New Site

Everyone I have moved my blog over to I am in the process of porting old posts and building the pages. Please stop in and say hello.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Iron Age to the Information Age

The first stories we told tried to describe the unknown while developing a sense of the self with tales of great heroes, ferocious monsters, disastrous floods, and lands of unsurpassed beauty. For millennia, these tales were passed from mouth to ear. Then, as writing emerged the first stories ever written regaled the adventures of Sargon and Gilgamesh. Now with the flood of new technologies students can navigate the vast seas of information and enjoy the journeys of epic adventurers online. Folklore and myths, provide an opportunity to connect the oldest known narratives with the newest text to emerge, the Internet.

Technology has always acted as a catalyst for literary change (Leu & Kinzer, 2000), yet the ancient tales of oral traditions remain the same. As a result the same traits of mythological and folklore heroes first identified by early folklorist such as Edward Taylor, George von Hahn, and Vladimir Propp (Segal, 1990) have spread through the Internet. These yarns are no longer bound to cultural of physical boundaries. Audiences today have access to the written and oral traditions from infinite resources and many cultures. Readers can use these online resources to develop an understanding of mythology and folklore, which Dundes (1989) called, “crucial to establishing a sense of identity or senses of identity” (p. vii). In this weeks post I describe a mythology unit I taught that utilized the internet.

Looking back three years later, I see how the lesson not only introduced the affordances of the internet but also allowed students to develop and share their own voice.

Creation Myths

As teachers we can use narrative hypertext to introduce students to new literacies (Castek, Bevans-Mangelson, Goldstone, 2006). First, literacy classrooms have a strong focus on literature and this can allow children to dedicate more cognitive energy into the development of new literacies skills. Second, reading and writing online motivates students. (McNabb, 2006). Therefore, online narrative texts, like creation myths, offer opportunities for students to interact with ICT’s. Students can analyze an author’s use of hypertext features, and reflect on how their comprehension skills change because of digital texts. In order to do this in my class I had students read myths using offline texts, static webpages, and multimedia flash stories.

We began by first reading the Greek Creation myth in D'aulaires' Book of Greek Myths . We discussed the myth and created an interactive storyboard. Basically I would retell the myth as we read. The kids loved when I, in the role of Cronus, would puke up my children. Granted I added plenty of green goo and audio effects.

Next we read Murtagh's Common Elements of Creation Myths When previewing the Murtagh website with students I asked questions like, “Why does the author link words in her text to other pages? Which buttons did you use to navigate the text? Did you choose the hyperlinks in the text or those listed at the bottom? What caused confusion during your navigational choices? Can the author have made it easier for the reader to find the creation myths?” These questions had the student evaluate the decision the author made and lead to an understanding of how to effectively navigate online text.

Finally we moved from a static website with hyperlinks to ineractive multimedia stories on bigmyth.comThe interactive website provides students a launching point for the study of creation mythology. The website, created by Distant Train and the International Association of Intercultural Education provides flash videos of creation myths from around the world. The videos contain animation, text, and sound while they retell creation myths from every corner of the globe. Along with each myth, the authors created a series of activities for students after they finish reading a myth. When choosing a myth students must select buttons that overlay a map of the globe. Some buttons, those in red, are free, and other grey buttons only work with a subscription. I started conversations with questions such as, “Why do you think the authors use a map as a navigation menu? How does geography affect a culture’s outlook? Why would the author’s choose to provide some myths for free and charge for others? Why and how did the author’s choose one culture for the free version and decide to include other cultures as part of a subscription?

After we had read texts using a variety of tools we discussed the formats and how they Internet changed reading for the students on a class discussion board.Some of their responses are below:

Thread 15 Posted by Mr. Mac
How is reading a a book different from reading a static website (no animation), and an animated website? How are your reading comprehension skills of predicting, summarizing, clarifying, questioning, and connecting used differently between medias. Compare and contrast.

