Wednesday, September 28, 2011

In response to Sara's post

Note: I tried my best to comment on the blog, but (whereas it was seamless last week) I am now having difficulty posting. I chose to answer one of Sara's questions for my post: 

Do you think the “digital story” can be a doorway to writing in a classroom? What would you add to my lesson idea? What would you change?

I absolutely think this is a doorway to writing, especially for middle school and high school kids. I had a similar experience in my senior year English class in high school. Instead of digital storytelling, we had to compose a "senior book." It was basically a scrapbook that we designed about our personal lives that could contain personal documents, photos, cards, etc., but for every page we created we also had to write an essay. Our teacher explained that it was a challenging project, even more so because the year my class entered our senior year was the same year Hurricane Katrina hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast and our hometown was essentially wiped out. It was amazing to see the stories we managed to tell strictly through creativity, especially taking into account that majority of us had lost our homes, photos, and memorabilia. Instead, we had to create new narratives.

The only caveat that I have with the project is that, other than motivating the kids to become more active in the classroom, how can we spin this to prepare them for a post-secondary education? They've learned a lot of cool techniques that can be applied to a professional career as a videographer and/or designer, but how does this prepare them to succeed the stodgy 200-level literature requisite coursework in college? It's a great idea, so long as it doesn't become the central focus and purpose (read: main/final project; read: abandoning the "research paper") of the class.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Digital Stories as Ways into Writing




A Digital Story As A Way Into Writing
By Sara Codair

The readings from the past few weeks have me feeling like I have been tossed into a textual war on how digital text effects the next generation of readers and writers. I have read some saying it is the end of literacy as we know it, but others think it is a powerful class room tool. The idea of the digital story would have those who think digital equals doom running for the hills, but I believe the digital story has a place in a writing classroom. Brining the Outside In, Sara B. Kadjer shows us how a digital story can inspire students that government testing has labeled as poor readers and writers to do something amazing. 
When Kadjer had her students make a digital story, she used a sort of cliché essay prompt of similar to, write about a significant event that changed you,  to have the students create a “digital story.” Their digital story was not as complicated or interactive as the ones that Carolyn Miller described in Digital Storytelling : A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment (http://site.ebrary.com/lib/umass/Doc?id=10382863&ppg=35). They did not let the audience member control the direction of the story or do a lot of interaction, but it was still a story told through digital media with pictures, transitions and sound. More importantly, it got the students to do something that they could not while sitting in at an MCAS test with a #2 pencil and exam booklet. It got them to think critically about an event in their life and create a story about it.
I am not saying that digital stories should replace writing because they are easier for a certain statistic of students to use than a pen and paper, but they can be a more productive way to reach that student who is being left behind by no child left behind. By making this cliché essay prompt into a digital story, Kadjer led her students to discover the thought process that should have gone on while they were writing an essay. Even the students who claimed to be bad writers and readers were successful at telling a story through images and music.

Kadjer’s chapter ended with the story being complete, but in order for it to the serve the purpose I want it to serve, the next step would be for the students to name the moves they made while working on the project. In order for this to happen, the instructor  would have to go back and have the students write down the steps they did, or have them keep a journal or a blog where they would try to record the process as they went through it. Once they students had a record of their process, the teacher would have to work with the students to name the different steps they went through. A process that is not that different from writing. Pick an event to tell a story about, and decide what steps or moments you will use to portray it. In the case of Kadjer’s class, the students had to pick different photo’s to represents different pieces of the story.
It would also be necessary for the teacher to  ask the students questions, such as: How did you decide to tell this story? How did you choose what photo’s to use in the slide show? What do you want to viewer to learn from this? What questions do you think they will ask?  Ask them questions about it and see where it lines up with steps in the writing process. It would be easy to get to the outline, because they probably already have some form of one, and the hardest part might be transferring the images to paragraphs, but it can be done, especially if there is a verbal stage in between. The student could tell the teacher about the photo and what it means. The students voice could be digitally recorded, or record with pen and paper. However, if it is audio, the teacher could have the student transcribe their own spoken words. That could turn into a draft. From there, the teacher could work in more traditional way getting the student to turn the draft into a paper with peer review workshops, written feedback,  and if time allowed, one on one meetings.

