The Final Entry. Probably.

This MEd reminds me of one of those mammoth Christmas jigsaws. You are enticed by a pretty picture, convince yourself that you are adept enough to finish it by Twelfth Night and banish the thought that a sprawling, fragile construction spanning the floor between the living room and the dining area might get in the way of your everyday life just a little bit.

Talking with smart people in a serious university building was something of a draw to starting the course in the first place. I thought I would learn so much so quickly. And I half-convinced myself that the necessary reading and writing would slot in nicely amongst full-time teaching (well, we do have a 35-hour week), a major house extension and some ad hoc parenting of two teenagers. In fact, learning is slow and hard. I empathise with my class of 8 year olds. They put such a brave face on it all.

I had a few niggling thoughts and ideas at the start of the course. I didn’t want to feel battered by the “fetishization of change” (Furedi, 2009: 23) in education, the feeling of rushing to catch the tail of a rapidly-changing world. I wanted to know how the Curriculum for Excellence is influenced by current educational theories. I wanted to know how universities, central and local government and schools work together towards a common goal. I wanted to know differing theories so that I could better ascertain my own position, and be able to support opinions with evidence. I wanted to learn things about literacy which would make me a better teacher, benefitting the children I teach.

The four resources model of reading by Freebody and Luke (1990) has a wonderful sense and simplicity to it which are likely to remain relevant despite future technological changes. The model can be applied to multimodal texts and it encompasses a variety of teaching and learning approaches under the headings Code Breaker, Meaning Maker, Text User and Text Critic. Freebody and Luke (1999) claim that they wanted “to develop a model that attempted to recognize and incorporate many of the current, well-developed techniques for training students in becoming literate.”

Connections between frameworks and the Curriculum for Excellence can be made. The framework developed by Bearne (2009) to assess multimodal literacy, is less useful on a practical level as it incorporates four of the Literacy and English outcomes in the Curriculum for Excellence. Of Bearne’s five modes of meaning, Image is the only one which is overlooked in the Curriculum’s Literacy section. Sound/vocalization, gaze and movement are addressed via Listening and Talking.  At the start of the course, it was highlighted that the model of Freebody and Luke (1990) fitted with the Curriculum’s organisers of Tools, Finding and Using Information, Enjoyment and Choice and Understanding, Analysing and Evaluating. Further examination of the Curriculum for Excellence shows a correlation with the checklist of Collerson (1997), where culture and context are shown to pervade all literacy learning. Culture crops up when the Curriculum suggests opportunities to develop an understanding of “what is special, vibrant and valuable about my own and other cultures and their languages”.

We should not neglect the political context. Hannon (2004: 24) opines that, “The only certain things about any changes which are which are made is that they will be decided politically and they will not be permanent.” I am a fan of the Cambridge Primary Review (rejected in England in favour of the Rose Review in 2009). Since the late 1970s, literacy seems to have been an area targeted more than most for government input. Alexander et al (2009: 11) state in the Cambridge Primary Review booklet, that in England “between 1996 and 2004 government and national agencies issued 459 documents just on literacy teaching. That’s more than one every week for eight years.” Why the need for so many government documents? Widespread collaboration among politicians, educationalists and teachers – free of political point-scoring – is essential.

The importance of analysing and being critical of texts has been highlighted in the theories and frameworks. Callow (2008) is no different and he distils the complexities of communication into three headings in his Show Me framework: Affective, Compositional and Critical. In order to move this framework from the theoretical to the practical, he suggests an appealing range of questions and activities which can be used in the classroom. It is satisfying to see an emphasis on the practical.

The need to teach critical analysis of digital texts might raise the most issues in the years ahead. Buckingham doubts whether we have a common understanding of digital literacy:

In contemporary usage, digital (or computer) literacy often appears to amount to a minimal set of skills that will enable the user to operate effectively with software tools or in performing basic information retrieval tasks. This is      essentially a functional definition: it specifies the basic skills that are required to undertake particular operations, but it does not go very far beyond this.

