New Media Literacies? Please.

This post began as a comment to The New Media Literacies by Susan Carter Morgan over at scmorgan: teacher, learner, which, by the way, is my addition to the One Comment Project (#OCP) for today.

I have a hard time with the term ‘media literacies’. These aren’t literacies. Plain and simple. They are tools and networks. So often literacy is confused with context and tools.

Why does this matter?
Because when people start to talk about tools and context as literacy they shift their focus to the tools rather than keeping their eyes on the big picture.

We see schools, teachers, districts seeking out technology for their schools and classrooms and then we end up with computer labs that aren’t used because many teachers don’t know how to manage learning in a computer lab yet. Or interactive white boards (big expensive smart boards) that are used to enhance lecture because teachers don’t know what else to do with them yet. Or professional development that advocates for the use of social networking in classrooms within schools whose IT departments ban social networking sites on the school’s network.

As Angela recently wrote in Needing a Framework to Facilitate Learning,

It’s impossible to make choices around tech tools until we understand where we need to support kids better as learners and create plans for accomplishing that. These plans have to be systemic in nature in order to effect change. This requires expertise in so much more than technology.

This is a theme I’ve been writing and talking about for a long time. What I am happy about is that lately I am seeing more and more blog posts, like Angela’s, around the same ideas. What ideas? That we need to focus on professional development. That we need to re-connect teachers with their passion for teaching in order to clear the path for change in how they teach. In order to re-connect teachers with the children in their classrooms and their needs and in order to teach teachers the skills they need to answer to these needs in a collaborative, systematic, systemic, mindful way.

Literacy is about understanding the world around us through symbols that are used to create meaning, mainly through text and the various ways text is presented. We can do that through a variety of hard and soft tools. But the big picture for us teachers is how we will use the tools at our disposal to help our students develop their literate selves.


The Watkinson Garden

[cross-posted at 09/10~Looking Forward]

During our conversation on climate change, Marcy Webb told me about a girl named Mary, a high school student who “…has chosen to devote her summer to sustainability. She is helping to cultivate an herb and veggie garden, on the school grounds. The goal is that the bounty from the garden will be used in the preparation of lunch meals at the school. She is maintaining a blog.”

So this post is about that blog. The blog is a diary of what she is doing to take care of the garden on a daily basis, though there is no description of why she is doing it. For that, I will trust Marcy’s description above :) I’d like to find more examples of initiatives like these to share with my students, not to mention to remind me about everything that continues to inspire me as a teacher.

Do you know of any? Please share!

Here is a sample from Mary’s blog, Watkinson Garden:

Day 14!

Today I went to school and spent my time weeding along the entrance. I also deadheaded flowers around campus, once again there was no reason to water the plants because the rain we have been having.

Very simple gestures that make such an impact.

Driving, listening, and drafting new models

This could have been taken on my road :) A typical country drive view around these here parts ;) Photo from Ramps diarise. Click for source.

This could have been taken on my road :) A typical country drive view around these here parts ;) Photo from Ramps diarise. Click for source.

I live pretty far from most things (except the corn fields, they’re close by) and when I need something I jump in my car. The other night it took 2 hours to pick up dog food… but that was a mistake (Note to self – don’t try new routes while the dogs are waiting for their supper at home).

Luckily, in any direction the drive is beautiful, relaxing – no traffic, just trees, open highway or back country roads. Oh, and I live in Ontario so those roads are nice and smooth :) Hilariously, even on the back country roads, you can be driving blind and know the absolute moment you enter Quebec by the bumpity-bump-bump of the tarmac under your tires.

I’ve started to listen to books on tape, er, mp3 while I drive. I’ve attempted to do that before but never really got into anything enough to listen to all of it. Perhaps because I lived in the city, where drives were short and, when they weren’t, were fraught with traffic – and one must step lively in Quebec traffic, even while driving! Now though, driving while listening seems to be the perfect combination of busy-ness to help keep me focused on the story being told, and the act of listening helps to keep me focused on the road ahead as well.

I’m bouncing between two books right now, depending on my mood. The novel is The Shack. Interesting, even for a Jew ;) I’ve decided the story was wonderfully crafted because the first part drew me in so completely that I am open to the unfolding of the mystery of the Catholic holy trinity that is happening now. If the story had begun with Mack meeting God, as a joyful black woman cooking dinner, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost in a shack in the woods I would not have made it too far.

Click the image to read a nytimes review of the book.

Click the image to read a nytimes review of the book.

The 2nd book is Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. It is available for free in digital forms, clicking the title gets you to the Learn Out Loud download site. Alternatively you can go to The Long Tail, Chris Anderson’s blog, and read a scribd version of Free or hear it through the blog. He describes the present concept of ‘free’, how it developed historically to how it may be implicated in the development of new global economies. Oh heck, I’ll embed the scribd document right here. Well, at the bottom of this post.