It would be an interesting and productive idea to carry Kadjer’s idea to the next step. A  way to use the new digital technology and media to teach the old one. They are both means of telling stories after all. Story telling has been around as long as humans could remember and communicate with each other (link to miller). They was the stories are told have changed but the stories themselves only seem to shift back and forth to different versions of the same things. The media will use to the tell the stories, whether it be our bodies, images text, video or artificial intelligence will change. But the characteristics of the stories seem to remain the same. One method can be used to teach the other if, after all, they are two ways of serving the same purpose.

There is a lot more I could say on this topic, but this blog is supposed to be brief, so I will stop here. I’ll look forward to seeing what you all have to say in response to my idea!

Here are some questions and my own sort of “digital story” made up of still images.

Do you think the “digital story” can be a doorway to writing in a classroom? What would you add to my lesson idea? What would you change?

Miller talks about how similar digital story telling is to ancient methods of storytelling. Do you agree with here? Do we keep reusing the same stories and methods of storytelling? How does you answer effect your ability to use one method to teach another?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Response to Nicole S.

Hi everyone - been trying to comment for a day and half. Can't comment (another big to figure out), but I guess I can post directly onto the blog. Sorry for the delay...


Hi Nicole – great post. So many things to consider!

I can’t help but start my response with thinking about Bolter’s use of the term “interpenetration.” He states, “On the screen, as on medieval parchment, verbal text and image interpenetrate to such a degree that the writer and reader can no longer always know where the pictorial space ends and the verbal space begins” (66). Your comments about the illustration used in “Is Google Making Us Stupid” made me start thinking about how this word and its occurrence is happening as we all start to experiment with new technological tools inside and outside of our classrooms. Imagine what “interpenetration” might look like…I immediately picture a Venn diagram. That middle area where two (or three) sides or ideas get intertwined and may get mixed up…that’s what’s happening here as we start to consider how illustrations like the one you commented on affect us as readers. On one side we have the actual text, the words, and on the other we have the illustrations that are supposedly present in order to heighten our understanding or awareness of what’s being said in the text. But perhaps now the illustration, as it’s listed at the top of the article, is there in order to better introduce the text, as a preface, per se. I have to admit, I might not have even considered the image had you not commented on it. For me, I was more concerned with absorbing the text and making connections with the other readings – though now that I’m thinking about the message of the image, I do feel as though the information and overall story of the article as a whole, as I’ve considered both sides more completely, displays interpenetration. They are reciprocating, in a way, in their messages related to the topic, or better yet, it’s like the two sides are not even as separated as I might have once thought…or at least, that’s why the image is present present most likely, to be a part of the text. To stick with the Venn diagram image, the intention, as I picture it coming together, is to have the words as one image and the illustration as the other. Within the middle section of the Venn diagram, the words and the picture become muddied, in way, creating an entirely new vision, or meaning. I wasn’t as curious about the image as perhaps I should have been given the nature of our discussions.

This leads me to think more about your comments on “good reading.” I love your claim in how such simple reading as following a recipe can provoke higher order thinking. Perhaps good reading is about meaning making, as is most of our classroom lessons. We want students to somehow connect with whatever point we’re trying to illustrate, whether it be critical reading, peer editing, or citing resources (okay, this is a stretch, but still, it IS about following directions, in a sense, the same way you would a recipe). We want to students to somehow make the lesson their own so they can take it, run with it, and in some way incorporate the heart of the lesson into their academic and/or personal lives. If teachers can foster the curiosity or the real-to-life application of ideas, perhaps that may lead to more “good reading” where not only are ideas and concepts consumed, but they are retained and used in application in the future. (This is a goal I strive for in my classroom, although now that I’m thinking about my methods and use of the texts, I’m not my approach is effective. Oh dear…!) And perhaps if the students know the methods are deliberate and purposeful, perhaps that creates more buy-in on their part (even though the methods might be a departure from what they’re used to). Sadly, I do have to keep in the back of my head somewhere that my students are consumers; as much as I loathe the idea, it’s true. I must foster buy-in so they stay at my university. Also - As we consider Kajer’s encouragement to “open our curricula to include new options” (10), maybe this means fostering the curiosity somehow to match the students’ deliberate reading that is mentioned, the reading they do for “authentic purposes” (11). In order to do this, I’m with you Nicole, I think new technologies can help our daily lives, and as teachers we can use these technologies to bring the students’ fun and “good reading” into our classrooms and use it to even further expand their knowledge sets, and generate further curiosities.

