“Modern Love” Collaborative Screenplay Writing— Inspired by NYTimes & Amazon

The Inspiration

When Season 2 of Amazon Prime’s Modern Love came out the summer before last school year, I knew I had to show my students the opening episode: “Strangers on a (Dublin) Train.” If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time. It’s an adorable Covid-era love story of a train ride meet-cute with just the right mix of humor, suspense, and romance. The episode stars the charming Lucy Boynton opposite Kit Harington (of Game of Thrones). Plus, I teach a course called Modern Fiction & Nonfiction, so it fit in perfectly as a supplemental text. [ . . . ]  Read More

A Pandemic-Era Dialogue about Literacy, Learning, & Social Annotation

Although we did not get to present the panel discussion on social annotation we’d proposed for NCTE 2020, I’m thrilled to share this article I co-authored with Jeremiah H. Kalir, Michelle L. Sprouse, and Jeremy Dean on literacy, learning, and social annotation (“Foregrounding the Margins: A Dialogue about Literacy, Learning, and Social Annotation”). We joined forces as a group of teacher-researchers who use social annotation in various K-12 and higher education contexts.

When the NCTE convention’s unplanned shift to an all-virtual format resulted in the cancellation of many previously accepted sessions, the editors at Teaching/Writing put out a brilliant call for manuscripts to capture some of the ideas that couldn’t be shared at the conference. [ . . . ]  Read More

Learn in Your PJs with Free Digital Literacy PD

Are you interested in digital literacy? Would you like to do some professional learning from the comfort of your living room? Then read on to learn about 11 upcoming opportunities to jump-start your digital literacy knowledge!

Drew University’s DrewTEACH program is offering a full slate of free virtual professional development on digital literacy this spring. Learn about topics such as collaborative annotation, fake news, and ethical communities from the comfort of your couch by registering for the free series that begins January 21 and runs through April 7.  [ . . . ]  Read More

Tweet about Tech + ELA at this Sunday’s #NCTEchat

I’m excited to co-host NCTE’s monthly Twitter chat (#NCTEchat) this Sunday at 8 PM EST with fellow digital literacies enthusiasts Troy Hicks, Tom Liam Lynch, and Nicole Damico.

We’ll be tweeting about “Beliefs for Integrating Technology Into the English Language Arts Classroom,” a position statement collaboratively written by 22 members of NCTE’s ELATE Commission on Digital Literacies and Teacher Education (D-LITE)

In the statement, authors share four beliefs to consider when integrating technology in ELA, with applications for K-12 teachers and students, teacher educators and students, and literacy researchers. [ . . . ]  Read More

Playful Learning Through Games and Collaboration

Audrey Fisch and I are excited to share a publication we’ve been working on for the Spring 2019 issue of the Journal of Language and Literacy Education (JoLLE).

Our article is entitled “Play and Learning with KAHOOT!: Enhancing Collaboration and Engagement in Grades 9-16 through Digital Games.”

In the piece, we describe our chance meeting on Twitter that inspired a collaborative learning experience between our high school and higher education classrooms. We detail our use of KAHOOT! as a teaching tool to review MLA format and academic integrity, reflecting on the value of play and games in the classroom. Additionally, we discuss the benefits of collaboration across grade levels and institutions, sharing opportunities to facilitate such collaboration through professional organizations and virtual networks.

The spring issue of JoLLE also includes podcast interviews with all of the issue’s authors. In our podcast, we discuss topics such as the role of technology in the classroom, the value of games and play, and professional uses of social media.

We really enjoyed the process of working together—first by connecting our classrooms, and later as collaborative writers of this piece—and we hope that our authentic joy comes through in the podcast and the article itself.

Photo by Kai T. Dragland / NTNU


Four Easy Ways to Display Your Digital Badges

After three years of experimenting with digital badges with both high school students and adults, I’m still exploring ways to integrate and share them.

For those new to badges, here’s a simple definition I wrote in an earlier post. To access additional introductory, intermediate, and advanced resources I’ve curated on digital badges, see this slideshow.

