Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bringing the World into Your Classroom

I want to recommend a great resource: the Peace Corps for Educators website. On this site, you can find first-person accounts written by Peace Corps volunteers divided up by region of the world, a Peace Corps challenge game, and (my personal favorite) a speaker match program. I put in my request for a speaker who had been to Africa, and within 24 hours I had a list of people within my region to contact sent by the Peace Corps coordinator as well as an email from a former Peace Corps volunteer who wanted to speak to my students. My speaker is coming in two weeks, and I cannot wait to hear his story. He is talking to my seniors, so another great possible result of this is that, by hearing about the Peace Corps, one of them may decide to join themselves. Yes, they will learn about Africa and tie that to the literature we are reading; more importantly, they learn about their world and their possible futures. Thank you, Peace Corps!

Blog Assignment #5: Rhetorical Literacy

Selber, Stuart A. "Rhetorical Literacy: Computers as Hypertext Media, Students as Reflective Producers of Technology." Multiliteracies for Digital Age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

When I read Stuart Selber’s first chapter of Multiliteraries for a Digital Age, I was struck by his inclusion of “rhetorical literacy,” that is a literacy where students are “producers of technology” (25), as part of computer literacy. He acknowledged that scholarship on this literacy was in its earliest stages (26) – indeed, I saw him as prescient defining this literacy in 2004. A quick look into what was happening in 2004: Facebook was founded while “historians may well date the golden age of the blog from 2004—when's most searched-for definition was blog. How long can it last? Who knows?” (“10 Things We Learned About Blogs”). I was therefore curious to read what, by mere timing, was one of the earliest looks at user-generated technology and the way education should integrate the required skills.

In his rhetorical literacy chapter, Selber writes that the “broad shifts in audience, genre, and context that have helped to move this activity into the territory of writing and communication teachers” (139) mean English departments must learn what skills are needed for this type of writing and communication. “The audience for computer interfaces is no longer solely, or even primarily, other computer scientists … These changes have altered the ways interface designers must think about audiences …, genres …, and contexts … As should be evident, the competencies such new realities call for are largely rhetorical in nature” (142). English departments risk losing a voice in this new rhetoric if they do not become involved in understanding then teaching the necessary skills.

Selber defines four components of the rhetorical literacy: persuasion, deliberation, reflection, and social action. (147). This chapter is for educators because Selber connects his theory to praxis, offering lesson ideas for each of these categories. For example, he suggests students apply “classical, symbolist, and institutional perspectives on persuasion” (151) while analyzing an organ donation website. His lessons are geared to high school students and older based on the websites he suggests; however, his methods can be applied to websites more appropriate for younger students.

Selber’s chapter finishes with the creation of interfaces, a logical step after students practice being rhetorical users. “The research literature stresses that the creation of interfaces for hypertextual media frequently places increased demands on writers” (168), and Selber examines three metaphors for this new writing: “nonlinear text,” “modular nodes,” and “associative links”(168, 172, 176). Overall, by theorizing about human-computer interaction and applying his theories to classrooms, Selber shows educators how to help students become “reflective producers of technology” (182).

Works Cited

"10 Things We Learned About Blogs - TIME." Breaking News, Analysis, Politics, Blogs, News Photos, Video, Tech Reviews - Time, 19 Dec. 2004. Web. 21 Feb. 2011. .

Selber, Stuart A. "Reimagining Computer Literacy." Multiliteracies for Digital Age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Blog Assignment #4: Teaching Writing in the Space of Blackboard

Davis, Evan, and Sarah Hardy. “Teaching Writing in the Space of Blackboard.” Computers & Composition Online (Spring 2003). 15 Feb. 2004 .

“As we ask our students more and more frequently to inhabit a virtual space, we would do well to investigate just what kind of space it is” (“Introduction”). Evan Davis and Sarah Hardy articulate a question I have struggled to articulate: What are these virtual communities?

As a user of online communities in my classroom, I have sought insight into the nature of these spaces. Davis and Hardy’s essay is not a research study; instead, as professors who use Blackboard, they explore how to define the metaphors created in these shared spaces. Their essay is grounded in practical experiences and deepened by extensive theory from Michel Foucault, Mikhail Bakhtin, and Michel de Certeau. For the writing teacher who wants practical advice on using online communities and Blackboard specifically, the section “Tips on Teaching with Blackboard” is invaluable. However, this essay does much more – it achieves the "theory-practice orientation to the classroom" Len Unsworth calls for (6).

