Category Archives: Theory

#ethnog12 Presentation Slide: Silent & Silenced Identity Work

I just presented at the University of Pennsylvania 33rd Annual Ethnography in Education Research Forum with colleagues Tracie Wallace at UC Berkeley, and John Scott and Dee Anne Anderson at NYU who each teach/research at sites on Space2Cre8.com. From our experiences at each of our sites we asked:

How might we imagine the possibilities of social networking sites as learning spaces in which youth not just ‘come to know,’ but make, relate and do?

Current studies in social networking sites (SNS) focus on how youth use SNS (e.g., boyd, 2008) or on questions around teen privacy online (e.g., Livingstone, 2008). There remains, however, limited data examining the impact of SNS in identity work. We are working to address this research gap by focusing one educational SNS project, Space2Cre8.com, with many complexities—including partnerships across six countries; program sites within school and out-of-school settings; and curriculum iteratively developed by teachers and adapted to address diverse cultural and technological needs of participants. We discussed youths’ creative and literate practices, and how learning across modes, media, and semiotic tools provides students with opportunities to challenge traditional performance of identities as agentive participants in a global world.

Dee Anne Anderson and I presented about our work with youth in the EXCEL Academy @ NYU, which engaged questions on this slide:

A New Ethic for Digital Composition: Cosmopolitanism

Do youth need thoughtful, guided practice composing for potentially global audiences?

Recently, a friend on Facebook posted a question asking what age it is appropriate for a child to have an email account. About 29  comments later, it had became apparent that in the 3rd and 4th grades in this school district, teachers were setting up email accounts with students. Many of these comments were ones of frustration over the lack of parental notification and participation in this activity, but one in particular stood out for me. One person asked: “What possible reasons could there be for a 4th grade child to have an email account?” I don’t typically engage in Facebook conversations, especially emotionally-charged ones, but I felt that I could contribute a few “possible reasons why” youth should be participating in digital communication in thoughtful, guided ways.

EGYPT-PROTEST/

Even with the digital divide present and growing, the nature of composition has changed in the digital and networked age in such a way that the capability to be producers and critical consumers of knowledge is now more widely available. Take social media outlets: More people of all ages, nationalities, genders, and socio-economic positions produce news, comment on social issues, and even stage revolutions. These possibilities disrupt our existing societal power dynamics, and in turn, necessitate a new ethic of exchange with distant, unknown, imagined others. Critical reader-writers must take into consideration not just the interpretations they have intended as authors, but also the possible interpretations of audiences previously unimagined and out of reach.

Continue reading A New Ethic for Digital Composition: Cosmopolitanism

Alternative Metaphors for Classroom Texts

This post was written with Teaching Reading in Secondary English Language Arts class members, who are all Master of Education candidates at New York University. These are the same authors of the #teachread project.

This semester we have read several articles and chapters that discuss the selection of texts. Though they each have varied foci, one thing cuts across all these articles: The metaphor used to describe the relationship between “the classics” and other texts, particularly young adult literature.

Here’s the metaphor: “A Bridge to the Classics”
Just as all roads lead to Rome, apparently, all texts used in the ELA classrooms are supposed to lead to classics. YA literature, in particular, is positioned as the way to get kids on the reading path. And once we get ‘em reading, we clasp their hands and start toward the classics, trying to convince them along the way that there’s a connection between the contemporary story they just read and the further removed story they’re about to read. (This sounds less like a bridge and more like a “bait and switch.”)

Continue reading Alternative Metaphors for Classroom Texts

Define Urban, Please

Recently, Emily Pendergrass tweeted a request:

‘Urban’ has been on my mind for a while—most recently on my trip to Peru where I took this picture. And sure, I have opinions based on my work and research in large cities and small—even areas that actually look quite a bit like this Peruvian Zona Urbana—but I want to keep my mind open and engaged in this issue. I don’t like to take things for granted. I‘d love to hear your definitions. I promise to comment with my working definitions, but you first. And yes, I promise to pass them on to @Dr_Pendergrass.

  • What is ‘urban’ in the educational context?

  • How do you see ‘urban’ playing out in the lives of learners?

  • What are the boundaries of ‘zona urbana’?

From Frames to Framing

Guest Post from Richard Andrews, Dean of Faculty and Professor of English at the Institute of Education, University of London. Richard Andrews is also co-author of our newly released Developing Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age.

In Developing Writers, we use Richard Andrews’ concept of framing from his book Re-framing Literacy: Teaching and Learning in English and in the Language Arts to characterize aspects of writing in the digital age. In celebration of the release of our co-authored book, I asked Richard to introduce us to the concept of framing as applied to writing.

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I’ve long been interested not only in the verbal arts, but also in the visual arts and how the two interrelate. So book illustration, art with words (the work of Kurt Schwitters, Roy Lichtenstein, Barbara Kruger and others), and the complementarity and tension between word and image have all been areas of intellectual interest as well as enjoyment.

Channeling Barbara Kruger by Flickr user alexloyal (CC licensed)

A step back from immersion in those two modes suggests that framing is a concept that is worth exploring in terms of communication. Continue reading From Frames to Framing

The Two-Faced Coin (Part 2 of 2): Education’s Two-Face–Time

Flip a Coin

What do you think? Is it going to be heads or tails? At this moment, can you tell? What will determine on which side it will drop? A gust of wind? The momentum of the roll? (Someone with a physics degree chime in with a comment. I am sure we’d all love to know the actual factors that will contribute to the outcome.)

When it comes to the educational development/deficit coin though, we have only one factor to consider: Time. “Oh, no, no,” you might be saying, “it’s the quality of the product that determines whether a writer is developed or not.” Or you might argue that it’s the sophistication of the writer’s composing processes. You may even ask us to consider the resources he/she consider and draw from or the repertoire of genres with which he/she has facility.

I’d agree with you that each of these dimensions of a writer are important, but these characteristics aren’t what determine development in education. Let’s take a look at a piece of writing to see what we find.

How would you determine whether the writer is developed, developing or in deficit? Of course, as indicated above, you might ask if it is a draft or if it is considered good “for a poem.” But then let me ask you: What if I told you it was written by a second grader? Would your judgement change? What if I told you it was a college student? What if I told you it was the first time the person had tried this genre or if it was after five years of participating in a community of poets? At the heart of any of these approaches to deciding whether writing or a writer is developed are questions of time: how long? how old? what grade?

We should then ask: Where do we get those ideas of what is expected at certain ages and after certain lengths of time and at certain grades? One such source is a study by Britton, Burgess, Martin, McLeod and Rosen conducted in 1976. They studied the audiences and functions (to persuade, to entertain, to tell) of the written products and writing tasks from classes of students ages 11-17 from across the UK. From their results, they suggested a curriculum of increasing cognitive abstraction in written products from personal experiences, to argument, to tautological statements. This suggestion has been taken up and is pervasive in the educational field in both curricula (e.g. in the first version of the National Curriculum in England in English) and research studies (e.g. McKeough & Genereux, 2003).

Buried in their study report was the statement that the audiences and functions of students’ written products aligned closely with the writing tasks assigned to them in school. From this the researchers reasoned that the range of written products in schools was the result of teaching curriculum and methodology rather than students’ independent writing development or even current skill sets:

We are clear about one thing: the work we have classified cannot be taken as a sample of what young writers can do. It is a sample of what they have done under the constraints of a school situation, a curriculum, a teacher’s expectations, and a system of public examinations which itself may constrain both teacher and writer. (p. 108)

In essence, then, the developmental model offered by Britton, Burgess, Martin, McLeod and Rosen (1976) is a model of the development of school curriculum—how to characterize the sequence of tasks assigned to students in first, third, fifth and seventh years of secondary school in the UK. The implication is that writing development is intricately tied to the writing experiences that have been afforded; and a common denominator to young persons’ development is the experiences required in school. Britton et al.’s (1976) developmental scheme, however, is not an indication of students’ cognitive or writing capacity, nor reflective of the entire range of audiences of functions of students’ writing.

The point here is simply this:

Chronological time is the ultimate determiner of development in writing. Our benchmarks on this linear scale of time have been based on studies and curricula that are not based on how youth actually develop as writers, but rather how we organize the products, practices and participation across a linear scale. 

When schools determine one child is developed and another is at deficit, we are just at the mercy of units of time we have segmented and decided should correlate to a set of practices. We aren’t actually saying anything about the child’s abilities or capacities. Yet the consequences of being thus labeled are left to the child, and deficit always leaves a mark.

I know. Ouch.

[Flip a Coin by The Bartender 007 / © Some rights reserved. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license]
Britton, J., Burgess, T., Martin, N., McLeod, A. & Rosen, H. (1976). The development of writing abilities (11-18). London: Schools Council Publication.
McKeough, A., & Genereux, R. (2003). Transformation in narrative thought during adolescence: The structure and content of story compositions. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(3), 537-552.

The Two-Faced Coin (Part 1 of 2): Development and Deficit

Alright. Let’s go in. Progress, improvement and development are—in essence—the project of education. Sounds pretty good, right? But it’s not so simplistically altruistic.

For one, there have been many people who have pointed out problems inherent in this project. Developing countries, for instance, can definitely benefit from implementation of certain social and physical structures that have improved the quality of life for others in the world—like public sewage systems or public education. At the same time, these “improvements” historically have come at a steep price of subjugation, and even imperialism. It is useful for us to pause to ask who gets to determine what is a “quality life” for another. Discussions that help us illuminate disparities between intent and result are important, but they aren’t want I want to focus on right now.

I’d like to talk about something a bit more fundamental to the concept of development in education: The flip side.

If we turned over the coin with development’s face, we’ll find deficit on its tail. In the name of progress and in our efforts to further development, we are constantly creating deficit. In Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison, Michel Foucault gave the example of how this occurs in the human sciences. He explains the project of studying human behavior is defining what is normal, healthy, desirable (i.e. the good girl, law-abiding citizen). In the process, this act of defining a norm creates abnormality (i.e. the criminal, the crazy person). Entire professions are then brought to rectify the deviants of the norm—a “deviation” the field itself created. Foucault quipped at another time:

…if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal, then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing…

Demented, right? It reminds me of Two-Face from the Batman series, portrayed by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight. Your chances of life or death, sanity or insanity, and in education development or deficit is left to the chances of the flip of a coin. Today you may be developed, but that same activity tomorrow may be deficit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOOjM08zH5o

In Batman, it’s Two-Face who flips the coin and chance determines your life or death. In the human sciences, it’s the psychological, behavioral and sociocultural rating scales and evaluation measures. What flips the coin in education? Although similar to other human sciences, assessment measures could be seen as the coin-flipper, I humbly submit that education’s Two-Face is Time. And that’s Part 2 of 2. See you then.

Michel Foucault, (2004) ‘Je suis un artificier’. In Roger-Pol Droit (ed.), Michel Foucault, entretiens. Paris: Odile Jacob, p. 95. (Interview conducted in 1975. This passage trans. Clare O’Farrell).