Reflecting on New Literacies 2: 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.

I admire the work of William Kist, whose books and articles around technology and social networking in the classroom have allowed me to think more deeply about the possibilities of learning experiences for my students. He is someone worth following, and I suppose he probably gives a dynamic presentation at conferences.

His piece in the journal is entitled Middle Schools and New Literacies: Looking Back and Moving Forward. This short piece is valuable for the way that Kist frames the middle school as an environment of possibilities, and he culls through his years of experience as a consultant and educator in middle schools to consider the characteristics of a “new literacies” classroom and school.

He notes that such environments:

  • have students engaging in daily work around forms of representation;
  • have teachers talking through symbolic relationships;
  • utilize teacher “think alouds” when considering these different forms of literacy;
  • mix individual and collaborative activities;
  • engage students on many levels
    (page 17)

I like how he also reflects on what this all means. The idea of symbolic and visual representations are key because they are like an umbrella look at multimedia technology, and give us a frame to consider without worrying about the particular tool or site that might be used. The fact is, those sites and tools may change at a moment’s notice, and the skills we want our students to have must have far-reaching possibilities, not in-the-moment possibilities.

“The common feature is that there is time and space created for reading, writing and thinking, as students work on differentiated projects that are assessed holistically and are exhibited and archived.” (19)

Another valuable connection that Kist makes is how mini-lessons in reading and writing and speaking and listening can be aligned to the new Common Core standards. While his chart is not nearly as useful to me as Joe Wood’s Digital Writing & Common Core chart, Kist’s piece is a nice companion to Wood’s because it shows how “time” spent in the four areas of ELA infused with technology are valuable for learning possibilities, as well as being connected to curriculum expectations.

Peace (in the school),


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