Davis and Hardy’s conclusions illuminate my Ning experiences (while Ning and Blackboard are different, they are comparable as online private classroom communities). First is the tension between the goal of open, visible learning and the unavoidable containment of the system. “In a process-based composition course, such visibility holds out the tantalizing possibility of self-reflection … [Students] can become aware of their own mental processes and of the social context in which they write, seeing themselves … as members of a larger group” (“Panopticon”). This is the goal I have for my students; in fact, on my ning’s front page, I wrote, “We are about to join [Othello’s] long literary history with our own ideas about Shakespeare's masterpiece … You will have blog topics that ask you to think about the play … [and] you will explore and react to classmates' blogs. In the end, you will have created together a web of thinking … Here we will be able to … learn from everyone's thoughts and insights.” However, the systems’ nature creates a false sense of venturing into the full conversation. “By setting off a discrete territory …, Blackboard lets us use the web without being overwhelmed by it, hugging the coast while priding ourselves for venturing into the ocean” (“Panopticon”).

In the end, Davis and Hardy conclude that Blackboard is a successful system for student learning. It “makes it easy to take the goals of a student-centered class one step further, … introducing peer response and … critique into every level of the composition process” (“Panopticon”). What a teacher-researcher must be aware of is how far, or not, the system allows students to go. Davis and Hardy assert that students must know how to engage in public collaboration. It is up to us as teachers to thoughtfully expand the limits of these online spaces, guiding our students into full participation with their collaborative world.

Works Cited

Unsworth, Len. Teaching Multiliteracies across the Curriculum: Changing Contexts of Text and Image in Classroom Practice. Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press, 2001. Print.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Days That Count

I am teaching for the first time in many years the seniors who are not in AP English. I have worked a great deal in my head on what this kind of student needs -- the student who has had to take English every year of their schooling life but does not plan to study English in college. What can I offer them in this final year that will make English mean something to their interests and choices?

While I my curricular answers are for another post (here's one!), what I want to post today is simply this picture of the Valentines my seniors made for their first grade buddies. My students and I started this semester going over to the Lower School every Friday as our "class." We do whatever the teacher needs us to do with her students -- sometimes reading, sometimes dissecting owl pellets (really!), sometimes brainstorming word lists, but always talking and sharing. When I look at the care and fun my students put into these surprise Valentines for their newfound "buddies," I think maybe this is what matters: the chance to be with others through the written and spoken word.

Blog Assignment #3: What Do Professors Really Say About College Writing?

Elizabeth Brockman, Marcy Taylor, Melinda Kreth, and MaryAnn K. Crawford. "What Do Professors Really Say About College Writing?" English Journal 100.3 (2011): 75-81. Print.

After exploring social software in two posts, I wanted to learn what professors expect in student writing because of the debates (for good and ill) about writing skills and digital tools. What kind of writing skills should students have? The answer to this will allow me to focus on how social software can help my students develop the writing skills they need in college.

The four authors of this article completed an extensive research study of writing at Central Michigan University. They published their findings first in the January 2010 English Journal (“Helping Students Cross the Threshold: Implications from a University Writing Assessment” may be accessed with an NCTE login). The 2011 article that is the focus of this post delineates the findings of the study’s focus groups. These groups consisted of professors from “various disciplines, experience levels, and pedagogical views” (75) who met to discuss the kinds of writing and how much writing they assign, strengths and weaknesses they see, and their definitions of “’good’ writing” (75) in their disciplines.

What is nice about this study is the authors split their findings into two articles. Each article is more accessible for high school English teachers, due to the shorter length and singular focus. While many teachers would love to keep current of in-depth research studies, the demands on their time just do not always allow for such reading.

The authors’ goal if this article is “to promote not automatic acceptance of [the focus groups’ comments] but, instead, teacherly reflection, further assessment, and ongoing conversation about what our colleagues across disciplines say about student writing” (75). They present direct quotes from the groups in three areas: writing overall, “reading and managing sources” (77), and “learning to write” (79). Each of these sections, after presenting quotes without any commentary, follows up with a summary of the conversations. This structure achieves what the authors hoped – a springboard of quotes for further discussions plus reflection on writing overall.

Ultimately, as a high school English teacher, I take away from this article a clear idea of how to enhance students’ writing preparedness. First, assign writing tasks that require “complexity of thought” (76); next help students see research as a “variety of skills associated with managing sources” (78); and finally “combine the previously mentioned strategies with the right mindset toward writing, especially writing growth” (79). The authors do not offer ready-made assignments, something that might frustrate a teacher looking for next week’s lesson. However, I was left with enough information to feel empowered to revise my own writing instruction, which brings me back to the social software I have been exploring. I see social collaboration as an excellent tool to deepen writing instruction for the complexity that can come with interacting with many viewpoints, the shared integrating of research findings, and the constant inducement to write to engage your readers.