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Using Media to (Re) Claim The Hood: Essential Questions & Powerful English Pedagogy

Digital Media & Interconnection 

This is a picture (taken with my iPhone) of a local hip-hop artist videotaping Detroit youth who are presenting their participatory action research project to my eleventh grade English class in a large, public urban high school.  My artist-partner from Detroit Future Schools sits with his labtop to transcribe the presentation so that we can return and reflect on the day as a class. Students take notes, some snap pics with their phones, and later- students reference such data in their debates, projects, journal prompts, or group discussions. In my classroom, digital media tools allow us to analyze, critique, challenge, and learn from the stories of our neighborhoods, the systems that mold and shape them, and the relationships that build and destroy them. Students bear witness to the power of using such tools to tell stories and share perspectives (as evidenced below), and are able to experience what collaboration, inquiry, and healing look, hear, and feel like. These are all important concepts for students to deliberate and immerse themselves within, especially if they wish to create the necessary capital to (re) claim their "hoods" and expand educational opportunities that result in stronger, more interconnected communities.

Digital Media and Capital

The ways in which youth and educators understand the role of digital media in creating capital is important, most especially within urban classrooms.  If youth engage with digital media as creators and consumers, but fail to thoroughly explore how such exchanges can and do create capital (whether social, cultural, or economic), then they are at risk in being left even further behind- as private interests promoting the commodification of literacy have largely failed in expressing a commitment to promoting new digital and media literacies in ways that genuinely help youth overcome poverty and inequitable conditions; they instead continue to institutionalize conformity and accountability at the expense of creativity and divergent thinking.  It is up to us, then- as urban educators, to create spaces where students are able to practice and employ digital and media literacy skills that will allow them to both thrive in an information-rich, high-tech culture, as well as maintain an allegiance to the health of their communities and their personal identities. 

Digital Media & Essential Questions

Framing powerful and intentional Essential questions, seems to be, for me- the best place to begin thinking about how we might foster this, as these serve as the "glue" of the curriculum. This year, as I discussed transformative teaching with my teaching artist and fellow Detroit Future colleagues, I thought about what needed to happen within class for students to be taken through a transformative process, how I might use digital media tools to aid this process, and what questions would allow for deep and meaningful exchanges with classroom and community texts.  Furthermore, I wanted students to have a humanizing experience with writing and literacy, and I knew that in order to do this- I would need to both de-school them on some level and focus on concepts that would incite curiosity and a sense of commitment.  Below is the brainstorm chart that Ammerah Saidi (program coordinator for Detroit Future Schools) captured as she listened to Issac Miller (my teaching artist) and I share our tentative plans rooted in the beginnings of essential questions:

These are the essential questions that grew out of such a brainstorming process:

Central Question:  What does it mean to be a human being? 

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 1: "What is the relationship between language and power, and how does that manifest itself in my life?

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 2: "What role does education play in the health of a community?" 

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 3: "How can I use my literacy practice to re-write (Freire) my world?"

Digital Media & tr@nsSpace

As we used these questions to guide our classroom discussions, interrogations of text, writing activities, and digital media practices, a new space was created, which I'd like to call "tr@nsSpace"- where students were able to use digital media to engage with a set of essential questions that allowed them to think about transforming not only themselves and the detrimental conditions that surrounded them, but also their experiences with school.  Data collected through interviews, extensive notes, transcribed discussions, and digital media images created by students revealed rich interactions with questions and a deep understanding of complex concepts that required high levels of synthesis and analysis, despite beginning-year standardized assessments that told me that 150 11th-grade students were functioning, on average, at a 5th grade reading comprehension level.  This tr@nsSpace was one that valued the individual and collective skillsets of students, and did not see them from a deficit perspective.  It instead sought to validate and empower the multiple cultural, linguistic, and social practices/identities that students "wore" each day across multiple spaces. 

While it was difficult, in the beginning of the year, to get students to even write a single sentence or read more than a paragraph of text, the persistence in pursuing the above questions and consistent use of digital media tools helped create a climate of rigour, relevance, and validation- students embraced opportunities to share their stories and to explore questions that meant something to them.  Now halfway through the school year, I believe in the potential of this space more now than ever before, as the ongoing and intentional commitment to using digital media for transformative purposes has revealed valuable information about teaching urban students in the 21st century.  It is mobilizing and healing, and my hope is that teachers, teacher educators, researchers, and the education community at large commits more effort to understanding how to replicate tr@nspace- especially within the context of equity.

Please read on if you'd like to see activities and practices that grew out of this space.

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Discussions About This Resource

nickbonnet's picture

While reading the article, I found the section on Digital Media and Capital to be the most powerful in terms of impact. As a current English education student, I have heard, and discussed many times the advantages of using Digital mediums in the classroom. Using student's skills in the technological realm is imperative for active learning and focus. However, embarassingly enough, I never considered using technology in my classroom as something more than just a means to engage my students interest in the subject matter. To me, technology in the classroom has always seemed like a way to prepare students for jobs and to create a flourishing social network with classmates. What didn't occur to me however was the fact that teachers need to approach technology with a third tier in mind: cultural capital. Without incorporating this element into student's learning, we are doing them a huge disservice. We are not preserving their cultural heritage; we (as teachers) are not providing learning oppurtunities in the understanding and acceptance of other cultures; we as teachers are failing to promote social justice and fellowship. As the author says in the article "It is up to us, then- as urban educators, to create spaces where students are able to practice and emply digital and media literacy skills that will allow them to both thrive in an information-rich, high-tech culture, as well as maintain an allegiance to the health of their communities and their personal identities." 

pappas25's picture

I completely agree with Nick here. If we're not using technology in the classroom, we're not only disadvantaging students in terms of their proficiency with new technology, but their expressions of identity. While you can create projects and assignments outside of the realm of technology, it's hard to find the same level of access to content and supportive material without the use of the internet. Students can work on a project about their identities and find clips from their cultural celebrations, or news reports on stories that resonate with them. The dominant identities that seem all too present in textbooks todays aren't relevant to everyone -- but technology is a tool that can help level that playing field, so that students from all backgrounds can learn about things that may actually be important to them, not things they are told are important.  

