End of Year “Reflection”

Well, I’ve held off on using the “R” word for any tagging on this blog, but I guess that it is the end of the calendar year that causes me to think about reflection, even though it is a term that is fraught with problems, as my adviser, Lynn Fendler, points out.

At any rate, a few things have happened this year that give me thought to pause, one being this blog, so I figured that I would do that here. Besides, I collapsed from post-holiday exhaustion and pre-sinus infection sickness earlier tonight, and now I have insomnia. What else to do but write, right?

So, I want to start with something recent. Wes Fryer talked about digital storytelling and, as I recall, how he has his daughter, a pre-schooler, creating them. When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, my supervisor had mentioned how I might be able to use some of my digital literacies to capture some family memories for posterity. Well, though I have yet to make my own digital story, my daughter (age 4) and I collaborated to make a story as a gift to mom this holiday season. Everyone asked, “How much of this did you do, Troy?” and I tell them that I really did very little. I showed her some basic controls in iMovie, helped her look through our family pictures, and then set up the mic. She did the rest. It was amazing, and made for many conversations over the past week. It also cemented the feeling for me that digital storytelling is something worth academic and personal pursuit, a feeling that I had long pushed to the side. At any rate, it is on You Tube, but I have it marked as private (I still feel weird sharing my kids’ images and voices online to the general public), so if you want to see it, send me an email and I will invite you.

Another recent thing to think about has been the “Top 100 Education Blogs” list that came out about a week ago. This has inspired much controversy, and the conversation on Bud’s blog captures some of the other bloggers’ feelings about it. Personally, I am not much of one for lists, just like I am not one for how-to guides, but the recognition was nice. Along with a nod on MSU’s “Blogs for Learning” site earlier this fall, I feel that I must be doing something right with this blog. However, there are many others doing blogs right, too. Maria, for instance, is quite modest about her work and I think that Paul got overlooked, too. But, when it is all said and done, edublogs are official now, and I rememeber that they weren’t when we looked them up at Tech Matters in July.

The other main thing on my mind right now, besides my wife’s health, is that I am on the job market and will be soon giving a job talk based on the following prompt: “Situate your research in terms of the current state of the field of English education and talk about how that research informs your teaching.” If ever there was a time when I am asking what English education is, that time is now. Given the general state of education (which I won’t belabor here), and the palpable sense that some edubloggers like David and Will among others, seem to be expressing, I wonder if this is the year that digital writing becomes a legitimate topic for writing teachers and not just an add-on to an already rubric-packed curriculum of pre-formed essay prompts. There are so many possibilities that I am trying to pursue right now (not the least of which is my dissertation focusing on digital portfolios, although that seems to fall to the back burner every day) that I think are engaging and worth scholarly pursuit at the K-12 level: collaborative writing projects with wikis and Google docs, student blogging (ala Paul’s model), free and open source applications for digital writing, digital storytelling, and podcasting. If the Time cover story about You being person of the year is right, then the time is now to push for these literacies as a part of our English teaching. And, oh yes, the state standards call for them, too, says Time. Given all the attention that these literacies now command, I don’t think that we can ignore, or filter, them in school anymore.

So, what will I say about my research and the field of English education? Well, I think that I will acknowledge that being an English teacher has always been and will continue to be complicated. The interesting new twist to the complicated lives of English teachers — the one that I think encompasses all the other issues of linguistic diversity, challenging the canon, cultural literacy, encouraging citizenship, and other main tenets that came from the 2005 summit — concerns new literacies and the ways that ICTs are changing what it means to be literate. I think that the notions of purpose and audience that teachers using a writing workshop model for the past 30 years have been good, but to be perfectly honest, beyond the school newsletter, the letter to an author or editor, or something else fairly local, they were never fully realized. Now they are. Blogs, podcasts, and wikis enable global conversation. English education needs to prepare teachers and students to be a part of that conversations, and new literacies play a pivotal role in doing so. This requires a major change in the way we think about teaching and learning writing. I will elaborate on this idea more in the next few weeks as the job talk nears, but I felt that I need to get some first draft thinking in this reflective post. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about it.

Well, I think that I have reflected enough for now (and, I hope, cured the insomnia). Thanks to everyone — friends and colleagues — who inspired me to start this blog and contribute to the ongoing conversation around it. I look forward to continuing the conversations in 2007 and beginning a variety of new projects, many of them in collaboration with all of you. Take care and happy new year.

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One thought on “End of Year “Reflection””

  1. Thanks for sharing all of this, Troy — your journey, the interesting links, and your insightful spin on all of it.
    As an English teacher, I struggle with many of the issues you’ve raised. I’m acutely aware that my students will be adults in a very different world than the one in which I was raised (or even the one they’re living in now). Change is a constant and one of the things I try to teach them is how to adapt to change. I model the process of learning new technologies/software (blogs, wikis, Inspiration…) not only to get them familiar with the changing world, but to show them my learning process. I want them to be open to the messy process of learning and I hope that my willingness to press on can inspire them to keep trying when they get frustrated.
    Part of my challenge as a teacher is to take the time to do that important stuff while still fulfilling all the Grade Level Content Expectations, instilling a love for literature, keeping up with currect research, getting to know each of them as writers and thinkers….
    I’m excited by the possibilities of the emerging tech-world. It’s also a challenge to excite some students and most teachers in my building about these opportunities. At times I have a love-hate relationship with my computer (as most of us do); getting others to believe that there’s more to love than hate is a continuing battle…but one that’s worth the time and effort.

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