(Buckingham, 2008, cited in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008: 76)

When we were shown a PISA Reading Test (2009) and a PISA Digital Reading Test (2009), there seemed to be a consensus that the digital reading test was easier to read and analyse. I was surprised and a little confused by the digital literacy test and I wasn’t sure why. In a later class, a fellow student referred to the PISA tests and raised the question of why we want our children to be literate in the first place. What do we want children and young people to gain from literacy? It is a question that goes to the very heart of education. There is a huge amount of information that supports the PISA tests which I haven’t read so I cannot make any assumptions. But Buckingham (2008) shed some light on my confusion. Are we at risk of teaching and assessing the skill of negotiating a digital text rather than teaching and assessing literacy which should include the affective and critical, not just the compositional? Buckingham (2008: 75) fears that, “‘Literacy’ comes to be used merely as a vague synonym for ‘competence’ or even ‘skill’“. My own feeling was that the 2009 PISA digital reading test was easy to read and did not require much analysis compared with the traditional literary text. He goes on to refer to guides to digital literacy that include evaluating online content but notes that “these formulations still tend to focus on technical “know-how” that is relatively easy to acquire and on skills that are likely to become obsolete fairly rapidly” (2008: 77). I think this expresses my initial confusion. Was I being tested on negotiating a website or on reading?

So we return to this idea of what literacy is, what will endure, what we want our children to be able to do with literacy. We also return to the issue of how digital texts fit into literacy. The Curriculum for Excellence states that children should have opportunities to “engage with and create a wide range of texts in different media, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by ICT.” It is generally recognised in education, although not always clearly expressed, that there is a need to incorporate ICT into literacy more fully, rather than have it as a stand-alone subject. Buckingham suggests that rather than:

“… hiving off information and communication technology into a separate school subject, we need a much broader reconceptualization of what we mean by literacy in a world that is increasingly dominated by electronic media.”

(Buckingham, 2008, cited in Lankshear & Knobel, 2008: 88)

At the same time, we cannot lose sight of what literacy is: “If the past is any guide to the future, we should expect information technology to transform literacy rather than eradicate it” (Hannon, 2004: 27). Marsh (2007) goes some way to illuminating this transformation of literacy with a framework of key competencies which includes choosing appropriate modes, understanding media (making critical judgements), skills, analysing critically, selecting according to the design process, and collaborating. It incorporates the enduring, important aspects of literacy.

Writing these thoughts as a blog has been interesting.  I have been overly concerned with my audience which is somewhat ironic as there may not be one at all. It has shown me that I am learning about the theories and processes which affect education. My own blog has prompted me to start a blog with my class which threw up the issue of online safety and having to confront the fear that pervades any online activity in schools. I am realising the shortcomings of the mode I have chosen for the class blog and I will need to persevere to find one more suited to the intended message. The children themselves will put their own meaning into our makeshift blog and that in itself will be interesting to watch.

Finally, the question. Writing this final entry has helped me come up with a few questions. Are there multiliteracies or is there just one literacy which is adapted and applied to different modes? What do we want children to gain from literacy? How do we transform literacy without eradicating it? Where has the last piece of the puzzle gone? No, wait. That’s the Christmas jigsaw.

Reference List

Alexander, R. (ed) (2009) Introducing the Primary Cambridge Primary Review, Children, their world, their education: Routledge at http://www.primaryreview.org.uk/downloads/CPR_revised_booklet.pdf (last accessed 11.12.12).

Buckingham, D. (2008) ‘Defining Digital Literacy, What Do Young People Need to Know About Digital Media?’ in Lankshear, C. & Knobel, M. (eds), Digital  Literacies, Concepts, Policies and Practices. Oxford: Peter Lang, pp 73-91.

Callow, J. (2008) ‘Show Me: Principles for Assessing Students’ Visual Literacy’ in The Reading Teacher, 61 (8), pp616-626.

Carrington, V. and Marsh, J. (2008) Forms of Literacy at http://www.beyondcurrenthorizons.org.uk/forms-of-literacy/ (last accessed 11.12.12).

Collerson, J. (1997), English Grammar:  A Functional Approach, PETA, Australia.

Education Scotland (online) Curriculum for Excellence, Experiences and Outcomes at http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/all_experiences_outcomes_tcm4-539562.pdf (last accessed 11.12.12).

