The no-tech Literacy Conference

My school is the host site for an upcoming regional Literacy Conference, which makes sense as we are at the start of the two-year Literacy Initiative in our school district.

The conference events seem fine and somewhat interesting, with one huge exception (for me): there does not seem to be a single thread of New Literacies anywhere on the agenda. No technology anywhere.

When we had our initial brainstorming session for the start of the Literacy Initiative last school year, I tried to be the voice that advocated for Media and Technology literacies being represented in our work around literacy because students are using these tools and they need to be part of what we are teaching.


My friend and colleague, Gail P.,  pointed out to me that teachers are being asked to do so much more and are feeling the stress (including our new shift to a standardized report card system), and that adding more to their plate is not fair to them, and I know what she means.

Then, I wondered about something. Our single Mac Cart of laptops is always out and about in our school. It’s hard to sign up because it is in such high use. That’s great.

But what are teachers using it for?

If they are using it for student composition, then don’t they need some guidance on how they can integrate that technology into the classroom? Or, my fear is: they are using the Macs for students playing games or acting as gatherers of information (instead of composing it themselves).  Gail, I know, does a lot with her kindergarten students and has them exploring in different ways on the Macs.  Our art teacher and media specialist also use the laptops in constructive ways.

But I wonder how many other of my colleagues are doing the same? How many have been given the tools for moving technology into their Language Arts curriculum? How many have been given time to explore and play? Too few.

Time to get off my high horse, I guess. Sorry for the rant. Maybe what I need to do is go into my principal’s office and say, here is a session that we should offer during the Conference  (such as — using Photostory or Voicethread to create a digital story representation of a writing assignment) and I will offer to run the session. I can’t just complain, right? The problem is that when I present, then I can’t attend.

Peace (on the day after the rains),

  1. Good reflection on a serious gap in our instruction. Sometimes we get all fired up on something, take literacy this year, and we throw gasoline on it. Get a quick blaze going, leave some scars that are supposed to reflect the long term learning by the staff. Then we move on to a new initiative. I can remember the drive toward tech use a few years ago. We were steered toward united streaming as a part of our instruction. A few folks tried it out, most lost the login and password and then discovered that without a big screen for viewing they couldn’t share it with the students. I have a vga adapter for the TV and use it daily for my tech work. Most others do not have the adapter. Nine classrooms and the library have an IWB so they could use the discovery education streaming if it would add dimension to their instruction. But you point out the real value in tech is where the students themselves are interacting with the equipment, the programs, the globe of possibilities. The depth of opportunity, that grows by the day, is valid, engaging, ever-changing, and brings new meaning to communication. Our literacy, especially with older students simply must be shared with a broader audience than just the teacher and maybe some classmates. Technology gives new meaning to our voices and helps us grow in so many ways. As a stellar example, I point to Boolean, who could be almost invisible if you didn’t engage him in conversation to see how and what he likes to learn. He repeatedly finds a global audience ready and willing to share ideas with him. (Where is the link to that book report he created on line?)

  2. I’ve been in similar situations, where I saw a need, but knew that if I stepped up and filled that need, I’d miss out on being a participant. So m solution was to attend in participant role only, but one who viewed ALL the workshops through a “how could this be even better with technology” lens.
    For example, when you’re moving to standardized report cards and you have the workshop on that, it would be a logical step to talk about creating shared report card comments, where all the grade six science teachers create their bank of comments to fit the grade six curriculum and THAT would be a logical place to introduce Google Docs or any shared word processing program. See what I mean?
    So then what I did was I picked just ONE literacy workshop where I could offer a small improvement, and I ran a lunch and learn for staff that said, “If you liked learning about … I have some technology tips that will make … even easier to implement.

    I know it’s not as exciting helping out one staff rather than an entire region, but it’s a start. Then hopefully, your principal will brag about what your staff is doing, and word will spread to another school, and they’ll ask you to share your ideas… and it will blossom.

    Totally hear you though, on the lack of new literacies being presented. I don’t know about your board, but sometimes I think it’s because the people who end up being the presenters are older folk who are not very comfortable with the new literacies themselves, so they stick with what they know.
    I remember how flustered a presenter got when, after the participants had used post it notes to complete a mind map on chart paper, I offered to just snap digital pictures of the results and throw them into a slide show, so that she didn’t have to bother gluing the post it notes down to the chart paper in order to preserve the maps for the follow up session which was a month later. She looked at me with stunned disbelief that it could be that easy and that she wouldn’t have to haul the paper back the next month. Tee hee. Just remember – a single small step is better than no step at all.

    • Thanks so much for your response, Janice.
      You have some good advice, but as you point out, it falls short of what really is needed.
      I guess that sometimes I feel like we are “in the moment” and other times, not even close.

  3. Seems so odd that you are writing this blog entry. I always think of you and your school as a model for others. It’s seems here, that you are a candle with very few lights around you. Sad but there has to be a way to move the power! How about administrators coming to your WP?

  4. No need to apologize for the rant Kevin. You should indeed be upset by the lack of any tech-related offerings. As for what to do about it, hmmm…. thinking some sort of Tweeted gathering (led by you of course) where live-blogged preso notes lead to a live discussion somewhere (maybe somewhere like Anyway, good luck. I know you’ll make the most of it.

    Not looking to get into even hotter water here, but what’s with the no-male presenter Literacy Conference? Coincidence, I suppose… Just saying…

    • Hmm
      Not sure on the gender thing. (not sure on the diversity, either).
      It prob just reflects the general state of teaching in our area — mostly white women.
      A number of the presenters are my teaching colleagues and are excellent and wonderful people, by the way, so my rant is not again them.

  5. I read this with interest, because we are in a situation that is both similar and very different – my principal is gung-ho about technology but has not yet shown us something that the students can interact with. It’s all about what teachers can do – not about how to help teach our standards using tech tools. We all have Promethean white boards – but it becomes more about the cool flip chart that the teachers have made and less about what students have created.

    What I also see is a push-back from teachers who feel that the technology is too time-consuming and too unweldy for them to use. We can check out a laptop cart, but not all of the laptops work or, as usual, the server is down. Our district curriculum maps do not allow teachers the opportunity to explore in the “old fashioned” way, much less the time to get into some technology.

    As we have gotten more involved with technology, I see the concept of technology for the sake of technology being rewarded by some administrators, while many of my colleagues are burining out trying to meet district pacing guidelines. I am afraid, that as with all educational issues, the students are the ones who ultimately suffer.


    • My guess is that your story would reverberate across many networks, Chris.
      The key is to find meaningful technology integration that engages our students as learners and as composers in the new multimedia field. We need to put the computers, or devices or whatever, into the hands of the students. But we as teachers need time to learn and play and think and share and reflect on the possibilities of the changing face of technology and literacy.
      What bothers me about our conference is that it doesn’t even reflect a semblance of reality of how kids are using literacy in their lives, outside of school. We know that there is rich literacy going on, but how do we tap into that interest and creativity and use it for learning?
      Thank you for your comment. It was helpful.

  6. The comment I tried to leave earlier this week echoes many of the things people have mentioned above. In my old school, having laptops and internet access in the lab or in the classroom was such a novelty for our inner city kids, that it was hard to get them to focus on using the technology as a tool, so think teachers sort of give up on using it, not to mention that resources were stretched thin and it was hard to rely on its availability on any given day or week, or month, even!

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