Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rules for writing by

These rules are from professional writers, mostly writers of fiction. How do they apply to everyday writing ~ personal, academic, workplace ~ what can you take home from them and put to work in your own writing: Which ones are unrealistic and furthermore reflect an elitist attitude setting the writing of "real writers" apart from the rest of us?  Think about it as you read Your rules for writing via Culture | guardian.co.uk by Michelle Pauli on 2/23/10.

Saturday's selection of expert advice on how to write fiction has generated a lot of interest. But we'd like to know your maxims, too

I really enjoyed Saturday Review's Ten rules for writing fiction feature and, judging by the stats for page hits and the buzz about it on Twitter and other sites, so did many others.

While Jonathan Franzen's point that "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction" certainly hit where it hurts, I was struck by how many of the writers emphasised the point that, if you want to write then – to paraphrase – "just bloody write".
As Anne Enright says, "The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page." Neil Gaiman suggests, "1 Write. 2 Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down." PD James urges [oops, that's one of Elmore Leonard's rules broken] "Don't just plan to write – write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style", while AL Kennedy says: "Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go."

It comes down to discipline, says Jeanette Winterson: "Turn up for work. Discipline allows creative freedom. No discipline equals no freedom".

I disagreed with very few of the rules, however odd; I'm sure that if any children read the rules they will find Zadie Smith's first rule: "When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else" helpful. Adults, I'm not so sure. I have to confess to being baffled by Andrew Motion's rule number 9: "Write for tomorrow, not for today". What does that mean?

Except for the "no excuses, just get on with it" rule which simply cannot be argued with, perhaps Michael Moorcock has the last word on rules for writing with "Ignore all proffered rules and create your own, suitable for what you want to say".

For me, and I didn't see this one on anyone's list (perhaps because it applies less to the, frankly terrifying, world of fiction writing than to non-fiction or journalism) is to break it down. It's not a daunting 1,500-word piece, it's a (slightly) less daunting six sections of 250 words; it's a 100-word intro and then four key points of 350 words each. Or, on really bad days, it's a 30-word quote followed by 10 (hopefully) original linking words followed by another 30 word quote followed by ...

We want to know what your own rules, "suitable for what you want to say" are. Claire Armitstead will be discussing the rules for writing with the novelist Toby Litt in this week's Guardian books podcast. Litt, who was named one of Granta's 20 "Best of Young British Novelists" in 2003, studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia where he was taught by Malcolm Bradbury, and now teaches the MA in creative writing at Birkbeck College. As well as considering the rules in the feature, Claire and Toby want to hear your reaction to the rules and especially:

Which did you find particularly helpful?
Which did you find irrelevant?
What are your own rules for writing?

Don't forget – a pen is useful, so's a pencil, but typing is also good. Over to you.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Just Google It? Developing Internet Search Skills


Sent to you by Vanessa via Google Reader:


via NYT > Education by By SARAH KAVANAGH and HOLLY EPSTEIN OJALVO on 2/22/10

Lesson Plan | Developing Internet search strategies by trial and error, and telling the stories of these searches to benefit other Web users and researchers.


Things you can do from here:


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Game Based Learining

10 Free Digital Game-Based Learning Resources for English Classrooms from Educational technology in ELT

Digital game-based learning (DGBL) can be a good way to get excited about learning. The right games can serve as effective teaching tools that not only speed up the learning process, but also improve comprehension. There are many different learning-based games that can be played online. Here are a few to try with your English classroom:

Free Rice - FreeRice is an online trivia game created by the United Nations World Food Program to provide free education and end world hunger. When visitors answer game questions correctly, rice is donated to hungry people around the world. Trivia categories include English vocabulary, English grammar, geography, math, chemistry, language learning, and art.

Free Poverty - Free Poverty is similar to FreeRice in the fact that it donates to needy people whenever visitors answer questions correctly. The difference is that Free Poverty donates cups of clean drinking water rather than rice and focuses solely on geography trivia. 

ProProfs Brain Games - This site offers free puzzle and brain games, such as word searches, hangman, memory games, and word jumbles. Visitors can play existing games or create their own online learning games and puzzles. 

Fit Brains - Fit Brains is an online brain fitness platform that provides fun games to educate and exercise the brain. The site's word fragment games have been proven to improve English language vocabulary, comprehension and fluency.

Learning Today - Learning Today, a provider of Internet-based education, offers several free reading games that can be played online. All of the games are research-based and designed to improve phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and reading comprehension.

Spell It! - This game, from TheProblemSite.com, displays a picture of a common object and then asks players to spell out the name of the object. Most of the words in this game are spelled the way they sound, making it a good game for beginning English students with limited vocabulary.

Tutpup Spelling - Tutpup is a new digital game-based learning site that offers fun and competitive English and math games. The site's spelling game, which requires players to listen to a word and then spell it out, is ideal for English classrooms.

iKnowThat.com - This education site provides a wide range of online language arts games that would work well in the English classroom. Each game includes a teacher's guide to help educators choose the proper level of play for their students.

