Greetings from Chico

In addition to my regular blog readers, I would like to extend a special hello this week to my RCWP colleagues who, I hope, are following from afar my adventures at Tech Matters 2007. They are in the last week of the summer institute, and I miss being there, but hope that my work at Tech Matters translates back to our site in productive ways.

Getting here today was, fortunately, uneventful. NWA was on time for both flights and, as with all great NWP events, our welcome to Chico would not have been complete without chocolate. As we have talked about in our summer institute this year, I really enjoy going to these national NWP events, seeing familiar faces, and jumping right into the work without having to explain myself and my philosophy.  we all just seem to know what to do when we come to these events, and that makes them very exciting both personally and professionally.
Also, given our experience last year overheating — even in the air conditioned computer lab — Peter found it appropriate to give us a USB powered fan as well.

Cool!

Literally.

Tonight was spent with the TM07 team doing some preliminary planning for tomorrow, where we will do a “run through” of the institute. I am responsible for helping facilitate a day on “Collaboration” on Friday, and the other days will focus on “Rich, Interactive Information” and “Self Expression.” Saturday is really a work day for the tech teams who are here to plan out what they want to do with their mini-grants.

So, Chico is a great town. Here is an image of the now-completed Park Plaza. Last summer, all that we could see of this plaza was the band shell peeking its head above fences and orange barrels. This summer, the plaza is done and had both Shakespeare in the Park and a blues band tonight. It is a nice addition to the center of the city.

I was also able to take a quick jog to Bidwell Park this afternoon and I think that there will be other trips to local eateries and fun spots later on this week. The Northern California Writing Project is our host for the week and — as I noted above — they have been very hospitable so far.

I plan to blog a little more tomorrow about the structure of the week at Tech Matters (so as to think about implications for our site’s work) and then give periodic updates throughout the week as cool tech tools and great work from other sites begin to surface. Please feel free to become a member of the blog and add comments — I look forward to hearing from everyone back home and what you would like to know more about while I hang out with the geeks in Chico!

Musings on Multiliteracies

Since it has been a few weeks since my last blog post, I have been engaged in the first and second week of RCWP’s summer institute, the online discussion for Tech Matters 2007, and a few days offline when we took a long holiday weekend up north. So, there are many, many ideas floating in my head right now — perhaps disconnected — that I want to capture before they slip away.

First, we had a great talk today at RCWP about Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies as well as the new Michigan Educational Technology Standards. You can see some of our ideas captured in our wiki page on the book. This was done to both spur on our colleagues as they write their multiliteracies learning plan and to foreground many of the issues that we want to talk about on Thursday when the state director of technology from MDE visits our site. So, more on that soon.

Second, there are some cool things developing from a social network that Kevin started, Tech Friends. Whether you are an NWP TL or not, this seems to be a great network that is focusing their discussions on issues of teaching with technology, all the while considering critical aspects of infrastructure and classroom practice. Join in!

Third, Tech Matters is next week. Paul Allison has done a great job organizing us into a DrupalEd site and the conversations there are rich, too. I am still not quite sure what is public there and what will be soon, but that is where I will be next week and much of my writing attention will be in that site.

Fourth, I am scheduled to do our sacred writing time tomorrow morning and I want to do something with syncronous collaborative writing. I am just at a loss right now for what to have them do. I might have them begin writing a story, although that could quickly get out of hand. I might try to make it more focused and have them discuss their favorite writing spaces.

Finally, I can safely say that I am feeling overwhelmed with maintaining my online identity right now. I tried Twitter for awhile, but I couldn’t keep up with it. My Flickr feed is all but dead. This blog has been neglected for many weeks. And now I have the TM07 and Tech Friends networks that I am joining in, too. I have been woefully remiss in posting to the Tech Stories blog, and I see that they are going to present at K12 Online Conference — congrats to Bonnie and Kevin — another community that I want to get involved in, too.

At what point can/shoudl we expect our colleagues to engage in learning about and learning to write with newer technologies when even the techies are overwhelmed?

Whew. That was random. But, I wanted to share some of my thinking and see if anyone can help me think about how to collect my online self. I tried Netvibes a year ago, but fell out of that habit, too.

Any ways that you can think of to organize all these ideas, activities, spaces, people, etc?

Whoever said being multiliterate would be easy though, right?

Book Review: Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies

Yet another busy week has passed by with too much to blog, and too little time. Our summer institute is coming soon, and I have had lots of reading to do, so the good news is that I now have an excuse to get blogging again — book reviews.

So, here is my first one, written about a text we are using in RCWP this summer and, perhaps, in Tech Matters, too. What follows below is the rough draft of my critical response to the book, to be revised and refined throughout the summer.


