A couple of years ago, I posted about talking to my niece and her fifth grade class about audiences on- and offline. This week, in a graduate course I am teaching, the topic of teaching about online interaction and audiences with elementary students was raised...and I realized I never hit "post" on this companion post. So, here is a major #tbt to something that has been sitting in draft mode for too long.
A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to talk with a fifth grade class about audience using a mini-lesson and guided practice that is probably familiar to many teachers. We then extended that discussion into considering what writing for an audience means in contemporary times. The young people in that class shared great advice for the demands on writing in a digital, networked age.
We started our conversation with a guessing game comparing two texts that were talking about a pair of shoes online:
We talked through the criteria the school was using in on online writing platform and saw that depending on the audience, every aspect of a piece of writing might change depending on the audience.
I just received word from Nancy Mann, principal of Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School, in the South Bronx, that one of FLHFHS’s graduates and our EXCEL Academy @ NYU participants will be featured in the PBS documentary The Graduates/Los Graduados, a film following Latino students and their road to college.
Meet Chastity. My life has been enriched by just knowing this bright, articulate and dedicated young woman. The fact that I was able to be a part of her developmental pathway from high school to college, and especially in finding her confidence to share her writing with others is a highlight of my career.
The Project for the Advancement of our Common Humanity (PACH) is an emerging think tank, funded by the NoVo foundation and based at New York University, that is designed to engage researchers, policymakers, practitioners, activists, educators, artists, and journalists in a series of conversations focused on what we have learned from science and practice regarding what lies at the root of our crisis of connection and what we can do to create a more just and humane world. Presently, PACH entails a public lecture series and monthly conversations with 50 senior level professionals.
Until then, enjoy this clip of my encounter with a most dedicated Weeping Angel cosplayer who frightened convention-goers (including me, I turned just in time!) for hours as they moved their way across the convention floor. If you don’t know the reference, “Don’t blink!” you’re missing out. I’ve heard that Doctor Who Seasons 1-6 are available on Netflix. Time to do your pop culture homework.
In Part I, I describe the Connected Educator Month and what activities I’d participate in if I were not so “disconnected” right now. In Part II, I describe what I have learned from being a “disconnected” educator this month.
This is a project funded by the US Department of Education to support educators in building their personal learning networks (PLNs). Their site explains:
Online communities and learning networks are helping hundreds of thousands of educators learn, reducing isolation and providing “just in time” access to knowledge and opportunities for collaboration. However, many educators are not yet participating and others aren’t realizing the full benefits. In many cases, schools, districts, and states also are not recognizing and rewarding this essential professional learning.
I consider myself part of the “hundreds of thousands” who have definitely benefited from the generosity and intellectual curiosity of colleagues around the world who use the Internet, digital devices, apps and social media sites to work and think together.
This month, however, I have purposefully disconnected. I have a massive writing project that needs sustained attention and work to finish, and so I not only unplugged, but I headed out to the mountain deserts of my youth, and next week off to a sleepy, coastal Mexican village.
Like today, I check in every once in a while (and for good reason, my bank has called, there was an issue with a grad student’s grade posting, and on and on). The occasional check-in is the only reason I have become aware of this month’s focus.
The Connected Educator’s Month site has created a (not so) user-friendly calendar of events. The New York Times has posted a quick read in which they asked 33 connected educators two simple questions that resulted in a great resources list—especially since several more educators answered the same questions in the comments section. And the P2PU (peer to peer) network has provided a starter kit that includes daily introductions to several types of social media and digital means of connection. (I’m posting that below, because I am a fan of its daily design. You can also download the entire .pdf at the starter kit link above.)
If I were truly plugged in this month, I’d participate in a few other things going on right now. These are things I’d fully support you doing for me in proxy:
I’d be a participant in Hybrid Pedagogy’sMOOCMOOC, which is a Massive Online Open Course about Massive Online Open Courses. These have been in the news quite a bit and it would be great to try one out from the inside, as well as have colleagues with whom to think about the affordances and constraints of the MOOC.
I’d be tweeting (@writinglit) and Facebooking (AERA Writing & Literacies SIG) for AERA’s Writing and Literacies Special Interest Group. This is a great group of educational researchers who continually push my thinking in writing and literacies.
And speaking of literacies, even though the #literacies chat is currently on hold until September, I would be tweeting with the #literacies hashtag via Twitter and connecting with colleagues about the demands and dimensions of contemporary literacies.
I’d check out the link a friend and colleague through a Facebook group sent me. It is to the new public-use, interactive online storytelling technology from the developers of the interactive online games The Night Circus and Fallen London. It’s called StoryNexus and I can’t wait to try it out when I return!
And the reality is that I would be engaged and learning in several other unexpected, serendipitous ways.
So, why not take advantage of this month’s focus and try out a few new ways to connect?
