Preparing for Our “New Literacies” Workshops

Tomorrow, after many months of planning and a few hectic days this week getting everything in order, we will have 15 teachers presenting to 50 of their peers in the RCWP-sponsored New Media & New Literacies = New Expectations & New Opportunities Workshops. Here is a list of the sessions:

  • Blogging and Podcasting
  • Digital Storytelling
  • Of Secondary Worlds: Using MOOs and Second Life in English Language Arts
  • Hooking Writers with New Literacies
  • Teaching English in a Digital Age
  • Reading and Writing Graphic Novels
  • Teaching Collaborative Writing Using Web-based Tools

This workshop had been a labor of love and represents, I feel, both a large portion of the work of our writing project over the past few years and, simultaneously, an enactment of all the things that I believe as a teacher educator when it comes to technology and literacy.

First, as a portion of the work of our writing project, this day represents 10 of our teachers moving into leadership and professional development roles in ways that we hadn’t even imagined just a few years ago. Thanks to a Lead Technology Initiative Grant from the National Writing Project, RCWP has been able to focus on effective models of professional development for our teacher consultants. Over the past three years, our two main goals have been to get teachers blogging, wikiing, and podcasting from the NWP annual meeting each November and then to present a series of tech workshops in the summer of 2006.

Tomorrow, along with 5 other teachers from around the state and one other writing project, these teachers who were all just on the cusp of learning about technology in the past few years will now be leading critical and creative sessions about reading and writing with technology. Having individually worked with many of these teachers and watched them grow over the past three years, I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see them taking the lead on this initiative. I hope that this work continues now in K-12 schools through professional development, and not just special campus events like this one.

Second, because I have worked with most of these teachers and learned about technology along with them, I very much appreciate the time, effort, and preparation that they have put into all of this. Just last week, one of them was telling me how unprepared she felt to lead this session, until she begin listing all the things she wanted participants to do and realized that 3 hours wouldn’t be close to enough. Another teacher told me how she has been going through her workshop agenda with her kids as a mini-unit on technology and realized how much she has learned. She noted that these “digital natives” are woefully unaware of anything besides MySpace and, perhaps, Facebook, and thus knows that she is doing the right types of things with technology in her classroom.

To sum up briefly, I am very much looking forward to seeing how tomorrow unfolds for all of my friends and colleagues. I am convinced that we are combining the best of the NWP model of “teachers teaching teachers” with high-quality technology instruction. I am glad to know that this model has attracted 50 other educators to our workshops tomorrow and even more excited to see where it goes next.

Reflections on the weekend to follow soon…

Notes on “Identity Interface: Rhetorical Analysis, Graphic Design, and Comics”

Notes from another CCCC session that I found engaging. In this session, the presenter spent a good deal of time thinking about design from the standpoint of a writing teacher, and I found her angle on it informative. In particular, I found her categories of balance, unity, gestalt, and hierarchy a more nuanced way of talking about the Robin Williams principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. I hadn’t really thought about using Homestar Runner for a writing assignment, but now I might.

Here are some notes:

Chandra Lewis-Qualls – “Identity Interface: Rhetorical Analysis, Graphic Design, and Comics”

  • Intro
    • How is identity created in online comics, analyzing with graphic design theories
    • Her subject position: I am a feminist rhetorician interested in visual design and communication, deeply immersed in gaming
  • Graphic Design
    • Mildred Friedman — “Graphic design is an art form that depends for its efficacy on the degree to which words and images communicate a coherent message.”
    • You get the effect of the intent based on what isn’t explicitly evident
  • Why Use Graphic Design?
    • By focusing on design strategies, we can discern alternate ways to shape idetity online
    • Graphic design has a longer history that visual rhetoric and insights from the field could prove valuable
    • It opens up conversations between academics and designers
  • 1964 “The First Things First Manifesto”
    • Graphic design has a long history of critique and wanted to point out the fact that design is not neutral and has value; they were pushing against the consumer and material aspects of graphic design and wanted to share their thoughts on it
  • New Media Analysis
    • Cheryl Ball has suggested that we need to analyze “the semiotic elements [of new media]”
    • New Media critics often look at five major design features and ignores the sub-texts of design
  • Graphic Design Components
    • Balance — controlling the negative space, creating visual interest
      • How are the elements arranged?
      • What effect does this have on the composition as a whole?
    • Unity — creating harmony with a color, shape, or typeface
      • What are the elements that create unity in this piece?
    • Gestalt — the combination of elements create an idea or message that isn’t explicit, but is an underlying argument in the design
      • What is the opinion underlying the design
    • Hierarchy — dominant element in the design of various levels of interest
      • How to create interest
  • Branding and Identity
    • Multiple experience with the product
    • Created through advertising, design, and media
    • A symbolic embodiment of the product
    • Creates associations and expectations
    • Includes explicit logo, fonts, color schemes, etc
  • Focus on web comics
    • Try to create an embodied experience for the characters
    • Homestar Runner.com
    • Irreverent surreal humor
    • Strongbad’s identity
    • Types answers to visitors and is very sarcastic
  • Using these concepts in class
    • How do you visually convey your identity online (ethos)
    • Freshmen create a MySpace page
    • Upper level students create a digital portfolio to represent their work

