The Pop Culture Translator

Screenshot of Pop Culture TranslatorThis summer, RCWP has been doing a number of workshops related to writing and new literacies. One of them was on using pop culture in the classroom and the facilitator of the session just shared The Pop Culture Translator with our list serv.

This site is both hilarious and scary all at the same time. Since my son is a fan of Sean Paul, I thought that I would listen to his video translation first. While I was not so subtle in talking to my son about the message of the song (which, he admitted, he didn’t understand all the innuendo, he just liked the beat. Yeah…), this translator is attempts to be as literal as possible, something that our language and technology often don’t do. So, I laugh, while also thinking about the implications that it makes clear. It’s not as if I didn’t listen to music laced with innuendo, nor my parents, but the ways in which things are becoming more and more blatant kind of scares me as a parent.

At any rate, as a teacher, I think that this is an interesting way to appropriate media for critical purposes and would like to know more about how others might use something like this with your students. What would a lesson using this site look like in middle school? High school? College? I can imagine that the conversations would be somewhat different at each level, but I think that the idea of “translating” one text into another discourse is very intriguing and offers many critical possibilities for language learning; take “mash ups” as an example of that. Using technology as part of that makes it all the more compelling. I will try to remember to share it with my son the next time he is over. And, I will see how his translations compare.

I hope that they put more examples up soon…

Some thoughts on assessment of new media

David makes an interesting point about blogs and assessment. After noting the old aphorism, “Not everything that is measurable is valuable and not everything that is valuable is measurable,” he adds this:

I think the things that are most educationally valuable about blogs and read/write web tools are the hardest to measure. Certainly, the creativity they encourage, the excitement they generate are almost impossible to reduce to a simple checklist.


Indeed, I think that another little saying that involves assessment might be in order here, too. “What gets measured gets treasured.” So, not only are the intangible aspects of new media composing probably the ones that are most valuable to teachers’ pedagogy and students’ learning, they are also the most difficult to justify in light of standardized tests and other measures of accountability.
Interestingly enough, in Michigan, our new high school content expectations are filled with references to multimedia and other digital projects. In a way, it is good that these digital creations are now “in the standards,” for that makes it easier to justify professional development and the like. Yet, the conceptual jump from teaching the personal narrative to the digital story — and back again — is still a somewhat difficult one to make both in terms of talking about the writing task itself and the teaching of it.

All the same, I agree with David’s main point. Some of the aspects about teaching writing with technology are the ones that are most difficult to explain and to evaluate. Yet, we need to begin to think about ways to do that. One place to begin looking for answers is Bernajean Porter’s “Evaluating Digital Projects” site.

technorati tags:,

IM and Code Switching

A study from the University of Toronto’s Linguistics Department has now verified what many writing teachers have been trying to argue all along — instead of ruining kids’ grammar, IM is actually a different discursive register and that kids end up code switching between IM and other forms of communication quite clearly. Here is an excerpt from an article about the study from

“What we found is that kids are using the colloquial vernacular language but they’re also using this formal language that isn’t used in speech,” says Denis, 21.

“So it’s really a combination, a fusion of both these styles. It wasn’t surprising to me because I’m a user of instant messaging and … I knew that it wasn’t as bad as people say it is.”
Tagliamonte says participants would use different levels of diction, both informal and formal, in their speech. For instance, they’d use “shall” alongside words such as “gonna.”

“It shows that this generation of kids is fluidly moving through media of communication that just didn’t exist before and they’re doing it extremely well,” she says.

Katherine Barber, editor-in-chief of Canadian Oxford Dictionaries, says she views instant messaging as a sub-dialect of English that likely won’t have an effect on spelling.

“The analogy I always like to make is, you know, we used to have things called telegrams and people had to tinker with their syntax, their normal syntax, to write,” she says.

“Telegrams as well, they created this telegraphese and that hasn’t had an effect on the language as a whole. It was used for that particular circumstance and that’s where it stayed.”

Technology News: Wireless: IM No Syntax Spoiler, Says Study

I have been asked many times if I think that technology is enabling kids (with spell check in Word) or ruining their spelling (with IM) and my answer has always been that kids will switch discourse based on the rhetorical situation. If we teach them that way. This study appears to confirm that pedagogical belief.

What do the rest of you think? Is IMing really just a chance for kids to code switch and practice different language? Or, is English doomed? I would be curious to hear what you think.