Friday, December 16, 2011

Hot Topics in Literacy Education for 2012

The International Reading Association's 2012 survey of 25 leading literacy scholars and researchers revealed the following "hot" topics in literacy education:

new literacies/ digital literacies
adolescent literacy
college and career readiness
Common Core standards
high–stakes assessment
informational/non-fiction texts
response to intervention (RTI)

early intervention
English as a second language/English–language learners
political/policy influences on literacy
struggling/striving readers (grade 4 and above)
vocabulary/word meaning

phonemic awareness

Finally, there's one topic that literacy experts strongly agreed that:


(Cassidy & Loveless, 2011, Reading Today

Sunday, October 30, 2011

AAP vs. App Gap

This month, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a press release warning parents and caregivers that babies and toddlers should learn from play, not screens. While I appreciate the pro-play stance, the AAP continues to frame children's interactions with media as "exposure"--a term that connotes radiation. However, the research cited in an AAP press presentation shows their concern is not medical but educational, focusing on potential harm to language and literacy development.


The AAP's pathologization of children's media consumption links to a narrow definition of early literacy that devolves to that which can be easily counted or measured. For example, in the AAP's statement, the quality of language interaction is defined by "talk time", measured by counting the number of words spoken between parent and child. In this view, language = words only. There is a zero sum game going on here where language/literacy development depends on attending to auditory information but making sense of visual information on a screen is a distraction. No semiotic value is attached to a child's reading of screen animation in this very passive view of children as language and literacy learners, media consumers, and technology users. P. David Pearson and Richard Allington, noted early literacy scholars, discuss the impact of similar constrained views of children's reading in a podcast on the Casualties of Policy on Early Literacy Development.

In contrast, educational research on new literacies now recognizes an expanded view of language and literacy. We've moved on from Back to Basics (Literacy 1.0 such as video flash cards) to New Basics (Literacy 2.0 such as interactive social media). Recent research on Literacy 2.0 shows that texts are moving from primarily verbal messages on a page to complex assemblages on screens that use many modes, including verbal, image, gesture, animation, etc. In fact, Apple is exploring gesture-based controls for technology devices (via CNN).


The AAP targets television only, taking an agnostic position on apps and iPads, citing a lack of research: "We just don't know yet." However, TV is the dominant (maybe the only) screen for most low income children according to 0 to 8 research by Victoria Rideout. This produces an "app gap" when young children in affluent families have 24/7 access to interactive apps where they can not only consume but more important, produce and share their own media texts while low-income families with young children are urged to turn off their primary source of media, including PBS and educational programming.

If affluent households provide abundant apps and low-income households are screen-deprived, it will once again fall to the schools to provide some sort of technological equity for young children. However, few preschool and kindergarten teachers currently have the resources to do this. Even innovative teachers who find resources face filters, firewalls, and no Facebook policies that discourage rather than encourage young children's use of new media.

To see a kindergarten that shows the possibilities of teaching with screens, check out the Precious Moments blog in my Blog List on the right. You'll notice that this classroom is not located in the U.S. Another indication that it's time for American policymakers to move beyond guilty-until-proven-innocent approaches to technology use in early childhood?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Think of play as a 21st century literacy

The definition of literacy is evolving to include multiple ways of interacting with, transmitting on, and navigating across screens and other media, including films, video games, and smart phone applications. We don’t just read and write printed words on a page of paper; we now blog, podcast, text message, video-record, photo-edit, and otherwise manage complex combinations of print, sound, image, and animation as we send texts across vast social networks. These digital texts are not individually-authored manuscripts, rather they are multimedia co-productions shared with an interactive and collaborative audience. We tweet for 140 characters but in larger conversations that reply, build upon, and echo each other in order to create shared understandings.

Play creates the same kind of shared and interactive text as children work together to create and maintain a cohesive play narrative. Whether playing house or playing school, all the players contribute to the emerging script. The ideas here are openly under construction as children work together to make a played text. Our kindergartners will be 21st century citizens who very likely will need to be experts at collaborating and inventing together...with literacies we cannot yet imagine.

