Last Saturday I attended the 2nd annual Print to Pixel unconference. I helped found and organize the original unconference but had to take on a smaller role this year as a presenter. I love this conference because we draw so many K-12 students. In fact this year more sessions were student run than teacher lead.

I had two roles this spin around: help with our Hangouts on Air sessions and to present and attend the sessions.All of the sessions presented  revolved around being a better blogger.

Many of the students and teachers wanted guidance in how to effectively use blogging in their personal and professional learning. Thus I scrapped my idea of focusing on stop motion animation and pulled together two ideas: Flipping SSR into RSS and Exploring New Mediums for Publishing (I also did an impromptu lunch session on using Pixlr when students asked if anyone could teach Photoshop).

Flipping SSR into RSS

I have a rule for unconferences: no slide decks (unless explicitly required such as an ignite session) so I cannot share my slides. I did try to stream my RSS session live on Hangouts on Air (I did not have a webcam so you are often looking into space)

In this session I detailed how I used Feedly to track student blogs and use Feedly for students to create interest driven text focused on personalized learning.

 Tracking Student Blogs

I use my RSS feed, specifically Feedly, to create a classroom list of student blogs. Many teachers who use blogs in the classroom not connected to an LMS system (like Edublogs or kidsblogs) need a method to track and connect with their young writers. I demonstrated in this session how I create class lists, link to the websites in order to comment, and add tags of common themes I find.

What I love most about using RSS feeds with student writers is the ability to access their texts anytime. I have Feedly on my laptop, desktop, tablets, and my phone. I am always just a click away from student writing.

Creating Personalized Learning

In terms of flipping SSR into RSS I have encouraged my students to use Feedly to make individualized texts. Throughout the semester I ask them to document their learning about something not related to class. They have to build an RSS Feed, follow their topic, respond to posts, and blog about their learning.

I went through and helped the audience build their first roll in Feedly. They all wanted to know how to add Feedly to the RSS button in Chrome. Here are some easy to follow steps (like most of my tech tips from Martin Hawksey).

There was some great audience ideas around using curating tools such as Storify in combination with RSS to support learning. In the past I had students reflect on their learning in their blog posts. The audience felt a tool like Feedly would allow them to bring in resources from sites that do not have Feeds. I agree. It will be an avenue I explore.

Exploring a New Medium for Publishing

The next session I presented (though no HoA as I saw how poorly the last one turned out) focused on the use of Medium. The session was attended by some of the most prominent educational bloggers in the state and a few K-12 students. Those of us who blog regularly agreed that something about Medium drove us to try and be better writers.

We could not nail it down. We thought it might be the mix of paid and amateur writers. The beautiful typography might draw us in. The rethinking of social commenting versus stackable comments is also attractive. All of these elements draw us to Medium.

For those who do not know Medium is a blogging platform where articles, posts, and essays are curated into collections. You can follow specific authors but the real learning occurs by following collections.

What I found most rewarding  was introducing the site to a middle school student. He said he had a love for physics. Not your textbook variety physics, but the find God in the particle or in one of the eleven dimensions types of physics. We spent time searching the collections. We quickly found essays that immediately peaked his interest.

Back in October, as part of Connected Educator Month, I set a goal to focus on being a better blogger. This involved focusing on the technical aspects of learning the WordPress platform, reading and then reading more, and doing more writing.

I may not be a better blogger but I sure I have pressed the publish button more this year than in my entire seven year history as an educational blogger.

I am honored that friends and colleagues now seek me out for advice. The biggest questions other writers have usually revolve around two elements. Where do I find the time? Where do I find the ideas?


CC 2.0 Time is Running Out. Anrea Zamboni. Flickr.

I find the time by integrating blogging into my instruction, scholarship, and service. I want to model for my students the power of open learning and reflective practice. I want to push my thinking by writing in public. I focus on content that teachers and researchers in the field need. I do not need to find time. I am doing my job (please note like all teachers I am often crushed under the weight of my to do list).