In a nutshell, badges are digital ways of recognizing accomplishments or skills. Open badges are tied to evidence of learning and designed to be shared, so recipients can showcase their skills across digital platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).

Image by Kyle Bowen, used with permission. CC BY-SA 2.0.

I’ve always used the Mozilla Backpack to store and display badges; however, when I recently learned that Mozilla is retiring the platform, I began looking for alternative options.

Currently, my students are thinking about what kinds of badges could showcase skills that college admissions officers and potential employers might value.

Here are four options for sharing their badges online that I’ll tell them are worth considering:

1. Badgr

Mozilla announced they’ve be encouraging Backpack users to migrate over to Concentric Sky’s (@ConcentricSky) Badgr (@Badgrteam) platform. After creating a free account, I found the platform to be very easy to use.

Badgr’s features for sharing/displaying badges: [ . . . ]  Read More

We’re the November Classroom of the Month!

Thank you to Six-Word Memoirs for selecting my Honors Modern Fiction and Nonfiction class as their Classroom of the Month! Their feature article describes our use of six-word stories as an ice-breaker activity on the first day of school. (For additional information on this assignment, see “Even Reluctant Writers Will Love Six-Word Memoirs.”)

Here’s some student pieces highlighted in the article. Click the stories themselves to see the full compositions published on the Six-Word Memoirs site:

Her students expressed positivity (“Rainy day or blue skies, smile”) and passion (“She uses a brush to dream”). They told of the importance of standing up for who you are (“Don’t let stereotypes define your character”) and not caring what people think (“Be silly, dance confidently, think later”). They shared stories of both their values (“Brother, Mother, Dad. Family Comes First”) and their backgrounds (“One parent. One Child. One story”, “two coasts, six houses, thousand stories”). Finally, one student summed up how it really feels to be at this stage in life: “Highschool Student — Confused, But Having Fun.” [ . . . ]  Read More

Even Reluctant Writers Will Love Six-Word Memoirs

Six-word memoirs were a quick and excellent way to get students writing, revising, and crafting digital texts.

At the start of every school year, I look for a fun way for students to introduce themselves to each other and to me. Last year, I asked students to craft visual autobiographies on Padlet. This year, since I’m teaching a course for 11th and 12th graders on Modern Fiction and Nonfiction, I also wanted a quick activity to get my students writing their own modern stories. Enter the Six-Word Memoir! (Just in time for the National Day on Writing! #WhyIWrite)

An invitation originated by Smith Magazine, everyone from NPR to Oprah has invited writers to pen their own stories in exactly six words. This activity turned out to be an easy way to get students back into writing mode after the summer break. As a bonus, the legend of Hemingway’s six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”) was a perfect way to begin a conversation about modern writers.

I asked students to introduce themselves to the class in six words. “It doesn’t have to capture your life story,” I reassured them. “It just needs to reveal something about who you are.”

They got right to work. They wrote at different paces, so I encouraged students who finished early to write additional stories, while allowing more time for those who needed it.

Towards the end of the shortened, first day class period, we had barely enough time for each student to say their name and read their six-word story aloud.

The next day, I projected my own six-word memoir that I had published on the Six-Word Memoirs website.

My first six-word memoir published on sixwordmemoirs.com. 


I joked that the open-source image I paired with my story didn’t exactly look like me.

Then, I talked about my challenges as a writer and enlisted their assistance in revision. I wanted to capture a tension between being content in the present and itching to make progress, I explained. We played around with my verb choice. (We were already talking about diction and copyright on the second day of school!)

All-in-all, six-word memoirs were a quick and excellent way to get students writing, revising, and crafting digital texts.

I gave them a chance to revise their stories, talking with a partner about what they were trying to accomplish through language. Some students asked to draft new stories, which I happily allowed.

After writing their stories, students enjoyed pairing them with images and posting them on the Six-Word Memoirs website. I later realized they could embed their stories into their first posts to welcome readers to their class blogs.

Here some examples of their six-word memoirs (posted with permission by eager volunteers):

A few students were interested in the website’s monthly writing contests, especially when I pointed out that with the right six words, they could boast that they’d won a national writing contest. I hope to announce the contest topic each month (October’s topic is “Secrets to Take to the Grave”) to encourage participation.

