When thinking about outward-facing learning, what is your greatest ‘take-away’ in terms of your own professional development and personal practices?

Key Question 1:

If you know it [it = what ever you are creating] will be shared before you start, does it change how you approach the task?

Answer:

For me, yes.

Key Question 2:

Is that change positive, negative, or neutral?

Answer:

It’s a positive, mostly. To ensure an audience / reader could grasp what I’m saying in a blog post, I need to make sure my writing is clear and the ideas well articulated (as much as is in my power to do so). To do this I need to plan, synthesise, and draft all my posts. I combine ideas, I expand others, and I explore the topic of the post through the initial generative process then hone in on my main points through the drafting, cutting, and synthesizing phase.

This is a particular strength of written communication and why I assume assignments are still in (predominantly) written form: it allows a full exploration of a topic in a structured, guided, referenced manner.

But blogging is different from writing an assignment, as anyone with an internet connection could potentially stumble onto it. (Note: I still put all my assignments up online though after I get them back, just because).

Someone is able to leave a comment, to add their perspective to the issue, and therefore help take my own thinking into new directions. This means when publishing online, it’s never really publishing for good – the story is evolving and iterative. The knowledge is not static. There is rarely one right answer.

Even so, if I’m blogging, I take it seriously. Someone reading my blog (lol?) is able to get a sense of who I am professionally, what I stand for, and what I believe through each blog post. I don’t want a reader to think “he doesn’t know what he’s on about”, “this is rubbish”, or “he hasn’t done his research.” I take pride in my blogging, and I want it to show the kind of professional, reflective teacher I am.

To be honest, I also know future recruiters / schools may peruse my blog before an interview, so I want this digital reflection of my personal persona to be up to scratch.

But because of this, I’ve suffered from analysis paralysis on many occasions. The amount of blog posts I’ve thought up, planned, then shelved because I think they are not “good enough” ideas are many. Which is a shame – that many of my ideas and reflections are tucked away in an Evernote folder somewhere, not able to be shared, commented on, or connected to. Even if they are half-baked, or useless, they still should be out there – someone could stumble upon one of the thoughts or ideas I’ve published, and even though it might not resonate with them or they might think it sucks, it might propel them into other more interesting lines of inquiry.

Actually though, while my care levels are still high – I do care what people think – they seem to be diminishing with each consecutive year on this planet. You can’t please everyone, and even if you could, why should you. Perfect is the enemy of done etc. I don’t need to be a perfectionist – I need to give X task a good shot to the best of my ability in the timeframe I have allocated, then move on with life. To do otherwise is the road to stress and burnout.

So, my personal goal this year is to cultivate and practice this attitude more. Publishing my outward-facing learning need not be a big deal. I don’t need to agonise over it. I need to get it out there. Because the more teachers just “get it out there” the more nodes of knowledge there are in the world, the more connections become available, and the more transparency there is in our industry. It’s selfish to lock up ideas and reflections, wins and fails, within the four walls of your classroom.

This was my first shot.

I do not apologise for any spelling errors, run on sentences, or jumbled thinking.

 

CC0 image via unsplash.com

A compelling aspect of exploring digital literature is that, at its heart, lies the appeal of good old-fashioned storytelling. Humans are storytelling creatures. We have been for thousands upon thousands of years, predating the advent of writing. Stories helped our ancestors pass on knowledge, share history, and create meaning in a world of randomness and chaos (Delistraty, 2014). A human brain responds uniquely to a good story, the cortex lighting up as if the events or descriptions in a book were really happening. Stories are a fundamental human communication method (Widrich, 2012).

What is eminently exciting is that we are living in a time where the ways to tell a good story are expanding. Authors are no longer confined to the written word, on pages, tucked away in physical books. The rapid expansion and ongoing convergence of media forms has given us the tools to tell stories in new ways: transmedia mashups of sound, word, and video, interactive reading experiences, nonlinear pathways through texts, hyperlinking, participatory and social reading experiences, and emergent narratives shaped by the user. Although many offer suggestions (Unsworth, 2006; Lamb, 2011), these digital stories are becoming increasingly hard to categorise as forms intertwine in creative and unique ways (as discussed in this reflective blog post).

