In fact this lesson just keeps coming back to me. Recently I catch glances of it in how my own perspectives and worldviews influence the meaning I encode and decode on the world. Yet my eyes were not always open enough to see my own bias.
Over the last few years I have been involved in many open learning experiences on the Web. We try out new things and learn out loud. It’s what Henry Jenkins has defined as participatory culture and what Mimi Ito has organized around an emerging perspective of connected learning. In my last foray into open learning I joined a bunch of others socially reading of “Participatory Culture in a Networked Era” written by Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd.
Henry Jenkins early in the first chapter defined participatory culture as:
low barriers to expression and engagement
strong support for creating andf sharing
sense of belonging, safety, and value
degrees of social connections.
Mimi Ito then pushed back a little on the term exclaiming that in all cultures the actor is always participating in some activity to which Jenkins retorted, “different configurations of culture invite or enable different degrees of participation.”
Culture, Worldviews, Comprehension
That got me thinking. Much of chapter one overall was a debate on the role of the individual versus the collective. Early in the first chapter boyd and Jenkins were debating the finer points of Kantian liberalism when Mimi Ito interjected about the influence of our mindsets. Mimi stated:
This whole issue of opposing the individual to a collective is a uniquely Western pre-occupation that gets in the way of productive social change. As someone who identifies culturally as more Japanese, I never understood why the fulfillment of the collective is thought of as a sacrifice of the individual or individuality.
As I have become much more engaged around the participatory culture of those who want to help others read, write, and participate on the Web I have been exposed to many different perspectives such as Ito’s. In fact Mikko Kontto, who helped us shape the Web Literacy Map, turned me on to the fact that were was no word for argumentative writing in the Finnish language let alone the curriculum.
Here we are in the states and the most critical component of our curriculum, maybe our national identity, doesn’t exist in one of the most lauded school systems in the world. Mainly because it does not exist in the culture.
So through the act of participating I took on a more inclusive mindset. Being exposed to different ontological systems from across the globe makes me a better person. Ans the examples just keep coming
Then later today I was introduced to the term Ikigai. Someone cited and shared the Wikipedia image:
It hit just as I was looking back on the quote from Ito and connecting it to what Mikko taught me. In many ways open, or at least my path towards open, is a reason for being. Atleast its good enough for now and one heck of a fun ride.
We had a wonderful call today. We have begun the process of finalizing the edits to ship version 1.5.
Listening and learning from everyone who joins the calls always impresses me. Today we returned to the spreadsheet and began to hack away.
We started with Marc Lusser summarizing everyone’s general concern with the Connecting strand. Simply too much overlap and unobservable outcomes. The group decided to hold off on addressing this bug and focused mainly on the Designing for the web competency.
The competencies are now locked in this release. We are now finalizing the skills. In other words We will do our best to make sure skills fall in only one bucket for V 1.5 but won’t change the buckets until V 2.0. So for example in Connecting we will try to make sure the skills are differentiated and observable under each competency.
Turning to Designing for the Web
As a reminder this competency, “designing for the web” was split from accessibility to strengthen the weight of each. The design element of the map always felt inadequate, and if the web will be open to all it must also be accessible to all. We had scoped accessibility well, but we didn’t get at what design meant.
Doug, Jamie, and I had a wonderful conversation over on the git issue. Then Cassie came in and dropped some deep knowledge on us from a designer’s perspective. Doug summed it up as:
Thanks @cassiemc! Really useful to think through the different types of design. Just to pull them out of your comment, they were:
Interaction design(user interface and sometimes html/css)
User experience design(the overall emotional and practical journey through an experience)
As we were revising the designing for the web competency today I kept those words and LRA feedback about aesthetics in my thoughts.
I think we got close on the competency:
Designing for the Web
Enhancing visual aesthetics and user experiences
Using CSS properties to change the style and layout of a Web page
Demonstrating the difference between inline, embedded and external CSS
Improving user experiences through feedback and iteration
Creating device-agnostic web resources
To test this theory out I decided to go apply the skills to the work of a design team. I went and found Cassie’s great blog posts on her teams irl meetings. I then read her reflections and tried to annotate the post using the skills and looking for holes.