In media myths (animated), static online myths, and books are different because they both affext how you have to think. For instance, in a book you have to read the text by yourself, picture the characters in your head, and
predict what will happen on the next page or two. In an animated myth you can have the computer read the myth to you or read it yourself, there are pictures and you don't have to picture it in your head like when you read a book, you also have a variety of links on the web pages and you have to narrow down the choices that will help you, you have to predict what will happen on the next page that you go to just like when you read a book. When you read a static myth you can't picture the scenes and characters in your head like you can when you watch a myth online, you still can have the
computer read the myth to you, you are also forced to predict the same way
you have to in the other media types. When you connect to the real world I
think that it is easier to do it in a book that you have to read than in any
type of myth online.

I think that reading a book is different than using a computer by that when using a computer you are more motivated to actually read and pay attention. Also, when using the computer your reading skills are different because you can read longer or shorter versions of stories, you can understand the stoy better when you have animated picttures of scens so you know what's going on, and sometimes you can have a recording read the story out loud to you while you read along so, you can understand the story the way it is supposed to sound. In a book you only have pictures that can be sometimes complicated. and you have to read it when you might not understand it. Predicting is different because on a computer you have to predict what a page is going to be about, where a different page will take you, and if the information on that page will be important to you.In a book you have to predict what will be on the next page of the book. When summarizing on a computer you can use animated pictures and different pages or sites to help you, where in a book you have to use the detailed descriptions to help you. when questionning a book you want to find your answer in the pages and detailed descriptions of the book to help you where on a computer you have many differentways to find an answer to your question. A computer may be easier for most kids.

Reading a book is different from reading a website without pictures/animation because on a website you can take notes on a document and look up words, phrases, or things that confused you, or you ask someone. Where as, when your reading a book, you tend to just try to figure things out on your own using the text, instead of looking them up or asking someone. On an animated website you tend to use the animations to figure things out instead of using the text, looking it up, or asking someone. Your reading comprehension skills are used different because when you predict in a book you usually tell someone else who has read the book, or keep it to your self. You also predict on what will happen next/to the main character. While predicting on a website you predict where links will take you, what will happen in the animation, and what will happen next/to the main character. When you summarize a book you either write it all or self, or copy off the back. When you write a summary of a webpage, you usually
copy and paste it into a word document.

From the responses it is evident that many comprehension strategies do change as texts move online and that students prefer to have the tools of the internet available to them as they read.

Finally to measure how students understood how comprehension strategies evolve as text changed they created their own multimedia poems using PPT. The students had to pick a myth or God/Goddess not taught in class and create a retelling. The PPT had to include the myth, a family tree, use action buttons, include a quiz, and also prompt students to use comprehension strategies. I wish I could share the products they came out great!

Writing your own Creation Myth

The next part of the unit had the students write a creation myth for a fictional world of their own design.

Returning to we explored the understanding that literature cannot be separated from its historical context. For example in the Inuit creation myth berries and animals are spread far apart to reduce over hunting. We also used the Inuit creation myth to explore gender roles. What are the implications when women are created to cure the boredom of man? Why is the woman the helper and companion of the man? These gender roles, along with other elements of culture, could then be contrasted to other creation myths.

The students identified common elements of creation myths from the list provided on Murtagh's Common Elements of Creation Myths. They also contrasted creation myths. For example the Inuit myth was based on hunter/gatherer culture while the Incan myth had a clear connection of the divine right of rulers.

Next the students, using an adapted version of the graphic organizer provided by planned a fictional culture. They then wrote a creation myth that this culture would believe in. I assessed them on the fictional connections between their myth and their culture (also on the hero archetype, but more on that lesson later. The stories came out great.

Fiction and Agency
More importantly than their content learning, what I loved the most was the expression of student voices throughout the unit. For example, Lauren (pseudonym), an adopted student of Haitian descent, wove the mythology she read online with her own sense of identity to further explore culture and identity through writing literature.

After spending time reading multimedia versions of creation mythology, Lauren created a fictional nation where the people had a culture that revolved around the sea. She, then wrote a creation story of a people kicked out of their planet who had to travel to another galaxy on a ship. On the way the boat crashed and became a new planet, which the people inhabited. In her brief myth elements common to her culture and identity are evident. The ship may represent a common theme from mythology she read, a connection to Haitian culture, it may serve as a metaphor to the greater African Diaspora, or build upon her sense as an adopted child. She used the Internet and literature to explore her own identity and, as a reader, make connections to the stories she read online.

