Tag Archives: digital literacies

So Many Literacies, So Little Time

The title of this post is borrowed from one of the pre-service teachers I’m working with in a Literacies and Technologies Across Disciplines course at my new institution. It’s the beginning of a new semester, and in this course that means, it’s Literacies Log time. In this assignment, I ask students to 201log their literacy activity for just an hour’s worth of time. The results are always interesting, if not mind-blowing as we consider how much of our time is spent engaging with a wide range of texts of various genres and formats mediated by a variety of technologies. As one student remarked, “It’s like we are constantly being literate. Even if you are just thinking, you are making sense of a text of some sort or another.”

literacy-logs

Above is just a smattering of the literacy practices we logged in an hour. And it got me thinking about a few things recent conversations I’ve had about literacies. For instance, we’re all (yes, I am speaking for all of ‘us’) tired of the ‘_________ literacies’ phenomenon. From visual literacies to digital literacies and fitness literacies to friendship literacies, from time to time hyphenating ‘literacies’ happens. (Heck, my work with Amy Stornaiuolo and Nathan C. Phillips is all about transliteracies.) Adding a term can help us to focus in on some aspect of literacy activity that we want to consider that may not—for one reason or another—have been foregrounded.

But it is always my hope whenever I see a ‘________ literacies’ that someday, because of the attention we give it with that prefix, that we’ll be able to talk about literacies, just literacies, and the focal aspect will be an obvious aspect to consider. And from the literacies logs turned in this year, I am even more hopeful that we’ll be able to drop some of those prefixes—like digital, visual, even trans—sooner than later. The everyday literacy practices logged were predominantly digital, involved visual modes, and a few of the students even noticed (without prompting from me) how their varied literacy practices allowed (or kept) them to be mobile across spaces and time.

So many literacies, but maybe someday…


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Creating Conversation: Composing in the Digital Age

Update: You can now navigate this conversation here.22477440_4366572e31 (1)

One of the many potentials of the shifts in re-envisioning writing in multimodal spaces is the chance for new conversations — for stretching out thinking beyond your own physical space and joining in discussions about the changes now underfoot. During November 2012’s Digital Writing Month, educators and writers and others from across many teaching levels and learning domains — from public schools to college universities and beyond — were engaged in a deep exploration of digital tools and ideas, and many participants shared reflective practice on what those digital choices were doing to their conceptions of writing.

As fellow explorers during Digital Writing Month, Kevin Hodgson and I have decided to continue that conversation through consideration of digital literacies and contemporary composition by coordinating a multimodal conversation that begins with the idea of Digital Writing Month and then stretches outward from there. We will be jumping, leaping and diving from digital media platform to digital media platform in their conversation, as we first reflect on literacies in the 21st Century and then ask, and respond to, each others’ questions.

Kevin is a sixth grade teacher in Western Massachusetts and a member of the National Writing Project. He is the co-editor and writer of Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom. You may already know him as @dogtrax on Twitter. I am ecstatic to learn with him! (And, by the way, most of the text in this blog post was written by Kevin. Gotta love collaboration!)

We hope others to join us as we build this digital tapestry of ideas and reflections! We’re excited to announce that we’ll be hosting this conversation on the National Writing Project‘s Digital Is website. The exchanges will take place on Kevin’s Digital Is blog posts and my Digital Is blog posts. Please visit and join us in the comments…and feel free to respond using the same platform we used! We are also using the hashtag #modigiwri on Twitter to link the conversation together.

(#modigiwri is a play on #digiwrimo, which was the hashtag for Digital Writing Month. Our #mo doesn’t quite stand for month…We’re hoping you can infer its meaning!)
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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.)