It’s that last bit that got me buzzing. First off, it’s a great listen – Chris Anderson’s voice is engaging – and he talks about shifting views of business in the 21st century.

In (oh dear, don’t say it…) a little over a month I will be teaching a course called Contemporary World. It’s a new course, a product of the Quebec education reform. Since I will be teaching it in the English sector, we don’t have English language materials available to us yet. I am not hedging any bets that the materials will be ready by the beginning of the school year so I have looked at the overarching themes, as described in the French resources, and have started to create my own materials, as have other teachers. There’s a Contemporary World Ning to help us collaborate, and here is a wonderful example of the type of work that is being done to create an English LES on Wealth (Learning and Evaluation Situation).

Anderson talks about conceptual beliefs around free, how people grounded in the 20th century don’t think anything is really free – ‘there’s always a catch’ – and how people grounded in the 21st century think differently. There is a paradigmatic shift happening in the economic world today and the concept of ‘free’ is at its heart.

What I like about Anderson’s book is how it approaches the topic of free as an emerging economic model. I’m thinking about how my students can create new economic models from what they hear about in this book along with their own research and the conversations that emerge from that.

I’m still throwing ideas around in my head, I’d love to collaborate with others on this. I think I’ll cross-post part of this over at the ning.

FREE (full book) by Chris Anderson (Read in Fullscreen)

Being together

Kindness, I’ve discovered, is everything in life. Isaac Bashevis Singer (via nezua)

Sea Lions live in colonies. These ones are hanging out together in San Francisco. They can also spend weeks at a time hunting in the open sea. Click image for source.

Sea Lions live in colonies. These ones are hanging out together in San Francisco. They can also spend weeks at a time hunting in the open sea. Click image for source.

Yesterday I commented on Kelly Hines’ post Core Beliefs about my own core belief that learning happens in community.

Today I found this beautiful sentence in  Michael Doyle’s post Puddles:

When one wanders away from one’s usual world, it’s good to have company.

I remember how Meg Wheatley’s words created a shift in me when I first read them a few years ago, that conversation is the natural way we humans think together (from the book Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope for the Future).

So what does this all have to do with my job as a teacher?

Learning can be about wandering away from one’s usual world, I think that good learning must. When we are learning new ideas we are changing our cognitive framework.

Imagine, we have the innate ability to change our thinking processes, biologically.

While this is happening, especially if it is with a paradigmatic shift in our thinking and beliefs, it is not only good to have company, I think it is necessary.

There are certain states that people need to feel they are in for learning (or change) to be able to happen – a sense of belonging, of safety, of worth. As teachers, we don’t always know if our students experience those states outside of our classroom (though we can sometimes guess based on the behaviours that we see in it!). A big part of my job is to create an environment that encourages these states to be. Not only for students in my classroom but for my colleagues in theirs as well.

Sometimes we need to tell it like it is. Photograph by Joel Sartore, click to view source at National Geographic.

Sometimes we need to tell it like it is. Photograph by Joel Sartore, click to view source at National Geographic.

I’m not talking lovey-dovey group hug, you are so special all the time kind of support. I just mean good solid, I know you are here for me and I am here for you and we will be honest kind of support. The kind of support that allows for conflict – the best learning often happens through it.

The support that we as teachers and that our students as co-learners can give each other is vital for learning (change) to happen.

I think of the hard-as-nails student who, in June, wrote a personal reflection on how she had changed over the year. She sobbed openly throughout the hour or so she took to write, shaking her head no when I asked if she wanted to write somewhere else.

Sometimes it can be as basic as just being together that allows us to take the risks we need to take to change how and what we learn.

feedreader overload

Overgrown gardens can block access. How nice that this image is FREE to download and use! (c) Jean Thornhill. Click for source.

Overgrown gardens can block access. How nice that this image is FREE to download and use! (c) Jean Thornhill. Click for source.

Over the years I have been adding feeds to my feedreader willy-nilly. As a result it’s a wild overgrown garden. I can’t keep up with the info that feeds into my system. As with any other time I become overwhelmed, I’ve shut down and haven’t been keeping up with the blogs I used to read at all. So I am starting anew.

I’ve added a really simple feedreader to my system called Eat Feed. It sits in my system tray and turns blue when I have new feeds to check out. I click on it and reed what’s new.

Nope. Doesn’t have a gajillion options, can’t share, can’t favourite, can’t clickity-click-click to tweet, share on facebook, diig, plurk, whatever. Nice and simple. If I want to share something I’ll manually tweet or blog about it, which may make me think about whether it is really worth the sharing or not.

The first 3 feeds I’ve added are the blogs I’ve commented on for the One Comment A Day Project so far:

Keeping Kids First by Kelly Hines
Daily Teaching Tips by Laura McInerney
Steven’s PLN by Steven Roberge

All three are great writers I’d like to learn from and I’m going to be adding to that list very slowly. I’m thinking lately I’d rather read few blogs in-depth than a myriad on the surface. For now.