Category Archives: Theory

Learning Pathways on

What do learning pathways look like as young people move across learning contexts in pursuit of their interests in school, at home, in libraries, community centers and online?

Tomorrow, July 16th, at 1:00 PM Eastern/10:00 AM Pacific, I will have the opportunity to join Elyse Eidman-Aadahl of the National Writing Project, Kris Gutierrez at University of Colorado at Boulder, and Paul Allison of YouthVoices to discuss how youth leverage the opportunities, resources, tools, and connections available to them, and in this process, how learning and literacy practices are shaped. We’ll ask: How do individuals create and transform themselves as learners? How can we design learning environments to be responsive to these pathways? Continue reading Learning Pathways on

Tweet-a-Read: Vasudevan’s “An Invitation to Unknowing”

Sometimes while I am reading, I am so struck by the ideas and the prose that I sheepishly begin live-tweeting. On even rarer occasions, when the text is one I can’t get out of my mind, I collect the tweets and recommend the text to you. This time it was Lalitha Vasudevan‘s “An Invitation to Unknowing.” Highly recommended.

Continue reading Tweet-a-Read: Vasudevan’s “An Invitation to Unknowing”

Your Voice in Mine

How can I hear my own voice unless it bounces off of yours?

I have had that single line in my mind for years. It isn’t particularly poetic, and I don’t completely agree with what it implies, but I’ve tried relentlessly to write the poem I hear inside it. It has something to do with the way the masses in NYC weave, avoid, embrace. I wrote another line once trying to get near it:

As a child I would drag my fingers through water or hold my arm out car windows to feel this–this particle rumba, this caressing, this giving and taking of space.

I thought of the line and concept again as I was flipping through photographs students in the EXCEL Academy @ NYU had saved while doing some digital writing of their own. I paused. I thought of the conversations we have had this week on #digiwrimo about the changing nature of audience—potential, imagined, intended, unknown, collateral—when our writing occurs in networked digital spaces. I wondered: If the world is my potential (imagined, intended, unknown, collateral) audience, is my looking glass self, is who I am in relation to who I think you are, what is the voice I hear when I write here and like this?

Unsurprisingly, when I looked up the photograph to find who I could attribute it to, I found four pages of “similar images” used in websites all over—without attribution. I thought of replication in the “particle rumba” I hear in voices, the constant “giving and taking of space.” I wondered: When your message, your media, your words can be and are so often available to be appropriated and remixed, what are we able to hear and voice that outside of a digital, networked space are unavailable? What voices do we hear when we are collapsed into audience—viewing our messages and media spin and weave—as we write, replicate to distribute, and write again in response, and in response to response? When we see our digital messages a month, a year, a few years later returned to us, can recognize the voice as it was above the din of all that we can now hear?

Just this week, I came home to find a special prize in my mailbox. It was my copy of Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis: Intersections and Challenges, an edited volume in which I have a chapter with Glynda Hull. In it we detail the digital writing processes of Tyson, a high school student in the South Bronx, as he layered text, photographs, visual transitions, quotes, music, and eventually a film clip made by a young woman in India, Bakhti, whose work he had gained access to through a closed, international social network. Through this composing process, Tyson reframed the message he was intending to express, and this was no small shift: from “wanting lots of money” to the importance of exploring the concept of struggle through historical, global, and caregiving lenses. Tyson’s voice was accented by images, textured with quoted passages from a book, and (re)tuned to (and by) Bakhti’s voice—all through appropriation of other voices and their messages.

I’ve come to realize that we don’t have to be typing simultaneously in a GDoc to have your voice in mine. In contemporary composition, in digital writing, you are my collaborator when I sit to write. I hear @slamteacher‘s poetic strains and @jessifer‘s short, snappy refrains. I hear what @elemveee is reading and how @maryannreilly is seeing. I hear these in my voice, and your voices give my messages texture.

