Sunday, July 27, 2008

Defining Literacy in the 21st Century

While going through the feeds in my RSS reader, I noticed an article entitled "Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?" As I read the article, I was struck by how well the author, Motoko Rich, represented both sides of the debate.

As a language arts teacher, I have enthusiastically encouraged my students to read books. I typically get a good many students who really don't like to read. My assertion is that they just haven't found what they like to read yet. Case in point, I had a student one year who the first day of class came to me and said,"Mrs. Osteen, I know you mean well. But you should know that I don't like to read and you won't be able to get me to like to read either." I simply smiled and nodded, thanking him for his honesty. Around November, he came to me one day during lunch time and asked if he could eat his lunch in the classroom. "The cafeteria is noisy and I'm at a really good part in this book. I'd like to read while I eat lunch." My response? You could probably imagine that I was delighted to allow him to read and eat lunch in the classroom.

But what did I really want from this student? Was it the fact that he had a book in his hand? Not really. It was that he was totally engaged with the text.

My son purchased an iPod Touch this summer with some of the money he has earned from his summer job. One of the first things he did was to download some books on it. He sits and reads on his iTouch books like the Bourne series. He is reading with the aid of a technological device. He is engaged with reading in a way that he has to sustain through a story line. Is this better or worse than holding a physical book?

In the article mentioned above, the point is made that many teens are reading online blogs, facebook pages, etc. While I don't doubt this is true, is that all they are reading online? Maybe the responsibility for the trend of how kids are spending their time comes back to us educators.

You'd be hard pressed to find an educator that would argue against the value of reading. The question is what type of reading is most beneficial to students and in what format? Actually, maybe the format is not the issue at all. Maybe it's the "what" that's the problem. When kids choose to spend their time reading, it is because they are interested in what they are reading. The student I mention above, my son with his iTouch and Nadia from the article all chose to read something that piqued their interest. When my son is required to read books like The Great Gatsby and Our Town, he "manages" through the books. I'm not saying he shouldn't have to read some of the classics. I'm just saying that I have a hard time answering him when he asks why teachers don't let kids choose what to read for summer reading.

So what do we really want from our students when they read? Is it the fact that they have a book in their hand? Or do we want them engaged with text in a sustained and focused way?

While there will continue to be a debate of books vs. Internet on the literacy front for some time to come, I submit to you that maybe the best answer is not one or the other. Maybe what we really need is to come to a realization that both have a place in the lives of our students and that students need guidance with both types of reading. As Will Richardson states in his blog post Kids Prefer Reading Online: I think we have to help kids process and track and organize the things that they read, teach them to respond in effective ways, teach them to interact and become participants in the process in ways that don’t restrict their passion and creativity but also give them some context for what they are doing.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Where's the Respect? A 21st Century Learning Question

As I read updates on Twitter today, I saw a reference Jeff Utecht made to an article entitled Cut and Paste 'not plagiarism'. Dr. Spender was speaking to a group of educators and made the statement that what some schools (her context was universities) police as plagiarism is not plagiarism at all within the new context of web 2.0. She goes on to say that all the students are doing is remixing:
“What kids are doing in downloading text is exactly what they are doing in downloading music,” she said.
“They take bits and pieces, mixing and matching them and making something that is their own product.”

My initial reaction to this article was one of but of course it is plagiarism! When I work with students, I fight against them copying and pasting (without thinking) and changing words here and there and calling that their own work. What I really want from students is for them to think about the information, organize, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the information from a number of sources before they write.

I also wanted to shout, "but how do we teach them to respect intellectual property?"

Then I started thinking about it a little more myself. I went to the Partnership for the 21st century skills website and reflected on some of the skills listed there: Information Literacy.

  • Accessing information efficiently and effectively, evaluating information critically and competently and using information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand

  • Possessing a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information

My next stop was to revisit with the NETS for Students from the ISTE website. In particular, I looked at the Research and Information Literacy strand. Students locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media.

