ELPC Part 3: Redefining writing? What next!

I used to think that I worked best on my own, down at the coast with my own emerging thoughts and the world shut out. It was never true, I now realize. Even when I was writing my PhD thesis down here, I was reading books and articles and drawing on long conversations with my supervisors. I was also sharing chapter drafts with them. That’s the way it’s been over the past couple of days, too, but now I’ve got a PLN for the sharing of ideas. As I walk along the beach or jot ideas down, I have Teresa’s voice quietly urging me to be more controversial, Elfarran reminding me that my own preoccupations are not necessarily the same as my students, Susan and J.D. letting me know that they’re enjoying reading my stuttering thoughts, Dan taking me back to the connection between love and literacy, and Karen (as always) making the view of the territory clearer. You’ve all helped me sharpen my focus question and also given me ideas for the structure of the course.

I’ve settled on the following as the focus question:

Redefining writing? What next! Is this just a distraction from my core disciplinary purpose?

In our first lecture or tutorial, I’ll mull aloud about the various parts of this. How is writing being redefined? The history of passing fads in education. Elfarran’s breakdown of the question ‘What’s my core disciplinary purpose?’ into three parts:

  • in its traditional historically approved version,
  • in my personal heart of hearts version and
  • in the radically transforming literacy landscape we now live in version.

So I’ll say a bit to begin with. But the main business of the four weeks (it’s a ridiculously short time!) will be the students themselves exploring the question, in a number of related ways:

  1. A literature search, based on Michael Wesch’s How to get students to find and read 94 articles before the next class. One of the comments on Michael Wesch’s post has described how Moodle might be used for this project, and later today or tomorrow I’m going to post a couple of examples to guide the students. In Week 1 of our month the students will find, read and create an abstract of (say) 3 articles, in Week 2 they will read the extracts created by their colleagues, and in the Week 3 tutorial we’ll have a discussion centred around our focus question and drawing on the ideas generated by all this research. I think this will be manageable, stimulating and (most importantly in a teacher-education course) repeatable in the students’ own classrooms.
  2. Again later on tonight I’m going to create a Ning for us to use to share ideas. We’ve been using Moodle, but there are three reasons why I want to add a Ning to our box of tricks. Firstly, I want to explore with the students the idea that we stimulate writing by belonging to a stimulating community (thanks, Dan, for your comments on this aspect), and Nings work particularly well in creating an online community. Secondly, the Moodle blog feature doesn’t allow students to read others blog. And thirdly not all schools have Moodle, and Nings are free and easy to set up, and so again will add to each student’s repertoire.
  3. All of the formal assessment for this part of the course will come from the students’ blogs. This is what we decided at the beginning of the course, and though I’m not sure I’d do it this way if I had my time over, the students have understandably resisted the idea of changing what we originally agreed on. I’m going to construct a rubric for this. I’m not a big fan of rubrics as marking devices (that’s a whole other story), but I do like the kinds of conversations that occur when a rubric is produced. Rubrics help clarify expectations and surface values, even if they don’t help assign marks in any objective way. The focus in the rubric is going to be on how deeply the student has researched and thought through the issues raised by the focus question. Karen la Bonte’s response to my last blog post is going to be especially useful here, and I’ll be pinching some of her words for inclusion in the rubric (which won’t please Karen, given her own distaste for rubrics!).
  4. Each student will be required to work on one writing-related (defined broadly) skill, a skill that is going to be useful for them as a teacher. I’m going to do one too. I’m going to create my first digital narrative. (Karen has recommended Voicethreads as a good digital narrative tool, so I’ll be investigating this.) The subject of my digital narrative is going to be connected to this part of the course. In Week 4, those students who would like to share their little projects will do so in the tutorial. All students will write about their developing skill in their blogs.
  5. In Week 2, my colleague Assoc Prof Kaye Lowe will run the tutorial on ‘Writing and Spelling’.  This will give us more food for thought as we think about the relevance of rethinking our attitudes towards the teaching of writing.

So, five interconnected elements, all revolving around the question ‘Redefining writing? What next! Is this just a distraction from my core disciplinary purpose?’

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3 Responses to ELPC Part 3: Redefining writing? What next!

  1. One last question, Steve. If literacy is the ability to read, write, and speak, are you redefining literacy? Or are you giving writing a different focus based on new skills? I agree it is essential to redefine writing, but I know there are many dissenting views about whether that really means redefining literacy. Perhaps it’s simply arguing semantics, but I wonder what you think.

  2. steveshann says:

    I hope you’re not serious about this being ‘the last question’! Your questions make me think.
    It doesn’t feel to me as though I’m doing any redefining of either literacy or writing; it’s more that I’m trying to follow what’s happening in our world. If to be literate is to be able to operate effectively in a given context (ie to be able to understand the context through ‘reading’ it, and to be able to communicate in it through ‘writing’), then it seems that three connected things follow:
    1. to be literate in one context (eg the arts world) involves a different set of ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ skills than in another context (say the stock market)
    2. ‘reading’ doesn’t just involve being able to get meaning from words on a page, but has to include the skills involved in viewing and listening
    3. ‘writing’ doesn’t just involve being able to communicate through words on a page, but has to include skills involving talking and representing.
    So I would add ‘listening’ and ‘representing’ to your list.
    I said I’m trying to keep up with those who are trying to make sense of ‘literacy in the modern world’. Who are those who dissent from the view that we need to redefine literacy? It would be good if I could direct my students to some of these dissenting voices.

  3. Inkblot says:

    Steve, this looks like a great idea to me. It combines scope for some really interesting exploration and research without putting too much of an additional load on us, and I think will lead to some very interesting and thought-provoking discussions.

    Sounds like a plan! 🙂

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