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This post was originally written and posted for Digital Writing Month. As one of the final guest posts of the month, it ended with the closing below, which I think, months later, is still apropos, especially given the connections and collaborations that have stemmed from Digital Writing Month—most notably my work with Kevin Hodgson to further interrogate the concept of “digital writing.” That conversation can be navigated here. You know, you should really check out Kevin’s latest installation of that conversation. It uses VoiceThread to engage and connect others in our conversation—and is in regards to communities online. It’s probably why I have been thinking of reposting this to my site lately. That and the tweets from Joyce Carol Oates this morning:

*    *    *

How very exciting that the last day of this month does not mean the end to our digital writing! For many of this month’s participants, I’ve just begun to hear you. (And let’s be honest, the first I heard from you was probably a #TvsZ zombie groan.) I can’t wait to hear more. I can’t wait to dance the particle rumba, to collaborate from a distance, to hear my voice in yours and your voice in mine.

Writing for Self and Others in an Era of Shared Social Realities

The following is a Guest Post from Julie Warner, a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on literacies and an instructor of writing at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia. It is based on research presented at the 2012 Literacy Research Association conference (précis is available here). Julie tweets with the handle @newliteracy.
CC license: Attribution Lau Sew

When I was a young girl, I kept a diary. Since I was the oldest of four siblings, it had to come equipped with a lock (the kind that was more of a suggestion than an actual deterrent). Accordingly, my younger brother at one point read my diary; it was so embarrassing. And so when I was witness to the blogging phenomenon years later, I thought it strange to put one’s diary on the Internet for all to read.

But that’s just what the teens I was studying were doing: recounting the events of their days, processing the meaning of said events, and expressing hopes and dreams, all online for me and anyone else to read. I became intrigued as to how they thought about their audience when they were blogging in this capacity. The three teenagers upon whom I focused all offered some variation of the same idea: that the blog was “just for me.” However, the genre of the blog, by nature hosted online and thus quite public, told a different story.

Continue reading Writing for Self and Others in an Era of Shared Social Realities

Neil Gaiman on Demythologizing the Creative Process and Point of View

I don’t have much to add. I just particularly enjoyed his comments on “demythologizing the creative process.”

Also, in his response to the question from the young woman, I heard anew the kinship of point of view and agency within our otherwise socially-structured lives. (Think Bourdieuian thoughts here.) They may sound like statements you’ve heard before, but I suggest we consider them as commentary on agency:

Nobody gets to bring to the world what you get to bring to the world…No one is going to change people, and change the world in the way you will change it.

I Know What You Read Last Summer

Creating my own version of a “chronography” or “time map” as part of my research into the development of writers…in Cabo.

I just spent an amazing month traveling with two weeks on the sleepy side of Cabo at my own DIY Writer’s Retreat. (I left feeling lucky, blessed, tan, centered, and validated for the way I budgeted this last year.)

Much of this “writing,” however, was spent thinking and reading, rereading and thinking. Isn’t this what we all look like on vacation?

(I also wrote about my month “as a disconnected educator” here and here.)
Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline

While at my retreat, I finished the book Cartographies of Time: A History of the Timeline. Even if time isn’t your current obsession (as I may be guilty of myself—here’s a post on its role in teaching and learning, and here’s a tweetchat and archive I hosted on the role time plays in contemporary composition, and why not, here’s another link to another’s post on time in education that I recommend), I don’t know of another book I could recommend more than this one. (Maria Popova of BrainPickings feels similarly.)

Picture yourself in one of those movies based on a Austen-type novel—one that features some kids sneaking into the captain’s library and taking big beautiful, intricate atlases or hand-drawn bird identification books and hiding under the table to crack the spine, or rushing out of the room and out onto the large estate gardens, laying down and opening the book under the bright sky. This is the exact feeling I had every time I opened Cartographies of Time. Mesmerized and contemplative, I was one giddy geek.

