Write Out Loud

A PAWLP Community for Writing, Publishing, and Conversation

Comics in the Classroom by Diane Barrie

Posted by dbarrie on May 22, 2010

There are many different forms of digital storytelling, one in particular I’d like to highlight here today. Through the NWP, we have an opportunity to try out a free tool called “Bitstrips.” This might just be the thing to get you through the last few weeks of school! Read the information, below, from Shahan Panth who introduced us to the software. And remember, you don’t have to be an expert in technology to use it in your classroom. You are an expert in writing, in pedagogy, and in learning. The kids will figure out the software easily enough!

Bitstrips for Schools is software that helps improve writing and digital literacy through comics. It’s being used by teachers in a wide range of subjects, with students of all kinds, including ELL and children with autism. You can read the NWP’s great write-up about us here –

The site was recently licensed to every public school in Ontario, Canada, and after 7 months it’s already being used by teachers in nearly 4,000 schools, with over 350,000 registered students and nearly 2 million student-made comics! Teachers have been amazed at how our comic-making tools have motivated their students – especially boys – to start writing. Over 40% of activity is happening after school and on weekends.

We’re now making Bitstrips for Schools available for free to NWP educators for the rest of the school year. To learn more about us, please check out the NWP link above or visit our website – www.bitstripsforschools.com.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

What’s Going On? by Judy Jester

Posted by dbarrie on May 22, 2010

Here’s an update on our efforts to secure continued Federal funding for the National Writing Project. Many of you have already read the piece that follows in early Spring. Our current status with area legislators is found below it.

What’s Going On?

The federal budget for Fiscal Year 2011 proposes to consolidate funding for NWP and five other programs named in a new literacy program called Effective Teaching and Learning: Literacy. This new funding strategy would require states to apply for block grants, much like the Race to the Top Initiative, which could then be used to fund literacy programs in their states.  


Pennsylvania would have to choose to compete for these funds, win them, and then decide to give us some of this money out of all of the programs that petition Harrisburg with the same request. Not only are we taking our chances that all three of these would occur, but also just as importantly, direct funding for the National Writing Project would be eliminated under this proposal.

What this means at our site besides the loss of stipends for Summer Institutes and mini-grants to pursue research with individual school districts is the loss of the source of so many of our programs and work: reading and writing across the content areas courtesy of the National Reading Initiative; writing retreats based on NWP ‘s model; discussions fueled by the ELL Network; Visualizing Words and Worlds and Literacy in Bloom both inspired by work done at other sites; support for Write Out Loud and other technology initiatives among many others. It also means that we will have to work that much harder to convince districts and other grant giving organizations to put their trust in us as we no longer will have the federal government’s stamp of approval.

What can I do?

Given this budget request, we are asking you to make calls to your representatives in Congress as soon as possible to request support for NWP. Please know that no one can make the case for the National Writing Project like you.

What should I say?

Make clear that you are both a constituent and a classroom teacher, administrator, etc. They’ll ask for your name and address. That’s standard procedure. Request their support for continued direct funding of the National Writing Project. Don’t worry about arguing policy with staffers on the phone. They are far too busy for that. They’ll just take your information down and promise to pass it along. You’ll probably end up speaking to voicemail any way. If you get a real person, tell them about the impact NWP has made on your teaching, on your students.  Better yet – write an email telling your story and urging your Congressman to continue supporting direct appropriations for NWP. Phone numbers and email addresses for the appropriate staffers are listed below. Then let us know who you contacted and what response you got if any.

I’m swamped. Can’t somebody else do this?

No. Volume speaks volumes. We need all hands on deck if we are to save NWP. Call or write now!

What’s the Latest?

Congressman Sestak and Senator Casey signed Dear Colleague letters, urging other members of Congress to support direct funding of the National Writing Project. Congresmen Gerlach, Murphy, Pitts and Senator Specter all said they support NWP, but have not publicly endorsed us this year.

There is still time to contact these legislators to urge them to do so before our funding comes up for a final vote. Please help.