Reposting: On a “feed”ing frenzy

In August of 2005, I started blogging on the domain that Steve and I bought to host our now defunct podcast. In October, I posted my thoughts on M.T. Anderson’s book, feed. Soon after, I loaned it to Davin, (who I mention in the post below) and just yesterday he stopped by for a surprise visit to return the book. So, with that in mind, I thought that it was timely to repost this summary of the book from my original blog from way back in the day. You know, like less than two years ago, right? Enjoy!


feed coverWell, this has been an up and down weekend. Another chance to talk with pre-service English teachers on Friday about wikis and the like was followed by work and email until one in the morning that night (sad, but true). Then, Saturday, brought a cool, but comfortable day for Spartan football and, inevitably, a blown chance to go 5-2 on the season. Today was spent largely outside doing yard chores, waiting another weekend for our late-turning leaves to fill dozens of lawn bags. Which brings me to now, and the fact that I feel like I need to write about something engaging and, hopefully, useful, so I can cap off the weekend in a positive manner.

So, I will write a little bit about feed, by M. T. Anderson. And, despite the fact that it isn’t the most positive book in the world, there is plenty that it has to say about our consumer culture, internet technology, and what we really value in life. Perfect fiction for me. Here goes…

My introduction to this text was from a colleague, Ninna Roth, who was using it as a part of the Greenrock High School Writers Retreat a few years ago. She told me that it was, by far, the most incredible book that she had ever read (although, like every English teacher, I think her favorites are constantly changing). At any rate, I let the book linger on my shelf for quite some time and, over the summer, mentioned to my son (now a sixth grader) that a friend told me it was a good book. He was interested, so I passed the book on to him with the intention of reading along with him. Well, he read fast. And, he told me, many times, that this was a book that I might not approve of him reading (more on that soon), although it all worked out in the end, because I read it recently and we had many interesting points of discussion to talk about. A few of them included the peer pressure on teens and the constant desire for them to want. To want things. Objects. People. I could put a whole post up on that aspect of it. But this blog is supposed to focus more on technology, so that is where I will go.

The “feed” referred to in the title of Anderson’s text is an extension of today’s always-on internet that is hard-wired, literally, into a person’s limbic system. The feed is available to use for chatting others, pulling up information, getting directions, playing games, “going mal,” and any number of other types of internet that we would use. Although, in Anderson’s world, the feed is tied into the brain, so there are no glasses to wear, headsets to don; people are hooked up from the word go and can be online, all the time. This, of course, allows for the other pervasive online activity to happen, too—advertising. The feed, through some sophisticated demographic profiling and GPS tracking can, without fail, give information to a person looking at a product on a shelf (or merely driving by a store or having a particular emotion that the product could help offset) better than any salesperson could ever hope to. The co-opting force of the dollar has taken over the feed, the internet, and is what—we find out later—makes the whole system run.

Anderson’s main character, Titus, is a typical teen in this connected world. To make a long story short, he meets up with an anti-establishment type, Violet, and they go through a series of events together that bring them together and push them apart at the same time. She attempts to resist the feed, in all its forms. I won’t spoil the end, but thought that you should know a little more about it before I get back to the technology. Wow, this is an unfocused book review. Sorry.

So, back to the tech aspects of it. First, I was trying to figure out if Anderson was truly prescient in his titling of the book, or if he just got lucky. In 2002, when it came out, I hadn’t heard of feeds, or RSS, and I wonder if many others had either. Although Wikipedia points to 1999 as the year feeds really kicked in, I thought that Anderson was just lucky. Then, I was talking with a friend and colleague at MSU, Davin Granroth, and he politely reminded me that news organizations like AP and UPI have been sending news over the wire, “feeding” it to newspapers and other journalists for years. Thanks, Davin, for pointing that out (and please excuse my ignorance of journalism. Duh.).