An unknown is where should interaction design live? We left it out of designing for the web because it is in the definition of the competency of coding/scripting: creating interactive experience on the web. Should interaction move under design? Is it the wrong modifier for experiences under coding?
Much of Cassie’s post stressed the importance of user testing in the design process. I think we captured that well:
I do wonder if we are only improving for user experience. There is so much more we can improve upon through feedback and iteration. Maybe user feedback is only one type?
Maybe iteration should be separated out into it’s own skill. That is one thing we did not capture. When you watch the slide show Cassie posted you see iterative design in situ. Do we need a skill to speak to this process?
We also revised the screen size, mobile vs desktop skill. Looking at what the team is cooking up I think we wrote a skill to match
I didn’t annotate for the first two skills about CSS but they are all over the pictures and the aesthetic last step. It’s interesting that such talented artist consider this their last step. When you watch the slide show you see design influencing every step of the way.
Looking Forward to Connecting
One of the major take aways from the last two weeks of calls was the need to address the Connecting Strand (which is why I threw out a click-baitish title last week). There is just too much overlap in the skills and ill-defined competencies. Plus we don’t get at the knowledge work teams do. Read through Cassie’s blog. We are missing something fundemental, though I do not know what it is or how to boil it down. We are going to hold off expending any mental capital on this until after v 1.5 ships. When we get there, though, I want to watch the spaces where Mozilla builds, learns, and leads in the open.
Exploring the competencies in the wild allows us to test the validity of the skills we try to identify.
The Literacy Research Association annual conference presents young scholars such as myself an opportunity to grow our thinking. You can challenge scholars, sit down with literary heroes and examine trends in the fields. It is home.
Each year the new president, who planned the program gets to host an integrative research review. The session, one of the most important o closes out the conference.
The panel included many of my heroes in literary research. First there was Palinscar, who helped to reshape the world of comprehension instruction with the work of Reciprocal Teaching. Anne Marie provided a wonderful literature review of comprehension strategy instruction. Then Maureen Auckerman reminded us of how strategy instruction is transactional and reviewed the research on transactional strategy instruction. Rachel Brown described the current backlash against strategy instruction. Koider Mokthari, reminded us that background knowledge is just as, if not more important as a mediator during strategy instruction. Finally Shelia Valencia noted that what counts as comprehension is culturally defined.
Why this Mattered to Me
Beyond the already stated that the four people on the stage have greatly influences my thinking as a literacy educator this session mattered because I can trace my academic lineage to the ideas of Reciprocal Teaching.
My doctoral work was completed under the guidance of Don Leu at the New Literacies Research Lab. I served as a part of a team who worked with a great cohort from Clemson under Dave Reinking. Together we developed and tested an instructional model of Internet Reciprocal Teaching that built off the early efforts in strategy instruction. As a 6th grade teacher I often used reciprocal teaching in my classroom.
Background Knowledge Matters
I have also been thinking about strategy instruction in terms of the caveats shared by the presenters. Background knowledge does matter. Knowing more is always better than knowing less and when you read a text when you are familiar with you do better.
Comprehension is also culturally defined. Knowing more isn’t just declarative knowledge. It is knowing the specialized language of discourse communities. Take Football for example. I enjoy American football and stay well read so I can be the smartest loser in my Fantasy league. My son is into the other soccer. For some reason he has fallen for Liverpool and wants to read up on games. I have tried to translate the articles from British but I struggle. I do not know the language of soccer fans nor do I speak British. Reading an article about a sport from another culture can be anyone’s Waterloo text.
This is true not is sports but in education as well. When Valencia was thinking I could not be helped to think back to David Kirklands work in A Search Past Silence where he documents the meaning making practices of black males. These practices are rarely recognized in school.
We live different literacies every day.
Strategy Instruction Under Attack
I also recognize strategy instruction is under attack. It was deliberately left out of the CCSS. Furthermore Dan Willingham, just published a piece questioning the efficacy of strategy instruction. I have yet to read the article but Willingham, while brilliant and approachable, is the fertilizer for the well written astro-turf of conservative edreformers bent on privatizing urban education. So the issue matters.
