Tell It Slant

Author James Maxey and teen readers with dragon peering over shoulders

Author James Maxey, Teen Readers, and ????

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
— Emily Dickinson from Poem 1263

You never know how an author’s visit will go.

But when the planets align and the minds meet, it is a thing of lasting beauty. Something that can change a life or at least make a contribution.

James Maxey, speculative fiction writer and current Piedmont Laureate, had no trouble relating to the teens of the Eva Perry Mock Printz Club. He spoke of classics that the teens had experienced in English classes and they connected over shared literary experiences.

James also connected immediately when he followed up on a comment during a book review about how great a book was until the terrible ending. He wisely listed the possible combinations for books and endings and gave examples. Again, these were all books that the teen readers were familiar with.

For example, Mark Twain gave Huck Finn tremendous moral courage but a bad ending.

Terrible book with a great ending, James suggested Tarzan.

Terrible book with terrible ending? Yes, Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

“Great in every way” — George Orwell’s 1984

So a book need not be perfect to be laudable. As James noted, “a book can do everything right and not leave an impression . . . or it can be terribly flawed but in one page redeem itself.”

The most direct route to redemption is to share truth, James said. Truth may be the rather nebulous quality that the official American Library Association’s Printz Committee don’t quite spell out but define as a holistic quality that you’ll know it when you experience it. Something indescribable but undeniable.

Truth seemed to be what the teen readers found in last year’s Eva Perry winner, Leslye Walton’s The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavendar. A girl with wings might not be so easy to relate to — unless there is a truth that speaks to the reader. Perhaps it is the universal truth that enables readers to connect to a book by beginning to feel empathy for the character(s).

James spoke of research into the cultivation of empathy through literature. This is a real fascination of mine and I curate a collection of resources about the literature and empathy connection at “Cultivating Empathy.”

Speculative fiction is a beautiful example of telling the truth slant. Thanks again to James for guiding us in a discussion about literary quality.

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Trending: Speculative Fiction

Map of YA Regions of Fiction with Post-Its with Book Titles

Speculative Fiction is huge in the World of YA Fiction

Speculative fiction is preparation for all futures.Andy McCann, Editor, Planet Magazine
It asks the questions that need to be asked, ‘What is it to be human? Why does that even matter?Steve Tully, AnotherRealm
Speculative fiction is the fiction of unlimited possibilities. Raymond Coulombe, Quantum Muse

“Do you know why our race is doomed, Pellinore? Because it has fallen in love with the pleasant fiction that we are somehow above the very rules that we have determined govern everything else” (p. 391). — Rick Yancey, The Monstrumologist, 2009

Speculative fiction was not a term many of the teens of the Eva Perry Mock Printz Book Club had heard before. But most agree that it serves a useful purpose of giving a home to all those books that refuse to fit nicely into the traditional categories of scifi, fantasy, paranormal, and steampunk (see Book Country, A Penguin Community Genre Map)

Emma made an interesting point that all writing is speculative to some degree — based on conjecture rather than knowledge. Which sounds like the philosophy of skepticism. What does it mean to know? In speculative fiction, it’s much more interesting to not know.

There were no surprises when we placed the titles of the YA books we have read so far this year on the genre treasure map and saw that at least half of YA fiction seems to fit in the speculative fiction region. Of the four titles that the club recognized as distinguished in literary quality for 2014, three of the titles would be considered speculative fiction (the winner, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, and two of the three honor books, Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith, and The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean by David Almond). The other collective set made up of contemporary, historical fiction, and the rare nonfiction I’ll refer to as realism. Out-of-the-gate this year, realism is ahead on the short list with Becky Albertaili’s Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda, J. C. Carleson’s Placebo Junkies, and Shaun David Hutchinson’s The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley. But speculative is gaining with Neal Schusterman’s Challenger Deep and Sarah Elizabeth Schantz’s Fig.

With no expectations but great curiosity, I categorized the winner and honor books for the club since its beginning in 2001. That first year the winner was a beautiful example of speculative fiction, Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond. Since then speculative fiction has lost out to realistic fiction, 24 to 35. But there is a definitive trend toward more speculative fiction since 2006 with 19 compared to 23.