Furedi, F. (2009), Wasted, Why Education Isn’t Educating. London: Continuum International Publishing Group

Hannon, P. (2004) ‘The History and Future of Literacy’ in Grainger, T. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Language and Literacy. London:  RoutledgeFalmer pp14-29.

Luke, A., Freebody, P. (1999) Further Notes on the Four Resources Model at http://www.readingonline.org/research/lukefreebody.html (last accessed 11.12.12).

OECD (2009), Take the Test, Sample Questions from OECD’s PISA Assessments at http://education.moodle.gla.ac.uk/file.php/2744/PISA_Take_the_Test.pdf (last accessed 11.12.12)

Teaching and Assessing Multimodal Texts

Kress (2003) highlighted the importance of design when creating texts nowadays. It is not just about words on paper. Walsh (2008) suggests that, “To read and produce multimodal texts, students need to be able to  combine traditional literacy practices with the understanding, design and manipulation of different modes of image, graphics, sound and movement with text.” This is happening in schools, and has been for some years, but perhaps the main issue has been how multimodal texts have been assessed and progressed.

Anstey and Bull (2004)  developed a guide to planning and teaching multiliteracies which draws on the ideas and work of Cope and Kalantzis (2000) and Downes and Zammit (2002). I have been thinking about a recent piece of work I have done with my class and how it incoporates the aspects of this guide. The guide can be found here http://literacysummary.wikispaces.com/A+Guide+To+Planning+and+Teaching+Multiliteracies .

The class has been writing and designing a leaflet for a farm which we visited.

Learning of, through and about semiotic systems and literacies:  We had been looking at and learning about the features of non-fiction texts by examining a variety of non-fiction books. We focused on headings and captions in particular, and what they tell us. The class had already written a short guide with headings about looking after a pet. We regularly revise and improve the basic punctuation of sentences. We have been learning about common and proper nouns. All these activities fit into the Interpreting, Producing and Using Texts of Anstey and Bull’s guide.

Individual and Combined Semiotic Systems:  The children used linguistic systems when we spoke, took notes and wrote a guide about the farm visit. All the children visited the farm and so could draw on their own experiences. They  had an ‘authentic context’, as described in the guide. Then the class went on to use Publisher to design a leaflet and include photographs of our visit. This required an understanding of spatial and visual systems, the concept of design.

Multimedia and Technology: The children used the brochure template in Publisher which was new to them. They inserted our photographs.

Investigation of how literate practices operate in the world: When the leaflets are finished, we will ask the farm what they think of them. Would they attract visitors to the farm? That was the aim of the project.

The main problem we have encountered, is only having one computer between two. Most children were able to plan their own leaflet and so they were frustrated with not being able to design and finish the project by themselves.

So, Anstey and Bull’s guide shows the individual aspects of multiliteracies which are incorporated into a primary class literacy project, and it also shows how interdependent these aspects are. It seems as if the sticking point is reflecting this multimodal teaching and learning in current methods of assessment.

Walsh, M. (2008) Worlds have collided and modes have merged: classroom evidence of changed literacy practices, Literacy, 42 (3), pp101-108

Anstey, M. & Bull, G. (2004) The Literacy Labyrinth (Second Edition), Malaysia, Pearson Education Australia.

Home Learning, School Learning

An 8 year old boy impressed me today. For the first time at school, my P4 class was learning about Hanukkah as part of a series of lessons on Light Festivals. Before we had even begun, this boy was volunteering lots of information:  Jewish people have the same God as Christians but don’t believe in Jesus; they wear really small hats; Hanukkah is in December and presents are given; Jews have their own language (Latin? No, Hebrew). This same boy had also instigated some interesting discussions the previous week when we were looking at Diwali. He told us that some people don’t believe in a God or gods and they are atheists. He had asked if we were going to learn about atheism and paganism. This boy just sprang to life during RME lessons. I asked him today how he knew so much about Judaism. “A TV programme.” A pause. “I watch South Park with my dad.”

Class Blog

At the beginning of November, I introduced my P4 class to Edmodo with the aim of encouraging them to set up a class blog where they would post short diary entries about what they had been doing in and out of school. I explained that I hoped we would then want to open it up to parents for their comments when we felt we had interesting things to share.