In Playing Their Way into Literacies, I argue that we need early literacy policies that encourage children to play into their future literacies rather than policies that play it safe by shrinking the curriculum to fit the tiny bubbles on standardized tests.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Support of Giggly, Wiggly Lines

I've been listening this week to teachers of young children and watching them wince as they describe school orientations that insist upon correct procedures and regimens for talking, walking, and living in school. I was powerfully reminded of Georgia Heard's amazing poem...

Straight Lines

All the kindergartners
walk to recess and back
in a perfectly straight line
no words between them.
They must stifle their small voices,
their laughter, they must
stop the little skip in their walk,
they must not dance or hop
or run or exclaim.
They must line up
at the water fountain
straight, and in perfect form,
like the brick wall behind them.
One of their own given the job
of informer--guard of quiet,
soldier of stillness.
If they talk
or make a sound
they will lose their stars.
Little soldiers marching to and from
their hair sweaty
from escaping dinosaurs
their hearts full of loving the world
and all they want to do
is shout it out
at the top of their lungs.
When they walk back to class
they must quietly
fold their pretends into pockets,
must dam the river of words,
ones they're just learning
new words that hold the power
to light the skies, and if they don't
a star is taken away.
One star
by one star
until night grows dark and heavy
while they learn to think carefully
before skipping,
before making a wish.
--Georgia Heard

Here's wishing little children and their teachers a little wiggle room as they march single-file into new school years.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Critically thinking about new the university classroom and in preschool

Cathy Davidson shares some innovative approaches to university teaching and learning here that demonstrate the power in having students learn by producing digital media, not just by consuming it. Davidson's DML blog post shows ways to break down educational barriers that artificially separate readers and writers, consumers and producers, players and critical thinkers, as demonstrated by students who work in media production teams to develop key course concepts into online challenges for their peers. One of the many good things about this approach is that it taps into the digital resources and strengths that students already bring to the classroom.
This is true for early childhood classrooms as well. We can build on students' digital media knowledge and abilities by recognizing technologies as appropriate resources for learning and by allowing children to bring cell phones, digital toys, and popular media into the classroom. For very young children, we're finding that criticality begins with the understanding that a digital text was produced by people rather than somehow magically generated within a screen. Giving children opportunities to make and share their own digital productions helps develop their emergent critical understandings.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Teaching with and against Cinderella

Blogging and listening to Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. The book is a call to action for parents, to reject a pervasive princess consumer culture for preschool girls and at the same time support their children's pleasure and joy in playing and pretending.

Children are growing up in a world where it's possible to live in character, to be princesses from head to toe from breakfast to bedtime. Childhoods are immersed in transmedia, dense flows of consumer goods in media franchises such as the Disney Princess films that spin off DVDs, video games, and everything imaginable from mermaid toothbrushes to fluffy Cinderella slippers.

However, in my research on young children's pretend play and film-making with popular media in preschool and kindergarten classrooms, I'm finding that children are critical players and knowledgeable consumers of transmedia. Given opportunities to write and play with their favorite media themes and toys in school, young girls (and boys) find ways to twist and remake stories with princesses who take matters into their own hands and fight off dragons themselves.

The key seems to be play. When children have regular and repeated opportunities to play these texts, they don't take up the same stories but improvise and invent, changing their roles when a princess identity becomes too restrictive. When children have the chance to draw storyboards and film their doll play, puppet shows, or pretend dramas, they are put in powerful positions as authors and directors that encourage rewritings and remakings of the stories they love.

So it's not just a question of parents working to change popular media. Teachers can encourage children to make critical productions that still allow children to engage in the kinds of princess play so popular with their peers. By providing critical media curriulum that includes production with new literacies (film-making, podcasting, remixing, etc.), we can help children see that they have the power to reshape these commercially-given and widely-circulating princess narratives and rework Cinderella into more active and satisfying storylines.

But it all begins with making a space to play with (and critique) popular media in early childhood classrooms. And that means re-centering play as a valuable and necessary part of the preschool and kindergarten curriculum.