Multiliteracies BookTeaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies

Michèle Anstey and Geoff Bull

Published by IRA, 2006

Echoing the countless calls for 21st century literacy or new technology standards, Anstey and Bull suggest that “[L]iteracy pedagogy must teach students to be flexible, tolerant of different viewpoints, and able to problem solve, analyse situations, and work strategically. They must be able to identify the knowledge and resources they have and combine and recombine them to suit the particular purpose and context” (p. 18). In saying this, it seems as though they add nothing new to the conversation about why and how to teach students about various discourses and technology. These demands are commonplace now, in business coalition reports, professional journals, and even in state curriculum documents (usually the last place we see such progressive calls to action).
Yet, this is only the beginning of their argument. And, as a literacy educator, I find the fact that they begin with a claim that most others end upon a refreshing change. In a preview of the text to come, Anstey and Bull immediately add the following to the quote begun above [emphasis mine]:

Consequently, school classrooms and teaches’ pedagogy must encourage, model, and reflect these sorts of behaviours. The content and pedagogy of literacy programs must reflect the literate practices of local to global communities and equip students for change. Educators cannot hope to teach student all they need to know, as this will change constantly. But teachers can equip their students with the knowledge, skills, strategies, and attitudes that will enable them to meet new situations and cope with them. (p. 18)

It is with these closing remarks in their introductory chapter that Anstey and Bull lay the groundwork for their timely and practical text, Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies. Rather than focus on a particular technology (or limited set of technologies) or the aspects of a certain discourse, the authors offer teachers a series of chapters that builds theoretical and practical knowledge through careful explanation and thoughtful reflection techniques.

Anstey and Bull create a vivid picture of globalization in the first chapter, suggesting that the reasons to be multiliterate are about more than just economic competitiveness and, indeed, center more on concerns about power, identity, and ethical behavior in a new digitized, globalized era. In the second chapter, they continue this line of thinking and layer in the New London Group’s Pedagogy of Multiliteracies heuristic for helping teachers think about our understanings of text, semiotic systems, meaning making, intertextuality, and critical literacy. They suggest a “Four Resource Model” of the multiliterate person (p. 41), a model that is flexible enough to give teachers and students language to talk about multiliterate perspectives on texts.

In chapter 3, Anstey and Bull go on to offer specific advice for how to integrate a pedagogy of multiliteracies model into classroom teaching and learning, focusing specifically on classroom talk, lesson structure, and materials used. They explain how “[a] dynamic multiliteracies pedagogy is concerned with making decisions about learning that are based on the relationships between the desired learning outcomes, what teachers know about their students, and what teachers know about the way in which successful pedagogy is conducted” (p. 81). I find this approach particularly refreshing as it acknowledges the expertise of teachers and the local contexts in which they find themselves. Even though this quote is (perhaps intentionally) vague, there are concrete suggestions in the chapter that will help a discerning reader make choices about how to integrate such pedagogy in his or her classroom.

Chapters 4 and 5 focus on multiliteracies and children’s literature as well as producing and consuming texts, respectively. Both of these chapters offer specific examples about how and why to use particular children’s texts and lists of questions and terminology that will help teachers find resources and adopt the language of a multiliteracies perspective into their pedagogy. The final chapter moves back to the Four Resource model as a way to begin integrated curriculum planning and, in turn, a focus on whole-school plans for literacy that include students, teachers, and the entire school.

Overall, I find Teaching and Learning Multiliteracies: Changing Times, Changing Literacies a compelling text, and one that I know we will be using this summer in RCWP (and, possibly, in Tech Matters) as well as in my fall pre-service writing methods class. One concern that I have, however, relates to the Four Resource Model. Like all models, students could become scripted — like Harvey Daniels has noted about literature circles — into certain roles and become complacent in them. If the “code breaker,” “meaning maker,” text user,” and “text analyst” take their roles too literally, then a number of problems could occur, the worst of which is that they don’t become multiliterate since they are engaging in primarily one way of reading the text.

That said, I think that the benefits of this book outweigh that concern. Anstey and Bull offer series upon series of useful questions and annotated lists of terms. The also offer periodic reflection questions that could easily be turned into classroom prompts for journal writing and/or discussion. Despite my concerns about the Four Square model, the authors conclude that “[t]o rely on just one approach [to teaching], or on one favoured pedagogy, is to pretend that all students of teachers or schools can benefit from the same treatment” (p. 135). I believe that this is just as much a jab at the standards-based reformists as it is aimed towards themselves and the ways in which the pedagogy of multiliteracis might be enacted, too.

And, because the authors remain critical of themselves right up to the very end, I respect them — and the pedagogy outlined in this book — that much more for it.