On May 12, NWP Executive Director Sharon J. Washington and Northern Virginia Writing Project teacher-consultant and Co-director Mary Tedrow presented testimony about the importance of continued federal funding for NWP before the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies of the House Appropriations Committee. 

NWP is providing a sample letter of support so that you can give it to your superintendents, principals, university presidents, and other interested individuals to write to their senators and representatives in Congress to ask them to support NWP. Email questions to publicaffairs@nwp.org.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Making Connections

Posted by dbarrie on May 18, 2010

I love my job. As a K-12 Reading/Title 1 Coordinator, I have to read, discuss, research, and learn. Of course, it’s not always easy to find time for this while also filing paperwork, preparing for,  attending, and following-up meetings, observing, and all of the other items on my To Do List. This year has been filled with learning much about early literacy skills, assessment, brain research, technology, reading remediation, vocabulary, and more that I don’t have room to list. It seems to me that one word keeps surfacing, a concept that is becoming more and more the keystone of the 21st century learner. And I would argue that this concept is one that has always been a key component of learning, but perhaps in the past  we made it the task of the learner to uncover. What I’m talking about is relevancy. Today’s learner needs to know how new knowledge or skills are important and how it affects them. Maybe it’s an even bigger deal today due to the democratization of knowledge. Students who want to find information only need an Internet connection. Of course, they don’t always know if the information is accurate or not, but that’s a topic for another day. Establishing relevance is answering the question, “So what?” for our students, or better yet, creating conditions in which students discover the answer on their own. Today’s students, like students of the past, want to know “When am I gonna use this stuff?” and “Why do I hafta learn this?” But I feel even more compelled to make relevancy an important part of teaching and my students’ learning because I know that when students have a reason to learn, if they can connect new knowledge to old, if they can see connections between ideas, subjects, and their world at home and school, powerful learning can happen. I also see relevancy as a natural extension of lesson and unit design that begins with big ideas and essential questions. Have you thought about relevancy lately? How do you create conditions for students to see and feel relevancy? What part of your curriculum or teaching is difficult to create relevancy for your students? Please join this conversation by sharing some of your thoughts!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Teacher Tips – “What’s in a Name?” by Diane Dougherty

Posted by dbarrie on October 27, 2009

We know that proper nouns come packed with connotations.  When I sought names for my own children, I was keenly aware of how a particular name could become playground fodder.  “Oscar” suggests one thing; “David” another.   Art Peterson in his practical and informative The Writer’s Workout Book suggests using names to discuss with students the subtexts words can summon.  We need look no further than Charles Dickens for fitting character names.  Try this exercise with students.

First read descriptions of characters from Dickens (or other age-appropriate authors):

“Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there.”  [Seth Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit]

“…a face in which a queer attempt at melancholy was at odds with a smirk of satisfaction”  [Mould Undertaker in Martin Chuzzlewit]

“An attorney of no good repute” and “One of the greatest scoundrels unhung.”  [Sampson Brass The Old Curiosity Shop]

“When Monsieur…laughed, a change took place in his face, that was more remarkable than prepossessing.  His moustache went up under his nose, and his nose came down over his moustache, in a very sinister and cruel manner”  [Riguad/Blandois/Lagnier in Little Dorrit]

Then, give students a list of Dickens-like or real Dickens names such as:

Wilkens Macawber

Rosa Dartle

James Carker

Alfred Jingle

Henrietta Nupkins

Rev. Mr. Stiggins

Dr. Slammer

Ms. Flite

Horatio Fitzkin, Esquire

Lady Dedlock

Challenge students to write a paragraph of one of the above characters describing his/her appearance, occupation, “lifestyle,” and temperament.  Let them share and compare the associations they made from these names.  The discussion that follows can become a vehicle for real understanding of the importance of word choice in writing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

The More I Learn, the More I Have to Learn by Diane Barrie

Posted by dbarrie on October 27, 2009

I am sitting in a workshop with Will Richardson, and I am TOTALLY multi-tasking, but I think it’s o.k.! In fact, Will has encouraged it. We are learning about social media networks and personalized, passion-based learning. Isn’t that a great term – passion-based learning? Anyway, while we’re listening to Will talk, he’s showing us sites on the screen, we’re exploring a variety of links on our own computers, and he’s Skyped in another colleague from Saskatchewan who, among many other things, teaches an online social media class. While all of this is going on, Will set up a chat room for us to talk using Chatterous. My head is about to explode! This is how our students think and learn and live. This is what NCTE is saying about 21st century literacy (check out the fourth bullet point). What do you think about the multi-tasking nature of today’s learner? Is it outside your comfort zone? How will you (or do you) push yourself outside your own comfort zone?

