Media Literacy: A Critique of How and Why Secondary Language Arts Teachers Currently Use Popular Culture
by Kathy Garland
A few years ago, I conducted a study of secondary language arts teachers who (1) taught in high poverty schools and (2) taught predominantly African American students (Garland, 2014). I wanted to understand these teachers’ perceptions of using popular culture (e.g., television, music, film) for academic purposes and I also wanted to learn how they used similar media in their own instruction.
I was fortunate enough to secure 30 teacher participants from four high schools, one in northwest Florida, one in northeast Florida, and two in middle Georgia. Over several months, they answered open-ended survey questions and participated in face-to-face interviews. Their answers serve as a framework for the following critique.
Teacher participants cited relevancy to the curriculum as a valid reason for using popular culture. Meaning, if the type of media could somehow be linked to the state-mandated curriculum, then it was fine to integrate it into lessons. By no means am I suggesting subversive behavior, but this type of thinking is contradictory for what past scholars have advocated. Alvermann, Hobbs, Morrell, and the Center for Media Literacy have all suggested that media and popular culture be integrated because it is relevant to students’ lives. I understand that teachers typically adhere to curricula directly given from districts, which are oftentimes handed down from the state. However, at some point, we should return to what is culturally relevant for our students.
We should include media, such as television, music, and film because that is with what our students engage. Popular culture has and always will be applicable (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010; Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005; Roberts, Foehr, Rideout, & Brodie, 1999). No matter how much digital technologies are a part of our lives, studies have shown that children, especially those who are black, brown, or poor are still watching television, listening to music, and going to the movies (Roberts, Foehr, & Rideout, 2005). Popular culture should be part of language arts instruction because it is pertinent to students’ lives.
The basic sentiment from 18 of the teacher participants was that students would rather watch a screen than read a book. Three comments summarize these language arts teachers’ rationale for using popular culture:
It’s like backdoor teaching.
This is a non-reading generation.
They get really bored quick when it’s just paper.
Teachers perceived popular culture as a great way to bait students and then switch to “real” learning. Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to engage students. But there is a flaw in using television, music, and film as if they are interesting, yet nonacademic learning tools. Beginning with a snippet of Family Guy so that students will read and understand Animal Farm’s satire is unnecessary.
Popular culture can stand on its own as the “real” text that offers “real” learning. In fact, this was demonstrated when a former language arts teacher created a Florida Department of Education course called Literature in the Media Honors (1005365). She not only used television shows, music, and film as more than just appealing tools, she also used these media as methods for supporting students’ literacy (Garland, 2012). While the course is engaging, this English elective is also an excellent alternative for teachers and students who seek contemporary methods for enacting literacy practices.
Teachers in this study saw popular culture as a great way to illustrate similarities and differences between novels and poems. For example, they described showing film versions of Romeo & Juliet before, during, and after reading Shakespeare’s play so that students could understand the language and concepts. They explained how comparing music during poetry units effectively demonstrate figurative language and rhetorical devices.
Using popular culture in this way isn’t wrong. However, television shows, music, and film can (and should) be used for more than visual or audio representations of the literature that we want students to read and understand. For example, students can examine film adaptations of texts to understand how media perpetuate ideas about race, gender, and hegemony (Garland, 2011; Garland & Smith, 2013). Music can do the same. In essence, popular culture can foster students’ critical literacy so that they begin to analyze and evaluate the media worlds in which they participate.
Standards, state mandates, and waning support from the federal government are at the forefront of all educators’ minds. I get it. But let’s not forget that language arts can be the place where students still learn to critically think. Popular culture can be the texts with which students enact such literacy skills. In a country where media realities are blurred every day, I’d say it’s time for us to get started.
Garland, K. (2011). Re-viewing popular film adaptations of young adult literature
using three contemporary literacy strategies. SIGNAL Journal, 34(2), 19–24.
Garland, K. (2012). Analyzing classroom literacy events: What observing classroom
conversations about popular culture can reveal about reading. English Journal. 101(6) 104-106.
Garland, K., & Smith, S. (2013). Exploring the core with in-depth popular film
analysis: How students can create a film review using a critical media literacy framework. Florida English Journal. 6-12.
Garland, K. (2014). Understanding the role of popular culture in secondary Title I teachers’
instruction. Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University.
Rideout, V. J., Foehr, U. G., & Roberts, D. F. (2010). Generation M2 Media in the Lives of 8– to 18–year-olds: A Kaiser Family Foundation study. Retrieved from http://kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/
Roberts, D. F., Foehr, U. G., & Rideout, V. J. (2005). Generation M Media in the
lives of 8-18 year-olds: A Kaiser Family Foundation study. http://kff.org/other/event/generation-m-media-in-the-lives-of/
Roberts, D. F., Foehr, U. G., Rideout, V. J., & Brodie, M. (1999). Kids & media @
the new millennium. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation.
by Katie Rybakova
My students this past summer embarked on a Google20time project. In fact, I embarked on a Google20time project with them (katierybakova.com). Although not a new concept, it was my first time to try it personally as well as integrate it as a college course assignment.
The “rules” are simple—students have 20% of class time to dedicate to their own educational experiences that they create. Based on what Google employees do, this project harnesses student creativity, self-motivation, time-management, and ultimately, produces a product of some kind that students are proud of. At the risk of sounding overly cliché: the possibilities are endless.