At any rate, the fact that Titus, Violet, and their friends can get news, or a definition, or anything else that they want, anytime, is both exciting and disheartening. For instance, I think of the fact that I carry my life around with me on a laptop and a cell phone. It is sad, but true, that if I lost this laptop, I would be doomed (at least somewhat—I did back it up on an external hard drive last week). Or, the fact that I don’t know phone numbers of my closest relatives and friends, I just pull up their name in my cell phone (which is, after all, my only phone). Or, that I have Max OS X’s Dashboard widgets constantly running so I can look things up on Wikipedia like the history of RSS. In fact, I think that these widgets are about the closest thing to begin connected to the feed that I have experienced so far, although certainly blogs and podcasts are right up there, too.

Also exciting, but scary, is the fact that because no one really has to know anything, School (with a big TM behind it) is really just a holding pen for these kids, even more so than today. They don’t really need to know anything, they can look it up on the feed. They don’t really have to have an opinion on anything, the feed provides it for them. They don’t really have to want anything in life, the feed tells they what they should do for fun, for love, for an image. At one point, a character is discouraged by the poverty he saw on a trip to, I believe, Mexico and then he turns to his friends and says how he can’t think about that because it is so depressing. That is bad in and of itself and then Anderson has the feed, of course, kick into this kid’s brain with something fun so he could, indeed, forget about poverty. Wow. Talk about me media.

Now, I am all for digital literacy. No shocker there. But, Anderson’s text raises some interesting points about being online, all the time. I talked with my son about this a little bit and I don’t think that he fully understands the implications of it, yet. Is he online? Sure he is? Is he pervasively online? No, not like me (always looking for wi fi gets old, right?). So, his general response to the text was that this is an interesting take on things, but not a likely future. I am not sure so. Anderson places it, as best I can tell by a historical reference in the text, at about the year 2200. The fact of the matter is that I think many of the things that he talks about are already happening.

Spam clogs email inboxes. Spyware watches us (especially those using IE). Banner ads and Google links fill our screens. The democratization of all things that the web was supposed to lead us to hasn’t quite come to fruition. Yet. Perhaps if Web 2.0 technologies continue to emerge and if teachers understand how to harness and use them in classrooms, then we stand a chance. If not, then the types of pervasive connectivity that Anderson envisions could come to fruition. We don’t want Web 3.0 (or whatever version it is in 2200) to look like this.

One other quick note about the text before moving into a final anecdote. My son was worried that I would be upset about the language that Anderson has his characters use. The f-bomb is omnipresent and just about everything else from the seven words you can’t say on television appears at one point or another. But, he and I were able to engage in an interesting discussion about discourse and the ways in which certain words become acceptable over time and in different contexts. For Anderson, these cussing terms are becoming so ubiquitous now that in another two hundred years we won’t even think about them as have ever been a curse word. There are other words that a character uses that confuse Titus and he doesn’t want to look the words up (although he could, easily). I think that Anderson makes an interesting point about how technology can influence our language, and it is a warning that we, as English teachers, shouldn’t take lightly.

And, for the promised anecdote, this time with my daughter. Tonight, she was on one of her two favorite websites, Nick Jr. (fortunately, PBS Kids is the other). In the time that it took me to get her on the website and leave the room to go run her bathwater, she was able to play two different games and print two pictures that she made (without having either my wife or I in there to show her the print button on the screen or how to turn on the printer!). She’s three and a half, by the way. While producing content (as best a three-year-old can), she also consumed some major advertising for this Nick Jr. show, to be sure, but also the obligatory commercials that they now put right into their site. When you click into certain games, you are hit with 30 second TV spots from their sponsors. Fortunately, Nick Jr. still gives you the option to skip the ad, if you can click fast enough. What is important to me about this, in the end, is the fact that she knows and understands what it means to be online and that we can play her games here, at home, but not when we are up north (and on, at best, a 28K dial-up). Wow.

In the end, it is interesting to note, in light of what feed’s message shares with us, that this is the type of online interactions that she, my son, and all of us may have to face in the future. How do I get around the advertising and the message that the media is portraying about my body image and sense of self in order to do the things that I find important to do online? I hope that we are teaching our students the critical literacy skills to answer those questions and create their own blogs, podcasts, wikis, and digital videos.

And, I hope we know the answer to whether this is the internet of the future well before 2200.

