I have spent the past two days immersed in BLC ’08, asking questions of my practice and thinking, collaborating with others, and challenging thinking (that, like all discourse really tested me to realize what I know, believe, and enact). It has been a brilliant experience, and one I will likely continue to unpack for weeks to come.
That said, in this moment, having recently departed a single, 52 minute session that worked to dismantle much of the “glow” I was feeling from engaging with so many smart ideas, I feel provoked. Not mindful. Not patiently reflective. Blatantly PROVOKED.
Sitting in on Marc Prensky’s session discussing teaching programming, I came eager to hear ideas that would complicate my thinking, full well knowing that, like all sessions at an educational conference, not everything would resonate – but that I always have something to learn. Minutes into the talk, I found myself feeling uncomfortable as the heads in the room nodded in agreement with ideas that made me shift in my seat – that we needed to consider the relative merits of not teaching reading and writing given the power of technologies that can be programmed to do that kind of work for students. On screen, Marc used an image of a shooting gun – paired with “popping” audio – to call attention to his point that “things requiring reading and writing need to be shot down.” And, we were also told that “some teachers hate when I say this.”
The room nodded. And, a participant from my session yesterday on engaging reluctant readers with new literacy driven practices, turned to me, pointed to Marc, and mouthed the words, “Are you listening to this?”
Yes, I was listening. But, were those who were nodding their heads?
There are myriad answers that I have to counter the ideas that I heard expressed in the session – but I find myself centering on the reasons that I teach. As an English teacher, it is my job to help students gain access to the literacies of power. As I listened to Marc, my mind cycled through what I believe – literacy is situated, contextual, social, multiple, active and a component of identity. New literacies don’t replace former literacies. This isn’t a situation of either “new literacies” or “old literacies.” (or worse, “new” vs. “old”) And, most importantly – I was hearing the critical theorists who I studied as a preservice teacher – thinking that “literary” texts are often laden with values that lead to oppressive material conditions that keep us socially divided. I teach students how to work as readers who interrogate these texts, who work to read the word so as to really read the world.
As an English teacher, I am not sitting in a dusty corner of a room, huddled up with an antiquated book and asking students to practice close reading. Teaching English is about opening up what counts as valued communication, inviting ALL students to engage in multimodal discourses, and to put their knowledge to work. We produce and consume media; expertise means leveraging tools and spaces in intentional, productive ways; and we participate in global communities that are keenly, deeply invested. English teachers likely DO bristle up when Marc speaks about “shooting down reading and writing.” He has really missed the point and, in very real ways, moved into a dangerous place.
Our students need us to do more than nod. We need to think. Deeply. I have been moved to do that by Ewan McIntosh who spoke yesterday about the power of divergent thinking and ways that new literacies and emerging technologies lead “the barely motivated to become activists.” I have been moved to do that by John Davitt who talked about the importance of balance across literacies by providing opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge through multiple modes – and to engage, where possible, with “struggleware.” I have been moved to do that by Darren Kuropatwa who showed me what it meant to be transparent when teaching – and to empower students to teach and attain a whole new level of credibility. If I teach in the ways that they inspire me to consider, I am empowering students to engage with literacies that value the ways that they are multiply literate — and to
have access to the academic literacies that provide an additional degree of “access.” They challenge me to be a gateopener, rather than a gatekeeper.
I needed to write today because this is too important to just let go. I feel the need to get loud. Blogging is a bit more “raw” than the writing I typically do – in part because I am writing to learn, to reflect, and hopefully engage with those who read and want to join in the dialogue. It has a bit of risk to it – but it is deeply honest (and, with any luck, the most “heard” writing that I’ve done).
So, yes, I am listening. But, were you?