Sunday, November 11, 2007

Being Happy with Writing

So I'm reflecting this week on the influence Jimmy Britton and Nancy Martin have had on my teaching practice. Later this week I'm headed for New York City for the National Council of Teachers of English Convention and plan to participate in a round table discussion that celebrates New York University such luminaries in the English Education department as Britton and Martin. I had the opportunity to have Jimmy Britton and Nancy Martin as tutors during the Oxford Study Abroad Program for English Education.

As tutors neither never lectured in this program; they had you over for Scotch on the rocks and talked with you. Conversation as learning, learning as conversation.

I remember showing Nancy a handmade book project I put together in response to our group's having seen an RSC production of Romeo and Juliet. It was something I called, "Risk: Mercutio's View of Verona." It was a response that explored the portrayal of Mercutio as a victim of the feud, reading the interpretation of the actor's take as a gay, lighthearted friend of Romeo and his poignant end, essentially that of a victim of a societal events he criticized, participated in but from from which the pundit was marginalized. To accomplish this I layered contemporary graphics clipped from London event flyers and newspapers with lines from Mercutio. It was as esoteric as it was powerful. I was not sure what Nancy thought about the work, in fact, I don't remember her ever passing judgment. As she was looking it over, I wondered whether she "got it." She was in her 70s and the work dealt with plague, intimacy, fantasy, and political injustices in some very esoteric and aesthetic manners. I was unsure, that is, until she finally noticed a part that I knew was weak. She noted, "This page doesn't really fit with the others, does it?" I thought, "Wow! Nancy gets text. Any text. Full stop."

Not to miss the chance in this tutorial, I asked her what she—the one who had already spent more than half-a-century researching the topic—thought was the most important thing about writing. She scoffed at the question, at first. "Charles, oh, I can't answer that." After a pause she reflected that "maybe it is that the most important thing is the writer is happy with what he or she has written." She went on to say of course there are times when we aren't completely satisfied, we know we can do better, but for now at least, it's all right.

Not bad advice for a blogger, I think. Blogging, regularly does not allow the sort of revision process of "sleep on it" or "see how it sounds in a week." Although I must admit a good amount of backspacing, cutting-and-pasting, and on-screen rewrites, blogging means getting thoughts down and hitting the publish key without much of a gestation period.

Perhaps I was just fooling myself with those polished drafts of yore. Writing is never final, right? A blog post connotes a tentative, idea-floating aspect—a fly in amber, in a sediment of chronological posts.

Being happy, having something good enough for now, must be all right.

Image: Nancy Martin and me

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Only As Good As Your Last Workshop

Participating in the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference, held this week in Cranberry, Pennsylvania, I rediscovered that idea that I blogged about a few posts ago. One of the obstacles for teachers to using technology is knowing about it. It's not a high hurdle. Often you just need a name of a website or piece of free downloadable software. Or maybe to watch a colleague present a how-to and watch click-click-drag-save-file.

But it's a race of a thousand and one of these low hurdles. Learning the user-friendly technology is easy, finding it is the trick.

Bit by bit over the past year, I've gained IT knowledge from other teachers through blogs and conference presentations. It's pizza by the slice. How to podcast, how to screencast, how to photostory, how to scrapblog, how to convert file types, how to create a wiki. One slice at a time.

Yesterday I went to two sessions, one on Photo Story, a free video packaging system and Moviemaker, yet another way to create video presentations in digital form. Two days ago blank slate, tomorrow's potential expert. Just add awareness.

Image created by ceyo at the National Gallery of Art (USA)'s KidZone Collage Machine .

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Time Flies in the Real World

This last month I've done little else in the moments spared from school prep than work on presentations at a variety of conferences, including a few halcyon days in the United States' most southern commonweatlth at the invitation of the University of Puerto Rico. In working on the workshops I've learned even more about technology, education, and art. The conferences have had the respective foci of Web 2.0, writing, and art museums.
I'm more sure that I'm not an expert on these topics than I am sure how I've come to be regarded as one. It seems I am just one step ahead or to the side of someone else. As I mentioned in my last post, their is a subtle difference between the novice and the veteran.
At the four conferences in which I've participated in the past month, I have been awe of the collective knowledge that abounds in a variety of fields and how instructional technology can bridge so many gaps. While at the Carnegie Museum of Art, we were making connections from scrapbooks to Scrapblog, in Pittsburgh's South Hills, we were sharing knowledge from practice, in Cayey y Ponce we were bridging art and technology, and in Pittsburgh's North Hills, blogs and writing research. With blogs at the center of the sessions, the diverse and overlapping themes of collaboration, knowledge-sharing, excitement at what's possible and potential with the Web 2.0 paradigm became abundant.
The irony is of course with all of this real world activity, my presence in the virtual waned. I guess that's not a bad thing. It's an ebb and flow.
Avoiding the risk of making another surf metaphor, I'm going to wrap up this reflection with a recollection of the opening of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." It's not the plot or characters that I'm thinking of, but the occasion that allows Marlow that space to spin his yarn--the men are sitting aboard a merchant ship on the Thames in London "waiting the flood." Nothing else to do, but wait and tell of one's adventures.
Moving between the virtual and the real life of a blog is something like that perhaps. While sailing amid the high tide there's little time sit and talk about it. Maybe as the flood ebbs.