Wednesday, August 20, 2014

To What End?

Recently, in the midst of revising syllabi, planning for the first day of classes, working with local high schools, I also have been reflective about what the purpose of my research and teaching have been and will be.  Over that past several years I have been focused on disciplinary literacy instruction for adolescents. But I am writing this post to address the question, "To what end?” What is the purpose for kids to engage in disciplinary literacy practices?  In a recent blog post I argued more broadly for why kids need disciplinary literacy instruction.

While some might argue that a disciplinary literacy approach may only reify the disciplines, I would argue that epistemic commitments to the tentative and contested nature of disciplinary knowledge through apprenticed inquiry can empower youth to critically engage with their world.

While I still believe that to be true, it rings too broad for me after the past several days in Ferguson, MO.  We need kids to critically engage in their world right now.  And they are engaged.  The movement in Ferguson and in the US is also being led by several young people.  Here is but one example of critically engaged youth.

And yet I see so much vacuous analysis in the media that is ahistorical.  And I see downright malicious reporting in the media through the intentional use of language to coarsely dehumanize Mike Brown and the community of Ferguson.  However I also see the pushback on Twitter and I have read some of the best writing about this subject.  We need more disciplinary literacy instruction because we need more participation in our democracy. We need instruction that not just investigates literature for abstract language use but how that language serves as a societal mirror and window.  We need historical inquiry that doesn’t simply teach historical thinking practices but inquiry that is at the core of what it means to be an informed and critical citizen. That literature, language, sources of the past, and interpretations of the past are meant to be deeply interrogated because they inform the present and our reading of those texts also shape the future.  Reading, writing, and discussion are tools of protection as Dr. Alfred Tatum states.  

If literacy education is to make a difference in people’s lives then it cannot be to simply meet standards or consume more text.  My goal is to make my disciplinary literacy instruction more consequential because it has real ramifications for the society we seek for today and tomorrow.  For example we can teach lots of things this year about civil rights. Will we investigate this?  Or this? Will we read and view this? Or watch and analyze this?
Will we connect to the literacies that young people possess and capitalize on them to build greater agency? Will we value the texts they value and also introduce transforming ones? Will we read James Baldwin AND Teju Cole?  And not to be read for for literal and inferential comprehension but for language to inscribe on to our consciousness and shape our action? 

I am encouraged to see people so active in this pursuit like #FergusonSyllabus, #HiphopEd, and #sschat who are discussing how to teach Ferguson.  Disciplinary literacy instruction can also teach kids to continue interrogating their world because events like Ferguson aren’t going away anytime soon.  But this generation of students have taken the reins in the fight for justice.  As teachers and teacher educators let’s work with young people to construct a future that sees more progress in the next fifty years than perhaps we have seen in the past fifty.  That just might be a worthy end.   

Monday, August 11, 2014

Stay Chrome Not Gilded

I am excited and honored to collaborate with Mundelein High School District 120 this year as they begin to implement 1:1 computing with their students. While much is often made about the power of 1:1 from the standpoint of instructional technology, I would argue that it is more about the amplification of opportunities for responsive literacy instruction. This post is the beginning of that collaboration and dialogue with District 120 teachers as they begin to integrate 1:1 technology into their instruction.

The major premise of my talk on the 2nd day of Mundelein’s Tech Summit is that it is not about the technology but rather the literacy practices of their students, what is demanded in their disciplines, and the literacies needed to be critical and participatory citizens.  So, then how can we leverage the tools that will be at the disposal of students and teachers for this practice?

I propose five elements that make digital literacies amplify literate practice for adolescents.  Throughout the year we will then consider implications for teaching and learning. 

      1.  Students will need to be able to read every text type one can imagine.
      2.  Students will need to synthesis multiple texts quickly and proficiently.
      3.  Students will need to engage in critical literacy to vet online texts.
      4.  Students will be able to engage in collaborative meaning making
      5.  Students will have the opportunity to compose content for a wide audience.

