Dr. Jabari Mahiri – Engaging “New Literacies” of Youth in Urban Schools

I am blogging notes from Dr. Jabari Mahiri’s “Engaging “New Literacies” of Youth in Urban Schools” Presentation here at MSU. Here is the official description of the talk:

Jabari Mahiri, Professor of Literacy and Education at the University
of California at Berkeley, will be visiting MSU to consult with
faculty on Urban Literacy and Education. Dr. Mahiri is the author of
several articles and books on youth culture and urban literacy,
including Shooting for Excellence: African American and Youth
Culture in New Century Schools (1998), What They Don’t Learn in
School. Literacy in the Lives of Urban Youth ( 2004), and Teaching in
New Times: Bridging Diversity and Achievement (forthcoming).
In his talk, Mahiri will address the nature of contemporary youth
culture influenced both by the digital age and the age of hip-hop. He
will show how schools need to change in this new century to better
accommodate and build upon these new literacies that are the
substance of experiences for many contemporary youth.

Here are notes from his talk:

  • Intro
    • In California, teachers must get a BA/BS and then come back for a masters in a graduate school, and I am interested in looking at the cultural gap that happens when teachers get done with school, get their credential, and then head into classrooms.
    • Thinking about changing a clock. We we wait for the seasons to change instead of changing the clock. This is indicative of our mechanical age vs. a digital age and how we think about working in this age.
    • Looking at “digital natives in the age of hip-hop” as compared to digital tourists; the tourists often have to ask the natives about how to work in these spaces.
  • Current Work
    • Looking at an 8th grade school and how a teacher engaged her students in “digital DJing”
    • From 3 R’s to 3 C’s article – the current age of testing contrasts with the digital age
    • Harpers – Grand Theft Education and Your Child’s Mind
    • “Digital Natives in the Age of Hip Hop” – trying to look at those who produce and consume music
    • “Literacies in the Lives of Urban Youths”
  • Main Talk
    • Dewey – Experience and Education – I want to make the case that much of what we are arguing for today was already laid out by Dewey in 1938
      • He argued for “the necessity of introduction of a new order of conceptions leading to new modes of practice”
    • I want to argue for a “new order of conceptions” linked to the emergence of new literacies which can facilitate educators developing “new modes of practice.”
      • Imagine that a frozen man, someone who had been frozen for 100 years, walked into society today. What would be different? How would schools be nearly the same?
    • Manovich (2001) argues from a “new media” that combines graphics, moving images, sounds, shapes, and other forms of texts into data that was computable — things that are able to be cut and pasted with greater mobility amongst texts
      • The computer was able to bring all of these media into one little box. To lose one’s computer would be problematic. A laptop is worth more than the $2000 of machinery…
    • The computer doesn’t say “I am going to tell you what medium to make texts in.” Instead, it offers you variability to create new media with new literacies in a variety of ways.
    • Wired Magazine – The rise of the cut and paste culture.
      • I argue that hip hop culture was one of the first to cut and paste and remix.
    • “Translating” dialects of youth culture – what effects does this have on parenting and their perception of kids living online
  • Three Digital Kids
    • Two are my twin daughters – one thing that the screen allows is a collectivity that a page will not. Kids can look at the same screen and do work together much easier. My granddaughter is then adopting the habits of the older children.
    • Example of college students writing on computers – they were willing to work on each others’ texts because it was mailable. As a teacher, you are putting your signs up over a student’s sign. Violation of space and ownership.
    • NPR story on digital kids.
  • Digital environments as social space
    • Teens spend more time online than with other media
    • These technologies allow for high levels of socializing that have kids engaging with one another, even if they are not in the same physical space
  • Genres of video games – adults need to understand this
    • Gee recognizes transformations play out in video games and how the theory of learning from video games is better for an interconnected, global society
    • Games encompass a variety of attitudes and actions – it is a lifestyle choice
      • Youth culture is composed from music, fashion, and sports – all these lifestyle choices are represented in some of these video games. What fantasies do they allow children to play out?
      • Where do the images of manhood/womanhood come from?
        • Kids making their bodies look like celebrities and other characters
        • Nissan with integrated XBox
  • A definition of literacy
    • We need a definition that tries to comprehend how people are making meaning from texts
    • SKILL(s) in the PRODUCTION(s) of TEXT(s) to make MEANING(s) in CONTEXT(s)
    • NCTE’s definition – a text is any segment of language or symbol that creates a unit of meaning including print texts, spoken texts, visual representations, and lived experiences
    • Ideas refer to each view held by the learner
      • Generating
      • Expanding
      • Sorting
      • Evaluating
      • Synthesizing
    • Youth Radio example – boxers or briefs
      • Created a full and articulated argument with a thesis, different kinds of support, and a counterargument
  • Technology Mindsets
    • Learners who have grown up digital have different views and approaches to learning, they want to multi task. (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006)
    • We need new terminology to capture what is going on. Gee suggests that we look at it as a “semiotic domain” where there is an accumulation of significations in a variety of textual mediums brought together in a domain.
    • Marjorie Siegel (1995) – transmediation
    • If we are not allowing for different ways for students to develop meaning, just because of what we think of as school, then we are limiting them. It is in multimodal and multimedia opportunities guided by creative and caring adults that children may find their own medium in which they can be expressive.
    • Dewey’s questions of school experiences are still relevant today
    • New literacies as modes of experience
    • “Understanding Youth Experiences in the Age of Hip-Hop”
    • How do we manage this in relation to standards? How do we come up with new assessment techniques for these new literacies?
      • How do we effectively engage students in assessment processes?
    • Youth as Decision-Makers and Leaders
      • We need to go to places where youth are engaged in literacy practices outside of school and understand how and why these are working in other settings.
      • We need to understand that youth are not deficient adults – youth that are creating these phenomenal texts are treated differently in these youth organizations; it is not the same type of relationships that we see in schools where it is adults sharing what they know
      • Digital DJing
  • Questions and Answers
    • Q: The thing that I see in high schools is that one wishes for youth to be more critical of the culture that they are getting through the media. The commercialization and values that are represented are not always the best. How could we help students “talk back to the media” and engage in critical literacy in thinking about when to slow down to read a text?
      • A: Gee talks about dominant discourses and powerful discourses. Powerful discourses are powerful because they help critique the dominant discourse. Kids are creating things (like spoken word poetry) that do critique the media. Listening to a spoken word text – thinking about how this youth connects his own interests, uses public service announcement genre to critique corporate and media interests. This can still integrate in with regular school topics like alliteration, rhythm, etc.
    • Q: Digital immigrants vs. digital native? Too much of a binary?
      • A: It gives us some point to talk about. There is a certain bit of exploration that digital natives will take that digital immigrants will not. For instance, I was trying to connect to a wifi network. I didn’t know how to turn my laptop on 10 years ago, and now I will search through many wifi networds until I can connect with one. It is a disposition towards exploring technology tha digital natives possess that I think separates the two.
    • Q: I am young, and do many of these things, so I don’t understand what the “traditional literacies” are.
      • A: One example is thinking about how many times a person is cited. For example, when I did a citation search for Shirley Brice Heather on Google, I found 30,000 hits. Citation is a relatively simple concept. Doing it with Google is what makes it different.

