small planes, low, dropping their loads at agreed-upon locales — farms, raspberry fields — without landing. They have dug a 360-foot tunnel, beginning in a Quonset hut in Canada and ending in the living room of a home in Lynden, Washington. They drag their stashes underwater, behind fishing boats, so the line can be cut if an agent approaches; buoys, attached to the loads with dissolvable strips of zinc, rise to the surface the following day. They float hollowed-out logs, outfitted with GPS tracking systems, down the Kettle River. And some — “the bravest,” says Skogstad, “but not necessarily the brightest” – hike the seven-mile border crossing, through the forest, on foot.

Once Nate hatched his smuggling plan, he and Topher realized that their first order of business would be to scrape together enough cash to make a buy. Luckily, Topher had salvaged a sunken jet boat from the lake in Coeur D’Alene and had spent the summer restoring it. To kick-start their enterprise, he dragged it to the side of the highway and sold it within minutes for $1,500.

– “Kid Cannabis” by Mark Binelli from Rolling Stone Oct. 2005

I’m guessing they didn’t learn these skills in school.

Things I Know 43 of 365: We can tell stories better

It is indeed true…I do not write at all, my not writing is taking on dimensions.

– Rainer Maria Rilke

April 19, I’ll be floating down the San Juan River in Utah with a group of high school students. It will be my third rafting trip in as many years. I can’t wait.

Last year’s trip took us down a stretch of the Colorado River. Returning to the San Juan means calmer waters and a chance to see some amazing petroglyphs.

I remember standing, staring at them two years ago.

Our river guides were explaining their pre-historic origins and importance as sacred relics to the native peoples of the areas.

“What do they mean?” I kept asking.

As seasoned as our guides were, they admitted we could never know, but only guess at the stories being depicted.

As a collector of stories, this saddened me.

One of my G11 students, Luna, IMed me this afternoon to share something she’s been working on as part of the Stones project my kids are collaborating on right now.

It frightened me.

My formal training and experience is in the realm of reading and telling stories linearly. I’m not talking analog versus digital. My training, the stories I’ve been told work along line from beginning to end.

What Luna created starts to push against that.

It spiraled and flowed and moved. Readers can choose where they enter the text and in what direction they move from there. It has an order and sense to it, but those elements can be freely ignored.

I’ve never taught her that. I’ve not taught any of my students that.

I rally against digital storytelling for the simple reason it shifts the focus from the story to the medium.

I’ll continue to do so.

Digital storytelling, at least what I’ve seen, asks keeps the standard structure, adding images and sounds.

The Anasazi, Ute, Navajo and their archaic pre-cursors understood the implications of telling a story in pictures centuries before VoiceThread or Prezi came on the scene.

In fact, they did it better. Watch most digital stories online and consider how closely they are influenced by standard narrative structure. They remain beholden.

Stare at an ancient petroglyph, though, and realize there are ways to tell and read stories that have been lost to us. That loss opens the door to their re-creation.

I’m uncertain how to do that.

I worry I don’t do enough to help my students see words, language, reading, and writing as more than just skills, but to help them see those things as art as well.

Arts programs around the nation are being reduced or cut. Unofficially, it is because they are untested subjects. I’m fortunate to work in a subject whose survival is protected by standardized testing. Unfortunately, that protection also threatens its existence as an art.

I don’t know if the tools exist to help my students tell stories outside a traditional linear narrative. As a standard point of entry, PowerPoint does much of the early work of reinforcing the idea the tales we tell must move along a thread (voice or otherwise).

I’m unsure how to prepare my students to balance the traditional linear intake and creation of stories while giving them room to play with the ideas that because this is the way they’ve always experienced stories, doesn’t mean they can’t find a better way.

I don’t know how to teach myself that either.

I do know we can teach stories better.

Things I Know 42 of 365: I can’t anticipate imagination

Imagining something like 9/11 wasn’t failure of preparation, it was a failure of imagination.

– Paraphrasing of Diana paraphrasing Donald Rumsfeld paraphrasing someone Diana couldn’t remember, but the sentiment stands.

The Building History Project was pretty imaginative. Changing up the way my students complete 2fers and revise using Google Docs felt like imagination. The free choice in reading and accompanying structures of learning about my students’ reading skills and preferences strikes me as a creative remix of some old ideas.

Still, I’m me. Just me.

My ideas are going to seem stymied compared to the collaborative creativity of students who have far fewer years of being told they can’t do something.

For the past few days, we’ve picked up on the collaboration we started with Jabiz Raisdana last week.

My role has been minimal. Halfway through a class period, I played Jabiz’s song composed of the students’ responses to his Flickr set. Then, I played Bryan’s. Then I played Noise Professor’s. Then, I read this message Jabiz sent my students through the collaborator e-mail function of the shared google doc we’ve created to track the project:

Then I said, “Ok, what do you want to create?”

The ideas broke down into four basic groups: music, text, photos, film. Still, I was worried that might be too limiting, so I asked if anyone wanted to do something else. A few hands were raised, so “Something Else” became the fifth group.

