Rethinking schooling -- part 1: Reflections from #UTASNewLits

For someone whose research and teaching life has been spent mostly outside of traditional schooling contexts, I spend a great deal of time thinking about school. And most of the time I worry that what's happening in schools is not education(al); or perhaps, what schools educate about isn't necessarily the content of curricula but rather the disciplined and disciplinary discourses of school(ing). We learn that we must sit quietly to learn effectively, to do our own work without the help of others, and that reading in silence without moving our lips is the superior hallmark of decoding fluency; in fact, making noise of any kind is akin to depending on squeaky, bothersome, always-temporary training wheels that signals one's lack of proficiency in being a student. And this is even before we get to any mandated testing.

I learned all of these things and more during my years in school, a journey which began when I was just two and half years of age. Some part of me must've liked the institution enough to continue on through the completion of a PhD -- in total, 26.5 years of school. We had a good relationship, School and I, but I doubt that I would say the same if I were to have gone through schooling in today's era of test-first-think-later.

Earlier this month, I had the great privilege of spending some time with colleagues at the University of Tasmania, the Launceston campus, where the School of Education hosted a two-day conference on New Literacies, Digital Media, and Classroom Teaching (#UTASNewLits). The conference, organized by Angela Thomas (@anyaixchel), reflected an ethos I have come to love in Angela's research and writing (in brief: focusing on identities and practices in an age of new and digital literacies, but oh, so much more): a persistent sense of being present in the current communicative moment while considering what possible directions new modes, modalities, and digital platforms present for how we imagine, enact, and design education. (Notice, I did not say schooling.) My reflections on the time spent down under has continued to remind me that when educators are brought together, even as testing and schooling may loom large, they are really passionate about education -- the possibilities of creative, imaginative, innovative engagement with the world.

It was perhaps telling that the opening keynote was delivered by the esteemed Len Unsworth, whose respectful discussion of children's books and the new media forms into which they become translated was at once incredibly engaging and illuminating. How does the point of view of the narrative change when a printed book is made into a film, he asked as he proceeded to delight the audience of teachers, researchers, and students with a read aloud of “The Lost Thing” by Shaun Tan. Len invited us to shift our gaze to various parts of the text, that he had scanned and enlarged as slides from which he read. What was the reader able to determine and what information on the page allowed such interpretations? From whose vantage point was the reader being brought into the narrative, and how did the point of view inform our understandings of what was going on? What was said and left unsaid? Then he showed us clips from an animated version of the story, pointing out the affordances of this medium to fill in gaps left by the printed text. Swift camera moves shift perspective in the blink of an eye – first, we see what the boy sees and in another instant we are looking down on the boy as if we are one with The Thing. What impact might this have in the story we make in our heads of the story we are reading or watching. I think of an essay written by Amelie Rorty, described as a philologist in her short bio, in which she talks about some of the many possible questions one might ask of an author when engaging with one’s text. She describes this as a practice of understanding the “author’s house,” and in one sense I understood the careful and thoughtful analytic framework that Len and colleagues, Annemaree O’Brien and Paul Chandler, have developed as another approach to understanding the author’s house, particularly through a focus on the representation of point of view. Lucky for the rest of us, their co-authored book will be available in early 2012!

Point of view was turned on its side in the morning workshop I attended in which Winyu Chinthammit led us through the process of using software to generate 3D holograms in pursuit of a hands-on understanding of augmented reality, a research and development agenda that is alive and kicking at the HITLAB at UTas. As I manipulated a magenta cube on the marked paper in front of me, I wondered about how access to this sort of object play might inform narrative creation. How else might we use the affordances of augmented reality software for a range of educational purposes, not only inside but also outside of school?