Making these developments even more revolutionary is the fact that these tools of authorship and creation are available to anyone with a device or internet connection. Authorship is democratising – anyone can be a storyteller, have an authentic audience and a meaningful voice on a world stage (Richards, 2010). This is particularly useful when considering narrative creation as a teacher; putting digital authorship tools in the hands of students, letting them create rather than only consume, is a powerful pedagogical imperative (Tapscott & Williams, 2008). The value of leveraging digital storytelling in education is strong, as it allows students to explore their inner voice, create meaning for themselves, and then share their experiences and perspectives with a wider community (Rosenthal, 2015). This can be a platform for transformative, meaningful learning allowing students multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression.

It’s important for teachers and other stakeholders to understand though, that digital literature and the tools to create digital literature should not be considered as the only option – that all reading and story creation needs to be solely digital. It’s not a case of digital OR physical, it’s a case of digital AND physical. Students need a balanced mix of media and mediums, one which a skilled teacher can traverse and draw out the unique intricacies, the pros and cons, of each (Sadokierski, 2013). The role of the teacher is to manage this pedagogical mix (as discussed in this reflective blog post).

Because there are differences here. While the message remains the same (“a good story is a good story”, as I mentioned in the Module 1.2 discussion forum) the medium it comes wrapped in requires proficiency with different literacies in order to unpack the semiotic resources entangled within the artefact (Walsh, 2013). Traditional reading literacy revolved around the decoding of text, but if we expand our notions of what reading is (and should be): “Reading is the process of constructing meaning from symbols”, we can expand reading literacy to the comprehension of visual elements, layout, sound, navigation, interactive elements, participatory networks, and even gameplay design and mechanics (Leu et al, 2011; Walsh, 2013).

Many have claimed that the partial move to digital-based stories are diluting the experience of reading – that there are too many distractions and so children (in particular) lose the hermeneutic immersion required for deep reading (James & de Kock, 2013). They are not wrong. There are many examples of digital stories which are low-quality, don’t offer the opportunity for adaptation or feedback, accessibility or usability restrictions, or contain a poor “goodness of fit” between their designed elements (Roskos et al, 2014). It’s important to also consider physical issues such as eye-strain on longer stretches of screen-based reading (Huang, 2012) and the technical limitations of going digital such as battery, internet connection, licensing, purchasing, and equitable access.

These are not reasons to avoid digital literature, though. They are considerations for teachers to face, to understand the variables, and to plan and implement carefully and with a pedagogical purpose (“complexity and all”, as I mentioned in the Module 2.3 discussion forum). Quality digital literature needs to be selected and evaluated and aligned with learning outcomes. This is often tricky in the overly curated app stores and when considering budget, DRM, and licensing issues. Alternative means of sourcing digital texts exist however via public domain, creative commons, and free for personal use literature. 

In summation, literature in digital environments contains much potential – both in the reading and the creating – for students: the amplification of voice, the connection of readers to one another, sharing perspectives and opinions, creation over consumption, developing skills and transmedia literacies, and simply enjoying the eternal joy of reading a good story. Knowledgeable teachers will be able to evaluate digital literature with a “teacherly eye”, consider it’s uniqueness, and embed it within units and learning at school effectively (an example of this can be seen in this blog post).

 


References

Delistraty, C. 2014. The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/11/the-psychological-comforts-of-storytelling/381964/

Huang, H. (2012). E-reading and e-discussion: EFL learners’ perceptions of an e-book reading program. Computer assisted language learning, 26(3).

James, R. & de Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: The rise of the ‘enhanced’ e-book, English Academy Review: Southern African Journal of English Studies, 30(1).

