Why is it that the people who seem to get the spotlight when it comes to talking about new literacies, technology, and how kids learn are the naysayers? I’ve just finished reading “The Dumbest Generation” by Mark Bauerlein – another in what feels like a long string of books with the thesis that young adults/teens/children are becoming less and less “smart” given the kinds and uses of technologies made available to them. Sigh. My gut reaction to these kinds of books is usually to get heated, write something passionate for a teaching journal, and hope that a teacher’s thinking gets moved. That said, this, and the others like it (i.e., Oppenheimer) end up on the NY Times best sellers list and significantly impact readers across the globe. These writers aren’t teachers. These writers don’t do more than step into carefully chosen classrooms (usually non-representative or even generalizable) for a limited period of time, place their gaze typically on what they pre-determined they wanted to see, and then publish conclusions that have impact on parents’ and the “popular” view on the topic. I think they miss a big point – technology is disruptive – and sometimes that is a VERY good thing. I’m all for critically examining practice and new technologies – but this (and others like it) swings too far to the other extreme.
Maybe this is part of the reason that I want you to be thinking about the power of your voice (in creating a counter-story of sorts)… Maybe it is part of the reason I’ve been thinking so critically about the kinds of schema that teachers (and those in the popular media) need to have in order to create the classrooms that will actually move students’ thinking… Or, maybe, I’m just venting… This is a disappointing read – and one that makes our work harder. (And, I’m now wondering – what is the counter-text? And, could it have the same “punch” and impact? What if we tell the stories of kids and teachers who are doing really important, engaging work? Does that “sell” as well? Or, is there something “bigger” in our culture that we want to buy into the vision of technology as destructive as opposed to engaging/empowering/necessary… etc.?) I’m fired up. I want to write “The Smartest Generation.”
I’m thinking about “upping the anty” a bit when it comes to our final assignments (just what you want to hear me say on “conference day”) — the National Writing Project is DEEPLY interested in what we might do here, given the discussions we’re having, the experiences you all bring to the conversation, and the context in which we all are teaching. More to come – but are you interested in sharing your “This We Believe” videos here?
You know my “roots” in learning digital storytelling at the Center for Digital Storytelling at U.C. Berkeley. The folks there have just “launched” a new site for sharing, posting, and commenting on digital stories — had it existed a week ago, we would have used that as opposed to YouTube as a posting site. I really think that it is a TREMENDOUS resource for student digital stories as you have options for security and, as it is early into its inception, a high cap on the file size. Any thoughts?
So, concurrent with teaching this class, I’m also plowing through data gathered from a multi-state study of upper elementary and middle school first and second year teachers’ teaching practices using new literacies tools and, bigger, tasks. Of the 112 participants, about 15% actually worked during their first year to integrate new literacies practices throughout their teaching — and 50% used at least one instructional strategy or activity that fell into that work. The challenge of how we’re looking at that is that in order to “count” the practice needs to put kids’ hands onto the tools – and kids need to be using them to create, produce, evaluate, synthesize, etc. (In other words, it isn’t enough to lecture using PowerPoint and call that multimodal presentation of information…) The survey data and follow-up interviews of randomly selected teachers reflects that there were three basic ideas that guided their decisions about what to teach and how (and, SURPRISINGLY, none of those had to do with tangible access to “stuff” or tools as we talked about in class) — they consider (in no significant order) what their students have learned in past work – and how a new literacies task would thrust that forward (to use an interviewees’ phrase), their students’ likely knowledge of the tool/task, and what the positive impact would potentially be of implementing it. What surprises me about this is that they don’t consider what they do and do not know as users/teachers/writers… Nor are they thinking about instructional time, access to resources, or, what I thought would REALLY be a big deal – if anyone else had ever done it in that way (again, either in that school or within the community influencing/informing their practice – i.e., like those who are writing about their teaching). Does it surprise you?
One of the blogs I read most often is written by Ewan McIntosh, a teacher, thinker and new literacies theorist in the UK. He included this image in a recent post , and I was really struck by how it played into the words and ideas of Murray, Rief, Newkirk and other thinkers in the field of composition rattling around my head. Any reading is a re-writing, in part through the process of connecting and combining of that text in dialogue with all of the other things we think, and read, and know. Murray talks about the “new composition teachers” who don’t have all the answers but DO have an inventory of pedagogical strategies ready to deploy. He explains “all we see or hear connects with something else, passing through out unconscious and conscious until it ripens into a subject that is ready to write” (11). So, that leads me to wonder – we’ve all had those brilliant, compelling teachers who captivate our thinking and inspire us to work harder. Do those teachers have the largest treasure trove or collection of texts and ideas to draw from – or is it the way in which they interweave and connect those texts and ideas (and, perhaps, tools) that they do have?