Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A reflection on New Literacies

Online Reading Comprehension: Digital or New Literacy(ies)?

Regarding the use of the terms digital literacy singular or plural and the terms new literacies,my understanding of Hammerberg’s work points to an answer to the question of  of plurality or singularity in that one should question, the scope of the media, the culture involved and the type of media itself that needs to be examined for decoding, coding and fluency.   Hammerberg also sees that there are a set of assumptions that privilege certain media, primarily print media: “including, but not limited to, assumptions about (a) the power and necessity of a particular kind of print literacy…”  It would seem to me that such a bias would reinforce the hegemony of the world view of the most literate of cultures (who also happen to have been superpowers in the last two hundred years), Great Britain, Germany and the United States.  
Another reason for speaking in terms of plurality or singularity is addressed by Alvermann in which she makes clear that only certain types of studies are accepted in understanding literacy.  So I think it’s clear that the plural language and modelling is more accurate because the cultural and professional bias is likely to not to enjoy the reality that life is messy and the non-antiseptic approaches certain theorists take, like my LEAP scholar Brian K. Street are onto something with their multimodal receptivity to literacy however it comes to the open minded researcher.  Brene Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability is a good counterweight to the theorists and institutions Alvermann names as too selective.  Brown wanted results for her research that could be organized and put into a Bento box.  She discovered much more when the dust didn’t settle.

  • What are some of the things that some people believe are “new” about literacy and would you agree or disagree and why?
I think one of the most powerful demonstrations of the “new” is what Julie Coiro and Elizabeth Dobler identify as the shift in reading from “not only purpose, task, and context but also as a process of self-directed text construction (Coiro & Dobler, 2007) that occurs as readers navigate their own paths through an infinite informational space”  This is “intellectual capital” at a speed before unknown (I speak to the other side of speed later) but also in a most democratizing fashion.   Whereas banks “lend money into existence” our online reading generates new texts into existence and that can be done in the service of the common good.   
  • Is there any benefit to talking about these processes as online reading comprehension or digital inquiry, or does it create more confusion?  
I don’t think it makes more confusion to use either of these terms as they both describe processes that are unique in relation to each other and unique in terms of their outcomes.   Julie Coiro’s presentation at Medellin included enough statistical evidence and rationale one might need to rightly judge that online reading comprehension has its own form, its own set of challenges and its own opportunity for learners.  
  • Does the use of uppercase and lowercase ways of thinking about new literacies (as described by Leu et al, 2013) add clarity or muddy the waters?  Which term do you prefer and why?
I don’t think the two styles of naming this emergent discipline are problematic.  In a world that has as many institutions of higher learning as it does, we need to name complex realities with complex sets of terms.   The general principles listed as the main outline of New Literacies studies need to be enunciated by a group of scholars who want to think holistically and paradigmatically, hopefully with the willingness to adapt to what new technologies will bring in the future to fine tune or even invert assumptions.   It seems to me the terms New Literacies and the lowercase counterparts are analogous to the struggle Brian K Street and other ethnographically oriented researchers have with the more ivory tower type theoreticians.   Street and others like him are willing to do the same type of work lowercase new literacy practitioners do that ultimately inform.

No matter what you call them, do you think the online reading/digital literacy skills, strategies, practices, and mindsets outlined in your readings from Week 4 and 5 are more, less, or equally important for today’s students compared to those related to offline reading comprehension, vocabulary, and/or fluency (as discussed in reading from Weeks 1-3)? Please explain your reasoning. How might your new thinking about these ideas impact the way you design and implement your instruction of digital literacy and/or online reading comprehension?

    In order to answer that question I think it’s necessary to consider how little traditional reading students are doing today beyond that which is assigned to them by teachers.  My context again, is an all boys Catholic high school in the Boston area.   I have taught both honors and accelerated classes for the last seven years of my eighteen year career.  Students I have encountered seem to read less and less each year.  Asking them if they read anything during the summer for pleasure usually comes with the same answer in the negative.   So I think that it is equally important to learn these new skills as it is to learning how to succeed offline reading comprehension and fluency.   

