Thursday, May 27, 2010

BW Summary

Clark, J. Elizabeth and Marisa A. Klages. “New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and Digital Assumptions.” Journal of Basic Writing. 28.1 (2009): 32-49. Academic Search Complete. Web. 18 April 2010.

In “New Worlds…” Clark and Klages examine the new challenges and opportunities associated with teaching basic writing in the digital age. By first describing basic writers’ literacy and the evolving notion of literacy in the digital age, the writers set the stage to present examples of the incorporation of multi-modal instruction into the basic writing classroom, especially with the use of e-portfolio. The article is a record of the current teaching practices in basic writing at LaGuardia Community College, in the City University of New York system. Three central questions are explored throughout the work: What factors contribute to a failure to acknowledge or practice writing as a process by basic writers who are also “digital natives?” What are the best practices for teaching basic writing in the digital age? What are the effects of multimodal instruction for basic writers?
Klages and Clark begin by examining expectations and truths about literacy of basic writers in the digital age. While these students are often active users of many tools of Web 2.0, they often lack the critical consciousness necessary to engage in sustained evaluation of the uses and products of digital technology. Facility with technology should not be mistaken for fluency in language use, according to the authors. Basic writers may be fluent in the mechanics of the Internet and computers, but they often fail to “dig deeper,” to inquire into the purposes and possibilities of the technological tools they use everyday. A similar disconnect has historically prevailed among basic writers: they are partly marked as “basic writers” because they lack the critical thinking apparatus and stylistic tools needed to compose post-secondary appropriate writing. Basic writing students in the digital age need exposure to ideas and questions about rhetoric of the digital age to become more proficient writers.
Further, the “instant publishing” capabilities of the digital age present basic writers with two seemingly opposed opportunities: they can post writing for the public to view without participating in the process of revision. While basic writers have historically labored in the intellectual back waters of the university or community college, today their work is easily recognizable on many popular web sites and social networking communities. The web presents forums for users to share their ideas, and users of Web 2.0 technology are constantly exchanging small pieces of text with one another. Every piece of writing from social network messages to comments in a discussion forum is an act of composing, be it eloquent or not. In effect, basic writers who compose messages on the web are being published without being vetted: they are participating in a public act of written communication. Because they lack the critical tools and stylistic proficiency of writers with more practice, basic writers may fail to reproduce the messages they intend when publishing on the web, or they may fail to consider the writing they are doing as “real” writing. The authors find these acts of literacy encouraging, but no tutor, peer or instructor reviews a basic writer’s posting before it is published on the web, and the idea of a process for writing is seemingly incongruent with the instantaneous “real time” presentation of text on the screen. Basic writers traditionally lack an understanding of or fail to acknowledge the idea that writing is a process, and the digital age presents more opportunities for students to ignore that idea.
After establishing what they perceive to be the contemporary situation and problems of basic writers studying in the digital age, Klages and Clark suggest some strategies for effective use of multimodal tools in the classroom. They suggest the use of the e-portfolio as the primary digital tool for increasing effectiveness of basic writing instruction today. The e-portfolio builds on the successes of the portfolio model of instruction in writing courses, but incorporates investigation of digital rhetoric and opportunities for multi-modal composing into the critical appreciation for writing that students develop as they build their collections of essays and reflections. The authors believe that use of the e-portfolio is one way to engage students’ technological knowledge while building their writing skills, especially among the specific demographic they serve at LaGuardia Community College.
The demographic of LAGCC students is incredibly diverse and multilingual, and most students are active participants in the social and community networks available via Web 2.0 technologies. The basic writer at LaGuardia Community College is nearly in the majority of the student population: 44% of admitted students are placed in a basic writing course. While these basic writers are active composers in the digital realm, they often view themselves as “non-writers” in a society that prizes literacy, and view the writing courses they are assigned to as an “academic ghetto,” according to the authors. Basic writers fail to understand a connection between the writing they do outside of class with the perceived demands of “college writing.”
E-Portfolio, then, is a means for students to connect and strengthen the writing and technology skills they already possess and gain exposure to the process involved with academic writing that will help ensure their success in college. Three key practices inform the authors’ pedagogy for e-portfolio: revision, reflection, and exploration of possibilities for expression in the digital realm. While revision and reflection are not new elements of writing as a process, with the course built around e-portfolio, the modes of composing, revising and reflecting are broadened. Students have the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of technological applications while practicing the critical reading and analytical skills required of good writing.
What traditionally happens within the walls of the basic writing classroom is connected to the world outside by e-portfolio, thereby validating basic writers’ position as writers participating in society. Students writing in different courses have access to each other’s work, and faculty and other campus community members can view work in student e-portfolios when provided access. Further, students can choose to share their work with family members and friends outside of school. The authors suggest that e-portfolios empower basic writers to take control of their education, and ultimately, their future lives.
The authors present anecdotal evidence of the learning about writing and the college community that results from the use of e-portfolios in the basic writing classroom. Several examples note students’ development of an awareness of the arena they have entered in college and present the possibility of preserving individual identity within the morass of the institution. One student’s e-portfolio pictures allowed her to show the various roles she plays as a student, a Nepalese woman, and an immigrant New Yorker, and other images she used helped to demonstrate ideas she conveyed in writing. Reflections and comments posted by students and professors on the e-portfolio pages are a running record of the student writing processes and help to document learning. Blogs allowed students to connect course content with current events, creating opportunities for inter-textual synthesis. Evidently, the e-portfolio provides students with a public forum to document their learning and “try on” the voice of academic writing, even while they increase their digital proficiency and retain a strong sense of self. The digital divide of the eighties and nineties has been largely resolved, but the authors point to a new, emergent digital divide, where basic writers and other underprepared adults are unable to critically navigate the complex mass of information and possibilities for communication available via Web 2.0 technology. Clark and Klages suggest that increasing digital literacy and writing skills together for basic writers will lead to their further engagement with and success in society. The use of the e-portfolio in the writing classrooms of LAGCC is one technique to manifest this transformation of basic writers into what the authors call “literate cyber citizens.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Blog Posts for C0831