Lauren’s adventure began by reading an online multimedia myth about the Voudon creation myth, which developed in Haitian culture. After enjoying the tale she went to the Internet and found many people discussing links between Caribbean mythology and African mythology. She became very interested in looking for connections between the myths of Western Africa, the myth she just read, and her own beliefs. After exploring the Yoruba creation myth she noted the common elements of water that exist in both myths. She then spent time comparing the Vodoun and Yoruba cultures and commented that it was nice to learn about “where she came from.” As an adopted child who did not share the same culture of her parents she used online literature to explore her sense of identity, culture, and place in the world.

Other students also expressed themselves through the creation myth unit. One student, who fancied herself a comedian, wrote about a haphazardous culture that worshiped a porcupine god (her world was modeled after Vail, CO) and everyone was ordered to constantly shop. Many of the boys chose to write about empire cultures (although it was hard to convince them that in a short story choose a battle not the entire war). These worlds often focused on adolescent ideals of sports such as motorcross or ATV's.


I know this is way too long for a blog post, but I wanted to share this lesson. When I tell teachers I was studying common elements of creation myths and hero archetypes with sixth graders they are amzed, but my students loved it. Below is a list of mythology resources online. I haven't checked the links so many maybe dead. Good luck and have fun using the oldest stories with some of the newest literacy tools.

Common Elements of Creation Myths
A student created website that explores common characteristics in creation myths.

The Big Myth
A collection of creation myths from around the world retold using Flash movies.

Online Mythology and Folklore Collections Encyclopedia Mythica
An online encyclopedia of world mythology organized by continent.

Timeless Myths
A collection of Norse, Classical, Celtic, and Arthurian Mythology.

In Search of Myths and Heroes
Companion website for PBS television show. Contains many myths from around the world and an overview of the hero archetype.

African Mythology and Folklore
A dictionary of African God/Goddesses and a collection of African myths and folktales.

Cutting to the Essence
A description of the West African Yoruba people’s Gods, arts, and mythology

Chinese Myths and Fantasies
An overview and history of Chinese mythology.

Crystal Dragon of Taiwan
A collection of Chinese myths and fables.

Greek Mythology
An online dictionary of Greek Gods/Goddesses, myths, and heroes.

Greek Mythology Link
A comprehensive website with biographies, topics, stories, and Spanish versions of Greek Myths.

A collection of animated Greek Myths.

Winged Sandals
An Interactive flash sites with fully animated movies, games, and many extras.

Hawaiian Mythology
A website created by students at Ahuimanu Elementary School containing a collection of Hawaiian myths.

Indian Divinity
An animated flash adventure detailing Hindu creation mythology.

American Folklore
An anthology of American folklore.

Legends of America
Comprehensive collection of Native American myths, American folklore, and tall tales.

Mexico Connect
A collection of Mayan, Aztec, and Mexican myths and fables.
Mythology of the Inca and Maya
A collection of myths from Central and South America and lesson plans for the classroom.

Native American Mythology
A collection of myths from Native Americans and lesson plans for the classroom

Windows to the Universe
An overview of Aztec mythology with Spanish and English Versions and three reading levels,

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ten Technology and Poetry Ideas

As a sixth grade teacher I pushed the boundaries of technology integration. You know the type of teacher. They come in early and sign out the computer labs months in advance, they spend hours on building teachers websites, and they integrate digital texts into the literacy curriculum. The first two units I taught that focused on digital literacies centered around mythology and poetry. I just found it so rewarding to juxtapose the worlds' oldest genres on emerging texts. This week I share ten ideas to integrate poetry and technology.

Too often teachers view poetry as unit of study. Its a two week assignment that has to be done. Often students are even worse. They view poetry with disdain, loathing, and fear. As an educational community we must share the idea that poetry is a text for life, not a unit of study. Technology provides an avenue for such an understanding.

Online Communities
The first place to start is to include a discussion board or classroom blog in your poetry units. In my classroom the poetry discussion page received the most monthly when compared to my other webpages.

In a class forum you can create different threads for specific genres of poetry. For example have a page for antithesis, haikus, etc. You can also create a spot for collaborative poems where students add a line at a time. Teachers will quickly discover the threads developing a life of their own.

