Why I’m Not Writing

Scratch that, I am writing: this counts, right?

drawing of person face-down on table with sleep "z's" above their headMy plan for tonight was well-hashed. I was going to leave work around 4 and head straight home, knowing full well I’d beat my spousal unit home by a couple hours. I was going to carve out some time to write. And by write, I mean work on an article that received a revise (handily) and resubmit about a month ago, before conference season blew up my calendar (#NCTE14 and #LRA14 were pretty epically worth it, though).

By the time I had gotten off of the train and sprinted to my bus (I made it… barely), I was ready to fall asleep in the seat. There’s something weirdly calming about looking out a bus window on a cold, dark night that makes me comfortably drowsy. By the time I got home and took the pup out for a walk in the freezing cold wind, I was ready for a pot of chamomile tea. By the time I made the tea and sat in my overstuffed recliner, my phone had alerted me to 13 new emails. By the time I sorted through emails, my tea was half gone and my muscles were becoming one with the chair. I opened up the article, tweaked a few sentences, and tried to wrap my head around a shift in my theoretical framework before I gave up and decided to write about why I simply. can’t. write. right now.

To be clear, I’m not complaining. After a somewhat taxing end to last week, today was optimistically productive. Collaborations are rolling, people are communicating well with one another, and I’m excited about the work that promises to fill every minute I’ll let it. So before I launch into my reflections on how my life simply isn’t allowing me to write right now, let me just say: the choice to work in a K-12 institution post-PhD is not one I regret. 

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When I was first considering taking a job in K-12, I met with one of my mentors at my university: someone who knows me well and whose opinion I trust. She was, to say the least, a little surprised… until that moment, I had always voiced wanting a job at a research institution. But at the same time, she was not surprised. She knows me well, and knows how much I enjoy working directly with educators.

She provided me with three warnings related to taking a job in K-12, one of which I forgot. Here are the two I remember, because they’ve proven true: (1) Your time will not be as flexible, and (2) It is hard for such institutions to make the space for you to write and research.

The flexible time thing doesn’t bother me, because I thrive on a busy routine. The research and writing time thing, on the other hand, is proving a bit of a struggle. 

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Why the struggle to write today? To some extent it’s about being tired at the end of a long day, about there never being enough hours for all the things, and about the fact that I should know better than to check email before I sit down to write. However, it also has to do with a number of other things:

  1. I’m still processing the defense. Even though revisions are submitted and accepted and I officially receive my degree on Sunday, I’m still thinking through the comments and conversation that took place in late October as a room full of really smart scholars helped me further complicate and contemplate my work. I need time to think more about their ideas and comments before I can launch meaningfully into the revisions of the article I’m working on.
  2. I’m still in conference mode. “Conference mode” looks like building and fostering collaborations — thinking ahead to the next project, the next study, the next connection. In the past three weeks, I have developed ideas for future conferences, outlined a few new papers in my head, and even planted the seed for a book (it. will. happen. I don’t know when, but it will.) “Conference mode” makes me look forward, which is making this article-derived-from-the-diss a little mind-numbing at the moment.
  3. Writing is hard. This is obvious, right? No. No it’s not. Good writers make it look easy, but for realsies, peeps, writing is hard. Writing articles is really hard. Revision is when writing gets real, which means revising articles is really, really, really hard. And as you can probably tell from my use of super descriptive adverbs like “really,” I’m feeling particularly articulate tonight (*snerk*). Which brings me to my last point:
  4. Forcing it is futile. Sometimes you’re in the mood to think deep theoretical thoughts, to synthesize those thoughts with concrete data, to process the feedback from anonymous reviewer person who wrote you another article’s worth of comments. And sometimes you’re just not. And guess what? It has nothing to do with how awake you are (not very), how much tea you brewed (three cups), how many miles you ran that morning (none), how many busses you rode today (two), or how many inspiring people you talked to today (five)… it just ain’t happenin’. If there’s one thing that writing that book-shaped thing called a dissertation taught me, it’s that forcing it is entirely futile.

