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Last night during the combined #engchat and #sschat some folks were asking m about how I use collaborative case studies to improve argumentative writing. Since my original post was deleted I thought I would try to recreate it.

First I am a huge fan of collaborative writing to support argumentative writing. Not because it is backed by empirical research (it is see Writing Next ) but because I know it works.

Increases Strategy Exchange
I am a firm believer that teaching isn’t about learning new strategies to read and write but it is a matter of building in opportunities for emerging reader and writers to exchange Just in Time strategies embedded in literacy practices. Collaborative writing allows for in-depth discussion, meaningful revision, and thoughtful composition over time.

More Efficient and Effective Assessment

Collaborative writing also eases the assessment burden on teachers. Much of my teaching is online and managing hundreds of post while reading twenty essays is daunting. Having students write in groups of 4-5 reduces my load.

The assessment is also more meaningful. I can look for growth not simply in the final product but using the comments on a wiki or GDocs I can see students growth through the process of writing.They leave comments to each other and I can look at these comments to see if student “X” understands supporting details.

New tools also allow for greater accountability. As teachers who have assigned group projects we have all had the pushy parent proclaiming their child was the only productive member of the group. Using the revision history we can show students how we track the work load.

Real Life Experience
We are all now familiar with the adage, “In the real world it is collaboration in schools it is cheating.” Last night during #engsschat folks, who had spent time in actual writing careers, commented that my description of collaborative case study reminded them of editorial meetings. If we are going to prepare students to write themselves into the world we need to build in opportunities for collaboration.

How it Works
I begin by giving my students a controversial issue or inquiry question such as is “Google Making us Dumber?” Then I give them multiple sources to consider such as the Cspan book talk  with Mark Bauerlein and Neil Howe debating “The Millennials: The Dumbest Generation or the Next Great Generation?”
Then in groups they decide how they will read the sources and compose a document. They then start composing on a wiki or gDocs.
I then sit back and watch the writing process unfold:
After taking collaborative notes the students plan their essay:
Then they draft and revise:
Finally they publish a piece:
Overall it is very effectice and I encourage everyone interested in supporting argumentative writing to give it a try.

Understanding Perspectives when Reading Online


I
hear it all the time as I spend countless hours watching screen
captures of students reading online, “This website is reliable because
it has all the information I am looking for.”


Why
have all of my efforts to teach students to evaluate websites been so
futile? I think it is because I relied on the most common approach to
teaching website evaluation: providing a checklist of strategies. I now
realize this approach relies on two fallacies when reading online: 1:) a
stable taxonomy of skills exists for online reading, 2:) metacognition
is an “inside the head” experience.

Decontextualized Reading


Creating
taxonomy of online reading skills, which can be applied as a universal
approach will never work. As fans of Gee and Street note, reading is
always a social practice. Using this perspective every inquiry task
students engage in is overlaid with the residue of contexts, culture,
relationships, and power structures.


When
we provide students with a simple checklist we are attempting to strip
away this context in search for a set of universal skills. Instead we
need to focus in on the practices of reading online while introducing a
variety of contexts that recognize how perspectives shape the words and
images authors use.


Metacognition versus Strategy Exchange


The
second fallacy is that metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is a
solitary act that happens in the “mind.” After spending the better part
of half a decade researching how students read online I realize it is
more about strategy exchange than simply thinking about what good
readers do.


Students,
when they are engaged in the practice of online inquiry, learn when
they can share, collaborate, and remix what works when reading multiple
sources. It is more of an issue of social regulation rather than
self-regulation.

Using Remixes to Understand Perspectives.



How can I focus on the context and engcourage strategy exchange? Like
most things digital I found the answer at NCTE. I recently had the
pleasure of attending my first #HackJam in Chicago this year; organized
by the National Writing Project and facilitated by
Andrea Zellner. At this event we were introduced to Hackasaurus, a project run by the Mozilla Foundation. Basically using their tool, X-Ray Goggles,
a Firefox plug in, you can remix any website. I quickly realized this
would be the an effective method to get students to consider perspective
while reading multiple online sources.


What
better way to have students look for markers or credibility as they
read by having them rewrite them into websites. My thought was to take
two opposing viewpoints on a contraversial issue and have students remix
and “flip the perspective”

Reading Remixes


For
example they could begin by analyzing remixes I made (in just a dew
minutes) and look for markers of credibility. I would send them to my
remixed
Vegan Action page and my remixed National Rifle Association
page. Then we would discuss which pages had a more effective message
and better markers of credibility. My students would realize that the
remixed NRA page used authoritative quotes, credible sources versus the
sarcasm on the Vegan Action page.

Ready to Remix


Then
I would have my students “flip” perspectives on a controversial issue. I
would first provide brief training videos (similar to this one made for
teachers):




Then
I would let students loose and work in small groups to remix two
websites by providing the simple tutorial tools provided by hackasaurus.


Building Better Digital Reader and Writers


This
project would have many benefits. Students would have opportunities to
exchange strategies without decontextualizing the reading. They would
work with the html code that is still the backbone of digital writing.
Finally they would understand how perspectives shape the words and
images authors use while building their argumentative writing skills.


Something wonderful happened today. I was speaking at the Connecticut Association of Administrator Mentor program and came to a realization:

For the first time I was able to hear a chorus of “We Must” instead of “We Can’t” when discussion technology and literacy integration. There were no calls of not enough machines or students too far behind grade level to worry about technology. It seems the critical mass of administrators in Connecticut understand the challenges students face in a multimodal world.