Sesame Street Games - Sesame Street's online learning games are perfect for younger children who are learning the alphabet and older children who are just learning to read. 

Big Universe - Big Universe isn't technically a DGBL site but it could easily be used as one. The site allows visitors to create and publish their own books online--an excellent activity for any English class.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Social Media & Registers

5 Levels of Effective Communication in the Social Media Age via Mashable!, 2/8/10, by Soren Gordhamer 

In the era of social media, our networks are much larger than they have ever been, and we have more ways to communicate with those in them. Even if you are not very active on Facebook or Twitter, my guess is that your sphere of communication has expanded significantly in recent years. Who you communicate with and how you communicate has changed radically. This new connected era brings both opportunities and challenges.

In the past we had a set of contacts, all of whom generally knew how to reach us — via phone, e-mail, or regular mail. Today, thanks in large part to social media, we have many different levels of communication, each with a specific purpose and etiquette. When we do not understand the role of these levels, they can become huge time wasters. When we do understand them however, they can help us more effectively engage and navigate these new waters.

Level 1: The Public Reply

Just about everyone, including Bill Gates (who if you have not heard, recently joined Twitter), has learned the importance of having both a means to communicate with people, and a channel where people can respond. Though you can do this on Facebook through comments on Fan pages and in groups, this seems most applicable to Twitter, where people use @replies to send and receive short, publicly viewable messages.
The public reply provides an open and transparent channel for people to interact with public figures, brands, and each other, without the pressure of response that comes with e-mail. Public interactions are a great starting point for engagement that never existed before social media, and if done correctly, can often lead to more fruitful direct communication.

Level 2: The Direct Message

Once a relationship is established through public communication, the next step is often a direct message within a social network. A direct message creates a private connection without opening the floodgates of e-mail. In fact, in may even be preferable to e-mail in the long term.
Why? Especially with Twitter, a DM has a character limit, and can only come from people you follow. If you have ten e-mails (of unlimited length and possibly unknown sources) and ten Twitter DMs, which are you likely to open first? For an increasing number of people, the answer is DM.
Once you make a connection through DM and get permission to follow-up via e-mail, the e-mail is often better received. Facebook, where most people allow private messages, can also be a means to take communication to the next level.

Level 3: E-mail

inbox imageE-mail still has its place in this new era. It allows for more in-depth communication, can be easily forwarded, and sent to numerous people at once. When e-mail is used skillfully, it enables deeper communication. When not used effectively, it can become a huge time drain, as people write lengthy messages without much thought of the time and attention they are asking of recipients.
This fine line makes e-mail tough to master in the social media age. If you're looking to advance to the next communication level with someone, respect this direct and private channel, and be sure to keep your e-mails succinct and meaningful.

Level 4: Phone

phone imageHearing someone's voice allows people to get a better sense of one another. While communicating via text, a person can take time to carefully craft his or her words, potentially presenting an image that may not be true or is harder to trust. A phone call allows for more immediate back-and-forth, and can be particularly helpful if a subject matter is delicate or people are considering a more in-depth relationship.
Some time back I was communicating with an editor about an issue that we had bounced back and forth several times. Finally she said, "Let's chat about it on the phone." This furthered the dialogue significantly and bypassed what may have taken weeks to sort out via e-mail.

Level 5: In-Person (or Video Chat)

handshake imageI have met numerous people in person that I first communicated with via social networks. All of these meetings were enhanced by the natural progression of our first digital communication. While at one time face-to-face interactions were the entry point, today, in-person meetings often come at later stages.
Particularly if people are considering working on a project together, an in-person meeting allows for the most in-depth connection. For some people Skype or other video chat may be enough to experience this.
Too often people think communication is only through words, but our bodies communicate as well. They communicate how comfortable or uncomfortable we are discussing a matter, our level of passion for a subject, and our hopes and fears. Meeting with someone in person allows for communication to occur on multiple levels, and people often come away with a much better sense of each other.


In this era of social media when we are reaching out and engaging more and more people, the question is not just "Should I communicate with someone?" but "How should I communicate with someone? How can I build engagement one step at a time?" The more we allow for and understand the importance of all the various levels of communication, the more we can skillfully and effectively use each one.

Friday, February 19, 2010

navigating chaos

"Managing chaos" is an oxymoron. I'm changing out the expression for "navigating chaos" or "chaos coping." A colleague uses "intuitive chaos navigation" (suggestive of Dune's blind navigators on spice), but I'm not ready for that yet. The intuiting part not the spice. Wondering about the chaos part? Look at the tags.
How much mail and such can I wade through this morning before ordering groceries and calling the electric company about billing (autopay fell off the wagon)? I do seem to be handling mail more efficiently thanks to tips from the EVO (Electronic Village Online, pre-TESOL Annual Conference) multiliteracies workshop. I really fell behind this year, but feel I am getting much more out of this year's workshop than previous ones.