Google20time projects are not a new pedagogical strategy by any means. Many classrooms include these projects, both at the college and high school level. What I will share here is the way that I “pitched” this project to my students, their ultimate final projects, and what I learned about my students (and myself) in the process. This course was focused on teaching with technology for pre-service English teachers in their junior year of college. When I inherited the course, the Google20time project on the previous syllabus (written by my mentor) peaked my interest and I saw it as a great way of engaging students in an inquiry-driven project while using technology to accomplish a goal.
To start out this project, I asked students to watch the two following videos—one as an introduction to the project (the Google employee video) and the second as a way to inspire them as to what they could do.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xupHuEk8p7g - High school student projects
Because the course was online, I also discussed in a “Word document lecture” that the project required that students spent about 1.5-2 hours out of the week working on their own goals. These goals could be personal, professional, or philanthropic. The students were encouraged to experiment with all three but were not required to.
Over the course of the summer, I checked in with students periodically with “progress reports” but for the most part left this project to the students to practice independently. In culmination, the students submitted a “TED talk” video where they discussed what they accomplished. Below are a few of these videos, shared with permission from the creators.
The major takeaways from this project included a variety of reflections—they varied from logistical factors to 21st century literacy skills and career skills. These takeaways were:
1. Recognizing that failure is in itself a learning experience
I didn’t anticipate the flurry of emails I would get the nights leading up to the TED talk video deadline. Or perhaps I did, but not necessarily with the theme of the emails. The question I posed for the TED talk video was “what did you accomplish?” When asked that question, a handful of students worried that they did not have anything fruitful to show for their Google20time project. I asked them what they learned, and they talked about the ways they did not succeed but that they learned about personal growth, understanding their limits, and their need to work on time-management skills. Some talked about how they switched their topics mid-summer and that it was hard to find an accomplishment within two scopes. This, in and of itself, was an accomplishment. Students with these kinds of “failures” learned about their learning style, their personal needs, and ways in which to overcome failure.
2. Intangible achievements are as important as tangible achievements
I was impressed with the amount of tangible achievements these learners made. Leah’s project was making pottery, and she ultimately joined an organization called “Potters for Pulse” after the Pulse Club shooting in Orlando occurred mid-summer. She raised over 300 dollars as a part of this organization to help the people in Orlando touched by this tragedy.
What I thought was interesting were the emails about intangible accomplishments and if they “counted” as accomplishments for their TED talks. These intangibles ranged from overcoming and making progress with personal issues such as anxiety and depression to becoming self-aware of personal stress-relief and time-off needs. I found myself asking why students felt like these were not accomplishments. Teachers need those kinds of accomplishments—if only we were able to earn and present grades like “confidence level,” “time-management skills,” and “work ethic.” These would speak volumes over A’s and B’s in content areas. Sure, products are accomplishments we can touch and feel, but intangibles are not easily forgotten and left to collect dust.
3. Having so few boundaries can be both exhilarating and overwhelming
I still am not sure if I would re-create the Google20time project in the same way I did this summer. I think if I were to do it again I’d ask students to choose and focus on ONE goal rather than three, and to commit fully to that goal. I’d give more options for reflection, such as vlogging or tweeting. I had asked students to blog each week reflecting on their progress. Visit http://angelakwitheegoogle2.weebly.com for an example.
I’d also have more time set for brainstorming. Students had less than a week to choose their topics. Perhaps this was a good thing—snap decisions that led students to their passions and interests outside of education. I do think the process of choosing whatever they wanted was overwhelming. Most of the feedback I got from the project was that it was terrifying at first but then ended up being very inspiring, engaging, and fun. I do think this speaks to education now—we often don’t have time to allow students to explore and “play” with learning experiences. We don’t give them the opportunity to fail.
4. The Google20time project teaches important 21st century literacy skills
The biggest benefit of the Google20time project (aside from the engagement factor) is that it allowed students to authentically experience technology and 21st century literacies. Blogging and sharing their project progress allowed them to nurture cross-cultural communications that are available to them on the Internet. Creating the TED talks got students involved in moviemaking, production, and multimedia. Technology is not the goal—it is the tool used to reach the goal. Ultimately, this is what 21st century literacy is all about.
Would I do this project again? Absolutely. I learned a lot about my own philosophies, my students, and technology skills through this project. In fact, I think it is important to embark on some learning journeys together with students, and this is a great way to do that.
University Teacher Preparation – A Responsibility to Explore What is Possible in the Best of All Possible Worlds
by Sheri Vasinda
Four years ago, after describing a revisioned and revised assignment that required students to begin to curate their teaching strategies in a digital format, I overheard one of my 20-something-year old students remark on her way out of the classroom, “I just want a classroom with an old-fashioned chalkboard.” I chucked a bit as I thought, “That classroom no longer exists.” While I do know that globally there are classrooms that long for a chalkboard and there may be chalkboard attached to some US school walls, I’m speaking metaphorically about change. I thought about the third-grade classroom I recently left where chalkboards had been replaced ten or more years previously with white boards and dry-erase markers and where I piloted the newer interactive whiteboard two years previous and that were in the process of being installed. (Not my favorite way to spend tech dollars- but more on that for another post.)
As I continue to explore technology-rich learning environments that mobile technologies afford and that many students access in their lives outside of school, there is often some pushback by both faculty and our preservice teachers such as the one I mentioned above. Faculty argues that many schools districts where we sent our newly minted teachers don’t have the technology devices some of us propose or are using in our university classrooms. We might also hear that if we provide them a good foundation of content and pedagogy, the schools will support their technology integration development. The rub here is that principals expect, or hope, that we will send them new teachers that are comfortable and competent not only with technology tools and applications, but also with pedagogically sound practices in the implementation of technology. Additionally, practicing teachers say they are given devices with little to no instruction as to how to support high levels of student learning and engagement, and, as always, little time to explore and figure it out. And there is little to no talk about transforming learning. So, what is our responsibility as faculty who prepares future teachers?