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and Leading with Technology, 39(3), 12-17.

Leu, D.J. et al (2011). The new literacies of online reading comprehension: Expanding the literacy and learning curriculum. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 55(1).

Richards, R. (2010). Digital citizenship and Web 2.0 tools. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(2), 516-522.

Rosenthal, S.T. (2015). Digital storytelling: What it is… and… what it is NOT. Retrieved from http://langwitches.org/blog/2015/08/18/digital-storytelling-what-it-is-and-what-it-is-not

Roskos, K., Burstein, K., Yi Shang, Gray, E. (2014). Young children’s engagement with e-books at school: Does device matter? SAGE Open, 4(1).

Sadokierski, Z. (2013, November 12). What is a book in the digital age? Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/what-is-a-book-in-the-digital-age-19071

Tapscott, D., & Williams, A. D. (2008). Wikinomics: How mass collaboration changes everything. Penguin.

Unsworth, L. (2006). E-literature for children: Enhancing digital literacy learning. Taylor & Francis.

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment (Ch. 13). In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers. Marrickville, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Widrich, 7. 2012. The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains. Retrieved from http://lifehacker.com/5965703/the-science-of-storytelling-why-telling-a-story-is-the-most-powerful-way-to-activate-our-brains

I’ve been dabbling with digital badges in my literacy sessions for the last two weeks. I made up a bunch of interesting badges on Credly such as ‘Feedbacker’ for asking others for feedback, ‘Thesaurus Rex’ for upgrading words with a thesaurus, ‘Curious George’ for asking a great question or wondering about something, ‘Plan(et)’ for having a full and well thought out plan, as well as one week only badges related to the writing of the week. Students then insert the badges they earn into their ePortfolios.

Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • They are motivating for almost all of my (most especially my) reluctant writers. I’ve gotten writing this week which was more carefully edited, more thoughtfully constructed, and in which more time was spent on, than what I was getting previously.
  • They provide a checklist of things to remember in the writing process. Planning – editing – feedback (both giving and receiving) + holding your ideas lightly and being curious. In the hubub of getting a draft out and delivered, these things can be put to the side. Badges provide a visual prompt and motivation to make sure to do these things independently.
  • They provide a talking point and buzz. They are conversation starters with parents and friends and prompts into talking about the writing process.
  • They can be reflective prompts. “So you got the planning badge – what happened with the editing? What can we do differently next time to meet the requirements of the badge?”
  • They appeal to the hoarders and collectors. Students are watching their badge page fill with badges as they achieve them each week – it’s a visual sign they are achieving those particular elements of writing.

But where does the line end? How long should I keep this up? I’m painfully aware that extrinsic motivation / external awards (as Mr Dan Pink explains) are not particularly helpful in the long run. Am I building a reliance on these badges? Am I only able to get decent writing if there is a reward at the end?

On the other hand – these students are now more regularly displaying characteristics of good writers.

Perhaps these badges are the ‘training wheels’ needed to build up the routines and habits around the writing process – much like this #28daysofwriting gig. At some stage the training wheels go, but only when they are ready and have built the confidence and expertise needed. Perhaps it is a just a Term 1 thing? At the moment, I’m happy with how things are going, but keeping an eye to the future when we move past badges into more intrinsic motivations for writing.

There are a few traditional staples which spring to mind when you think of Author’s Purpose – to persuade, to inform, to describe, to entertain. They do indeed intermingle and intertwine almost always, but they are there, and they are handy when breaking down a text or writing your own. They’re more than handy, actually. Figuring out the purpose of a communication can reveal it’s intended audience, explain language and structure, and empowers an author to make their own informed, purposeful choices from these elements.

A completely valid purpose which you don’t see very often, though, is … to think.

