Posts Tagged 'studentEngagement'

Competing copyright curricula

A recent eSchoolNews article about dueling copyright curricula couldn’t have surfaced at a more opportune time, seeing as how I literally just days before had utilized some materials from one of the curriculums in question.

On the one hand, the Copyright Alliance Education Foundation (CAEF) recently published Think First, Copy Later, seen by some as slanted toward the interests of copyright owners.

On the other hand, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), unveiled Teaching Copyright. The EFF is characterized as an advocacy group that serves the interests of users and consumers of digital media.

Admittedly, I was not aware of the CAEF curriculum when I recently selected and distributed some of the EFF’s support documents to a group of pre-service teachers at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. But I am inspired by the prospect of having access to and using “dueling curricula,” if and when I teach about copyright again in the future.

What an opportunity for teachers to exercise professional discernment! What an opportunity for students to see copyright law presented from two different perspectives — owner versus user, industry versus consumer! What an opportunity to engage higher-order thinking and some good, old media literacy skills, such as evaluating audience, authorship, message, and meaning!

Teachers need these resources now more than ever. It was not too long ago that teacher training on the vagaries of fair use doctrine were conducted in the faculty workroom, usually between classes, as we waited in line at the photocopier. We traded in stories, myths, and half-truths and competed for bragging rights to the title of “Greatest Copyright Infringer.” We made half-joking references to a sinister, Gestapo-like “Copyright Police” waiting in the wings. (I know. I was one of those teachers.)

The surge of web-based information and communication technologies makes it easier than ever to facilitate content creation and sharing in our classrooms, but we must first be equipped to engage students in conversation about content creation that is safe, ethical, and legal.

The alternative is to do nothing for fear of violating the law. This phenomenon was documented by Hobbs, Jaszi, and Aufderheide in their 2007 report for the Center for Social Media, The Cost of Copyright Confusion for Media Literacy. In 2008 the Center published the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education, which states that fear and confusion about copyright:

detracts from the quality of teaching. Lack of clarity reduces learning and limits the ability to use digital tools. Some educators close their classroom doors and hide what they fear is infringement; others hyper-comply with imagined rules that are far stricter than the law requires, limiting the effectiveness of their teaching and their students’ learning.

Check out the accompanying video:

YA Lit 2.0

Cross-posted at the Media Literacy Ning and Classroom 2.0.

This is the last in a series of posts about things we can do in honor of Support Teen Literature Day 2008, which is today, April 17.

In previous entries, I’ve discussed book talks and read-alouds and blog-based literature discussions. These and many other activities are featured at the official teen lit day wiki presented by the Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA).

The wiki offers more than 30 things to do in celebration of young-adult (YA) fiction. Additionally, the YALSA homepage links to a wealth of YA booklists and professional development opportunities for teachers and librarians.

As I first perused these resources, I was reminded of just how influential YA has been in my own reading life.

And I was also struck by the utter transformation that has occurred within the YA genre since that summer, more than 25 years ago, when I made the profound and life-changing leap from children’s author Beverly Cleary to Judy Blume, the celebrated YA author who wrote Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

For one, the options, in terms of authors and titles, have increased exponentially. The topics and subject matter are also darker and edgier, with more potential for cross-over appeal among adult audiences.

But without a doubt, the most profound change is technology driven. Digital technologies are transforming the very nature of what teens read as well as how they read. From within computer-mediated environments, youth can discuss, nominate, and vote on their favorite new YA titles, participate in surveys, and even chat in real-time with YA authors and readers from around the country.

I remember reading Judy Blume for the first time. I was maybe 10 years old and felt so privileged and so awakened to the fact that books could serve as more than a pleasant diversion from life. Books could also be topical and relevant to my own life and experiences. Wow!

I devoured Blume before moving on to other authors — Betty Miles, Paula Danziger, S.E. Hinton. My favorite, dog-eared books might have been called “feminist fiction for girls,” with female protagonists in various stages of social, emotional, and physical development — all the typical pubescent pangs.

Good stuff. I was engaged, and I stayed engaged until right around the start of high school when I gave up YA almost entirely to take up the “serious reading” of a college-bound student. I did not resume true pleasure reading again until well after college, in my mid-20s.

How much richer my reading life might have been had I had the opportunities that youth have today to connect, communicate, and form communities around favorite titles and authors, to possibly even interact in real-time or asynchronously with the authors themselves.