From single-digit centuries to contemporary times, the authors, Rosenberg and Grafton, traced the ways time has been represented in print, and equally fascinating, how it has been conceived of as a concept. Wait, wait…don’t let me lose you there. If that idea doesn’t capture you, I promise the images of these graphic representations across time will. It’s currently my favorite picture book! Don’t try to convince me that these contrasting images of ways time has been represented in history (as posted in the New York Times and The Morning News reviews of this book) don’t leave you wanting more…


Without further ado, here are four of the many insights I am still thinking about:


Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, a 19th century leading pedagogue known for promoting play in learning, utilized and promoted a highly-abstracted blank grid template in her instruction of history. On the template, youth made color-coded demarcations depending on type of historical event. Location on the grid was determined by the century and duration of event. Now, if you are like me, this kind of classroom activity sounds nothing like a “play is learning” kind of pedagogical decision; however, she found that using these templates shifted the focus of historical study away from memorization of dates (which apparently Mark Twain thought was nearly impossible) to an interpretive exercise, one of discussion and—get this—creativity. Her students’ grids were never filled in similarly, demonstrating their interpretations of events, causes, effects and significance. This was social studies in the 1800s. Who knew?


The quantitative, measured, linear, and very popular conception of time is a relatively recent metaphor applied to the idea. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that “the idea of a single uniform fabric of time” (p. 180) was a functional in society. The authors explained (emphasis mine):

The timeline did not precede our other ways of representing historical time, nor has it ever embodied the pure value neutrality that many have wished to attribute to it. It arose as a new way of expressing and quantifying chronological relationships (p. 244).

I won’t pretend that quantifying time has not instigated incredible advances in science and technology, but like other approaches to conceiving of time, a linear measurement of it is just another metaphor—one that has never sat well with me when trying to understand how humans experience time in their lives. In order to map experience onto a measured, linear time, experience must be flattened, quantified and sanitized. This works well for seeing some patterns that matter to humans like rates of disease and economic trends, but not for relationships, learning, and other such human experience. When it comes to human sense making, chronology is only one type of connection between events. We act based on our perception of chronology in relation to our experiences, not because of its measured pace.


In July, @dancohen and I had a short exchange on Twitter about the calendar as an early innovation of print, considered a hybrid space in which people could literally write their personal and family events into the histories of religious and royal events that dominated the representations of history at the time. Hybridity in text and composition is such a hot topic now; it’s fascinating to remember that like multimodality, hybridity is not new.


I am completely enamored of Marjolijn Dijkman’s installation project Wandering Through the Future. The installation included a timeline of future events as predicted in fiction. This was posted across a shed, and inside the shed on large screens, clips of futuristic films were presented as scenes of our future as patrons walked along time.

This got me thinking about the guys who took part in my dissertation research. Similar to these anticipated scenes of future reality playing on screens while patrons walked along in the present, the guys in the study had moments of future reality currently active in their lives. What they were scared of, and anticipated, and expected, and hoped shaped the actions they took in the present. In studying their development as writers, it was not sufficient to  merely map the dates and times of observed writing events and products on a timeline. Rather, how the youth experienced their pasts and futures in the present was integral to understanding what fostered, enabled and constrained their development.

So, what did you read this summer?

Forget Defining Literacies. What’s ‘Writing’?

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.

Screen shot of Journatic’s homepage.

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.

(This American Life has posted two articles from that have more detail and an update after the airing of this episode.)  

What’s ‘Writing’?

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 TimponeReally 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.

Man: Yeah.

Sarah Koenig: That one word is all you’re going to hear from this particular worker at his request. He’s got a full time professional job. But he told me his Journatic work pays better. And he needs the money to help pay his family’s expenses. Plus he likes the work. Back in April when the Tribune announced that Journatic would be providing stories for TribLocal, some readers and media watchers instantly began to grumble about the job losses but also about the product. It was canned, they said, barely rewritten press releases and daily stories under the news section about top DVD rentals in town or where to find the cheapest gas according to No context, no analysis.  © 2012 Chicago Public Media & Ira Glass

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?

Please add your thoughts in the comments below!