Tag Archives: contemporary literacies

To DEAR (Drop Everything And Read) or to DREAM (DRop Everything And Make)

20120914-131047.jpgLast weekend, as I was walking to my weekend office (my favorite cafe in El Barrio, East Harlem Cafe), I passed the corner of 105th and Lexington, which had been under construction for the last months. Suddenly, I heard someone calling my name from inside the building. Sure enough it was Manny Vega, visual artist and mosaicist extraordinaire, who is well-known for his restoration of the Spanish Harlem mural on 104th and Lexington and the mosaics in the NYC subway station at 110th street.

20120914-131059.jpgHe was working on his newest project, a mosaic realization of the appliquéd series of public art that runs along the businesses from 104th to 105th in East Harlem (featured in the NY Times). In the renovation of the building at 105th and Lexington, the art there had been removed in pieces, and the folks at 7173 Associates, LLC, and the owner of the long-standing neighborhood perfumerie, Exotic Fragrances, had decided this was not a loss they would let the neighborhood feel. Expected to run 20 feet long and 7 feet high, Espiritu: A Visual Prayer in Glass and Stone for the Here and Now, is Vega’s gift for the streets of East Harlem. It will be unveiled October 6th at 3:00 p.m.

The theme is a celebration of moments in my life where spirit has been the vehicle for living. It has been an amazing experience to share these images with everyone as folks have provided even more meaning to this project with their own association with my art and the realm of the spirit. -Manny Vega

And if I wasn’t already lucky enough to live in a neighborhood with such a vibrant art community, Manny Vega has been kind enough to take me on as an unofficial, part-time mosaic apprentice. We had met at East Harlem Cafe, where a commissioned piece hangs announcing their name. We began to talk technique and tools, and pretty soon, I had my first assignments. I studied, up close and personal, the mosaics throughout the subways stations in NYC (and got a more than a few weird looks as I stood nose to tile) and then on a trip to Russia, the Byzantine style that Vega practices. With pieces of construction paper and scissors, I drew then places tiles in channels, a Byzantine-style technique that creates the movement, depth and life seen in Vega’s creations.

It was a Saturday, and I had a long to-do list awaiting me, but I did what any sane person would do with your mosaic mentor working on a landmark piece. I dropped everything and went to get my pieces and tools. I returned and we worked alongside each other with a stereo blasting the local flavor for hours. Manny showed me a new fastening technique, and let me use a new clipper tool to practice making curved pieces that “fastened” into the next stone. (You can see magnified sections of some of his work here by running the mouse over the image. Watch for the channels and how pieces are cut to fasten into each other.) He told me that as tile and glass becomes malleable and the pieces begin to run as you intend in the channels, the therapy sets in. The mind and body and the creation become one. And, as usual, he was right. I was transfixed and healed. I tweeted and an old student of mine responded brilliantly:

This got me thinking. Just a few nights before during #literacies chat, we had been discussing contemporary digital literacies while listening in to the National Writing Project’s bi-monthly radio program. We had this little exchange:

20120914-131124.jpg Part of Manny Vega’s mosaic mural Espiritu will be a piece that features The Trickster, a mythical creature that shows up across time and cultures. As a mosaic, Vega is afforded the ability to insert actual dominos and dice in his rendition of a modern-day Trickster, who gets around via skateboard. The dominos and dice are physical manifestations of the hustle, of the gamble, of the games today’s Trickster uses to entrap us. This physically-realized aesthetic and referent would not be possible in any other medium.

I think this is the approach we need to take when thinking about digital literacies. What are the affordances of the medium that—if we took advantage of—would result in compositions that could do and be things otherwise not possible? A few of my grad students took to defining contemporary literacies last semester. Some of the results are here. Doug Belshaw, of the Mozilla Foundation, is writing a white paper on web literacies right now, and he is looking for input. What do you think these affordances are that we should be attending to in schools today?

One of the changes I see as necessary, is to stop saying literacy when we mean reading. Literacies in contemporary times (and perhaps always) are equal measure reading and writing/interpreting and composing. In a forthcoming chapter in Critical Digital Literacies as Social Praxis: Intersections and Challenges, I explain (with co-author Glynda Hull):

Via digital means we are now easily able to compose in multiple modes and, with access to the Internet, to do so in response to and in collaboration with international others. Such practices are, in fact, increasingly viewed as central rather than peripheral to literacy (Andrews & Smith, 2011). Critical reading implies a reader’s active response, as Rosenblatt (1938/1995, 1978/1994) long ago taught us. The interpretation of written language and image resides at the intersection of text, the reader’s personal experiences with other texts, and the social world. In a digital age, a reader’s response can become manifest materially (cf. Coiro & Dobler, 2007). When readers engage with a blog, for instance, they are able, indeed expected, to click on links, add comments, and reblog or remix content. Such response is a customary, expected part of the reading experience. Thus, the reciprocal relationship between reading and writing becomes tighter in the digital sphere, making authorship more obviously tantamount to readership, and vice versa.

One way we could do this is change the DEAR program (Drop Everything and Read) and institute a DREAM program (DRop Everything and Make). As my old student Emily implied, this would include making meaning from existing texts, along with making new ones. I know from my Saturday afternoon with Manny, making is not just critical and creative, it can be healing.

(The #literacies chat also led us into another fascinating discussion of the boundaries of writing when considering contemporary digital composition. I’d love to continue the conversation on that topic that started here.)

