Thursday, May 7, 2009

About the Annotations

During a sabbatical leave in 1996, Kathy Lofflin decided to make it her goal to read for one hour per day in professional journals, to write an annotation for each article she read, and to organize that collection in some way. The project came from a realization that she was receiving (and paying for) 12 different journals, that she read in them only sporadically, that she rarely remembered much of what she had read, and that when she did remember something she wanted to use, she often couldn’t re-access it.

She religiously scheduled her hour of reading daily (even putting it in her date book as an appointment and honoring it as such). It often meant awakening early or reading over lunch, even at times turning away colleagues who approached her in restaurants asking if they could join her. It became sacred time. Each evening before bed she would select an article from the pile of current journals on her desk, to be read the next day, and schedule the reading hour. When the hour ended, she would stop and go on to whatever else needed to be done. Without that limit, it would be easy to rationalize that too much time was being used. If an article took two or more days to read, so be it.

When an article was read, she would write a complete bibliographic entry on a 5 x 8 notecard, then an annotation. She established rules: She had to fill the card front and back, but could not use two cards (they are expanded some for the blog). She originally used a system inspired by Anthony Manzo’s REAP (Read, Encode, Annotate, and Ponder) model, which she learned as one of Manzo’s students during her graduate school years. As time went on, however, the annotations grew more free-form, though Manzo’s original categories still come into play in a pinch.

As the notecards accumulated, they needed to be organized. Kathy began assigning descriptor categories and labeling each card. She now has well over 1,000 annotations under about 150 categories, and the list grows. Over time, it became apparent that the collection could not remain “low-tech” forever. It served Kathy’s own purposes perfectly well low-tech, but as others learned what she was doing, they suggested she find ways to share it with others. Kathy is now trying to move this resource into an electronic database that could possibly go online. She envisions it as “ERIC but with commentary.”

Kathy has found this resource invaluable and has used it for:

• Course preparation and teaching (organization by topic really helps)
• Study group material preparation
• Preparing grant proposals
• Blogs (though annotations are expanded for that)
• Development of a conceptual framework for her university’s education school
• Assisting students and colleagues with research projects
• Discovering new research interests
• Just staying informed on educational issues and trends

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What's for dinner?

What food would you have brought to the meeting?

Scrutinizing the cybercell: teen-tageted Websites as text

Crovitz, D. (2007). Scrutinizing the cyber-sell: Teen targeted websites as texts. English Journal, 97(1), 49-55.

Sometimes I wonder about our society. We seem to be spending a lot of time passively absorbing material on screens—whether it be TV, or increasingly, Internet sites as described in the article. Much of that input in either form is infused with advertising. The world seems to be all about selling, and about defining oneself with products and brands. Remember the two yuppies in the Christopher Guest movie “Best in Show” who described themselves as “J. Crew people”? The author of this article attempts to face these phenomena by helping teachers in training develop lessons for high schoolers that treat corporate websites with products targeted toward teens as texts to be interrogated and critically examined. Several examples of such product sites are given.

I’m all for this sort of critical literacy instruction. Awareness may help counter some of the messages, but they’re still extremely powerful. I wonder if any of the teachers in Crovitz’s classes encountered teen resistance to such lessons. To some teens, their products are part of their identity. I wonder also if teens are really so gullible as advertisers and even educators think they are. The teens I know are pretty savvy about advertising and how it works. After all, they’ve been bombarded with these messages since they were babies.

Please react to the Crovitz article and/or my annotation above.
If you need help to start thinking, address one or more of the prompts below, but it’s not required if you don’t need them. As always, it’s better if you read the article first, but all discussion is helpful. Maybe our discussion might make you want to read the article if you didn’t before!

• Should teaching teens to look critically at the “cybersell” be a part of the secondary school curriculum? If so, where would it fit? Can we justify spending time on this in this age of standards and testing?
• What are some potential barriers to teaching as Crovitz recommends?
• Think of some examples when you recently have been “cybersold”. Some of this is blatant, as in pop-up ads, but some of it is more subtle, as in “product placement” in the media (e.g., a reporter wearing a shirt or windbreaker with an obvious logo or a character on a popular show wearing a certain kind of pricey shoes). How convincing was it? Did you find yourself convinced?
• Go to some product web sites and take a look at them (can probably find these easily by typing the name of your product into a search engine). Comment on the persuasive techniques used there. Would you have any concerns about young people visiting these sites?
• In the article (page 50), Crovitz lists some guiding questions to use with students. Evaluate those questions. If you have experience with teens currently or in the past, imagine yourself discussing advertising with teens using those questions.
• What do you think about the “sham sites” Crovitz writes about? Have you visited any of these kinds of sites?
• How does advertising on Internet sites differ from advertising on TV?
• React to these quotes:
“Does a corporation bear any responsibility for modeling correct language use and safe behavior in advertising its products?”
“How do we balance a company’s right to sell a product with the public’s right to make healthy decisions?”
• Transience seems to be an essential feature of web sites; they are constantly changing. What effect does this have on consumers?

Critical inquiry and multi-literacies in a first grade classroom

Crafton, L. K., Brennan, M., & Silvers, P. (2007). Critical inquiry and multiliteracies in a first grade classroom. Language Arts, 84(6), 510-518.