Strategy instruction is also not without issues. Rosenshine and Meister (1994) completed an in-depth meta-analysis and found effects sizes varying from .32 (using standardized tests) to .82 (using research created tests). Palinscar and Brown (1984) even noted the lack of transfer of these skills. I belive the wide variance in effect sizes is due to the small and meaningful bump strategy instruction has for our neediest readers, but for proficient readers we maybe wasting their time.
While the metaphor of mind as computer is not new I do not steal it from socio-cognitivists. I poach here more in line with the hacking and making communities that the educational psychologists. After all today’s Self-programmamble readers find themselves situated in contexts that constantly collapse across online and offline spaces and networked and unnetworked audiences (boyd, 2012).
Defining Self-Programmable Reading
The etyomology of self-programmable reader traces back to my dissertation. I tried to name a phenomenon building off a term I stole from Jenna McWilliams, “reading with mouse in hand.” As we moved to trackpads I remixed the term as “reading with cursor control.” I was trying to capture the comprehension monitoring and navigational skills I noticed in the most skilled online readers.
Rand Spiro challenged this construct during my dissertation defense. I had to go back and rename the construct, which of course meant reexamining my data to see if in the act of naming I messed up the “fit” on my evidence. I settled on strategic text assembly. This fit the comprehension monitoring I observed (speeding up and slowing down reading rate and more frequent scrolling) and my theoretical lens of cognitive flexibility theory.
Then came #ccourses (connected courses) an online community started by giants in the field of #connectedlearning. The objectives of the course were to try out and encourage the values and principles of #connectedlearning into higher education. In order to build up background knowledge for one of the makes we were asked to read (Castellas et al…Fix this citation)
It was there I was introduced to the term self-programmable learner.
and a new type of personality, the values-rooted, flexible personality able to adapt to changing cultural models along the life cycle because of her/his ability to bend without breaking, to remain inner-directed while evolving with the surrounding society
Another version of this same story comes from my friend and former BYTE colleague, Ray Cote, who runs his own software and consulting business. Over dinner a couple of weeks ago, Ray told me that he’s not looking for people who “know” one or another language or framework, but rather for those who can motivate themselves to rapidly acquire these and other contexts as needed.
These ideas morphed for me at #LRA14. I think we need strategic reading 2.0. It isn’t a set of practices good readers do in their head but the flexibility to make meaning in ever shifting contexts. A self-programmable reader can acquire and remix knowledge while traversing socially complex texts.
Self-Programmable Reading versus Strategic Reading
Self-Programmable Reading foregrounds knowledge building
While transactional strategy instruction accounted for the importance of background knowledge, in practice these strategies (deliberate goal setting actions) are often still taught out of context or with role sheets. The strategy and not the knowledge is brought to the foreground.
Background knowledge does matter. This is one of the the most stable findings in the history of reading research, but this maybe shifting. While those who know more about a topic will always comprehend more of a text a self-programmable reader maybe able to account for a lack of background knowledge. They can recognize holes in their knowledge and then know the right questions to ask and where to go to ask these questions.
Self-Programmable Reading is Production based
I am not the first, by any means, that comprehension needs to be production based. Peter Smagorinsky and Kristine Gutierrez have influenced my thinking here for a long time. More recently #connectedlearning and the focus on production centered learning has influenced my thinking of meaning making.
I agree with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey that text based talk and text based discussion are at the center of reading comprhenension. When you make reading a production based activities these two elements get intertwined. When students get involved in makes they have to discuss and analyze the text they read.
Self-Programmable Reading is Collaborative
If you are not familiar with the recent work of Jill Castek, Carita Killi, and Julie Coiro I implore you to seek it out. They have been investigating online internet inquiry activities in small groups and comparing this to individual readers. Suprise, surprise collaboration improves comprehension. This of course goes back to the original ideas of reciprocal teaching.
Collaboration though isn’t just about learning gains it is essential in digital spaces. Meaning making is not a singualr act. We do not mean strategy instruction. It is not about novice reader internalizing what good readers do. Instead it is more about strategy exchange. Self-programable readers use strategies like tools and fork them to meet their needs and the specific context in which they are reading.