So how about the American Library Association’s official Printz Committee? How has speculative fiction fared? Since 2000, 22 books of speculative fiction and 54 books in the realistic category have been honored. So the percentage is much less. How about any trends since 2006? With 17 of 33 categorized as speculative fiction, there is a trend toward more speculative fiction being honored, though not as strong as for teens. Thanks to Lisa for bringing up this preference that adults seem to have with selecting distinguished YA titles.

Speculative fiction seems to be gaining on realistic fiction for books teens judge high in literary quality. And it’s not surprising since speculative fiction in many ways invites young adults to think seriously about the world they are inheriting and what they may face if they’re to not only make it a better place — but make sure it survives.

“The world is your chance to create . . .
It’s possible to educate; the next generation will rule the world some day.” – Dub FX

To learn more about teaching with speculative fiction, check out The Change Project.

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Saturday in the Garden, June 27

Created with flickr slideshow.
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Dancing with Words

Tied with a Bow

As I listened to the talented teen readers of the Eva Perry Mock Printz Club share their books, I couldn’t help but be impressed and inspired by how passionate they were about reading and about sharing their responses to books. They would make any English teacher proud!

Proud of their thoughtfulness, of their eloquence, and of their sincerity. And, occasionally, these teen reviewers make the giant leap beyond review to critique and share insights on not only their perceptions of the book but also techniques the author employed to elicit those responses. A good example was M’s observation that Shusterman switched from first to second person in Challenger Deep and what the change signaled to the reader. Or Brian’s clever commentary about a book’s predictability that involves tying a bow around the book.

Teens who speak so well of books must undoubtedly be able to write well about them, and I want to encourage club members to consider blogging their reviews. Reviewing books for a blog may sound overwhelming for busy teens but creating a collaborative blog with members who take turns reviewing books that are special to them.

A good example of a teen reviewer’s blog is “Dancing with YA” by Paige who took dancing lessons and loves YA literature. Paige’s post on the Printz Award and how loving a book can lead you to champion it shares a lot of insight into how a book can capture a reader’s attention and inspire loyalty. I think Paige’s blog — for years now silent probably as other love, interests called — is a great example of a teen’s book review blog. Paige proves herself to be a writer thoughtful about books and wise to the way of the Web and how to cover all the bases that com with writing publicly about books. Be sure to check out her review policies.

So I hope that those teens who enjoy reading and writing about books will be inspired by Paige’s work. And, who knows, maybe an English teacher will be proud enough to award some extra credit.

Do any of you have teen-produced book review sites that inspire you?

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MOOCs: A Tool for Re-Imagining Our Teaching

. . . MOOCs have proven to be simply an additional learning opportunity instead of a direct challenge to higher education itself. — Preparing for the Digital University: A Review of the History and Current State of Distance, Blended, and Online Learning

“the debate over MOOCs helped us all think about ways to re-imagine our own teaching” (Lisa M. Lane, Follow-up to POT 2013-14, Week 21: Web-Enhanced, Hybrid, and Open Classes)

I just signed up for another MOOC, “The Brain and Space,” led by Jennifer M. Groh, author of Making Space: How the Brain Knows Where Things Are. It’s a Coursera MOOC, an xMOOC where content rules (See Lisa M. Lane’s post on Three Kinds of MOOCs and don’t skip the comments). Understanding the content is my goal, and that of my friend who is taking the course with me. You see, he has Parkinson and is experiencing the “lost in space” phenomenon that Parkinson patients often have. Together we can work through the readings and videos to learn something about what’s happening in his brain. And we have the author of the book to guide our study and interact with.

This MOOC is the latest in a long line of MOOCs I’ve participated in (or not) over the past five years. It’s from a different universe as my very first MOOC, PLENK 2010 (Personal Learning and Network Knowledge). And my goals are totally different. PLENK 2010 was my effort to learn how the social Web worked and how I could be part of it. For someone new to blogging, webinars, and tweeting, it was scary. I remember posting my first comment and vowing that even if, in Dave White’s model, I became a resident, that I would never forget that fear of the unknown I experienced in this alien world.

That was many MOOCs ago and I feel personally responsible for giving MOOCs the high attrition rate that many see as problematic. But if you’re MOOC veteran, then you know that it’s much like going to a conference and quietly skipping out when you find the session isn’t what you’d hoped for. Life is too short to not spend your resources on what you really want.