    When I look back at Duke and Pearson’s (2002) list of practices of good readers I see a very impressive list of skills, ones I know are within reach of the vast majority of human beings.   But the New Literacies list of principles does not seem to recognize a single problem or trade off that constitutes the existence of the Internet.  Stating that the Internet is deictic is descriptive and not evaluative in any philosophical or moral sense.  Through certain moral lenses one could say that the Internet’s deictic quality is a form of relativism, where everything is dependent on everything else but there are no first principles where does that lead us?  If the Internet is just one vast semi-organized digital encyclopedia, that does fit into one model of Alasdair MacIntyre’s Three Rival Visions of Moral Enquiry:  Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition.  Is that a naïve assessment in that it does not take into consideration the power of certain search engines, certain websites and certain corporations to thinly veil their own intentions for such a large swath of humanity (considering the 2.4 billion figure quoted in the article by Leu, et. al.)

A second problem or dynamic not mentioned in the New Literacies list of principles is that accounts for spatial dimensions, and one time dimension “The Internet is this generation’s defining technology for literacy and learning within our global community.”  But never mind the dimension of a generation for a moment and consider the Internet and the instant.   And this goes back to my original point about my owns students.   Is the Internet good, bad or both, when it comes to instant gratification and fostering or reinforcing impatience in individuals and society?   I enjoy the benefits myself very much but I have had arguments with students who have been asked to use an online database with a peer reviewed article as opposed to just getting the first pdf of an article by someone who has an opinion and just maybe a scholar.    That being said, I’m not looking to design curriculum, lessons or that would exclude online reading, but I would want students to see that the whole continuum of media currently remains worthwhile in having exposure to and that more up-to-date online sources with multimedia embedded may do a good job in highlighting the static or stagnant information found offline in older sources.  My ultimate concern I think is not in the collection of data and how that may be highly efficient with access to the Internet, but rather that in taking to heart the work done by Duke and Pearson in formulating a clear set of human skills that absolutely crucial to strong comprehension, students are not given the opportunity to NOT take apparent short cuts in the acquisition of knowledge and skilled literacy.    While Duke and Pearson do not delineate the time required to master any one of the skills they list, it is clear that it does not happen in the same manner or same speed at which we can find plenty of content on any topic, issue or interest.  If there is a Slow Food movement  and some have argued for a Slow Sex movement,
Then why not have a Slow Online Read Movement that allows the traditional skills find their way through this kaleidoscope of online information.  
Alvermann, D. (2003). Exemplary literacy instruction in grades 7-12: What counts and who's counting. In J. Flood and P. Anders (Eds.), Literacy development of students in urban schools: Research and policy (pp. 187-201), Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Coiro, J. (October, 2013) Online reading comprehension challenges.
Brown, Brene. "The Power of Vulnerability." Brené Brown:. TED, June 2010. Web. 19 Oct. 2016. <>.
 Castek, Coiro, Henry, Leu, & Hartman, 2015) Research on Instruction and Assessment in the New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension.
Duke, N.K. & Pearson, P. D. (2002). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. In What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, 3rd edition. International Reading Association.
Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, Castek, & Henry, 2013. New Literacies: A dual level theory of the changing nature of literacy, instruction, and assessment

Monday, October 10, 2016

EDC 532 (URI, Fall 2016)

Introducing the work of BRIAN STREET!
Brian Street's literacy research is a practice of humility.  Thus it's no surprise when he relates his adventure practice to students via the Global Conversations in Literacy Research program that he includes the Buddhist story of the Turtle and the Fish. Street comments on that  tale and explains that the premise of the story about the impossibility of the fish knowing about dry land is analogous to the impossibility of the methodologically armoured researcher knowing about the actual culture or form of literacy already present in front of them in a different (and assumed to be primitive and/or inferior culture).  

When he describes his ethnographic studies in India, Ethiopia and Uganda, he is keenly aware of how he literacy practice and research needs to be bi-directional in order for him to not replicate the methods and agenda of  other “literacy experts”.  He comes close to painting such experts as Promethean miracle workers who visit cultures that need to be “made literate”.   If I had to pick one word that would begin to encapsulate Street’s methodology and scope of his discoveries, it would likely be the word attunement.  The best illustration of that attunement is his own narrative on teaching literacy in India in his ethnographic study. The interaction that inaugurates that study is Street’s own request to be taught his own name and the name of his own locality, Brighton, in the Indian language whose context he studies.

So one could find much overlap in the methods Street uses and the work of Paulo Freire as the New London Group of scholars, to whom Street belongs, is known for advocating social justice as one of its defining characteristics.  