Big Overpowering Images are Old School

Response to Nicole S.

This is a response to Nicole Sanford's blog entry, “Reading the Visual and Preserving the Individual." I cannot, for some reason, post a comment.


When we say “good reading,” we almost have to qualify how we are using the term. Good reading might refer to the content and subject matter we choose, physicality of the medium, or how we go about taking on a reading project, such as through a critical lens. Lately, it seems that how we read is more important than what we read or through which means we read it. So it isn’t a question of whether reading images is less valuable to us than reading texts, or if it’s potentially harmful to literacy when the literate are to be faced with more images than texts. It’s a question of whether or not the act of reading images lends itself to challenges, questions, dialectic engagement, and any other activity that good readers of the world already participate in. I say images do lend themselves to such curiosities.


Sometimes I feel we are holding onto relics as if this isn’t an exciting time to witness things unfold. And it may be as Jay David Bolter says: “the relationship between image and text is unstable” (48). But “unstable” may have unnecessarily bad connotations. As long as there are decoders of information, i.e. consumers, there will be those of us who encode. And until this ceases to be, the human race will write. Perhaps we will not “write” as we do now, which of course is not how we have always written, but we will write. To say that “writing itself is threatened” by a reemergence of communication through images is premature at the very least (48). We’ll still encode meaning and transmit meaning, and as natural processors of the raw data we find within the world, we’ll try to decode meaning. And maybe we find ourselves encoding and reciprocally decoding just as many--if not more for some of us--images than texts these days, and increasingly so as we become more receptive to these new options of making sense of things. But is this in itself bad?


It’s ironic that we developed alphabets from images we once used to represent what we knew of the world, and at our apex of literacy we can see reversion back to the image. Who are we to say we are not achieving the highest level of literacy, to eventually make sense of things through just image alone. We fill in ellipses from what we know of the world whether the holes are found in texts or graphics. And isn’t this the type of work, the type of dialectic ability we are worried about loosing? This type of work will continue for those of us who challenge the world--which is not now, nor has it been a hobby of the masses. And if this is a digression, let’s take a moment to let it bridge us with the realities of how literacy works. Literacy does not sit still: it cannot be contained in rule books, and held captive on the page as if it were ink. Literacy is not the medium, it’s the process. So I must ask, has the process really changed?


What’s important now is how we consumers of mass media choose to take in the deluge of data we are faced with. What we need to worry about in this age of the fragment, while navigating through a world of interruptions and distractions, is how we stay active participants in experiencing our world. Nicole, you ask if “the visual...mak[es] [us] less likely to analyze the printed word,” and I want to answer with a humbly-affirmed “maybe.” But I want to follow up this maybe with another hypothetical: maybe this doesn’t mean we are collectively heading towards illiteracy, but rather we are absorbing new literacies because of the options technology affords us. And luckily for us, we have all these options when setting out to unearth new things. Not only do we have more options of what we read--and I mean not only genre and form but wether we want to read words or images or both--but the mediums through which we read it. It’s all becoming physically and intellectually accessible. Beyond conjecture, this is what we know has truly changed, our options. Perhaps neurologists can pinpoint how new media “re-wires” our brain, but has it changed the type of work we do when we manipulate meaning from images and texts and between images and texts? Do we not still compare and analogize, sort and categorize, and reflect and relate what we know of the world to new information we come across? This is the type of intellectual work that’s important for the future of literacy, and fortunately enough, it’s what we naturally do.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reluctant readers…Recalcitrant Teachers?

Kellie Coughlin
Reluctant readers…Recalcitrant Teachers?
 