For a relatively low-maintenance writing assignment, the six word memoirs yielding great rewards. It helped us introduce ourselves to each other without having to share a recycled “fun fact” about ourselves. In just a few minutes, students were able to see themselves as writers and talk about our writing choices. And we were all able to have fun with a digital publishing without the pressure of a graded assignment.

I’ll leave you with several student examples. If you decide to try this out yourself (or in your classroom), feel free to comment with additional ones!

Special thanks to Lindsey Caruso for feedback on this blog post–especially for your suggestions for the conclusion.

Let’s Annotate the Web! Meta Digital Writing with Troy Hicks

For this month’s Digital Literacies Collaborative (DLC) social reading, I invite you to read and annotate Troy Hicks’ (2018) excellent piece from Voices in the Middle on “The Next Decade of Digital Writing.” In addition to joining the ongoing discussion throughout the article, I especially invite you to think publicly about your next steps or goals as a teacher of digital writing.

In the article, Hicks reflects on the evolution of digital writing instruction and highlights five educators’ innovative practices. Hicks describes his purpose as follows:

CC-BY 2.0 image by Pete O’Shea modified with permission via Flicker.

Reflective digital writing educators themselves, DLC members should have a lot to say about Hicks’ suggestions for our next ten years of work. October 20 is NCTE’s National Day on Writing, so October is the perfect time to reflect on our digital writing instruction.

**Plus, Troy Hicks will be visiting Drew University on October 25 as the featured speaker to kickoff the #DrewTEACH Lecture Series.**

This is why I’m inviting DLC members (and anyone else interested in technology and/or the teaching of writing) to write about writing with me by reading Hicks’ article and joining the ongoing intratextual conversation (via Hypothes.is).

Using Hypothes.is for Social Annotation [ . . . ]  Read More

A Transmedia Writing Project by Global Collaborators

Thanks to a series of well-timed clicks on social media, I recently became one of twenty, international co-authors of a collaborative digital writing project, the NetNarr Alchemy Lab.

How I Got Involved

Scrolling through social media, I was intrigued by a playful invitation that teased the possibility of a transmedia, collaborative story.

“Come. Join us,” the invitation stated.

“Take a chance. We’ll be right there with you. Together, we hope to create something magical.”

The sign-up sheet made the following, modest offer:

“We’re hoping you will be open to working on creating one digital piece of art or story. We will then stitch our stories together into an interactive Alchemy Lab.”

I later learned that NetNarr referenced Networked Narratives, a co-located class taught by Alan Levine at Kean University and Dr. Mia Zamora at the University of Bergen, Norway. (Learn more about the structure, here.)

A colleague had suggested I try out Adobe Muse to create digital animations, and I figured that a CLMOOC invitation was the perfect time to tinker, fail, and explore,” to borrow a phrase from Renee Hobbs.

My sketchnotes from Renee Hobbs’ talk, “Create to Learn,” from the 2018 DrewTEACH Winter Conference.

Enter the Alchemy Lab

The beautiful and impressive finished product, stitched together by Master Alchemist Kevin Hodgson (@dogtraxusing ThingLink 360, opens with a spinning, 360° image of the Alchemy Lab.

Here’s a photo of the Alchemy Lab by Kevin Hodgson (CC BY-SA.) But you should really check out the 360° version on the full site.

My Contribution to the Lab

In case you can’t guess from the image above, my contribution to the lab is a lock (located on the bottom shelf of the purple case at the center of the above photo). The lock graphic itself — and all of the others in the lab — were drawn by the talented Susan Watson and shared via a Google doc that asked contributors to first claim an image, and later drop in a link to their finished product.

Image by Susan Watson

Even though I was tempted by other images (the already-claimed neon green flask, especially) I chose the lock because I thought it would be a convenient method, conceptually, to move from one piece of the transmedia text to another.

Clicking on the lock in the Alchemy Lab links to a website I created using Adobe Muse. Taking a cue from the style of the original invitation, my goal was to make an animation that moved a key graphic towards the lock to open the next page of the lab. I was somewhat successful.

