Friday, February 28, 2014

It's Been Two Months?

More than two months, even. Ouch! I need to get back on my blogging horse.

What have I been up to?

Well, first was Winter Break, which was a solid two weeks. And then a January and February filled with missed days due to snow and ice and cold. Not my favorite weather.

In that time, I had two cavities filled, released the Android version of Trading Cards, launched the new Video Library section on ReadWriteThink, and finished Haiku, both the interactive and app versions. I know, crazy. Two cavities? I brush everyday--electric toothbrush and everything!--and use mouth wash. It's the flossing, really. I'm bad at it, and I know it, and I'm trying to do better.

A haiku about my dentist visit!

With the new year underway, I tallied the traffic from 2013, and we found we had a record year: over 20 million visitors to! Thank you so much! It really helps us push forward, knowing we are reaching so many educators and students.

So what's coming up?

I have one more interactive on the redesign block: Crossword. Specs are in, I've had multiple discussions with the designer, and the coding is underway. It is a massive undertaking, even after all the other app work we've done. We always seem to have some new idea to push the envelope on what our apps can do.

Lisa has a few interactives in redesign: Fact Fragment Frenzy, Hero's Journey, and Word Matrix. I'll keep you post on those as they move in to testing; I think we are more likely to see those before Crossword.

International Reading Association's 2014 annual conference is fast approaching. New Orleans! The Big Easy! I am looking forward to that. Becky, Lisa, Shannon, and I will be there--or at least they will. I assume I will; they usually like to have me around to move heavy boxes at the very least. As we get closer, and our schedules get firmed up, I'll share with you what we will be doing and where you can catch up with us.

I'm sure I'll have more inside information for you soon, and if we're lucky the weather will stop getting in the way of my working. At the very least, I want discuss project-based learning. So many topics. Just need to keep on it.

Have a great day,


Friday, December 20, 2013

Deconstructing a Music Video: Miley Cyrus's Wrecking Ball

I assume you've read the title of this post and therefore know what you are getting yourself into. Allow me to once again point out that, even though I am an editor for and dole out information about the site, my personal views (particularly those I am about to give) are not reflections of those of the site, the other editors of the site, the various organizations behind the site, nor do they represent good teaching practices, as I have never been a school teacher.

Yes, I started this post with a disclaimer. That's a good indication of how this one is going to go.
A little background as to how this all came about: I am a Glee fan. My wife and I watch it together. My radio choice is hard rock and heavy metal, so Miley Cyrus is not typically on my radar. However, she's hard to ignore completely considering she's been in the news, so when Glee did their version of Wrecking Ball, I recognized the song as Miley's, though it was my first time actually hearing it.

Despite my listening to heavy metal, I do still enjoy the stupid teeny-bopper pop tunes. I really do. Call Me Maybe?  Love it. These songs get stuck in my head for days until I eventually go seeking them out on YouTube to listen to them again--and then I see the video. If you've never see the Call Me Maybe video, I recommend it: 3:06 - 3:10 make the whole thing worth it in my opinion!

Which brings us to my love for music videos. I used to collect them back in college, because there was no source for them like YouTube back them. I love how a video can add to the story of a song, expand on the message, or even tell a completely different story than you would get from the lyrics (November Rain and Gives You Hell, I'm looking at you).
So, with Glee's version of Wrecking Ball bouncing around in my mind, I fire up YouTube so I can get the real deal. And I see the video. The one I read about in the news with all manner of unkind things being said about Miley's decision to do said video. I can understand the media's reaction, but I disagreed with it (more on that in a moment). I'm going to be discussing the video in some depth, so if you are interested in my commentary (and you've made it this far, so I assume you are) and haven't watched it, you really should.

As I tend to do, while watching the video I read the comments below the video. There was much negativity there, which I expect from online comments. There were also people saying the director's cut was better, and Miley should have released that instead and not been so sexually charged. So I watched the director's cut.

First off, I will say Miley's face-only performance was amazing. I think she sold the pain and loss and heartache of the song extremely well in the director's cut. The song itself does a great job already--it is a raw, emotional tragic song!--and the director's cut emphasized that pain wonderfully.

I disagree that it is better than the released version. I believe the director's cut tells a different story than the released version. The story the director's cut tells is that of loss and pain of a relationship that didn't work out--the same story of the song, but more emotion in that we see the visual as well. It is terrible and awful and we get that. Good stuff. Miley conveys the sense of being wrecked from the fall out of the relationship.

