Comments on Teachers Teaching Teachers Disucssion of “Appropriation”

Although I wasn’t really able to join the conversation tonight through Skype, the Teachers Teaching Teachers crew asked a great question tonight:

Do our blogs have a student-sponsored life of their own? Have our blog sites moved beyond Fisher’s “new literacy practices as sugar” to allowing students to “combine their concerns and self interest with the common good?” Sometimes, and it remains a goal to make our elgg spaces — our students blogs in social networking sites — into places online where they can truly express, question, explore and research subjects that matter to them.

Teachers Teaching Teachers

One of the ideas that I wanted to take up in this conversation was that of genre. It seems to me that Paul, Susan, Teb, and the rest of the TTT crew are getting at the idea that blogging and social networking could be seen as appropriating online teen culture, as Clarence Fisher seems to be arguing here. I feel that blogging, social networking, and podcasting don’t so much appropriate teen culture as they represent new genres and, because of that, the ways that we think about teaching them in school matter a great deal as to how much, if at all, students learn how to utilize these genres.

In thinking about teaching new media genres, then, I want to share a quick example of how this is, perhaps, a very difficult concept to even wrap one’s head around, let alone teach, if you are not a part of the edublogger community. I had the good fortune of working with a class of pre-service teachers the other day, and we were talking about new literacies and technologies. One section of the article that we read discussed the five-paragraph essay as the typical model of school literacy and how technology threatens to change that genre. This caused a great deal of discontent. Suffice it to say that the pre-service teachers with whom I work came up with a question that essentially boiled down to this: if not a five-paragraph essay, then what else instead? I was taught the five-paragraph essay, I succeeded, I know that kids need to know it (or, at least that is what I believe because I haven’t seen convincing evidence to the contradict my own personal experience), and that is what I will teach them. It is a hard cycle to break.

So, how are blogging, wikiing, podcasting, and other new media writing — and the genres that they enable — different? Paul wrote extensively about what blogging can be in the TTT post, so I won’t reiterate it here. What I do want to say, however, is that I think we need to help our colleagues and those that we mentor to understand how writing on a blog or wiki, or creating a podcast, is still writing at its core (creating a text for a specific purpose and audience), but the affordances of the media and the genres that you can create with that media are very different from what we have traditionally conceived as writing. We can move beyond the five-paragraph essay because we can now talk about — and in compelling new media deliver — texts like we never have before. I don’t think we can give up the old genres, but we also have to think about how to compose with the new ones, too.

Do I want to see students’ five-paragraph essays on a blog? No. But, I think that we need to help our colleague envision what is possible in these new media. Is that appropriation? I don’t think it is. If we ask students to collaboratively write with a wiki and only one student does all the work, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre for teaching writing. Appropriation gone bad. If we ask students to post a book report to a blog and then offer feedback to others, not allowing for uses of hypertext and the natural conversations that will bubble up, then we are reinscribing all the bad practices of that genre, too. Appropriation gone bad, again.

Instead, we need to help teachers see the potentials of these new media and the genres they allow. Then we won’t need to worry about appropriating. We will need to think more about invention, discovery, and creativity, traits that we would wish on all our writers.

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