          The readings for this week present ideas that are common to those studying and working with literature. We are cognizant that the ways in which students are reading is changing, and yet we seem to be placing blame rather than working to change the problem. As the Kajder readings discuss, literacy must be interpreted as our ability to communicate. How we are able to communicate is our way of participating effectively in our world. As teachers, we seem to have numerous anxieties about the new manner in which our students are reading. To clarify: this new manner appears to be far more digital, graphic, and, well, busy. Students appear comfortable multi-tasking, even as the act appears to slow and diminish their work. How we read is changing, and therefore how we approach teaching literacy must continue to develop. Kajder describes the futilities faced by students who categorize themselves as poor readers, who are not focusing on what they believe is real reading. It is this exact problem we need to clarify as educators, especially in the early grades. Our students must be comfortable with the platforms we teach from so that they can develop those connections that make text ever more important. The classics are by default classic pieces of literature. We can fear their meaning and importance being lost amongst the push for graphic novels. However, we can also ensure that students are given the skills to read and therefore to be comfortable at a later age with mature, classical novels.
            Literacy has a huge role outside of society and it is here that we may very well have our best chance at removing anxieties. Encouraging group reads, promoting “good reads”, and working to model behaviors of readers can help lessen the strain in attitude felt by many students. In examining the articles about Google, and its frightening hold on our society, Google serves to communicate to us ideas. Whilst we may not interpret all of this data, we are aware that it is present for us. We have instant access to numerous answers, and yet we may not have the tools to know what is accurate. By recognizing Google as a tool and not the engine itself, we can see that it has the capacities to help us. Kajder notes that tools are important resources for educators. Google may be making it more difficult to teach the art of writing a research paper, but it remains a valuable tool for the promotion of exploratory means.
            The idea that we are “how we read” is concerning to me. It seems to base our level of literacy on generally accepted frameworks. There are too many students who struggle every day with reading and processing disabilities and who work extremely hard to communicate ideas. To make the statement that “we are how we read” seems to make a huge generalization about a huge population. We cannot be “how we read”, but we can be how we use our resources to communicate our ideas. By accepting that the way we read is changing, we then may focus on ways to bring literature to future generations. There are new values that we can place on learning. As the readings mention, these new values have to have an appreciation for the developing nature of the brain. Cascio’s article notes that “the amount of data we’ll have at our fingertips will be staggering, but we’ll finally have gotten over the notion that accumulated information alone is a hallmark of intelligence”. It will still be our ability to use this information, to argue with this information, to defend, dispute, and discuss this information in our lives that will matter. In the end, it will be our reluctance to change that will keep our students reluctant. Kajder’s approach to literacy is refreshing, as she reminds us of the need to use multiple methods of text to ensure our students’ needs are met.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reading the Visual and Preserving the Individual

As I read the selections for this week, three of which were in printed form (Kajer’s chapter and the two online articles) and one in electronic form (Bolter’s ebook), I found my mind organizing ideas and asking questions about the readings. One of these questions was whether Nicholas Carr makes a valid point in his, “Is Google Making Us Stupid,” article that printed texts and “quiet spaces” allow for the “undistracted reading of a book.” As I realized my mind was already wandering once I questioned this and that I was distracted by the people and noise that I share my space with, I came to the conclusion that no reading zone is free from all distractions and moved on from this question. My mind quickly moved to inquiries about reading, the importance of the visual and the relationship of body and technology.

Through the opinions offered in this week’s readings, it seems that people have varying interpretations of what reading is and whether or not electronic texts, whether they be electronic books, blogs, or text messages, count as “good” reading. Kajer’s example in her book, Bringing the Outside In, about her student, Gus, who tells her that he likes to read gamer codes and blog postings but states, “I know that stuff doesn’t count” (Kajer 5), poses the question, “ What is “good” reading and should we stem away from the idea that some reading is better than others?.”

In trying to state what “good” reading is and dismissing electronic writing that hasn’t appeared in printed form as bad, we seem to be isolating students from seeing themselves as good readers or readers at all. Gus’s response resembles Nicholas Carr’s acknowledgment in “Is Googling Making Us Stupid” that we are reading more than we did in the 1970s or 1980s but he calls it a “different kind of reading.” The word “different” makes it seem like it is not as good as what was done in previous years, making students like Gus see themselves as non-readers even though they may read in some capacity every day.

I was concerned with Gus’ response and asked my MCAS prep class, comprised of 9th to 12th grade students, if they struggled with reading and what they believed constituted reading. They had a hard time even telling me a name of a book they liked or disliked and told me that when they are told what to read, they become disinterested. I tried telling them that books are like people and that you may not like them at first, but when once you communicate with them, you may realize that you have something in common. But in thinking about my analogy later in the day, I realized that even I said books, subconsciously seeing that as the main form of reading and disregarding online postings and newspaper articles. Similar to Kajer, who points out in her book that she only saw reading as pertaining to learning how to pronounce words, some individuals associate reading with printed books that are part of a literary canon and have been deemed as classics. So again I return to the question, what is “good” reading and should this idea even exist in today’s world with students who struggle with reading comprehension (and do not need people telling them that what they read isn’t valid even though they’re reading)? Reading at even a seemingly low level, like that of reading a recipe, can provoke higher level thinking. As an individual reads the list of ingredients and thinks about which comes first, considering what would happen if step 5 came before step 3, or if the food was left in the oven too long, he/she is putting information together and thinking about relationships to one another. This meaning making process is what we ask students to do on a daily basis. If we encourage students to read, regardless if it is in printed or electronic form, we may allow them to see that reading is something they do for fun and do it without realizing it in their everyday life.