This is a monumental shift that I do not take lightly. I usually hear calls of overwhelmed budgets, resistant staff, cyberbullying. Not this time. It was great to work with a group of such committed folks.

After the talk we gathered to discuss some key strategies that administrators could use to implement literacy and technology in their district. I will do my best to summarize the issues, but I am sure I am missing some key issues. If you attended the talk please feel free to leave your ideas below in the comments.

Encourage Teacher/Classroom Websites

It was agreed that building a classroom presence is the first step teachers should take. As one participant commented, “Having a classroom website meets the needs of special education pre-teaching requirements and lets gifted and talented students work at their own pace.” It meets your differentiation needs.”

Building a class website frees education from the time and space constraints of schools, increases accountability, and provides a home-school connection.

We discussed the (minimum) types of elements that should be included: notes and objectives from lessons, homework and assignment calendar, a place to publish student work, and links to outside resources.

Encourage Teachers to build their PLN

Professional Learning Networks have greatly improved what I teach. We agreed that administrators must encourage teachers to seek out their peers on online spaces such as Twitter, Facebook, ISTE, NCTE Connected Community English Companion Ning, SMART and Mimeo networks, etc.

I shared some common hashtags for Twitter such as #edchat, #BlackEdu, #cpchat, and #edtech that teachers could use.

Require Hybrid Lessons

If educators are not teaching some part of their lesson online it is impossible to say school systems are graduating college ready studnets. According to recent Sloan Consortium Reports the majority of students enrolled in K-12 will take an online class in college. How can students be college ready if they did not take an online class in K-12.

We also discussed the benefits hybrid teaching approaches have for empowering students who do not always participate in class.

These learning spaces can range from gDocs to wikispaces to discussion boards. The point is students have an opportunity to build their digital footprints with faculty pointing the way.

Create schoolwide email systems

Much of the discussion focused on technology solutions. It was agreed that schools should adopt a schoolwide email system. There are many options out there such as Google Apps for Educators or epals.

We all shared a laugh about how many times an email we wrote is misconstrued. These discussions highlighted the need to include email writing in the curriculum.

We also discussed how email can help alleviate communication issues with students and parents

Have a published filter/unfilter policy

There is nothing more frustrating to a teacher who works all weekend long on a lesson plan who then comes in to find safe sites they need are blocked by a filter. We discussed how important it is for school systems to have a published filter policy that teachers understand.

The unblocking requests teachers file must also be returned in a timely manner with a clear explanation of why the site was or was not unblocked.

Invest more in PD than technology

We spent some time discussing funding issues and agreed that professional development was more important than capital purchases of equipment. You can have the latest and greatest technology but if your staff does not knwo how to use the tchnology to enhance their pedagogical goal the computers will gather dust or just be used to migrate worksheets into electronic forms.

We agreed that a good bench mark would be 50% of the technology budget should be spent on professional development and 50% shoudl go to purchasing.

One strategy shared by a participant was to give out limited resources to teachers who attend professional development or show promise in integrating technology into their classroom.

Have long term 1-1 computing strategy

Another issue we discussed was the choice between laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones. I do not think the technology matters. What is important, and participants agree, that schools should have a plan and place to reduce the computing to student ratio with a long-term 1-1 goal.

We discussed how publishers may start to underwrite tablets with the purchase of textbooks or allowing to access the Internet using smartphones.

Either way everyone agreed access is key.

Encourage and assess students’ digital footprints

This was the most critical step. I call it the end of milk crate grading. In fact cafetria staff across the country can rest assured that teachers will no longer need to “liberate” milk crates in order to lug binders and notebooks home. By teaching in online environments students can build a history of where they have been an point to where they are going. Teachers can then look for growth in content knowledge and skills not in final products but over time..all the while providing responsive feedback. To me that is the real power of technology.

I always feel so revitalized when I get back from NCTE. It is great to be around a group of teachers who truly get the paradigm shifts involved in new literacies.

I was struck by a question from an audience member during our presentation on supporting striving writers through non-traditional narratives. He asked if our work in digital narratives supported traditional writing.

I went through the normal caveats (well most measures of writing our single item assessments, what exactly is good writing, etc). I then concluded by saying instruction in digital writing has to improve traditional tools for communication but simply providing writing instruction using paper-based tools ca not improve important new compositional skills.

You see I am a true believer that real meaning is found in the negative space and not copy. Unfortunately most writing instruction makes learning about meaning making a negative space instead of learning to make meaning with negative space.

I came to this conclusion rather serendipitously. It was actually at my first NCTE conference in NYC. I was sharing a room with Doug Hartman, whose command of literacy theory always blows me away. We were looking to kill a few hours and shield ourselves from a blustery October wind. I read that the local school of design (not sure which one) was hosting a museum exhibit to honor Steven Heller, a man who has touched everyone of our lives with his art.

I realized before new literacies were on the radar those in the field of graphic arts had come to many of the same conclusion literacy theorists are still lumbering towards. I picked up his book Design Literacy. Heller writes:

True design literacy requires a practical and theoretical understanding of how design is made and how it functions as a marketplace tool as well as a cultural signpost, which takes years of learning and experience to acquire.

I came to realize exactly what the New London Grup was going for in terms of design and (re)design. We had to recognize that digital writing in terms of making meaning on the world is a process. We also have to stress the importance of design in digital composition.

That’s why I view Heller’s book as a must own for all ELA educators. It is not a how-to. It doesn’t go over different design no-no’s. Instead it is a collection of essays on important works of graphic art that have had an impact on history. Its a great read in the classroom or the porcelain library.

