Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Layers Of Literacy

For the last year or so, the freshman English subdepartment has been working towards a common experience for students no matter which teacher they have. At some points in our discussion, this common experience meant an assessment we all give, then it meant using a common language for writing and reading. We've distilled it down to a two-part end-of-the-semester project. One part is teacher-driven, consisting of a new piece of reading, a student-led discussion, and a written response focusing on some significant detail from the story. Part two is student-driven and will be in the form of a digital portfolio of work that shows growth in the freshman year. The current discussion has revolved around the platform for the digifolio. We have to decide whether the portfolio should be strictly text-based, or whether students should be able to also post multimedia work. This led to the question of whether or not we give the same value to this kind of work in an English class. And what value do other kinds of literacy have in an English class? How do we, as teachers, know quality multimedia expression? And how do we teach students to do it?

I'm excited to say that the portfolio, for my class at least, will be in the form of a blog. I'm imagining examples of work as posts, and podcasts as reflections on the work. I've also been taking digital photos of other kinds of assignments the students have done, like storyboards based on direct quotes, methods of characterization pictures, amongst other things.

But I've been thinking mostly about this question of valuing other forms of literacy. Is writing going to be pushed to the back in exchange for flashier expressions of thought? No. Because if we ask students to not just post their work as a virtual notebook but to interact with each other by commenting and responding, Student A might not know how to precisely express his/her thoughts in writing but can do it with a short video. Then Student B is asked to respond to A's video in writing. B can read the comment and begin to formulate his/her own written response after seeing how others respond to the video expression in writing. But again, we'll have to design rubrics for other forms of literacy and learn them ourselves.

The pictures at the top of this post are examples of student work.

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