1.     Reading multiple text types online
While just about the entire body of human knowledge is available online, it also comes in a variety of representations. While traditionally students have read predominantly written texts with audio-visual texts often treated as ancillaries, online reading often involves reading written word along with flash-animation, videos, pictures, etc.  It is critical that students be able to closely and critically read multiple text types.  To support the reading of text types, researchers like Len Unsworth and Frank Serafini have argued that we need to teach kids a meta-language about audio-visual texts. That is, the language used to comprehend audio-visual texts is different than the comprehension of traditional texts.  Attention to elements of sound, color, shape, etc all are critical to extrapolating the message of different text types.  And because so many text types of available online we also need to acknowledge that reading online always involves multiple text comprehension.

2.     Multiple text synthesis online
We often treat the reading of text in the classroom more singularly. Working through a single text and then perhaps reading others from a text set or reading a new text the next day.  Online however, reading multiple texts becomes simultaneous. Consider the number of texts embedded on a single webpage as well as the host of links that lead the reader to other texts.  While I would agree that all reading is intertextual, school based reading has been treated more singularly.  Research has consistently demonstrated though that people struggle to synthesize multiple texts.  Therefore we need to engage kids in specific strategies for reading and comprehending multiple texts.  There are a few multiple text synthesis strategies explained in a strategies book I co-authored with Roberta Berglund and Jerry Johns: ContentArea Learning: Bridges to Disciplinary Literacy.  

My three favorites include Synthesis Journals, Multiple Text GIST, and I-Charts.  While working to read to synthesize multiple texts, students also need to be judicious about the texts they select.

3.     Critical Literacy
Traditionally, teachers have been the gatekeepers of information through they textbooks and supplemental handouts.  A 1:1 environment removes that gate and opens up and endless amount of text.  While the Internet is replete with texts, many are unauthored, unvetted, and unreliable.  It is critical for students and teachers to not approach reading as merely an act of consumption but one of critical analysis.  Critical online source evaluation (McVerry, 2012) is necessary in the selection process of texts that will ultimately need to be synthesized.  Additionally, critical media literacy (Morrell, 2013) is needed to read not just the word but the world. A critical reader online could be said to be more engaged as a citizen.  Criticality is not simply transmitted from teacher to student.  It is learned through social participation and collaborative sense making.

4.     Collaborative meaning making
1:1 environments create opportunities for powerful collaborations across time and space.  While a plethora of tech tools can engender collaboration, they are meaningless if only used because they are collaborative tools.  Tasks designed to be collaborative are more important that the tool.  A blog with no audience is a word-processed essay.  A wiki with no collaboration is a poster with digital glitter and glue (from my friend Gena Khodos). Start with your learning objectives and task design that require collaborative meaning making. Then select the tool to deepen that collaboration.

5.     Writing for publication
These collaborative engagements also have the power to be shared with the widest audience possible.  Online Content Creation (O’Byrne, 2013) means that students have the ability to create and share a variety of productions such as digital storytelling, blogging, video creation, tweeting, etc.  Publication moves from an audience of 1 (the teacher) to potentially a global audience. If we are to truly value what young people have to say, then we need to provide opportunities to share their voices, cultivate their ideas, and grapple with local and global problems. 

As I conceptualize digital literacy practices, I see students embodying them by:

Reading multiple forms of text
Writing in a variety of mediums
Speaking to the widest audience possible
Listening to global perspectives

As we begin another school year I hope these considerations are ones that inform instruction and assessment.  At the end of the day no amount of technology will do the teaching and learning for us. I often like to share this quote:

"This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

I wish I had written it but it was Edward R. Murrow who wrote it in 1958 about the television. It is a reminder that we can either place our emphasis on the technology or we can focus on the using the technology to forward our pedagogical goals.  

There are several researchers that have influenced my thinking about digital literacies including, Julie Coiro, Kimberly Lawless, Ian O’Byrne, Greg McVerry, Kristy Pytash, Ernest Morrell, Amy Hutchinson, William Kist, Phil WilderNathan Phillips, Blaine Smith, Bridget DaltonRyan Rish, Sean Conners, Rachel Karchmer-Klein, Rick BeachAnna Smith among many others.  I encourage you to click on their names and follow their work.