It is time to teach students about negative space and instead of making writing a negative space for learning.

I am excited by all of the interest in digital storytelling. Many wonderful colleagues are pushing the field forward. I finished Troy Hicks’s book The Digital Writing Workshop and just ordered Dana Wilber’s book Iwrite. These recent efforts are meeting the needs of teachers who all want to use multimodal composition to meet the needs of digital learners. These are exciting times.

I am a little worried, however, that we also need a pedagogy for teaching digital expository and persuasive texts to join such a strong emphasis on narrative storytelling.

Digital Texts

In almost every field students will need to create digital texts to inform and persuade. I recently read that IBM uses thousands of wikis for technical guides. Journalism is quickly shifting to online environments. Finally entreprenuers have to build a web presence using social media tools.

At the same time, however, I see very few schools preparing students for a world where they have to communicate information using digital tools. My hypothesis is simple. You can teach students traditional writing skills in online environments, but you can not teach digital writing skills in pen and paper environments.


During our Internet Reciprocal Teaching lesson many of our lessons were embedded in the persuasive writing curriculum (CT is one of the few states that actually cares about writing on state assessments, we came across many of the differences between offline and online reading. Our students were working on both their critical evaluation skills and persuasive techniques. We started with Mumia Abul-Jamal, a Philadelphia man whop has been convicted of murder. Some contest this claim. We started with the Wikipedia article and other expository texts. We looked at the text structure and design options. Next we looked at websites from both perspectives-guilty and not guilty. The students quickly noted the design issues such as image, font, and color the authors made.

We repeated the same lessons usings zoo’s. The students had to decide if zoos were cool or cruel. You would be amazed at how fast a picture of a sad monkey can persuade a student. They had to learn to read the images and understand design choice. There is no way these skills can be taught with paper and pencil!

Classroom Ideas
Having students research an issue and look for articles from a variety of perspectives is an importatn start. I wish we continued and had students use different writing tools such as websites, wikis, and blogs to create persuasive texts. The focus of the study, however, was on comprehension and not composition.

There are classroom ideas teachers can use. One of the most exciting ideas has turned into Ian’s dissertation study. He is having students create hoax websites (think the fake product lessons we have done for decades). First the students look at webites and develop a list of markers of reliability. Then using Iweb the students create their own websites with different levels of sincerity.

Another easy lesson, similar to our Mumia Abul-Jamal lesson, is to have students choose an issue and create a website to persuade. The final phase III lessons we did were similar to this approach. We had students choose an issue to make the world a better place. Sure many students focused on dress code and bad school lunches, but others addressed issues such as dating violence, drugs, and crime. The students had to create a website or online presentation on the topic. We began by storyboarding the websites and focusing on design issues. Only then did we actually begin to write copy.

Will it work?
Is my hypothesis correct? Does instruction in digital writing improve measures in offline writing? There is no evidence out there and it is a line of inquiry that interests me. Connecticut would be a unique testing ground. Persuasive writing eighth grade could be used as dependent variables in an ANCOVA model with 7th grade scores as a covariate. CAPT scores in tenth grade could be used for group differences. Of course I would have to make a measure of argumentative web design.

An important element to teaching critical stances necessary for deep comprehension is to have students develop “perspectives on perspectives” (Lankshear & McLaren, 1993 p. 33). One method to developing critical literacy online is to have students learn about the design of websites (Burbules, 1995). Having students select materials for a page, linking to websites, and using the affordances of web design to formulate arguments may teach both argumentative writing and online reading comprehension. The more someone knows how credible arguments are designed the more they are aware when it is done and when it could be done (Burbules, 1995).

As stated I would hypothesize that instruction in traditional argumentative writing (Fulkerson, 1996) would not lead to an increase on scores of a measure of argumentative web design or online reading comprehension, but instruction in argumentative web design may increase scores on measures of both online reading comprehension and measures of argumentative writing.

Conclusion

I do not want to downplay the importance of narrative writing as we discuss digital storytelling. I firmly believe that creative writing is key to improving technical, expository, and persuasive writing. In fact my favorite educational authors blend their genres. That said I am worried that a strong research agenda in digital writing is not developing as quickly as the research surronding digital storytelling.

Educators and researches have easily adapted fiction to teach online reading comprehension to students at all grade levels. Classroom literacy instruction often focuses around works of fiction and this may allow narrative texts to be an easy road for both the teacher and student to travel when delivering lessons in online reading comprehension. Educators can use interactive read-alouds and multimedia stories, plot analysis and video games, and collaborative writing and wikis to teach narrative fiction content.

Online Fiction and the Multimedia Learning Center

Maria De Jong and Adriana Bus (2004) used electronic books in kindergarten to introduce students to the features of hypertext. They found that students spent similar times listening to oral stories in electronic books as they did listening to adult read alouds. De Jong and Bus also found that the animations did not distract students from comprehending the meaning in the text. The students also followed e-books in a linear fashion while using hypertext features. In fact students did not fully explore features until second readings. This may mean students used animated features to develop comprehension beyond the oral text or used animations to support deficiencies in comprehension from the first reading.

Furthermore, Castek, Bevals-Mangleson, and Goldstone (2006) suggested using fiction to develop the dispositions students need for online reading comprehension. They suggested five activities using narrative content classroom teachers are familiar with: online read-alouds, interactive read-alongs, online story boards, and online book clubs. Students engaged in these activities will build offline reading comprehension but they will also be afforded the opportunity to explore the changing nature of literacy.