Notes on “Public and Portable Pedagogy: iTunes University and Networked Pedagogies”

Here are some notes from another session at CCCC that focused on the affordances and constraints of using iTunes U to distribute course content. Given the project that I am working on with Dawn right now and her students’ blogging and podcasting, this was a timely session. In particular, I appreciated Reid’s focus on issues of infrastructure. I think that many of us (people in my generation and older) tend to assume that all students know how to find and listen to podcasts — or have the capability to do so — may be false. Even if our students are “digital natives,” that doesn’t make them critical consumers of technology. More on these ideas as I reflect later on the project with Dawn.

For now, a summary of notes from the session. Even if it was more focused on higher ed concerns, the idea that composition and English teachers need to get into the discussions surrounding technology is worth sharing at all grade levels.

Here are some notes:

Alex Reid, Director of Professional writing at SUNY-Cortland – “Public and Portable Pedagogy: iTunes University and Networked Pedagogies”

  • Intro
    • Some numbers: 90 million iPods, 2.17 billion mobile phones, 3G networks
    • Howard Rheinholdt – The mobile internet will allow new things to be done
  • iTunes University
    • Contract with Apple to post files and they can be public or private
    • No wireless/mobile component in the technical sense
    • Yet, the real appeal is that iTunes U works with iPod, laptop, or mobile phone with the appropriate devices and access
  • Launching iTunes U Project
    • DeVoss, Cushman, and Grabill’s infrastructure quote
      • “Too often, because of institutional and disciplinary trends, writing teachers are absent from the histories and development of [technology ] standards… It is no longer possible for us to look at a product of new media withough wondering what kinds of material and social realities make it possible.”
    • We need to move beyond the act of composing itself and into broader frames that embrace disciplinarity, culture, and other larger concepts
  • The End of the Sequesterd Campus
    • Porous Boundaries
    • Communication Flows
    • Formal and Informal discourses
    • Richard Lanah — The Economics of Attention — campuses are no longer the sequestered spaces that we imagine them to be as students are constantly in touch with the outside world
  • Actor-Network Theory (Latour)
    • “Mediators transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry… No matter how apparently simple a mediator may look, it may become complex; it may lead in multiple directions which will modify all the contradictory accounts attributed to its role.”
    • In other words, there is always something at work in these literacy acts
  • Composing in Media Networks
    • Take, for instance, students workong on a new media project in a computer lab. This scene is taking place in a larger context of the campus community, the infrastructure, market forces, other media, and many other aspects of the event.
    • Lev Manovich — “The Language of New Media” — basically, you are giving up something in the process given the processing speed, the time available, the media itself.
  • Materiality of Networked Composing
    • iTunes U only takes certain kinds of media files and if you don’t compress and save properly, it can make a mess of things
  • Redistributing the Local
    • “What has been designated by the term ‘local interaction’ is the assemblage of all the other local interactions distributed elsewhere in time and space, which have been brought to bear on the secne through the relays of various non-human actors” – Bruno Latour
    • Recognizing how the context (for instance, needing copyright free music) changes in the different composing spaces
  • Networking Disciplinarity
    • “A more complete understanding regarding how information connects in ways traditional English studies does not yet account for — the contradictory, overlapping, open, closed, and fluctuating systems of exchanges that networks create — is a challenge to the disciplinary identity of English as a field and to the identities that teachers and scholars in English embrace and request students to take on in their classrooms” — Jeff Rice
  • Personal Mobile Networks
    • People use these devices to maintain a tight social network of 3-5 people
    • As much as many professors want to keep text messages out of the classroom, students want their MySpace page to be “private,” too. Online identities, however, will be important in a post-graduate career, and so they need to negotiate the information flow in both directions.
  • Conclusions
    • New Information Flows: The professor can’t control the flow of information in and out of the classroom
    • New Authorities: no longer the expert
    • Closed/Secure and Open/Public Networks: what needs to be public, what needs to be private
    • New Habits: we need to create new habits that embrace these new material conditions of composing

Notes from “Negotiating Digital and traditional Literacies in Methods Classes: Preparing Future English Teachers for Teaching Writing”

Wow, March has been like a lion for me all the time. Sorry for the lack of posts.

At any rate, along with seeing New York City, I also saw some interesting sessions at CCCC 2007 last week. I will begin posting my notes and responses here with this session on methods courses.