I was drawn to PLENK 2010 like a moth to a flame. Yes, it was scary as hell but so exciting to be part of something so, well, massive, and seemingly revolutionary. So now the Preparing for the Digital University report officially recognizes MOOCs not as revolutionary but as simply new learning opportunities. I like to think that they are evolutionary (much as Derek Muller sees technology in general, “This Will Revolutionize Education”) and that they inspire new forms of learning opportunities yet to be re-imagined. For me, beyond guided learning about totally new content (The Brain and Space), and learning how to thrive in the digital ecology, one of the greatest values of MOOCs has been learning how I learn best and how I can become the teacher I want to be. MOOCs represent a powerful source of professional learning and, hence, re-imagination for our teaching.

Design for Online Courses
One of the first criteria I look for in a MOOC is space for me to learn. Open space. I once baled on a MOOC after working through the pre-survey because the goal was me to compare my views on learning with that of the professor. What? A bit professor-centric, don’t you think? Now a pre-survey with all the participants’ responses would have been interesting and indicated openness. Openness has become the holy grail in my quest to become a better teacher and so a strong theme in my blogging — the latest of which is Opening Up. Though openness in learning and teaching is nothing new, I think the digital world gives us tremendous opportunities for exploring openness.

Perhaps the most burning and lasting question I took from PLENK 2010 was how to achieve the balance of openness that gives me and my students the space we need. In Dave Cormier’s work I saw a thoughtful, fearless quest for openness that inspired me to begin my own.

I see openness as the structual element that Claire Major has identified as “pathway” in her Classification Chain of Online Course Structures published in her new book, Teaching Online. I learned of Claire’s work through MiraCosta College’s Program for Online Teaching and find this model to be tremendously useful in understanding what attracts me to a course and the kind of courses I want to design. Here’s a brief video introduction to Claire’s classification chain:

Lessons Learned
I’ve learned lessons about teaching from many MOOC leaders. From Cathy Davidson, with first her “Surprise Endings” open course (co-led with Dan Airely) and later her “History and Future of (Mostly) Higher Education” MOOC, I learned much about the potential of crowdsourcing with an official university class so that the products can be shared with all.

Sarah Kagan and Anne Shoemaker with their Old Globe MOOC (Growing Old Around the Globe) managed to foster a surprising degree of community, accomplished in part by having forum leaders who facilitated warmly and wisely. I’ve reflected on my Old Globe experiences . . . using Conole’s interesting framework for mapping MOOCs across twelve dimensions.

With Jeannene Przyblyski and “A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers” I learned to admire critique as an art.

Jim Groom, Alan Levine, and Martha Burtis of the infamous DS 106 (Digital Storytelling 106), which, granted, is not a MOOC but a community helped me experience the power of creating, of making art, within a nurturing, supportive community who are passionate about their art-making and have a good time creating together.

Beyond the MOOC

“I got this note today from a colleague at UNC Capel Hill, and it got me thinking — I’d love to see some great examples of what folks are doing in the online, non-credit space. Has the MOOC grown to be the predominate format? What other approaches are working for folks? Where are the great ideas in this space?” — Larry Johnson, New Media Consortium, April 17 email to listserv

The key to the MOOC (as I’ve always said, not that anyone listens) isn’t the massive scale, though it is scalable, it’s the return of education to individual autonomy, of localized knowledge production, of the integration of community-based learning with other social values (diversity, openness, etc.). (Downes, OLDaily, May 14, 2015

I’ve blogged about my efforts to open up my open course, ECI 521, “Teaching Literature for Young Adults” “Opening Up the Garden”. I feel there’s much potential, especially with a topic like young adult literature that is constantly evolving with new books and new trends each year. That’s why I love it — I never facilitate the same course twice. It’s always evolving.

Could opening up bring rewards to your university students? Could it help you make a connection to the larger community? Perhaps even make a contribution? If more online courses opened up, could the university evolve as more of the public sphere rather than the walled garden?

What lessons do you bring from MOOCs? What ideas do you have for courses that might embody the MOOC principles that Downes describes while meeting the needs of your students, of your community/communities? Do you have any innovations to share with Larry Johnson and the New Media Consortium?

Have you experienced MOOCs as a way to re-imagine your own teaching?


Major, C.H. (2015). Teaching online: A guide to theory, research, and practice.

MOOC List. An aggregator of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from different providers.

OLDaily. A daily newsletter from Stephen Downes covering/uncovering the world of online learning.

Program for Online Teaching. Led by Lisa M. Lane, MiraCosta College.