So that’s why I’m not writing. Er, why I’m writing about why I’m not writing. I will need to find ways to work this whole writing thing into my new normal one way or another — even on days when it’s a struggle. Advice, anyone? Tweet me (@lizhoman): how do you make writing happen when, in the words of one of my mentors at #LRA14, “your time is not yours?”

m4s0n501

Literacy Research Association 2014 Materials

I’m in beautiful Fort Myers Florida, about to pick up a friend from the airport and head to Marco Island and what is sure to be a beautiful few December days of conferencing, and wanted to share my #LRA2014 conference materials.

First, a paper that boils down the verbosity of grad school dissertating into a succinct (and, as I usually feel when I have to be concise, somewhat lacking) 10ish pages. Then, some slides I will present on my panel with Julie Learned (SUNY-Albany) and Darin Stockdill (Oakland Schools), after which we will discuss contexts and literacy with our chair and discussant, Elizabeth Moje (University of Michigan)

Looking forward to a fun conference with my literacy comrades!

Paper: Teacher Networks and Digital Pedagogies

LRA 2014 Presentation Slides

Thanks

My coffee, in my favorite mug — the Polish pottery one my grandma sent me to congratulate me on my new job — pours steam into the air beside me. I need to leave to catch the bus soon, so I only have a few moments, but after my beautiful walk with the dog this morning, I wanted to pause and write before the hectic day began.

I’m feeling inspired by last night’s #edtechchat on Twitter, which was all about being thankful for the educators who have shaped our lives. I don’t normally get all warm and fuzzy about Thanksgiving — I prefer to thank the people who have shaped my life throughout the year, in the small ways that I can: with smiles, time spent, conversations had, help given.

However, last night’s chat really left me thinking about how blessed I have been this year. It has really been a pretty epic year for the husband-person and I. We have moved across the country, run marathons, seen me through the last bit of a PhD and him a post-doc, started new jobs, and begun a new life.

And a few things have made this transition easier, or at least more manageable in the face of so much change. So here are a few things I’m thankful for this morning, and this holiday season:

  1. The view as I climb over my favorite hill in Dorchester, next to an elementary school, when the landscape opens up and I can see the harbor in front of me, the skyline to my left. More than once I’ve thought, coming over that hill, pinch me… is this really my life?
  2. My sister’s courage as she braves her way through her first year of teaching 1st grade.
  3. My mother’s constant and dependable support and mentorship as I re-entered k-12 education this fall (and always).
  4. My husband’s passion for our little family and for his work. I can always depend on him for somehow intellectual AND light-hearted conversation at the end of the day.
  5. Food. Specifically, SEAfood. Which it turns out is plentiful around here, and which will grace our Thanksgiving table this year.
  6. Running. Running, what an epic year we’ve had. Thank you for helping me find my center in the midst of much chaos.
  7. My friends and colleagues here in Boston and across the country — you make my hard work (and my hard play) so much more meaningful.

Happy holidays, wherever you are, and however you celebrate. It’s off to the bus for me, and back into this hectic life I love so much.

Jamming, Hacking, and Connecting at #NCTE14

It’s been a whirlwind at #ncte14, and I’ve enjoyed every second of it so far. Here’s a rundown of a few of my favorite moments:

(1) Going for a river run with my former HS teacher / forever career mentor / PaperGrader blogger extraordinaire / generally awesome person, Sarah Zerwin (aka Doc Z).

me n' doc z

me n’ doc z

(2) Lunch with former methods instructor / another forever career mentor / joyous human and great friend, Kim Parker and the amazing Elliott True (#ETatNCTE!)

(3) Beverages and long conversations about surviving graduate school with JPEE compatriots Christie Toth and Bonnie Tucker, featuring reflections on how finishing a PhD changes both everything and absolutely nothing at all (but mostly nothing at all).

etatncte

#ETatNCTE! this is the happiest kid in the universe, ppl.

(4) Presentation with incredible teachers and friends Dawn Reed, Aram Kabodian, and Jeremy Hyler, chaired by our co-digital-thinker Troy Hicks, where I met a couple Boston teachers who made it to NCTE and added a few dozen more tasks to the to-do list.