After a brief show-of-hands poll asking who was interested in participating in each of the groups and telling them to take note of who else was raising their hands, I gave the key instruction: Ok, create something.

And they grouped up. They were lying on the ground, sitting around tables, sitting on the window sill, discussing how to make something that didn’t exist yet. No one asked how long it had to be or when it was due. I’m not anticipating either of those pieces being problems.

I sat in on a few groups.

In one music group, they’re planning on recoding Jabiz’s original song. Newon asked, “Mr. Chase, can you e-mail Jabiz and ask him for the chords from his song?”

If I’d designed what they’re doing, I’d never have imagined asking for chords. I probably would have limited the groups to four as well. Voices would have been silenced.

I showed Newon how to find Jabiz’s e-mail address in the google doc and message him.

Checking e-mail after school, I found this:

None of my state standards, call for me to have one of my students in Philly e-mail a teacher in Jakarta to get the chord progression for the song he wrote based off of my students’ poetry, but I’m going to stick to my guns and say the learning’s still valid.

Eventually, I wandered over to the Something Else kids.

Tim said he was working on a way to create a piece of sculpture inspire by and including Jabiz’s photos and the photos coming out of the photography group. He was doodling on the dry erase tables to show his friend TJ what was flitting around in his imagination.

Ian told me he wanted to create a piece of art incorporating the original lyrics and inspired by Noise Professor’s mix of the song.

At that point, a music group checked in to say they were going back to the original comments to add lyrics to their version of the song.

Meanwhile, Luna decided to create a space to hold all of the creations and asked if she could be the webmistress.

Sure.

Then she named the project – Stones.

She ran it by the class who had no problem with it, and Jeff came over from the photo group to make sure they could embed their posterous account on the page.

And I checked in, and watched.

I asked questions and offered ideas.

Some were answered and accepted. Some were ignored. I took no offense.

Creation’s a great way to wrap up a Friday. Sure, we took vocab quizzes and edited analytical essays and read books. By the end of the period, though, we balanced it with creativity.

Rumsfeld and Diana would be happy. And you have no idea how difficult it is to please both of those two people at the same time.

Classy: What we mean when we talk about creativity and collaboration (get in on this)

I didn’t plan any of the below. All I was doing was looking for some creativity-inspiring journal prompts. What resulted has no lesson or unit plans. I’m not sure where it’s going or what it will become. I am certain, however, that something beautiful started in my classroom Wednesday.

January 31: Jabiz Raisdana posts the results of his first month participating in The Daily Shoot.

February 2: I see the post and comment on how impressed I am with the act of creation Jabiz is embarking on each day. I ask if it’s ok to use some of the photos as journal prompts in my class. Later, he comments back welcoming the use of the photos as inspiration. I create an assignment on moodle that says:

The students file in and log in.

The result of a 2-hour delay due to weather, our abbreviated class is spent mostly trawling the photos and creating.

I enjoy answering the question of “What are we supposed to write?” with “Whatever you want.”

February 3: Jabiz posts a letter to my students, explaining the process up to this point and what their comments mean to him. He poses some important questions about collaboration, creation and connection. Most importantly, he challenges them:

So what of it now? What happens next? Well that is up to you. I hope that this introduction can be a way that we continue to explore the power of art and words and connections. I was a born teacher and student, I would love to continue to teach and learn from you. Are you up for it?

Before sharing the post, I pull up Google Earth to add perspective to the distance between Philadelphia, PA and Jakarta, Indonesia (half the world).

Additionally, Jabiz comments he’s culling their creations to create a song, and promises to share it soon.

I share the link to the post on moodle and invite the students to share their answers to Jabiz’s questions.

Students begin to comment.

February 4: Students continue to comment in answer to Jabiz’s creative challenge. The comments build off of the thinking of the other students. Later, Jabiz responds to each idea, asking questions and offering commentary. At the end, he posts the lyrics of the song composed of my students’ lines of poetry.

I start a google doc and share it with Jabiz, trying to give form to the students’ suggestions.

Jabiz posts an initial recording of the song to his blog, raising the ante:

Here you go SLA, my song to you. What will you do with it? Download it. Remix it. Add your voice to it. Set it to images. Create a video. Rap it. This version is only a draft and is not even close to being “done.” Tear it up!

SoundCloud is blocked within the school’s filter wall. All I’m able to do is show the students what Jabiz has written.

It is enough.

We begin a new brainstorming session in both sections of the participating classes as to where we can take this from here. The students build off of their original ideas. My writers want to write more, my documentarians want to document the creative, collaborative process, my musicians want to rework the song or create something new. My linguists want to ask Jabiz’s ESL students to post comments to photos we take in their first languages so that my students can learn these other languages. The ideas are bubbling over.

Later, Canadian teacher Bryan Jackson records his own version of the song, which Jabiz posts to his blog.

By the end of class, one of my students, Luna, has taken it upon herself to copy the lyrics of the song and create a wordle. She then visits each picture and copies all of the students’ comments to create a collective wordle of the initial words Jabiz’s photos inspired.

Today: You jump in and create something.