Cthompson's picture

Nick and Jacob, 

i agree with both of you that I hadn't really thought about expressing technology in the classroom as something other than a "hook" to draw my students in. Why should they focus on learning new technology in an English class; am I not here to teach the subject of English? After reading this article and doing a little thinking on my own, I find it a little disappointing that this is the way that I saw it and, more importantly, that this is how how most English teachers see it! If we start thinking of ourselves as literacy specialists, attempting to bridge the gap so that our students can read the world, I think that we can really start to make leaps and bounds in teaching our students critical thinking and critical consumption. Two questions: is it feasible to integrate other subjects into this quest for greater digital literacy? And how can we Make sure not to privilege certain forms of digital integration over others? Should we be doing that?

kaludwig's picture

As others have commented, it has always seemed as though the use of tech tools has been either at a practical level-how to actually use the applications-or as a hook or gimmick to engage the students.  At the core of the rationale in this type of learning environment is that we are dealing with universal questions about humanity, community and education, but the circumstances of the students are anything but universal or conventional.  If we are coming in with the assumption (or reality) that these students are not digitally literate and have not been engaged well in the traditional classroom environment, then there almost needs to be a unique environment in which they can approach these issues of humanity, power, etc.  The fact they are given genuine skills to keep up with a information-rich, high-tech culture empowers them to also "step up" and approach a conversation that seemed out of their realm.

bjeagan's picture

It seems that the schools most in need of a boost in literacy are also often the poorest.  How can teachers lead economically challenged students to the opportunities to develop these skills?  If proficiency in digital literacies is essential for success in today's technological world, how can low socio-economic districts attain these literacies?  
Is it possible that the use of media creates an economic filter on the possibility of success?  

joshkm's picture

Bethany, you raised some thoughtful questions. I believe this teacher is doing a great job in finding a way for students in low socio-economic districts to attain the new literacies that you believe are essential to success--which I'm guessing means success in the business world. Instead of just teaching the students the bare-bones skills required to use new digital literacies, the teacher frames it in something that relates to her students' own lives. While the students could view reading/writing as just a skill needed for them to get low-entry jobs after high school, they realize that through reading/writing they can make a visible impact in their immediate area:  the neighborhood conditions which they are unhappy with. This situation is a perfect example why involving issues in the local community can teach students that reading/writing is not just a job skill, but power to change the world around them. 

aambron's picture

Josh,

I couldn't agree more with what you said in regards to the notion that the teacher has done a good job at giving students writing and digital literacy projects that relate to their own lives; I think it was clear that the students baught into this project.  I strongly believe that it is our job as teachers to provide meaningful authentic writing and reading prompts for our students, otherwise i'm not sure how we can keep students from viewing reading and writing as low level skill.  Finally, your closing remarks stood out to me, "This situation is a perfect example why involving issues in the local community can teach students that reading/writing is not just a job skill, but power to change the world around them." Very powerful, and i think this should be one of the goals of every english teacher.

Andy  

Abrase's picture

I agree with both you and Josh. Literacy is a hot topic in classes in our college curriculum. The question of economics and literacy seems to always make its way into the conversation because it is extremely important to talk about. It is hard to think that if we happen to teach at a school that is not as economically stable, and in turn have students who have low literacy, it will be a challenge to boost their scores and knowledge without the resources. However, this teacher is making some great progress. I love the ideas that she has for her students and while they are doing a lot with technology, she mentioned free programs that they used. I am guessing they used school resources to partake in all of these activities And hopefully there is at least a bit of resources that the school or local library has. Bethany, I also like your question, "Is it possible that the use if media creates an economic filter on the possibility of success?" The technology and lessons make it possible for the students to really benefit from what the teacher has for them and makes it more enjoyable because the students have a creative license and it pertains to their lives. Technology and media are the ways in which the students can make it happen.

ethomas4's picture

I have also wondered about many of the questions you asked. I agree with Josh and Amber that this teacher did find effective ways to use digital literacies in an economically challenged environment, however, I also wonder if the technological opportunities are still sparse compared to those available in higher socio-economic school climates. I worry that the availability of as prevalent of a number of technologies for poorer schools will lead to a discrepancy of skills as the future generations of students enter the workforce. To answer your question, I do think it is possible that the use of media creates an economic filter on the possibility of success.  I have seen first-hand what an immense difference a lack of technologies in school can have on students, and I can admit that due to my high school’s low funding, I have often felt unprepared for the technologies that I am expected to understand at the university level. However, I think that sometimes, a lack of funding simply needs to be combated by creativity, and the teacher in the article sets an excellent example of moving beyond financial constraints in the classroom, while also challenging students to think beyond themselves and about their communities. It is an inspiration to see that despite what may have been short comings in my educational experience; there are many opportunities to grow beyond that.

slrobert's picture

Sadly, poorer schools seem to outnumber the well-off and ones with highest levels of literacy. So it seems for us, as future teachers, we will have to answer the very questions you put forth. As technology becomes a bigger part of education, I wonder what your reactions are. What are your thoughts on your own questions?
And as technology grows in popularity within education, so does the lack begin to impede with students' education. Everyone has internet. Everyone has cell phones. Everyone has computers, tablets, iPods, and streaming. Right? What do students do when they have no access? How are we supposed to keep moving forward with technology while still giving options to those who are without? We can't say, just go to the library. Jobs, family, and other numerous extraneous situations affect students outside of school. How can we get all of our students to succeed while still employing the new technologies?
 

dneisler's picture

The most limiting factor, it seems to me, in exploring this avenue toward not only enhancing students' literacies but also giving them a renewed civic sensibility as documentarians of their own community, is their teacher's ability to navigate the technology. I have not studied this at all, but if I had to guess, I would surmise that it is incredibly often the case that the students in a given classroom (regardless of its socioeconomic status) are far savvier when it comes to technology than the teacher is. I find this instruction incredibly exciting, and think it is a remarkably adept way to keep students interested while teaching them some very useful skills that they can use in their future professional and personal lives. I think one of the biggest challenges will be for teachers to keep abreast of the technology, while possibly reaching out to the luddites among us to help them explore these new and exciting methods.

