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.