Take 2

Take 2 is a JoLLE feature in which a current editorial board member selects an article from the archives and re-introduces it to the field. The article authors are invited to prepare a new commentary on their original article.

Summer 2017

Introduction by Sharon Nuruddin, Poetry & Arts Editor

Everyone has a story, and as educators, we are often too busy to hear the stories of our students and their concerns about our programs. In Pamela F. Marcott’s Pursuing a Foreign Language Education: A Current Student’s Perspective, the author provides an autoethnographic snapshot of her foreign language education, highlighting positive and negative experiences during her years of Spanish study, from high school through her sophomore year at Wake Forest University. Marcott connects her studies with the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) push for more culturally relevant pedagogy, as reflected in its 2007 report, “Foreign Languages and Higher Education: New Structures for a Changed World.” Though she went on to study physiology and biophysics at the PhD level, Marcott shows us how foreign language at the high school level, when it equips students with a multicultural lens, can better prepare students for college level study, and motivate them to pursue higher level language studies. Supporting the MLA’s suggestion that “interdisciplinary courses” that combine the language with other fields, like business and medicine, could help students “draw a connection between classes required for a student and classes that are interesting to a student” (p. 87). Understanding language programs from a student’s perspective allows language educators to gain a deeper understanding of how our programs benefit our students, while at the same time, inspire us to strengthen these programs, both at the high school and college levels. I invite you to revisit Pamela F. Marcott’s enlightening journey, first published as a Voices from the Field piece, Volume 4(1), 2008.

April 2017

Introduction by T. Hunter Strickland, Children & Young Adult Literature Editor

In Ian Altman’s Spring 2013 article, Undocumented Students and Classroom Advocacy: Be Not Afraid, the author shows a real look at what it is like having undocumented students in his high school classroom, and what it means to advocate for and with them in that context. The author’s voice is clear as he tells his readers what is at stake in standing up for undocumented students in their classrooms, and he also connects such work to the context of the Common Core state standards. In this month’s Take 2, Ian looks back at that article and addresses the relevancy of advocacy during the Trump presidency, but also the implications for furthering that student advocacy on subjects such as sexuality and gender identity. He gives practical advice in this Take 2 on how to prepare safe spaces for students to have difficult conversations about such topics as immigration and gender, and he does so in a way that shows the importance of the subject as it was in 2013, and how it is even more important today.

A second look from author Ian Altman, Clarke Central High School, Athens, GA

Wednesday, November 9, 2016, 7:30 a.m.: It is the morning after the election and I’m feeling like someone just whupped my ass with a length of steel pipe.

My student Shahrzad walks in, and without greeting or delay, says, “So, can he just kick me out?”

I respond, “No, you have a green card.  You have rights.  He’s not just going to round up millions of people all at once and kick them out.  And you have no criminal record or anything like that, so you wouldn’t be targeted

“Yeah, but my passport is Iranian, and it says ‘Muslim’ on it.”

I am lost for a response.  We lock eyes for just a moment during which we both recognize that I am unsure whether my reassurance is legitimate.  Finally I tell her, “Look.  If it comes down to the very worst happening, I’ll hide you in my house like Anne Frank.  That is who we have to be in this moment and for the next few years.  And I am not the only person around here who sees things that way.  That I can promise you.”

The next day in her AP English Language class, in the course of an open forum for students to discuss the results of the election, Shahrzad said something to her classmates that I’ll never forget:

“At first I said, ‘I don’t care.  I don’t want to be here with Trump as president.  He can send me back to Iran and I’ll be better off.’  But then at breakfast in the cafeteria today I sat and listened to all my friends talking about it, and they were so angry and afraid, and scared for their families getting kicked out and scared about stop-and-frisk [police tactics] and about all these things, and so I decided ‘No.  I have to stay here and fight this, because I’ve lived in Iran with a madman as president, and I know what it’s like, and I love my friends and I want to help my friends fight this for their dignity as people.’  So I’m staying here.”

I could not have been prouder of my self-identified Proud Persian student, or of the others in their class for the ways they responded to the election, the thoughtfulness and empathy for each other they demonstrated, their openness to people different from themselves such as Shahrzad, who remains a kind of outsider no matter how well she is accepted and appreciated by her classroom peers.  Teachers live for moments like that.  Then, of course, other moments supervene.

A few weeks ago, another student in the same class, Lizbeth, who is a U.S. citizen, asked to speak to me after class.  As we stood in the hallway with other students walking by, before she had said anything she began to cry, and I suspected what was wrong.  Her parents and older brother, whom I also taught some years ago, are undocumented immigrants from Mexico.  My suspicion was confirmed: ICE had come to their house looking for her brother.  He had just finished a year of probation for a misdemeanor marijuana possession charge, something of which I would bet nearly a third of adults in the U.S. could have been found guilty of at some point in their lives.  He is no one’s idea of a violent or dangerous criminal, but he is now in hiding, literally living in the shadows.  Lizbeth recently heard her mother voice the question to her father, “What will we do with the kids if we are taken away?”

Stories like that have multiplied, and the trauma inflicted by the stress and the sheer fear of what looks far too much like impending ethnic cleansing in the wake of the 2016 campaign season and election have changed the tenor of things for those of us teachers who notice these things.  The fear was always there, but the intensity of it is new.  President Obama at least nominally wanted to make the U.S. a more welcoming place for immigrants, especially young immigrants.  The reality of his record is far more complicated and troubling than that, and there is a good reason immigration activists call him the “Deportation President”: Obama’s administration deported more immigrants, and far more than the criminals he said he was targeting, than any president before him, more than twice as many as George W. Bush.  Obama’s unfortunate appellation seems likely to pass on to President Trump.

When I wrote “Be Not Afraid,” I tried to connect these problems to other issues in the implementation of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, and I stand by the assertions I made there.  The standards reflect a fundamentally, and fundamentally unacknowledged, conservative worldview.  To teach them impartially is therefore to advocate, however subtly, a form of conservative political thinking.  To teach them critically, that is, to make the standards themselves rhetorical objects in the curriculum of study, is one way to mitigate that flaw in their originative theory, and that approach remains an important part of what I do with my American Literature and AP English Language courses.

I wish here to expand on that theme.  Our school district has adopted the Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) curriculum, and this year it has been taught through English courses.  I am not among the few teachers in the building who are certified to teach the FLASH curriculum, so another teacher was scheduled to join us to lead those sessions.  Over two days we were to cover the 11th grade part of the curriculum, which involves distinguishing biological sex from gender identity, and sexual orientation from sexual behavior.  It further involves lessons on understanding and undoing gender stereotypes, and identifying and speaking out against bullying based on gender stereotypes and sexual orientation.  Gender theorists may of course quibble with the simplicity of the curriculum and the occasional binary thinking it involves, and I would agree with those critiques, but for students who have never been exposed to those concepts before in an academic, critical setting, there is nothing especially objectionable in it.

For the most part, the lessons went well, but there were a couple of moments that became a very difficult exercise in meeting students where they are without judgment or condescension.  I would say that about 90% of students were receptive to the discussions about distinguishing biological sex from gender identity, and sexual orientation from sexual behavior.  Furthermore, most students seem sympathetic to the problems of bullying and the damage that can cause to LGBTQ students.  However, the outliers, the other 10%, presented some issues that are pertinent to these reflections.

Obviously, without question, we have to honor all students’ legal and religious rights to their opinions.  I think what the difficulties really involved, though, was the subtlety of their critical thinking skills.

For example, in the discussion of bullying and respectful behavior, a student said that he doesn’t like to surround himself with gay men because if one of them were to express interest in him, he would have to “get violent” with that person.  Several other students (not all of them boys) agreed with him.

The other teacher responded first that he shouldn’t assume that every or any gay person he meets will be attracted to him or express such attraction, just as with all the straight, cisgender girls around him.  I added that the obvious response if he receives unwanted attention, just as if it were from a girl, is “No, thanks.”  He insisted that it is not the same thing at all, and requires a different, violent response.