DFilipiak's picture

While surely there are differences between what kinds of digital tools students have access to in different spaces, I believe that most inequities in schooling have to do with the ways that we approach students and their literacies, and believe this to be a much more important discussion to have if we care about what happens to them after they leave us.  Do we approach them from an asset or a deficit perspective?  We might have a classroom full of resources, but if we see students in low-income areas from a deficit perspective, the same inequities that have always existed will simply re-map themselves onto these new, digital spaces. We have to really consider our values around schooling and literacy before we try any project or assign a paper or book, because they guide every decision we make.  

That said, I would like to menton that we did have access to tools in this building, but I sought them out. At times, I had to fight for them.  We had two Mac labtop carts for the entire school to share, and I used them often.  Additionally, I sought out a professional development program where I was paired with a digital media artist in my classroom once a week who brought in digital cameras and co-planned with me. This was a huge help. However, I want to mention a few things that I think might be helpful if you are thinking about this kind of work:

1. You have to seek out resources for yourselves.  In my case, I bought six video cameras (3 of which I raised money for through Donorschoose.com).  I saved up and hustled the Best Buy folks to sell me floor models at a discount and accesories at cost.  I worked hard and went out of my way to ensure that we had some of what we needed.  I started small, and each year bought something new.  You can also do some grant writing for this.

2. Students use their phones often.  We created lots of short Prompt responses using our phones and would upload and share them in the same period.  Additionally, students  used phones to document what was happening in our classroom often- video taping each other, taking pics of work, etc.  They embraced their role as media and culture producers.  

3. Students have these literacies to varying degrees, and are often times much more adept then we are with digital tools- we don't have to foster creativity; we need to stop standing in the way of it!!!  Students need open spaces to work and and ponder, collaborate and create.  We have to think of how we can facilitate this process in a manner that allows them to take ownership over their work and make their classroom space their own.  What do you think we must do to allow for this?  How must we then approach literacy instruction in our classrooms?

Thank you for all of these wonderful comments.  It's such a treat reading through your thoughtful reflections and knowing that the work matters.  I look forward to seeing units that you create, too- so please share!

 

Danielle

rushing44's picture

When reading this I really focused on the Essential Question 2. It focuses on the health of a community, and I think Detroit is one of those places that is relevant to this thought. Although I have never been to Detroit, I know through statistics that it has a very high crime rate and even its education struggles in some areas. To focus on the individual to community idea puts perspective into the students ways of thinking. The teacher puts much emphasis on how students can change themselves from being controlled or manipulated by their “detrimental conditions” and pursue a clean and better life by informing them of the power they have to do so. 
It is interesting to look at the demographical differences when we think about what students need to be learning. I can tell you that we did not have these discussions in my small farm town because the circumstances are different. These students (in Detroit ) have so much going against them when living in a neighborhood with unfortunate crime and poverty rates. 
In E 401 yesterday, we were discussing terms within our course book and my group was given the word counterhegemony. This means that an individual or group will go against the superior opposition. I think this idea can definitely be used when talking about these students because they are using the knowledge and literacy that they are gaining from teachers to dismantle the negative aspects that they are surrounded by and subjected to. 
The whole cellphone as a tool in the classroom is starting to become a huge deal and I think the way that this teacher uses this to her advantage really shows how literacy and technology are changing. She does a great job of using these tools to engage her students and I think just think the overall structure and opened lectures really makes these students want to learn and overcome their negative environment that they are subjected to.

StevenG's picture

This is the first time I have seen the word counter hegemony, but I agree that it is an apt term for the situations being examined here. As teachers of English, we are in a unique position to help students discover power within themselves, and examining the identity of the community in which one lives is a great place to begin. As you point out, Sergio, we as teachers are in a unique position to help students identify and understand the undeniable issues of power, control, privilege, and oppression that are doubtlessly present in every community. Our job, then, is to show students a path to self-efficacy so that they may take control of their own lives in their own ways. Literacy can be, and often is, a path to liberation. Whether it's form is digital, media, traditional, or something else entirely, literacy skills developed around relevant topics is essential if we hope to achieve effective, powerful pedagogy in the classroom, wherever that happens to be.

dsm2163's picture

ESSENTIAL QUESTION 2: "What role does education play in the health of a community?" 
Given all that Detroit has been up against, I think it offers the ideal medium for reconceptualizing American education. Contrast it to the benumbed psyche of suburban America. Is that what education aims to achieve? I certainly hope not.
There is no healthier environment than one where people are constantly assessing the state of their condition, for that is where they are most alive. But if basic needs (like safety, food, and shelter) are of constant concern, education suddenly becomes responsible for more than just ideas. Theory must become practical or else it behaves like a slap in the face. But on the other hand, it could be said that difficulties breed a willingness (through a need) to experiment, and in some respects I know that Detroit has benefited from such flexibility. Still, not nearly enough.
That is why I think coming to a precise definition on health is so essential, yet utterly difficult. Is being rich and satiated the true definition of health? What are we striving for here? The right to constant recess? My hope is that we come to understand health as struggle, hope, and achievement. And education as the glue between them. 

DFilipiak's picture

Yes, Daniel, I think you bring up an interesting point.  Defining terms within questions can be a valuable task; who gets to decide what makes words mean?  And what do they mean anyway?  : )

DFilipiak's picture

Hi Sergio, I am wondering if you think that similar discussions might be able to happen in rural areas as well ( you mention being from a small farm town)?  Do you believe that counter-hegemony could exist in media that your students might create around a concept that is unique to their particular place and sense of position? 

Tebbital's picture

In a seminar recently, my classmates and I talked about the downside (really the risk) of turning a lesson for counterhegemony into the statement, "You live in a bad place. You have to fight the odds." The thing is, dangerous, run-down, abandoned, ignored or underfunded as a neighborhood may be, it's still home. We have to be sensitive to that. It's not just about overcoming, it's about becoming--becoming better, more open, more accountable, more aware and more critical (in a constructive way!).
Teaching for counterhegemony is about more that preparing students to handle the world they live in or the world they'll graduate into. It's about teaching students to create the world they want to live in. Be the change, right? I'm so impressed that students can take the weight of that responsibility on their growing, teenage shoulders. But of course education is responsible for these things. Education is change, right?
By working on change in their own communities, really, by changing from within, they fight for a cause where there doesn't have to be an enemy. That is, they aren't necessarily pushing against the hegemon, but rather pulling for their neighbors and themselves. Any community--suburban, urban or rural-- can push itself to improve in areas of inequality or even simply with awareness. 
I wonder if the students in your old small town, Sergio, could apply the same efforts (working to upset an unjust status quo) in their own lives. Could they become more aware of oppression in their state if not their direct community? How might a small town contribute on either side (hegemon or counterhegemon)? I wonder how students can take this lesson and connect it to their own communities, then to their city, state, etc. 
 

