True confession: I have a techno-inferiority complex.
My husband, my children, my students 10th grade English students are all much savvier than I am. I only got on Facebook 4 years ago to keep up with my oldest when she went away to college. I can’t be bothered to figure out how to personalize the desktop background on my laptop because I’d rather be having conversation with a friend while walking along the river by my house or reading a novel while curled up on my couch.
But I keep hearing about 21st century learners and technology integration, and it’s only making my complex worse. In fact, I was starting to feel downright defensive. So it was time to take the bull by the horns and put Adolescents and Digital Literacies: Learning Alongside Our Students by Sara Kadjer at the top of my summer professional development reading list. I’m about halfway through it now and feeling the need to reflect and capture my learning so far.
First--plenty of reassurance. The heart of the English curriculum is the same as always: “the opportunity and privilege to help kids work as intentional, self-directed, reflective learners who are able to make meaning from and with a range of texts and then share their knowledge and understandings in smart and meaningful ways” (4). We want to do the same kinds of things as always--access texts, think about them, and produce them--we just have more tools: more types of texts to negotiate and create, and more communities in which to do it.
The tools are there, like it or not--part of the world my students are living in now and the world for which I’m educating them. So there are all kinds of reasons to expand the number of tools used in class. Validate literacies some already have; introduce others to literacies they’ll need. Teach students to negotiate that world with effectiveness, integrity, and discernment. Model the ways I leverage those tools for my ongoing learning.
And I do leverage them. I don’t tweet and haven’t done a blog (until now). I’d rather write on the white board than use slideware because it’s more flexible and dynamic, and it keeps me at the pace students can actually take notes. I do receive SmartBriefs, read blogs and participate in online conversations for professional growth. I do ask students (and colleagues) to use Google docs, do web searches, and watch YouTube videos when that is the best way to accomplish the learning at hand. And that’s what tools are about: ways to get the job done better. Different people (students and teachers) will use different tools to different extents for different tasks--sometimes paper and pencil is still the best tool. And we’re all learning together, so it’s okay to ask questions.
Why NOT access even MORE venues for ourselves and our students to think, learn, and grow together?
Back to the book. It starts with the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) policy research brief on adolescent literacy. Chapter 1expands the brief's principles to apply to new online literacies. Chapters 2 and 3 give case studies of students and teachers who practice those literacies in various ways. I'm looking forward to the second half of the book which promises to look at those new literacy practices in more detail: "fostering information literacy, working in online communities, and composing through new modes and media" (48).
In the meantime, challenged by the example of those case studies, I venture forth into blogland--at play in the fields of cyberspace.