On a classroom blog emphasize the growing voice of poets. Have each student create a poetry blog, or a page on their blog specifically for poetry. The young poets can add poems and others can offer feedback and advice using the comment features.

Poetry Mash Ups
Students will find mash-Ups, or the idea of taking content from many places as the ingredients in a new recipe, as a perfect tool for developing an appreciation of poetry. Using PowerPoint, Imovie, or Moviemaker kids can easily take an entire poem, a specific stanza, or even a word and create a new work. For example students could select a poem by a canonical author and then rearrange the words with images and movies found online. Then using one of the tools online create a digital mash up.

Twitter Poems
I never tried this as a teacher, but follow some wonderful Twitter poets. Having students try to write a poem in 140 characters or less is a great way to teach students that the power of words often resides in both their scarcity and in the silence between stanzas. First (bacause Twitter is blocked in most schools) print out some great examples. Simply search for #twitpoems or #twitterpoems. Then model with the class writing a poem. Finally give students a chance. For an extra challenge try writing Twiakus!

Lyric Hunt

teachers have used song lyrics for poetry instruction for years. The Internet, however, has given access to unlimited titles and allows students to find texts that interest them. Song lyrics are a great way to teach poetic devices and reinforce Internet searching skills. Simply challenge students to find examples of poetic devices in the lyrics of their favortie songs.

Found Poems with Google News
So many teachers bemoan our cut and paste culture. I say when it comes to poetry why fight it. Use Google News and the idea of found poems to teach students both poetry and the use of specialized search engines. Students can search out specific topics, take words from the headlines, and create found poems.

Respond to Poetry with Images
This lesson is always a hit with teachers (for materials visit our NCTE presentation. Basically you have students circle words in a poem that affect the meaning. Then they search the Internet looking for images that capture that meaning. Finally they arrange images on a tableau to represent the meaning. This is a great lesson that not only focuses on poetry, but also introduces the idea of design affecting meaning.

Xtranormal Slam
The folks at xtranormal proudly say if you can type you can make a movie. I always thought it would be fun to do an animated poetry slam. Students could write poems, then have their characters challenge each other in a virtual poetry slam. Xtranormal really makes it that easy. If you can type you can create a wonderful movie.

Multimedia Metaphor Poems
This is another lesson that students love (for materials visit our NCTE presentation). Basically students create an extended metaphor poem and use both words and images to share their poems. I found, when teaching this lesson, that often it is the images that drive the words, and not words driving images. It was a great way to introduce the idea of design literacy.

Internet Inquiry
Internet can also serve as a tool that establishes a community of poets that links to the bards of the past. Another learning activity that highlights the efficacy of the Internet as a text for traditional content while building offline and online reading comprehension is a comparison of poets and their work. Students can build online reading comprehension strategies while developing an understanding that poets and their writing are products of their time and environment. For example, a teacher could assign two somewhat contemporary poets such as Langston Hughes and Robert Frost and contrast the role urbanization had in their work. Hughes captures the jazz beats and tribulations of urban migration, and Frost writes in a style that resembles the windy roads he traveled to escape the city and recapture rural America. Students could search for works by these two authors, and synthesize their critique with information found on biography pages and history pages of the early twentieth century.

Doink Poems
The final technolgy and poetry activity I share today involves a great tool I was introduced to at NCTE. Doink is a wonderful collaborative tool for sharing, uploading, and using animations. Like xtranomral it is easy to use, but has many applicatio0ns. One of my favorites is creating illustrated poetry projects that involve animations created by others. Your students will love thins.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Learning to Read

I had promised everyone a list of ten poetry and technology activities, but that will have to wait. Something more important and way cuter has come up.

My son (14 mo) recently decided that books are for reading and not simply for eating. Watching him interact with language has reinforced my connection to Street's idea of literacy as a social practice.

Baby John's favorite book is "Spot Loves hiss Daddy" by Eric Hill. While I would like to proclaim his love for the book is a result of pure favoritism that simply is not true. In fact, linguistically, John still uses mama and dada indiscreetly making no distinction between myself, his mother and a lampost. Spot Loves his Daddy just had a tale that wove in his first three discrete words: ball, dog, duck. He can recognize these words in pictures, real-life, and illustration.