One of the really lovely things about intimate conferences in which choice times, like a selection of workshops, are punctuated with talks that all participants attend is that a shared lexicon develops quickly. The afternoon keynote by Martin Waller, the charming and enthusiastic primary teacher and researcher from England deepened shared lexicon by cultivating our appreciation for the affordances of social media as he regaled with tales of his tweeting adventures with Year 2 students (approximately seven year olds). Martin spoke of what he called “contentious literacy” or those practices of literacy embedded social media that do always have a ready place in schools. His goal, however, is broader than test preparation and the adherence of some pre-fabricated curriculum. Martin wants his students to explore, and to feel a sense of pride and connection and joy from and through their literacy engagements.  And these are among the results to come from setting up a (fully protected!) twitter account through which the world can learn of the Year 2 kids’ excellent adventures as they write poetry, go on treasure hunts, plant a garden, and learn more about themselves and the world in which they live. Martin shared one response from a fellow literacy blogger and tweeter, @librarybeth, whose appreciation for the daily musings of his students delighted them equally and served as additional motivation for continued social media composing.  He pointed out, too, the ways in which social media such as twitter can organically nurture the critical literacies of young children, pushing them to wonder aloud and not remain complacent in their inquiries.

Day 1 concluded with another set of workshops and I was excited to facilitate a workshop on multimodal response and share the worlds of Media that Matters Film Festival (and the film Immersion) and the online video making tool Animoto with an amazing group. 

Stay tuned for part 2 --


ethnography forum 2012: focus on digital discourses

i have fond memories associated with the ethnography forum. it was the venue where, as a relatively new master's student, i first presented an academic paper based on my involvement in an adult literacy practitioner inquiry group. and it is the venue where i have brought my own graduate students so that they, too, could experience a gentle yet generative entry into the discourses of academic presentation. held on the last weekend in february each year, the forum has a rich tradition of bringing history together with innovation in the domain of ethnographic research. and the 2nd day of the annual two-day conference is dedicated to a focus on teacher research and the often illuminating work of educators and those who assume a practitioner role in the space of research and inquiry. and almost without exception, the plenary speakers have consistently pushed to the fore those threads that start to bud as q&a sessions spill over into the hallways of all four years of the school where i spent many hours, days, and years. this year looks to be following in the same direction with a conference theme that promises to be stimulating and groundbreaking, and invited speakers each of whom embodies a unique mix of passion for the work, innovative scholarship, pedagogical creativity, and eloquence. be sure to check it out!

exciting new direction for the penn annual ethnography in education forum. the theme: Digital Discourses: Education and Ethnography in the 21st Century

proposals due: october 1st

a bit about the theme:

Technology and electronic media today are developing faster than ever, and change the ways we communicate, teach, learn and research. We now live in a digital world where new forms of interactions, social relationships, and identities are generated, thus transforming the very meaning of education. Learning and educating now occur in contexts shaped by Facebook, Smart Phones, Texting, Twitter, online learning, and Skyping—creating new resources and new challenges to our educative worlds. One now needs to draw on ever more diverse semiotic resources when traversing across different virtual and real spaces. As ethnographic researchers, our toolkit has greatly expanded: our briefcase-sized tape recorders of the past have been replaced by pocket-sized digital recorders, smart technology, hand-held video recorders, and online chatting from opposite corners of the globe. These tools have opened up greater possibilities for ethnographically capturing and exploring digital discourses and also for collaboration among ethnographers from a distance. Reciprocally, ethnographic and qualitative research provides keen analytical tools to capture and understand the complex and vibrant realities in which fast-changing technology affects the lives of students and teachers.

fantastic plenary speakers:
Angela Reyes, Hunter College
John Jackson, University of Pennsylvania
Linda Christensen, Lewis & Clark College
Glynda Hull, University of California, Berkeley

Complete details here


exciting new special issues

1. this friday, a special issue of the Journal of Negro Education will be launched with the following theme: Preparing Teachers to Teach Black Students; Preparing Black Students to Become Teachers

the volume is guest co-edited by my friend and colleague yolanda sealey-ruiz (along with chance lewis) and includes a wide array of articles that take up questions related to the teaching and learning lives of black students across contexts, their education narratives, and possible education futures.