I thought that the presenters were on the right track with this session, especially given that it was aimed at English Educators who would also be attending CCCC (like, for instance, me). Given that CCCC and the field of composition is generally more amenable to multiple forms of literacy, this type of presentation worked well at this conference. It suffered in attendance from the fact that it was late on Saturday afternoon, but I think that their final answer to my question — “transferability” — made a good deal of sense. So, here are some notes from the session:

Negotiating Digital and traditional Literacies in Methods Classes: Preparing Future English Teachers for Teaching Writing

Chris Denecker, The Univesity of Findlay – “Technology, Identity, and Teacher Prearation in the 21st Century”

  • Background
    • Being an English teacher used to mean onyl reading and writing. Today, teachers must integrate and impart a number of literacies in their classrooms.
    • Studies show that teachers are not as digitally literate as they should be and that pre-service teachers don’t feel confident in their abilities to use digital literacies in the classroom.
    • Technology has added to the conundrum of pedagogy and content, and now must be added into a cumbersome “to do list” for teacher educators.
    • Many teacher prep programs are not sufficiently answering the challenges of this problem according to NCATE, ISTE, and others, both on campus and in field experiences.
    • Educators are taking it upon themselves to implement and model technological pedagogies in their classrooms. How do we use technology and help pre-service teachers use it effectively?
  • Technology and Language Arts
    • ELA teachers often rely on computer teachers in labs. Nancy Deihl sees English teachers position themselves as “techno phobes” when they do Cyber Quests.
      • One of her students said that the Cyber Quest helps lessen the fear about technology.
    • Rising and Pope integrated technology in their ELA prep program pairing students in their teacher prep courses with middle schools students in an “e-pal” peer response group.
      • Pre-service teachers and middle school students enjoyed this.
    • Faculty doing these types of activities show promise and this needs to be more of a part of pre-service programs.
  • Overcoming Obstacles
    • New teachers need to overcome their own fears and maximize the time that they have available. Technology makes demands on teaching staff.
    • If we do this during teacher prep courses, then the pre-service teachers will have models to work from when they entre their own classrooms.
    • Technology can be motivational and help students publish good work and control their own learning.
    • For teachers, it can help store and retrive info and communicate with students and parents. All of this needs to be communicated to teacher educators preparing new teachers.
  • Why?
    • We need to assess the purposes for using technology. If we mirror traditional pedagogies, then it is not useful.
    • What are the goals attached to a digital literacy project? How does it contribute to the “whole” of their digital literacy?
    • Jester (English Education, 2002) – integrating technology into the writing process, focusing on multimedia and hypertextual aspects.
  • Personal experience
    • Use of Blackboard to share drafts, pre-write, revise, etc.
    • Kristine Blair’s “studio review” — have students move from computer to computer and put comments on the documents with Word.
  • Technological Pedagogies
    • Research shows that students do engage with technology
    • Begin with email, digital cameras, and iPods
    • Students can respond to one another through virtual pen pals, snap pictures and then write about details, engage in cyber quests, poetry websites, how-to speeches/videos, create newscasts, research and create PPTs
    • Incorporate place for a class “common place book” as a space for students to document and comment on their evolving relationship to writing (grabbing quotes and other materials to create a discussion starter)

Christine Tulley, The Univesity of Findlay

      • Background
        • As director of English Education programs, she sees many people: non-English majors seeking certification, second-career seekers, teachers wanting to move to community college, and graduate students seeking a certificate and degree all at once
      • Looming Problems with this kind of class
        • Writing Theory
          • These students do not have a writing theory course in their background (process vs product) for instance
        • Technology
          • They come to the program with a variety of program experiences and uses of the internet; skills from the workplace without direct connection to pedagogy
        • Training College Teachers (Methods)
          • Trying to meet the needs of those who want to become English Educators
      • Solutions
        • Writing Theory
          • Doing something with students each week with a practical applciation of a writing technology.
        • Technology
          • Use the technologies that they already know so they are comfortable with it and can think about it in different ways (comments and tracking changes in Word) and then they give feedback to students in her first year composition courses
          • Use traditional things that everyone has access to and do them in a different way. For instance, use PPT to express creative writing with graffiti writing and flash poetry
      • NCTE and alternative licensure
        • NCTE does recommends doing this by integrating technology into the coursework as well

      Emily Kemp, Groveport Madison High School

      • What do you wish you learned in your writing methods class in college?
        • I still struggle with revising and editing, trying to help students figure out how and why to change what they have written. They are concerned with how long it needs to be and what they need to do, and they are not concerned with making the writing better. I have to go back to the basics and use lots of form writing although I am trying to challenge them to get into creating digital texts.
      • What would you say technology is affecting you?
        • Using wifi laptops to have students compose PPTs and bring in United Streaming materials to show videos.
      • What was taught well in your methods classes that you think we should still do?
        • In doing a research paper, I enjoy showing students drafts of early and poor work so that they can learn from the models. Kids see other people’s writing and are better able to understand what it is that they are supposed to do. I have students use the rubrics from my college comp classes and write reflections on what they have done when they create a paper.