The story the full version tells is a little darker and even more tragic than what is in the lyrics. That's the story of a young woman who is madly in love with a guy (or girl, I suppose--we don't know, but for pronoun ease, I'm sticking with a guy). She is so in love with him and so wants to win him over so badly that she gives him her virginity. Alas, this does not actually make him love her, and she is left emotionally broken and tormented by having given something precious over to someone who doesn't return her love, and maybe only used her for sex in the first place.

A sobering poignant tale, and one that is a really relevant to modern teens with a sensible moral: be careful who you love.

"Poppycock!" You might say. "Total malarkey!"

To which I reply, "Awesome word choices! But please allow me to break this down."

There is not a wide variety of imagery in the video: The 3-wall concrete structure (first seen at 0:42) symbolizes the man in question. He's got 3 walls rather than 4; he's not totally closed off as to be emotionally stunted or socially awkward--he's not an emotionally damaged Pink from Pink Floyd's The Wall (yeah, I go for classic rock as well). But this guy does not let people in; he does not fall in love.

Miley first walking around the dark walled structure before any demolition takes place represents their first meeting perhaps? Or maybe the moment she fell in love? She struts about knowing she wants to start demolishing the concrete barrier.

The breaking down of the walls represents getting to deeper emotional levels within him. Upon breaking down all three walls, Miley will have gotten in and claimed his heart. And thus the various demolition implements (most the sledgehammer and wrecking ball), represent Miley's attempts to win this guy's heart. Who's to say what forms these flirtations take: poetry, make-out sessions in a parked card, sexting, mixed tapes? Doesn't really matter.

Throughout the video, Miley is showing sensuality and sexuality. She is in no way coy in her attire (underwear), glances (seductive), and actions with the hammer (suggestive is a loose term). This gives some clues as to what form the flirtations were taking, but also reveals a young girl who is sexually aware and "ready," though overt and thus possibly naive. All the while, though, Miley looking very calm and confident (and still suggestive) as she wields her hammer and rides the wrecking ball. She's slowly getting through to the boy, making emotional connections, and she feels sure she can win his heart.

At 1:14 she's naked on the wrecking ball. This is the moment maximum escalation--this is the representation of Miley and the guy having sex, and her losing her virginity. But she is still confident, still in control: This was her decision to use sex to try to win him over and make him love rather than him coercing her into it. At 1:36 we see the structure is now down 2 walls, and there is but a single wall remaining.
At 2:53, Miley leans against the last wall--still standing despite the impact mark. This wall is never knocked down despite all her efforts, and Miley is no longer calm and confident in her interaction with the wall/structure. She smacks it with her hands, looking wounded and weary she puts her head on her knees (3:12). She never got "in" and thus, despite her momentous use of "force," (i.e., trying to charm him with sex) she never claimed the guy's heart.

That is exactly how I read the video the first time I saw it, and I find that a more interesting--and more tragic--tale than the lyrics or director's cut suggest. I was profoundly surprised by the depth that was shown, especially considering the media hype I had read.

The Glee version parallels this reading specially because of their less sexualized spin. [SPOILER ALERT!] When Marley rides the wrecking ball, she remains fully clothed, which makes sense because she loses the love of her life not after having had sex with him (which I suggest the nakedness in the Miley video represents) but because she refuses to have sex with him. She tried to take down his walls with love alone, but he wanted more. It's only right, then, that she remained clothed as she keeps her "innocence."

I can't say that this is what Miley or her director were going for, but then when it comes to art, we often do not know exactly what the artist intended, and much is left to our own interpretations. This is mine.

I understand the disappointment parents might feel when their children's idol Hanna Montanan suddenly starts riding around construction equipment naked: not really something parents want their daughters doing. But with a some critical thinking and deep reading of the "text" (in this case, the infamous video) there is a profound teachable moment in there. I feel like that gets missed by assuming that there the video has nothing deeper than the idea that sex sells and therefore she's naked only to get more people to watch it. From most of the comments I read, that does seem to be people's take, and as said, most people were very negative and expressed disappointment that this is what Miley did with her career (though reactions to the song itself seemed positive).

And that is my deconstruction of Wrecking Ball, a look at an actual meaning and moral to a video that seems to be demonized by the media. There are thousands of examples of things like this, where we see something at face value, or worse, are told by some outlet or another that something is a particular way. We need to be able to see for ourselves whether there are deeper layers. Students need to learn to think critically and dig deeper.