My own blog experience and my reading of Marsh’s and Carrington’s tables (2008) in Beyond Current Horizons, had inspired me to try something different with my class. There are, of course, security issues to be aware of and overcome so I decided to kick things off with Edmodo, a very secure site where I could set up a password-controlled members only group. A separate password can then be given to parents, to view and comment.

There was great excitement when the children were introduced to Edmodo. They loved choosing an avatar and a quote which would represent them in some way. They loved trying it out and chatting with each other. A few of the eight year olds exclaimed how similar to Facebook it was. I was hoping the blog would inspire the children to write more, to express themselves, to communicate with a wider audience. I was hoping they would go on it at home, once or twice a week. However, things have slowed down a little. Some are very keen to use it but are obviously not certain how to push things forward, so I’ll need to add some more structure. Some of them have great difficulty remembering their usernames and passwords.

An article about Carronshore Primary’s class blogs in TESS (2 November 2012) has also thrown up a few more issues to consider. Their teacher, Margaret Vass, uses a public blog site, Edublogs, and just covers the safety aspects with the class. The class also progressed to setting up individual blogs after trying a whole class one.

At the moment, we’re enjoying playing about with it. It fits under Play in Carrington’s digital literacies table (2008) and also Collective Intelligence although the ‘fluid expert-novice relationships’ are short on the expert and heavy on the novice. I’m heartened by the fact Margaret Vass set her class blog up in 2006. It makes me feel that I’ve got a year or two to get something half-decent together.

Perceptions

When I was going to start a blog, I asked my 16 year old daughter which one I should use. I had heard of tumblr but she told me that in her opinion it wasn’t suitable for her mum writing about her uni course. She said something like, “It’s a photo site, people just upload photos  and add captions. It’s for hipsters, teenagers, alternative types, cult things. It’s not really for lots of writing in a news article style. It’s twitter for photos.” My husband disagreed, not least because he chose tumblr to create his band blog. Perceptions are a minefield. How important are they? I suppose it depends who you are trying to reach with your blog. At the moment, I’m not too sure if I’m trying to reach anyone but I went for a WordPress blog in the end.  I thought it might suit me better. But in reality, I have no idea.

Another Day, Another Framework

This time, it belongs to Eve Bearne (2009). Bearne has five categories in her framework and a couple of them are familiar:  Image (content, tone, colour, line) and Language (syntax and word choice). To these, she adds Sound/Vocalization, Gaze and Movement. She chooses to show all five elements in action via children’s PowerPoint presentation, storytelling and self-made picture book. The last three categories are, indeed, very important when assessing the impact of a presentation or storytelling. In school, sound/vocalization, gaze and movement are all common criteria that come under Listening and Talking in the Curriculum for Excellence (and in 5-14 before that). Literacy and English covers three areas and they are Reading, Writing and Listening and Talking. These three areas often overlap and naturally merge from one to the other.

The need to see the bigger picture by developing cross-curricular learning is strongly promoted in the Curriculum for Excellence. When learning about PowerPoint, there is an outcome in the ‘ICT to enhance learning’ section of Technologies: I can create, capture and manipulate sounds, text and images to communicate experiences, ideas and information in creative and engaging ways (TCH 1-04b/2-04b). When learning about storytelling, there are several relevant outcomes in Expressive Arts, particularly Drama. Learning is messy and it is often the case that when focusing on teaching one discrete area, other aspects of learning are also reinforced. There are points in the school year when exciting opportunities present themselves (or teachers, with pupils’ help, purposefully construct them) to bring a range of learning together in one creative project.

Bearne touches on the importance of cross-curricular learning when she says, ‘Although the analysis offered here has separated out the elements of image, language, sound, gaze and movement, it is important to see how these different modes interrelate to make meaning.’ Bearne watches and assesses completed projects, projects which would have been put together piece by piece over many days. On each of those days, a different skill would have been highlighted and taught, as Bearne acknowledges. I like Bearne’s framework but in terms of using it in the day-to-day teaching of literacy, I would continue to use the experiences and outcomes of the Curriculum for Excellence. I would then tend to use the same outcomes when assessing. This also provides great flexibility, to choose the outcomes best suited to the teaching, learning and assessment.