While there is the question about what good reading is, there is also the concern about how influential the visual is in reading and whether the text is being overlooked. Bolter states in Chapter 4 of Writing Spaces that the visual is becoming primary and the text becomes secondary with the addition of new electronic technologies. Newspapers now resemble web pages and include images at the forefront and brief summaries for the table of contents. This is evident in papers such as The Boston Herald that display a cover picture in color that is almost as big as the actual page, leaving little room for text. The reader’s eyes are drawn to the picture, pulling them into the cover story. But even though the picture is obviously large and in the reader’s face, is the visual taking away from a reader’s experience with reading text or making him/her less likely to analyze the printed word still?

Both articles that I read for this week’s reading included images that occupied a fair amount of room and came before the text of the article, but I did not find myself drawn to the pictures and forgetting about the text that I wanted to read. Below is the image from Jamais Cascio’s “Get Smarter” article and my reactions to the photograph:






Image: Anastasia Vasilakis (borrowed from the “Get Smarter” article in The Atlantic)


When I first saw this image, I noticed the swirl of colors and the man who seems to be free-falling into a fast-moving whirl pool. Upon looking at it now, I notice more of the shadows and how the colors do not have clearly defined lines. Even though I note these things, I honestly did not spend much time looking at this image before moving on to read the article, and once I finished the article, I didn’t think about the image that I first saw.
Although I note my reaction and realize that others may have spent more time looking at the image, especially those who are attracted to art or digital manipulations, I wonder how much images influence us or if we take images for granted. Nicholas Carr writes about the numerous Google ads that pop up as we surf the web and move from site to site, but when the ads are off on the side of the screen, the words and titles of web pages are directly in the viewer’s eyes. How many of us have clicked on one of the feature ads because we were drawn to them on the side of the page? Occasionally, I will click on an ad accidentally, but find myself closing out of it before I even have the chance to take a good look at it.


While Bolter states in Writing Spaces that images stand out on the page, “transforming us from readers to viewers” (56), they also serve to aid those who are visual learners and obtain knowledge best with pictures rather than words, which may seem to be jumbled together for those who have a reading disorder. Bolter does make a good point that we view images, in movies, billboards, television commercials, etc. and therefore are enticed by these. But these same images that may entertain us may help to provoke a student’s memory. Graphic novels is a good medium that shows how both text and image can be joined simultaneously, serving to entertain the reader but also provide the reader with a narrative for analysis. When I surveyed some of my students about graphic novels, they said that they liked reading plot details in a horizontal fashion rather than reading vertically down a page. For the visual learners, seeing the picture accompany text allows them to remember what happens in the story by visualizing the image.


Electronic technology has helped people rethink about reading and the work of the visual, but it also questions the relationship between the human body and technology. Cascio in “Get Smarter” speaks of augmentations through new electronic technologies, stating, “They’re very much a part of who we are today: they’re physically separate from us, but we and they are becoming cognitively inseparable.” It is as if our mind and thinking is joined with technology; we depend on technology to think and make decisions. Does technology really impact our lives to this extent and how should we feel? Cascio’s idea of body and technology being joined is similar to T.S. Eliot’s use of metonymy The Wasteland http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/18993, referring to the woman as the typewriter and using the word “hands” to refer to the sailor. The typewriter takes the place of the human and is able to increase production, but at the same time, T.S. Eliot makes it known that the human’s individuality is at stake. Similar to how people were concerned about industrialization causing the individual to lose its importance in the workforce, people, such as Nicholas Carr, who says that artificial intelligence would make thinking a “mechanical process, a series of discrete steps that can be isolated” (“Get Smart”), see technology as forming us to become mechanized without feelings. Although we may be ten, fifty, or a hundred years away from seeing artificial intelligence enacted in the masses, we are in a time where our electronic devices do seem to be a part of us. Many teenagers, and even adults, cannot go longer than a day or even an hour without their cell phone by their side. People constantly have their phone in their hands as if it is an extra appendage. The electronic policy at the school I teach at states that if a student is caught using their cell phone in school, he/she will have the option for a one day suspension or a week without their phone. Many students choose the one day suspension because they cannot imagine going seven days without using their phone, which they see as their contact to the outside world, especially for many who do not like to talk to others in public. It is as if electronic devices are a necessity rather than a luxury, but does this necessarily mean that the joining of body and technology is a bad thing? Those same students, who use their phone to gossip with their friends, may use the internet to play online word games or look up information that they do not know.


