Reflecting on New Literacies 4: 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.

Teaching our students how to be critical “readers” of media is such an important lesson as is flipping the role of consumer to producer of media, and in the article Multimodality in an Urban, Eighth-Grade Classroom,¬†writer Adrienne Costello shares her own exploration around the intersection of digital video projects and traditional literature in an urban school. Costello notes that this work when she began to “…recognize the transformative power of New Literacies in the English Language arts teaching.”

What I found intriguing was how Costello (a teaching assistant at a University working in a public school) and the classroom teacher began to notice how much pop culture spill-over there was as they were exploring the world of drama and literature. And so, they began to bring that awareness of media culture into the classroom by introducing and nurturing the use of video. Students were creating mock news television shows that connected to curriculum, writing scripts for video projects, and learning the rhetoric of video production. They then took these ideas, and began to work them into a larger unit with the novel, The Outsiders, as the main text. Teams of students developed mini-movies based on themes and character development from different sections of the book, exploring the text from a reading and production stand-point.

The result?

“Beyond cultivating surface-level engagement, the dramatic video project empowered students … to create personal, affective connections to the text, to live through those connections in ways that deepened literary understanding, and to experience an added layer of reflection by viewing and critiquing the performance.” (page 54)

Another interesting point to note: Costello reports that many of the ideas used in the video project around theme and characters were later used by students as the source of their high-stakes writing exam later in the year, and they used examples from the text (that were used in their video projects). Those kind of connections are ones we need to highlight as teachers ask, “what does technology bring to the table?” As Costello notes, it is more than just motivation and engagement; it is also deeper involvement in the task before them.

Not so long ago, the art of making a video in the classroom seemed daunting. But these days, when just about every cell phone has a video camera (and possibly, a simple video editor), shooting video has never been easier. And the relative ease of using free programs like iMovie or even MovieMaker puts the tools of creating in the hands of our students. Once you make a video project, and are given a reason to reflect on that experience, you never watch a movie or television show or flash video the same way again.

The experience of creating forces a critical lens on you as the viewer, and that is just the kind of learning we want for our students.

Peace (in the video),


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