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 --

1 comment:

Martin said...

Thank you for such a wonderful write up of my keynote and the conference. It was a pleasure to get to know you and I hope we meet again very soon!