Sarah Whalen's picture

This project benefits students in an urban setting by empowering them to make the changes they wish to see in their community. So I am left to wonder—what about other communities? What about other populations? How can we use this across the board? Why would we need a project like this/why wouldn’t we? As a student teacher, I worry about my experience with varying populations—I’m currently placed in a 7th grade classroom in a highly affluent neighborhood in Manhattan. The parents are active, the students are smart (it’s a highly coveted magnet school) and I wonder about this project’s relevance in my classroom—the kids are reading and writing and communicating relatively well—is it “necessary?”
 
Danielle’s particular project deals with community outreach—it centers around the shared struggle of young people in a tough neighborhood and how they feel about it and what they hope to see change. When I think about translating this to my classroom, I realize that every young person has a struggle, whether it’s with their city or their community or with their family or with their friends—adolescence is a struggle in itself. Being 13 years old is a struggle. So I imagine this project could translate to any kind of classroom and any kind of community—it asks students to acknowledge their struggles, publish how they feel about it and create a sense of oneness in the classroom, which ultimately has the power to make big changes happen.
 
Bullying is a universal problem in secondary schools across America that can be helped by increasing communication and understanding among students. I imagine a project like this has the power to help students acknowledge the problem, recognize their own place within the problem, and then work together to overcome it. I imagine this project could be useful in any classroom across America.  
 

kaludwig's picture

I was struck by the ambitious nature of the qustions the students addressed.  To have 11th grade students with an average of 5th grade literacy skills talking about what it means "to be human" is incredible.  I think that fact itself lends itself to be replicated in any classroom environment.  The ideas of empowerment and the relationship between power and language would seem to be a great way to move toward the specific issue of bullying.  I think the expressed goal in the use of this "transpace" to have a "humanizing experience with writing and literacy" is exactly what needs to be addressed at all levels of education.  I believe it goes beyond the question of whether or not these exercises are necessary, but are ultimately highly effective.  
 
I would say though that empowering more disadvantaged urban students with media and technology tools that they may not have access to would give more profound results.  They are wielding tools and giving a voice to their situation and in a sense "catching up" with the information rich world in which they live.  And that process of "catching up" may be more remarkable than what you witness in the affluent classrooms which you describe.  Still, it creates a new space where the students are forced to abandon conformity and examine these essential questions from a fresh perspective.

DFilipiak's picture

Sarah, I think you are spot on in mentioning that every young person has a struggle.  Additionally, we are human, and are all implicated in the collective struggles and successes of humanity, don't you think?  How do you think we might apply this thinking in a classroom found "in a large affluent neighborhood in Manhattan", as you mention, or a small rural community in Iowa?  How do we connect students to the larger community/ies that surround them?  

Also, you mention that students in your school "read, write, and communicate relatively well", positing that work like this might not be necessary for them.  I wonder what the benefits of this kind of curriculum might have in varying spaces?  I think that how we teach has to do with, again- what we believe the purpose of education is, or what serves as our epistemological foundation.  This goes back to our discussions in class.  Surely we want our students to be able to read, write, and communicate, but for what purpose? And what does it mean to read and write "well"?  Does this look different depending on the context, or do we have a shared definition of such?  

Thank you for contributing these thoughts, Sarah.  I would like to know what ideas you have for adapting this kind of curriculum in your current setting.  

kaludwig's picture

The essential questions regarding humanity, power, literacy and identity are what we as educators hope we can get our students to approach.  Is it realistic that there could be some linear progression through a curriculum where in a classroom environment our conversation eventually gets to these themes in a significant manner through traditional texts, resources and discussions?  Maybe, but I don't think so, and especially not in a classroom where we can assume our students have not responded to the traditional environement even when approaching more basic themes. 
i strongly feel students must be empowered in order to have the courage to think about "big" issues and their relationship with their world.  In this project they are given the power of digital media capital-they are empowered to "step up" and take the responsibilty of this learning environment.  Only through that new empowerment and validation of their opinions and tasks could they "step up" their academic perspective. 
Along with the expanding purview of the students' exploration comes an expanding idea of the existing power dynamic in the classroom.  As they are "stepping up" their scope and mode of analysis, the classroom discussion environment takes a step to the side.  The teacher makes himself or herself vulnerable like the students in the discussion.  The power is not necessarily shifted from the teacher down to the student, but shared throughout the class.  While I feel this Tr@nsSpace enables the students to feel more willing to share ideas because they don't have the fear of being put down, I wonder if they are just more eager to take ownership in the class.  This project makes me feel that the idea of ownership has been a contributing force in the incredible projects the students eventually produced.

Tebbital's picture

Too true, Kevin. 
I didn't think about the fact that giving students more power means giving teachers less power, which is kind of ideal. When students no longer see the teacher as a toll on the road to their education (at once enabling and blocking their passage), they can "step up" themselves, reaching the big issues you address. Too often, doing well in school means doing as you're told, following the rules, giving the teacher what s/he wants. I know it's easy for students at the school where we're student teaching, Kevin, to forget that they're actually supposed to learn something on their ways to straight As. Too often, those who aren't making the grade give up. But as you point out, giving them more control over what and how they learn creates a safe space for growth. As Danielle said, 150 11th grade students where she was working were functioning, on average, at a 5th grade level. If I were made to believe that I was functioning so far below what was expected of me, I'd be afraid to "step up" in class, too! Clearly the scale is measuring something different than what Danielle looked for in her students. Scales, grades, rankings--they can all be a form of oppression in schools. Backing off from the "oppression" of a teacher ruling the class (think our buddy Freire and the banking model) gives the kids some much needed breathing space, whether they're overachievers or underperformers. Maybe enough space to back up and see the big picture. 
 

dsm2163's picture

Talie and Kevin, thanks so much for your comments! They really got me thinking... most of all, about the follwing: 
The Commodification of Time: time as a good/commodity, in limited supply, subject to exclusive ownership protected/enforced by the law
As a burgeoning teacher, it has pained me to see how the blessing of time has been mutated into a tool of oppression by the powers that be. They have jailed time, divided it into fractions, and placed "value" on these units as defined by a system that obliges the self-interest of its despots as its primary function. This authority has extended itself into the realm of education and is enforced through a commodification of time. 
Practices such as block scheduling, forced curriculums, and the "need to assess," are just some of the ways that power is imposed upon us. And the moral pursuit of seeking to understand our world deeply is trounced by constant deadlines and economized, cheapened thinking. 
The passing of time is often greeted with disdain by both student and teacher. The teacher struggles to make sense of every minute, aiming to squeeze as much out of it. Conversely, the student hopes for it to fly by as quickly and effortlessly as possible. The pressure has become untenable for both sides. 
As a result, a contentious environment has arisen where teacher is tyrant, rather than emancipator. Even the noblest educators walk this fine line as they watch their alotted hour quickly taper. And expectations via politicians, administrators, and any/all other power wielding agents impress themselves into each of these units of time, taking up space to think and create. It is a rare sight in a school setting for any individual to be the true owner of his/her own time!
So how is it that tr@nsSpace might combat time as a commodity, in order to give students more autonomy, and the power to create the space necessary to step up? I think the first step is identification. Acknowledgement of this trend by both teacher and student, places them on the same page with the same goal in mind. They can then move on to the next step of becoming actual allies, teamed up against the "tyrant." It is through this constant act of rebellion that students will begin to regain ownership over their time. 

DFilipiak's picture

I like the idea of "backing up and seeing the big picture", Talie- and creating "breathing space."  I guess I never looked at it that way.  Giving someone that kind of space requires trust, and sometimes that is difficult to exercise, for a variety of reasons.  Maybe the question is less about power, and more about trust, then?  Or both and their relationship to each other?  How then, do you think a teacher might go about establishing and maintaining a climate of trust in the classroom?

Also, I thought that it might be worth mentioning that students' scores on standardized assessments did go up, however- it was not the goal.  It was an indirect result of the instructional strategies and pedagogical practices in place, which centered students' assets as opposed to honing in on deficits and instructing from there.

DFilipiak's picture

Student ownership definitely played a part, Kevin.  Great point.  

I have questions about what name as  "traditional" texts, resources, and discussions?  What do you think comprises these, and do you think that we can create, as educators, spaces for students to engage with multiple texts using a variety of tools? You express doubt in mentioning that some of the themes addressed in the course would be difficult to interrogate if teachers were operating in more "traditional" contexts.  You mention,  " Maybe, but I don't think so, and especially not in a classroom where we can assume our students have not responded to the traditional environement even when approaching more basic themes."  What makes this work, then, and how might we create opportunities for students to engage in this work even if they are in settings and places that may not have changed much over the past decade or so?

Sarah Whalen's picture

I've been thinking a lot about this--these so-called "traditional texts" ruined reading for me in middle school. I was an avid reader, but after a 3 month-long close read of Great Expectations, I felt I deserved a break and it was a long time before I willingly picked up a book again.
 
The kids I'm teaching now are working in a reading-writing workshop model--the books they choose to read are entirely up to them, but we expect the same level of work and attention from each kid for each book they choose to read (however, the "work" is not too much to ask--we ask them to write a Deep Thinking Entry about once a week, to just keep a journal of where they are in their reading. When we had them write essays about these books, it was entirely up to them what book they chose and how they chose to analyze it.) I've found that, while we're instilling good reading habits, we've also instilled the habit of reading. The kids pick up books willingly and excitedly, and they’re developing into habitual readers.
 
These habitual readers then choose to pick up books that challenge them, because they find that the “easier” a book is, the less they have to talk about. And they now enjoy talking about books, because it is the culture in the classroom—kids ask each other what they’re reading (I think a lot of kids like to show off a bit, but it does propel them to pick out more difficult books.) In terms of getting kids excited about “traditional texts,” this is not something we can somehow make happen. Kids won’t become enthusiastic by osmosis. I think, if they develop a “reading habit,” on books that actually excite them that may not be deemed “difficult,” or “traditional” or even “classroom worthy,” that they will naturally gravitate towards those books as their academic careers wear on.
 
Furthermore, why do we read these books? What is the point? Why do we read any books at all? I think the goals are the same, both with “traditional texts” and with other texts (which can be very broad—I would consider paintings, photographs, films, op-ed pieces, diary entries, etc. all worthwhile “texts”). We want kids to understand what they represent, both historically and thematically, in order to ultimately engage in a larger dialogue about themselves and the world around them. These goals can be attained through non-traditional texts, in an effort to establish good reading habits and a good reading habit, which I think has a greater chance of turning into a pursuit of historically significant texts and canonical work.
 

kaludwig's picture

I guess what I am thinking about when I refer to "traditional texts" are the books and readings that have been part of an ELA curriculum for a long time.  I don't have comprehensive knowledge about what these reading lists consist of around the country, but I have gotten the sense from professionals in the field that they have remained relatively static over many years.
I think of it as analogous to an experiment.  We want to achieve a desired result through a series of inputs (bare with me as I torture the scientific process).  Results are varying all over the place.  In some settings we have a high level of engagement and learning and we can call this experiment a success as it has produced the desired result (I will not go down the road of parsing through success/failure right now).  In some schools there is very little engagement and/or learning and the experiment is deemed a failure.  We treat the problem variable in this experiment to be the student.  They are lacking or deficient in some sense and they must be brought up to par for the experiment to work.  As Tara Yosso explains, when we engage in this deficit thinking in this way we engage in a banking model and do not recognize or utilize the capital they posses.
So, to continue the analogy, maybe the variable that needs to be changed in the experiment is the type of material that we are asking the students to engage with.  Maybe then we can not view them as "deficient" but as agents contributing their abundant capital to the process.