New electronic technologies have provoked much debate over what constitutes reading and whether the individual is losing his/her sense of self with new technologies. While there will always be many skeptics when something new is introduced, or something that enhances an older way, there are those that who will see these new tools as benefits. I like to think that new technologies can be used to help us in our daily lives when used in moderation, just like anything else.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Test post / hello!

Hello!
I was excited when I heard we were witching to blogger! That meant not having two different blog accounts to look at since I was already using blogger for other things...but I forgot that my blogger user name is ShatteredSmooth, not sara or sara.codair or really anything with my name in it. Will that bother or confuse anyone? I can always make a second account...

Let me know,


Sara

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Stop the Clock: Treating English as Something Static

Brendan Holloway
For some bookworms, bibliophiles, and for some who otherwise love everything about the experience of reading a book, the transition from paperback to digitalization has been, to say the least, infelicitous.  They say, “There’s nothing like the smell of an old book,” or “I can’t curl up with an electronic device like I can with a [paper] book.”  They want to make sure they can continue to have the types of reading experiences they are familiar with, and have grown to love. On the other hand, there are people, like myself, who are embracing technology and the ways it is changing how the world communicates.  Please know that many of us love books too, and at least as much as anyone else.  I grew up reading books made of paper, and I love the smell of them still.  I get it, and these things still excite me; paper books still excite me.   But I also know that I can curl up with my iPhone or Kindle and have an enjoyable reading experience no matter the medium.  Beyond the physicality that lends itself to nostalgia over our paper books and the pragmatic splendor of going digital, the real debate is, I believe, in the effects this current transition will have on literacy.  But it all so often seems that the focus of the debate lies heavily in wanting to or not wanting to use the technology, and we do little to involve ourselves with the concepts of this conversation that matter.

Jay Bolter describes this transition from paper to digital formats as a “remediation,” where “newer mediums take place of an older one” (23). That is to say, the book’s changes will not exactly reinvent the wheel--or in this case the English sentence.  We are experiencing a makeover of our literary materials: an extreme book makeover.  But if this was all it was, it doesn’t seem like a worthy debate at all.  And, if this makeover involved books alone, perhaps many debaters would concede that this is all for the best and technology would win out.  But electronic communication devices do not just supply readers with recorded output from an authority--like an author or publisher.  Now everyone with some money to spare for communication devices can become an authority on language themselves.  And publish this language on the internet without much thought.  This particular remediation has shifted our notion of literacy.

For many centuries, the way information was diffused from the socio-hierarchical top to the lay-men at the bottom, written English stayed relatively fixed--by comparison to today anyway.  Authors in print were not only experts on the ideas they wrote about, they were the experts on the written word in general.  Because pages of a book do not change, the medium suggested a fixed or permanent way writing was to be done (9).   Or at least it felt that way to the masses who vested their trust in authors as a fixed and permanent figurehead.  So, if you wrote, you emulated them, or tried to--there was no other way to be a literate person than to use options the authorities let you know you had. 

Who were the masses anyway to rebel from such linguistic suppression?  Mass literacy in most cultures is relatively new.  The masses are now entering what might be analogized as an adolescent phase of literacy: they are talking back and making their own decisions; they’re coming of age. So, like the keys to a parent’s car, the reigns of language change has been taken over from the elite minority (the parents in this analogy) by the majority of language users--the literate adolescents.  Actual language users are now the authority over their own language because they have the tools, thus the power, to assume the role of information transmitter.  The average language user is no longer a passive sponge absorbing the rules of language others have put before them, but instead, they are now driving the language forward, good or bad, because they can.  And so our English language is changing, and rapidly so.

