Connecting my learning by connecting at #nwpam14 and #ncte14

It is in this season of conferences that I recognize that no matter how long it's been since I've seen colleagues or friends, no matter how long it's been since I've engaged with my favorite work of the Writing Project and NCTE, that the network that has sustained me throughout both my High School and Higher Ed teachings, learnings, and doings, will always remain. It began in the airport when one of my favorite Red Cedar Writing Project fellows (Summer '05! Best Summer Institute Ever!), Paul Cryderman was on my same flight. Somehow, each year for this conference, we end up on the same flight. It is also the only time we get to talk each year. Since 2006. And every year he grades "My Personal Michigan Hero" Essays on the plane, which he passes to me to read when he comes across a good one. I make sure he tells his middle school students that a "college teacher" has read their essays and how much I enjoyed them. T

 he energy of the National Writing Project is so infectious each year. It is the dedication and commitment and innovation of this network that propels me here year after year. But I believe what I value most is the way that educators Kindergarten through University come together to share powerful practices, provoke questions, and explore this brave new world in which we are all figuring out the best ways to use the tech, to harness the network, and keep going amidst funding pressures, scapegoated teachers, poverty in our schools, and the myriad other issues that make teaching and learning the messy, time-intensive, rewarding, and heart-breaking paradox it is. Once I arrived, I immediately saw friends and colleagues, exchanged hugs, and jumped right into the last roundtable of the day at the NWP Annual Meeting. My friend Paul Allison and his YouthVoices crew led a discussion on an inspiring summer institute they conducted. They brought together a group of students and teachers in order to explore digital writing and technology in a shared space. The power of this shared learning, of students mentoring teachers, and teachers learning as students, was exciting and inspiring. It's a reminder of how much more we can do to improve the experience of learning when we tap community resources to support the work we do. It certainly takes a village.

Of course there is so much more to say, write, and reflect on. I am sparking with ideas as I always am when I come to the Annual Meeting and the Annual Conference. I am hoping to write more, but time is short and there are just so many inspiring friends to dream big with here. In the meantime, be sure to follow the #nwpam14 and #ncte14 hashtags on Twitter. 

Sometimes words are enough: #blog4NWP

Last year about this time, I wrote a blog post that tried to capture my experiences with the National Writing Project.  I wanted to express the joy, love, and learning I have encountered in my journey as an NWP teacher.

Last year, I described it this way:

I learned about the power of teachers sharing their practice. I learned that I could impact literacy and student writing by writing myself. I learned how to constructively interrogate my own practice. The brave and intelligent men and women who constantly questioned and tested their own pedagogy modeled for me how to become a teacher and a writer.


This year, the stakes are higher.  This year, the climate is more heated, the rhetoric more vitriolic, and the funding has been cut.  This year I hear more and more from the teachers I work with how hard it is to be a teacher, and the best teachers I know are leaving the profession.  We hear that President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and our elected officials are seeking to improve our education through research-based practices, and watch in dismay as they pursue educational reforms shown to to have no effect (charters) or a detrimental one (merit pay).  This is not about stories of good and bad, this is something bigger and I’m not sure I understand.  I only know that I grieve for the psychic blow that has been dealt to the strongest network of teachers I have ever known.

I want to re-iterate that it isn’t over for the National Writing Project. We are based on a simple model of teachers teaching teachers.  We know that teachers know what works best in classrooms. We know that when we nurture those professional selves that teachers can transform their students, empowering the readers and writers who will solve our most pressing problems in our communities, our states, our nation, and our world.  These teachers will continue to support one another with or without federal funding. The transformation that comes when a teacher is empowered as a writer, as a professional–that transformation does not leave because of funding.

What I worry about more is what this says to teachers about their value. I worry about the teachers who are struggling and feel unsupported, who will never bask in the glow of hard work with colleagues, all questioning and writing and solving problems together that happens in an NWP Summer Institute. I worry about the stories that will be left untold because we choose to fund standardized testing over all of our literacy programs.  I worry who will solve complex problems like climate change, who will be the next Mozart or Bill Gates, who will be the next ground-breaking inventor when the only choices offered have been A, B, C, and D.  The National Writing Project supports thinkers, writers, and learners, and we know that it is a research-proven way to increase student literacy.

At the National Writing Project, we do what works for students, teachers, and communities.  We are out here telling stories of what works this weekend through the #blog4NWP effort.  We ask you to listen.  We ask you to restore funding for a program that has truly transformed the educational lives of thousands upon thousands of students and their teachers.

Feel free to leave a comment on the voicethread, or on this post. Also, please visit Chad Sansing’s site, whose brainchild is this blogging effort, for a full archive of the #blog4NWP entries.




Hacking the NWP Annual Meeting: Part 2

So now that you’ve started thinking about how you might go about hacking the conference, you may be looking at my proposed list in part 1 and having a few thoughts. For instance, “I really don’t want to lug my laptop around to the conference, especially without internet access in the meeting rooms.” or “that just seems like too much, but I’d like to try something a little easier.”

And, so I present to you Part 2: If you can make a phone call and send a text, you can tweet, podcast, and even blog without carrying anything but your cellphone. That’s right: not a smart phone, but your plain old cell phone.

Part 2: Hacking with your cell phone (or hacking without internet access)

I have long been inspired by Liz Kolb’s work around cell phones in K-12 learning, and a lot of my inspiration has come from her. Feel free to poke around her site for more ideas and tutorials.

1. Short updates can mean a lot

In part 1, we discussed the use of twitter and hashtags in order to share learning gained from sessions.  Twitter began as an SMS service that integrated with the website, allowing users to text in their tweets.  There are lots of other services that also do this–the underlying concept being that the user texts a number and the service puts the update up on the web.  These short updates, when taken together, can draw a pretty robust picture of some of the ideas being discussed and are bite-sized archives of the experience.

2. Decide what you want to do and set it up ahead of time.

The key to hacking these kinds of services is to decide what you are going to use and integrate the various services well before the conference.  Without doing some work setting up your account on the actual websites ahead of time, the services are unavailable to you.  Here are some sites to get you started.

  • one of the easiest services to integrate with your cell phone: set up an account, enter your cell phone number in the “Mobile” settings, and get ready to text 40404.
  • one of my favorite new finds! The tag line reads: post from anywhere to anywhere.  After setting up your account and your cell phone, you can post to a number of different blogs (including posterous), your twitter, facebook, flickr and any number of other social media sites with a single text.  Not a bad little service. Udefn is another source for this type of service.
  • Finally, if you are a Blogger user (which is a great service as part of the Google suite of applications), they provide a “Blogger on the Go” service in which you can write a blog entry and post it via a text message.  There is a nice little explanation on the Blogger on the Go site, so please check that out.

3. Consider Phonecasting: podcasts from your phone

You don’t need a fancy digital voice recorder to do some podcasting.  There are a number of services that allow you to call into a dedicated phone number, enter some account information, and record a podcast. Tumblr (also has smartphone apps), ipadio (which also has a nice iPhone and Android app for the smartphone users) , and (which not only allows you to call in your podcasts, but you can call in to listen to podcasts as well) are among my favorite services that allow for this type of podcasting.

4. Remember to tag, tag, tag.

NWPAM10 is all you need to remember.

P.S. Sometimes you meet the coolest people

Another great site that integrates cell phones is, which allows a person to text a username to 50500 (or you can have the site text the person if you have their number) and it texts the phone a business card.  Additionally, it will track the people with whom you are exchanging business cards.   Want to try it? Text 50500 and put “Zellner” in the message.

For more information: