Sunday, June 6, 2010

Across the Content Areas

Well, I'm starting a new class, on a slightly different yet related topic--reading and writing across the disciplines.  The course focuses on helping students read for meaning, rather than on learning to decode.  I seek to present reading not only as a cognitive act but also a social practice and writing as a vehicle for learning as well as a means for communicating within disciplines and other discourse communities.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Understanding and Identity

Thanks to Blythe and Megan for their comments. The notion of "virtualities" becoming embedded in our "realities" seems to make sense. My son continually reminds me that I am off in my own little planet, so virtual reality is nothing new. It may be that new technologies allow us to make our collective unconsious a little more available for reflection. My on-line gaming identity is not separate from my material identity but perhaps more idealize or more fantasized. I, and others, get a chance to experiment with alternatives without facing the same consequences we might find in our off-line lives. So what does all of this have to do with comprehension? I don't know yet, but the second article I read in my tome was "The Changing Landscape of Text Comprehension in the Age of New Literacies" by Bridget Dalton and Patrick Proctor.

I learned a new acronym--ICTs, which is short for information communication technologies. In the article the authors posit that we need to expand our (teachers? society?) understanding of text beyond print, "which is linear, static, temporally and physically bounded, often with clear purpose, authorship and authority" to include digital text, "which is nonlinear, multimodal with a heavy visual orientation, interactive, unbounded in time and space, with murky conveyance of authorship and authority" (p. 297) They also point out that digital texts are also capable of "collecting information through the user's interaction with the text and offering choices of content, help, and interaction" (p. 298). The user (rather than reader) "reads the text environment" and makes active choices about "support, content, media, and participation options to access" (p. 298). Their chapter goes on to address the question, "how do we 'understand understanding'" and teach student to read, understand, and create such texts (p. 298)? They address four indicators of reading comprehension: Word recognition, vocabulary, strategies, and engagment. [I have put my comments in brackets.]

Word recognition has been the gatekeeper to literacy, but TTS (text-to-speech) technologies, where recorded voices can read all or parts of texts, show promise in helping students gain information from otherwise unavailable texts and increase their recognition skills at the same time. The effect seems particularly strong for those with dyslexia and older students with reading disabilities. TTS technology "changes reading to a hybridized reading-listening process" (p. 309), and students will need to learn "strategies for using TTS flexibly in relation to needs and task demands" (p. 309).

Hyperlinks to word meanings seem a natural enhancement for vocabulary, offering "just-in-time support" (p. 309). Students who read well have a wider and deeper vocabulary and are "better able to use contextual cues and morphological knowledge to determine word meaning" (p. 309). Digital vocabulary support helps develop vocabulary, especially for second language learners and emergent readers, but the support sometimes interferes with developing a coherent representation of the meaning of the text. Students typically underutilize vocabulary supports. [I would say probably for the very reason that it interrupts reading flow.] The authors report that the role of access to vocabulary support is unexplored, but they still suggest that teachers should teach students how to utilize on-line resources like VoyCabulary, Babel Fish, dictionaries, and thesauruses [thesauri?]

Metacognitive software has been developed to support readers by teaching them reading strategies. Software of this type provides information about the text (like where the main idea statement is) and prompts students to engage in reading strategies (e.g., predict, ask questions, summarize, respond personally, seek clarification, self-evaluate). Initial studies of these programs indicate that they help struggling readers comprehend these support texts better. Questions remain about how to remove these scaffolds so that readers learn to operate independently. Studies have also been conducted on the effects of multimedia presentations on comprehension and some basic principles for design have been developed. These studies indicate that simultaneous visual and audio information and opportunity to manipulate objects and events enhance comprehension. Stronger readers use supports more effectively. Studies of how students process information in internet research suggest that students benefit from strategic classroom interaction around the texts that they encounter.

Students are more engaged in digital environments, but this engagement is often described as "superficial" (p. 319). [I question this because the authors are applying print expectations to multimodal understanding.] The authors also report that students are more engaged when they have a strong interest and feel they can do something. [Wow, back to identity. Students' ability to take action may lead to identity development, rather than just accumulation of information!]

Friday, September 18, 2009

To start I would agree with Blythe's comment that floundering is also a part of literacy, both new and old.  My experiences on Second Life (and if first life, for that matter) confirm floundering as an essential component of experience.
I have begun reading the giant tome (a whopping 1,367 pages), Handbook of Research on New Literacies, edited by Coiro, Knobel, Lankshear, and Leu (2009).  It's length demonstrates the difficulty of portraying the wide ranging field in a paper edition, but so far, it is proving to be the best almost $100.00 that I have spent in a long time (not including my last massage).
I got a little overwhelmed at first, reading the introduction, so I skipped to an article by one of my favorite researchers--Kevin Leander.  His research focus has been on how school discourse contributes to high school student identity.  Now, he as turned his research interests to the internet, and in this article is arguing for a "connected ethnography."  He argues that connected ethnography will enable us to better understand how the internet has been incorporated as a routine part of everyday life.  Connected ethnography breaks down the dichotomies of "computer-mediated versus face-to-face, online versus offline, virtual versus real" and "school versus out of school" in researching new literacies.  In other words, cyberspace activities are not studied as separate entities, but as integral parts of our social and literacy practices.  The focus of research shifts from studying the properties of technology to "the social practices through which the possibilities of such tools are realized" (p. 35).  
He offers rich summaries of key studies and frames for data collection and analysis that I am still processing, but the examples point out the value of connecting research into texts produced on line with the lives of those who produce and consume them.  For example, his own research, entitled Studying Youth Networks Across Time-Space, or Synchrony, focuses internet uses of adolescents.  Through screen, key stroke, and navigation captures; videotaping; home visits; and think-aloud interviewing, his research team is seeking to discover how adolescents use "digital literacy practices for identity and social network practices" (p. 56).
Because I am engaging in my first study of the social and literacy practices of an on-line class that I taught this past summer, I found his article thought provoking and well worth rereading as I progress to data collection and analysis.  I believe that literacy is in good hands with people like Kevin Leander.
Well, I need to go pick up my babysitting charge for this afternoon.  Until next time....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finding a Name

I am an instructor for a graduate course on new literacies.  I am requiring my students to maintain a blog about a book on new literacies for a few weeks, so my conscience forced me to try it myself.  The technology part is easy, but the name for the blog--ah, that was another problem.  

I knew I wanted it to be about literacy, but I didn't want the title to be so boring and obvious because I might want to talk about things other than literacy, but I wanted teaching and learning literacy to be central in some way.   So, I, of course turned to my word processor's thesaurus, searching for synonyms for various related words--musing, reading, etc.  No luck.  Then I went to the literacy entry of MSN's Encarta encyclopedia and found the quote that provided the title for this blog:  "In honest hands, literacy is the surest and the most effective means to true education. In dishonest hands, it may be a most dangerous, in fact a suicidal, acquisition," a quotation from Obafemi Awolowo.  Of course the next step is Wikipedia where I found that he was Premier of Nigeria from 1959 to 1960, and a politician, lawyer, and social activist.  Within a few minutes, I had found an acceptable name for my blog and learned a bit about Nigerian history.  To me, this is what new literacy is all about--exploring, asking, finding, following and flowing.