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Technology to Enhance Writing Instruction by Diane Barrie

Posted by dbarrie on October 27, 2009

Here’s something we all know: In order to become better writers, children need to write every day, for a variety of purposes and audiences, across the curriculum and outside of the classroom. Here’s what we don’t always know: How do we make room each day in each class to provide students time to do this type of purposeful, relevant, connected writing? In our district, we’re looking more and more at research-based, best-results, proven programs to supplement our curriculum. I’m curious to know what other districts are using to supplement their core curricula and what are their experiences.

Right now, I am thinking about on-line writing assessment programs. While in no way do I think these programs should supplant good teaching, face-to-face conferences, peer revision, and all we know about good writing process, I am just wondering if it could be a decent supplement, another way for students to get feedback on a regular basis and in a variety of subjects. Some of these services are Criterion and  MY Access.  I am particularly wondering if this might be a good way for content area teachers who are reticent to provide the kind of time students really need to write quality pieces to at least get some feedback. Of course, it must be used with the expectation that not all of the feedback will be right for the writer, but isn’t more feedback, presuming our students know how to evaluate the feedback, better than none?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Summer Technology Course – Reading and Writing in Digital Spaces

Posted by dbarrie on March 20, 2009

Have you blogged today? How about podcasted? No? Think this might have something to do with plumbing problems or beans? If so, join us the week of July 20-24 at the Graduate Business Center to learn how you can harness the power of the Internet to engage your students in reading and writing the web. We’ll talk about how these times are a changin’ and what teachers need to do to prepare their students for 21st century learning. You’ll create your own blog, wiki, and podcast as well as explore other ways that the digital world is changing reading and writing and learning. You’ll be especially happy to participate in a live Skype chat with author Barry Lane during the week! This course is being offered for 3 graduate credits. Go to the PAWLP website today, and follow the links for summer courses. I hope to see you there!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

A Love Affair With Paper by Diane Barrie

Posted by dbarrie on March 20, 2009

I found myself in a strange place the other day, not physically, but mentally. I was reading an article from the NY Times Magazine about how reading is shaped by the medium (see Click and Jane). It was paper books vs. online text. It took me about 5 minutes to realize why I wasn’t enjoying the reading – it was the medium! That’s exactly what the author, Virginia Heffernan, was trying to tell me. Heffernan considers how online reading is perceived by children. She writes that when her 3-year-old visits story book sites to have books read aloud to him, he doesn’t perceive it as reading; it’s watching movies. As viewed through the lens of a 3-year-old, reading is a “snuggly” act, one which involves curling up in an adult’s lap or clambering for space on the carpet in the preschool classroom.

While I find myself a few years past the 3-year-old reading experience, I often feel as though I am a traditionalist when it comes to reading. I prefer text on paper. I love to nestle in bed holding onto a book (expect those that I have to read for night class). When I sit in front of my computer, I am constantly distracted. I read a few lines, and check my e-mail. Then I read some more, and maybe explore a link. Back to reading, but then somehow the computer makes me hungry. (How does that happen??) And reading to my children, who are now 8 and 9 years old, has always been about warmth and closeness and, yes, snuggling. My favorite part of the day is when we’re all in our pj’s arguing over pillows and kicking legs as we all pile into our bed for nighttime reading, reading that takes us to faraway places and gives us context for some interesting discussion. It could never be the same in front of a computer.