      Conclusion

      Teachers need to be digitally literate do that they can have timely, student-centered approaches to instruction. Also, teachers need to be confident with technological practices so that they can encourage students to be digitally literate, too.

      My Question for Them with Their Responses

      So, the tension lies between the types of writing that are assessed (generally formulaic) and emerging genres in writing (multimedia and hypertext), what do you suggest as a balance of assignments in a writing methods course?

      • Have them create a problem/solution paper based on a topic in writing (for instance, how to get students revised or motivating a reluctant student).
      • Skills that they learn need to be transferable from one context/platform to another. So, talk about the literacy skills embedded in the technology, not just the technology in particular.

    “Using Technology to Tell Stories” Blog

    Bonnie, Kevin, Tonya, Mary, and I are blogging at the “Using Technology to Tell Stories” blog. Thanks to Bonnie and Kevin for getting the ball rolling on this. We are focusing much of our attention on digital storytelling, but there are other threads evolving, too. So, check it out.
    Also, just to continue the read/write web circle, I figured we had to have a wiki, too. It’s write-protected for members, but just send me an email if you want to be a part of it.

    Enjoy and happy storytelling!

    Notes from Ellin Keene’s “The Intricacies of the Mind”

    Notes from Ellin Keene’s “The Intricacies of the Mind”

    NOTE: Email her for PPT.

    Keene, one of the authors of Mosaic of Thought, began by promoting the new edition of the book that will be coming out in May. She has been the director of the Cornerstone Project for the past few years, focusing on the 13 lowest income districts in the country that are located in the largest cities and most remote rural areas. Many of the “ahas” that she will share today come from the four years of work doing professional development in these schools.

    She makes the argument that comprehension strategies are about the intellectual development of the mind. She suggests that, “There is limitless capacity to the human intellect.” When she has a teacher, she reflected on how she didn’t really ask her students to be intellectually engaged, perhaps 10%. She thought of herself as a strong teacher with high expectations, working at the pinnacle of her abilities as a teacher. But, the students in these schools would produce 50 to 100 times more, with very little extra pushing. She asks, “How did my expectations as a teacher fall so short?” More over, how could kids from these schools teach me so much more than I thought was possible?”

    As a staff developer, she wanted to get into schools to work with kids first, so as to better understand what is happening in the classrooms. She related a story of a child, Jamika, with whom she was talking about her reading for the day. Keen asked, “Does your reading make sense?” Jamika replies “None of ‘yall ever tell me what ‘make sense’ means.” How do you help students understand what it means to make meaning from reading.

    Ten years ago, at the end of Mosaic of Thought, you could have been left with the idea that the cumulation of comprehension strategies means that you comprehended the text. Not so.

    Are we stopping teaching of comprehension strategies? No, absolutely not. However, we understand that using strategies is not enough. We need to ask, “What is the outcome?” In this initiative, we decided to not use the incremental approach that many scripted programs utilize. Instead, we decided to go ahead and lift the bar high and then go higher with the kids. Why? Because, typically comprehension programs in this country answer questions, retell, and learn new vocabulary. We have never defined “comprehension” at a higher level and it is not worthy of our students’ intellectual capacity.

    For example, Keene mentioned how one story in a classroom had 69 comprehension questions (more than twice the length of the text itself) without any questions about story structure, character, setting, or any other higher-level aspect of the story. If we expect kids to answer questions, retell, and learn vocabulary only, that is all they will do. There is only one lesson that the students need to pay attention to: what does the teacher want us to know? In this manner, we are never going to get anywhere and, this is harsh, “we deserve what we get” in terms of criticism. When we teach “comprehension” on the ability to answer questions and retell, are we teaching comprehension or testing it?

    We need to redefine “comprehension.” We spend the vast majority of time in our classes — when we think we are not testing — testing because we focus on comprehension in this way. Even with the types of projects that we ask students to do, we may not be asking them to think in authentic ways. We need to focus on thinking about a text, not retelling it. Asking insightful questions, and the places that these questions lead students, are the ways to think about comprehension with staying power. Right now, the outcomes of comprehension instruction are severly limiting what our kids are doing as thinkers. Many of the texts that we are using are good for fluency development, but not for comprehension because there was nothing provocative, complex, or meaty about the text.

    She asks and argues:

    • Is the text we’re using more appropriate for fluency instruction or comprehension instruction?
    • Do students need comprehension strategy instruction if all they’re expected to do is retell and answer questions?
      • She asks this one fecistiously, mentioning SRA and trying to get from “brown to aqua” as a goal
    • We may need to rethink our ideas about the nature of comprehension.

