Archive for April, 2008

Word of Mouth

Apr 09 2008 Published by under borderland,education,technology

Seems like I spend half my time in the classroom keeping the noise level down, and the rest of the time getting someone besides the regulars to speak up. This post is about the talking part of student presentations, and helping kids to develop an actual public speaking voice. I discovered last week, by accident, just how much my students have to learn about talking in front of people. I had them make science slide shows about global warming. The technology part came out good enough, no prizes for originality, though some were done fairly well. But the talking part….Oh boy! That part was rough. It’s probably been many a year since show and tell happened for them. I see now that what’s needed is an older kid version of the get-up-and-say-something drill.

For all the web-bound discussions about 21st century skills, about writing for a global audience and developing virtual voices, I can’t remember reading much about teaching kids to actually talk in front of an audience. Most of my students turned around with their backs to the class to look at their slides, and mumbled at the screen. Even the attention sponges and clowns – they shriveled. A few brave hearts courageously stood their ground and tried to say something off the cuff. But it was clearly a “thing” we need to work on.

When I taught the lower grades we had show and tell. A discussion with my daughter turned up a surprisingly easy, fun, and useful activity for older students. She told me about something her sixth-grade teacher did, which I’ve now started doing, too. I asked the kids to each write a common noun on one index card. Then I took the front page of the newspaper, and wrote down most of the nouns I found on it, one to a card. To play the game, we draw a student’s name, and a card, at random. The student stands in front of the group and talks extemporaneously for one minute about the chosen word. I told them it was like a freewrite, only out loud. Even though they’re still shy about it, they like doing it. A few at a time, it’s a great thing to do at the beginning or end of a class period with a few moments to spare.

I feel kind of bad that it took me almost the whole year to come up with this idea. I think I’ve focused on writing and reading a little too much. I forgot about presenting. Even though it isn’t tested, we’re going to work on it.

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When Worlds Don’t Collide

Apr 05 2008 Published by under borderland,education,literacy,technology

Once upon a time I looked forward to seeing mainline literacy journals take an interest in blogging. So, it was good to see an article in this month’s Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy on using of blogs for literature study, Weblogs and Literary Response: Socially Situated Identities and Hybrid Social Languages in English Class Blogs. However, for an education blogger, there’s a gaping disjunction between the academic world of the journal, and the world of classroom blogging described in the article.

The irony of publishing an article about online “socially situated identities” in a print journal that doesn’t provide a reference for the author’s online identity was too incongruous for me to focus seriously on the content of the report, and I drifted in and out of a weirdly schizophrenic consciousness where I wasn’t sure how to read the article. I imagined being the “ivory tower academic” reading about blogs, a cutting edge communication tool that could revolutionize literature study. And then I’d flip into “blogging teacher” mode, wanting to follow a link back to the students’ or teacher’s blogs, hoping I’d learn something from their example. But the JAAL article didn’t provide source citations for the students’ blogs. So the article became its own example of the disconnect between the theoretical world of academia and the messy particulars of the classroom.

Will Richardson and Konrad Glogowski might be interested to know they were casually cited along with Gee, Fairclough, and Jenkins, even though the students’ blogs, the subject of the article, are not listed. Nor are they indexed on Google from what I can see. Which is not to say that Kathleen West, the author of the study, doesn’t have interesting things to say in her account of her 11th grade AP English students using weblogs to engage in authentic talk about books.

I did find a copy [doc] of the article on a digital media course wiki. West used discourse analysis for a case study of three variously successful students to show how each of them created distinct identities and integrated their social language with the discourse of literary analysis. She showed how the “relationship-savvy teen,” the “tempered rebel,” and the “pop-cultured humorist” all constructed hybrid identities as “serious literature students” and “web-literate communicators.” She provides samples of coded transcriptions, and quotes from the student’s blogs as exemplars. The article, written for a university course, is slightly different from the version published by JAAL, but West’s data and discussion are essentially the same in each.

A couple of things about this piece bother me, though. West’s research question, “What is the nature of literary response as communicated via weblog?” was asked about kids in an AP English class at a school which West described as an “AP-saturated,” white, upper or middle class context. She concluded that the discourse of “serious literature student” could coexist with the more non-standard, non-academic online discourse. Fair enough. But what about kids who come from less privileged neighborhoods? Case study documentations that tell only success stories, especially when they come from upper middle class school environments, have limited use for teachers who work with less privileged student populations. I am always curious about what case studies don’t show, because the disappointments in my classroom are often more instructive for me than my successes. What about the kids who weren’t “serious literature students?”

The research question about literary response and weblogs tries to bridge the rift between academic and online discourse, where “socially situated identities” are constructed around different norms and conventions. Case in point from the article: The f-word was spelled out in the JAAL piece, where West apparently has to explain the meaning of ‘WTF’ for the academic readership. It was funny to see them explicitly deal with it, tacitly acknowledging their own cluelessness, like a parent using teen jargon.

Control of academic discourse is challenged by the read/write web. Anyone can publish now, about anything they like, in any style they choose. But the academy still has the credentialing job. For how long? I wonder. We’re publishing our own research, and linking directly to the evidence, every day. So, what can the academy tell us about blogging that we don’t already know, or won’t find out on our own? And when will the academy admit the social languages that kids are bringing with them into the groves of academe?

West, K.C. (2008, April). Weblogs and Literary Response: Socially Situated Identities and Hybrid Social Languages in English Class Blogs. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 51(7), 588"“598.

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