In the 2006 article YA Lit 2.0: How Technology is Enhancing Pleasure Reading, author Anita Beaman documents the impact of web-based and interactive technologies on how modern teens read for enjoyment.

Citing the work of Eliza Dresang, who in 1999 wrote Radical Change: Books for Youth in a Digital Age, Beaman highlights how books for children and young adults have evolved new formats such as novels in verse, screenplays, multiple narrative perspectives, and graphic novels.

Beaman writes, “It was becoming obvious that the mouse-click generation was going to be looking for something new in print.”

She goes on to present evidence that, contrary to conventional wisdom, adolescents are reading, especially when given opportunities to reach out to authors and other teens in media-rich, interactive environments that include email, blogs, iTunes playlists, and MySpace pages.

This is the new playing field — YA 2.0.

Asserting that “YA Lit 2.0 is a sign that books and reading remain relevant to teens in a digital world,” Beaman concludes with advice to librarians who want to develop programs that are relevant to teen readers: download the playlists, read author blogs, create blogs, visit MySpace, and “share the entire reading experience” with teens.

For Beaman, a high school librarian, the implications are clear: if librarians want to be taken seriously, they must revitalize their programs and immerse themselves in these digital environments, right alongside the teens.

Certainly, any literacy educator would do well to heed this advice.

What do you think?

Support Teen Lit Day 2008

YALSA logo

Cross-posted at the Media Literacy Ning and Fireside Learning.

Support Teen Literature Day, sponsored by the Young Adult Library Service Association (YALSA), is April 17.

From the wiki:

Librarians all across the country are encouraged to participate in Support Teen Literature Day on April 17th, 2008, by hosting events in their library or through their web site on that day. The purpose of this new celebration is to raise awareness among the general public that young adult literature is a vibrant, growing genre with much to offer today’s teens.

Although I am not a librarian, I am a lifelong fan of young-adult (YA) fiction, and I was inspired by the more than 30 suggestions for celebrating Teen Lit Day listed at the wiki. So, for the next several days, I will devote space in this blog to thoughts, ideas, and reflections on YA and how it is being repositioned within the realms of multiliteracies and Web 2.0. (See the YALSA site for a variety of booklists, including “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers” and “Outstanding Books for the College Bound.”)

One way to celebrate YA — or any book, for that matter — is through a book talk.

A key component of a good book talk is the moment when the presenter reads aloud a passage from the text. In addition to attracting readership in the same way movie trailers attract an audience, read-alouds are a research-based strategy for improving fluency, timing, and expression traditionally used in the primary grades.

In Yellow Brick Roads: Shared and Guided Paths to Reading 4-12, Janet Allen presents an argument for reading aloud to older youth, particularly struggling adolescent readers: “All students, regardless of age, deserve the opportunity to see the story without struggling with the text. . . . For students who struggle with word-by-word reading, experiencing the whole story can finally give them a sense of the wonder and magic of a book.”

YA literature, a genre often credited with capturing the attention of at-risk readers, when coupled with book talks and read-alouds, is a promising avenue by which we might convince youth that print-based texts are as relevant, enjoyable, and interactive as their favorite digital texts and electronic media.

Mr. Swanson, my 4th grade teacher, read to us every day as we ate lunch in the classroom (our school did not have a cafeteria). He read mostly longer selections that would fill the lunch period, and he often read chapter books (a chapter a day). He took student recommendations, too. One kid recommended Harriet the Spy. I ended up checking out that book and The Incredible Journey and reading them on my own after the fact. These experiences fed into a lifelong habit of pleasure reading.

And that’s what I think. What do you think about YA literature, book talks, and read-alouds?

For crying out loud!

A longstanding critique of instructional technology is our penchant for adopting whizbang tools only to reinforce traditional pedagogy rather than transform it. Technology interventions in the classroom often bear the mark of “old wine in new bottles.”

Here is the best evidence to date: a March 16 New York Times feature on the increasing use of amplification systems in U.S. classrooms.

So all that handwringing over how to transform instruction so no child is left behind was for nothing? The children simply weren’t hearing us?