dsm2163's picture

 
The Commodification of Time: time as a good/commodity, in limited supply, subject to exclusive ownership protected/enforced by the law
As a burgeoning teacher, it has pained me to see how the blessing of time has been mutated into a tool of oppression by the powers that be. They have jailed time, divided it into fractions, and placed "value" on these units as defined by a system that obliges the self-interest of its despots as its primary function. This authority has extended itself into the realm of education and is enforced through a commodification of time. 
Practices such as block scheduling, forced curriculums, and the "need to assess," are just some of the ways that power is imposed upon us. And the moral pursuit of seeking to understand our world deeply is trounced by constant deadlines and economized, cheapened thinking. 
The passing of time is often greeted with disdain by both student and teacher. The teacher struggles to make sense of every minute, aiming to squeeze as much as possible out of it. Conversely, the student hopes for it to fly by as quickly and effortlessly as possible. The pressure has become untenable for both sides. 
As a result, a contentious environment has arisen where teacher is tyrant, rather than emancipator. Even the noblest educators walk this fine line as they watch their alotted hour quickly taper. And expectations via politicians, administrators, and any/all other power wielding agents impress themselves into each of these units of time, taking up space to think and create. It is a rare sight in a school setting for any individual to be the true owner of his/her own time!
So how is it that tr@nsSpace might combat time as a commodity, in order to give students more autonomy, and the power to create the space necessary to step up? I think the first step is identification. Acknowledgement of this trend by both teacher and student, places them on the same page with the same goal in mind. They can then move on to the next step of becoming actual allies, teamed up against the "tyrant." It is through this constant act of rebellion that students will begin to regain ownership over their time. 
 

DFilipiak's picture

So, Daniel- how would you say that teacher and student might best exercise their time for "liberation", as you mention above?  How do we structure classroom time in a way that honors our collective humanity while also valuing and centering autonomy?  

 

 

I would like to hear more...

 

claudiachoi's picture

Daniel, I have struggled with the effects of these seemingly capitalist driven models of structuring the school days, as well.  Recess has become an almost obsolete concept that is being phased out right alongside of arts education--if the results cannot be quantified through standardized exams, then there seems to be little interest in defending its place in the school.  I'm wondering why the way we define education has shifted--there is an explicit emphasis on creating students that will be prepared for the work force with the ever increasing weight put on standardized tests.  If the school systems are not producing people that can be commodified, then they are failing, is the idea that seems to be implicit in all this recent top down school reform.   It's confusing because our government has simultaneously emphasized the importance of innovation.  Innovative thinking that is interested in the deep understanding of the world seems to exist in those liminal spaces between all of that tightly structured time--in between the goading of students from teacher instruction to worksheets to individual practice. The tr@nspace works effectively in giving students the class to understand the power of their own agency.  The space gives students the class  with the only parameters being that each student must connect, think critically, and communicate in some way their connections with the material and the larger world around them using tools they are fluent in already--the students are essentially creating their space as they step up with the teacher operating as mediator.  Within activities like the one where students had to represent how they  saw themselves inside of the essential questions and then reflect thoroughly, the students who may have been accustomed to having their agency in their education checked at the classroom door in every other class, now are being prompted to step up and understand not just how to exercise their agency, but also understand and question what their agency means and could mean to them, to one another, their community at large, and their generation; with the activation of this thinking means that they will realize that they are accountable for their own individualized education.  They are, as you said, able to examine "the moral pursuit of seeking to understand our world deeply" in the tr@nspace.

Cthompson's picture

Daniel and Claudia, 

 

I agree that the space for "free time" is being completely phased out of the educational model. I feel that students need this time to think freely and feel liberated in the school space. So many students find school to be either a haven or a prison, and sometimes they feel this way over and over again during the school day. I feel that we need to make time for our students to explore their freedom during class time, so that they can choose to use it responsibly when they have it outside of school. I like that tr@nspace allows for this type of expression and exploration, but I wonder how we might make use of this sort of freedom outside of the classroom, or structure reflection on productive use of free time. I see so many of my students running to video games and sports when they are out of school, that students definitely need this time to "zone out" or "decompress" and balance out the intensity of the school day. But how do we get them to prioritize the time that they spend outside of the classroom, not for our benefit, but for their own? I feel like the responsibility towards technology that tr@nspace fosters is part of the equation, but what is the other half? 

apricey's picture

These articles helped me see what a classroom can be and how much effort is needed to make a classroom that impactful. I can see how technology affects a classroom and see how some students are much more engaged with technology. What makes technology so engaging? Students can do anything and everything using a computer like play games, do research, look up pictures, go on facebook, and type. Technology is exciting and engaging and teaching needs to be just as exciting and engaging. A quote I found very interesting from this article is,  "Furthermore, I wanted students to have a humanizing experience with writing and literacy, and I knew that in order to do this- I would need to both de-school them on some level and focus on concepts that would incite curiosity and a sense of commitment." There are so many words that stand out from this quote, one of which being humanizing. Many students feel distant from reading and writing because they do not enjoy it and cannot relate to the novel being read in class. Teachers need to bring the human aspect back into the classroom by behaving students read novels they care about and can relate to. Another word that stands out is de-school. Students have become so used to being lectured at and zoning out during class instead of being engaged that students are not learning. School needs to be complely reorganized so that it doesn't resemble school anymore since its not doing what it's supposed to. I want to better understand how at his teacher interacts with her students. I want to not have cultural barriers between my students and I but do not know how to break them down. Technology seems to be a way to get over that barrier if it is used effectively. Technology should only be brought into a classroom if its used in powerful, unique and transformative ways but I am still unsure how to actually do this.

gert0038's picture

Utilizing digital media is a scary and new means of educating that I need to ensure I conform and learn how to use, or else know that I will never become the quality teacher that I need to be.  Coming from a school where computers had green screens and “computer labs” had only a dozen computers, I realize that I have more and better technology now on my smart phone in my pocket then I did when I graduated high school.  This is no excuse, but instead me recognizing that technology is such an important tool that we should be using in order to reach out to our students.  As Danielle Filipiak explains the multiple uses in her classroom, “digital media tools allow us to analyze, critique, challenge, and learn from the stories of our neighborhoods.”  These digital tools help expand learning and create new learning opportunities for each student.  Placing limitations on any student because of not have access to digital media will only stifle their education as technology continues to increase exponentially.  If there is an expectation “to institutionalize conformity and accountability at the expense of creativity and divergent thinking” students will only become more disadvantaged and as teachers we will be doing a disservice to them as we don’t set them up for success.  Danielle Filipiak demonstrates that by using multiple digital media and integrating it with literary and composition assignments it allows the students to become more involved.  These digital media options range from writing essays about green screen pictures, making and analyzing self-made films, to taking cell phone pictures and “representing a prominent concept” that allow for creativity as well as new perspectives on education that engages students.  As a future teacher, I understand that it is up to me, “to create spaces where students are able to practice and employ digital and media literacy skills that will allow them to both thrive in an information-rich, high-tech culture, as well as maintain an allegiance to the health of their communities and their personal identities” just like Danielle Filipiak has described and accomplished in her classroom.