I want to challenge those of us involved in teacher preparation to transform what we do into a model of what’s possible that includes technology integration. We already do this in terms of promoting practices grounded in research from the 1980s, such as workshop teaching and learning, that still has yet to appear in 21st century in some classrooms, but we can’t stop there. And we can’t leave it all up to our ed tech courses. It continues to look like an add-on if we leave it to someone else.
We live in a transitory time in which we strive to prepare teachers for classrooms neither they nor we experienced. We straddle the 20th and 21st century preparing teachers for learning environments we can’t clearly see. The Internet alone has transformed how we access and consider new information, and Web 2.0 tools are transforming how we create and communicate our understanding and construct new learning. How are we leveraging these tools to demonstrate what’s possible for 21st century learners? How is our thinking about teaching and learning changing in light of these new tools? Do we see it as an add-on and siloed- reserved as an event for the computer lab. Mobile means anywhere and anytime. What are we doing to rethink what we do in this type of environment?
One of the strategies I’ve employed is including frameworks for thinking about technology-rich learning environments. This includes models such as TPACK and RAT or SAMR as well as considering the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards. Preservice teachers report that what they see and experience with their university professors in their preparation coursework and mentor teachers in the field have the most influence on their practice (Blackboard, 2013). We have a responsibility to them to model an explorative, responsive, and inquiry-based stance of teaching while supporting them in content knowledge and concept attainment- just as they will do in their classrooms.
By Rikki Roccanti
On September 15th, 2015, a crowd of practicing teachers, pre-service teachers, graduate students, and faculty came to see Dr. Ernest Morrell, past-president of NCTE, present the keynote address at the second 21st Century Literacies Lecture Series. The lecture series began with a graduate student poster presentation and, after Dr. Morrell’s talk, concluded with a panel discussion by Dr. Morrell, Dr. Raúl A. Mora from the School of Education and Pedagogy at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and Dr. Lisa Tripp from the College of Motion Picture Arts at Florida State University. The topic of the lecture series was literacy and urban education in the 21st century.
At one point in his keynote address, Dr. Morrell spoke of a phenomenon he calls, “the tiger crouch.” He talked about how we can always tell when adolescents are truly engaged in an activity, such as playing a video game, because they lean forward with eager anticipation – much like how a tiger crouches ready to spring at its prey. Dr. Morrell contrasted this posture with what teachers often experience in a classroom – students who learn back in their chairs, complacently unmotivated and disengaged. Dr. Morrell’s talk focused in part on how to motivate students to the tiger crouch position. Students in the tiger crouch, he said, are ready for learning.
This idea of the tiger crouch hit a cord with many of the attendees at the lecture series. As I spoke with practicing and preservice teachers afterward, many of them brought up the concept of the tiger crouch. I found this interesting because as these current and future teachers began talking about the tiger crouch and about helping their students develop 21st century literacies, I noticed that they began leaning in with excitement and purpose, eager to implement the teaching ideas they had gleaned from the lecture series. These teachers has assumed the tiger crouch position.
As I spoke with attendees, scrolled through the tweets from the lecture series, and read the reflections my students wrote about hearing Dr. Morrell, I continued to see this pattern. Everyone was encouraged, inspired, and excited. Everyone was in the tiger crouch position.
Dr. Morrell spoke about developing powerful literacies in the 21st century classroom, but his talk did much more than just provide teaching ideas. His talk brought hope and encouragement to worn-out teachers and inspiration and excitement to students ready to embark on their teaching internships. This makes me wonder if 21st century literacies and education are about more than simply literacies, skills, standards, and policies. What if 21st century literacies is about getting both teachers and students into the tiger crouch position – about bringing new life and a new perspective to the concepts of literacy and education and bringing in new subject matter and practices to the classroom? As I saw at the lecture series, perhaps the first step in motivating students to the tiger crouch position is to make sure that teachers are in this position as well. How can we encourage and motivate the teachers around us? How can we share ideas and collaborate with one another? How can we re-invigorate our thinking and our teaching?
The lecture series served as one great method for achieving many of these goals. Teachers and students were encourages and excited as they listened to Dr. Morrell, spoke with graduate students about their research, and asked questions during the panel discussion. The power of the event, however, lies in not simply these actions but in how the ideas and practices discussed live on in the classroom, in research, and in future professional development events. Dr. Morrell stressed the importance of the tiger crouch for developing students’ 21st century literacies. Let’s apply this idea to ourselves and remember that motivating and teaching our students starts when we motivate and teach ourselves – when we assume the tiger crouch position.
by Katie Rybakova
Anticipating Dr. Morrell’s talk at Florida State University on the rapidly approaching September 15th date of the Literacies Lecture Series, I fished out of my stack of “to read” books his text Critical Media Pedagogy. As most practitioners and teachers do, the instant I began reading this text, I found myself reflecting on how I can create “learning spaces that are rigorous, relevant, participatory, authentic, and engaging of content” in my own college classrooms (Morrell, Duenas, Garcia, & Lopez, 2013, p. 16). Furthermore, what ARE activities that can be considered authentic, participatory, and engaging, and how do I anticipate engagement and authenticity that require almost spontaneous exploration of ideas and concepts?