Learning centers play an important role in establishing active learning in early elementary education (Hohmann & Weikart, 1995) and teachers can create a multimedia book center to teach students the basic navigation of hypertext through interactive read-alouds. Fountas and Pinell (2006) identified six components to successful interactive read-alouds: selection and preperation, opening, reading aloud, discussion and self-evalutation, record of reading, and a written or artistic response. Each of these still applies to multimedia books, but they must evolve with hypertext.

First, there are many free and great resources online for teachers to select and prepare. For example, Storyplace, located at https://www.storyplace.org/storyplace.asp. The site has interactive multimedia stories leveled by student grade. The stories for preschool include text, sounds , and animations. Interactive sing-alongs are built into the story. The elementary stories give the audience more control of the tale by naming the characters and choosing the “hero” of the story. Starfall, located at https://www.starfall.org, has a wealth of activities for any level of early reader. The instructor should assist students in choosing multimedia books at the child’s independent reading level.

Second, while the software will take on many of the instructor’s role during the opening and reading aloud of the text the teacher still needs to define the goals of the center. The opening of an interactive read aloud sets teachers expectations and defines the students’ role, and if teachers are going to use multimedia book learning center these roles should be defined by the students. Furthermore the instructor should reinforce these roles before and during the reading.

Third, the discussion and evaluation of the text during a multimedia interactive read aloud should still focus on traditional text evaluation such as plot and character analysis. Students should make connections to other text they read. Learners , however, should also evaluate the hypertext features if they are going to build the navigation skills. Teachers should ask students about the animations an author included, how easy it was to navigate, and about any sounds or videos included in the story.

Finally, the record of reading and the artistic expression should also incorporate elements of online reading comprehension into the multimedia book center. The teacher should post links on her classroom website to any online narrative read by the class and include a summary of the story by the students. This summary could be written in higher grades or an audio recording in lower grades. This will not only share progress with parents, but it will build online classroom libraries outside of school. There is nothing more rewarding then encouraging students to read outside of classroom walls! Also the artistic expressions can be shared online. After reading a story students could use a simple paint program to draw their favorite picture or teachers could scan pictures drawn by hand. These images could then be uploaded to a classroom website and shared with the world.

Digital Fiction and Online Reading Comprehension

The combination of narrative elements such as character backstories, plots and symbols combined with play features such as fantasy and escapism make videogames an intriguing literary text (Squire, 2008). Video games are quickly becoming the new narrative and as the technology evolves these interactive stories become more autonomous with increasingly altering plots. For example millions of people interact in online communities such as World or Warcraft in a world defined by the actions of a player. Furthermore in games such as Jedi Knights of the Old Republic the plot of the storyline changes based on the decisions of the main character. Educators can expand on the multimedia book center and use the new narrative of videogames in the classroom for plot and character analysis.

Many simulations such as Oregon Trail, where students must successfully migrate West and SimCity, where students must manage a city provide opportunities to extend learning beyond the new narratives of video games. Video games provide opportunities to make connections using ICT’s and afford students the opportunity to think and reflect critically on the decisions they make during the narrative.

For example students can use blogs or other ICT’s to record their travels through the West or their stint as Mayor of SimCity. First students could be put into small groups and guide their family through the perils of western migration or work together to build their city. Then at the end of the lesson students could complete a blog detailing what decisions they made. For example, in SimCity students could blog about the tax rate they set, and to make the lesson more challenging teachers could have students write from the voice of a mayor responding to citizen complaints. In the Oregon Trail students could blog about the places they visit during their journey and the condition of the family, and once again this activity can become more challenging by assigning students specific family members. Students would then have to write from that point of view.

Each of these blogging activities can be expanded to include lessons to build online reading comprehension. Teachers could ask students playing the narrative of Oregon Trail to search for information on the Internet about families who traveled the trail. Students could then compare their families simulated adventure with that of an historical account writing a compare and contrast essay or a blog posting. Students could also read about the trials Native Americans faced during Western expansion and compare those historic accounts with the depiction of Native Americans in the video game for a critical literacy lesson. In SimCity students could research natural disasters cities faced and compare their outcome with the simulation. Students could also search the Internet for information about historical challenges actual cities faced such as pollution, traffic, and housing cost and compare those challenges with the game. These lessons not only require students to reflect and compare their experience in the simulation with historical accounts, but they will also require students to search, locate, evaluate, and communicate online information.

Collaborative Fiction and Online Reading Comprehension

Theresa Dobson (2006) explored the use of e-literature with older students. She took the opening paragraphs to Munro’s Love of a Good Women and then had students create their own hypertext stories using wikis, which are websites, which that allow multiple authors to edit. She found that none of the students’ stories progressed in a linear fashion. Using the traditional content of fiction, Dobson suggested that hypertext writing allowed students to adapt their imaginations to a more creative stance, and forced students to focus on more complicated narrative elements other than plot. She posited that this prepared students to comprehend the more complicated and complex narratives that are in print today. In other words, having students engage in an “activity” that highlighted the nonlinear language of hypertext, students developed the ability to further comprehend offline text.

In the classroom teachers can use a similar approach to teach hypertext fiction and as a pre-reading activity for a novel read in class. First teachers should sign up for one of the many free educational wikis such as https://www.pbwiki.com. Next place students into groups and set up a page for each group. Then read a passage at the beginning of a novel read in class, and post this passage to each page of the wiki. Ask students to expand on the passage by writing a short story predicting what the tale will be about. Students should be encouraged to use hyperlinks to words or background knowledge they feel the audience will need. For example if students are reading Armstrong’s Sounder they might want to have a link that brings the reader to websites about coonhunting. Other students may even want to expand on the nonlinear version of hypertext fiction and have hyperlinks that allow the audience to control the plot.

