Reflecting on New Literacies 1: from NCTE Voices from the Middle

The most recent edition of Voices from the Middle, a journal by the National Council of Teachers of English, is centered around the idea of New Literacies, and so I have been very excited to dive into the articles. There’s a lot of great and interesting research in here, and so I decided I would break up my reflections on the reading into a series of blog posts.

The journal opens with a provocative question: Are you as “literate” as your students? In the forward with that title, the editors of the journal (Diane Lapp, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey) tap into the idea that media and technology are changing the ways that we view literacy and shifting the ways that we communicate and interact with other people around the world. I was a little worried it was going to drag us back into the Digital Immigrant/Digital Native dichotomy that I dislike so much, but they didn’t.  What they did was frame the way we should be looking at the literacies of young people today, with their cell phones, social networking and more. And they ask us, if not in these very words (these are my words), Are you paying attention to your students?

After asking the reader to create a mental timeline of their own history with technology, they write,

“‘Education as usual’ no longer applies, since new literacies demanded by ever-changing technologies continue to expand … Our reason for asking you to create a mental timeline of your engagement with new technologies is to remind you that the more technologies one encounters, the more new literacies will evolve to shape our manner and methods of communication.” (7)

This piece reminded me of an activity I did a few years ago with teachers in a workshop with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, in which I asked them to create a technology autobiography, and podcast it on a blog they were creating in the workshop. Of course, I did one myself as a sample to share out. I dug it up to share it here.

My Technology Autobiography

The first main article (which you can access for free from the journal website) is called Risks, Rewards, and Responsibilities of Using New Literacies in Middle Grades and is by Margaret C. Hagood. The piece reflects on a year-long study of a cadre of teachers who came together to learn about technology and new literacies, and began to work those ideas into their classrooms. The group of teachers (which included a range of experience with technology from newbie to experienced) formed as a study-group-turned-action-research group, and the technologies used run the gamut from digital storytelling to video production to using e-readers, and more.

I like how Hagood also outlines what they learned through the year, and how other Professional Learning Communities might emulate the experience. She notes that the group began as a study group, reading through shared books and articles about technology and learning, and then started small by choosing a technology, and working on a project themselves. The third part of the experience was designing and implementing a curriculum unit that used the technologies.

What’s important in the telling of the experience is that the teachers were grounded in the research around learning with technology, given time and support to experience the technology themselves, formed a collaborative partnership with other teachers, and then worked (and most likely, reworked after reflection) the ways that technology could be used in a meaningful way in the classroom. The result was engagement by teachers, and engagement and motivation by students, and a noticeable shift in the ways these teachers were viewing literacy. (The remaining question which looms over all of the articles here, and in the field in general, is how are we documenting the academic gains of students who are using technology and being immersed in New Literacies? Administrators want data and not just anecdotes, and if we can gather more meaningful data from our classrooms that shows gains and expanded learning outcomes, we are more likely to make change in schools with reluctant leaders and teachers. That is my soapbox moment, and I appreciate this journal as being part of those steps forward.)

Hagood ends her piece with some observations about how the technology “reframes” the relationship between student and teacher, engages students in new ways, and creates a collaborative classroom environment. She also makes an important observation about how the entire experience (from exploration to implementation) is a key component of a reflective teacher.

“The work of new literacies is always about making connections within and across contexts and people. It is the work of sharing and communicating. Teachers have a responsibility to share their knowledge and learning with others, beyond what they implement in their classrooms.” (15)

I’ll be writing more about the articles in the coming days. Please feel free to add your thoughts and offer feedback, too. Or, if you are game, perhaps you will develop your own technology autobiography.

Peace (in the literacies old and new),


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  1. Kevin
    Thanks for sharing this, you have fired my remembering and I have begun to think about my own technology autobiography, I think I might do one!

    I am also off to read the free article!

  2. Yet another avenue to explore as we document the work in classrooms and summer programs. This year of exploration in my own work has prompted me to document the journey this summer and next year. Asking those key questions regarding impact on both student writing and teacher reflection is daunting, but necessary. Thanks again for the link to such a great resource.

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