2. the recently published special issue of English Teaching: Practice and Critique on: Literacy(ies) and the Body  guest edited by another friend and colleague Stephanie Jones (along with Kerryn Dixon and James Albright)

articles include an exploration of embodied literacies, how bodies are read and what that has to do with education, and a piece on performing critical literacy (written by the very thoughtful and exceptionally observant elisabeth johnson)

3. another special issue bringing an exploration of bodies together with geographies is found in the journal Emotion, Space and Society titled: Emotional Geographies of Education -- edited by jane kenway and deborah youdell (whose work i continue to be enamored of and blown away by)

these articles draw on theories and metaphors of geographies and spaces to bring forth new sites of teaching and learning, under-appreciated or less visible contours of how we live and experience education.

for the love of picture books

it is perhaps fitting that my return to this blog, after a brief hiatus, comes following a memorial service for larry sipe, a former professor and the person who gave me words with which to describe my own love of books and stories and characters and narrative delights: jouissance! plaisir! performative responses! cover pages! aesthetic!

among my favorites that larry introduced me to, that i have been thinking about and revisiting in the several months since his passing are:
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

The Giver

Smoky Night

and if you want to hear more about children's and young adult literature, definitely check out the very excellent blog: The Classroom Bookshelf: Teaching with Children's and Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century.

over the next several months, i'll be sharing reflections on the many ways i continue to witness the joy for stories that larry held and shared as they thrive in the practices of the many young people i've spent time with these last several years. in part, this will be a part of the collection of essays i am preparing along with my research team in a book about bringing an arts-based approach to digital media in literacy explorations with youth, particularly court-involved youth. and other vignettes will be drawn from a book length manuscript i'm working on based on five years of ethnographic research at the program i've called ATIP in various publications.

for now, though, i'll take in the jouissance that comes with recognizing the beauty of a beautifully crafted page, made of pastels and paint and cutouts and hours of labor...


my "letteracies" -- installment 4

over the past several months, i had forgotten to post this last installment. as i read through it now i am struck only by one lasting thought: how precious words can be as a marker of a moment in time. and perhaps bound up in this observation is also the significance of audience, of someone or a few someones who permeate our minds as we compose a text, who infuse our compositions with a small smile or a belly laugh, whose presence pushes us to write to completion, who give our writing purpose and urgency. this is, then, a blanket thank you for the audiences i have had the pleasure of writing to and with and hope to continue a dialogue with in the months and years to come...

and so, without further mediation, the last installment:


Getting back to the Taj Mahal: it was beautiful. That’s it. As much as I always wanted to see it, I never really wanted to go in – or go very close for that matter. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps because actually going in would cause the Taj to lose some of its mystique and enigmatic charm… and it did. Thinking back now it seems almost unreal that I was there. In fact this whole month has just been, what seems like, a big blur. But, all that’s not to say that this isn’t a truly magnificent piece of architecture. Actually it’s more than that. it’s a symbol of the magnitude of Shah Jahan’s love for his wife. And, well, that right there is nothing short of absolutely beautiful. It’s even better because such a symbol exists in a country where, traditionally, love isn’t as widely shown or publicized.

People often say patience is a virtue. This couldn’t be truer. But just as there is virtue in being patient, there is virtue in being content, hence contentment, too, is a virtue. The lack of this can be a deadly thing. This of course doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to better yourself knowledge-wise, spiritually, and internally, for there is always room for improvement and learning. I just mean that always wanting what other people have or never being satisfied unless on has as much of more than others is not healthy at all and can be damaging to both the person who thinks this way and the recipient of such behavior.

I hate jealousy. I hate manipulation. I hate arrogance. I hate people taking advantage of others. I hate lying. I hate cheating. I hate meanness. I hate fakes. I hate corruption. I hate prejudice. I hate superficiality. I hate people who aren’t what they portray themselves to be. I hate hypocrites. I hate myself for not seeing people for what/who they really are in the first place. I hate jealousy.

As I’m writing now I’m sitting on my bed at home, in my room, with my back against the “unfinished wall,” listening to the jazz station, hearing a fly have repeated encounters with different objects in the room. It’s good to be home and, as usual, it’s hell to be home.
I saw my friends last night. It felt good to laugh like that again.
Did you ever have so many thoughts to write down that you couldn’t do it because there were just too many and they were all just fragmented thoughts anyway? Well, that’s what’s happening to now, and has been for quite a while. It’s fun just thinking them though.
Well, I’m sure that this proved to be an interesting, and probably tedious, piece of writing to read and if you got this far you definitely deserve a 3 Musketeers bar. I’ll end this “saga” just by wishing you a good year and thanking you for just … being you :)