Teachers can also use collaborative writing to prepare students to write hypertext. For example students could be broken into groups and could use an online word processor such as Google Docs and Spreadsheets to write a story. Students could use these features to understand authorship of hypertext. First have students brainstorm the story elements such as characters, plot, and setting. Next have students create an online document using Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Then the students can begin to write the story. The authors could get feedback and critique from each other using instant messaging or email. Teachers could track progess of students by looking at the documents history to see who is doing what editing.

Using fictional content such as multimedia books and narrative games combined with instructional routines such as learning centers and collaborative writing may build both offline and online reading comprehension.

span style=”font-weight:bold;”>Is Email Dead
In a recent article, quickly making its rounds across the internet, Brad Stone discusses the emergence of mini-generational gaps when it comes to technology.

I agree in many ways. AOL Instant Messenger launched when I was in college. My peers quickly adapted to the new tool. I, however, was a latecomer to Facebook. It just wasn’t around, and once I graduated it was was still a tool for college kids. Nowadays younger and younger kids get involved in social networking.

Stone, summarizing recent reports from the Pew and the Kaiser Family Foundation, highlights the fall of email among the younger iGeneration. I think the major difference between email use of people in their 20’s and those younger boils down to one major factor: employment.

It is too early to tweet email’s eulogy to the world. Yes, younger students may prefer social networking tools, but email skills will still remain crucial for a 21st century workplace.

In fact, I believe that a dichotomy of formality is emerging between email and other social networking tools. When I was in junior high we were taught two forms of letter writing: the formal and informal letter. One used commas in the greeting and the other a colon. One was personal, and the other succinct. This is becoming true for email and social networks. Email has evolved as a place for formal communication and social networks have become the playground where email once swung.

The workplace will not eliminate email. It provides a secure and storable record of communication, allows for documents to be quickly distributed, and is easily supported by inhouse tech support.

I do worry, however, that as kids turn to social networks rather than email they will not be prepared for the workplace. Therefore educators must teach email skills and include these composition lessons in any writing curriculum

Email Skills

We have all been there, trying to decipher an email from a colleague and wishing for our little Orphan Annie decoding ring.
In fact, like me, many of us are guilty of mixing up discourses and ambigous messages in our email responses. We need to teach students how to email. More importantly, students must be provided authentic opportunities to use email.

Email skills:
Sending, receiving, and adding attachments-Not much more to be said about that.
Formatting subject lines-What is major purpose or the email?
Providing one or two sentence(s) summaries in beginning of email-State your organizational strategy upfront.
-Recognizing discourses for appropriate audiences.
RBU-Reading Bottom Up. A challenging reading comprehension task that involves students looking for an idea across a conversation.
Formatting-The easiest to read emails use formatting tools. Long messgaes may provide headings or bullets. Responses to questions may use different fonts or colors.

Conclusion

We live in an era where new literacy tools emerge everyday. Unlike the past, however, these tools coexist, they do not simply supplant each other like the book replacing the scroll. This provides a unique challenge educators. We must prepare a knowledgeable populous that has the flexibility to apply thinking to novel situations. One situation I am sure this iGeneration will face in the future is use of email in the workplace. Before we line up for the funeral procession lets make sure our students can attach the death announcement in an email.

The first stories we told tried to describe the unknown while developing a sense of the self with tales of great heroes, ferocious monsters, disastrous floods, and lands of unsurpassed beauty. For millennia, these tales were passed from mouth to ear. Then, as writing emerged the first stories ever written regaled the adventures of Sargon and Gilgamesh. Now with the flood of new technologies students can navigate the vast seas of information and enjoy the journeys of epic adventurers online. Folklore and myths, provide an opportunity to connect the oldest known narratives with the newest text to emerge, the Internet.

Technology has always acted as a catalyst for literary change (Leu & Kinzer, 2000), yet the ancient tales of oral traditions remain the same. As a result the same traits of mythological and folklore heroes first identified by early folklorist such as Edward Taylor, George von Hahn, and Vladimir Propp (Segal, 1990) have spread through the Internet. These yarns are no longer bound to cultural of physical boundaries. Audiences today have access to the written and oral traditions from infinite resources and many cultures. Readers can use these online resources to develop an understanding of mythology and folklore, which Dundes (1989) called, “crucial to establishing a sense of identity or senses of identity” (p. vii). In this weeks post I describe a mythology unit I taught that utilized the internet.

Looking back three years later, I see how the lesson not only introduced the affordances of the internet but also allowed students to develop and share their own voice.

Creation Myths

As teachers we can use narrative hypertext to introduce students to new literacies (Castek, Bevans-Mangelson, Goldstone, 2006). First, literacy classrooms have a strong focus on literature and this can allow children to dedicate more cognitive energy into the development of new literacies skills. Second, reading and writing online motivates students. (McNabb, 2006). Therefore, online narrative texts, like creation myths, offer opportunities for students to interact with ICT’s. Students can analyze an author’s use of hypertext features, and reflect on how their comprehension skills change because of digital texts. In order to do this in my class I had students read myths using offline texts, static webpages, and multimedia flash stories.

