By Paul Turner, Middle School English Teacher and Tech Mentor, Dover Campus
“We live in a time when the very nature of information is changing: in what it looks like, what we use to view it, where and how we find it, what we can do with it, and how we communicate it. If this information is changing, then our sense of what it means to be literate must also change.” (Warlick, 2005) This was written over 10 years ago, and the environment in which children are growing up continues to change at a rapid pace. In order to stay relevant and effective, educators and curricula must evolve, and the inaugural ‘reThinking Literacy Conference,’ held in April 2016 at UWCSEA Dover in partnership with 21st Century Learning International, was an opportunity to engage with what that evolution might or should look like.
Our students, to varying degrees, are online—most are consuming content online, many are communicating online, and some are producing content online. In her keynote presentation at the conference, Kristin Ziemke, an inspiring and passionate educator and author, asked the audience to remember the most recent website they had visited, and then to think of the dominance of visual texts in the content we consume online. She reminded us that we are responsible for educating our students in how to analyse and interpret images, just as much as text. As a Middle School English teacher, what I appreciated was that Ziemke went beyond presenting the specifics of applications and devices that can be used in the classroom; her commitment to her students’ learning was evident, and the tools, as far as she is concerned, just form part of what good teaching is today.
This appeal to the pedagogy, rather than the “flash” of technology, was reinforced by Dr Troy Hicks, a professor of English at Central Michigan University, who highlighted in his address that educators must have clear intentions when they introduce new modalities into their courses. Each decision must be based on a clear vision of how the modality will extend and challenge existing literacy skills. In our English classes, we want our students to be able to engage with any text in a consciously critical manner, understanding audience, purpose, structure and meaning. We want our students to be able to effectively communicate their ideas, using the medium of their choice, with a clear understanding of the techniques at their disposal to deliver their ideas with clarity. These intentions can be realised in numerous ways, and Dr Hicks reminded us that, although our courses must engage with the changing definition of literacy, any change must be carefully considered and purposeful.
I have been to conferences on technology in education where the focus has been more on the technology than the education. With UWCSEA as a partner in this conference, it was not a surprise that pedagogy, rather than the latest technology, was at the core of the discussion about contemporary literacy. As a newcomer to the school, and in my role as Tech Mentor for the Middle School English Department, I have been impressed with the clarity of vision when discussing the integration of technology into the classrooms, one which consistently returns to the question, “Will it improve teaching and learning?” This is what educators care about the most, and this was clearly woven into the fabric of the ‘reThinking Literacy Conference.’
As educators, it is our responsibility to educate children to be literate in the world that they live in now, and effectively prepare them for the world they will live in later. The ‘reThinking Literacy Conference’ provided us with an opportunity to engage with the ‘how’ inherent in this responsibility, and was a stimulating, enriching experience for all who attended.
Middle School English Teacher and Tech Mentor
References Warlick, David. “The New Literacy.” Scholastic Administrator Magazine. April 2005. Web. 21 May 2016.