A Lesson in #21stCenturyReading: Being ‘Readable’

In the #teachread project, we have each set up a particular social media venue (we are new to) through which we share and interact with others regarding the YA books we are reading. For instance, even though I have this blog, I wanted to try microblogging and set up a Tumblr site called Part-Time Harlemite. My posts there deal with my reading of The Absolutely True Diary of  Part-Time Harlemite by Sherman Alexie, as well as issues of teaching and learning discussed in our Teaching Reading in ELA course. This post is a cross-posting from that site. 

Through this we are studying what it means to read in the 21st Century: What do we read? How do we make sense of it? When do we read it? What do we do with what we read? 

My first lesson in using Tumblr in my inquiry into reading in the 21st Century was not the one I was expecting. I quickly learned that reading in the digital age not only means equal amounts of writing, but making my writing ‘readable.’ I put ‘readable’ in quotes because I don’t mean ‘legible.’ Rather I mean making the writing palatable to a wide range of potential readers. Here are some of the keys I’ve learned. How to execute them on different platforms, I am still figuring out.

What is a Readable Blog?

  • Easy interaction:Tumblr comes set up for reblogging, but not for interaction. I, and many others I’ve spoken with, want to interact with ideas, not just read them and repeat them. Dan Pontefract in a recent blog post, defined social media as a connector—of people, ideas, and content—rather than a source of those things. Reblogging allows ideas to move, but not for ideas, people and content to meet.
  • Bite-size pieces of information: Reading on the web is as much a visual as a linguistic activity. I often read about the vapidity of social media, implying that because information comes in snippets, lists and/or limited characters that the ideas across social media are light in terms of content. Rather, they can be incredibly complex ideas skillfully written in concise and dense packages.
  • Trans-friendly: I need readers and I need to people whose work I can read. We find each other not just through searches within Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, etc. in which we are composing, but rather through other interconnected social media. My titles need #hashtags for Twitter. It needs a Google+ +1 button and a Facebook Like button. And then I need to make sure my posts roll out to those venues.
  • Here’s where you come in… What other aspects of a post makes social media ‘readable’? 

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’?

Welcome to the United States, Developing Writers!

Although only the hardback version (a.k.a. expensive collectors’ item) of our new book, Developing Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, shows up on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the Buy Now and Desk Copy buttons at Open University Press, U.S.A. are now functional! (Amazon does have a Kindle version.)

With Richard Andrews, Dean of Faculty and Professor of English at the Institute of Education, University of London, I argue that although existing theories of writing development have provided insights into the teaching and learning of writing, we need to bring such theories up to date in the digital age—an age in which, among other things, writing needs to be re-conceived as one crucial component of communication among other modes.

In the book, we review and compare existing models of writing pedagogy, and invite readers to discover for themselves their working theories for how writing and development happen. The theories with which we make pedagogical decisions are the driving force behind why we do what we do; however, they are often tacit, working in our lives unnoticed and unarticulated—making them very hard to be reflective about. In the book, we offer a new theory and model for understanding writing development in the multimodal and digital age. The last few chapters are all about how this model would work in teaching practice and policy.

I can’t wait to be able to discuss it with teachers, teacher educators, literacy researchers, digital scholars, policy makers and writers of all ages!

The Digital Divide Goes to School

As of late, I have been enamored with infographics—the epitome of “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So, beginning this week and running indefinitely, I will be posting infographics that have caught my eye and made me think.

The inaugural infographic comes from an information brief from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development with the original link for the pdf here. Take a look and then let’s chat:

Recently, @digitalmaverick posted this question on Twitter, and I think it makes a pretty important point:

In era in which innovation and constant change are the norm with digital technologies, the access to and experience with digital devices, broadband Internet and composing softwares is paramount. In this infographic, ASCD not only proposes the digital divide in terms of individuals, but schools in comparison to, I assume, industry and business.

Continue reading The Digital Divide Goes to School

We Learn With & With is Messy

I was in Duluth, Minnesota the week school was starting. I was standing out on the lighthouse pier on Lake Superior enjoying the summer evening air and the full moon reflecting on the water when an eight year-old girl walked up with her family. We hadn’t even greeted or nodded when she looked up to me with two things to announce: 1) This is the most beautiful thing ever! and 2) I am wearing school clothes! We just bought them!

The exclamation marks were definitely hers. Her excitement was contagious. And I couldn’t help but to begin to anticipate her first week of school. Would she have a mini-project to make the first morning to get her active and engaged? Would reading time be established early on with great selection, choice and time for interaction? Would she do the science fair or maybe even a language fair this year?

And then as she skipped off, my grin and optimism waned:

Would she fill in a lot of worksheets?

Would that first worksheet be an “All About Me” card complete with questions to try to get at whether reading is done at home or one or two outside interests that her teacher could bring up if she wasn’t engaged. That is if the teacher had the time to read and memorize which info went to which cherub face.

Continue reading We Learn With & With is Messy

Multimodality is Old News: The Incas and Khipu

I have been off the grid for a bit, but more importantly, I have been on vacation.

With some old and some new friends, I hiked the Inca Trail through the Andes mountains from outside Cusco, Peru to the oft-photographed Machu Picchu. Machu Picchu and its location were impressive—as expected. The trek, however, which covered about 25 miles of elevation gains of up to 13,000 feet at Dead Woman’s Pass and losses and gains again across several passes, was the personally satisfying portion of the trip.

The following two photographs show a bit of the extent of this trek: The first, where we were going on Day 2, and the second from the other side while atop the next mountain range still on Day 2. We continued hiking that day.

While trekking we were led by Peruvian guides Marco and Roger, as well as hosted by 18 porters who packed and prepared all of our daily needs (amazing!). At each pass, Marco discussed Incan history with us (punctuating the tales with some great punchlines). At one particular pass, Marco impressed upon us the expanse of the Incan empire, which in the 1400s extended across several current South American countries and was the largest South American pre-Columbian empire. Food, supplies, building and expansion plans, astronomical predictions, and military commands were all transported across this terrain by chasquis (runner messengers) at a much quicker pace than we were keeping. (The trek had been run in 3:45 and we were taking four days!) Impressive as just that is, our guide said that at one point, the chasquis’ tongues had been cut off so that the secrets of the empire could not be shared. (I haven’t been able to corroborate this yet. If someone has a source, please let me know.)

So how did they do it? Without tongues, the only other reasonable alternative to expect was that these runners carried some type of text—a large scroll or a tiny printed words on coco leaf (implausible, but go with me). Well, we’d be wrong in such an assumption. Apparently, the largest pre-Columbian empire built stone cities with precision, expanded their reign across cultures, and managed their empire without a formal writing system.

As one of my students used to say, “Let’s let that percolate.”

Continue reading Multimodality is Old News: The Incas and Khipu

Anna Smith, PhD, educational researcher & teacher educator blogging about composition in the digital age, contexts for learning, theories of development, and global youth.

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