We began by first reading the Greek Creation myth in D’aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths . We discussed the myth and created an interactive storyboard. Basically I would retell the myth as we read. The kids loved when I, in the role of Cronus, would puke up my children. Granted I added plenty of green goo and audio effects.

Next we read Murtagh’s Common Elements of Creation Myths When previewing the Murtagh website with students I asked questions like, “Why does the author link words in her text to other pages? Which buttons did you use to navigate the text? Did you choose the hyperlinks in the text or those listed at the bottom? What caused confusion during your navigational choices? Can the author have made it easier for the reader to find the creation myths?” These questions had the student evaluate the decision the author made and lead to an understanding of how to effectively navigate online text.

Finally we moved from a static website with hyperlinks to ineractive multimedia stories on bigmyth.comThe interactive website https://www.bigmyth.com provides students a launching point for the study of creation mythology. The website, created by Distant Train and the International Association of Intercultural Education provides flash videos of creation myths from around the world. The videos contain animation, text, and sound while they retell creation myths from every corner of the globe. Along with each myth, the authors created a series of activities for students after they finish reading a myth. When choosing a myth students must select buttons that overlay a map of the globe. Some buttons, those in red, are free, and other grey buttons only work with a subscription. I started conversations with questions such as, “Why do you think the authors use a map as a navigation menu? How does geography affect a culture’s outlook? Why would the author’s choose to provide some myths for free and charge for others? Why and how did the author’s choose one culture for the free version and decide to include other cultures as part of a subscription?

After we had read texts using a variety of tools we discussed the formats and how they Internet changed reading for the students on a class discussion board.Some of their responses are below:

Thread 15 Posted by Mr. Mac
How is reading a a book different from reading a static website (no animation), and an animated website? How are your reading comprehension skills of predicting, summarizing, clarifying, questioning, and connecting used differently between medias. Compare and contrast.

In media myths (animated), static online myths, and books are different because they both affext how you have to think. For instance, in a book you have to read the text by yourself, picture the characters in your head, and
predict what will happen on the next page or two. In an animated myth you can have the computer read the myth to you or read it yourself, there are pictures and you don’t have to picture it in your head like when you read a book, you also have a variety of links on the web pages and you have to narrow down the choices that will help you, you have to predict what will happen on the next page that you go to just like when you read a book. When you read a static myth you can’t picture the scenes and characters in your head like you can when you watch a myth online, you still can have the
computer read the myth to you, you are also forced to predict the same way
you have to in the other media types. When you connect to the real world I
think that it is easier to do it in a book that you have to read than in any
type of myth online.

I think that reading a book is different than using a computer by that when using a computer you are more motivated to actually read and pay attention. Also, when using the computer your reading skills are different because you can read longer or shorter versions of stories, you can understand the stoy better when you have animated picttures of scens so you know what’s going on, and sometimes you can have a recording read the story out loud to you while you read along so, you can understand the story the way it is supposed to sound. In a book you only have pictures that can be sometimes complicated. and you have to read it when you might not understand it. Predicting is different because on a computer you have to predict what a page is going to be about, where a different page will take you, and if the information on that page will be important to you.In a book you have to predict what will be on the next page of the book. When summarizing on a computer you can use animated pictures and different pages or sites to help you, where in a book you have to use the detailed descriptions to help you. when questionning a book you want to find your answer in the pages and detailed descriptions of the book to help you where on a computer you have many differentways to find an answer to your question. A computer may be easier for most kids.

Reading a book is different from reading a website without pictures/animation because on a website you can take notes on a document and look up words, phrases, or things that confused you, or you ask someone. Where as, when your reading a book, you tend to just try to figure things out on your own using the text, instead of looking them up or asking someone. On an animated website you tend to use the animations to figure things out instead of using the text, looking it up, or asking someone. Your reading comprehension skills are used different because when you predict in a book you usually tell someone else who has read the book, or keep it to your self. You also predict on what will happen next/to the main character. While predicting on a website you predict where links will take you, what will happen in the animation, and what will happen next/to the main character. When you summarize a book you either write it all or self, or copy off the back. When you write a summary of a webpage, you usually
copy and paste it into a word document.

From the responses it is evident that many comprehension strategies do change as texts move online and that students prefer to have the tools of the internet available to them as they read.

Finally to measure how students understood how comprehension strategies evolve as text changed they created their own multimedia poems using PPT. The students had to pick a myth or God/Goddess not taught in class and create a retelling. The PPT had to include the myth, a family tree, use action buttons, include a quiz, and also prompt students to use comprehension strategies. I wish I could share the products they came out great!

Writing your own Creation Myth

The next part of the unit had the students write a creation myth for a fictional world of their own design.

Returning to BigMyth.com we explored the understanding that literature cannot be separated from its historical context. For example in the Inuit creation myth berries and animals are spread far apart to reduce over hunting. We also used the Inuit creation myth to explore gender roles. What are the implications when women are created to cure the boredom of man? Why is the woman the helper and companion of the man? These gender roles, along with other elements of culture, could then be contrasted to other creation myths.

The students identified common elements of creation myths from the list provided on Murtagh’s Common Elements of Creation Myths. They also contrasted creation myths. For example the Inuit myth was based on hunter/gatherer culture while the Incan myth had a clear connection of the divine right of rulers.

Next the students, using an adapted version of the graphic organizer provided by BigMyth.com planned a fictional culture. They then wrote a creation myth that this culture would believe in. I assessed them on the fictional connections between their myth and their culture (also on the hero archetype, but more on that lesson later. The stories came out great.