Pause for a minute.  Underneath this, it seems obvious to me, is a very deep-seated male insecurity, but that is not the sort of thing we can tell students, at least not in a public classroom setting.  The crucial question, then, is this: How do we help that student understand that the difference between the two situations is in his mind, and not really in the situations?  Or, even if we grant that the two situations are intrinsically different, that his responses to them should be the same, non-aggressive “No, thanks”?

Continuing, I added that regardless of how he feels about the situation and the legitimacy of his opinions and feelings, it is a fact that “getting violent” would likely lead to a felony assault charge and possibly also a federal hate crime charge under the 2010 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act.  The other teacher added that it would be no different from someone beating up a person for being Black.

By that point, in a large and unusually challenging class, any real critical thinking about these things had hit a brick wall.  Students were insisting that they didn’t care whether they are charged with a hate crime.  Of course, we knew that wasn’t really true, and they were simply being defensive because they were not distinguishing between having their learned ideas and behaviors legitimately challenged (which is part of our job) and having their intrinsic, immutable, inalienable-right-holding selves devalued or disrespected.

There was even a further difficulty.  Prejudices being the blinding attitudes that they are, a couple of these students believed they could legally justify “getting violent” on self-defense grounds, evidently seeing no difference between an unwanted expression of attraction and a sexual assault.

Again, despite the symptoms on the surface, I think all of this comes down to a basic lack (or at least a situational lack of application) of critical thinking skills.  That problem was apparent in a more obvious way when another student insisted that if a man is bisexual, he is “really just gay.”  “Once you go there, you can’t go back,” the student added.  On the surface, this means merely that the student didn’t master the parts of the lesson on sexual orientation and on distinguishing sexual orientation from sexual behavior.  But underneath that, there is the prejudice, or willful blindness, in the belief that a person’s behavior somehow taints her or his intrinsic essence, where if anything, it is the inner characteristics that affect outward behavior, although that too is far too simplistic and involves a different set of problematic assumptions.

In the wake of this experience, four possibilities occurred to me to ameliorate the situation.  First, we should break up some of these larger classes for differentiated instruction based on students’ attitudes and prior understandings.  That would go a long way to ensuring the necessary safe classroom space for students to deal with these very sensitive issues.

Second, we need a few specific, thought-experiment scenarios that are accessible and designed for students to see and understand their own prejudgments as prejudgments about gender, sexual orientation, and behavior.  Creating those will be part of my work this summer.

Third, part of what we do in 11th grade American Literature involves questions of identity generally (including gender and sexual orientation, but also ethnic and racial, religious, and economic class) as part of the larger thematic question of whether there is or can be any such thing as an American identity, and how that question is reflected in our rhetoric and in the history of our literature.  We can do more, and more explicitly, with gender and sexual orientation issues in fiction and in non-fiction texts, depending on the more general suitability of available texts.

Fourth, we English teachers tend to be pretty good about teaching the kinds of thinking necessary to write persuasive essays, but that usually involves showing them simply how to come up with reasons to support what they already believe – what I called in “Be Not Afraid” critical thinking with a prophylactic, taking no real risks with one’s own thoughts.  It is far more difficult and much more important in the big picture to teach the real critical thinking that goes into making the sorts of distinctions that elude some students in their views of gender and sexual orientation (not to mention other issues).  I should emphasize that while this might seem an excellent opportunity for inquiry-driven learning, I believe that in this and in some other contexts, such an approach often leads nowhere worth going, and would be or at least could be a willful evasion of the necessary and more difficult work.  We need to be able to teach students explicitly how to see the structures of these issues and how to see where and why comparative analogies either work or break down.

At the end of the day it is not our job to moralize with students about sexuality.  What I am describing here, though, is not moralizing about anything, but situating these issues in the larger context of careful, self-aware, and conscientious thinking, which really is far more difficult.All of this depends on how one conceives of free thought and freedom generally.  We are good at invoking those terms, often with a kind of messianic fervor, but we are not good at dealing with them, demarcating what they mean and what their practice involves.  It is a risky and challenging thing to tell students that it is acceptable to have an utterly free mind, unencumbered and unpestered by

All of this depends on how one conceives of free thought and freedom generally.  We are good at invoking those terms, often with a kind of messianic fervor, but we are not good at dealing with them, demarcating what they mean and what their practice involves.  It is a risky and challenging thing to tell students that it is acceptable to have an utterly free mind, unencumbered and unpestered by any expectation of belief, free-floating and happy over an absolute, existential void.

When I hear educators and policy makers talking about the importance of learning critical thinking skills, I know they are really talking about solving puzzles.  Not problems, because real problems can’t be solved, but just puzzles.  Aristotle called real problems άπορία (aporia), something impassable, meaning in this context tears or missing places in the fabric of intelligible reality itself, and philosophy then is the thinking of those fundamental problems.  Solving mere puzzles is important work, too, of course.  I want my vaccinations to be effective, and I want to know that the oil I put into my car’s engine really will last for 5000 miles.  But that sort of thing is not really critical thinking, which has nothing to do the kind of hard-nosed exhortations associated with the Republican Party about learning for the sake of gainful employment in 21st century factories and banks, or with the kind of chickenshit, milquetoast emancipatory proclamations associated with the Democratic Party about learning for the sake of finding meaningful work – in 21st century factories and banks.  Critical thinking doesn’t mean solving puzzles, or even solving real problems.  It means creating real problems where there were none before, tearing holes in the fabric of intelligible reality, pointing out that the clear path is really a dank and endless rabbit hole, that the emperor has no clothes and neither does anyone else.

How does all this relate to the discussion of immigrant students during the presidency of Donald Trump?  By tearing apart, not “deconstructing” but destroying, the notion and even the question of an American identity, so that at some point, finally, it may be possible to come face to face with the young woman or young man standing right in front of you without presuming to think of who she is or where she belongs without hearing her on her own terms first.  This is not what is called social justice pedagogy, although it can look like that and have similar effects.  I do not engage in social justice pedagogy because I do not believe in justice.  That is, I believe justice is a φάρμακον (pharmakon), a medicinal lie to mitigate the consequences of knowing that justice is impossible.  But the lie is in plain sight, exposed if we and our students simply have eyes to see it, and in doing so see each other in something like Martin Buber’s sheer, open, unmitigated confrontation between I and You.  That is heady, difficult work, but high school by definition ain’t the JV, right?

March 2017

Introduction by S.R. Toliver, Editorial Board Member

In an era where questionable facts are taken at face value, it is important that literacy researchers revisit how we think about various aspects of our world. In the article, Indigenizing Children’s Literature, Debbie Reese challenges writers, educators, publishers, and all who read multicultural literature to “read more history” and “use sources more critically.” She challenges researchers to conduct critical analysis of texts to ensure that the story being told about Native populations is nuanced, complex, and accurate. To prove this point, Reese uses the lens of new historicism to critically analyze two popular texts that are widely shared by teachers, librarians, and parents – Little House on the Prairie (Wilder) and Thanksgiving Day (Rockwell). Through her analysis, she shows that images of Native people in these texts could misinform readers, causing them ‘“learn” that Indians welcomed and helped the Europeans…that Indians were primitive peoples, and, that friendly Indians are those that fight with whites, against other Indians, but who, in the end, willingly leave their lands for whites” (67). Her call, to indigenize children’s literature, is far-reaching, and it is a call that researchers must answer if we are to change the narrative, even if it means acknowledging and challenging the problems in our favorite children’s stories.

February 2017

Introduction by Lourdes Cardozo-Gaibisso, Scholars Speak Out Editor

Literacy is more than reading and writing. It is inherently a political act, an inexcusable opportunity to examine and challenge structural oppression and questioning commonplace statements which shape our everyday lives. Literacy truly is a space to scrutinize our long-standing and enduring understandings about the world around us and how we contribute to the replicability of power, and the hegemonic take-over of languages and cultures.

This month, as part of JoLLE’s Take 2 Feature, we want to invite readers to revisit Sonia Nieto’s article Language, Literacy, and Culture: Aha Moments in Personal and Sociopolitical Understanding (2013).  Nieto walks the reader through her personal and professional experiences as a student, teacher, teacher educator, and a scholar-activist. Through a journey of personal realizations (Nieto’s aha moments!), the author argues that teachers need to become cultural mediators, navigating at the complex intersections of critique and hope.

December 2016

Introduction by Sharon M. Nuruddin, Editorial Board Member

As a language instructor who has designed and implemented online courses for university students, I understand that online pedagogy in language education is a critical and controversial topic. Bridgette W. Gunnels’s 2008 article, “Going the Distance in a Changing World: Distance Learning and the Foreign Language Classroom,” offered a much-needed critique of the lack of attention to the role of technology in world language education. Online language learning continues to be a highly-debated subject, but with a generation of digital natives, greater study of online pedagogies on the part of scholars and educators, and greater acknowledgment on the part of academic associations, online world language education is forging ahead. Here, Dr. Gunnels reflects on the past of online learning in foreign language education, and looks forward to its future.

A second look from author Bridgette W. Gunnels, PhD., Oxford College of Emory University

Nearly ten years have passed since the 2007 MLA publication on foreign languages and their role in the academy. My original article offers a critique of the lack of attention to the place of online courses in this report, as well as to distance education in general. In short, the article emphasizes capacity for successful completion of student learning outcomes via the intentional use of the following tools:

  • the virtual classroom via a study of Wimba
  • the new level of realia in the virtual setting
  • asynchronous discussion boards as a community builder

Going beyond the basic use of IT in the classroom made up the core of this article, by illustrating how instructional technology should be at the forefront of the conversation, not at the rear, seen as an ‘extra,’ or critiqued as an ‘innovation’ in the classroom. To date, nearly all of the major associations within the academy, including the American Association of University Professors (hereafter, AAUP), the Modern Language Academy (hereafter, MLA), the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages (ACTFL hereafter) and the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (hereafter, ADFL) have published statements and best-practices around online delivery of foreign languages classes and distance education in general. This is a generous step in the right direction, although the hesitancy around language learning online persists, and is a tremendous missed opportunity for L2 educators to drive the trend instead of consistently producing reactionary pedagogy that falls short.

My conclusions offer an excellent jumping off point to re-examine where we are ten years later.

Instructional Technology and the Future of Foreign Language Curriculum Development

Robert O’Dowd (2010) states in his article, “Online Foreign Language Interaction: Moving from the Periphery to the Core of Foreign Language Education?” that online intercultural interaction and exchange remains tangential to normalized instruction, although student demand of this feature has increased. The amount of time that students spend within online environments has also peaked, and the value that a professor attributes to this delivery must necessarily increase. O’Dowd is referring to the practice known as telecollaboration, which has seen significant increase as either an add-on to a primary instructor or as a form of primary instruction itself. Telecollaboration is made possible in part by the falling cost of software/hardware and IT in general (O’Dowd, 2011), which allows schools to have a greater number of computers open for student use. I would add that the increase of, and to a certain degree, the success of telecollaboration is due to the changing nature of our students.

Current foreign language educators must contend with a variety of realities that now present themselves to us each fall in the form of how a ‘typical’ freshman student operates in terms of transmission of course content. Being a digital native (Prensky, 2005/2006) is a given; today’s freshmen have been operating in the mobile environment since adolescence.  Smart phones and tablets (mobile technology in general introduced in 2007 with the iPhone leading the pack, the iPad three years later in 2010) are changing the way students interact, communicate and learn. All the CMS platforms mentioned in the original article (Blackboard, Canvas, D2L, and others) have mobile-ready applications; some of them are still not smooth but are in constant states of updates. Literature review of articles published in the last decade that center on mobile applications and language learning illustrate how again, pedagogy reacts to the trend instead of getting in front of it. A quick MLA Bibliography search generates 77 articles centered on mobile applications and learning, highlighting either a trend or a reaction to a trend, depending on one’s perspective.

The MLA has yet to recognize its role in Curriculum Development

To date the MLA has considerably increased its footprint in terms of its stance on distance education.  The 2001 report from the MLA committee on technology (reviewed and accepted again in 2014) includes a section entitled “Special Considerations for Language and Literature” that offers a rejoinder to the AAUP statement on distance learning that was published in 2001. Some of the language around distance learning points us to the general concerns that the academy wants to address:

  • Autonomy of departments or divisions to determine the suitability of online delivery for course content on an individual basis and stress the invaluable expertise of the faculty member for determining the potential value of online delivery
  • Responsibility of the institution to develop policy and procedures that protect educational objectives as well as the intellectual property of faculty who create new courses from traditional ones for online delivery
  • Stress the need for support (academic, clerical, technical) for the faculty members who are encouraged to offer these courses. This protection should extend to all faculty, including adjunct faculty, who often bear the weight of an institution that has turned to online or hybrid delivery as an intended cost-cutting measure

However, despite the nod to distance education, there was one session at the 2016 MLA conference that addressed foreign language delivery in online platforms, and it was titled “Productive Resistance Outside Traditional Spaces”. This is hesitant language around what continues to be a taboo topic, staging the argument around traditional versus ‘resistant’ modes of delivery. Again, I would stress that these statements are more curriculum reaction than curriculum development.

Education and Instruction are Vital to Harness the IT Revolution

ADFL and ACTFL are more in tune with what today’s students are demanding: relevant content delivered in a fast medium. ADFL issued a statement on best practices in hybrid and online language courses in 2014 that succinctly speaks to concerns around course management rather than pedagogy, although the document reads “Pedagogical Considerations”. Highlighting the difference between online delivery of other course content and foreign languages by contrasting teacher-centered online curriculum versus student-centered experience, this document does not sufficiently address the acceptance of online delivery or extensive use of IT as a primary tool/method of course delivery. The concerns are based solely in assuring that faculty has administrative support when a department decides to offer a foreign language course via any other type of delivery other than face-to-face.

At the 2016 ACTFL national conference, a conference that is historically very selective with a ~30% acceptance rate of panels and workshops, there were 82 individual presentations over three days; ranging from technology to distance learning best practices, hybrid and blended classes, going mobile for language learning; assessment of productive skills for online language learners. This group has shown that they are ready to take the lead in curriculum development that will inform the future of language learning in a variety of mediums.

In addition to the panel presentations and workshops, there are currently two special interest groups (SIGs) dedicated to this forum and there was one roundtable that spoke to designing successful inter-institution distance learning courses. This is a significant departure from ten years ago, and constitutes progress in this area.

Education and instruction are vital, now more than ever, to harness the mobile revolution. This requires professors to reimagine how students learn best:  visual culture, information chunks, scaffolding and incorporating a plethora of creative tasks that allow for the ‘mobile narrative’ that forms the baseline for today’s student existence. Our student learning outcomes have not necessarily changed; we still strive for linguistic and cultural competence, cross-cultural understanding and communication driven goals. However, as the ACTFL 21st century skills map (2011) for language learning highlights, the ways in which professors get their students to these goals must change.  The deep contrast between past and present pedagogies couldn’t be clearer. Advanced learners already deliver evidence of learning an L2 in a global environment (via social media, via self-produced videos/podcasts, via telecollaboration). Our educators must learn to mediate the process between past and present through our pedagogy in a way that gets both faculty and student to a win/win.

References

O’Dowd, R. (2011). Online foreign language interaction: Moving from the periphery to the core of foreign language education? Language Teaching, 44,368-380.

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership 63(4), 8-13.

Special considerations for language and literature: the AAUP Statement on Distance Education (n.d.). Modern Language Association website. Retrieved from https://www.mla.org/About-Us/Governance/Committees/Committee-Listings/Professional-Issues/Committee-on-Information-Technology/Special-Considerations-for-Language-and-Literature-The-AAUP-Statement-on-Distance-Education.

Suggested best practices and resources for the implementation of hybrid and online language courses (n.d.). Association of Departments of Foreign Languages website. Retrieved from https://adfl.mla.org/Resources/Policy-Statements/Suggested-Best-Practices-and-Resources-for-the-Implementation-of-Hybrid-and-Online-Language-Courses.

21st century skills map (n.d.). American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages website. Retrieved from https://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/21stCenturySkillsMap/p21_worldlanguagesmap.pdf.

November 2016

Introduction by Kalianne L. Neumann, Communications Editor

As a former English teacher and doctoral student studying Learning, Design, and Technology, I am constantly considering the role of technology in the teaching and learning of literacy. Schools have evolved rapidly over the last eight years, and technology is more accessible in classrooms due to a variety of technology initiatives (e.g., 1:1 and BYOD). In some of my own research on these initiatives, I have become interested in the tensions caused by the first and second digital divide. Sarah Lohnes Watulak and Barbara Laster’s piece “Technology stalled: Exploring the new digital divide in one urban school” highlighted what 21st century literacy learning looked like alongside the first and second digital divides present in 2008-2009. Their feature in this month’s Take 2 updates their previous work and encourages the use of technology for literacy-related purposes in order to overcome the first and second digital divide barriers that are still present today.

A second look from authors Sarah Lohnes Watulak and Barbara Laster, Towson University

In our original article, Technology Stalled: Exploring the New Digital Divide in One Urban School, we intended the title to reflect the idea that although the teachers and students in the urban elementary/middle school in which we collected our data had access to computers and (when connected) the Internet in their school, technology was primarily used in the replication of teacher-centered literacy instruction. Student-directed uses of technology were all but absent, as was the use of technology for production, critical thinking, or inquiry. The promise of technology to support meaningful literacy learning was stalled by a complex constellation of issues including access to a small number of classroom computers that weren’t always working; the mandates of making AYP under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law; and a lack of a shared vision among teachers and administrators for how technology can support student success in school and beyond.

Since we collected our data (2008-2009), the landscape has shifted rather dramatically on both the technology and policy axes. Mobile devices including phones and tablets have gained ground in a range of ways (Johnson, Adams Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, & Ludgate, 2013), with some school systems (including one of our local school systems) embracing a 1:1 computing approach, and others embracing the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement (Cavanagh, 2015). National policy has shifted away from the AYP mandates of NCLB, toward the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While the CCSS doesn’t directly address the use of technology to support content learning, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recently partnered with CCSS to provide teacher resources that highlight the ways in which technology can be used to support both the CCSS and the ISTE Technology Standards for Teachers and Students (Stoeckl, 2014). Even the definition of urban is being rethought, as researchers have noted that some sites that would formerly be defined as suburban have the characteristics of what we used to call urban (Schiller, 2015).

Given these changes, we wondered whether the technology barriers (the first digital divide) that we saw in 2008-2009 still exist in today’s era of mobile devices and mobile learning? And, if we conducted the study again today, would we see more technology-supported literacy activities that involved students in production, critical thinking, and creative inquiry (the second digital divide)? We asked in-service teachers in Barbara’s Fall 2016 literacy graduate classes to share their recent experiences with teaching with technology in the hopes of gaining some insight into whether the new digital divide is being addressed in urban schools. These K-12 teachers work in a range of settings but primarily public schools in four different school districts (including the district in which the original data were collected).

We found that there is great variability in whether these teachers’ school districts prioritize access to technology and whether there is any powerful, student-centered use of technology. In the less affluent districts, access remains less ensured. One teacher lamented, “Unfortunately, the technology is old and outdated, so it’s hard to integrate technology in the classroom.” Still, with one or two computers in her primary classroom, she uses them in literacy centers in which children get to choose which e-books to read (e.g., RAZ Kids). A middle school teacher in the same high poverty area uses tablets and laptops for semester-long social justice oriented inquiry projects but does not rely on support from his school or school district if the technology breaks down.

In another district, high school students are guided to start a Google Doc in which to upload all of their compositions—from English class, as well social studies, science, etc.—over their four years of matriculation. One high school teacher noted that “assignments that require document writing and printing can be completed at school, so students without laptops or internet access are not at a disadvantage.”

In two moderate income districts that have characteristics of urban schools, many elementary students are provided devices that stay at school. One of these districts has implemented a 1:1 mobile device program, and some of the teachers working in this district reported feeling supported in their use of technology: “We use the SAMR model to ensure that we are transforming literacy tasks. Our [technology integration] teacher helps us with this!” At the same time, the types of technology-supported literacy learning activities that teachers described are typically teacher-directed and not oriented to the close reading and expansive writing encouraged by CCSS. One teacher in that same district proudly explained that her district “fully supports tech integration to differentiate learning,” illustrating this point by describing how her students “access a program called iReady which levels them and gives digital lessons for their skill level.” In this example, there is no student-directed uses of technology nor use of technology for production, critical thinking, or inquiry. In contrast, another teacher of intermediate grades shared that in her classroom, “the students use technology to research, read articles, create presentations (PPT, wixie, etc.), and respond to questions (Answer Garden; Padlet).”  Here at least, students are supported in using technology for production.

Thus, it seems that anecdotally, the need to traverse both the first and the second digital divide is as extant in 2016 as it was eight years ago. In terms of the first digital divide, our teachers working in the less resourced districts have access to similar technology resources as those we observed in 2008-2009, while the more affluent districts have become more technology-rich, particularly in mobile devices. Unsurprisingly, our anecdotal evidence from these teachers supports well-known research suggesting that access to hardware and software alone does not guarantee powerful, student-driven, technology-supported literacy learning (e.g., Koehler & Mishra, 2009). Indeed, among our teachers, those with the fewest resources nonetheless used their limited technology for some motivating and vibrant student literacy learning. While the broader policy landscape may be shifting toward valuing the use of technology to support literacy learning—by infusing the CCSS with ISTE standards and integrating technology and advocacy across the new (2017) ILA standards—practices at the classroom and school level continue to be driven by the confidence, creativity, and wise choices of the teachers. It is incumbent upon us to support and educate teachers and administrators to perceive the possibilities and power of technology. By using technology for critical thinking, inquiry, and student-generated purposes, we can assist in a dynamic and positive leap forward in literacy learning within the 21st century.

References

Cavanagh, S. (2015, May 15). Many high school students bringing their own devices to school, survey finds. Education Week. Retrieved from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/DigitalEducation/2015/05/many_high_school_students_brin.html

Johnson, L., Adams Becker, S., Cummins, M., Estrada, V., Freeman, A., & Ludgate, H. (2013). NMC Horizon Report: 2013 K-12 Edition. Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium.

Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is technological pedagogical content knowledge? Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 9(1). Retrieved from http://www.citejournal.org/volume-9/issue-1-09/general/what-is-technological-pedagogicalcontent-knowledge

Lohnes Watulak, S., Laster, B.P., Liu, X., & LERN. (2011). Technology stalled: Exploring the new digital divide in one urban school. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 7(2), 1-21. Available at http://www.coe.uga.edu/jolle/2011_2/watulak_laster_liu.pdf       

Schiller, J. (2015). The new reality of suburban schools: How suburban schools are struggling with their low income students of color. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Stoeckl, S. (2014, December 24). Infographic: Technology maximizes Common Core success. Retrieved from https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=250&category=Set-the-standard&article=Infographic-Technology-maximizes-Common-Core-success

October 2016

Introduction by Nick Thompson, Co-Principal Editor

As I was looking through some of our past issues, I was struck by Suzanne D. Knight’s article, “The Power of Students’ Stories: Narrative Inquiry in English Education.” I have recently become interested in narrative inquiry, and it has always been my wish to work as a teacher educator. In this theoretical article, Knight argues for the value of using and analyzing preservice teachers’ narrative writing as a way to understand and form their identities as they navigate the difficult and often tumultuous path from student to teacher. Since we tell stories to make meaning of ourselves and our experiences, engaging in purposeful narrative inquiry has the potential to be valuable for teacher educators as well as teacher candidates. Moreover, narrativizing ourselves is not an individual process, and Knight explores how a person’s identity is, in part, the locus of societal norms, knowledge, and behavior.

A second look from author Suzanne D. Knight, The University of Michigan-Flint

In the article “The Power of Students’ Stories: Narrative Inquiry in English Education,” I made some of the following assertions:

  • It is through narrative that English language arts teacher candidates can explore their realities, thus leading to a greater sense of agency;
  • It is through the process of reflection that candidates’ stories become narratives;
  • It is through the interrogation of experiences that candidates discover how those experiences have shaped their beliefs and assumptions about teaching, students, and learning;
  • It is through the process of sharing narratives that candidates experience the power of the collaborative, as the building of a collective narrative works to support personal narratives and lives.

While my current work still reflects the power of narrative inquiry, reflection, and collectivity, it is within the context of place-based teacher education, a philosophy that both grounds and frames my teaching of pre-service teachers, as well as my research.

For example, instead of focusing so much on narrative theory as a lens for examining narrative, I currently am thinking about place and place-making and how place (natural, built, and socio-cultural) shape experience and narratives. Certainly through telling stories of place or narrating stories of place, candidates can examine issues of positionality in powerful ways. However, these new theoretical frames offer a way for candidates to more thoughtfully and intentionally include the narratives of their students. In other words, I am coming to understand that understandings of self are necessarily contextualized within the places we inhabit.

What I feel has been missing is how pre-service teachers might begin to realize and be increasingly sensitive to their students’ situatedness and positionality. How do we get pre-service teachers to move from a focus on their own perspectives to try and inhabit the perspectives of their students? To have greater empathy and compassion for their students? One way to do that is through narrative inquiry that accounts for place. Narrative inquiry that is sensitive to place can help both pre-service teachers, practicing teachers, and students explore and examine their memories of past places. Narrative inquiry within place-based education and place-based teacher education can then also help teachers and students to identify together how they might work to create new, shared places.

Because I did not previously consider how place shapes experience, my understandings of narrative inquiry were not as rich as they might have been. Places are socially constructed, not inherent givens. Even the natural world is not exempt from socio-cultural forces. In fact, systemic realities act on us without our awareness. Narrative inquiry grounded in places helps us to examine these forces, to better understand how they work, and to then respond to them. Through this response, teachers and students then create a community narrative, an idea I posed in the article. However, community can be understood in many different ways, and teachers and students are both part of multiple communities.  Place-based learning allows teachers and students to create a new community together around shared issues and concerns, and through that work, have the potential to influence and shape their communities outside the classroom.

What remains the same for me is the role of the teacher. As I said before: “Teachers do not ‘assign’ ideas or posit questions for the students to think about and then pull back and observe. Nor do teachers do all of the thinking and then make their thinking available for students to absorb. Instead, teachers think about ideas or issues with students and join in the discussion or dialogue alongside them. This is a different ‘image’ of what being a teacher might be all about” (Knight, 2009, p. 55). When teachers embrace the philosophy of place-based education (and when I work to create a tradition of place-based teacher education), they truly desire for teachers and students to work together to transform their communities, their local places. They desire to empower students, to create opportunities where their voices might be heard.

References

Knight, S. D. (2009). The power of students‟ stories: Narrative inquiry in English education. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 5(1), 48-58.

September 2016

Introduction by Maria Van Allen, Editorial Board Member

The partnership of community and classroom is an aspiration of many teachers. Community members offer an extensive wealth of knowledge that deserves time in the classroom, and Angela Wiseman’s piece featured in this month’s “Take Two” emphasizes their importance. In Now I Believe if I Write I Can Do Anything”: Using Poetry to Create Opportunities for Engagement and Learning in the Language Arts Classroom (2010), Wiseman recollects her observation of a classroom that is engaged in authentic poetry experiences provided by a community member, and what unfolds is nothing short of exceptional. 

A second look from author Angela M. Wiseman, North Carolina State University

When I was deciding where to conduct research for my article, “Now I Believe if I Write I Can Do Anything”: Using Poetry to Create Opportunities for Engagement and Learning in the Language Arts Classroom, I intentionally sought out  a classroom teacher who was bridging students’ community literacies in the classroom and where students’ experiences were central to the learning process. I was fortunate to document a partnership where a middle school teacher collaborated with a community member to teach a weekly poetry workshop in the classroom and to organize monthly poetry coffeehouses in the evening. My research was influenced by the notion of students’ ‘funds of knowledge’ (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2006). In the JoLLE article, I propose the idea that classroom literacy practices could be a mediator between students’ multiple worlds. My findings reflect how important it is to have classroom learning spaces that value students’ experiences and encourage socially supportive environments. Furthermore, students, community members, and teachers were resources for the curriculum.

As I have continued my research journey, I believe that the notion of “response” is more complicated and messy and this insight has expanded as I engage with children in various contexts.  When I reread this article, what stands out to me is the feelings of grief shared by Hector. I can still picture him on that day; he was often sullen or frustrated at school but when the teacher shopped to ask him what was wrong and he responded, the entire class heard him. Students expressed their concern for him when he explained that his cousin had died. Later, after thinking about the students and looking over transcripts, I realized Hector was not the only one who shared difficult stories. While my initial analysis focused on the curriculum and the learning and how it was inclusive of students’ experiences, this led to further questions about how students engage and respond in the classroom.  As I pursued this line of thinking, I wondered about what happens when students share difficult and unexpected stories. Collaboratively Kelly Wissman and I explored our experience with adolescent students, understanding their responses through the lens of trauma narratives.  Trauma narratives provide a basis for understanding how difficult experiences are disclosed and how this process of disclosure can be a way for a person to understand and reflect on emotions around an experience (Felman & Laub, 1992; Wiseman & Wissman, 2012). The process of sharing a difficult story is known as testifying, which involves both listening and evoking response. An important aspect of trauma narratives is that the process of hearing someone’s experience or testimonial is part of the healing process; if that experience is acknowledged and supported this can alleviate emotional pain. Analyzing the same data under a trauma narratives lens, Kelly Wissman and I (2011) explored how students narrate their trauma in school to open up spaces where students take “narrative control” , which we define as a “…way of using language to claim the right to name their own experience and shape their own understanding of traumatic situations and experiences” (p. 243).

I admire the classroom teacher, the community poet, and the students who created a supportive environment where they could write, read, and learn together. I ended the JoLLE article with a quote from bell hooks about how important it is to acknowledge the social reality and experiences of nonwhite students of all ages and how our pedagogy has to change for this to occur. Lately, I have been thinking about hooks’ notion of engaged pedagogy that includes what she terms ‘well-being’. As hooks (1994) states, “To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (p. 13). Certainly, sharing difficult stories opens up ethical issues and messy conversations which can blindside a teacher and bring up concerns about “how to handle” situations. However, the stories will not go away with silence. I am inspired by the wisdom of one student named Cindi who told us “…maybe, someone could hear what we say in our poems and they could do something to change that” (Wiseman, 2010, p. 29).  Change, healing, and support can start with respectful and careful listening to students. Valuing and listening to students, especially when they testify to their own trauma narratives, should be our top academic standard.

References

González, N., Moll, L. C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2006). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Routledge.

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge.