As a 21st century literacy skills researcher, this is a common question that I ask myself. As Morrell et al. (2013) wisely suggest, producing media is not necessarily a critical activity in and of itself. However, there has to be an element of assignment that initiates a critical activity. I cannot ask my students to engage critically with flipped classrooms, for example, without first assigning them to create one. But by doing that, I am, essentially, asking them to produce a source of media with the anticipation of a critical thinking process behind it, but not necessarily always the outcome. All I suppose I can ask of myself as a teacher, then, is to provide enough focus as to create a boundary for exploration, and yet enough flexibility to allow for an authentic investigation that has a certain element of intrinsic motivation linked to it; a desire to know without the forcefulness to create without meaning. Morrell et al. (2013) write this more eloquently: students can “use media artifacts such as blogs and digital films as a way to encourage dialogue” (p. 17).
There is one project that I am anticipating this semester that I feel may help me reach this equilibrium between assigning a digital task and students creating an authentic product. This assignment in my methods class this semester is a TED talk in which students are actively engaged in research on a topic of interest to them (hence, flexibility and motivation). Once the final product is made in a form of a Youtube video, my hope is that it may connect to Morrell’s (2013) suggestion to have students begin a dialogue that reaches a large potential audience. This also touches on NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Framework (2008) and the standards that call for students to engage digitally to form “cross-cultural connections” and “create and evaluate multimedia.” It is my hope to find that this project, while extrinsically tied to a grade, intrinsically motivates these pre-service teachers to continue to engage in such digital critical thinking skills that are necessary for the 21st century world, particularly in the classroom.
Additionally, I anticipate, in conjunction with a colleague here at FSU, to have students engage in a mock interview digitally. This is a different form of digital production that I feel is necessary yet wholly unauthentic. This assignment allows them to reflect on how they did by watching the video themselves, and allows us to watch the video together and discuss suggestions. While this is not necessarily the students producing this video authentically, nor does it give them any creative leeway since the guidelines and professionalism are purposefully strict, I feel like this form of assessment/evaluation uses digital technology in way that benefits the students and the instructors in a way that a traditional interview assignment wouldn’t. By using technology in this form as a tool, rather than a literacy practice, which is typically a warning we instructors receive from educational research NOT to do, we harness the vast options that we are given with the use of the tool digitally that we do not have face-to-face. I am all for authentic, literacy-rich digital experiences for my students, but I feel like we don’t give enough credit to awesome new tools that we can use, well, just for the tool itself. Perhaps it is important then to identify which purposes and what forms of evaluation we need to keep explorative and authentic, and which forms of evaluation can utilize the uniqueness of a digital tool to add value to a classroom product, even if not an authentic literacy-rich experience for the student.
This is one of the questions that I am excited to ask Dr. Morrell about in person, and hope to begin a dialogue on the 21st century initiative about—how do you create an authentic critical media production without, essentially, forcing the matter, and, is there value to using a digital tool for the tool itself?
by Rikki Roccanti
As the school-year draws to a close for most public secondary schools, I have been reminiscing about my own experiences as a school-year ends and the long-awaited summer begins. As an avid reader, introvert, and easy sunburn-er, summers for me meant curling up in a recliner with a good book. I would spend entire days just reading. In the morning I would pick up my new book, run my hand over its shiny new cover, smell its freshly printed pages, and peel open the cover as my eyes adjusted to the first sentence. Hours and hours later, I would read the last line through my tear-blurred eyes and over the sound of my pounding heart, and then I would slowly – reluctantly – close the shiny cover and place the book upon my burdened bookshelf.
While no doubt many readers still experience some version of this, the twenty-first century has ushered in radically new forms of texts and with this an acknowledgment of radically new ways of reading. No longer do we merely sit down with a book, read it cover-to-cover, and then place it on our bookshelf to begin collecting dust. Rather, twenty-first century readers crave stories without borders – texts with multiple points of entry and no end-point in sight. Twenty-first century readers crave stories which immerse readers into complex fictional worlds which can contain multiple texts and plots told over a variety of mediums.
These kinds of stories are known as transmedia texts. The term transmedia storytelling was coined by media scholar Henry Jenkins. It refers to a “process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience” (Jenkins, 2007, para. 3). In other words, transmedia stories incorporate multiple media platforms and multiple texts to tell a story. When an individual finishes reading one of the Harry Potter novels, he or she can put down the book and pick up a computer mouse to click and enter the website Pottermore where they can continue to immerse themselves in J. K. Rowling’s story world. No longer just reading about Hogwarts, readers can now become wizards themselves and attend Hogwarts through this virtual reality.
While many readers are engaging in transmediated reading experiences in their free time, the English language arts classrooms still prefers traditional conceptions of what a story is and feels more comfortable teaching stories with clear and definite borders. What would it look like, however, if language arts teachers embraced the idea of stories without borders? What might it look like for language arts teachers to acknowledge that the twenty-first century is changing not only what stories look like but how our students read those stories? If we want our students to find relevance and significance in what we ask them to do inside the classroom, I believe we must acknowledge and sanction the kind of reading they do outside the classroom. As the field of English education continues to grapple with what a twenty-first century English classroom looks like, I believe an important starting point is embracing the existence of stories without borders and the kinds of transmediated reading in which our students engage. Perhaps by doing so, we can promote reading without borders – the kind of reading that connects literacy in the classroom with literacy outside the classroom and sets the foundation for lifelong readers and lifelong learners.
Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia storytelling 101 [Blog Post]. Retrieved from http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html
From the Red Pen to the Pencast: Teaching Preservice English Teachers to Respond to Student Writing With Technology
by Amy Piotrowski
A vital part of preservice English teachers’ education is learning to respond to student writing with comments and suggestions for improvement. Connors and Lunsford (1993) argue that one barrier teachers face in responding effectively to student writing is “incomplete training” (p. 219). Their findings suggest that preservice teachers would benefit from improved instruction on how to respond to their students’ writing. Today’s preservice teachers need to be prepared to assess and respond to many kinds of student writing, whether traditional essays or multimedia compositions.
While teachers have often given students written comments on their papers, the digital age has given teachers a variety of new tools and media for responding to student writing. Neal (2011) says that, “the choice of media and technology platforms in which we teach, compose, and respond are part of the meaningful, rhetorical decisions we and our students make regularly” (p. 45). Different technologies, whether digital or not, enable different kinds of responses. When deciding how and with what tool to respond to student writing, teachers need to “consider ways the medium allows for and disallows, emphasizes and deemphaisizes certain communication in different rhetorical contexts” (Neal, 2011, p. 45). The important consideration for the teacher is the kind of response allowed by a technology tool. Which tool will allow the teacher to respond to the piece of writing in the most helpful way for the student writer in their particular situation? Preservice teachers need to learn to respond to student writing in modes other than written comments on a student’s paper so that they can decide what tools and medium are best suited to respond to the writing task their students are undertaking.
Responding to Student Writing
For many years, writing teachers have responded to student writing through written comments. Teachers’ comments are meant to instruct the student on how to improve their writing. Connors and Lunsford (1993) go back to the 1950s to find the origin of the “essential assumption that the teacher must and should engage the student in rhetorical dialogue” about their writing (p. 204). It is only in the past few decades that teachers’ responses have been seen as a discussion with the student about their writing, an opportunity to give students feedback for revision and their future work. A teacher’s comments can be seen as an opportunity to instruct and talk to the student about writing.
Sometimes, teachers’ response can be less of a dialogue and more of an obligation. Connors and Lunsford (1993) found that in over half of the compositions they looked at, the purpose of the teacher’s comments was “to justify grades” (p. 207). They also concluded that busy teachers tend to write more short comments than longer, in-depth comments (p. 211). These two findings suggest that comments tend to be written on the final draft turned in, not on in-progress drafts that will be revised. Their findings also suggest that some teachers need to be encouraged to see responding to student writing as being more than grading.
Research has been done looking at students’ perceptions of teacher’s comments in different media. Kim (2004) asked students to give their response to both written and audio-recorded comments from teachers. She didn’t find a difference between students’ preferences for written and audio comments, but she did find that the participants could not recognize the same teacher’s written and audio comments. In other words, the participants believed when presented with written and audio comments from the same teacher that the comments were from different teachers. Kim (2004) argues that, “Vocal inflection, tone, and emphases seemed to help students form perceptions of the teachers making the comments, which, in turn, informed their interpretations of the comment” (p. 323). Ultimately, teachers must be aware of how their comments, written or voice, affect the way they are perceived. When giving students audio feedback, the way teachers speak affects the way their feedback will be received.
How Preservice Teachers Learn to Respond to Student Writing
If preservice teachers are going to do an effective job responding to student writing, they need good teacher education courses. Good writing instruction starts with the knowledge that writing teachers have. Parr and Timerley (2010) argue that writing teachers should know “how texts work to achieve their communicative, rhetorical purposes, including knowledge of the features of text most commonly employed to support writing for a particular purpose” (p. 71). In other words, writing teachers must know important content about rhetoric and how texts work in different situations for different purposes. Parr and Timerley (2010) also argue that writing teachers need to be able to “unpack what writers are doing as they engage in the writing process,” making explicit and clear to students “the strategies more expert writers use in the complex activity of writing” (p. 71). This is the pedagogical knowledge that writing teachers need. Parr and Timerley’s (2010) research suggests that teacher need both content knowledge about writing and pedagogical knowledge about how to teach writing to students.
Preservice teachers seem to benefit from experience responding to pieces of writing. DelleBovi had her preservice teachers holistically score and respond to essays from a partnering local school. She found that getting to read student essays informed “preservice teachers’ understanding of some of the practices related to assessing students’ written work” (p. 280). Dempsey, PytlikZikkig, and Bruning (2009) found that practice rating essays using a online website raised preservice teachers’ reported self-efficacy in assessing writing (p. 56). It appears from this research that experience matters, and that teacher education programs would do well to provide their preservice teachers with opportunities to respond to student writing.
Using Livescribe Pens to Respond to Student Writing
The Livescribe smartpen is one tool that can be used in the teacher education classroom to teach preservice teachers about responding to student writing. Livescribe smartpens “convert handwritten notes and audio into digital format for access through the devices we use daily” (Livescribe 2014). The pen digitally records what one writes or draws along with the audio of what is going on as the notes are written. The notes and audio, called a pencast, can be saved on a computer as a PDF, sent to Evernote, or sent to Livescribe mobile app on one’s tablet or smartphone, depending on which model of the pen one has.
With a smartpen, a teacher can give students more than written comments. This tool enables a teacher to provide both written notes and audio comments to student writers about their work. Livescribe pens can also be used to assess preservice teachers as they learn to respond to student writing because they allow teacher educators to listen to and evaluate their preservice teachers’ feedback to students.