While critics of Street and his group members may frequently say he has a methodology but no conceptual framework, evidence can be found to support the notion that Street’s conceptual approach is about correctly naming literacy skills (or to use true names, to borrow a phrase from American fantasy and science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin), not necessarily making them be principles or phenomenon that must therefore be found in the next round of research.      He does this in two ways.   

First, Street has made it a point of discovering or recognizing what he calls hidden literacies.  These are cultural cues, habits, and non-verbal, and unwritten behaviors that also carry a capacity for language fluency and literacy.     But when recognizing the nature of his work and his witty verbal demeanor these hidden literacies.  would probably be better to call them “hidden in plain site literacies” because of the preconceptions of researchers who tune out the apparently obvious distractions when seeking understanding.   Street’s approach clearly demonstrates how he is eager he is to invert that dominant methodology  and truly be attentive to the process of study by being taught by Indian women, examining the continued use of the three Ethiopian scripts (Latin, Amharic and Ethiopian) and the political prohibition of posting signage in Ugandan culture.   For Americans as a whole, the last decade or two seems to have opened up enough space in our cultural fabric to acknowledge these hidden literacies.  In popular culture that has happened with the film and the short lived television adaptation of Outsourced,  the story of an American call center manager Todd Dempsy/Tood Hamilton, who is relocated to India so that he can keep his job.   His interactions with his subordinates and neighbors reveal so many of these misunderstandings which are ultimately hidden literacies that would appear but trivial or primitive to the average North American.    The book American Veda: How Indian Spirituality Changed the World by Philip Goldberg has done much of the same work in helping readers explore the same theme and helps the otherwise skeptical Western thinker discover, oh, that seemingly odd or esoteric idea has been here with us in America and subtly changed us without our even knowing.  

His second practice and insight flows from the first.  Street stains out the over use of the word literacy itself as a catch all term because it has been used to include images and other nonverbal phenomenon.   He raises a pointed question on this topic:”Do we really want to reinforce the ominous implication-- already in the air-- that all intelligence and skill means correctness with letters and writing?” (Elbow)  So it appears that Street here again takes elitism to task and his thought seems to resonate with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligence theory in that it does not limit intelligence to the linguistic and logical domains, reduced in scope even further by the expression of that intelligence in text.  
Finally, in a rather symmetrical fashion to his affirmation of the local language is his criticism of the agenda of a scholarly consensus that finds its formulation and universalizing adaptation through the community of scholars (who of course are mostly found in developing nations).   So he has also raised a number of vital questions on this topic.  
"What is the reality of international co-operation in literacy?"; Is internationalism damaging to local cultures? How can the local be protected and enhanced by approaches of national and international agencies to literacy? How can international co-operation be promoted in such a way as to sustain local identity?” (Street, 1993)

The questions acknowledge the power relationships of those who would define literacy based upon cultures that manifest hegemony already in terms of linguistic, cultural and international politics.   

I am a social-justice oriented Roman Catholic theology teacher.   I find Street’s approach to be holistic and humanistic (in line with the Catholic humanistic subfields of Benedictine humanism and Ignatian/Jesuit humanism).   His critical approach in either presented personally in webinar form or in print does not make power the only dynamic in literacy studies and therefore fall into Marxist excesses or other ideological traps.  He seeks to illuminate the ideologies that are already there for the service of all human beings whom he clearly holds as equals.  


@GCLR_GSU. "Brian Street-April 27, 2014." Global Conversations in Literacy Research. Global Conversations in Literacy Research: A Series of Web Seminars H, 29 Apr. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

Elbow, Peter. Vernacular Eloquence: What Speech Can Bring to Writing. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. 344. Print.

Kelder, Richard. "RETHINKING LITERACY STUDIES: FROM THE PAST TO THE PRESENT." University of Pennsylvania, Graduate School of Education, 1996. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

Simbawonwon. "Outsourced Culture Shock." YouTube. YouTube, 16 Dec. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

Street, Brian V. "Autonomous and Ideological Models of Literacy:Approaches from New Literacy STudies." Media Anthropology Network. Media Anthropology Network, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

Street, Brian V. "Rethinking English in British Schools." Facultih, 27 Nov. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.

Street, Brian V. "What Do We Mean By "Local Literacies"?" Conference on Sustaining Local Literacies: People, Language and Powerh. Proc. of What Do We Mean By "Local Literacies"?, Reading, UK. 1993. 2h. ERIC: Institute of Education Sciences. US Government. Web. 10 Oct. 2016. <>.