    Are we teaching kids to do all the things that comprehension strategy instruction asks us to do if we are only expecting kids to live up to an out-of-date, low-level definition of comprehension. Kids have intellectual capacity to do so much more. I asked far, far, far too little of students when I was in the classroom and I wonder how far-spread this habit is in our country today, both in the richest and poorest districts.

    So, what is it when we “understand?” Defining comprehension from many sources

    • Research in the field, but there isn’t much out there
    • Observing our own comprehension and extrapolating to instruction
    • Observing students in the act of comprehension, giving language to their processes

    What if we turn our attention to the kids and have them look at what other kids are doing when they comprehend, when they were on fire with their own learning? What if we articulated the highest level of learning for students? What if instead of starting at the basic levels, we started high and go higher?

    A kindergartener in tetheh corner provides one example. This student was trying to understand how the seasons change based on a story the teacher had read, and he had taken three days to read through a book and try to understand an idea. He was fervently studying in a corner, away from the hub-bub of the class. He wanted to dwell with an idea and, in his words, “on purpose think” about how the seasons change. Also, he created a model to help remember what he has discovered, not because he was assigned a project, but because he wanted to generate new knowledge and remember it. Keene also suggests that he was manipulating his own thinking, revising it to incorporate new knowledge and describe how thinking has changed over time. This way, the text becomes vividly real for readers. This student went beyond comprehension to a more personal, meaningful understanding.
    We are doing the right thing by teaching comprehension strategies, but we need to take it to the next level. For what purpose? To what ends? By using these strategies, we can define and describe what we have learned and how it changes over time.

    In another example, she talked about a student who was reading Little Women because she wanted to be a part of the book club in the classroom. She wanted to engage in discourse about ideas and flesh out our own ideas while understanding the perspectives of others when we argue and challenge them. We surprise ourselves with the clarity of our own thinking, when we have the language to define and describe what we are doing. This is about asking more than “What happened in chapter 4?” and moving into deeper, more thoughtful discussions that happen when kids have to defend their ideas. When their is cognitive dissonance, we learn more about our thinking when we have to engage with one another. Has argument been lost in our schools?

    To understand means that we are renaissance learners, that we have to allow ourselves the opportunity to meander through a wide range of topics and interests, texts, and genres so we work to undertand how ideas are related. Part of the problem with lack of engagement in fourth and fifth grade is that students are not allowed to pursue their own varied and interconnected interests. Keene worries about leveling in schools and how it takes away from kids ability to be renaissance learners.

    She gave another example of a student in fifth grade who just arrived in the US and didn’t know any English. This teacher read Elsie’s War aloud three times and, as a native of Eastern Europe, this student told the teacher how she wanted, despite her limited English, to read that book. By the end of the period, and with the help with a student near her, she made her way through the book. Did she “read” the book by any objective formula? No. But, she read the book because of the motivation, background knowledge, and help that she received. With this background in place — interest, multiple readings, student collaboration — unreadable books can be read.

    When we struggle for insight, we savor and learn from the struggle itself. We take ventures into new learning territory and fight the debilitating influence of judgment. Sometimes our rhetoric with children emphasizes making things quick, fun, and easy. Yet, to struggle for insight is a joy. It is supposed to be hard. Do we have faith and confidence that these students can learn from the struggle itself? Do we help them hear the voice that says “I can’t” and help them combat it? Our emotional connections seek beauty and understanding in the aesthetic journey. We seek to create something luminous, something that matters to others. Humans are hard-wired to leave something that will matter later to others, to leave a legacy. In this era of retelling and answering questions, we are not helping them leave this legacy.

    Ultimately, we remember when the experience becomes potently memorable to us.

    These “dimensions of understanding” are very much a part of our own experience as learners. Strategies for comprehension are tools for understand, but we also need to think about what else we need to do “to understand”: to engage, to argue, to struggle for insight.

    What does this mean for schools and classrooms?

    • Initiation of conversations in study groups, faculty meetings, and classrooms. How would we answer “What does it mean to understand?” How would we answer Jamika’s question?
    • Read shared texts to provide immediate experience in comprehension and provide context to discuss classroom applications.
    • Consider current practices and materials in light of the newly evolving definitions of comprehension — are practices and materials doing what we want them to do?
    • Study children in the moments of understanding and work to define and describe exactly what they are doing.
    • Be aware — what is it that we as human beings are doing when we work to understand?

    What does this mean for comprehension strategies?

