Tag Archives: framing

Dummy Runs and Schooled Writing

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In December I had the pleasure of joining a group of 5th graders in the high desert mountains of Utah. That week, my niece, Alaina, and her classmates had just asked their teacher if they could have time to write to children in Newtown, Connecticut after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. In a discussion with Alaina about how she decided what to write about, it was clear she (and her classmates) were very attentive to the audiences she hoped would eventually read her note. She was thinking about the children who survived, and how they may be frightened by the thought of going back to school. She also talked about how helpless she imagined the community members must feel. To address these weighty matters, she decided to share a fear of her own that could work as a metaphor for moving forward:

So let’s not look for the rain
Let’s look for the rainbow
Let’s look for new hope
There is always hope

photo 3 (2) Over the next week I had several conversations with Alaina about writing in school. For instance, she was working on an essay comparing and contrasting earthquakes with volcanoes. In class, they had been introduced to the Venn diagram as a way to jot notes. They had lists of transition words for comparison. She was set up for some great content area writing.

Then the time came when Alaina was trying to decide what information to include in her essay. To help her decide, I asked her for whom/to whom she was writing this assignment. I was surprised when she didn’t understand what I was asking–especially considering her attentiveness to audience in her note to the youth in Newtown. She didn’t consider her teacher the audience or her peers who would read it in small groups. There was effectively no audience.

James Britton and others have long ago argued for more attention to audience in school-based writing tasks. In our text Developing Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age, Richard Andrews and I reviewed Britton’s studies and contended:

The influence of audience is one of the most well-known findings from this section of the study. Fifty per cent of the 500 written pieces analyzed which were deemed as immature, i.e. with no distinguishable function or audience, were from work completed for English language arts courses. Many of these pieces were considered by the researchers to be ‘dummy runs’ or student products written merely to show a teacher capacity to complete a certain written task (Britton et al., 1976, p. 106). To this day, the importance of creating written assignments with ‘real’ audiences or audiences logically aligned with the purpose of the written task and beyond the teacher as audience is looked upon as instrumental in ensuring student engagement in writing a product, as well as higher quality end products.

Her school district had also begun to use a computerized writing assessment system that has become popular in recent years. In talking to her teacher, her teacher was concerned that Alaina’s scores were not reflecting Alaina’s writing abilities. Determinations about placement and advancement were based on these scores. When I asked Alaina what she took into consideration when writing to the computer program’s prompts and when being assessed by the computer program, she–again–wasn’t sure how writing changed when the rhetorical frame changed. Not only did she not know how to articulate (or have declarative knowledge) about rhetorical frameworks, she wasn’t demonstrating the kind of procedural knowledge she readily applied in writing for her own purposes.

In our digital age, we have more access to distribute written pieces to audiences who previously we could have imagined, but not practically reached. We can compose in varying genres and more easily design with multiple modes to really address topics previously out of reach. In other words, our rhetorical frameworks (form, message, audience) can be realized in the writing we do in schools (and out of school) in ways just a decade ago were far more difficult. However, we’re still seeing “dummy runs” dominate schooled writing, and we are using our digital technologies in ways which essentially distance our students from the “real” audiences they actually have access to. I see many critiques of computer-based writing assessment, but I have yet seen the argument taken up that these programs take writing out of its communicative framework. I think that is an argument we need to make moving forward.

I was pleased to be invited to join Alaina’s class to teach during their next hour dedicated to writing. In my next post, I will share the mini-lesson and guided practice we completed together on the topic of audience. We then extended that discussion into considering what writing for audience means in contemporary times. The young people in that class shared great advice for the demands on writing in a digital, networked age. I can’t wait to share those with you!

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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”

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.

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