Media Jumping: Triumphs and Challenges

In the spirit of Connected Learning, here are my reflections on creating my piece of the Alchemy Lab.

✓ Win: The design of my site matches the look and feel of the original invitation to join the NetNarr media jumping experience.

X Fail: The original invitation did not really inform the look and feel of the finished Alchemy Lab.

✓ Win: I found a cool looking key image. After hours of trial and error with animations in Muse, I was able to move the key (down and to the right) to meet the lock.

X Fail: The key meets the lock perfectly on my Windows-based work computer. Unfortunately, it does not perfectly meet the key on my Mac, or on my mobile phone.

✓ Win: At first, I was unable to publish my Muse webpage on this WordPress site. After a few false starts, I was able to host my Muse website using Adobe’s free service, Adobe Business Catalyst.

X Fail: About one month after the Alchemy Lab was published, I received an email from Adobe Business Catalyst that it will be discontinued in March 26, 2020.

✓ Win: After a few days of research, and several emails with patient WP developers, I was able to migrate my site from Adobe Business Catalyst to this WordPress site, using the free, MWuse plugin. [Luckily, digital texts are especially conducive to revisions.]

Lessons Learned

  • Continue saying yes to offers from the CLMOOC community, even if I don’t really understand what they entail.
  • Do a bit more research before committing to a platform. Had I known what headaches Adobe Muse and Business Catalyst would bring, I might have found a better alternative. Next time, I’ll ask my PLN via Twitter.
  • Know when to ask for help. I enjoy the challenge of tinkering myself, but I realized I was in over my head long after I felt committed to a platform.
  •  [ . . . ]  Read More

    Reading Graphs and Economic Trends: The “Great Gatsby Curve”

    When I spotted the following preview of a discussion thread on NCTE Connects, I had to read more:

    Vermont educator Donald Tinney was looking for short companion texts to teach in conversation with The Great Gatsby. I had just finished reading Fitzgerald’s novel with my 10th grade students, and was curious to learn how other educators help students relate its themes to present day.

    In the discussion that followed, several educators shared texts and tips (including P.L. Thomas’ post, “The ‘Vast Carelessness’ of White America”).

    Among the many treasures shared was a page of resources compiled by Susan Chenelle and Audrey Fisch. Their 2017 NCTE presentation referenced an article on “The Great Gatsby Curve,” an economic trend that shows a relationship between parental economic mobility and income distribution. Posted on an archived page of Obama’s WhiteHouse.gov blog, the article features an animated graphic posted on Tumblr with a graphical representation of the curve. Here is a screenshot of the Tumblr graphic:

    While I await a copy of Fisch and Chenelle’s upcoming book on teaching Gatsby with informational texts, I created my own lesson around “The Great Gatsby Curve” to prompt students to think about these contemporary economic issues.

    Considering “The Great Gatsby Curve” Lesson: Parental Income and Economic Mobility

    First, I asked students to analyze their first impressions of the website itself (obamawhitehouse.archives.gov). The following note appears at the top of the website: “This is historical material “frozen in time”. The website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work.”

    Then, I invited students to watch and read the animated graphic on “The Great Gatsby Curve.” The animation progresses quickly, so students watched it once or twice before writing down their interpretations of the graph. Eventually, I captured the screenshot image above.

    After students wrote an interpretation of the graph in their own words, I asked them to write responses to a series of questions I raised aloud:

  • What is your opinion about this economic trend?
  • What does this economic trend mean for you? How might it apply to your life?
  • Does this trend hold true in your family? For example, did your grandparents’ income determine your parents’?
  • Shift your perspective. How would you feel if your parents had significantly lower or higher incomes?
  • What factors do you think contribute to this economic trend?
  •  [ . . . ]  Read More

    Teens and Libraries Reunite via Virtual Field Trips

    At the beginning of the school year, I asked my students to obtain or recover their public library cards. Since my students commute from several towns, this involved three local libraries. I hoped the assignment would encourage students to take advantage of the many resources available through the library.

    I asked students to upload a photo of themselves with their library cards, and offered additional points for photos that conveyed “a love of reading.” Here are some examples (shared with permission).