Amy Alas's picture

I am impressed at how early into the school year these conversations were able to be had. I think that many teachers and student teachers think about engaging their students in discourses about power, privilege, and what it means to use literacy as a tool for getting power. Even if the questions are not as difficult to answer as the ones that guide these activities, it is difficult to get students to have meaningful, respectful discussions with each other in the beginning. I think that in many cases, students need to develop trust in their classrooms as a safe place and in their teachers as allies. I wonder what was done, particularly before the discussion the class had in week 2, to allow students to feel safe enough in the classroom to do what was being asked, and to do it so well? I appreciate seeing the teacher step out of the "expert" role in an obvious way and placing the learning into the hands of her students. It seems as though the forward motion in the class from that point on remained in the hands of the students based on the transcribed conversation about who does and does not have power. There seems to be a pretty clear balance between teacher and student learning in this classroom and I hope that one day I'll be able to navigate tough topics like these with as much success as Danielle has had.

autumnsfire001's picture

I really latched onto the idea of beginning with essential questions because this is a great way of meeting students where they are. So many students look at writing and literacy as something that is outside of their life. If we can begin with the content, with the humanity that should be behind the writing, then their writing is then  fueled by ideas that are meaningul for them. I also really liked being able to see the set up of the classroom and watching Filipiak give the students voice. For students  that have negative feelings about writing and writing instruction, this seems like a way to build trust and to allow students to express their ideas in a safe place before they move to the page. I really appreciated the list under the video which noted important elements of creating such a space. As pre-service teachers, we often struggle with where to begin. Concrete strategies such as those outlined at the end of the post are really uselful. Thanks for posting!
 

tsey's picture

It is still amazing to me just how many ways we are starting to use media and technology in classrooms now to help students learn. Instead of being stuck in a traditional learning environment, I think it is important to see the great leaps of faith we're taking in order to help this new generation of students learn. By using media, we are able to keep students connected and engaged. Not only does media people students to feel connected, it opens a whole new world of communication and allows anyone the chance to write and express their thoughts to a worldly audience. 

ghuete's picture

I thought that this article focused on the necessity of incorporating technology into our clasrooms and I agreed.  In a society where a new smart phone comes out every 30 seconds, it is important to understand the benefits that are gained in a classroom that is technologically up to date.  Allowing students to access the internet from their desks brings a whole world of answers to their fingertips.  When I was attending middle school being technologically savy was not a focus, however, today educators must take on the responsibility of educating students on how to properly and safely communicate through digital forms. 

fbleam's picture

"In my classroom, digital media tools allow us to analyze, critique, challenge, and learn from the stories of our neighborhoods, the systems that mold and shape them, and the relationships that build and destroy them." This quote in particular struck out to me, because I think as a future educator it is vital to remember how much a relationship in the classroom can affect student learning. Looking at how digital media can advance this and guide our students into critical thinking is fantastic! I thought it was awesome how connections were incorporated into guiding this type of learning because when students can connect issues to certain things in their lives, I believe that learning is at a peak for that student. It was great to see how digital media can be a positive aspect in the classroom, and how it was utilized.  

Christopher_Spaulding's picture

I find it interesting that there is a focus on the capital value of writing. It’s interesting because it makes a connection between the classroom and the “real world”. In a work environment there is little care about what grade a project receives, but rather there is a focus on how much money it earns or loses for a company. By applying the term capital to homework it gives it value, which is important for students who might be more concerned with an after school job. 

mjcarni's picture

This article was interesting to me for one major reason, and that is because it emphasized the importance of having students connect with what they are writing. One line from the article said, "I wanted students to have a humanizing experience with writing and literacy."  This stuck out to me because this is what I want to do.  When I decided to become a teacher I wanted to make sure I could reach students on a deeper level and show them that words aren't just symbols on a page, and that we can all tell a story.  I think that the idea of tr@ns-space is awesome and we need to use digital tools like this in the classroom no matter what reading level.  Students are really into technology, so when it is used in class as a learning tool, sometimes they won't see it so much as school work but more as a fun activity.  Overall this was interesting to read about and cool to see the tr@ns-space you created.

kpietens's picture

I was impressed with this line from the article: "While it was difficult, in the beginning of the year, to get students to even write a single sentence or read more than a paragraph of text, the persistence in pursuing the above questions and consistent use of digital media tools helped create a climate of rigour, relevance, and validation- students embraced opportunities to share their stories and to explore questions that meant something to them. " In my limited teaching and tutoring experience so far, I have definitely encountered a number of students who are simply unwilling to write. No matter how many prompting questions I ask, they just do not write, and when they do write, they do not elaborate. I appreciate from this article that the trick isn't just persistence but also pursuing essential questions that are relevant to students and consistently using digital media tools. It seems like I keep hearing about the benefits of using digital media tools in the classroom and for good reason. Ultimately, one of the best ways to make a class relevant to students is to use technology in the classroom. I was surprised and encouraged to learn that digital media tools also encourage students who do not want to write to write more. As a future teacher, I really have to learn how to use technology effectively in my classroom! It is not just an option; it is critical in order to make my class relevant to my students and to encourage them to write!