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Our Reading Lives

Image of literary elements identified as most important in judging literary quality

Most Important Literary Elements for Considering Literary Quality -- photo by Cris

The Mock Printz Club begins and so does a new year in our reading lives.

Reading lives?

Yes, it’s said that we only live thrice – in the actual, in our dreams, and in our books/literature.

And the living we do in our books enhances the actual, and, of course, our dreams.

Far too many, in fact, the majority of graduate students, all practicing English teachers or pre-service English teachers in the “Teaching Literature for Young Adults” course that I’ve taught at NC State for fifteen years, regret that they have a huge gap in their reading lives – their teen years. As English teacher and blogger Lee Ann Spillane observed:

My own thinking is often confirmed by what students say and write. One said it was more an issue of priorities and time management. Another student said, “it’s not what gets in the way–it’s more like what takes the place of reading.” Ah, “takes the place of” that’s what’s happening as students mature. I have been watching that happen at home in my son’s reading life, so I am not surprised that students experience a shift in their own reading habits too. There are only so many hours in a day, so many minutes in class (from “What Gets in the Way of Pleasure Reading?”)

And it’s not only a gap in the practice of reading for pleasure that my teacher-students experience but usually a serious omission of young adult literature and all the value that can come from reading literature that shares the unique perspective of young adults learning to make their way in the world, real or imagined.

Many of my students note that they don’t recover from their high school pleasure reading slumps until college or even after college. And these are English majors. What about all of the young adults who never get turned on to books again?

That’s why for fifteen years I’ve partnered with the Margaret A. Edwards award-winning Eva Perry Mock Printz Club to not only bring the latest and greatest of YA lit to my teacher-students but to inspire them with the passion for reading and talking about literature that these teen readers demonstrate.

This year when I met with the club, first off we talked about the official Printz Committee and the criteria they use for selecting the books they recognize. But before I shared the criteria which are essentially the literary elements plus a thoughtful explanation of what they don’t look for and how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, I decided to see what the teens use for their criteria.

So I asked them to work in pairs or trios to list the literary elements they’d studied for years in school. Then, the clincher – I asked which element they thought was most important or took priority. The overall results are predictable and classic in terms of what we usually think attracts teens to books – three of seven groups identified plot as the most important literary element in determining literary quality. Voice, originality, writing style, and characters were identified by single votes.

So are the majority of teens plot-driven readers? It will be interesting as we continue our reading of the 2015 YA titles to see what element(s) the teens identify as most important in the books they recognize as distinguished in literary quality.

We didn’t really have time to debrief afterwards, so I’d love to hear from the Eva Perry Mock Printz Club teens here. Why do you think plot seemed to win out in our brief group survey? Do you agree with the choice of plot? What signifies literary quality to you? Or, even better, how do you make the time to live your reading life? Or best yet, what question did you bring away from our conversation?

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A Change of Heart

Image of heart art piece crafted from concrete and inlaid stone pieces

Attribution -- Noncommercial -- ShareAlike by Cris Crissman

I’m not your typical academian. Yes, that seems an oxymoron to me, too.

My day job is to write and produce educational and environmental videos. At night I work as an adjunct assistant professor teaching online courses.

As someone who makes her living as a creator, I feel strongly about my right to earn money from my creative works. As a teacher who creates to teach and often a digital storyteller who creates for fun (huge DS 106 fan, #4Life), I also believe in the right Thomas Jefferson insisted that we all have to “stand on the shoulders of giants” by creating with and contributing to the public domain.

I appreciate Dave Wiley’s perspective (#WhyOpen Week 1 Hangout) on the trouble that the Berne Convention has wreaked because now copyright is inherent in creation but as a video producer I’m relieved that I need not file copyright on everything I produce. And I like to think that someone will think at least a little longer if not twice about ripping me off.

But all of the art that I’ve created for DS 106 over the years I’ve chosen “All Rights Reserved.” At least for all that’s totally mine. For remixes and mash-ups, I, of course, choose the Creative Commons license of the combinatorial piece. I don’t know, call me an eternal optimist but I do hold out hope that someone will see some photo I’ve taken, some video I’ve made, and want to pay me money to use it in a commercial or film. Alan Levine says this isn’t going to happen (#WhyOpen Week 1 Hangout). That there are only a handful of photographers in the world who can make money off their art.