In Part I, I described Connected Educator Month, and how I have purposefully “disconnected” this month by heading out to the mountain deserts of my youth, and next week off to a sleepy, coastal Mexican village. Like today, I check in every once in a while, which is the only reason I even found out about the Connected Educator Month activities, which inspired these posts.
So, what have I learned from being “disconnected” this month?
For one, I can appreciate the feelings described by some of my #teachread grad students who tried out various social media venues for the first time in our course. Some of them discussed the feeling of disconnection when they limited their engagement online to the occasional required post and response. I have been feeling the same as I glance at updates and posts by colleagues and not really read them, let alone respond and engage in the conversation. Other students talked about feeling like they were lost in a constant, fast-moving stream of words when they were trying to read, write and collaborate online. And yes, I have been so infrequently looking at my Twitter feed this month, I have felt out of sync, which has led to even less interaction on my part. I have learned that it is not about being connected or disconnected; rather, it is being engaged in conversations with others—exchanging, interacting, participating—that has made my personal learning network meaningful.
I have also learned that—like most things—this connection or disconnection thing is not a binary situation. While up at a cabin in the desert mountains of the southwest—disconnected as I can be from the world this month—I have been learning and thinking and…well…connected.
My niece and nephew visited for a night and in the morning my nephew and I sat sipping hot cocoa, listening to the different bird calls from the trees to our right and left, when we noticed an ordinary brown bird lift its wings and rise from the sagebrush in front of us. Suddenly it was no longer brown, but a soft blue, like water flying. We looked at each other and then back to the area to see if we could see any others like that one, and soon enough we saw three more. I asked him if he knew about birding. We didn’t have a bird identification book on hand, but we did have an Internet connection in that corner of the porch. I dug out my laptop. We sat comparing the birds flitting just a few feet in front of us to the pictures and descriptions online. We talked about search terms and categories that would result in a proper identification. And suddenly, we came across the Indigo Bunting. There it was, our deceptively bright blue bird. My nephew, who is starting 2nd grade this week, said, “I need to write this down.” And he went inside to dig out a pad of paper and pencil.
We talked about the genre of field notes, the type of information that goes into them, and how their sentences sound. As he wrote his entries, we talked about letter-sound correspondence and spelling patterns. At some point, he said it would be easier just to write the sentence from the website we had found. This led to a great discussion about attributing source material. We took a picture of his book to send to his parents once we were in cell phone coverage, and then realized that family and friends could be involved faster if we posted the picture to Facebook. In moments we were also responding to comments about our birding activities.
We took the newly formed field notebook on an adventure walk to a reservoir three miles away, during which we took pictures of birds with my phone and he later drew them in his notebook as we sat next to the reservoir. On the way, my niece and I discussed the need for bird, insect and flower identification apps for the phone, about how apps are developed, and what we thought photos would need to entail for automatic identification through an app. We then started taking the pictures with this in mind, discussing what we would need to include in the frame of the photo.
And then we ran into an entomologist, who was riding along on his bike along the dusty path, and he gave us directions to a place that had books on birds, flowers, and of course, insects of the area. (He also described the red velvet ant he found just feet from us in a failed attempt to turn my nephew from birds to insects.) We had a choice at this time to walk an extra mile in the hot midday sun to go look at the books or we could hitch a ride with a neighbor in an air-conditioned car back to the cabin. It wasn’t even a question to my nephew who wanted to see all the books and hold them in his hands.
I’ve learned that this Connected (or in my case, “Disconnected”) Educator Month (see Part I) isn’t like the “paper or plastic” question. Contemporary composition, like my nephew’s field notebook, isn’t a pad of paper or laptop question either. It isn’t a choice between books or apps for bird and flower identification. It isn’t drawing or taking pictures.It isn’t experts IRL (in real life) or comments on a post. Even if you’re “disconnected,” our world and how we experience it is still (re)shaped by these digital means of connection. Of course we could dicker about the degree of my disconnection, but even when I wasn’t using a digital device, my conversations with my niece and nephew and our expectations were influenced by the possibilities of “connection.”
(in which I connect my experiences and mix my metaphors)
This has led me to think about something I heard in a tweet or a blog post (link me if you know the source) as a possible new literacy strategy for my “disconnected” and “lost” grad students, who were just dipping their toes into the swift stream of digital reading, writing and collaboration available nowadays. Someone advised followers to treat online collaboration and connection as if it were the radio. You tune in and immediately have to contextualize the conversation in order to make sense of it. By merely listening in and making inferential leaps about the genre and the references people are making, you can eventually grasp it. I like this analogy. I think it works.
I’d also say that unlike the radio—and even unlike radio call-in shows—this particular swift-moving stream is even more meaningful if you jump in or—like my niece from a slippery stone she was standing on next to the reservoir—slip in. (Her feet got quite slimy, but she reported that the cool water made it all worth it.) It isn’t just about the information that’s out there that our current devices and apps allow us to get, nor is it the kind of the messages we can now send; rather, it’s the possible conversations and ideas that ignite between people that makes “connecting” worth it. The possibilities surround us.
