As practitioners and researchers, we have encountered challenges when trying to integrate inquiry-based learning and critical literacy. On the one hand, inquiry is about learner agency in what and how they learn. On the other hand, critical literacy is about looking at systemic issues.
One approach forefronts the personal, the other the political. Effectively integrating the two can be challenging. Part of how we came to this tension is that we both individually had conducted inquiry projects with students. Katie had designed an inquiry around a local issue and Shea around a global issue, but we both had designed the inquiries with the goal of raising students’ critical consciousness.
Despite our best laid plans, both projects fell short. Shea’s project, conducted in a junior high in rural Indiana, explored global hunger and invited students to investigate sustainable action steps across different contexts. Although the students learned about environmental and cultural sustainability, they repeated the narrative of sending corn to developing nations, even though as a farming community, they know that corn is not a sustainable crop. Although the students completed the project, they did not become fully engaged until they explored the issue of hunger at a local level on a field trip to a local food bank.
Katie’s project invited third graders in Ferguson, Missouri to use words, images, and actions to shape a vision of their community and its future in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting. The students desired to push back against the negative media attention that was focused on their community; however, they unconsciously repeated some of the same harmful narratives, rather than disrupting them. Although both projects wanted students to engage personally and also critically examine society, students in the one case stayed zoomed out and the other zoomed in so that neither group was able to take up agency.
One day, we were discussing the shortcomings we both had experienced. Because Shea had focused on a global issue, she wondered if the inquiry had been too far zoomed out. Because Katie had focused on a local place but had a similar problem, we wondered if the inherent tension might not have been the local versus global but maybe putting inquiry and critical together. A critique of inquiry in practice is that students remain too close to their own original beliefs. Pulling from personal experience can help students develop deeper understanding about difference (Sleeter, 2011); yet, to take a critical stance, individuals must move beyond their personal experiences to understand the social and political systems that provide a context around that experience (Lewison, Leland, & Harste, 2015).
On the other hand, attention to aspects of domination without opportunity for action and transformation can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and despair, leading to resistance or indifference (Janks, 2010). Thus, it is imperative that students come to understand their reality critically, but also be empowered to actively re-create that reality. This can be challenging if instruction remains too far removed from students’ everyday lives. Scheff (1979) describes the ideal stance for learning the “optimal aesthetic distance,” which is neither overwhelming nor indifferent.
We agree with these critiques but argue that how to do so remains the challenge. Our discussion about how the students stayed zoomed out or zoomed in led us to talk about the problem of optimal distance as problematic because it seems as though there is one right spot from which to view the inquiry from a critical stance. We thought that the analogy of zooming was helpful for integrating the two approaches and seeing that optimal distance can change over the course of an inquiry. With the analogy of zooming, we can guide students to zoom in and out and back again throughout an inquiry in order to focus on personal knowledge, political systems, and agency. In this way, students’ are able to see both their proximity to an issue and to analyze the issue from a distance. By zooming in and out, teachers can guide students to critically examine their home and their world.
Dr. Shea Kerkhoff is an Assistant Professor of secondary education in the College of Education at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Her research centers on integrating inquiry-based learning with disciplinary literacy instruction. Her co-authored book Diving into Disciplinary Literacy and Inquiry: Teaching for Deeper Learning was published by Teachers College Press in 2019.
Dr. Katherine O’Daniels is an Assistant Teaching Professor of literacy education in the College of Education at the University of Missouri - St. Louis. She also directs the Gateway Writing Project, a local site of the National Writing Project. Her research focuses on understanding how multimodal composition can be used to narrate and reshape places and spaces, especially within a critical literacy framework.
Janks, H. (2010). Literacy and Power. New York: Routledge.
Lewison, M., Leland, C. H., & Harste, J. C. (2015). Creating critical classrooms: Reading and writing with an edge. New York, NY: Routledge.
Scheff, T. J. (1979). Catharsis in healing, ritual, and drama. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Skerrett, A. (2011). English teachers’ racial literacy knowledge and practice. Race Ethnicity and Education, 14(3), 313-330.
Sleeter, C. E. (2011). An agenda to strengthen culturally responsive pedagogy. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 10(2), 7-23.
March 07th, 2019
We were thrilled to host at Oklahoma State University College of Education, Health, and Aviation a 21st Century Literacies Lecture by Dr. Luke Rodesiler.
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.
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.