Maybe it is the speed at which this change occurs that causes panic about how our world is trending towards illiteracy.  Of course, any statement like that is premature; language change does not indicate potential illiteracy.  This is especially true considering the speakers themselves are changing their own language. And there has been such major changes to the English language that our notion of the language hardly resembles what our Anglican ancestors spoke and wrote hundreds of years ago.  Yet here we are, me writing and you reading; two literate English speakers who could not communicate with our ancient predecessors.  So, yes, like remediation of our physical texts, what we fill our texts with has also changed and evolved.  But here is where things get complicated for us.  Remediation and how language users use language are closely related.  We just have not seen effects of remediation change language so quickly.  Perhaps that’s a downside of knowing too much about how we know things.  We are so absorbed with reflection and assessment that our brains are now trained to acknowledge these changes while they occur.  Still, remediation of the book and successive language change has happened to us before, and at the same time.

When we talk about the advent of the printing press and the effects it had on the masses, we tend to focus on the printing process and diffusion of literacy among the social classes.  Until recently, that focus seemed just.  However, the printing press is only part of the “ communication revolution [of the] late fifteenth century” (Einstein, 245).  And now we overlook a linguistic revolution of English that independently occurred at the same time with peril.  Compared to what’s happening today,  surely language changes were slowly paced: it took a few hundred years for Middle English to get close to what we speak today.  But around the same time as the appearance of the printing press, we had hegemonic speakers driving the language forward. Queen Elizabeth I, for instance, found the endings of certain verbs a little too square, uncool. The young Virgin Queen and her friends, within one generation, had changed hath and doth to has and does, replacing the verb ending -th with a sibilant -s (Nevalainen, 188). This change, which socially-important people like the queen and her friends helped along, was not a random linguistic act: the popularity of this -s sound traveled north from the ports and harbors of Southern England, and the -th verb ending was proliferated from the language throughout most of the country.  Eventually, this sound change made its way into books, fixed itself within the language, and inevitably became rule.  It took hundreds of years for this rule to be settled by authorities.

What do we do when changes like this are emanate?  What happens when changes like this are immediate?  We face these two scenarios because of technology.  But it is nearly impossible to say which progresses language change faster, technology or social need.  Our social need to convey meaning has always had a symbiotic relationship with the technology we use to produce and distribute meaning.  Communication technology advances because of the needs of communicators--and by communicators I mean the world’s population because the system of language change I describe works the same way among un-contacted tribes of the Brazilian Rain Forest as it does for book publishers in New York City.  When the technology of communication advances, we communicators are provided with more linguistic options to convey meaning.  And when we take advantage of those options, the way we use our language inevitably changes.  This is the kind of language change that occurs when a new college students embark upon academic writing for the first time: material presented to them in a basic Composition 101 course informs them of options they have when writing academic papers.  This is also the kind of language change that occurs when communicators only have 140 characters through which to express themselves, like when on Twitter: communicators weigh their options and see truncation and abbreviation as bona fide solutions to their linguistic problems.  And really, they are solutions.  It’s systematic.

As English educators we are put in a tough spot.  This is why we say with one breath, “language is a living thing that ebbs and flows, but you must adhere to the rules that have nothing to do with how the language wants to behave.”  And we  require students to follow the rules as if language was static and unimpressionable because we have responsibilities to the academy to produce good writers.  Good writing, in the eyes of the academy, would require academic language.  Which has not changed much in light of the way the actual world speaks English these days.   Thus, academic language is increasingly alienating our students who otherwise speak and write without accountability until they get to us.  So what do we do with these little Queen Elizabeths, who run around as the authority of their own tongue?  Do we give them room to speak and write as they choose?  Certainly we want them to incorporate their identity and voice in their academic papers.  But what about the words they choose?  We take away options that were naturally processed into their language and  provide them with options that were arbitrarily designed hundreds of years ago.  This is what we do.  This is what we must do.  But if we do it, then at least know that the way our students speak and write reflects the world they live in.  It does not reflect a level of intelligence, or ignorance.  It reflects the natural way language changes; it reflects the natural way the speaker knows to communicate.
Sources:
Bolter, Jay David. Writing Space: Computers, Hypertext and the Remediation of Print. New York: Routeledge, 2001. Print.
Einstein, Elizabeth. “Defining the Initial Shift.” The Book History Reader.  ed. David Finklestein and Alistar McCleery. New York: Routledge, 2008. Print.
Nevalainen, Terttu. “Mapping Language Change in Tudor England.” The Oxford History of English. ed. Lyndon Mugglestone. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Print.

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