I thoroughly enjoyed Colbert’s skewering of the Texas GOP 2012 Platform, which involves a rejection of “critical thinking skills.” The Washington Post quoted the statement as such:
Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Taking into consideration that the platform also mentions that multicultural education is “divisive,” and that they support “objective teaching” and “school subjects with emphasis on the Judeo-Christian principles,” I am wondering if what they meant was critical as in critical literacies or critical race theory and the like. I can just imagine a particularly conservative person in the educational field making a case against critical theories or critical literacies, and someone outside of education thinking that these fit under the more generally-known concept “critical thinking skills” and then thought that these were also the same as “higher order thinking skills.”
Has anyone heard if that is the case?
In a statement from the Texas GOP they indicated that they did not intend to include critical thinking skills in their list (even though it was voted on and approved by the general assembly—after, as Colbert pointed out, it was said, written, read, and perhaps even discussed(?)—and cannot be edited out now). However, I think a misunderstanding of the concepts themselves is more likelythe mistake they made.
(If you asked me, the real mistake is being afraid of youth practicing critical theories and literacies. But that’s just me. Is it you, too?)
I’d like to talk to you about the 468th episode of This American Life. Specifically, I want to hone in to 23 and 1/2 minutes that makes up Act Two: Forgive Us Our Press Passes. I don’t recommend many things, as a habit, but this is worth your time.
In producer Sarah Koenig’s story about a company called Journatic, which outsources local newspaper stories, be whisked away into deep contemplation about what constitutes journalism, authorship and attribution, news, consumerism, the local/the global, human rights, and the list goes on.
As I understand it, Journatic focuses on amassing large amounts of data from small towns across the United States—birth and death records, budgets, police blotters—and then outsources the writing of articles based on this data to people in other places—according to this story, a few in the US, and many in other countries such as the Philippines. Journatic sells these stories to newspaper outlets across the US and the stories are often printed with fake bylines or none at all. (Makes you take a second look at Jenny Smith’s article on last week’s town budget meeting. Do you know Jenny Smith?)
For this post, I am only going to focus on one aspect touched on in this episode, but it is the combination of these topics in one story that makes this worth a listen. So, even though this post will be focused on ‘writing,’ I am more than happy to discuss any and all of these other aspects in the comments below.
Let’s get to it. I encourage you to listen before reading on. In the embedded sound file below, Act Two begins at exactly 26 minutes. Here is a link to the episode on the This American Life website in case you want to go to the source for a listen.
A few weeks ago, after another fascinating #literacies chat on Twitter, I posed a follow-up tweet about the use of the word “literacy.” Kevin Hodgson (or @dogtrax on Twitter) posted a reply that I couldn’t get out of my head while I listened to this episode. Here’s our exchange:
We continued to exchange tweets, and in doing so took this idea forward, considering terms like composing and designing to capture the multiple modes with which we find ourselves composing in a digital age. In this episode of This American Life, however, I found myself thinking backward, reductionist, in fact. What can we strip away and still call the act writing?
In the following section of the episode, Sarah Koenig had interviewed the Brad Moore of The Chicago Sun-Times who had hired Journatic to fill the local sections of their papers with local news, and Brian Timpone who was a champion of Journatic as a company. Each of these gentlemen claimed that all local news stories—though they were not written locally—were ‘at least’ written in the United States. Sarah Koenig was pushing to find out what exactly was outsourced, specifically to the Philippines. (All added emphasis is mine.)
Brad Moore: Just to be clear, all of the writing and editing of everything that Journatic is doing is happening by professional journalists here in the US.
Sarah Koenig: I went around and around about this with both Brad Moore and Brian Timpone who insisted that Filipinos were not writing stories. They were more like typing information, assembling it in paragraph form, which sounds to me a lot like writing. Brian Timpone told me this was a semantic confusion I was having.
Brian Timpone: Really what they’re doing is assembling and copy editing a bunch of facts, right? So they write the lead. If there’s a paragraph about a person, the paragraph is technically written by someone in the Philippines, but not written. It’s like they have to type out who the person is, right? So they have to know how to write to send it over. I mean but to say oh, it’s written in the Philippines– I mean there might be a paragraph of it that the first draft is written in the Phillipines.
Sarah Koenig: Timpone declined to put me in touch with any of his Filipino employees. But I reached out to half a dozen of them on my own.
Sarah Koenig: You yourself are writing those stories, right? You’re not just gathering the information and sending it along to an American writer or editor. You yourself are writing those.
As I write this blog post, I keep questioning: Am I writing? typing? copying and pasting? assembling? copy editing? drafting? developing context? adding analysis? I’d love to chat about these and other questions I am left pondering:
As we now have more user-friendly ways to remix media and content, are we ‘writing’ less often and ‘assembling and copy editing’ more often?
What does ‘context and analysis’ look like in a product that is not all words, but mostly image, sound, and quoted text?
When does ‘typing out’ something end and ‘writing’ begin?