Self-Programmable Reading Agency and Identity work
Agency matters in education and we do identity work when we read, write, and participate in the web. These values must be central for self-programmable readers to develop in their classroom. All the talk about lexile levels and text complexity in the #CCSS ignores this fact. The #CCSS only mention motivation once. To ignore motivation in reading is to ignore the sun in farming.
The debate around leveled texts is the same as well. Choice matters. Reading, writing, and participating give us the chance to try on multiple versions of “me.”…to be continued..and maybe actually edited someday.
Education reform should not remind me of The Great War. Yet I see a vast wasteland of vitriolic trenches dug deep through the annals of reading research. Battalions of reading experts have barricaded their positions behind barbwire as toxic tweets roll across a devastated wasteland of civic engagement.
On one side you have those who wrote and support the Common Core State Standards who argue for increased text complexity. These scholars and pundits latch on to the idea American scores on international assessments must mean previous efforts and documented research in comprehension must be wrong. They note that the level of text complexity high schoolers read has steadily declined since 1984 (interesting the same year the standards movement was born).
On the other side you have teachers who cling to their approaches to reading instruction. They reject almost anything that favors the Common Core State Standards. They draw connections from the Common Corse State Standards to corporate interests run by the oligarchs in the Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and ALEC.
In this discussion of text complexity and reading instruction both sides miss the single greatest shift in literacy practices in human history. As we evolve into a network society (Castells and Cardosa, 2005) we must recognize socially complex texts not simply lexile levels or instructional leveled texts.
Accountability Based Reformers
Accountability based edreformers believe we need new approaches to reading as our low PISA scores must prove that strategy instruction and readers’ workshop do not work (they do not mention what happens to international benchmark scores when you control for poverty).
Those on the more conservative side of edreform argue that along with text complexity we need to focus on building Hirsch’s idea of cultural literacy. They stress over and over again the role of content knowledge.
The accountability reformers have come out swinging against Caulkin’s flavored balanced literacy and readers workshop. They cite Tim Shanahan (who has argued against leveled texts long before the Common Core). Every time they testify before a state government in support of the CCSS the conservative edreformers stress how the CCSS require students to read the America’s founding documents over and again.
What they get wrong
We do know that after decoding ability background knowledge is the leading predictor of reading comprehension. (Paris & Stahl, 2005). Even early reading researchers from Gates (1931), Huey (1908), and Gray (1939) noted the relationship between background knowledge and reading. Content knowledge does matter.
Yet so does motivation and choice. In readers’ workshop students get some degree of flexibility in choosing what they read. Some edrefomers bemoan this activity and state it only works for the middle and upper class. They want a common read in the classroom. The idea that choice should only be available to those born in brownstones rather than those born with brown skin does not sit well with me.
We know that agency, engagement, and motivation matter when teaching reading. In study after study engaged readers outperform less engaged peers (Guthre & Wigfield, 2000). Yet the Common Core State standards do not mention reading for enjoyment. Not once. The standards do not cite motivation when selecting texts. In fact texts should be selected using some convoluted heuristic that usually just boils down to lexile scores.
We also know from three decades of research that strategy instruction works (Duke & Pearson, 2005). Yet many CCSS supporters attack strategy instruction as a vapid content free approach to reading comprehension. They have called for an end to pre-reading activities. They only want close reading which derives from a philosophy that views all meaning “contained within the four corners of a text” (David Coleman, author of the CCSS). Granted the effect size for strategy instruction (specifically reciprocal teaching) is much larger for less proficient readers than more skilled readers but shouldn’t that be an even greater reason to keep strategy instruction in our neediest schools?
Those who oppose a view of reading instruction that revolves around text complexity and lexile levels cling to approaches that level texts for students as part of instruction. To be clear this is not the only form of reading instruction included in balanced literacy classroom but it is part of the daily routine. These advocates cite the work of Carol Burris and Fountas and Pinnell.
In these approaches the teacher provides a mini-lesson (usually some strategy instruction) and then students go off and read books at their “independent level” while the teacher provides guided reading lessons at students “instructional level.” Students can choose their books, but within a limited range that is often dictated by a computer program.