    • Comprehension strategies are the tools that we use to develop deeper comprehension
    • Comprehension strategies are not an end in and of themselves
      • What do you get by using these strategies?
    • We can teach students to improve comprehension
    • We need to redefine comprehension in order to raise expectations

    The more effective comprehension teachers…

    • Are themselves readers and writers, constantly scrutinizing their own reading and learning processes in order to provide the most responsive instruction
    • Don’t follow recipes, scripts, programs, and prescriptions. They understand basic reading theory enough to generate enough instructional options to respond to students’ needs.
    • Use a wide variety of texts in terms of genre and level
    • Setting aside daily time to confer with kids; this is the key instructional venue
    • Create a classroom environment conducive to scholarly oral interactions and long-term study of comprehension strategies and concepts
    • Provide lengthy periods of time for students to read every day

    Our work showed that scores went up in 12 of 13 districts and, Keene thinks in the end, the scores went up because students spent time reading and writing independently. 45 minutes of reading per day in kindergarten with 60 minutes of reading in grades above that (along with 45 minutes of writing). The success rate in terms of dramatically extended the time that they are reading and writing also allowed for teachers to confer with individuals and small groups. In the 13th district, the transiency rate was 160% per year, and it was difficult to overcome the effects of students moving in and out of the district at such an overwhelming rate.

    The teachers got it in other districts by giving students time to read and write, understanding theory, and then give them time to work in professional communities.

    Nobis and Cook: Connecting Comics and Essays

    Nobis and Cook: Connecting Comics and Essays

    Mitch Nobis and Rick Cook are teacher consultants from Red Cedar Writing Project, and presented a number of ways that they connect graphic novels and expository writing in their writing classes. They will also be presenting a similar session at Bright Ideas.

    • Thinking about what comics are and how they fit in to the curriculum
      • People’s perceptions of “graphic” novels
        • Is it a long comic?
        • Are they just for entertainment?
        • Rick showed up and found out that he had to teach Maus, Mitch always wanted to teach it.
    • Why Comics?
      • Comics offer a way to teach visual literacy
        • Now, Michigan high school content standards address visual literacy and graphic novels
        • Comics are connecting an old media with new technologies
      • Comics offer an engaging meium for memoir
      • Comics invite expository porse and demonstrate how to read with exposition in mind
        • How can comics and graphic novels, especially a vignette, turn into something traditional like an expository essay
    • Comics and Literacy Response
      • Check out McCloud’s Understanding Comics for more on all of this
        • Iconography – everything is a visual representation of something else
          • In a way, we are so involved because we identify all comic characters
        • Closure – the gutter between panels lets you step in to the story and make meaning between the panels
        • Paneling – thinking how motion works between panels
          • From one image of a person to another image of the same person
          • From one moment to another
          • From one idea to another
        • Amplification through simplification
          • Comic art moves from complex to abstract and, in so doing, makes things more general
          • Comics are popular with kids for this reason, because they can connect so easily
          • Universality – we all look like that
      • One of McCloud’s main points is that iconography combined with closure makes something a comic
    • Looking at Maus with McCloud as a lens for visual/literary response
      • Utlizes students familiarity with the graphic medium
      • Capitalizes on the “breaking the rules” nature of using comics in schools
      • Introduces academic discussion of graphic techniques and symbolism
      • Provides scaffolding as students arrempt literary analysis responding the the visual with the verbal gives students a “blank slate” to fill with original responses
        • They are able to go from image to words, whereas they are used to going into the author’s words
      • Introduces using “text” as evidence
      • Text / Terms = Effect
        • By looking at the text, and talking about it with the terminology of visual literacy, they can discuss the effects that the author acheives
    • Comic Prompts for Expository Writing
      • Missouri Boy by Leland Myrick is a graphic poem that covers many adolescent themes
        • Chapter 1 is a prologue about how his grandmother is dying as his mother prepares to give birth to him and his twin brother
        • Writing When You Don’t Know: Visual Memoirs and Research Writing
          • Writing personal experience
          • The move from personal to public
        • Generating prompts = exploring what you want to know more about
      • Moving from personal to public
        • How does Myrick’s birth at the time of his grandmother’s death influence his relationship with his mom?
        • Find broad generalities such as “how do our origins/environments affect who we are?”
          • Context specific: how does farming breed character (it is not the story of growing up on the farm, or the statistics about farming, but the half-way point between the two)
          • How does the structure of school influence laziness, work influences personality, growing up in a church affects morals, etc.
          • How do concrete things have abstract meanings?
            • How is an iPod a shield?
            • How is a football field home?
            • How is a photo a story?