Bearne, E. (2009)’Multimodality, literacy and texts: Developing a discourse’ in Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 9(2) pp. 156-187.

A Few Friday Thoughts

1.  Re the framework of Key Competencies in New Literary Practices by Marsh (2007), below, which I like very much: I believe they nicely complement Callow’s framework (2008), a very good, practical, everyday guide.

2. “There are key barriers to progress that need to be addressed, such as the use of Firewalls by Local Authortities” (Carrington and Marsh, 2008). There is an understandable fear of sensitive information getting into the wrong hands, but how far is it practical to go to stop this happening? At work, we have been instructed to send emails only to other local authority colleagues, not to any external organisations. Any externally-bound emails are to be sent via the office as a security measure. This could really hold up the organisation of community-wide events in the classroom. The barriers to “a participatory pedagogy that prioritises communities of practice” seem to be great and I wonder if fear is unnecessarily cutting off communication.

3.  “With the advent of democracy and modern industrial conditions, it is impossible to foretell definitely just what civilization will be twenty years from now. Hence it is impossible to prepare the child for any precise set of conditions. To prepare him for the future means to give him command of himself; it means so to train him that he will have the full and ready use of all his capacities.” (Dewey 1897). I have been reading Furedi again, where he talks of “the fetishization of change”. I felt quite relieved when I read it the first time, as if I wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable and unconvinced when watching another presentation about our impossibly fast-changing world. “The insistence that our current experience of global change is unprecedented is all the more surprising since literally the very same argument has been a recurrent theme in pedagogic debates for over a century.” It’s nice when someone has done some research.

Furedi, F. (2009), Wasted, Why Education Isn’t Educating, Continuum International Publishing Group, London.

Making Frameworks Work

Collerson (1997) has used terms developed by Halliday to form something of a double decker framework. One framework has piggy-backed onto another. It’s the arched window of frameworks and I can’t get it to stick in my head. The notions of interpersonal and experiential are too similar in my mind and I am not yet able to distinguish the two clearly enough. The over-arching considerations of context and culture are well-placed, a constant reminder.

Kress and vanLeeuwen (1997) make clearer distinctions with the terms referential, interpersonal and compositional. Those terms start to take root and the very word ‘compositional’ brings pictures to mind as well as language and layout.

Callow (2008) serves my purpose best of all. A framework has to work, not just look pretty, and I can see this one working in the classroom. Affective – feelings, emotions and personal justifications. Compositional – actions, setting, imagery, pictures, layout, angles, lines. Critical – the ‘missing’, alternative viewpoints and endings. These things can be talked about on any level, from simple to complex, with children and adults. And so theory is easily transferred to practice.

Excitement

I have just read the baseline text for the Reframing Literacy course for the first time and I’m feeling quite excited. It was clear, fresh, relevant and evidence-based. It is an antidote to the scaremongering that has accompanied some presentations to teachers about rapidly-evolving technology and the dark unknown of the future. Beyond Current Horizons concludes:

“For the most part, we see future developments as being firmly based in current practices and are therefore not predicting significant changes. Instead, we would argue that many aspects of literacy already present in today’s society that challenge the traditional emphasis on writing will become more prevalent in the decades ahead and that multimodal communicative practices outside of education will continue to drive change within schools.”

No need to panic but there is a need to change. However, help is already at hand. Carrington has constructed a table, based on Jenkins et al (2006):

Table 1: Digital literacy practices in a participatory culture

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I like that table a lot and I need to find out how it can be used in school. I also like Marsh’s table which identifies the necessary skills, knowledge and understanding for the digital age:

Table 2: Key competencies in new literacy practices

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During times of rapid change – which has been any time since the industrial revolution, really – there is a need to stay calm, examine and analyse the situation and put forward solutions. Researchers need to work fluently with central and local government and schools to feed ideas through the system. We need to hear different theories, be encouraged to question and so develop professionally.

Here’s the text:

http://www.beyondcurrenthorizons.org.uk/forms-of-literacy/

Fighting a Dragon

A nervous Supermouse punches an alien dragon.

Supermouse punches a dragon

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