That's one prong of the forking pathways of retirement interests. It would be less confusing if they did not keeping crossing one another, economies of scale not withstanding. The workshop is online and covers/involves web 2.0 tools and social media.

As the workshop comes to its end-game, we are to construct either ePortfolios or PLN (Personal Learning Networks). PLN can evolve into a Personal Knowledge Management Plan.I think this is where I'm headed but my conceptualization (mental grasp still exceeding reach) has yet to gel coherently. 
Unlike the other workshop participants, I am retired from active teaching, on line or ground ~ or some mixture thereof. Yet I remain ed involved with an adjunct advocacy group and by volunteer teaching ESL online. The former deals with academic politics and issues; the latter with pedagogy. Both involve social media and have blogs.

See the social media and CMC (computer mediated communication) connection? The thread in the maze that will lead me out and away from the minotaur... or take me down his maw. 

So what about the rest of it? Bear with me, I'm getting there. I blog, not just here. A lot and about all these threads. I figure the "Knowledge Management Plan" will help me keep threads straight, in hand and untangled. It's worth a try.

Monday, February 8, 2010

blogging v microblogging

Blogging, let me count the ways and the blogs. I maintain (run, operate, publish ~ whatever) a clutch of blogs. Does anyone know the correct collective would be? Blogs are a flexible medium. There is no single definition or standard model for content, let alone a single straight jacket definition.

There are, however, misconceptions. I've heard most of them from people telling me what a blog is or sometimes what they think mine should be. I don't keep a diary blog. Nor are any of my blogs primarily opinion blogs, political or otherwise, although I do express opinions, which I think of as the personal voice thing.

Three are community blogs, briefly described in the the order of their appearance. One is basically informational + opinion (aka critical review, analysis) + reportage with research and as much backstory, all in all rather a mix of posts, emphasis on arts and culture, on whatever interests me. Another straight announcements without editorializing. The most recent, something of an experiment, supplements my static web pages for quick updates, comments, etc. as an experiment to keep content fresh, save updating time since blogging is quicker and more efficient than updating a static website and make the site more interactive.

Somewhat related to the community blogs: a poetry blog created for a local annual poetry event that goes into event information mode for the event but is a an all-purpose poetry blog the rest of the year. Rounding out the list is a personal but community grounded blog, recently reactivated and snarkier than the other community blogs. It went into hibernation mode while I was maintaining the local Chamber of Commerce web page to protect their sensibilities and avoid conflict of interest, eg by making critical commentary.

There are inactive teaching blogs created for an afterschool program I am no longer active in, another active but private (limited to class) created for an online ESL course that morphed over time into an online study group. It's a group blog: every student in the class/group is a contributor. Another, this one where I reblog these Multiliteracies reflection posts is - loosely - about the intersection of computers, teaching, writing, and language.

The advocacy blog: I contribute and have admin status for a blog for an national adjunct and contingent faculty advocacy group I am involved with. It's not my blog but I write most of the posts as well as anything on tech/ design & layout end.

Microblogging would be tweeting in various manifestations and extensions that include syncing, retweeting, tweetmeme or whatever I am using that turns blog posts into tweets and Fcbk links. I'm relatively new to tweeting but enjoying it. I have two accounts, one under my name, @VanessaVaile at http://twitter.com/VanessaVaile and the other for the faculty advocacy group, @NewFacMajority at http://twitter.com/NewFacMajority. Both support websites, with @VanessaVaile supporting multiple sites. I'm still in learning about and in test driving mode.

Personally, tweeting is a superb exercise in concision and self-tutorial in writing "txtspk." I did promise myself to learn another language this ~ just that I was thinking of it being Welsh.

Although I've been bookmarking pages on using Twitter in teaching and course management and sending them to Beyza as well as sharing EdTech list email on the subject, I can't honestly say I have a clear sense yet of how I would use plain vanilla twitter teaching other than for quick announcements. I am getting glimmers of sorts about using Twibe but need to spend more time with it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

FYI: follow changes to any website

Managing online information: an excellent tip from the Official Google Reader blog: Follow changes to any website by Brian Shih

Feeds make it easy to follow updates to all kinds of web pages, from blogs to news sites to Craig's list queries, but unfortunately not all pages on the web have feeds. Today Google Reader rolls out a change that lets you create a custom feed to track changes on pages that don't have their own feed.

These custom feeds are most useful if you want to be alerted whenever a specific page has been updated. For example, if you wanted to follow Google.org's latest products, just type "http://www.google.org/products.html" into Reader's "Add a subscription" field. Click "create a feed", and Reader will periodically visit the page and publish any significant changes it finds as items in a custom feed created just for that page.

We provide short snippets of page changes to help you quickly decide if the page is worth revisiting and we're working on improving the quality of these snippets. If you don't want Google to crawl or create feeds for a specific site, site owners can opt-out.

If you have a feed-less page you've been dying to follow, sign in to Google Reader and try it out for yourself. As always, if you have any feedback, please visit our official help forums or our Twitter account.

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