Here is one particularly troubling passage from the article:

The West Orange district [in New Jersey] decided to require amplification after seeing the first-grade reading scores at one school, St. Cloud Elementary, skyrocket to 89 percent at or above grade level at the end of the 2003-4 academic year, from 59 percent before teachers started speaking into microphones.

“That got everybody’s attention, as you can imagine,” said Karen Tarnoff, the district’s testing coordinator. “There was nothing else over the course of the year that was different than in any other year. The teachers and the curriculum remained the same, and nothing new was added other than the amplification system.”

But, of course! Test scores are what drove the reform! (The reform, by the way, comes with a price tag of $1,000 to $1,500 per classroom.) What is even scarier is a testing coordinator who brags that nothing changed in her district for an entire year in terms of evolving instructional practices or curricular approach.

Thankfully, other perspectives are represented in the story. David Lubman, a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America, calls it for what it is: a “triumph of marketing over science.”

What do you think?

“Smart mobs” are great, except in school?

Cross-posted at Classroom 2.0

Today’s top story from eSchool News Online is “Smart mob” tech spurs student activism by Nora Carr. The article begins with the student protests in Jena, LA, and explores how blogs, RSS, text messaging, cell phones, and wireless technology are leveling the playing field and having a democratizing effect at all levels in educational institutions.

Carr cites the work of Howard Rheingold, who coined the term “smart mobs” in a 2001 2002 book by the same title. Rheingold envisioned both the disruptive and democratizing effects of global, pervasive, wireless computing.

I was really enjoying Carr’s balanced presentation of the issue. She even discusses how teachers in various academic areas might use recent events such as the Jena protests and the current presidential campaign to engage young people in a critique of these powerful technologies.

Then, oddly, she writes:

While most school leaders undoubtedly applaud anything that gets young people involved in civic affairs, most also would agree there’s an appropriate time and place for such actions–and that’s typically after school or on the weekends, and not on school grounds.

I am not sure how to interpret the above statement. Is it an endorsement, or is it simply a statement about the status quo? As a columnist, it’s certainly Carr’s prerogative to impose her viewpoint where appropriate, but in this case it just seems contradictory. How can she in one instance encourage teachers to capitalize on the “powerful learning opportunity” represented in cases like Jena and the democratic rebellion in Myanmar, and then suggest that the technologies that mobilize citizens for the greater good still have no place on school grounds or during school hours?

That just doesn’t compute (sorry for the stupid pun).

It would be nice to engage in a dialogue with Carr about her story. But eSchool News Online doesn’t provide any contact information for her, and the site doesn’t provide a means for users to comment on stories either. Apparently the site does host discussions on certain stories for users who register for TypeKey accounts. I registered for an account but couldn’t locate any threads or forums related to Carr’s article.

Frustrating.

So, what do you think?

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Ice cream headache

A few weeks ago, Jeff Utecht posted an article about technology and student engagement at the Techlearning blog titled “Do you offer ice cream or toppings?”

Perhaps it’s just the English teacher in me who can’t resist a metaphor, but the post helped me think in new ways. Please read it!

In a nutshell, Utecht uses “ice cream” to represent the infinite, free, web-based tools and products currently transforming the information landscape as we know it. With all this free ice cream, teachers face an exciting and daunting challenge: how do we leverage students’ unfettered access to information technology to create meaningful learning environments? In other words, what can schools offer students that they can’t already have in unlimited, unrestricted quantities on the web? To quote Utecht:

How do we engage students who are used to information being free? How do we get students into our classroom so we can sell them the toppings? How do we get them to dig deeper and understand this free information? What is your topping? What is it that you can offer them that they cannot get anywhere else? How are you going to get them to dig deeper, to interact with knowledge rather than react from it? How are you going to engage students in the learning process and not allow them to be passive in their own learning?

My initial response to Utecht’s challenge was all about the ice cream — the tools, the products, the applications. I sidestepped the issue of “toppings,” and in doing so, some might suggest I sidestepped the issue of good teaching, too.

After all, is my objective to teach about technology or through it?

As a language arts teacher, I understand the value of toppings — opportunities for students not only to consume information but take it and make it their own. We don’t just read good poetry, we connect with poetry by discussing or perhaps by writing an original poetic response. We don’t just study grammar and mechanics, we integrate our knowledge of grammar and mechanics in peer editing exercises with authentic pieces of writings.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if we are doing our students a disservice if we do not spend some time contemplating the tools themselves. So, I am pasting my response to Utecht below, and I invite you to comment:

This is an interesting metaphor. I’ve been thinking about it for a few days and have decided that my approach would be less about “toppings” and more about “taste testing.”