Wiseman, A. M., & Wissman, K. (2012). “We suffer more than you think”: Witnessing trauma in children’s poetry. In P. J. Dunston, S. K. Fullerton, C. C. Bates, K. Headley, & P. M. Stecker (Eds.), 61st yearbook of the Literacy Research Association. Oak Creek, WI: Literacy Research Association, p. 119-131.

Wiseman A. M. (2010).   “Now I believe if I write I can do anything”: How poetry creates opportunities for engagement and learning in the Language Arts classroom.  Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 6(2), 22-33.

Wissman, K. K., & Wiseman, A. M. (2011). “That’s my worst nightmare”: poetry and trauma in the middle school classroom. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 6(3), 234-249.

 

August 2016

Introduction by Jennifer Jackson Whitley, Co-Principal Editor:

Four years ago, I was sitting in my first-ever doctoral course wide-eyed, bushy-tailed, and scared to death that someone would figure out that I didn’t belong—that I was an intruder who couldn’t point out the difference between qualitative and quantitative research, let alone determine what a theoretical stance was. I knew there was a reason why I enrolled in the Language and Literacy Education program here at the University of Georgia, but that reason did not begin to become clear until I had the privilege of reading Grass Houses: Representations and Reinventions of Social Class through Children’s Literature by Stephanie Jones (2008).

This article stuck with me because it addresses an issue dear to my heart, one that I knew was there, but didn’t have the words or resources for as a young book lover turned undergraduate English major, and eventually, as a literacy teacher. When we read, we read the words of the text, sure, but we also read the context from which they were drawn; we read the world (Freire, 2000). Therefore, it is imperative that texts offer diverse representations—in race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and more—because if not, we push readers who do not fit a misguided belief of what is “normal” into the margins, silencing their beliefs, values, and identities.

Jones’s (2008) article unpacks representation in children’s books with a focus on social class. Despite an ever-growing consciousness of the need for diversity in books for young people, an overwhelming amount of texts show representations of lives that accurately depict only a fraction of the people who read them. Eight years later, the core message of this article still rings true, and I am honored to highlight it again for this month’s Take 2.

A second look from author Stephanie R. Jones, The University of Georgia:

Representations and Reinventions of Social Class: A Look in 2016

An unexpected entry point into social classed lives: Writing matters deeply

A first grade lesson on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer surprised me during a visit to a school in Georgia in 2013. The normalization of Christianity, and Christian holidays in public schools was startling after my move from the Northeast in 2007 when I joined the faculty at the University of Georgia. My gut reaction to situations like this lesson about Rudolph can sometimes be rigid critique, as my gut has been well educated in critical theories of resistance and opposition throughout graduate school and beyond. Fortunately, I also have a deeply curious part of me that thoroughly enjoys unpredictability and surprises, especially when they emerge out of seemingly oppressive practices. This is one reason, I believe, I could write the original Grass Houses article and see the brilliance in the grass houses we had created from the grass clippings in my trailer park home where others might have seen oppression. Perhaps this is the critical feminist ethnographer part of me that loves to learn and try to make sense of things—a part of me that has been cultivated through feminist scholarship and mentoring relationships in graduate school and beyond. Most of that cultivation, however, is accomplished through quiet practice, like the morning I walked into this first grade classroom as an invited guest to think about how the school might better support children (Latinx, Black, and White) from working-class and poor families.

The literacy lesson came after lots of talk about Christmas break coming up soon, Santa Claus, and presents—and the assignment went something like this: Write a Help Wanted Ad for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

And my mind went something like this: Oh dear.

But I remained quiet. Quiet and open.

The children, who attended a school that was near the 100% mark for students who qualified for free- or reduced-price lunch, were happily engaged and the teacher and I walked around squatting to listen to conversations and watch the brilliance of first grade writers unfold in front of us.

Their brilliance did not disappoint.

As their talk carried on, it also expanded and reached into the depths of their lived experiences that moved far beyond what their teacher had anticipated. Fortunately, their teacher was also practicing to be quiet and open.

“The ad should say it’s 3rd shift,” a child told his table where everyone agreed. Yes, Santa Claus flies his sleigh at night, so this is definitely 3rd shift work.

“Do they get paid by the day or by the hour?”

“Will they get paid for Christmas Day too, or just Christmas Eve?” the group couldn’t come to an agreement. Christmas Eve ends at 12:00 midnight, they could all agree, but perhaps the delivering of presents continues until daylight, which would extend into Christmas Day.

“Do they get more money for working on a holiday? That means they won’t be with their families.”

“Do they get more money because it’s night shift?”

“Who will watch their kids?”

“This job won’t last very long. They’ll have to find another one fast.”

The teacher laughed a little and seemed uncomfortable when she pulled me to the side and told me she thought they would just write an ad for a deer who could fly and had a red nose that glowed at night. This was all taking her by surprise and she didn’t know what to do about it. She relaxed when I told her that I saw them drawing on their deep knowledge about work, economics, and how jobs are advertised and received by adults who were seeking work. They were showing us what they know, and showing us that it’s not all that much fun to engage in a superficial task like “wanted: a glowing red nose,” but it was actually fun to talk to friends about how to take this Help Wanted Ad seriously.

In Grass Houses: Representations and Reinventions of Social Class through Children’s Literature, I wrote,

Unlike many busily scheduled lives in middle-class and affluent families in this time of children as commodities and “resume-making” beginning at birth, millions of kids live their daily lives in various kinds of homes and neighborhoods uniquely characterized by their humble economic affordances. Whether in homeless shelters, communal homes, trailer parks, modest single-family free-standing homes, apartment buildings, or in the basements of extended family members, kids’ and families’ lives move through sunrise and sunset and are filled with happiness, sorrow, pain, laughter, play, work, love, loss, stress, and leisure. And I want to know where their stories are. (p. 42-43)

These brilliant, racially diverse first graders found an unanticipated invitation for telling parts of their stories in the composition of a Help Wanted Ad for a fictional character. Their stories were not represented in published children’s literature available to them in their classroom, but writing has been—and continues to be—a powerful space where those both young and old from marginalized economic backgrounds can bring stories we’ve lived and imagined into the discourses available for ourselves and others (e.g. Jones & Shackelford, 2013; Shackelford, 2015).

Reinventing our responses to stories of classed lives

In 2008, when the original article was published, we didn’t yet know that the United States was in what is now called the Great Recession. Statistics tell us that nearly 9 million jobs disappeared, unemployment rose to 10%, and official poverty rates were as high as 15% between 2008 and 2012. Now, in 2016, public discourses assert that employment rates are up even if it has become normal to work multiple part-time jobs and independent contractor gigs; the most wealthy are doing better than ever, even if the poor are more disenfranchised with more children experiencing homelessness; more people are attending college even if they graduate with tens of thousands in debt and do not have enough security to live on their own.

In 2008, I was still receiving questionable looks and skeptical comments when I gave presentations on social class and education. Folks would occasionally ask me if I was the equivalent of the devil in the United States: a Marxist.

Public discourse has experienced a palpable shift, however, and talk about social class is everywhere you look and listen. Occupy Wall Street, higher taxes on the 1%, the “Fight for 15,” governors breaking unions, income inequality, temporary work without benefits, the fight against split shifts in low-paying jobs, a movement toward ending tipping in restaurants and raising the basic wage of servers to a living wage, the Affordable Care Act, free college for everyone, reimagining the end of homelessness, and even #BlackLivesMatter all have social class inequality and exploitation embedded at their core.

To be as clear as possible about this discursive shift, Senator Bernie Sanders ran for the office of President of the United States of America in 2016 as a “Socialist Democrat” and came very close to being the nominee of the Democratic Party.

The public discourse around class and inequality is being reinvented, as discourse has a tendency to do.

There is no excuse, in 2016, for educators to not have these—and other—social classed discourses on the tips of their tongues as they respond to children’s oral, writing, and multi-media produced stories that reveal deep understanding of social class and society.