Preservice secondary English teachers my undergraduate course Teaching Writing and Language in the High School practiced responding to student writing using Livescribe smartpens. I put my preservice teachers into groups of three, and each group was given a 10th grade essay from the FCAT Writing Calibration Scoring Guides from the Florida Department of Education’s (2014) website. I used essays from this collection because they are publically available student essays that preservice teachers can read and respond to as practice for responding to the student writers they will go on to teach during student teaching and in their own classrooms. Each individual read their group’s essay on their own, and then groups discussed their essay together. Using a Livescribe pen, each group had to record their thoughts about what was good in the essay, give the writer suggestions for improvement, and determine what score the group would give the essay based on the FCAT rubric. These recordings allowed me to listen to the preservice teachers’ feedback on their groups’ essay and determine what we needed to discuss in future class meetings about responding to student writing.
I asked my class what they thought about recording comments about their student essay in a pencast. My preservice teachers said that they thought recording an audio response was weird, and that it was not how they expected they would respond to student writing. They had not seen any of their own teachers or the teachers they observed in their fieldwork placements record audio comments for students. My preservice teachers had not considered recording audio feedback for their student writers before this activity, even though audio feedback may work well for some writing assignments they give their future students. It seems from my preservice teacher’s experience that they would benefit from having the opportunity to spend time learning technologies that they could use to respond to student writing.
Future Directions for Research and Teacher Education
There is a need for more research examining how preservice teachers learn to respond to student writing, especially in audio recordings or digital media. As students write in a variety of media, teachers will have to respond to student writing in a variety of media. It may be beneficial to have preservice English teachers respond to student writing using a Livescribe pen several times over the course of their teacher education program so that teacher educators can evaluate progress as preservice teachers gain more experience.
The Livescribe pen could be especially useful when teacher education programs partner with K-12 schools. Preservice teachers could read essays from the partner school and record audio responses to students’ writing using Livescribe pens. Then the student writer can get back the pencast with feedback on her writing. The preservice teacher and teacher educator can replay the preservice teacher’s pencast in order to reflect on how the preserivce teacher is learning to respond to student writing. A partnership such as this would benefit both the preservice teacher and the student. The preservice teacher gets experience responding to student writing, and the student gets feedback on her writing.
Responding to student writing is one of the most important tasks a writing teacher does. Preservice teachers need effective preparation to respond to student writing. New digital technologies have the potential, if used well, to give students useful feedback on their writing and to give preservice teachers much needed experience in responding to student writing.
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by Charise Kollar
“Miss, wanna take a selfie with me?” Having taught middle school and high school students, I am not a stranger to hearing this request on a regular basis. With the ever-evolving social media realm, students are constantly “plugged-in”, interacting with one another through visuals, audio, movies, pictures, and clips. The craving to share with one another is stronger than ever before, and educators are constantly being invited to the party.
This year’s act of transitioning from the role of full-time teacher to full-time graduate student has brought about unexpected obstacles. Predominantly, one challenge that I did not anticipate being prevalent was my lack of “withitness” with evolving social media practices of students. Unknowingly, the adjustment to graduate school has resulted in the distancing from discovering “cool” new apps and innovative ways in which students use social media to communicate with one another.
Luckily, I was given the chance to redeem some of my lost time in the classroom by participating in a leadership seminar for high school sophomores. This seminar, titled HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership), gives students the opportunity to build on their leadership abilities with the intention of instilling global change in any desired field. The students, who are referred to as ‘ambassadors’, are randomly placed into groups of ten. Within these small groups, the ambassadors participate in self-led, in-depth discussions about the content of the presentations and interactive activities with the help of a volunteer or ‘facilitator’.
Unlike the common, traditional classroom, social media use is sporadically encouraged throughout the duration of the three-day seminar. The entire HOBY community participated in moments of expressive creativity, titled, “Social Media Blitz”. During these times, all cell phones reemerged from backpacks, purses, and pockets. Ambassadors loved having the opportunity to contribute to their individual social media communities. Admittedly, the staff and facilitators also took advantage of Social Media Blitz. Hashtags, such as #SoFLHOBY and #DaretoDeviate, were used to link all HOBY participants. The “wanna take a selfie?” question was running rampant. HOBY pride was everywhere, and everyone wanted to give themselves the HOBY stamp of participation via their social media accounts.
On the last day of the seminar, the use for social media underwent a transformation. The ambassadors were exposed to a social charity called “Feeding Children Everywhere”, which allowed them to work together as a team in order to box over 10,000 meals in less than one hour. The human conveyor belt was assembled, and each ambassador assumed a specific role. While one member of the group poured in an exact ratio of dried beans, rice, and salt into a transportable bag, another member weighed the bag and iron-sealed it shut. And while every role was valued and vital to the packaging process, an additional role became just as prevalent: documenter. Documenting the event on Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook became an important step of the process. The ambassadors took ownership of their voices and chose to spread the word. Service is cool. Service can be a rejuvenating, social, and fulfilling process, and everyone should be given the chance to partake in making the world a better place.
Through viewing this documentation process, I began to make connections between the impact of social media at HOBY and the potential impact that it can have in the classroom. How can educators effectively utilize social media to connect students with one another, while concurrently encouraging them to spread the word and promote their ideas, values, and passions? The ambassadors were true examples of proactive 21st century literacy advocates. The National Council of Teachers of English (2013) define the usage of 21st century literacies as being able to “build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought”. Showing students that social media has the ability to not only connect and share ideas, it can also bring about solutions to global issues is a powerful responsibility that should not be bypassed by educators.