Fiction and Agency
More importantly than their content learning, what I loved the most was the expression of student voices throughout the unit. For example, Lauren (pseudonym), an adopted student of Haitian descent, wove the mythology she read online with her own sense of identity to further explore culture and identity through writing literature.

After spending time reading multimedia versions of creation mythology, Lauren created a fictional nation where the people had a culture that revolved around the sea. She, then wrote a creation story of a people kicked out of their planet who had to travel to another galaxy on a ship. On the way the boat crashed and became a new planet, which the people inhabited. In her brief myth elements common to her culture and identity are evident. The ship may represent a common theme from mythology she read, a connection to Haitian culture, it may serve as a metaphor to the greater African Diaspora, or build upon her sense as an adopted child. She used the Internet and literature to explore her own identity and, as a reader, make connections to the stories she read online.

Lauren’s adventure began by reading an online multimedia myth about the Voudon creation myth, which developed in Haitian culture. After enjoying the tale she went to the Internet and found many people discussing links between Caribbean mythology and African mythology. She became very interested in looking for connections between the myths of Western Africa, the myth she just read, and her own beliefs. After exploring the Yoruba creation myth she noted the common elements of water that exist in both myths. She then spent time comparing the Vodoun and Yoruba cultures and commented that it was nice to learn about “where she came from.” As an adopted child who did not share the same culture of her parents she used online literature to explore her sense of identity, culture, and place in the world.

Other students also expressed themselves through the creation myth unit. One student, who fancied herself a comedian, wrote about a haphazardous culture that worshiped a porcupine god (her world was modeled after Vail, CO) and everyone was ordered to constantly shop. Many of the boys chose to write about empire cultures (although it was hard to convince them that in a short story choose a battle not the entire war). These worlds often focused on adolescent ideals of sports such as motorcross or ATV’s.

Conclusion

I know this is way too long for a blog post, but I wanted to share this lesson. When I tell teachers I was studying common elements of creation myths and hero archetypes with sixth graders they are amzed, but my students loved it. Below is a list of mythology resources online. I haven’t checked the links so many maybe dead. Good luck and have fun using the oldest stories with some of the newest literacy tools.

Common Elements of Creation Myths
https://www.cs.williams.edu/~lindsey/myths/myths.html
A student created website that explores common characteristics in creation myths.

The Big Myth
https://www.bigmyth.com
A collection of creation myths from around the world retold using Flash movies.

Online Mythology and Folklore Collections Encyclopedia Mythica https://www.pantheon.org/
An online encyclopedia of world mythology organized by continent.

Timeless Myths https://www.timelessmyths.com/
A collection of Norse, Classical, Celtic, and Arthurian Mythology.

In Search of Myths and Heroes
https://www.pbs.org/mythsandheroes/
Companion website for PBS television show. Contains many myths from around the world and an overview of the hero archetype.

African Mythology and Folklore
https://www.mythome.org/Africa.html
A dictionary of African God/Goddesses and a collection of African myths and folktales.

Cutting to the Essence
https://www.fa.indiana.edu/~conner/yoruba/cut.html
A description of the West African Yoruba people’s Gods, arts, and mythology

Chinese Myths and Fantasies
https://www.chinavista.com/experience/myth/myth.html
An overview and history of Chinese mythology.

Crystal Dragon of Taiwan
https://www.cdot.org/history/chinese_myths.htm
A collection of Chinese myths and fables.

Greek Mythology
https://edweb.sdsu.edu/people/bdodge/scaffold/GG/greek_myth.html
An online dictionary of Greek Gods/Goddesses, myths, and heroes.

Greek Mythology Link
https://www.maicar.com/GML/
A comprehensive website with biographies, topics, stories, and Spanish versions of Greek Myths.

Mythweb
https://www.mythweb.com
A collection of animated Greek Myths.

Winged Sandals
https://www.abc.net.au/arts/wingedsandals/
An Interactive flash sites with fully animated movies, games, and many extras.

Hawaiian Mythology
https://www.ahuimanu.k12.hi.us/tqjr99/hawaii/index.htm
A website created by students at Ahuimanu Elementary School containing a collection of Hawaiian myths.

Indian Divinity
https://www.webonautics.com/mythology/multimedia/
An animated flash adventure detailing Hindu creation mythology.

American Folklore
https://www.americanfolklore.net
An anthology of American folklore.

Legends of America
https://www.legendsofamerica.com/
Comprehensive collection of Native American myths, American folklore, and tall tales.

Mexico Connect
https://www.mexconnect.com/mex_/cultureindex.html
A collection of Mayan, Aztec, and Mexican myths and fables.
Mythology of the Inca and Maya
https://www.yale.edu/ynhti/nationalcurriculum/units/2006/4/06.04.08.x.html
A collection of myths from Central and South America and lesson plans for the classroom.

Native American Mythology
https://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1998/2/98.02.02.x.html
A collection of myths from Native Americans and lesson plans for the classroom

Windows to the Universe
https://www.windows.ucar.edu/tour/link=/mythology/aztec_culture.html&edu=high
An overview of Aztec mythology with Spanish and English Versions and three reading levels,

As a sixth grade teacher I pushed the boundaries of technology integration. You know the type of teacher. They come in early and sign out the computer labs months in advance, they spend hours on building teachers websites, and they integrate digital texts into the literacy curriculum. The first two units I taught that focused on digital literacies centered around mythology and poetry. I just found it so rewarding to juxtapose the worlds’ oldest genres on emerging texts. This week I share ten ideas to integrate poetry and technology.

