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 wanted to get some final thoughts out, now that I have written and published a half dozen posts about the journal. First of all, I was delighted to see the them of New Literacies and hope that teachers who are reading it are also thinking about the possibilities of technology and media for their classroom. For many educators, exposure to ideas and an acknowledgement of the shifting world around us is the first step to realizing that literacy is in the midst of fundamental change, and schools need to be part of that (while still holding to the values of traditional learning — and I suppose this is where the tension comes in).
As I read through the articles and pondered the research, it occurred to me that some of the same ideas that came to the surface with our book collection — Teaching the New Writing — remains true today. Some teachers are trying to tap into the everyday literacies of their students, use technology in a meaningful way that connects to the curriculum, look for moments of engagement and motivation through media and technology, and struggle to address how best to assess the work being done in these New Literacies. I can’t help but think that while literacies are shifting in our real lives, they remain fairly static in many schools and in many teaching practices.
At times, I had the sense that by the time these articles got to print, some further shifts had already happened, just as happened with our book. There were just one too many references to MySpace, which is a dead space when it comes to any teen or pre-teen. You even have kids who don’t even know what MySpace is, or was. (Maybe Facebook will follow?) So, to base research around MySpace (while practical no doubt during the times of the studies) feels a little out-of-touch already. That is the nature of classroom research with technology, and the pace of publication.
I also noted in some previous reflections how many times comics and graphic novels are used as new literacies in the journal, and I continue to wonder about that designation. On one hand, I am happy that graphic arts get their due as a “real reading” experience. On the other, it seems like an easy way for teachers to think they are being innovative by using graphic stories for reading. Now, if we teachers can bring concepts of remixing of media, collaborative storytelling, embedded videos and links, and more innovative compositional practices into student-created comics and writing, I could see the New Literacies connection.
Maybe we are not there yet.
I want to bring light to the fact that many of the writers and researchers in this journal were fellow teachers from the National Writing Project. Our organization has been dipping into what writing means in the 21st Century for some time (see the Digital Is website for a lot of examples), and I was proud to see NWP folks exploring this terrain here. It reminded me of how important it is to notice the shifts taking place and being part of an organization that supports the kind of reflective practice that is so necessary for understanding our young writers and the mediums and spaces in which they write.
One final thought: I found myself as a reader wanting to launch from the paper version of this journal to some online discussion forum. That’s why I have been blogging about my reading. But it feels as if the articles showcase promise of new literacies but then fails to allow the reader to partake in that movement. The ideas get stuck on the page here. Actually, I have been emailing the authors of the articles that I have been reviewing, thanking them as a reader and offering the links to my posts, in hopes they might join a conversation here. (That hasn’t happened, although almost every single one of them has responded to my emails, thanking me for thanking them.) It seems to me that NCTE and the journal’s editors should have curated an online home for the journal, and then opened up a forum for readers, and in doing so, begun modeling for teachers that the idea of New Literacies looks like in practice. I sort of feel let down now that I am done. What I want is to continue the discussions with others and continue my exploration. I feel kind of let down by the promise of the pieces.
All in all, though, I appreciate this collection from NCTE’s Voices From the Middle and I am grateful for the research, the stories, and the insights of the writers of these pieces, and the editors for bringing it all together. It’s worth your time to check it out, and reflect on how well you are tapping into “the moment” of shifting literacies. Are your students more literate than you? It’s something the editors ask at the start to frame the discussions here, and worth asking of yourself.
Peace (in the reflection),