The ability to interact with these bright and ambitious leaders was a reaffirming experience that critical thinking skills are alive and well, and that our students are continuously searching for ways to be relevant. Students are learning to adapt to the 21st Century literacy realm, and they are finding any avenue to have their voices heard. As educators, particularly English teachers, we focus on honing the voices of our students in their writing. Shouldn’t we promote this practice by way of social media, as well? Our students are not simply the leaders of tomorrow; they are making an impact today. It is our job to help them in this endeavor and encourage them to take a stance and responsibly utilize their voices in the most powerful and lasting way possible. Let’s accept our invitation to the party.
NCTE Executive Committee (2013). NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment. Retrieved from: http://www.ncte.org/governance/21stcenturyframework
by Katie Rybakova
I was excited to teach multicultural literature online over the summer. I had been an online kid in high school (Florida Virtual) and always found online classes to be much more convenient because I was able to go at my own pace and study whenever it is that I wanted to. I approached teaching online the same way—the college students in English Education will be so ecstatic to take online courses, and those who did not have experience with online classes will grow to love them towards the end of the six-week course.
Boy, was I wrong. From the syllabus to the way the discussion board was set up, my students had what felt like a question per 10 minutes. I set up a video to explain the syllabus to them by using a flip camera propped up my office desk directed at my face, but I doubted many people actually viewed it. Or, at least, it was hard to follow along with the syllabus on the screen at the same time. I’m not going to lie—I struggled to find inspiration that first week that would help my students understand what my expectations and processes were AND not lose my mind.
I found what it was that I was looking for while trying to make a video to explain how to use JSTOR. I propped up my handy flipcam on my desk and aimed it at my computer screen, and explained how to use JSTOR to my students. Want to see my blurry masterpiece?
Now, of course, I was new to the whole screencasting thing, and at that point, I didn’t even know what it was. It was only towards the end of the semester that I realized I could capture what I had on my screen and record my voice (and even show everyone my excited face through webcam if I wanted to!) in a more eloquent and technologically savvy fashion. I started looking up screen casting software and “Screencasts” on YouTube. I found a variety of cool and useful tutorials. But, I didn’t find MY content tutorials. I decided to give it a try using screencast-o-matic.com. Awesome tool once you are able to download the screen recorder (which is not as intuitive as one would hope, especially for Mac users such as myself), and I had so much fun with it until I realized my capped free time was 15 min. I talk way more than that.
So, a dilemma. How was I going to use this awesome new tool for my classes? Fast-forward about 5 months and my major adviser and I were the recipients of a technology grant from our university and we had at least 3 hours of recording time that renewed every month with a generous number of computer logins. Excitedly, I started thinking of tutorials, but it was hard to envision how I could use this tool now that it was fall and I was teaching a face-to-face class.
In my fall class, I sat down with every student and talked to them about their lesson plans—it was their first time creating lesson plans and they liked the individual attention. Light blub—I could use screencasting for individual feedback. I told my students they were the guinea pigs for my new idea and that any feedback would be appreciated. I spent the next week recording screen casts of students’ lesson plans with my feedback in 5-6 min videos that I then emailed to each student individually. Now, it may seem like a lot of work, but I found that it actually cut time that I spent grading and giving feedback to student lesson plans. A typical 20 minute grading session per student became a 5 min reading and highlighting session and then another 5 minute screen casting session where I talked about the parts that I had just highlighted—good job here, I think you can write x, y, and z here, I think you made a great lesson but the content may be a little controversial so you’ll want to rationalize better. Then, about 2 minutes spent on waiting for the video to process into an mp3 file, and then sending the file as an email to the student (it was too large of a file to add into our typical blackboard feedback attachment). Now, 12 minutes versus 20 minutes, on average, may not seem like a big difference, but with 27 students that means instead of spending 540 minutes, or 9 hours, grading, I spent 324 minutes, or about 5.5 hours grading.
I wasn’t as worried about the grading time as much as I wanted to make sure students were watching these videos and got the feedback they needed to help make them better. The response to these videos was incredible. All of my students really liked getting the videos that they can start, stop, pause, and restart anytime they wanted to. They felt like they were having a conference with me again, they got their individual attention, but they could “mini-conference” with me at any time instead of having a 15 min. block of time with me once during the semester.
I used screencasting the next semester as well, with much the same response. I always changed up my feedback format—I would write on their lesson plans, old-school-style, one week, then do screen casting the next. I would then type my feedback into Word the following week, and conference face-to-face the next. When discussing ways in which feedback was given to students this semester, a lot of students mentioned the different forms of feedback they liked the best—some said screen casting, others preferred simple hand written notes. A teachable moment—everyone prefers something different, and so, we need to differentiate feedback as well as our instruction.
In addition to feedback, I used screen casting for other purposes. I included tutorial videos of things that I felt were important for future assignments like an APA formatting guide video:
I had though about using other Youtube videos or screen casts to show tutorials, but I felt like by creating my own I a.) showed my effort to students and b.) made it more personal and individualized for our class.
In terms of using the Screencast-o-Matic.com website itself, while there is a learning curve like with any tool, once you get the screen recorder downloaded as an application onto your desktop, it really is simple.
