I have to admit, when I approach most of these technology assignments that Kadjer presents, I'm the first to vehemently question their relevance. "What about the research!" I usually postulate. "How is this going to teach a kid how to write a good research paper? How is it going to help him get into college? How is it going to help him survive in a college-level composition class?" However, my notions of "relevance" were completely dashed as Kadjer recounted this classroom experience. I found myself qualifying my earlier questions: "How can students write about books and peck away at a research paper if they can barely read?" It's a humbling quandary.
As the chapter progresses, we see not only Rai's connecting and engaging with the text, but we also see an unexpected sophistication when he chooses a Rothko painting (see below) from the National Gallery of Art's website: "I matched the images to what went on in my head. I saw colors—cold colors—like in the painting. It feels empty, just like in the main character of the novel. He can't even use his own words" (p. 76).
|Mark Rothko, Untitled, 1969|
The younger generation's ability to connect with text via technology is not a new phenomenon (at least it isn't to us taking this course). Gunther Kress argues that "words are always general and, therefore, vague. Words being nearly empty of meaning need filling with the hearer and/or reader's meaning" (p. 15), whereas "unlike words, depictions are full of meaning; they are always specific" (p. 15). He's not alone. Bolter also argues that "in the electronic writing space, where every reading of a text is a realization or indeed a rewriting of the text, to read is to interpret" (p. 183). Kadjer cites Kylene Beers, who writes that "it's more critical for dependent readers to talk about texts during the reading than after it" (p. 72).
In other words, what all of these articles suggest is that reading is typically successful when the reader can visualize both simple and complicated actions within the text, while simultaneously being able to produce related connections from other texts, pieces of art, and/or historical prescience.
Kadjer outlines how to coax that interpretation by asking students to incorporate technology and media from outside the classroom to brainstorm this interpretation, so it's not necessary to reproduce them here. But what we should pay attention to are the projects' limitations: It was challenging to ensure equal technological access among her students; server space, especially with iMovie files, was problematic because of its size constraints; students were faced with the demoralizing reality of losing all of their work due to client/application crashes; and, the sole arbiter of all teaching issues, time was always limited.
Janet Swenson echoes these limitations: "All of these needs are dependent upon unified policies and support at the systemic level. However, in an era of declining budgets and increasingly reductive views of assessment, we have to admit we don't know how this could or would be funded. It is apt to fall to individual educators to decide the extent to which they will prioritize this work and then to finance it from their own pockets. Yes, it is unfair ... and characteristic of the profession" (p. 366).
So what now? I leave you with these questions:
1. Swenson writes:
"Introduction of visual images into print texts might also allow us to resurrect seldom used genres. ... Living Newspapers, popular during the Depression Era, dramatized newspaper accounts of human interest stories with social and political implications, punctuated by statistics related to the issue illustrated in the narrative and music used as satire. ... [T]he genre would work well in a Web-based environment in which students could locate the newspaper article, write the script, research the statistics, create charts and graphs to illustrate those, and sample music for song lyrics that would add an ironic twist" (p. 364).
- While this project gives students a chance to work with research materials and sources in a "new" way, it's the harsh reality that if the student moves to another city or town, or plans to attend college, s/he will be expected to know how to write a plain-jane research paper.
- Provided that we can assume the students in your class are at, right below, or right above the average reading level for their grade, how do you ensure that—when the student leaves your classroom—s/he knows how to write a research paper?
- Is it possible to work to complete both a "Living Newspaper" project while also expecting the students to produce a research paper in the same semester?
- How do you incorporate a student whose reading level is drastically below his/her grade level? How do you help him/her succeed with limited time and limited resources?
- Are these projects restrictions to more "traditional" approaches to school assignments like the research paper or five-paragraph essay? Why or why not?
"The first commonplace books appeared during the Renaissance and contained hand-copied excerpts from manuscripts—and, eventually, from printed books—along with personal annotations. As Garvey describes, these were succeeded by something closer to what we think of as scrapbooks. In them, people of a literary bent would paste photographs or cuttings from magazines and newspapers. Between the keepsakes, they would scribble appropriate scraps of prose or poetry, or associated thoughts that might profit from later revision."
- Newspaper clippings, photographs, and personal annotations may seem to be primitive resources by today's standards, but they are still considered "multimedia" because they draw across multiple platforms of mediums (i.e., media) to comprise one project.
- While this idea of a scrapbook is suitably low-tech, do you think it would be enough of a low-tech assignment to avoid the problems of equal access to technology?
- Again, do think this could be angled toward a more traditional research project, or even a more technologically savvy one?
*** Just for fun, take a moment to read "Theme for English B" by Langston Hughes. Any time we discuss take-home assignments or essays for this class, I think of this poem. If it doesn't change your life, you can blame me for the wasted time in discussion on Wednesday. :) ***
Image source: National Gallery of Art