But, you know, the most convincing argument for choosing Creative Commons licenses is some advice that Alec Couros shared years ago. He had an adorable video of a daughter learning to ride a bike that a company bought to use in a commercial. And he indicated that it made a sizable contribution to her college fund. So was the license “All Rights Reserved”? No, it was “Attribution –Noncommercial — ShareAlike” which meant that the company’s rep spotted the video through Creative Commons but had to pay for it since it was non-commercial. So odds are that Alec’s video would not have been found if not for its Creative Commons licensee

So I’ve decided to change the license on all of my art to “Attribution –Noncommercial — ShareAlike” . At least for works that don’t include students for whom I have parental permission to video/photo but I feel I should guard the use of their images carefully.

Now, I’ve head the argument for the “free culture licenses” that essentially gives anyone the rights to the Five Rs Dave mentioned (retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute) (#WhyOpen Week 1 Hangout) to help give a leg up to those who may need access to creative works to make their living. I’m still leery of this because, as in Alec’s case, the big company could also take the video for free. Gotta think more about this change.

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Opening Up

Left hand with open palm and right hand as fist["Opening Up" by Cris for The Daily Create, August 10, 2014]/

Our DS106 Daily Create challenge on Sunday, August 10, was to take a photograph of opposites. With this class in mind, I took a shot of my right hand closed in a tight fist and my left hand wide open with palm flat. After a bit of exploration on Gimp, you see the result above.

To me, the open hand is ready for opportunities to grasp, to reach out, to learn, to share. While the fist is frozen, isolated, alone, and insecure.

A DS106 friend, Sandy Brown Jensen, described the image as “odd, strong, and beautiful.” Maybe that’s what opening up is all about. It seems odd because it’s rare for someone to be so transparent, to admit to not knowing, to learn in public with everyone watching. It takes strength to risk embarrassment and failure. But it’s a beautiful thing to be so bold to follow one’s passion to learn, to delight and dance and celebrate learning in the open, and to show respect for others by creating the spaces — the open spaces — where they can learn to open up.

Obviously my interest in openness is in learning and teaching. It’s become a quest that led me to online teaching, taking my courses open, and exploring new ways to provide experiences in openness for other teachers. I’m convinced that openness is a stance or way of being in the world that is a prerequisite for developing the literacies we need to be successful learners and teachers in this digital age.

I’ve blogged often about this quest. The latest “Opening Up the Garden.”

I look forward to conversations with others interested in openness in learning and teaching. Let the MOOC begin!

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Literacy to Learn

“I think that the important factor is that we get to share our knowledge with people and we get to share with them what we learned. And even though at first it was hard work, at the end it was something really beautiful to create.” — Seventh grade digital storyteller

View the video below to hear more from seventh graders about connecting, collaborating, and creating . . .

At the celebration of this “learning science through digital storytelling” project, the meteorologist and teacher queried the seventh graders about what they learned. Every student commented on learning to make movies or curate with Diigo’s social bookmarking tool. I think the adults were a bit disappointed that the student responses weren’t about the weather, or the atmosphere, or the water cycle or air quality. I like to think that the students realized that ability trumps knowledge. That becoming independent learners able to research, filter, curate what they learn in an informative, interesting way is more important to their future than collecting knowledge. I think many of them also learned the value of learning to work collaboratively to accomplish something valuable. This seems the literacies approach that Dave described in Hangout#6: “. . . literacies end up being the approach that needs to be there. They need to know how they go about learning . . . . not necessarily learn any specific item.”

Another huge part of the project was reaching beyond the classroom to professionals in the sciences and arts who could give feedback on the students’ videos on either content or design. Some of the professionals wondered if they had been too tough with their criticism, if they were expecting too much from seventh graders. I don’t think so. The students took the feedback very seriously, and those who opted to revise seemed genuinely grateful for the feedback and the attention. I think it’s obvious in their responses in this video thank-you to the “panel of experts” or MKOs (More Knowledgeable Others) as I like to call them.

Bonnie Stewart in this Lin Education interview discusses a teacher’s role in helping students develop the filtering literacies necessary in a many-to-many model. I like to think that I’m helping students to become both confident independent learners and successful many-to-many community learners with projects like this that build on independent and community learning. The concept of space for possibility was mind-blowing from Keith (“Space, Possibility, and #rhizo14″) and the additional discussion about the need for scaffolding to provide an accessible space in Hangout #6 was really helpful. I’ve much to learn about creating the space and scaffolding for inviting and supporting literacy learning by seventh graders and graduate students.