Here is the story of a first grade class that did some really significant, high level literacy learning, and computers were a tool that furthered that learning. The students responded to a newspaper story about an elderly woman (“Grandma Ruth”) who was being forced from her home by a real estate development. These young children really got into issues of social justice and did some authentic reading, writing, and thinking. Although the article is more about “critical literacy” than about multimodal texts, electronic technology was used productively to build these very young children’s literacy.

It was significant that I read this article on a day when I spent some time visiting in our local elementary schools, so reality was strong as I read. The thing that struck me most about the article, and about the school days I was observing at the time, was that teachers often do not know how to incorporate technology in a meaningful way into their classroom practice, especially with the youngest students. There is worry that such young children won’t be able to handle computers, and, having spent some time with a very brave second grade teacher who did an ambitious project with a class in a large computer lab, I fully understand the challenges! Though a few of those second graders were more “tech-savvy” than I was, most needed constant monitoring and help. Two adults could barely handle all of the “how-do-I?” questions that arose during our computer lab sessions. So I see what primary teachers are worried about, though I do think the rewards outweighed the hassles in the case of the project I was involved in. If the brave second grade teacher I worked with is reading this, she will recognize herself, and I invite her to put in her own two cents worth here as to whether the efforts we put in ultimately paid off in learning.

I think teachers should try high-level, technology-supported projects, even with primary grade students, and even with the challenges. Computers are becoming increasingly common in classrooms, but I see too many cases where the computers sit on one side of the classroom and are not utilized. Many of the preservice teachers I work with describe seeing hardware in classrooms, but rarely seeing them used by students or for instruction, though the teachers may use them for various management purposes. Computers may not even be in the classroom, but may be confined to a computer lab which must be reserved. If young students do get to use computers, it’s to play drill-type software on lower-level skills or as part of a center with games to be used “if there is time.” Rarely do I see computers used for authentic communication or research in elementary classrooms, and especially not in the primary grades.

I see even less interest in incorporating critical inquiry in elementary schools in my local area than I do in incorporating authentic uses of technology. Do we believe we “don’t have time” because of testing pressures? Is it because we are afraid of encountering difficult social issues and political agendas, and of not always being able to answer our young students’ hard but important questions? Are we worried about upsetting children (or maybe about upsetting ourselves?), so we’d rather pretend all is right in the world and read pleasant stories to primary-grade children? Do we think they are incapable of understanding and dealing with injustice? The teacher in this article took a big, brave step and had her first graders use the computers to communicate with others about a case of injustice they had read about in the local newspaper. These first graders showed they were capable of handling difficult issues and using technology to learn more. It was a case of high expectations being met.

Please react to the Crafton et al article and/or my annotation above. If you need help to start thinking, address one or more of the prompts below, but it’s not required if you don’t need them. As always, it’s better if you read the article first, but all discussion is helpful. Maybe our discussion might make you want to read the article if you didn’t before!
• How are computers used in the elementary schools you know? Is it just skill and drill or are any meaningful projects being tried? What about access? And is the hardware used fully or does it often sit idle? What about tech support?
• Teachers and future teachers, what kind of technology education did/do you get? What would you like to learn more about?
• Why don’t we do more meaningful projects like the one in the article with primary grade children?
• What barriers might there be to doing projects like this?
• Is social justice something that should be part of the school curriculum?
• What do you think of the “Grandma Ruth” project?
• If possible, look at the four “core questions” used in the “Grandma Ruth” project and try to imagine yourself using them with first graders.
• Look at the list of children’s “Trade Books That Support . . . on p. 513. Several of these books are well known and you may have them or be familiar with them. Either choose one you know or find one at a library. Why was your book included here? How does it support critical inquiry? Try using the four “core questions” with them.
• Do we run the risk of promulgating particular social agendas when we do critical inquiry with children, who are, after all, captive audiences? If so, how can we be ethically responsible and keep our classrooms from becoming political podiums?
• What about the “side” of the developers in the “Grandma Ruth” case? Was it covered here? Did it need to be?
• Are first graders “too young” to become competent with electronic texts?
• How do we keep young children “safe” on the Internet? The reporter that the children in the article communicated with turned out to be safe and supportive, but that wouldn’t always be the case.
• Are first graders “too young” to discuss and propose solutions to difficult social problems?
• Computers can be used for either mindful or meaningless purposes. Describe examples of either that you know of.
• React to this quote: “Teaching them to read must mean more now than just following the curriculum and using leveled texts.”
• Do computers and electronic texts really facilitate critical inquiry better than print texts and pencil and paper writing?
• The authors noted that there was a gender gap in computer literacy in the elementary grades: “boys tended to be the experts and girls the learners” (p. 512). How do you account for this? Have you observed such a gap?
• According to today’s literacy theorists, “text” isn’t just language any more, but can include images, sign systems, symbols, movement, sounds, and many other modalities. With the growing the emphasis on non-print texts in today’s multi-media, is written language no longer dominant? What might that mean for schools, where written language has traditionally been dominant? What might that mean for teaching children to “read and write”?