CC 2.0. Idea Bulb. CC 2.0. Ramanus Geciauskas. Flickr.
CC 2.0. Idea Bulb. CC 2.0. Ramanus Geciauskas. Flickr.

The ideas do not come as easily. You have to find inspiration in strange places. I look to my kids, my students, recent twitter chats, my rss feed, Google+. I try to rein-vision thinking from other fields into educational settings.

If you approach blogging with a flexible and open mindset the ideas will edventually follow.

This post and the video above came almost verbatim from an email exchange with Dr. Kristy Pytash. She helps to moderate the #walkmyworld project and wants to up her blogging game. The script for the movie, except for the line about carving time for manuscripts, is verbatim from our email exchange.  If you allow it ideas can come from anywhere.


Blogging like all writing does not come easily but we do not suffer from writerss block. We just have not developed strategies to generate ideas and formulate our thoughts. Look across your digital landscape and you will find yourself swimming in inspiration. Connect writing to your practice and you will come to see blogging not as something extra to squeeze in but part of the routine that improves your life and the lives of your students.


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[relatedkingpro show=”4″ images=true width=”150″ height=”150″ placeholder=false]

I wanted to explore to modes for creating meaning as  a goal for both  #OOE13 and Connected Educator Month #ce13. I first focused on my practices as a blogger and a teacher of writing. This played out here on my blog as I documented my recent learning while creating new content and connections.

Now I am ready for the step. Ian O’Byrne and myself have launched an open netcast/vodcast/talkshow network. We want to create a space for teachers to watch and host shows relevant to their literacy lives and literacy practices. Welcome to the Networked Learning Collaborative.


We went live on Monday with out first show, Tech Talk  hosted by Ian. The show focused on specific applications of a digital text and tool in the classroom. As of now we have four monthly shows.

  • Tech Talk
  •  Digitally Literate
  • Spherical
  • TechTrenches

We hope to offer more shows in the future as collaborators join the network. Basically we created a WordPress site, used a video theme. We then host the shows on Google Hangout on Air and embed the shows on our network. Each show uses TitanPad for show notes and a  chat room.

I will be hosting two shows Spherical and TechTrenches.


Each week the show host will interview an author. We will discuss what it means to create meaning through multimodal composition. How does design affect meaning making? Where do bloggers develop their ideas? What posts do they believe are most influential? What connections have they made? How do blogs serve their reflective practice. Most importantly we will discuss writing as a window on to our lives.



The show focuses on an educator who brings the principles of connected learning to their classroom. Once a month a teacher will join us as a feature guest. They will share a specific project or idea in the class and reflect on what went well and what needs to change. Our guest will highlight their personal growth as a connected educator and their long term goals for student learning.



It saddens me when I walk into classrooms and see prewriting taught using some perfunctory graphic organizer that every student must complete. We send the message that creating new ideas requires a formulaic approach. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Prewriting, like writing in general, has as many methods as their are writers. Instead of one specific strategy we need to build in multiple opportunities for our students  to explore meaning making within a community of writers.

My Reflections

In a previous post I documented the complexity of my own prewriting process. I decided to once again collect artifacts of my work and then reflect on my own thinking.



I took a picture of my process that emerged when writing yesterday’s post on Affinity Spaces. It started with me grabbing a pice of scrap paper and jotting down a few ideas. There was no real organization just a chain of thoughts.


I then went to wikipedia to do a quick crosscheck of my facts. I am not one of those educators who thinks to ban Wikipedia. Instead I embrace it. I go to wikipedia for quick fact checks and to look for primary sources.



This lead me to the work cited page and I realized, “DUH, you own this book (or at least the rights to it).” So I grabbed my iPad and went and scanned Gee’s 11 principles of affinity spaces.


After a quick refresh of Gee’s writingI returned to my original scrap paper ideas. It was time to organize my thoughts in my final step of prewriting. During this step I thought about the organization of ideas. I also considered how my organization affected my design choices. This last step is a critical process for multimodal composition. One must consider how design can enhance rather than detract for your ideas. For me this was a matter of determining my heading levels throughout the post.


