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.
Connors, R. & Lunsford, A. (1993). Teachers’ rhetorical comments on student papers. College Composition and Communication, 44(2), 200-223.
DelleBovi, B. (2012). Literacy instruction: From assignment to assessment. Assessing Writing, 17, 271-292.
Dempsey, M., PytlikZillig, L, & Bruning, R. (2009). Helping preservice teacher learn to assess writing: Practice and feedback in a web-based environment. Assessing Writing, 14, 38-61.
Florida Department of Education. (2014). Florida’s comprehensive achievement test. Retrieved from: http://fcat.fldoe.org/fcat2/wcsg.asp
Kim, L. (2004). Online technologies for teaching writing: Students react to teacher response in voice and written modalities. Research in the Teaching of English, 38(3), 304-337.
Livescribe (2014). Livescribe: Never miss a word. Retreived from http://www.livescribe.com
Neal, M. (2011). Writing assessment and the revolution in digital texts and technologies. Teacher’s College Press: New York, NY.
Parr, J., & Timperley, H. (2010). Feedback to writing: Assessment for teaching and learning and student progress. Assessing Writing, 15, 68-85.
Straub, R. (1997). Students’ reactions to teacher comments: An exploratory study. Research in the Teaching of English, 31(1), 91-119.
Street, C. (2003). Preservice teachers’ attitudes about writing and learning to teach writing: Implications for teacher educators. Teacher Education Quarterly, 30(3), 33-50.
Whithaus, C. (2005). Teaching and evaluating writing in the age of computers and high-stakes testing. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ.
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