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The Firestarter

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. — Walt Whitman, “Oh Me, Oh Life”

Author sits around fire with students in the Bookhenge in Second Life

Author Marc Aronson sits around the fire with students in the Bookhenge, virtual world where my classes meet.

You get the fire started (using Dave’s metaphor that Marianne and Miranda have built on). Students gather around. If things go well, there is conversation, community, collaboration, and transformation. If they don’t, it’s just another 3 credit hours.

. . . the ways in which we run our communities in the real world; the ways that sometimes conflicting ideas come together. I think of it as a messier place; a complex place. And I also think of community learning as a place where we really care about what other people learn. And there’s a contradiction between those two meanings but for some reason I’m comfortable being right there in the middle of it. — Dave in Week 4 Hangout for Rhizomatic Learning 2014

I really care what my students learn. I passionately believe that they can reach students through literature in ways that can be life-changing, even life-saving. But I also believe that community learning is the best way for them to not only learn to teach literature but to learn to unlearn and relearn as Toffler suggests we must accomplish to be successful. When I put my faith and my curriculum in community learning, it is messy and complex but also hopeful and creative.

I feel this tremendous tension to design a course so my students both experience learning and unlearning in a community while they develop some knowledge of the ongoing conversation and evolving content that is learning through literature with young adults. I’m not comfortable but I think that means my rhizomes are growing. I’m stretching. I’m feeling the burn.

So community learning becomes part a huge part of the curriculum, in fact, the foundation. Which is absolutely as it should be for the study of literature for any age student. Somehow I must get the fire started so that my students experience community learning and explore how they can best build their own fires in their current or future classrooms.

Speaking of future classrooms, Olivia, one of my teen writing group members, a college freshman and potential future teacher, just shared an article on our listserv about the value of feedback. The teacher-writer, Tom Williams (see citation below), describes his writing circle of teachers as a “gift community” after Lewis Hyde’s 1983 The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. The gift community and accompanying gift culture with its reciprocal gift-giving that inspires gratitude and generosity seems a perfect way to describe community learning.

But in addition to sharing gifts in the gift community, Hyde says that the community must do something, make something — that they must be about contributing to the greater good. This resonates with me for I’ve always attempted to design my courses so the individual projects, group projects, and, full class projects consist of real work that can make a contribution to the world outside the course. For the past ten years (could it be that long???) our class has produced the Melinda Awards, sort of the Oscars of Young Adult Literature that features our local teen book club, the award-winning Eva Perry Mock Printz Book Club. When the class is taught in the spring, the graduate students join the teens in “standing up” for the books they believe best reflect high literary quality and presenting both serious and hilarious awards like “Best Male Character in a Starring Role,” “Best Literary Boyfriend,” “Best Cover,” “Most Promising New YA Author.” Though the event is streamed live, we usually have many more people watch it later, and we’ve had many YA authors as well as teachers and librarians tell us how much they value the teen perspectives of these serious young readers. We’re planning our 2014 program for February 28th now, but you can check out the 2013 event.

Eva Perry Mock Printz Club poses for group shot after the Melinda Awards

Eva Perry Mock Printz Club poses for group shot after the 2013 Melinda Awards -- shot by Cris

I knew from lurking on “Surprise Endings: Literature and Social Science,” a course taught by Cathy Davidson and Dan Ariely of Duke, that the students were assigned a real world project — to design components of a MOOC for the course. When Cathy Davidson described this practice in a Future of Ed MOOC, Week 3 video (sorry, somewhat ironically the resources are available only through Coursera), she called it crowdsourcing and added that “students enjoy contributing if they know that their work is going to make a difference — what they’re learning can make a difference in the world.”

That’s how I like to think that community can work best in a formal course — that the students can design and contribute to a project that makes a difference — a difference now in their learning and potentially for others whose lives the work touches and a difference later as they design their own classrooms that support community learning.

All I have to do is get the fire started.

Williams, Tom. “The Gift of Writing Groups,” The English Journal, Vol. 79, No. 4 (Apr., 1990), pp. 58-60. National Council of Teachers of English. Stable URL:

Special thanks to Olivia for this reference — another invaluable gift to our writers’ group.

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