(5) Late night conversations (sometimes featuring being locked out of our hotel room) with NCTE roommate / NWP and MSU PhD genius / Social Network buddy Andrea Zellner, who led the coolest Hack Jam session this morning. Sarah, Dawn, and I hacked the convention hall and thought deep thoughts about how hacking helps us reimagine spaces (a few deep thoughts below).

hackjam

#ncte #hackjam fun

This is my fifth NCTE, and every year I’m reminded why this conference is a non-negotiable one for me; not only do I have the opportunity to reconnect with incredible people who have shaped my career, but I get to brainstorm, collaborate, co-create, and generally challenge my own thinking and writing. In the hackjam session, for example, I was reminded how powerful “hacking” can be, and was inspired to bring some hacking ideas back to Boston with me. We had a few minutes to freewrite after we hacked. Here are a few of my in-the-moment thoughts:

I’ve avoided the exhibit hall always. It’s a scary place where ppl try to sell you stuff, where the “Common Core” is written on everything, where test scores drive sales and agendas, where PEARSON lives. Ick.

Tasked with getting “all the free stuff,” it felt fitting – HAHA! I will go to this place I detest and jack them of all the free crap they give you so that you’ll buy stuff, and then I’ll remix it. What followed, I did not expect.

I talked to those sitting around me about how hacking helped us reimagine the space of the vendor-thick exhibition hall; suddenly, I was looking for things I could repurpose, reimagine, and recreate, and the general malaise I always felt about the exhibit hall was lifted. I was searching for colorful things, things I could rip up, cut up, tape together, or stick to other things. When we returned to the session, we (in collaboration with others who had also hacked the exhibition hall) created a banner (pictured above) with all the free stuff we had gathered. The banner invites participants to create their own story, with bins for “characters,” “settings,” and “conflicts.” Presenters shared other resources for hacking in the classroom, like X-Ray Goggles, which lets you “hack” websites (thereby teaching you, or your students, some basic web authorship and coding).

The session challenged me to think about the skills students need for the 21st century — is one of these skills the ability to hack — to look at a space, a tool, a thing, and reimagine it? This is at the heart of innovation.

How can teachers help students learn how to do this? How are digital tools part of this learning? What kind of classroom supports this kind of thinking, learning, making? The mind boggles.

Also I’m going to write a book with Jeremy Hyler on interdisciplinary collaboration and digital literacies. IT’S HAPPENING. Along with about a thousand other projects I’ve saddled myself with in the last few days. Because that’s what these conferences are for, yo. More reflections to come, I’m sure.

NCTE 2014: Integrative and Innovative Pedagogies, E-05

Hello from Washington, DC! I’ll be presenting with my amazing colleagues and National Writing Project geniuses Troy Hicks (@hickstro), Dawn Reed (@dawnreed), Jeremy Hyler (@jeremybballer), and Aram Kabodian (@AramKabodian) today at #NCTE14 in session E-05 in Maryland 5-6 — come find us!

Our session is entitled “Integrated and Innovative: Five Stories of Technology-Rich Instructional Partnerships.” It focuses on how practitioners in K-12 with partners in higher education have integrated technologies in meaningful and innovative ways with their students. Specifically, we’ll showcase the practices of teachers and provide frameworks for thinking about what innovative practice might “look like.” We’ll also share how our partnerships within and beyond our institutions brought us together, shaping our thinking and practice.

Session Resources

I wanted to share a few resources here for people to access during and after the session. My section will be short, because I want to hand it over to Dawn, who is the real star of the show. I’ll describe a few frameworks for thinking about innovative practice, along with a framework I developed out of my dissertation work with Dawn, which argues that teacher practice with technology can either facilitate classroom tasks or fully integrate technology with content and pedagogy.

Here are our slides:

We will also be tweeting throughout our session (#ncte14) and hosting a backchannel on TodaysMeet. Hope you can join us — digitally or physically!

Update: here’s a PDF of the TodaysMeet Backchannel (link below!) It was a great session, thanks to all who attended!

Integrated&InnovativeTodaysMeet