In other words, what skills and knowledge do our students need to be discerning, conscientious consumers?

When it comes to ice cream, I look at fat content. The more the better because it’s creamier and doesn’t melt as fast. My husband is on a diet, so he asks for sugar free when it’s available. On the other hand, my two-year-old son who only recently discovered the thrills of ice cream, will eat any flavor or variety you put in front of him. He even asks for ice cream for breakfast! And the after-effects of too much ice cream? Don’t get me started.

In the same way that just about every person you meet has an “ice cream story,” just about every student you meet these days will already have a lot of previous technology experience. (Some more than others, and, like the very best ice cream, that would be a problem of access and affordability, wouldn’t it?)

With that in mind, I imagine it would be really easy on the first day of class to engage the “I generation” in a conversation about their likes, dislikes, and expectations regarding technology. What makes some tools/applications better than others? Let the students generate a list of some criteria, and then as the teacher introduces new tools/apps (flavors? brands?), the students are held accountable for using those evaluation criteria. I imagine as the semester progresses, this rubric of sorts will evolve and change as the students become even more savvy and conscientious consumers/users.

More ice cream metaphor: it’s ubiquity, endless variety, and general affordability makes it easy to incorporate into our daily lives. (How many people have you met who admit to eating at least a small amount of ice cream, or chocolate, every day?) More questions arise from this fact: how much is too much? how do we manage a balanced diet? and what about all that free stuff? what if some day it’s not free? (I think about that a lot when I use Google and such.)

My husband is currently watching his carbs, but in his day, he was a homemade ice cream connoisseur. And it had to be hand-cranked, no electric ice cream makers!! And everyone who planned to eat the ice cream had to take a turn at the crank.

Sounds a lot like open source, doesn’t it?

What do you think?

Education as process, not endpoint

A friend of mine who is a parent and former educator sent me a link to a New York Times article about efforts in that city to accommodate the needs of potential drop-outs. Using a combination of Gates Foundation grant money and taxpayer dollars, the educational leadership created special “transfer schools” with a menu of services to help older-than-average, at-risk students earn their credits without the stigma that drives many to drop out.

In New York City, that’s nearly one quarter of the high school student population.

My friend is intrigued by the concept of making it easy for young people to re-enter high school for a fifth or even sixth year, as am I. More than half of our city’s twelve high schools are on the state’s high priority list due, in large part, to less than 90 percent graduation rates, and the high school in our neighborhood is just a few years away from a comprehensive overhaul if it cannot demonstrate measurable improvement.

Our local paper recently ran an editorial calling upon school officials to “redouble” their efforts and start “thinking outside the box.” Perhaps they should take a look at the reformulated schools in New York, Oregon, Boston, and elsewhere.

But my friend, who is active in local school politics, laments that the current climate created by No Child Left Behind, would make it hard to promote a fifth year of high school, at least in our community.

I agree. As long as arbitrary benchmarks, outcomes, and end-of-course tests are the only officially sanctioned measures of learning, it will be hard to convince the public to bankroll a school that treats learning as a process, not endpoint. Everyone is so brainwashed by the century-old, assembly line model of education.

The assembly-line mentality maintains a tight grip, even on those who benefit from progressive reforms. I was saddened by the story of 21-year-old Camry Petillo in Queens who “finished” her program in June but decided not to attend her graduation: “I didn’t feel like I had a lot to celebrate,” she said. “I knew I should have been up there years ago.”

And what about 19-year-old Sunil Ragoonath, who, after completing coursework this summer, said, “At last, I think I can say I’m done.”

It’s not him; it’s the system that programmed him to think of education as a march toward a finish line.

What do you think?

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Think on this:

"What if we just ignored the status of students in other countries? That wouldn’t be especially neighborly, but at least we wouldn’t be viewing the gains of children in other lands as a troubling development."

Alfie Kohn


"When I hear people say it's our job to create the 21st century workforce, it scares the hell out of me. Our job is to create 21st-century citizens. We need workers, yes, but we also need scholars, activists, parents -- compassionate, engaged people."

Chris Lehmann

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