My Thoughts on Pre-Writing

So much more happened to generate my post than what the picture captures. I have long joked that I do my best writing when walking the dogs. How can we teach and model that to writers? Prewriting for me is an embodied cultural experience. I pace. i chug coffee. I may even throw stuff. Can I hang that poster in my room? “Good writers throw things?”

Yet when you walk into most classrooms, especially at the elementary level (too many writing practices are assumed in secondary education), you do not see writers struggling with ideas or trying to create new meaning. All too often they just complete the district wide graphic organizer.

Some Take Aways

After thinking about how i work through multimodal composition I had a few thoughts I wanted to share.

Writing is an Embodied Cultural Practice

I know I have discussed this idea before but it is worth reiterating. We cannot look to writing as a set of discrete skills. Instead writing is best taught when we use student writing to build both their sense of identity and agency. First students need to see themselves as writers. Writers who grapple with ideas like every other person who has put thought to paper. Students also need to find agency in their words in order to understand that their meaning has power that can affect their lives and the lives of others.

In terms of pre-writing this embodied teaching would require students to interact with a community of writers with varying expertise. They could share their reflections on generating ideas with the class or with other writers on

Teachers also need to share with students to understand that their are multiple pathways to knowledge when pre-writing. Instead of demonstrating one graphic organizer include mini-lessons on multiple graphic organizers for multiple purposes. Let students choose and reflect on a system that works best for them. this could include formal outlines, bulleted outlines, Venn diagrams, concept maps, expository pillars, Vee diagrams, etc.

Pre-Writing and Multiple Source Reading can not Be Separated

Expository writing is a dialogical conversations with the texts we read. One of the major shifts (or better practices as I prefer to call them) is the use of sources when writing. This of course means that educators can not draw a false line between reading and writing during inquiry learning.

In my example above I first recalled information I have come across in the work of others discussing JPG’s affinity spaces (Black, Schraeder, Brown, etc) and from reading the primary source. I used Wikipedia as a secondary source. I then returned to my book. The act of prewriting was in itself an act of synthesis and of multiple source reading.

Screencasting Alone can not Capture the Complexity of Multimodal Composition

For my dissertation I watched hundreds of hours of video as students completed internet inquiry tasks. During my time at the New Literacies Research Lab I did the same. In all of the research the students had to finish with some sort of multimodal composition.  For my dissertation this involved posting a response to a discussion board (the post did not use academic discourse not multimodal design…but more on that later).

The point is I tried to capture the synthesis of ideas just by recording screens. Based on my reflection above this violated basic ecological validity. It isn’t how I synthesize and plan writing when reading multiple sources online.

At the very least an study looking at prewriting and multimodal composition must allow for and document any paper based notes. I would say the same goes for any assessment that attempts to score students synthesis of readinr or their prewriting.

In all honesty because writing is an embodied cultural practice it would take much more to document pre-writing when planning for multimodal composition (or any writing actually). For example I could forsee an ethnography of bloggers that requires video of the workspace; collection of all artifacts, paper and pixel based; reflective blog posts or journals by the bloggers discussing their decisions in the creation of both copy and design.

Then maybe we can capture the complexity of pre-writing. Then maybe we would know exactly how many writers throw stuff.

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Do connected educators rely on community? Can you simply dictate the creation of community?  I have long argued that attempts to force community on educators is a misguided policy. Instead I draw on Gee’s ideas of Affinity Spaces.

Affinity Spaces

I find the notion of Gee’s affinity spaces to be a useful frame for examining connected educators. Too many of us  quickly jump on the notion of a community. This often leads to superficial connections that may last as long as a Twitter stream. Instead of thinking in terms of community, which denotes a sustained membership   defined by culture, we need to think in terms of spaces. Affinity Spaces.