You can conceive of this in a few different ways. The first of which is in the more poetic, expressive sense of the word. Many people author something to make sense of how they are feeling – to think through their emotions. Some people write to get all their thoughts out of their head, and to be able to think more clearly. For some, grappling with this process of scribing your thoughts and bringing them into reality can enable you to stumble upon meaning, to come to terms, and to get closer to truths. Your purpose for writing is to provide the conditions for which this kind of thinking provides fertile ground to emerge from.

The other side of the “To Think” purpose for writing is related, but slightly different. You can write to make sense of complex ideas and to find connections, new avenues of thought and inspirations where there were previously none. Many writers would do this at the start of the writing process – scribbling down their half-brewed thoughts, potential plot lines and themes.

An example from myself – I spent the summer holidays immersed in a some key educational books, blog posts, and research papers. To make sense of all this input, I needed to output. So I wrote down all the little chunks of knowledge and thoughts which resonated with me on Post-It notes and stuck them to a wall in my house. I was writing to enable thinking. I could then see the big picture of all the bits I was learning and from there, start to find patterns and goals and clusters of similar and dissimilar pieces of the puzzle. I arranged and rearranged my Post-It notes as I synthesised my thoughts, combining ideas and extending others. Eventually it lead me to some professional goals and areas of focus for me as I entered Term 1, 2015.

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This kind of writing is done best in a form which is easy to move around or change – hence the use of Post-It notes but also whiteboards, blackboards etc. It speaks to the fact that thinking is not set, it’s in the process of being discovered, so you will need to erase and go over and scribble and change. It’s tentative writing. Writing straight into a document on a screen makes you write a certain way, confined by the boundaries of the screen, the linear lines, and the quirks of the particular programme. It doesn’t particularly lend itself to highly-flexible, visible, moveable, collaborative types of thinking and writing.

A few other examples of writing “To Think”:

  • Planning of any kind (like planning an assignment)
  • Annotating and marking up some text
  • Writing a To Do list or reminders
  • Brainstorming
  • Collating information when the links are yet unclear
  • An ideas wallet and bug list
  • Our weekly timetable at school, before it is finalised

Empowering students with the language and ways of doing that this term suggests, opens up a range of interesting avenues. Is writing to think something you can get better at? Does it happen at certain stages of the writing / creative process? How might it be woven into other parts of school / home life? How can this kind of writing and thinking boost serendipitous and innovative outcomes?

Many worlds collide when you interact with texts (texts used as a loose catch-all word for any kind of communication – movies, music, art) to gain meaning.

There is The World of the Writer – what experiences and contexts the writer draws upon to create meaning, for a certain purpose. Then there is The World of the Text – the authenticity of the piece; it’s ability to stand-alone and be genuine. And of course, The World of the Reader – what prior knowledge, experiences and purposes the reader brings into the fray.

These worlds jiggle and jostle together; combining and flowing into each other, creating meaning for the reader.

It’s our job as teachers to help scaffold the understanding of deep meaning by drawing attention to these different worlds. What is the author trying to convince us of? What knowledge claims is the author making? What is my own prior knowledge of this? What bias and assumptions do I bring to the reading? Why am I reading this? Am I learning anything? Is this changing me? How?

Every text has the potential to be a rich battleground of these competing worlds – one in which you can activate knowledge skills such as critiquing, creating, customising, interrogating, elaborating, remixing, and challenging what is put in front of you. Investigating the different layers of a text contributes to an understanding that the world is complex, and the more we can draw attention to that and analyse those complexities, the more students can unravel them and understand how to live more critically, fully, and actively in this world.

Ask students to share what they are thinking – they are being bombarded with texts day in and out seeking to manipulate their understandings. Advertising is a particularly pernicious one, but what meaning are kids absorbing from the 6:00 o’clock news? Cartoons? Pop songs on the radio? Magazine covers?

It’s imperative we help students become active, critical users of the world around them, not simply consumers. Examining the different worlds of context which are mushed together when interacting with a text can contribute towards a deeper, more active, critical understanding of the world in which we live.

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