Now I am under the impression we need to define ethical use of intellectual property as it relates specifically to web 2.0 tools. Is it ok for a student to "remix" information and put it into a format to turn in as "their own" work? In some respect, that's kind of what I've done with this blog post. But hopefully, I have taken information from a variety of sources, thinking critically about it and drawing my own conclusions. Does this make it "my own" work?

Dr. Spender also said in the article, "I don't really care if there are bits and pieces in their initial information that is downloaded from different points. What I care about is: do they understand it and did they use that information to come up with a solution to solve a problem?"

On this level, I understand the point she is making. I believe this is one area of web 2.0 that hasn't been talked about nearly enough. In my opinion, we need to revisit our definitions of plagiarism and we need to teach our students what respect looks like in a web 2.0 world.

Image used by permission under CC license by Old Shoe Woman

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

What I Love About Twitter

I first learned about Twitter last summer. Twitter is a social networking and microblogging service that utilizes instant messaging, SMS or a web interface. You can only send out messages with a 140 character limit at one time. So what people on Twitter end up getting are short snippits of messages, not whole conversations. Frankly, when I began to explore it last summer I didn't "get it." Then it was reintroduced to me during a PLP workshop last fall by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. At that point, I said, "ok, I'll give it another try."

Since finding the key in who to follow, etc., I've had a tremendous experience using Twitter. Many resources have come my way because I first learned about them on Twitter. There are web 2.0 apps that I wouldn't know about today if it weren't for Twitter. Twitter helps me to keep a forward eye to what is out there and what teachers from around the world are doing with their classes.

Will Richardson recently wrote a blog post entitled What I Hate About Twitter. In his post, Will states that it feels like the “conversation” is evolving into pieces instead of wholes, that the connections and the threads are unraveling, almost literally. Wow. I guess I never expected Twitter to be a "deep" conversation, rather a quick here's what's going on and providing links to the "deeper" conversations.

My children are 17 and 20 and if I want to communicate with them on a regular basis I had better get into texting. Of course, nothing can take the place of those face to face deeper conversations that we have. However, a more consistent touch-base occurs via phone texting these days. If I didn't text, well I just wouldn't be talking with them as much. They live in the world of texting. They don't "call" their friends like I did when I was a teenager (of course then it was using landlines). They text their friends quick messages to keep up to date with each other.

I think part of Will's angst may be a generational thing. Maybe if he lived in my world of communicating with teenagers on a regular basis he would get the whole texting thing and be less annoyed with Twitter.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lifelong Learning: A Real Key

I read an article this week from the New York Times titled "If You're Open to Growth, You Tend to Grow." The article is written by Janet Rae-Dupree. The focus of the article is on being open to growth as a key indicator of success in business. Ms. Rae-Dupree's information came from a Stanford psychologist named Carol Dweck who has written a book entitled Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Evidently Ms. Dweck states in her book that adopting either a fixed mindset (belief that one's innate talent is all one will have) or a growth mindset (belief that abilities can expand over time) "can profoundly affect all aspects of a person's life, from parenting and romantic relationships to success at school and on the job."

While reading this article, I couldn't help but make the application to education. After all, I am a teacher. I have facilitated many professional development courses in the past and single defining moments stick out from most of those experiences. One in particular was when a teacher shared with the entire group that the majority of what he had gained from the experience is that you never stop being a learner. *Wow! If that is all he got from the experience, I guess that's a pretty good hurdle to jump.

ISTE's new NETS for Teachers are divided into five sections. Two of these sections deal with teachers as learners: model digital-age work and learning and engage in professional growth and leadership.

All of this has led me to think more about lifelong learning. What are habits of successful lifelong learners? I've listed a few here but would dearly love you sharing your thoughts as well in a comment.

View lifelong learning as essential
Begin with the end in mind
Embrace responsibility for learning
View problems as challenges
Have confidence in self as a competent, effective learner
Create your own learning toolbox
Teach/mentor others

Image source: amarola

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