So many valuable lessons to be learned, even in something like a pop song music video.I assume you've read the title of this post and therefore know what you are getting yourself into. Allow me to once again point out that, even though I am an editor for and dole out information about the site, my personal views (particularly those I am about to give) are not reflections of those of the site, the other editors of the site, the various organizations behind the site, nor do they represent good teaching practices, as I have never been a school teacher.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Do You Haiku?

A few weeks back I posted a little teaser about an up-coming product from

Poetry trio
Needs a new companion app
Details forthcoming

I'll note that no one took a stab at guessing what the product might be, so no one gets the really cool prize for guessing it correctly.

"But you never said anything about a prize!" you might say.

"I'm whimsical like that," I would reply.

The poetry trio mentioned in my little poem are the current interactives already available on ReadWriteThink--and soon to be available on your iPad or Android tablet:
  1. Acrostic
  2. Diamante
  3. Theme

The new companion app, that would be Haiku.

Maybe I shouldn't be showing off the concept art...but I'm going to show you the current concept art for the load screen! Cause I'm excited about it and that's what this blog is for, revealing cool things like that. Please note that as concept art, the final app design might look nothing like this, and we cannot vouch for the correctness of the characters used in the image--though we are pretty sure they say "haiku." Anyone out there who can officially vouch that for us?


The real difficulty of the project is teaching the haiku writing process. We want to make sure that the app provides solid haiku writing instruction, not to take it out of the teacher's hands but to make sure students have all the scaffolding they need when it comes time to do the writing. A refresher on what the teacher modeled in the classroom couldn't hurt, right?

But how do you teach haiku writing? That sounds rhetorical, but it isn't. I'm asking: If you have ever taught haiku writing, what did you do? What did you teach? How did you frame the lesson? I've been doing research, and I found fun little inconsistencies like the follow:

  • Traditional haiku are themed around nature or philosophy...but that's not a requirement.
  • Traditional haiku have a juxtaposition statement...but not always.
  • American haiku have three lines...but they don't need to.
  • American haiku follow a 5-7-5 syllable count for the lines...but not all of them.

From my research, haiku writing is fairly free form--not at all what I was expecting when I first delved into the project.

I don't want to write How to Haiku instructions in the app and find them counter to what teachers are teaching in the classroom. I don't want to create an interactive and app that promote a rigid conformity to a three line, 5-7-5 syllable paradigm if that isn't what teachers are modeling.

Just to note, our Haiku app won't force the writer to use three lines (though it will only have three lines available), nor will it enforce a syllable count--in fact, it won't count syllables at all. We leave such checking and correction up to the user. The app can be used to write free-form poetry. But what should the instruction model?

If you have any information about how haiku writing is currently taught in the classroom or how you'd like to see it presented in this product, let me know.

Or to put it another way:

Seeking opinions
On proper haiku techniques
--Wes doesn't have a clue


Friday, September 13, 2013

Let's Talk About Videos

I've "starred" in a few videos myself for various International Reading Association marketing efforts (alas, I think they have all been removed from the internet!). Videos can be fun and informative; entertaining and educational. There are several videos embedded in various ReadWriteThink resources, from examples of teachers using our lessons in the classroom to some videos showing off our interactives to a whole collection of videos that show users how to make best use of the site features.

But they aren't always easy to find. Yet.

This is a little scoop on a pretty major change that we've been working on over summer: ReadWriteThink is adding a video library right on the main navigation. This totally new section will feature all of the videos that appear on our site as well as link to webinars or other videos that we have done or sponsored but are not able to host. As part of our on-going efforts to make ReadWriteThink as mobile friendly as possible, our videos are being converted from a Flash format to mobile-ready videos.

Some videos are student facing, but most are for teachers. So far.

We are always on the look out for quality video that we can add to our collection. We want to show lessons in action in the classroom. We want examples of research-based best practices. We'd love to get some informational videos on the Common Core and its implementation.

If you have ideas, let us know. We'd love an opportunity to work with you. The majority of our content is already user-submitted, after all.

Even if it isn't what we are looking for for the website proper, we also have a Youtube channel and we love to support and link to user-created content. Quite a few videos have been made by users showing how to use the various interactives. Useful if you want to use one in your classroom: You can give the link to students in case they forget what they are suppose to do. But don't think we are only about the RWT-based videos. Have you seen the What's Your Writing Style video? How cool is that?! Kids singing and dancing about writing! I love it!