What we still need to do, perhaps, is to give teachers “permission” for engaging in these seemingly taboo topics. It is clear who benefits when social class, income, inequality, and exploitation is presented as an “individual” problem: those with class privilege. When we understand that social class, income, inequality, and exploitation are collective problems we can move away from individual shame and blame, moving toward a discourse about systems that privilege some on the backs of large groups of exploited others.

Children’s literature continues to need a proliferation of representations and reinventions, but it’s not the only way classroom literacy will become more sensitive and responsive to issues of social class and lives lived on the margins of economic privilege. Practicing to be quiet and open to expressions of social class and reinventing classroom discourses to engage those expressions meaningfully will make a difference to individual children and influence our collective education for the better.

References

Freire, P. (2000). The pedagogy of the oppressed. London: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Jones, S. (2008). Grass houses: Representations and reinventions of social class through children’s literature. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 4(2), 40-58.

Jones, S. & Shackelford, K. (2013). Emotional investments and crises of truth: Gender, class, and literacies. In Hall, K., Cremin, T., Comber, B. & Moll, L.C. (Eds.), International handbook of research in children’s literacy, learning, and culture. West Sussex, United Kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell.

Shackelford, K. (2015). Engaging, examining, and exploring the phenomenon of social class at Pine Tree Elementary. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Georgia.

July 2016

Introduction by Nick Thompson, Co-Principal Editor:

In 2008, Jennifer C. Stone and Erika S. Veth wrote a manuscript for JoLLE that investigated the representation of gender norms in popular internet culture aimed at child consumers. Recently, The Pew Research Center reported that the percentage of smartphone users nearly doubled from 2011-2015, and the number of Americans who use their phone as their primary mode of internet access is increasing. This increase is especially prevalent amongst the young. The internet has insinuated itself into our pockets, increasing our exposure to it in all parts of our lives. Gender identity, representation, and equality has also increased as a topic of daily consideration in the past eight years, and it will certainly be foregrounded in America’s first presidential election featuring a woman nominee. The issues dealt with by Stone and Verth have become a more important to the country and education, so JoLLE invited Dr. Stone to reflect on her research and the issue of internet-based gender representation addressed in her article, “Rethinking the new literatures of childhood: Cultural models of gender in popular websites.”

A second look from Jennifer Stone, University of Alaska Anchorage:

Knowing my longstanding interest in children’s websites, a friend shared the new Barbie “Imagine the Possibilities” ad campaign with me last fall. The commercial showed girls in a number of professions—a professor giving a lecture on brains, a veterinarian examining pets, a soccer coach giving her (all male) team a rigorous workout, a businesswoman discussing a recent transaction, and a paleontologist giving a lecture at a museum. Each of these interactions was mixed with imaginative connections, such as the veterinarian asking a pet owner if her cat could fly. After each scene, the commercial showed nearby adults, charmed and amused by each girl. The commercial closed by revealing that each of the scenes was imagined play between a girl and her Barbie dolls, along with the slogan, “When a girl plays with Barbie, she imagines everything she can become.” As Burns (2015) pointed out, the commercial effectively dealt with Barbie’s image problem by (1) targeting adults and not children and (2) showing Barbie from the child’s point of view. In so doing, the commercial framed Barbie dolls as toys for engaging girls’ imaginations and developing positive self images rather than as bimbos giving children unrealistic body images. It seemed from this new campaign that perhaps something had changed with Barbie. The commercial promoted a message of empowerment from playing with Barbie, which allowed girls to develop strong self images and imagine limitless futures. Around that time Mattel also added new hair textures and skin tones along with three new shapes for Barbie, including curvy, tall, and petite figures.

When JoLLE asked me to take a second look at “Rethinking the new literatures of childhood: Cultural models of gender in popular websites,” coauthored with Erika Veth (2008), I immediately searched for the Barbie site to see what had changed in the past eight years (Mattel, 2016). I was interested to see how Mattel’s ad campaign and recent doll updates might have shifted the content of their website, as well. What I found, however, was that little has changed over the past eight years with Barbie as well as the other three sites. While the slogans were different, the product lines were new, and some of the activities and games were updated, the sites remained very similar in terms of cultural models of gender. Boys were still being encouraged to develop competitive strategies, engage in technologically-oriented activities, and build things, while girls were still being groomed to take care of domestic duties, develop their fashion sense, and participate in social events. I took a quick look at the Barbie site for any games that pushed beyond these cultural models, and I did find a few. A handful of games, including Amazing Architect and Ready, Set, Check-Up, were added that encourage girls to explore careers in fields such as architecture and medicine.  Even so, there were still many more games on the Barbie site that engaged children in activities like caregiving (see Potty Race), performing domestic duties (see My Dreamhouse), and playing dress up (see My Style Book). In short, while there have been a few changes on the sites, they were small compared to the radical rebranding that the Barbie commercial suggested.

Over the past eight years, a few significant technological and curricular changes have occurred, too, that intersect with popular children’s websites and media more broadly. First, smart phones, tablet technologies, and related apps started to emerge just after the original article was published. As a result, a parallel and overlapping set of games and activities from sites like Barbie have been produced in app form. As these handheld technologies are even more portable than laptops and other computers, such activities now have an even more ubiquitous presence in young people’s lives. It seems that now more than ever we need to be unpacking commercial texts like the Barbie site and related apps with children. Second, the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, which started in 2009, has continued to shift attention away from everyday texts like popular websites (to be fair, little attention was paid to such sites prior to the Common Core). While the Common Core has paid some attention to media and technology, the emphasis on complex texts and technology for locating and evaluating information continues to elide the importance of attending to “new literatures of childhood” like popular websites. Moving forward, I challenge educators to close the gap between technological shifts and commercial media strategies on the one hand and classroom curriculum and practice on the other.

References

Burns, W. (2015, October 29). Mattel reframes the Barbie brand in new campaign targeting adults. Forbes, Retrieved from http://onforb.es/1P7PbG0

Mattel. (2016). Barbie. Retrieved from http://kids.barbie.com/en-us

Stone, J. C., & Veth, E. S. (2008). Rethinking the new literatures of childhood: Cultural models of gender in popular websites. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 4(2), 21-39. Available at http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/rethinking.pdf

April 2016

Introduction by Rhia Moreno Kilpatrick, Editorial Board Member:

Erin Kearney’s 2008 article, Culture Learning in a Changed World: Student Perspectives, provides a fascinating discussion on the role of culture in foreign language education. Even now in 2016, the inclusion of culture in the foreign language classroom is sparse and often stereotypical or taught through little blurbs spaced throughout the language textbook. As Kearney discussed in her study, students not only need a more authentic inclusion of culture, but also want to hear about real and current culture that will help them better connect to the language itself. Kearney referenced the MLA’s statement that “more students will continue language study if courses incorporate cultural inquiry at all levels” (p. 77). Cultural knowledge intrinsically motivates students to want to learn more, to understand more, and become more involved with the language and all its facets. Learning a foreign language cannot be a robotic process of grammar and drills; students must be brought into the language in a way that interests them to pursue further education and understanding. Strong and authentic cultural inclusion and contextual instruction is the key.

A second look from author Erin Kearney, University at Buffalo:

In 2008, when I had the opportunity to publish a piece in JoLLE about student perspectives on the nature of cultural learning in their university-level foreign language class, the Modern Language Association’s 2007 report that suggested “new structures” and radically different frames for conceptualizing the content, process, aims, and organization of foreign language education, had just been released. The field has now had more time to digest and debate the report, and in that eight-year span, scholarship has also evolved to conceptualize the nature of the “changed world” in which foreign language education takes place in more and more nuanced fashion.  Most notably, Claire Kramsch has elaborated the notion of symbolic competence (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011) as a new way of thinking about the aims and process of learning in foreign language education, and recently, she has articulated the modernist/post-modernist tensions that characterize life in a globalized environment and that trouble the field of languages education (2014).  These tensions help to explain the persistence of some traditional views and methods when it comes to addressing cultures in language teaching, while at the same time we see teachers, students, teacher educators and policymakers grappling with a host of complexities and fluidities brought on by life in a globalized environment and that have specific impacts on the field of foreign language education.  As a result, we stand at a quite different place than we did eight years ago.