Spaces are different than communities. For me to be a connected educator you first need to identify the space where folks with like minded interests gather. Then you need to develop your own space to connect to this existing network.  This in turn allows you to design your identity, your spaces, and your networks (Gee, 2004).

Gee identified 11 principles of affinity spaces. I tend to group these into three over arching frameworks. Affinity Spaces and communities difer in three important ways: membership, teaching and making, and knowledge.

Membership in Affinity Spaces

Membership in communities is often defined along race, religion, geography and borders. In affinity spaces the members is fluid. Connected educators will come and go.  This ebb and flow mainly exists because affinity spaces have  low barriers to join. Think about #ce13. If you have a twitter account you can participate at the most basic level. Increased involvement, unlike communities, self-organizes around interests.This plays out in leadership levels too as it gets distributed without any organized hierarchy while new members and masters share the space.

Teaching and Making in Affinity Spaces

Simply put teaching is doing. Making is teaching. Doing is making. Okay, not as simple, but the point is both teaching and content creation involves joint action. The spaces itself helps to mediate learning through social practices. The content is made by doing and through doing people learn. That is why affinity spaces, have many teachers. As mentioned newbies and masters co-mingle and this allows for “Just in time” teaching (Gee, 1996).

Teaching and learning are also embodied actions. They involve the space just as much as the actors. This is very important for Connected Educators. The places we gather, whether online such as Twitter chats or face to face at an #edcamp  mediate our learning just as much as those we learn with.

Knowledge and Affinity Spaces

Affinity spaces encourage multiple pathways to knowledge. In fact Gee discusses many ways of knowing: intensive, extensive, individual, distributed, dispersed, and tacit knowledge. All of these pathways contribute to the space and allow learners to demonstrate knowledge growth. Affinity spaces also allow for varying levels of expertise with multiple types of knowledge. In essence learning is connected and through collaborative inquiry across different spaces knowledge within the space grows.

Examining my Affinity Spaces

When I began this post I thought about some of my affinity spaces. Gaming, hobbies, etc. Yet the most pwerful affinity spaces for me, and in line with #ce13 are those that swirl around my professional life. I loosely call my affinity space the “Writing as Making” crowd. We gather through many portals, ways into Affinity Spaces. I join up during twitter chats using hashtags (#fycchat, #engchat, #clmooc, #teachtheweb). I gather around with folks at #hackjams and tweetups at national conferences. We attend sessions together at NCTE and LRA. We read and comment on each others’ blogs. We participate in MOOC’s (which I argue only work well for me when they involve affinity spaces).

The Writing as Making crowd (in which I place my self squarely with a noob label) move me. There is varying levels of expertise and no leadership. Yes NWP and Digital Is help set up the Connected Learning MOOC. Sure folks moderate Twitter talks. There are netcasts and podcasts, but I found much more than formal learning. I found a space where I can grow and contribute.

Applying principles of Affinity Spaces to my Teaching

I believe you can’t have an affinity space with forced membership. Therefore saying I will just create a PLC or a PLN in my classroom is foolish. Therefore I try to draw on the principles of learning that Affinity Spaces taught me. So my first goal as a  teacher educator is to have every student leave our class knowing that they are a reader and writer. If I can accomplish I feel have met the major outcomes of my writing intensive classes.

Students must design their identity (Gee, 2004) in order to see themselves as teachers of reaidng and writing. In order to do this they must know they are readers and writers. Designing identity is a central tenant of my writing classrooms.

I also want my teachers to build spaces that allow multiple pathways to knowledge to flourish.  It requires the classroom, both physical and networked to provide guided practice andto store and reinforce knowledge through daily routine. I try to model this principle in my classroom.

I also try to encourage  and model networked learning for my students. I do my best to use open resources and an open classroom. I am teaching my classes using Google as a Free LMS. While my students have the legal right to privacy I encourage everyone to document their learning in public spaces through Blogger.

I still have much work to do, but at least I know I can find the people to help in my affinity spaces.


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