hm.feit's picture

Kelsey,

The way you've been impacted by technology as a tool for renewed engagement and commitment from students is interesting to me. Having been in middle school when school districts were first beginning to wonder if computers were in fact something that was going to be relevant to their students everyday lives, I went through a fair amount of stumbling to get technology into the classroom and figure out how to use it. There was a clear sense of urgency, but not much understanding or foresight into how or why digital resources could be interconnected with content and pedagogy. Because of this experience, I think it's critical to always know why we are using technology in education and be able to articulate that to students (or at least guide them toward their own understanding of why). Like any medium, it is not neutral and carries with it gains and losses. I wonder if, as we are getting swept up in the burgeoning digital media trends, (please note that I think the excitment/enthusiasm is great) we can come up with language that helps us and educators and in community with our students to articulate those gains and losses just as we would (hopefully) do with other elements in our curriculum.

sthrower's picture

Perhaps I am an old fuddy duddy but at times I worry about the ability of technology and the internet to absolutely destroy a student's attention span. In graduate school classes there are students with laptops aplenty, all dilligently taking copious notes, recording every word the professors say, graphing connections between ideas and using the internet as an additonal resource.  Except I have never seen that. I've seen tweets, facebook, streeteasy, shopbop, and an inumerable other amount of non-pertinant behavior. In 9th grade English the other day I saw a student who was required to have a laptop by his IEP, not only did this student spend a significant amount of time fussing with his computer, the power cords, and his display settings, but when it came time to focus and take notes, instead of paying any attention to the daily vocabulary words, this particular student was rewriting computer code. If, as adults, we cannot focus on the task at hand when we have the tempting ability to do otherwise, are we setting these students up for failure if we enable them with the same alternatives to focusing on the task at hand? I know students are much more excited to be using technology in the classroom and to be working with mediums they both understand and are excited by, but I am wary of the appropriate use of technology. I think we have already seen the rise of the students who cannot spell or write neatly because they simply have never had to.

AshleighAAllen's picture

I agree, and I have also been in classrooms where students who are on computers are not engaged in the lesson at all, and in some cases they are distracting other students from focussing. I think having at least two people using, say, a computer or an ipad to work on a mini project, lesson, or maybe just to brainstorm might be helpful in urging them to engage more. I've taught classes that had smart boards and this made a world of difference in what I could do with the class from looking at Word files together to bringing up a quick YouTube video of an interview with an author we were studying. I guess that since technology and media is at their fingertips when they leave the room, we should attempt, in some way, to make it available to them "at their fingertips" in the classroom so they can better naviagate their wold (on a micro and macro level). If they're using Google to look up musical artists, how about using Google scholar to look up an author? You'll find that some high school students, while they use Google as a verb, don't even know how to fully utilize the search engine! Besides research and demonstrations, I am curious how to successfully use media in the classroom and can't wait for our future discussions that will hopefully shed some light here. We know that high school students generally love media and technology. I believe it's important to hook them in with something they already find engaging; then, show them how to grow from there. 

MargaritaLopez's picture

What I really enjoyed about this and I am finding in alot of my classes and student teaching observations is about what creating a space and a safe space looks like. Definitely, a trans space is one that I think we need to be thinking about in this technology-driven age when that is at our student's center. What I think we, as educators, must remember is how to create expectations and what those look like for our students and for our students to create expectations from us in the classroom. Although there was no cellphones in the class - they "broke the rules," because they felt something was happening in that dialogue, in that class, that they needed to document.

kmr2172's picture

Hi, Margarita!

I definitely agree with what you say here. I think it is extremely engaging to include this digital space for students, but I also agree that expectations need to be in place. I had wondered in my own comment whether or not there is a more or less appropriate age group for some of the experiences that were mentioned. Would 8th graders be responsible enough to use cell phones only for class-appropriate material, for example? Do students even need to be "mature" enough in order for this tech-approval to work? It's something I've been thinking about in regards to this article, and determining rules (and how/ when they are appropriate to bend), like you mentioned, seems like a key partof it.

krosefreedman's picture

I think that the most important aspect of students using digital media is it’s ability to empower them.  “This tr@nsSpace was one that valued the individual and collective skillsets of students, and did not see them from a deficit perspective.”  Any tool that makes students feel validated is a tool we need to be using more in our classrooms.  After reading this article, and that line in particular, I am inspired to try to use digital media in my own future classroom.  I sometimes joke with friends that I’m “technologically impaired.”   I know I will find it tempting to teach in a way that I find safe - the way in which I myself was taught when I was in school.  Articles such as these are a reminder that changing times call for changes in education.  I need to embrace technology for the sake of my students. 
Another lesson I took away from this article is the section “Creating and Holding TransSpace,” and the accompanying video. Though we’ve discussed it a bit in class, I’d dismissed physical space as one of the least important aspects of teaching.  I now realize  that special configuration is an element that can make or break a lesson. 
 

hm.feit's picture

Katherine,

I was really excited to see the new thoughts you're thinking about the impacts of space in a classroom (let alone a school at large). I am a big proponent of acknowledging space as one of the langugages in our classrooms! As I say in my subject line, space is never neutral, but rather one of our most potent tools for control or liberation. Students in urban centers, perhaps New York, (as a less sprawling and more condensed city) in particular, are aware on a daily basis of the way space acts as an oppressor in their lives: ghettoization across the street from gentrification, Wall Street in the same city as the poorest district in the US (a portion of the South Bronx's overall poverty rate is second only to Puetro Rico based on the 2010 census). Inside the home, many if not most young people in NYC don't have their own rooms (just my speculation based on growing up here). This means that not only is space a relevant and meaningful factor in young people's lives and therefore our classrooms, but one that we could potentialy bring into the kind of classroom discussions and essential questions posed in Filipiak's digital media resource. Exciting stuff!

 

krietberg's picture

Hi, Katherine--I'm becoming more and more interested in the use and configuration of classroom space. I think little details often make a big difference in setting the tone for our classrooms and creating a sense of community, because the layout impacts how people interact with each other. I always liked when teachers sat in a circle with us, at our level, or moved around the room and approached us individually rather than standing at an immovable podium (which somehow made what they were lecturing about sound permanent and closed-off--a visualization of the banking method with students as passive receptacles). By giving students the opportunity to express themselves and interact with each other's ideas across mutiple planes and mediums, technology deconstructs that banking model relationship. Technology feels much more flexible than a physical, printed book (that can no longer be edited or altered), written by some mythic Author or hidden textbook corporation. As tr@nsSpace shows, technology can empower students to become their own teachers. 

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