I'll make a note of the video library page when it officially launches, but now you have the inside scoop of what is up and coming from RWT. I'm on vacation next week, so you won't be hearing from me. The week after, I should have loads of links to new stuff and some cool announcements about all the neat projects I am working on. We've got some really cool stuff coming down the pipeline.

But for now, I am off on vacation. Toodles!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Vacation

I would love to say I haven't written on this blog cause I've been on vacation. That would be two months of vacation! I think I could handle that.

Alas, that's not how that went down.

I usually update the blog Friday afternoons. At IRA, the office is closed Friday--we work Monday to Thursday.  Which means I'm not here on Friday afternoons.

Worse excuse ever, I know, but alas, it is also the Truth.

And rather sad 'cause it means I haven't updated anyone on all the cool stuff I've been working on. And yeah, it is cool stuff. Things or user base is likely interested in.

For instance, I'd previous mentioned our Alphabet Organizer interactive and our Venn Diagram interactive. I never got around to tell you these are now available as mobile apps on Google Play and iTunes store.

I don't know that I even mentioned the changes being made to Timeline. App version releasing soon.

The tomato example. Relevant for RWT Editors: Most of us grow tomatoes! 

Even cooler, we have more apps coming soon. Some of our favorite and most popular interactives are being app-dapted (get it?) right now.

What can you expect? RWT's poetry suite: Acrostic, Diamante, and Theme Poem will all have app versions releasing in September*.

I've got even more apps and interactives in the works. I'll hold off on releasing details of those until next time, which should be in a week or two. Cause this is the last Friday I have offer before non-summer hours kick back in. That will help me keep on my schedule of hope-to-post-once-every-two-weeks.

Though really, with all the neat stuff we are pushing, I might need to post more often

OK, so one little teaser about the project I was working on today:

Poetry trio
Needs a new companion app
Details forthcoming


*Said with confidence, but not with a solid promise. I'm 100% sure they will, so there is a 95% chance it will happen.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Is for Alligator

B is for Bayou. C is for Cypress Trees. D is the Dew.

Anyone recognize this? It's from an old Sesame Street song--one that to this day I still have in my memory. Did it help me learn my alphabet? I don't know, but there is something about the way it was done that has always lingered in my mind. The way Kermit breaks up his sentences with the letters.

"U is the Universe that's V vast and W wide." I've always loved that line

My writing it here does the clip little justice, so I shall link to it as well:

This is a perfect example of what students can do with the newly improved Alphabet Organizer. Now with the ability to save and import pictures, students can write their own ABCs story.

Sesame Street has a few examples if you feel like looking through the youtube channel or their child-friendly website. For adults who grew up watching Sesame Street, a trip through their channel is an amazing blast from the past--and I imagine a fun way to share good, wholesome, educational videos with kids.

So this was me reliving my childhood through our interactive:

All the words in chart form.

All my notes, which make up the lyrics to Kermit's song.

I really should have put Kermit's name in there instead of my own--this was not my song, just a slice of my childhood that lives on.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Summer Learning

Most people might know as a collection of resources for teachers and students--and we are, so that is a good thing! But we are also a resource for parents/guardians/after school providers and kids (my distinction here being the not-so-scientific classification that a student is a kid who is in school--like actually in the school building doing school-based stuff).

We have these resources stored in an aptly named Parent & Afterschool section(which we typically call P&AS; I mention this because I will be using that initialism throughout the post). If you are a teacher, you should share these with parents. Especially the summer initiatives. We had one last year, Bright Ideas for Summer, for which Becky coordinated having some P&AS activities written/altered to fit a summer theme. And that is still up, still available, and still completely awesome for helping kids beat the Summer Slide (the "slide" backwards in progress that happens over summer when kids are no longer engaged in learning activities).

This year, little more of the same and little bit of something different. We have some new activities and some re-vamped activities come at you. BUT we spruced up the whole package this year.

Have you heard of We Give Books? They provide free books online for kids to read. Awesome, right? Of course! Free books over summer! That amazing!

And we've partnered up with them. We have ten P&AS activities in the works being that are being specifically written to accompany a book that will be provided for free from We Give Books. Each activity   uses of one's interactives to engage kids after reading the book, to keep them thinking and learning and having fun.

The books are free. The interactives are free. The learning that can be achieved? Priceless.

I'll be adding a link to the resources when they go live. You can also keep an eye on our Summer Learning board on Pinterest. I've pinned the Bright Ideas info; I'll be pinning the We Give Books stuff as it becomes available. The whole thing launches mid June, so we are closing in.

And that is what we have coming for Summer Learning!