Reflecting on the Summer’s Work

Finally, I am catching up on some blog reading/writing. This past summer was super busy for me at RCWP, as we did many, many workshops — averaging about one a day over the entire summer — all focused on new literacies and new technologies.
Julie had some kind words to say about one of the sessions:

Well, this was a blast. Not only was it a great review for the technologies I’d already encountered earlier in the summer, but it covered a lot of new ground as well. I particularly loved the Writely demonstration. The collaborative writing exercise was such a kick, a bunch of writers creating a guide to area restaurants in a matter of five minutes…and editing each other with impunity! lol You could tell Troy was an organizer…Bulletman I’m calling him now.


To me, this note really sums things up quite well. We looked at a number of new technologies and tried them out. Julie was one of our die hard participants, making it to nearly every session, and contributing a great deal of new knowledge along the way, especially about games. All told, the sessions were not as well attended as I would have hoped; yet, for the participants who came, I must say that each and every one of them was highly motivated and engaged, two qualities that we like to see for teachers who are learning about technology.

Also, now I am waiting to see what the ripple effects of this summer’s work might be. Of course, we have to write a report for NWP (that’s coming up soon), but I am more intertesed in the intangibles. Anne is helping to coordinate a digital portfolio initiative at her high school. Aram and I will be presenting at MCTE. Julie is thinking about integrating technology into the Teachers as Writers initiative. Tara is asking her students to buy jump drives so they can compose digital writing.
I think that the true value from these workshops comes only partially from the day itself. What I really value are the long-term implications that embedded and relevant technology learning can do for teachers. I look forward to following their work this year.

Blogged with Flock

Back to School Supplies, Including Jump Drives? Awesome!

Dear Mrs. Klotz,

I think that it is great that you are asking your students to have a jump drive as part of their school supplies. Given the work that we did this summer, I think that this is an incredibly practical idea and I look forward to seeing how this works out for you over the course of the school year. I am interested in knowing how parents and students respond to this request as well as the kinds of projects that you plan to do that will require them to save with the jump drives.
Good luck to you and your students as things get underway – keep us updated!


TIME.com: 50 Coolest Websites

So, I ran across TIME.com: 50 Coolest Websites the other day. There are many great sites on here that I have tried already like Jumpcut, YouTube, and Charity Navigator, but many more to explore.

I am curious… does anyone else have experience with any of these websites that Time thinks is cool? As an educator, what would you add? Perhaps we can start a list of the 50 coolest websites for writing teachers.

Technology and Change


I think that you are right on the money here. Change, in any context is difficult. What I find most interesting about technology relates to the things that we choose to change and the things that we don’t necessarily have a choice over.

For instance, with Spurl and Furl, I have complete control over that decision – it is not about a requirement for work or a class, and I can choose whichever technology suits me better for the time being. However, it seems that most times teachers are faced with tech changes that are mandated. “Welcome to your new grading program, learn it by tomorrow…”

Because of this, I have to wonder if the ideas of “change” and “technology” in the same sentence automatically instigate a kind of fear for people, especially teachers whose job may depend on how well they can navigate a new student record system.

What do you think? How have you seen voluntary change and forced change differ in terms of technology adoption?


Thoughts on Spurl


I agree with you about Spurl – I think that it is possibly the most useful of the social bookmarking sites, although I must admit that I am still using Furl primarily because it is what I started with way back when.

I am interested in seeing how you embed the bookmarks in your blog and, in turn, how you might use your Spurl account with colleagues and students. Keep us updated.


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…