Remembering reThinking Literacy

Rethinking Literacy LogoA week ago, I was traveling abroad as a keynote speaker and workshop leader for the reThinking Literacy conference in Singapore.

I wrote this post on the plane on the way home, but it has taken me nearly a week to get it posted to my blog. Sorry for the delay!

As part of the closing keynote panel conversation, I was able to share some thoughts about digital reading and writing, as well as the opportunities for integrating these skills and approaches in schools.

While I don’t usually get nervous when speaking in front of groups, there is something about the idea of speaking off-the-cuff that sometimes makes me overthink my responses. Given that it is now about 24 hours later, and I am composing the main part of this on the plane (and I can’t review the Twitter stream), I am sure that I will forget a few things. Still, there were a few questions that were asked which bear repeating — with my clearer, more complete and not entirely overthought answers.

What is one major takeaway from the conference?

I was so very impressed in all of my conversations with teachers — as well as from listening to the keynotes from my colleagues Lotta Larson and Kristin Ziemke — that the ideas of purpose, deliberation, and intention permeated every session of the conference. There were many new websites (Smithsonian’s Tween Tribune as a source for good informational text; Confer as an app for, well, conferring), yet the overarching idea kept coming back to intention.

These teachers and (digital) literacy coaches are well beyond the wow factor with technology (and many of them are a few years in to 1:1 initiatives), and it was wonderful to push my own thinking about how we can teach students who have more and more basic tech competencies to, in turn, grow through more meaningful literacy experiences. This summary from Paul Turner captures it well:

Troy’s response reiterated a message that was clear across the conference, which is that educators need to focus on intention and purpose when making decisions about their courses. There is no single app or platform that is going to deliver it all, and anything we integrate or adapt must be for the benefit of the learning environment that we work in. This seems like just plain common sense for any educator, but it was refreshing to hear something that was not, “Do this now! Adapt or die! These are the latest tools that must be integrated otherwise your students will never succeed in the world of the future!” Yes, there is no doubt that educators must keep learning and adapting, but isn’t that what any good educator does anyway?

Also, I noted that when I tell teachers in the US that their students could have a global audience, I can actually name other teachers around the world really do want to connect their students, too.

How do we teach this way in an assessment-driven culture?

In short, I believe that we need to own digital literacy learning as its own incredibly valuable and highly practical set of skills and dispositions. I don’t think that we need to make excuses for teaching digital reading and writing any more, don’t need to follow it up with some causal, statistical method of measurement that points to test scores. The idea of students sharing their voice, participating in a broader community, and understanding deeper purposes and processes for composing and comprehending digital texts all added up to show that we do, indeed, have good reason to teach digital literacies.

And, finally, if there is no other reason, I was able to point to the Common Core Standards and the idea that students should “produce and publish writing” using the internet. If nothing else, teachers can make a reasonable and accurate claim that teaching digital literacy is, indeed, a part of the standards they are supposed to bring into their classrooms.

Not being tied by one tool

Finally, there was a question about the use of too many tools, or a limited number of specific tools, or something to that effect. I know that I prefaced my response by saying something like “No offense to the vendors in the room…” which drew (what I perceived) to be an audible gasp for fear of what I might say. However, I think that I was politically correct, and I hope that my answer was reasonable.

In short, I suggested that teachers not be tied to just one tool, to think instead about the myriad possibilities that various tools (and combinations of tools) could offer. I encouraged them not to be tied to just one LMS or a few apps and, to the extent possible, to allow their students some freedom and flexibility when choosing tools for different projects.

I say all of this because, no matter how useful and flexible any one tool is, the fact of the matter is that many of us get tied to a tool because we like it (or it is convenient, or we already have all of our data in it, or any number of other reasons). We really do need to push ourselves, and our students, to move beyond the standbys and engage with new apps, websites, and software packages from time to time.


As is always the case, an experience like this leaves me with more questions than answers. We were asked to predict some ed tech trends (which I am sure that I no good at as a pundit), talk about our own paths into education (which I enjoyed recalling), and even who would want to take a selfie with (dead or alive). I had to answer first, so I know that I went with an obvious one: Abraham Lincoln. Too bad, one person replied, that Lincoln never smiled, because that would rule him out of selfies.

I thank the conference organizers as well as the many teachers with whom I shared conversation, meals, and workshop ideas.

Image from @LottaLarson2
Image from @LottaLarson2

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