You can drag and resize the frame to fit your entire screen, or a small little piece of the screen like above. Click on the red record button and you can begin! You can also, once you press record, pause your presentation and take a breath. If you want to include a webcam recording of yourself talking, click on the little webcam, the fifth button down from your left. Once you are done, you’ll get a chance to edit your presentation, cut out or crop parts you don’t want to include (you stumbling through words, or mispronouncing something, or someone knocks on your office door), and then save it. I save my videos to my computer then upload to Youtube as an unlisted video, or, if it’s feedback, I keep it on my computer then send it via email to protect the students’ identities.
Want a screencast about screencasting? Here you go!
Last year, I was videoing my screen using a flipcamera; this year, I have become a huge, huge fan of screen casting. I know it’s not the most “bells and whistles” form of technology, nor is it by any means new, but repurposing this technology has really helped not only my students but also me as I pursue the goal to become truly 21st century literate.
by Mark Meacham, Amy Vetter, and Tresha Layne
Our past two blogs discussed our camp set-up and camp experience. In this blog, we explore what we learned from young writers at a summer camp dedicated to 21st century literacies. As campers engaged in small talk about fashion trends, Harry Potter characters, and which of several beginning sentences grabs the reader’s attention, we learned how young writers used this time to compose 21st century multimodal texts. In the following paragraphs, we discuss how campers sought feedback from instructors and each other, how they drew on individual conferences and, how they utilized tech tools shared during whole group mini-lessons to socially construct multimodal texts.
In defining 21st century literacies, NCTE (2013) notes that individuals who practice 21st century literacies build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought. From the start, as campers crafted stories, poems, and informational texts we found that they consistently called on instructors to read what they had written and to make suggestions for developing content. For example, in the first week, Katie (rising eighth grader), solicited feedback from Malik (instructor). During their interaction, Katie shared details of her life and explained why she chose to create characters that identify as gay. As a writer, then, she explored with an instructor how she draws on aspects of her identity to create characters that are, as she told Malik, “not so stereotypical.” From this example, and others like it, we learned informal social interaction centered on the craft of writing served to foster campers’ thinking about who they are as writers and what motivates them to write. Katie said she wanted to share stories that “are not so straight-oriented,” that reflect who she is. In the end, Malik responded in a way that both supported her identity construction as writer and motivated her to continue constructing a text that, in Malik’s words, “can fill in a space that is a void.” Thus, when campers like Katie utilized social interactions to solicit feedback from instructions, we observed not only how 21st century literacies might be collaborative in nature, but also how that collaboration might foster young writers’ identity and text construction, and strengthen youth’s independent thought.
Another way young writers posed and solved problems collaboratively, was by calling on each other to help with ideas for plot. During day eight, for example, Haley (rising tenth grader) asked Katie to provide a word that describes how two characters might show affection for one another. Katie suggested she use “coddling” because it connotes a mother-child relationship that is “not, like, romancy.” As they continued discussing the scene, Katie asked clarifying questions and shared ideas for describing the characters’ actions. In other words, Katie helped Haley with a problem associated with plot. This kind of interaction suggests text construction was not only collaborative, but often involved problem-solving. In fact, certain interactions between campers at times, involved one camper composing lines of text for another camper’s story.
We also learned that young writers utilized support from instructors and writing coaches to develop proficiency and fluency with tools of technology, manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information and create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia texts. To help young writers understand that text construction is multimodal, instructors designed and presented mini-lessons to share digital tools that aid in the writing process. While instructors interacted with campers, they encouraged campers to use the tools to brainstorm, plan, edit, and cite sources. For example, as he constructed a website, Zeke (rising eighth grader) created a digital comic using a tool (pixton) instructors shared during a mini-lesson. In explaining the comic’s design, Zeke noted he “chose a kid [as a character]” because he wanted to show how a kid may “want to volunteer when he gets older.” Zeke said he did this because kids may “want to help out so other people can study too.” Sharing comic strip makers such as pixton, thus, fostered Zeke’s construction of a multimodal digital text that served, as he noted, to engage his audience.
We also discovered, for some campers, digital technology was not only used to share drafts and solicit feedback, but was also used to extend audiences and engage in social action. This aspect of 21st century literacies suggests problem-posing and solving often involves designing and sharing information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes (NCTE, 2013). In constructing his website, Zeke researched the Kenyan students’ daily activities, located pictures online, created a survey about volunteering, and learned how his audience might use his website to support the Melon Mission Project. For one page, he created a forum through which his audience could interact with him and other visitors to the site. During a short conversation, Ray (researcher) asked Zeke about the purpose of the forum. He said, “people can have a conversation and I can go and answer any of the questions they might have.” For another camper, Rosalyn (rising eleventh grader), framing text construction as multimodal provided opportunities to educate her audience about subtle messages associated with media consumption. For her text, Rosalyn created a multimodal blog using another of the digital tools (weebly.com) we shared during a mini-lesson. Both Rosalyn and Zeke, then, composed texts that were linguistic, visual, and aural, in other words, multimodal. In the end, sharing digital tools opened opportunities for campers to reach audiences outside the confines of the camp and, in Zeke’s and Rosalyn’s case, to engage those audiences in social causes.
As we reflected on the camp, we learned that providing extended periods of time and sharing digital tools fostered text construction. As campers worked to create blogs, websites, or animated comics, their composition process was social, collaborative, and multimodal. Given these findings, we plan to open more opportunities for campers to be socially interactive and student-centered to foster campers’ 21st century literacies. One of those goals includes providing opportunities for students to work in our School of Education’s Self Design Studio to promote creativity.
NCTE Executive Committee (2013). NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment. Retrieved from: http://www.ncte.org/governance/21stcenturyframework