In my estimation, theory-building has come quite far as a result of the MLA report’s urging, and many stakeholders have stepped into the space it opened for discussion; yet, at this juncture, two significant challenges remain.  First, certain stakeholder voices are still quite underrepresented in discussion of what the cultural dimensions of foreign language education are.  These include student voices, but two notable exceptions are Mangan’s (2014) monograph on the goals of collegiate foreign language learners and the extent to which these relate to professional standards and Kramsch’s Multilingual Subject (2009), which also shines significant light on language learner and user subjectivities and perspectives.  Some conscious effort to tap into K-12 learners’ perspectives to complement some of the work that has been done in higher education would be most welcome.  Second, we continue to lack empirical studies that help to connect theory and practice about cultural dimensions of language education.  Ostensibly desirable outcomes and processes that theory outlines – such as developing tolerance of ambiguity or interpreting form as meaning or developing critical cultural awareness (to borrow from both Kramsch’s and Byram’s well-known models) – are often difficult to imagine at the level of instructional practice.  Envisioning a wide but concrete range of options for curriculum and pedagogy and then conducting empirical research that both documents and analyzes such options will likely be key in further developing foreign language education’s ability to actually cultivate symbolic and/or intercultural competences in learners.  This particular gap has been the focus of some of my own work in the years since the JoLLE piece appeared (Kearney 2010, 2012, 2015).  I remain committed to classroom-level and participant-focused examination of the cultural, intercultural and transcultural learning and engagement that takes place in foreign language education, and I remain hopeful that other researchers, teacher educators and teacher-researchers will continue to study and share with the field the diverse practices they encounter and engage in as they pursue objectives that make sense for foreign language education in a “changed world”.

 

March 2016

Introduction by Stephanie Anne Shelton, Managing Editor:

Mollie’s article was a result of her serving as the keynote speaker for the JoLLE@UGA 2014 Winter Conference.  Her article resonates as powerfully now as it did then, both during her keynote address and in the article’s Spring 2014 Issue publication.  In this article, Mollie and her participant, Jared, queer what it means to be a LGBT activist through personal and theoretical explorations of teacher and ally identities.

A second look from author Mollie V. Blackburn, The Ohio State University:

In the two years since this article was published, I started teaching at a high school not unlike the one where Jared taught in that it is a school where, in Jared’s words, “gay kids don’t have to be the gay kid. … where kids are not just safe, but safe and also free to do – to explore their interests and figure out how they want to contribute to the world.” As such, I have had students in my classes who have self-identified as trans and gender queer; I have also had students who self-identify as the gender they were assigned at birth but perform gender quite differently; and I have had students whose self-identifications vary throughout the semester we shared.

These students have taught me to address them always by the names they claim rather than the names on the roster, for example, but also to learn the names their parents’ use before talking with them.  They have also taught me to introduce myself with my name but also my preferred gender pronouns (PGPs) and invite students to do the same. This is particularly important for cisgender students, so that they might better understand that PGPs cannot be assumed. I have learned that just because someone said they preferred he/him/his on day one does not mean they might not prefer they/them/their later in the term. I listen for shifts in names and pronoun usage, particularly when students’ close friends address or reference them. I don’t simply start to use what I hear their best friends using; instead, when I hear a discrepancy between the names and PGPs I am using with those being used by others, I talk with the student being referenced and ask explicitly for their preferences. These students have also taught me innumerable ways of organizing the class that do not require that that any one student make some big gender claim for the sake of my limited pedagogy, including alphabetic by preferred names, numerical by birth dates, and stances on particular issues. I have learned to apologize for misgendering students. For example, I misgendered a student last year just after he came out as trans to me. I felt awful. That night, I bought him a trans-themed young adult novel, inscribed it with an apology, and gave it to him the following day, just before class. I am sure that my apology had something to do with the privileges I have since had with this student: to celebrate with him on his first day on testosterone and the day his name changed, legally. I am constantly learning to be more “thoughtful, kind, open, and aware of how [my] actions might impact” my students, and I have Jared and these young people to thank for that.

Blackburn, M. V. (2014). (Re)Writing one’s self as an activist across schools and sexual and gender identities: An investigation of the limits of LGBT-inclusive and queering discourses. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 10(1), 1-13. Available at http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/ReWriting-One%E2%80%99s-Self-as-an-Activist-Blackburn.pdf

 

February 2016

Introduction by Rachel Kaminski Sanders, Children and Young Adult Literature Editor:

Need an exciting way to engage your students? Look no further because Star WarsSpidermanAlly McBeal and The Incredibles are making their way into the language arts classroom. This article not only provides valuable information on the use of multiple literacies, but it shows increased student engagement by connecting popular culture with the analysis of literary elements in traditional text.

A second look from author Robyn Seglem, Illinois State University:

When co-writing “21st Century Literacies in the Classroom: Creating Windows of Interest and Webs of Learning” with my colleagues Shelbie Witte and Judy Beemer, we were very aware of the number of students we had seen stumbling through their language arts classrooms. Too many students were being asked to read classic literature that, in their eyes, had little relevance to their lives in the 21st Century. Thus, rather than developing their literacy skills through the reading and interaction of these texts, students resisted reading all together, often bluffing their way through class and assignments using online resources. Students—and teachers—were missing out on rich opportunities of learning together simply because students were unable to make connections to the material.

Judy first introduced me to the Spiderman metaphor during a Summer Institute hosted by the Flint Hills Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. While listening to her, it quickly became clear to me that students not only needed to make connections to learn—a fact I was already familiar with—but they also needed to be made aware of this need. By using the Spiderman metaphor to teach students about the power of making connections, we could empower them in their learning. And helping more teachers and students realize the power behind this simple metaphor was the impetus for this article.

Although I am no longer a middle or high school English teacher, I continue to respect the potential of popular culture as a vehicle for student learning. In examining the movies, songs, games, and other artifacts of youth and popular culture, we can help our students build their Spidey powers and make connections to the literature that seemed unattainable. Yet, as I continue my work with preservice teachers, I have moved beyond simply valuing these artifacts for what they can do with the classics to embracing their potential as texts in and of themselves. By working with teachers to explore the attributes of ALL texts—the old and the new, the print and the digital, the images and the sound—we can help students develop the critical literacy skills that will prepare them to consumers and producers in a world that continues to rapidly change.

Seglem, R., Witte, S., & Beemer, J. (2012). 21st Century Literacies in the Classroom: Creating Windows of Interest and Webs of Learning . Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 8(2), 47-65. Available at http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/21st-Century-Literacies-in-the-Classroom.pdf

 

January 2016

Introduction by Meghan E. Barnes, Principal Editor:

In the inaugural issue of JoLLE (published in 2005), Shirley Brice Heath contributed the following editorial outlining her vision for the journal. In her article she posed a few key concerns she had for the future of literacy education and the binaried ways in which many in education approach literacy and language. Part of her call for future JoLLE writers and editors was to challenge this binary and to bring together these two complementary fields. As a three-year veteran of JoLLE, I cannot help but consider how JoLLE has responded to Dr. Heath’s call for the journal to: “seriously and consistently take up some bold strategies to reshape the future of the field of language and literacy studies.” My hope is that you too find Dr. Heath’s editorial meaningful for your own work and consider the ways that current and future research can continue to reshape our field.

Heath, S.B. (2005). Guest editorial. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 1 (1), 1-8. Available at http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Brice-Heath.pdf

 

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