    One student submitted a pair of photos of himself as a five and fifteen year old getting his public library card. Astonishingly, the photos were taken on the exact same date, ten years apart.

    A handful of parents emailed me unsolicited positive feedback about the assignment, including this short note (shared with permission):

    “I love that you asked each of the students to get their library cards. When my daughter and her siblings were younger, we spent a lot of time at our library. When we went to the library the other day to get her card, she seemed nostalgic. She gave herself a little tour and got reacquainted with the layout. I reminded her that the library can be a place that she can study and take out books not just for schoolwork but for pleasure.”

    When I spoke with a local library director, she shared the joy she experienced from seeing formerly active library patrons all grown up—they spent their early childhoods at the library, she explained, but then lost interest. She was thrilled to see them returning to the library to rediscover its offerings. Together, we realized we could seize the opportunity to highlight the resources that could appeal to young adults.

    While I could not get permission to take my classes on field trips to three nearby libraries, I thought a virtual “field trip” would help students learn about these spaces and their resources from the comfort of our classroom. Now that they had their library cards, this was a chance to give students a taste of what the cards could offer.

    The Logistics

    I reached out to our three local libraries, and the librarians each generously agreed to give a 10-15 minute talk and virtual tour. I asked them to speak about shared services available to students from all of the local towns, as well as their library’s unique resources and special events. They could take a few questions, and conclude with a brief tour of the spaces (via web cam).

    I created a Google doc chart for planning purposes so the presentations themselves would not overlap. I scheduled the library visits to occur once per week for three consecutive weeks, which meant that each librarian gave five, fifteen-minute presentations over the course of one day.

    My school computer has a built-in webcam, but I requested a bigger, external one from our IT department so I could position it to capture more of the classroom at once. I conducted the calls over Google Hangouts.

    Our Virtual Field Trips

    The librarians were all friendly and eager to field student questions. They spoke enthusiastically about print and digital resources, patron services (e.g., free museum passes, lendable Kindles), and special events. Students followed along by referring to information on a print handout that the librarians had shared in advance.

    Students enjoyed seeing the different teen rooms and quiet spaces in each branch, and several mentioned that they thought it could be a good place to work independently or meet with small groups. They were excited by upcoming events, such as the holiday cookie contest and a make-your-own bath bomb class.

    The teen room of a local library our class visited virtually.

    Exploring Additional Resources

    After we hung up the calls with the libraries, we looked into some of the resources together. We went on RBdigital Magazines, a database that offers digital issues of current, popular magazines. Students were pleased to learn that many of their favorite titles can be accessed on their school computers. Another day, we tested out Tutor.com, a subscription website that pairs students with live tutors.

    We also played around with Mango Languages, an online language learning resource. We learned how to say some simple phrases in Korean, American Sign Language (ASL), and Pirate.

    Students were astonished by the many resources available through their card. “This is all free?” several asked.

    We also looked at Google Street View for each library to give students a sense of where each library is located. Several remarked that they hadn’t realized the library was “right there.”

    Student Reflections

    Here are few reflections from students on the library visits:

  • “It was a great experience to see all the different libraries near me. I learned a lot about each of them and learned all the cool activities that go on.”
  • “I liked that we were able to see what each of the libraries looked like during the tours and we were able to see what resources each of the libraries offered.”
  • “I liked to know that we could get museum passes. This is beneficial to me because I think it would be a fun thing to do with my friends.”
  • “I was very interested in going to the bath bomb making class.”
  • “The library visit has inspired me to learn sign language, which I had never thought of doing.”
  •  [ . . . ]  Read More

    Experimenting with Digital Badges in ELA

    I’ve been tinkering with digital badges for a few years, but this spring marked my first effort to test them in the classroom. I’m still in an exploratory stage, but I wanted to share some initial reflections.

    What are Digital Badges?

    In a nutshell, badges are digital ways of recognizing accomplishments or skills. Open badges are tied to evidence of learning and designed to be shared, so recipients can showcase their skills across digital platforms (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn).

    If you’re new to badges, check out the Open Badges website and this article on badges in the classroom. The graphic below illustrates the elements of an open badge.