Too often teachers view poetry as unit of study. Its a two week assignment that has to be done. Often students are even worse. They view poetry with disdain, loathing, and fear. As an educational community we must share the idea that poetry is a text for life, not a unit of study. Technology provides an avenue for such an understanding.

Online Communities
The first place to start is to include a discussion board or classroom blog in your poetry units. In my classroom the poetry discussion page received the most monthly when compared to my other webpages.

In a class forum you can create different threads for specific genres of poetry. For example have a page for antithesis, haikus, etc. You can also create a spot for collaborative poems where students add a line at a time. Teachers will quickly discover the threads developing a life of their own.

On a classroom blog emphasize the growing voice of poets. Have each student create a poetry blog, or a page on their blog specifically for poetry. The young poets can add poems and others can offer feedback and advice using the comment features.

Poetry Mash Ups
Students will find mash-Ups, or the idea of taking content from many places as the ingredients in a new recipe, as a perfect tool for developing an appreciation of poetry. Using PowerPoint, Imovie, or Moviemaker kids can easily take an entire poem, a specific stanza, or even a word and create a new work. For example students could select a poem by a canonical author and then rearrange the words with images and movies found online. Then using one of the tools online create a digital mash up.

Twitter Poems
I never tried this as a teacher, but follow some wonderful Twitter poets. Having students try to write a poem in 140 characters or less is a great way to teach students that the power of words often resides in both their scarcity and in the silence between stanzas. First (bacause Twitter is blocked in most schools) print out some great examples. Simply search for #twitpoems or #twitterpoems. Then model with the class writing a poem. Finally give students a chance. For an extra challenge try writing Twiakus!

Lyric Hunt
teachers have used song lyrics for poetry instruction for years. The Internet, however, has given access to unlimited titles and allows students to find texts that interest them. Song lyrics are a great way to teach poetic devices and reinforce Internet searching skills. Simply challenge students to find examples of poetic devices in the lyrics of their favortie songs.

Found Poems with Google News
So many teachers bemoan our cut and paste culture. I say when it comes to poetry why fight it. Use Google News and the idea of found poems to teach students both poetry and the use of specialized search engines. Students can search out specific topics, take words from the headlines, and create found poems.

Respond to Poetry with Images
This lesson is always a hit with teachers (for materials visit our NCTE presentation. Basically you have students circle words in a poem that affect the meaning. Then they search the Internet looking for images that capture that meaning. Finally they arrange images on a tableau to represent the meaning. This is a great lesson that not only focuses on poetry, but also introduces the idea of design affecting meaning.

Xtranormal Slam
The folks at xtranormal proudly say if you can type you can make a movie. I always thought it would be fun to do an animated poetry slam. Students could write poems, then have their characters challenge each other in a virtual poetry slam. Xtranormal really makes it that easy. If you can type you can create a wonderful movie.

Multimedia Metaphor Poems
This is another lesson that students love (for materials visit our NCTE presentation). Basically students create an extended metaphor poem and use both words and images to share their poems. I found, when teaching this lesson, that often it is the images that drive the words, and not words driving images. It was a great way to introduce the idea of design literacy.

Internet Inquiry
Internet can also serve as a tool that establishes a community of poets that links to the bards of the past. Another learning activity that highlights the efficacy of the Internet as a text for traditional content while building offline and online reading comprehension is a comparison of poets and their work. Students can build online reading comprehension strategies while developing an understanding that poets and their writing are products of their time and environment. For example, a teacher could assign two somewhat contemporary poets such as Langston Hughes and Robert Frost and contrast the role urbanization had in their work. Hughes captures the jazz beats and tribulations of urban migration, and Frost writes in a style that resembles the windy roads he traveled to escape the city and recapture rural America. Students could search for works by these two authors, and synthesize their critique with information found on biography pages and history pages of the early twentieth century.

Doink Poems
The final technolgy and poetry activity I share today involves a great tool I was introduced to at NCTE. Doink is a wonderful collaborative tool for sharing, uploading, and using animations. Like xtranomral it is easy to use, but has many applicatio0ns. One of my favorites is creating illustrated poetry projects that involve animations created by others. Your students will love thins.

I had promised everyone a list of ten poetry and technology activities, but that will have to wait. Something more important and way cuter has come up.

My son (14 mo) recently decided that books are for reading and not simply for eating. Watching him interact with language has reinforced my connection to Street’s idea of literacy as a social practice.

Baby John’s favorite book is “Spot Loves hiss Daddy” by Eric Hill. While I would like to proclaim his love for the book is a result of pure favoritism that simply is not true. In fact, linguistically, John still uses mama and dada indiscreetly making no distinction between myself, his mother and a lampost. Spot Loves his Daddy just had a tale that wove in his first three discrete words: ball, dog, duck. He can recognize these words in pictures, real-life, and illustration.

This got me thinking about how comprehension and literacy is so tied to prior knowledge and past experiences. John received a ball for his first birthday and loves to play. We have two dogs: a border collie named Esteban and an Aussie mix named Thali. Finally my college roomate, on the day John was born bought him a set of bathroom rubber duckies. These quickly became his favorite chew toys.

It is very interesting watching his language and interactions with texts (in the writ large sense) evolve. Makes me think about the connections to the classroom. Teachers should question deficit models of reading and understand that literacy has more to do with language use and experience with Gee’s (1989) primary and secondary discourses rather than lack of skills.

I will keep you folks updated. Hopefully John will soon remember that books are once again for devouring and and that every word can provide a bitter taste or a juicy morsel.