So I suppose what I get from this article is that I have an attachment to paper when it comes to books. Although I love technology and all that it brings in increasing productivity, allowing for diverse modes of communication, and inviting us all into the read/write world of the web, I will never forget my first love. For me, reading and books have always been about peace and togetherness, and I hope that will never change. How about you?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: | 5 Comments »

Changes by Diane Barrie

Posted by dbarrie on March 20, 2009

I am taking a course on organization development and change theory, and we are thinking deeply about what helps schools enact deep, complex change. We’re reading a lot of Michael Fullan who gives us lessons in change from which we could all benefit. He reminds us that we can’t mandate what will truly matter to educators, meaning that systemic change has at its roots shared vision that can’t be forced. Fullan also suggests that neither top-down nor bottom-up changes are the answer; rather, both are necessary if we’re going to even have a chance at articulating a shared vision. Two other lessons stick with me, that we are all agents of change and that if we are going to enact change, we must remember that we are part of a larger, connected environment.

In his article on change, Robert Miller talks about his role as a Director of Technology in helping teachers understand what changes we need to make as educators to prepare students for the 21st century. One statement he makes resonates with me:

“As I break down the core principles of 21st Century Learning the essence of adaptability and transferability requires an understanding and appreciation in change.”

There’s a real “aha” moment for me in that statement. If we are to prepare our students for a world in which they need to adapt their thinking and transfer their knowledge and understanding, it just makes sense that teachers, as change agents, must be willing to adapt and transfer, too.

I have been in this business long enough to know why teachers resist. I understand the frustration with “flavor of the day” initiatives. I understand that sometimes we’re asked to make so many changes that we don’t know which way we’re even going. But when you stop and think, when you reflect on what Fullan calls our “moral purpose” as educators, we have to be willing to connect with our students and what they need to help them succeed once they leave our buildings. And while we could reduce all changes to the “but it’s good for the children,” I have to believe that shifting our thinking about teaching and learning in profound ways as a reaction to the shifting of thinking and doing in the business world is a pretty good reason to make some changes.

I don’t want to misrepresent myself here. I am not always the poster child for change. I, too, get frustrated when I don’t know the context, the vision, or the purpose of change. But I am trying to connect with why I am an educator in the first place and I am trying to settle with being unsettled. It’s a journey, for sure. How is your journey going?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , | 5 Comments »

Teacher Tips by Diane Dougherty

Posted by dbarrie on March 20, 2009

This is a new “column” for all teachers. First, let me introduce myself. I retired from full-time teaching in 1999 after 32 ½ years teaching high school English. Since then, I have been working for PAWLP providing staff development, model lessons in reading and writing in area classrooms, and coordinating a variety of courses as well as co-directing first the Writing Institute and then the Literature Institute. Though I am no longer in the classroom every day, I still enjoy teaching and learning.

I’d like to begin with a community building activity that doubles as a writing experience and that also adds drafts to a student’s writing folder or writer’s notebook. The “two truths and a lie” strategy isn’t new, but this adaptation has proven very successful in classrooms I’ve visited.

Begin by instructing students to generate vignettes of truths and lies over a broad range of topics, such as: memories of childhood, tales of grade school, stories of achievement and/or accidents, people I’ve met/places I’ve visited.

Give students some time to “prewrite” through conversation with fellow students, discussing possible topics (but not giving specific details). Then, provide quiet time (about 10 minutes or so) to write a first draft of a “truth.” Follow with another period of quiet to write a draft of a “lie.” This procedure can be followed for several sessions until students have about ten vignettes, half of which are truths. The student then chooses two truths and one lie and polishes them for detail and edits them for mechanics. Ask students to label their vignettes A, B, and C. You can use aliases or numbers to conceal student names to ensure privacy.

Tape the vignettes to the wall at eye level and let the class read around the vignettes, recording their votes for “truth” or “lie.” At the completion of the reading each author informs the class which of his vignettes is true and which is fiction.

The advantages to this exercise include: generation of multiple ideas; awareness of audience, publishing student work, critical inquiry (guessing the truth or lie), and continuing community building in the classroom. Allow ample discussion of why students made the guesses they did—how did students find the lie or how was an author able to fool us? This part of the exercise becomes a lesson in interpreting fiction!

I hope you and your students enjoy this activity. If you have any questions or tips you’d like to share, please add a comment to this blog. I look forward to hearing from you!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »