Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Hijacked by Gutenberg

In the cacophony following the publication of Growing up digital, wired for distraction (Matt Richtel, NYT) there have been a flurry of articles and blog posts. The story of poor Vishal, the 17 year old now immortalized for not reading more than 43 pages of Cat's Cradle during his summer break, has added grist to many a mill. (Maybe the article should have been about choosing a more relevant and engaging book.)

These are, indeed distracting times. If I am honest with myself I have to recognize how difficult it is for me to unplug, to stop compulsively checking in on my online world.  You will get no argument from me that our young people are highly distracted with their digital lives. (Maybe the article should have been about the importance of teaching time management skills at an early age, and not leaving it up to the immature teen brain.)

What has been interesting to me is the "ah HA!" response. The gleeful vindication that all this technology is distracting teens, and us, from REAL engagement. From REAL critical thought. From REAL learning.

Take, for example, Clifford Stoll's Newsweek article The Internet? Bah! in which he states "What Internet hucksters won't tell you is that the Internet is one big ocean of unedited data, without any pretense of completeness. Lacking editors, reviewers or critics, the Internet has become a wasteland of unfiltered data." Really? (Maybe this article should have been a request for a librarian to teach him how to search effectively.)

In the midst of the hubbub appeared what is, to me, the most elegant response to Richtel's article. Jeff Jarvis, board member of Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, asks Who says our way is the right way?

Citing research done in Denmark, the Gutenberg Parenthesis is generating a lot of interest. The theory is that we are leaving Gutenberg's "structured, serial, permanent, authored, controlled era of text and returning, perhaps, to what came before the press: a time when communication and content cross, when process dominates product, when knowledge is distributed by people passing it around, when we remix along the way, when we are more oral and aural."

This describes the behaviors I see on a daily basis. Add to the possibility that Gutenberg and the print mentality of learning, the concept that information will ever be "complete", that the print based knowledge that has served us so well for centuries may actually be limiting the potential and power of the human brain, and Richtel's hand wringing is actually damaging.

This is an evolutionary time featured by profound, abrupt change. It is hard, it is frightening and it can be divisive. It can also be joyous and elevating.

Don Tapscott, original researcher and author of Growing Up Digital (1997) and the subsequent Grown Up Digital (2009) addresses changes in brain performance, social skills and yes, education, in this scholarly response  New York Times Cover Story on "Growing Up Digital" Misses the Mark.

In defense of teens and the digital environment Tapscott poses, among other things:
"Rather than creating dysfunctional brains that can't focus, the evidence is just as strong that experience being "bathed in bits" is pushing the human brain beyond conventional capacity limitations. So-called multitasking may in fact result from better switching abilities and better active working memory. Young people are likely developing brains that are more appropriate for our fast paced, complex world."

There are two sources (among many) that have helped me process and make sense of this changing environment, and my role as a teacher librarian. Joyce Valenza's stirring response to the charge that libraries and librarianship are anachronistic remind me of where I need to focus my energies. As always she brilliantly articulates the rights of students to an education that values and teaches the skills necessary to navigate this faster paced and evolving world.  Indeed, if Matt Richtel had a librarian like Joyce he never would have written this article.

Please take a moment to read - and listen - to this.
What librarians make. A response to Dr. Bernstein and an homage to Taylor Mali

Always ahead of the information curve, Libraries and Transliteracy is a scholarly blog dedicated to making meaning and deep understanding of the new multiple literacies necessary to be truly educated today. Some good foundational material can be found in this post:
On Defining Transliteracy and Why Transliteracy Matters

We are shifting from centuries of tradition to a new model of thinking, learning and sharing. Libraries stand at the fulcrum of this change. As librarians it is our responsibility to deeply invest ourselves in this ongoing conversation.

A final thought on the role of libraries from  On defining transliteracy:

Libraries are on the front lines of traditional literacy initiatives. But, libraries are also the vanguard for information literacy and digital literacy. In fact, if you can call it a type of literacy, you'll probably find it in a library. This is important because it follows that libraries should be the natural proving grounds for exemplary instances of transliteracy.

Photo Credit:

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Double Rainbows

The week before Thanksgiving is a unique opportunity to reap a harvest. This is when students who have graduated stop by to say hi, email updates, and as an educator you get to peek further down the production line and see the fruits of your labor.

Not only do returning students tell you how they are doing, stories of roommates and their plans for travels and their thoughts on a major, they bring social media.

This one had me hanging on the table and laughing so hard I couldn't breathe. It builds. Wait for it. Every human emotion in one heartfelt rant.

Double Rainbow - So intense

And then comes the social media mashup. Pitch perfect!

Double Rainbow Song

This is a double rainbow week. Happy holidays and safe travels.

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
Double Rainbow

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Feasting on language

Before things get crazy this season here are some fun language resources to send out to your faculty.
WORDCOUNT is an artistic, minimalist site that sequences the vocabulary of the English language ranked in order of commonness. The data (currently 86,880 words) comes from the British National Corpus that collects samples of spoken and written British English language. 

The site is fun when you look up words and see the contiguous words in the sequence. Thanksgiving was followed by mania. I know the grocery store is going to be pretty manic by the time I get there. Black Friday is the official kick off to holiday shopping mania.

Conspiracy theorists should try looking up conspiracy. Does is mean anything?

 Take a look at the words on either side of "librarian":

Stephen Abram's blog had a recent post  with a fascinating and fun 2.5 minute video called
Tracking the 18th century social network through letters. Social network hold outs will find this offers some compelling evidence that this latest trend is nothing new and promotes intellectual growth. It is also an incredibly entertaining visualization of 18th century thought.

I already posted about the Oxford English Dictionary and their "Save the Word" site, but it is just so much fun I can't help returning to it. Scrolling across the canvas of forgotten words and hearing them call out "Pick me!" "No, no, pick me!" adds a sense of delight and urgency, as if I can actually save words from the past.

So as we all gear up for the mania of the holiday season, I hope your kitchens aren't filled with too many coquinators and that your soup pots are jussulent. This librarian is urging everyone to have a happy and safe Thanksgiving holiday.


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Meebo me

Like most librarians I know, I am online constantly. There are always multiple tabs open and I am checking, toggling back and forth. Continuing to build our capacity to reach out to students with help, support and resources is our ongoing educational mission.

When I go to check email and see that my account logged out twenty minutes ago and a student tried to reach me from the classroom with a citation question, or a teacher took a shot and emailed asking for a resource (or even sent up a flare for help with a technical problem),  I realize the opportunity was lost. This drives me crazy.

I know our CCHS Learning Commons wiki gets a lot of traffic during the school day, and I have wanted to figure out how to make it more effective as a communication tool.

Browsing through my RSS feed this afternoon a fascinating post from Information Tyrannosaur caught my eye. Check out his post on using Meebo in the library :

Meebo Bar for Libraries | Information Tyrannosaur

This is a really useful description of Meebo:

"Enter the Meebo Bar. It’s a piece of javascript code that’s sits as a layer on top of a website.  This allows it to be on multiple pages so your widget is not just on your “ask a librarian” page or your homepage; it’s everywhere without taking up a bunch or room. In addition, it’s fully customizable so you can include your library’s Facebook page, posts from your Twitter stream, Flickr photos, YouTube videos, and more. Users can get help from a librarian and also connect with them on social media all from a single bar on any of the library’s pages."

I have seen Meebo on university sites and our regional public library system site, but never really thought about integrating it into our web presence. This is going to be a fascinating trial.

Information Tyrannosaur closed his post with a question.

Is anyone currently using this? Would this be something that could be useful at your library?

We are trying it! I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks Information Tyrannosaur!

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A new kind of resume

Each year I get more and more requests from student teacher librarians to do observations and pre-practicums. This year  I will have my first full practicum student and am really looking forward to the experience.

Just as the requests start to roll in, Joyce Valenza once again delivers timely and useful advice. Apps for student teacher librarians is a great list of tools and skills I can use to frame the discussion with the graduate school students who will be visiting and observing. It is also an excellent checklist for me to self-assess my professional practice. What should I be adding to my repertoire?

This past summer I had the wonderful task of hiring someone for an assistant librarian position. The fascinating thing was recognizing what a game changer that skills and products proved to be when deciding which candidates would be asked in for interviews.

I'm going to add to Joyce's list and offer advice to people graduating and entering the field. Giving evidence of mastery is crucially important. It can be tough if you don't have experience, but with some imagination it can be done. Hiring someone is a huge commitment. Everybody needs to grow into a position, but in choosing between candidates I want someone who I know can hit the ground running on a series of fronts.

Skills and products I would look for:

  • Build pathfinders for the library you hope to run
  • Launch a Facebook fanpage for the teens you hope to connect with
  • Blog about items in your RSS feed and share your ideas on how you might incorporate various tools and ideas
  • Embed GoodReads and other widgets into your blog to promote reading
  • Add your Twitter roll to give evidence of the educational leaders you follow
  • Link to a Google site you created as a forum for the reading group you hope to start
  • Create a wiki and turn it into your digital portfolio
  • Upload a powerpoint to Slideshare and embed it in your wiki
  • Add a YouTube video on 21st century skills that speaks to your philosophy on the skills we need to teach our students and faculty

Showing your vision for what is possible makes you an attractive partner on our team. Bring your ideas, your entrepreneurial spirit and your comfort with the tools and platforms necessary to turn your plans for a school library program of distinction into a reality.

Do some of these things and your resume jumps to the top of the stack.

Day 9 NaNoWriMo
(Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Book bigot

On Friday, during the last block of the day, I was walking around, straightening chairs, with my iPad tucked under my arm. A group of students, seated in a circle in our comfy chairs, asked about the iPad and if they could play with it a bit. I said sure, handed it over, and after about 10 minutes cycled back to see what they thought.

We talked about gaming, some of the apps, and then about what it was like to "really" read digitally. Like a novel. Like, real reading, not school reading. (Hmm. That was an interesting comment.) I took the opportunity to introduce my favorite topic at the moment, ePub. I showed them the conference notes that I had transformed into an ebook and uploaded to iBook. We looked at the text to speech and other accessibility features, notes and bookmarking, and talked about how teachers could create their own digital textbooks using material they had already created. It was a great discussion.

And then one of the boys asked "But Mrs. Cicchetti, won't you miss books?" He held up a worn paperback he had been reading, flipped the pages against his cheek, and said "I'd miss doing this. I'd miss holding it in my hands like this."

It was an interesting moment. He sounded like many people my age who wax on about their attachment to the physical book. I wondered, at that moment, if my bias toward digital text wasn't, perhaps, a form of bigotry against the traditional book. Am I a book bigot? 

Or have I taken on the role of digital crusader because it takes that degree of energy and focus to shift the entrenched cult of THE BOOK? 

This article from The Guardian made me think about the conversation today.
Is the ebook the new hardback? | Books | guardian.co.uk

"As e-readers move towards the mainstream, publishers' increasing interest in web-first publishing could leave luddites waiting up to six months longer than the cool kids to read their favourite author's latest novel."

Web-first publishing, the well documented rise in eBook and ereader sales and the ready access to free and accessible (text-to-speech, etc.) books all mean the emotional connection to THE BOOK might be holding this student back. 

I am so excited about our Kindle pilot. I am so energized about ePub and the implications for learning and providing students with the skills to access quality content that is becoming more ubiquitous by the day.

This book bigot is, indeed, on a crusade. I won't be ripping books out of the hands of children, but I look forward to the day when I can put an e-reader in their other hand and guarantee their understanding and skills in this evolving literacy landscape.

Day 6

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Friday, November 5, 2010

Glogster, Andalucia, Prague and the Matrix

Our Spanish 2 classes have been doing research on Andalucia. They are divided into groups with different topics (architecture, economy, the arts - you get the idea.) Each group will present on their topic and together build an overview understanding of the region.

Glogster is a great platform for this kind of synthesis/sharing work. It has been around for awhile now and last year glogs were everywhere in our school. It was a real work horse of a platform.

I was really excited to introduce it to a new group of students this week. Unfortunately, over the past two days we have been looking at a spinning wheel. On Wednesday I chalked it up to a glitch in the matrix. Stuff happens out there in server world. The students had lots of research to do and used the time well. Thursday they were ready to start building their glogs, but the spinning wheel was still there. I called our IT guys who confirmed the problem wasn't on our end.

I checked the website to try and find some contact info (when was the last time you saw a website with a phone number?) but ended up using the online white pages. They are based in Boston and I called and spoke to a wonderful person who also went through some trouble shooting with me. She told me that the Glogster programmers are located in the Czech Republic and had been doing upgrades. Given the time difference they were not working at the time, but she would email and have an update for me in the morning.

Three minutes later I received an email. The friendly Glogster person had called Prague the the team was working late! They hoped to have issues resolved in the morning. Neo would have said "Woah."

The interesting thing was the response of students. There was understandable frustration, but I started hearing grumbling like "I don't trust the digital age."  and "the Internet is always broken." Not woah.

A few quick discussions about flexibility and contingency planning calmed things down, but also highlights the pressure students are under to produce and the extra challenges when things go wrong. Everybody got project extensions.

By the way, when the platform wouldn't load I needed a quick way to demonstrate the various editing features. I found this great 90 second tutorial on YouTube. The music is punchy and I provided the voice over. It worked out really well.

The matrix, if you will, can still be glitchy. Things don't always work to plan. And sometimes it still takes a telephone call to sort things out. Woah.

Day 7 NaNoWriMo
(Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mindless Friday Fun

This is fun. Oxford English Dictionary lets you save the words.

"The Oxford English Dictionary has launched something very charming and playful: a campaign to save forgotten words from obsolescence. As you move your mouse over the collage of words they call out for you to pick them, and when you click, a definition pops up, as well as an invitation to adopt it. I just adopted primifluous. I also learned that vitamin G was the original name for riboflavin. You can also sign up for the word of the day email program, and read handy suggestions about how to use these forgotten words in your day to day life (or in Scrabble). Adopt your own here."

Save the Words is the home site and I guarantee you can waste some excellent time here. I chose jussulent, because I liked the way it looked as I rolled my mouse over it.

Why is this important? Few of our students know what I am talking about when I say "study carrel." They have never heard the term. Today I suggested to a student that if she needed to concentrate and get away from her friends she should go to sit in one of the third floor study carrels. She gave me a blank look, snapped her gum, turned her head to follow my pointed finger and said "Oh, you mean those boxy things?"

Words matter. Vocabulary is changing quickly. Perhaps if we had evolved into more of a soup consuming culture instead of a burger/pizza culture jussulent would still be in use. Maybe some day, years from now, someone will say "Hey, did you know that they used to call the boxy things carrels?"

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Game changer

It isn't about the device. I am lucky enough to have both a Kindle and an iPad. They are synched which makes digital reading easy and a joy. Truth be told though, I was a little frustrated. The iPad still felt more like a consumption device.

At the MassCUE Conference last week I went to a session on the iPad. I knew it was possible to get free ePub books for the iPad, but I still wasn't sold on its role in schools. I walked out of the session room a convert. 

Why? Because of ePub.  After a 1 hour session I was able to convert my conference notes into an ebook and by synching with my laptop iTunes account, download a beautiful ebook rich with links and embedded video. It was easy, intuitive and fast.

Think of the ramifications! Curriculum that is currently paper based can be copy/pasted into an ebook and pushed out through a district network as an alternate textbook. Teachers can collaborate and keep materials updated with all the ease of simple word processing.

The iPad, or whatever the digital reading device turns out to be, is a pipeline for delivering teacher created content to students. Content that has text to speech and other accessibility features built right into the format.

What a great way to showcase student work. This has fascinating implications for student publishing. Our student literary magazine could be published this way, and expanded to include rich media resources. These are dynamic skills for Humanities students.

This is something I can champion, promote, and support through professional development. We are nowhere near ready for an initiative like this, but seeing what is possible will help us prepare for this future, which isn't too far off.

At this stage in the game you need to use Pages, which is a Mac word processing platform. Things are evolving so quickly that very soon it won't matter if you are Mac or Windows based. The important thing is talking about it and getting tech directors, administrators and teachers to see the potential. Laying the groundwork for rolling out the capacity for digital publishing in the next couple if years is important work, and has jumped to the top of my planning.

ePub Best Practices

Day 6 NaNoWriMo
(Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons
eBook Readers Galore

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Extending your Readability

In our region of Massachusetts we have a wonderful educational collaborative made up of 22 school districts in the Boston area. It was during the monthly meeting for school librarians that I learned about Readability. This nifty little toolbar extension strips ads and other sidebar distractions from the page.

This article from the Washington Times on the results of the mid-term elections is a great example. The first screenshot show the article with ads, video and pop-outs. Very distracting, especially for students with attention or reading disabilities.

With Readability on my Chrome toolbar I click the Blue R and the page looks like this. Just text, no distraction.

Readability also provides this embedded toolbar so the student can print or email the article in this cleaned up format. It works with Diigo, Evernote and other collaborative and note-taking platforms. What a boon for students!

Chrome and Firefox have lots of add-ons to improve accessibility. Just Google:
Firefox extensions or
Chrome extensions

You will find lots of tools to improve student productivity on the web, as well as your own.

Day 5 NaNoWriMo
(Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

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Stale bread

After a month long hiatus from blogging I was feeling really out of it. I was tagging things in my RSS feed to potentially blog about later. Things that made my think, new information, practices I might want to try - but I wasn't making time for the next step of synthesizing my thoughts in a blog post.

It wasn't a good feeling.

And October was such a great month for new information! eBooks Libraries at the Tipping Point, the virtual summit hosted by SLJ and Library Journal on September 29, 2010, was a flood of challenging and inspiring blogs, tweets and Facebook posts. I was tagging things but not deeply focusing on them and working to make connections. Now, when I revist links I feel as if some of the spark has dissipated. Not from the conference and the great information, but from me and my process. By waiting so long my initial excitement turned a little stale. It is as if that by not participating, I dropped out of the conversation.

October also saw the Massachusetts School Library Association and MassCue educational technology conferences in Massachusetts. Even more good stuff!

So I am walking away from things I tagged to think about later. Tired of stale bread. Ready for a fresh loaf.

Day 4 NaNoWriMo
(Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

Photo credit:

Flickr Creative Commons
Stale Bread
By Faith Durand

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just call us the X-Men!

Like a lot of school libraries, we have had retirements over the past three years. Three years ago when a part time an assistant librarian retired I realized we had an opportunity.

Instead of looking for someone who would cover the circulation desk during lunch, shelve and sign passes, we looked at what our program needed. We were upgrading technology and media production and I knew I couldn't handle it on my own. A call to our local cable access station led me to an amazing person. Jane-Sarah MacFarlane is a video production specialist who has produced award winning independent films. She handles our technology, provides upper level support to students in video editing, and has also produced videos for our school. Her most recent program won a local award, and focused on our sister school relationship with a school in Turkmenistan. (Awesome video embedded below.) She traveled there with a delegation of our teachers last spring and her coverage placed her at the heart of a diplomatic exchange, and the promotion of our school. Oh, she covers the circulation desk, shelves, and signs passes, too.

On the last day of school last year another of our assistant librarians announced she would be retiring. As sad as I was to say goodbye to a valued partner, this was another opportunity. In an instance of pure serendipity I got a call from one of our local public library directors. They had just lost their Teen Services specialist and asked if I might  be interested in partnering in finding a candidate to cover both of our libraries. You betcha!

After a wonderful collaborative process and extensive interview process we hired Jennifer Barnes. Her title is "Teen Services Consultant - Reader's Advisory & Social Media", and she is amazing. Jenn launched our Facebook Fan page and is running the contest to get us to 500 fans. She ran a promotion for Teen Read Week getting teacher participation by asking for their favorite books, and then displaying them for students to check out - which they did! The new YA Galley Group is a program that already has a group of eager readers who are launching a review blog. Jenn is really busy splitting her time between two libraries, but the public/school crossover is invaluable, and her unique position brings a new and fresh perspective to our program. Her blog Baby I was Born to Read is terrific and touches upon her experience as a YA reviewer for SLJ, and about her reading and role as a member of  the ALA 2011 Best Fiction for Young Adults Committee.  Oh, she covers the circulation desk, shelves, and signs passes, too.

Our long-timer, LouAnn Franke, has a great relationship with our public library network, handles our robust inter-library loan program, has organized Wii gaming tournaments, runs all the holiday themed contests like guess the weight of the pumpkin, and trivia contests. Oh, she covers the circulation desk, shelves, and signs passes, too.

I was talking about our wonderful staff to an English teacher not too long ago and he said "Wow, it's like each of you has a super power. You guys are like the X-Men!" I didn't like that at all ;)

The age of the generalist has passed. Every library employee needs to be a specialist, to bring unique strengths, skills and passions to the table. This is the era of super-powers. This is a job for the X-Men!

Jane-Sarah's video:

Turkmenistan trip CCHS/Charlestown from Jane-Sarah MacFarlane on Vimeo.

Day 3 NaNoWriMo
(Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

Photo Credit:
Google Images
x-men v1

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Jumping into new waters with floaties

We are in the process of ordering six Kindles. Not because we are going to throw out our books. Not because I believe Kindle is necessarily the way to go. Nobody can make that call at this point in time.

We are purchasing Kindles for two specific reasons:

  1. To play in the digital device waters. To learn how to swim. How do we manage the titles? What is the impact on staff? How will we integrate this into our catalog and circulation system? How will our students respond? What does purchasing look like?
  2. We have started a YA Galley Reading Group. Students can access digital YA galleys from NetGalley and respond on our newly minted YA Galley Group blog. Students are reviewing galleys and will be recommending titles for purchase. (The details of this incredibly exciting program will be coming.) There is a lot of discussion about galleys going paperless. Early reviewers will get digital copies, and by laying the groundwork now and getting Kindles into their hands our students will be well poised to jump into the digital water.
 There is no doubt in my mind we are on the right track. Take a look at this robust best seller reading list:
Most Downloaded Audiobooks and eBooks from the Library

Reading digitally requires us to re-think our definition of reading. There are new skills involved in this new world of reading, and school librarians need to be there to lead and teach our faculty and students. The accessibility features for people with reading disabilities are so exciting that we are morally obligated to do everything in our power to advocate for funding to provide digital reading devices for our students.

 It makes me think of one of my all time favorite school library quotes:

"In the nonstop tsunami of global information, librarians provide us with floaties and teach us to swim."
Linton Weeks

Which brings us to the best Kindle "floatie" of them all! Thanks to Buffy Hamilton for sharing her process. Talk about a how-to manual! Buffy's blog The Unquiet Librarian must be considered required reading. Her recent post On the Eve of our Kindle Pilot made me clap my hands and dance a jig!

I am so excited about this new era for our school library, and will be sharing our process, our mistakes, and our successes.

Day 2 NaNoWriMo
(Not writing a novel. Using this as a prompt to blog daily for a month.)

Photo Credit:
Flickr Creative Commons 
The official start of swimming season has begun!

By rachel.plowman 

May 31, 2010

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National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month came to my attention today, 11.1.01. What auspicious numbers! And what a great program. Thirty days and night of literary abandon sounds good to me, and it will be great for our students who are serious writers.

The most appealing part is the focus on daily writing within a supportive, virtual community of writers. I would love our learning commons to be home to our writers. This year will be an investigation year, learning about the program and hopefully partnering with English teachers introducing it to their classes.

If all goes well I'd like to support the program in an organized roll-out next year. What a great experience for students, as well as a way to credential themselves in a writing activity.

I am not a novelist. For me November will be dedicated to blogging daily here or on my other blog, Robin is busy reading. That blog is focused on my reading life and is a little more personal. It has also languished in recent months.

Writing keeps me engaged and thinking. It is easy to throw up my hands when things get busy. Not this month! I am looking forward to focusing my energies on pushing out daily content every day for a thirty days. I hope our students will as well.

Photo Credit:

Google Images
Nano Young Writers Program