What they get wrong
Students are more than a number or letter. The idea that choice must be limited based on how well a student performs on very imperfect reading inventories simply does not make sense. I have seen many students engage in texts well above their reading level because the topic is of interest. Like the accountability based reformers the opposition also discounts motivation (albeit to a lesser degree).
These educators must recognize the importance of building background knowledge and enculturating students into the discourses that are favored by academia. When instructional minutes are precious teachers may have to recognize that independent reading is not always the best use of time nor the fastest approach for developing background knowledge.
What They Both Get Wrong
Both approaches to text difficulty ignore our shift from page to pixel. The Common Core State Standards do mention technology and call for media skills to be taught across all subjects (CCSS, 2010, p. 4) but when you read the anchor standard ten about text complexity you will find no mention of new media skills or socially complex texts.
Henry Jenkins et al. note that “literacy is no longer a set of personal skills; rather the new media literacies are a set of social skills and cultural competencies, vitally connected to our increasingly public lives online and to the social networks through which we operate” (Jenkins et al., 2013 location 1177). We need to redefine text complexity to account for socially complex texts.
Socially Complex Texts
I define socially complex texts as concurrent arguments that unfold in print and social media with varying degrees of authority and amplification. Basically socially complex texts are authored by opposing perspectives discussing an issue often with equal passion and mutual disdain.
In order to make meaning with socially complex texts readers have to engage in network fluidity. These ideas often have a definitive volume, their is weight attached to them. In fact the volume of texts around any issue is limitless. Yet these texts have no shape. They do not exist in silos.
Take the debate around text complexity. It is a perfect example of network fluidity and socially complex texts. Readers may have to travel to a Fordham blog, read comments on the Bad Ass Teachers Association Facebook page. They might follow the #CCSS and #edreform hashtags on Twitter. Their RSS feed is hopefully diverse and includes both perspective. They may even follow citations back to Google Scholar.
Reading in Fluid Worlds
How do we prepare students to swim in the meaning found in such a fluid environment? We have to go well beyond the positions staked out by those who support and oppose the Common Core. We need to look at #connectedlearning. Through agency, engagement and academically focused interest driven production we can teach students strategic text assembly.
Reading is no longer a closed event. Especially when we are engaging in civic discourse and activism. Students need to know how to evaluate and try out different perspectives. They need to understand and develop routines for managing external storage devices and having access to the history of human knowledge.
If educational reform debate pigeon holes the reading debate behind the battle lines of text complexity, close reading, and content knowledge then we have already lost the war
image credit: No man’s Land. Public Domain. Wikipedia.
As an e-editor for the Literacy Research Association I am part of an amazing collaborative of folks trying to connect our work to classroom practice. In order to move towards this goal we have started a series of monthly focused netcasts. Each month we highlight a current issue in literacy research. This month we are focusing on academic vocabulary.
Twitter Introductory Chat
We begin each month by framing the issue using the #literacies hashtag. The preshow Twitter chat is held the first Thursday of the month. Four questions guided the chat
What is the role of direct vocabulary instruction vs. learning language through use in context?
What is the balance between “academic” vocabulary & technical or discipline specific vocabulary?
How does technology impact vocabulary acquisition?
What implications in instructional practices and principles should we consider?
The show is available via Google Hangouts-on-Air. This broadcasts the show live, which means you can watch the show live while it is happening…and ask questions. To get involved in the show, you can view (and ask questions) here. You can also watch it on YouTube after the show has completed, and share with teachers, students, and other educational partners that you believe would be interested in the topics, or the series.
The purpose of the Research to Practice series is to connect current research and “best principles” to what is happening in the classroom.
Twitter Follow Up Chat
Then on the third Thursday of the moth we have a follow up chat once again using the #literacies hashtag. This will be on 5/15 at 8:00 pm.
Come Join Us
The monthly series that the Literacy Research Association have developed can be very rewarding for practicing and pre-service teachers. We encourage you to watch past episodes. Most importantly please join us tonight (5/6) and use the twitter hashtag #literacies during the show.
As a teacher educator I have incorporated these monthly topics into my classroom. I know of school districts that now use the monthly series as part of personalized professional development. Whatever your purpose and goals I hope to see you there,