This got me thinking about how comprehension and literacy is so tied to prior knowledge and past experiences. John received a ball for his first birthday and loves to play. We have two dogs: a border collie named Esteban and an Aussie mix named Thali. Finally my college roomate, on the day John was born bought him a set of bathroom rubber duckies. These quickly became his favorite chew toys.

It is very interesting watching his language and interactions with texts (in the writ large sense) evolve. Makes me think about the connections to the classroom. Teachers should question deficit models of reading and understand that literacy has more to do with language use and experience with Gee's (1989) primary and secondary discourses rather than lack of skills.

I will keep you folks updated. Hopefully John will soon remember that books are once again for devouring and and that every word can provide a bitter taste or a juicy morsel.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Reflections on NCTE Blogging Session

This year was our third session on blogging at NCTE. Each year provides us with new insights. Overall my general impression is that teachers want to blog (yipee!!), but are unsure of their purpose, and have little idea of how to use formative assessment to inform their practice. To that end we had a lively discussion about the affordances of blogging, skills bloggers need, and how to assess blogging skills.

We began the session by letting participants hear from a teacher, Scott Meyers, who recently began to blog. Scott is a third year English teacher and department chair in a Camden, NJ high school.

New to Blogging
Scott wanted to blog in his classroom to motivate students to write. He opened with a wonderful metaphor about writing being like vegetables. His two year old daughter hates vegetables, but loves juice. He found that he could get her to drink her vegetables using V8 Fusion. In his class students moaned and groaned as if writing instruction was a plate of steamed beets. Yet when Scott did anything online they sucked the writing instruction down.

It is this fusion of instruction and technology where many teachers get bogged down and Scott was no different. His biggest challenge was first convincing school administrators to let him blog. Surprise, Surprise. As Scott said, "I was literally stalking the IT guy and leaving notes on his car." His next great challenge was access. The computer lab was signed up weeks in advance and many students did no thave Internet access at home. These problems affected Scott's instruction and his classroom blog only materialized into a classroom newsboard sharing events.

Purpose of Classroom Blogs
I feel Scott's story will ring true to many teachers who use blogs in the classroom. In fact a colleague, Lisa Zawilinski, in her H.O.T. Blogging article identified the four most common blogs used in classrooms: classroom new blogs- for sharing events, mirror blogs-for reflecting on topics, showcase blogs-for showing off student work, and literature response blogs.

While I agree with Danah Boyd, that the definitions of a blog is defined by social practice I feel many teachers still are not unleashing the power of blogs. If you want to share classroom news or school work...create a website. If you want to hold online discussions...use a discussion board. Clasroom blogs however need to move beyond the simple question and comment format and view students as authors and not as repositories of answers.

Blogging Skills
What skills do blogger need and how do we teach and measure these skills. To begin this discussion we started with Jenna McWilliams list of blogging skills and then looked at different student blogs:

Graduate Art Student:
6th Grade Blog
4th Grade Blog
7th Grade Blog:
11th Grade Blog:

As a group then we wanted to break into focus groups and create criteria that could be used in rubrics for formative and summative assessment.

The discussion on assessment started off with the annual debate debate about citations. One teacher said linking a picture to the source was enough, a librarian felt full citations were always necessary. I quelled the debate before violence erupted with three points:
-First do not equate synthesis with citation. No way one of the least understood cognitive processes could be reduced to putting a comma in MLA.
-We do not scaffold citations. You can not expect high school students to pay attention to sources when they are not taught K-8.
-Different genres have different discourse practices for citations. A blog is different than a research paper just as an academic blog is different from published research. Different texts, different rules. This last point won her over.

Once the annual fight over citation was over the discussion was very fruitful. Using a GDoc we brainstormed a list of possible criteria that could be used to assess studnet blogs:

Writing Blogs:
Use of multimedia
Use of hyperlinks
Central focu, thesis, or idea
Content Knowledge
Style and Grammar match audience

Depth of comments
Offering insight or critique
Follows threads
Uses examples/details from post
Uses examples/details from outside sources.

We did not have enough time to duscuss what expectation s the group felt there should be for a 4th grade blog, 7th grade blog, or the 11th grade blog. Overall though the participants left with criteria they could us in their own rubrics.

Do you have rubrics you could share? Is our criteria list missing anything? Let us know.