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My Month as a “Disconnected” Educator–Part II

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.

Photo taken with a potential app in mind–capturing petals, stems, leaves and soil.

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.”

Concluding Thoughts
(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.

There’s Literacy and There are Contemporary Literacies

Where did these come from?

 Via Twitter, I came across the idea from Mrs. Baldwin and her class at Anastasis Academy to use the memo below (claimed to be given to Apple employees on their first day of work) as inspiration to do some end-of-semester reflection in a content area literacy and language development course on what it means to be literate. Above are some of the responses that all coincidentally chose a similar starting point:

There’s literacy and then there are contemporary literacies.

The letters above were typed in the online program lettrs.com, a website dedicated to creating a digital space for s…l…o…w…. composition. (And for you teachers out there, they are looking to do some pilots in 6-12th grades. Check it out!) As stated on their site:

Since the explosion of digital, we think people are communicating more, but saying less. People don’t write letters anymore and we think that is sad (and a problem). We have forgotten how to really write, see the personality in someone’s written word, and how to slow down the creation of deeper and better communication.

The #literacies Chat is Born!

Below you’ll find the birthing story of the #literacies chat, a weekly chat on Twitter bringing together educators, researchers and thinkers fascinated by contemporary literacies.

Our first chat will be June 7 @ 7:00 PM EST. Skip down below to read the post I wrote to introduce our first topic or  just head on over to the new home of our #literacies chat: http://literacieschat.wordpress.com/ 

The Birth of an Idea

If you know me as @writerswriting, my Twitter handle, chances are you know that this last semester I have been collaborating with Emily Pendergrass (@Dr_Pendergrass), a professor at Vanderbilt, who was teaching a course in New Literacies. I was teaching a course on Content Area Literacies and together we used the hashtag #literacies to engage the topic with our pre-service teachers and the wider world.

Phase One: Once the semester came to an end, we definitely wanted to take advantage of the momentum built by having so many of our colleagues think with us about the demands and dimensions of contemporary literacies. Monica Batac (@monicabatac) suggested make the hashtag a chat…and thus our new weekly #literacies chat idea was born.

First, we opened a GoogleDoc to brainstorm ideas and within a week and with over 50 contributors, the GDoc was packed with fascinating topics ranging from the seemingly wide gap between in-school and out-of-school literacies to the role of multimodality in the digital age.

Phase Two: Drawing heavily from Meenoo Rami (@mrami2) and the way she moderates #engchat, we made a website for the #literacies chat to call home. At that site we will post introductions to the weekly topic and archives of the chats.

Phase Three: This is where you come in!

Our first chat will be Thursday, June 7 @ 7:00 PM EST. Please join us to discuss, among other things:

  1. What brings you “to the table,” to the #literacies chat?
  2. What are you particularly committed to in regards to contemporary literacies?
  3. What blogs, texts, links, quotes, i.e. persons, have pushed your thinking in regards to contemporary literacies?

Below is a description of our first official chat topic! It is a repost from http://literacieschat.wordpress.com/ where you can find a description of upcoming chat topics and archives of each chat. You can also find a description of how to join us on Twitter, if you are new to the idea. We hope you join us!

June 7, 2012 #literacies Chat Topic: We are Our Relationships

I find nothing more boring than the constant diatribes against everything and anything digital—in the ways they destroy our language, our relationships, our attention, our intelligence, our morals.

If you find yourself here, reading this, you’ve connected, you’ve attended, and I feel pretty confident in claiming that you must be a smart cookie. My experience in practicing my own contemporary literacies has been filled with such connections, articulated quite well by @MaryAnnReilly (who, by the way, I only know through and because of digital technologies and the literate practices that have followed):

On Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 7:00 PM EST we will be hosting our first official #literacies chat. In the following Thursdays at 7:oo PM EST, we will host a series of topics brainstormed by 50+ contributors with whom we’ve crowdsourced and connected to through—again—digital means. For our first week, we’d like to know what brings each of us to the table, so to speak. How do our educational, research and personal interests in contemporary literacies connect and build on each other? We are bound to learn quite a bit from each other as we share insights, resources, interests and concerns, but before we dive in, let’s take a moment to get to know each other. In a blog post about what drove him to study social networks and write his book Social Network Theory and Educational Change, Alan J. Daly, an assistant professor of education at the University of California, San Diego, commented:

Relationships matter in a profound manner, and it seems the more focused we become on the technical elements of our work, the more distanced we become from the idea that the social connections are critical.

I’ve been thinking of the power of these connections for a while. Around the same time that we lost Steve Jobs, a man whose drive made many of my personal and professional connections possible, we also lost critical race theorist, Derrick Bell. It was fitting that at that time I came across a quote of his that captured exactly what I was feeling:

However self-sufficient we may fancy ourselves, we exist only in relation—to our friends, family, and life partners; to those we teach and mentor; to our co-workers, neighbors, strangers; and even to forces we cannot fully conceive of, let alone define. In many ways, we are our relationships. ― Derrick Bell, Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth (emphasis added)

Join us on Thursday, June 7, 2012 @ 7:00 PM EST to discuss, among other things:

  1. What brings you “to the table,” to the #literacies chat?
  2. What are you particularly committed to in regards to contemporary literacies?
  3. What blogs, texts, links, quotes, i.e. persons, have pushed your thinking in regards to contemporary literacies?