    Image by Kyle Bowen, used with permission and Creative Commons.

    Piloting a High School ELA Badge Program

    Here is the full list of badges that I co-developed with students this year. If you explore the individual badges, you’ll find evidence from student “experts” who earned the badges.


    Ninth and tenth graders developed the badge names, descriptions, and required evidence. They decided to group the badges into three categories: Reading, Writing, and Miscellaneous. Then, tenth graders designed the badges using open badges.me, which they picked up quickly after my three-minute demonstration.

    We didn’t get these badges going until early April, so this year was more of a trial. Badges were not inherently motivating to all of my students. Some students were more interested in designing the badges than earning them. Regardless, the time we spent thinking together about skills worthy of recognition in our class was valuable.

    While many students were eager to claim multiple badges, a handful were brave enough to ask, “Why should I want to do this, again?” I explained that a digital badge houses more information about your learning and skills than a grade does. If you collect several badges, I explained, you can create a digital portfolio of sorts that showcases your accomplishments. I showed them my virtual backpack as an example. Some were convinced, but they were not all emphatic.

    Getting Started Resources

    If you’re considering experimenting with badges, you can consult the following resources:

    1. openbadges.me  – A free, web-based program for designing open badges.

    2. A

    graphic organizer  [ . . . ]  Read More

    What Reading Looks Like

    When we think about what reading looks like, we might picture someone curled up with a good book in a comfy chair with a hot beverage nearby. We might picture someone perusing the news over breakfast, or reading an e-book during the morning commute.

    If you ask someone outside of the education field what teens’ reading looks like, however, they might not picture anything. For example, when I mention to someone that I’m researching teens’ reading, many lament, “kids these days don’t read anymore!”

    But they do! And I have photos to prove it. Here are a few photos of reading in my classroom.

    1. Students choose their own texts.

    We still read some classic texts (e.g., Of Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, Romeo and Juliet), but that’s not all we read. Even when reading classics, students connect the books to contemporary events and research they seek out themselves.

    My students select independent reading books and read books of their choosing throughout the year.

    The top student picks in the 2016-2017 school year (clockwise): Sold, The Rape of Nanking, The Poisoner’s Handbook, Steal Like an Artist, Nothing to Envy, Fangirl, Bossypants, Moneyball


    Students take suggestions from YALSA’s list of “Outstanding Books for the College Bound” and the NoveList database. They create virtual bookshelves and groups on Goodreads, write reviews, and share recommendations. (Read more about independent reading and student book clubs in my classroom, here.)

    2. Teens read and compose print and digital texts.

    As Turner and Hicks (2015) argue in Connected Reading, the question of print vs. digital texts in the classroom is not about “either/or.” It’s about “both/and.” My students encounter a variety of texts, both print and digital. Rather than insisting they read or write in a specific way, I demonstrate options, and invite them to choose the best tool for their task.

    The class reads a digital text (a “visual autobiography”) crafted by one student to introduce himself to his peers.
    A student reads “Bartleby, the Scrivener” on his tablet computer, annotating with a stylus.
    A student watches a short video for his research project on bionic limbs.

    3. “Whole class” reading looks different each day.

    Sometimes, students sit in a circle (or in small groups) and discuss a book that I assigned.


    Other times, students read aloud in class.

    Wearing dollar store props in front of “scenery” on the screen, students act out the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.

    On designated independent reading days, students sit where they’re most comfortable. At back-to-school night, I asked parents to donate any furniture or items to help me create a cozy reading space in our classroom. Thanks to their generosity, we have a comfortable reading area with folding chairs that students move around the room.

    Our cozy reading space made possible thanks to donations and student input.

    Students also exchange reading recommendations virtually. My senior class created Pinterest boards this spring to organize and share online articles across disciplines.

    Class Pinterest
    A screenshot of the class’s shared Pinterest boards. These are the topics that 12th graders thought would interest them. (Not pictured: “Science & Medicine” and “The Future”)

    What does reading look like in your classroom?

    Let’s look at reading across grades and subjects. Please comment below or share classroom photos (with permission).

    Share your photos with the hashtag #teensreading!