Sunday, May 2, 2010
Literacy Democracy Advocacy: CCRC Forum on Basic Writing
At the forum on basic writing last Friday, the presenters (Rebecca Mlynarczyk, George Otte and Deborah Mutnick) shared information about their new book and a summary of a basic writing (bw) survey they have been conducting via survey monkey since 2007.

You can download the entire book at the WAC clearinghouse website. Go here, and then click on the books section in the menu. The book,Basic Writing, appears in the Reference Guides to Rhetoric and Composition section.

It seems like Chapter Five of the book might be a good resource for bw in the future, as it contains many references to innovative models for bw in college, including the Stretch Program at Arizona State University, the Accelerated Learning Program at Baltimore Community College and other models.

The actual presentation included a discussion of the book and some issues that remain unresolved in the field of Basic Writing. As with all parts of higher ed, there is grave concern about funding for the future of basic writing programs. More so, though, there seems to be a lack of consensus about the future of the field in practice. The authors did not suggest a clear path for program administration and development in the future, nor did they suggest that one model of instruction is most effective. Perhaps this is a reflection of the diversity of skill sets, cultural backgrounds and institutional situations where basic writing exists.

Nonetheless, audience members expressed the need for 1)professionalization of the field (with more graduate courses in bw theory and practice), 2)better funding and preparation for adjuncts, 3)an embrace of the possibilities of multimodal instruction, 4) a "rebranding" of the field and the instructional environment, and 5) further articulation of the theoretical split of colleges who choose to or decline to provide basic writing courses. This last project is what Prf. Mlynarcyzk called a decision making process for institutions that traditionally involves a split between access and excellence, where institutions that provide access for BW students are perceived as less "excellent."

As most of the people in attendance were CUNY based, the discussion also turned to the history and current status of BW in this college system. With the history of Open Admissions and the work of M. Shaughnessy and others, CUNY is a leader in the field of BW, but the demise of the classes in the 4 year institutions in the nineties seems to have left a chasm in access and for research. Interestingly, the ability for students to enroll in a senior college vs. a community college at CUNY is determined by a one point difference on admissions test scores. Several speakers at the presentation suggested that BW was absent in name only from the senior colleges, as student ability does not vary significantly across the CUNY schools. I think it is true, however, that community perceptions of the schools themselves do vary significantly and some of that access vs. excellence division is pretty clear, if not really true, among the CUNY institutions. In my opinion, the division between access and excellence is a false dichotomy, but I think the role of the university is equally to educate students and to create new knowledge through research, not one or the other.

Profs. Mutnick and Mlynarczyk have also been working on a survey of basic writing across the US for the past three or four years. The survey is available to view here. They presented their findings at the 4cs and are beginning to embark on conducting qualitative components of the survey and analyzing their continuing assemblage of outcomes.

Thursday, April 22, 2010
Language and Cognition in Mike Rose
One passage struck me as asking a current and unanswered question in Lives on the Boundary:

Yet what remains is the disturbing tendency to perceive the poor as different in some basic way from the middle and upper classes--the difference now being located in the nature of the way they think and use language. A number of studies and speculations over the last twenty-five years has suggested that the poor are linguistically deficient, or at least different: They lack a logical language or reason in ways that limit intellectual achievement or, somehow, process information dysfunctionally. (Rose 221)

Rose goes on to mention the sociolinguist Labov as one of the first scholars to critique such notions, but I would like to know how Labov's critique can be supported by cognitive science. I wrote down some of the Rose articles we looked at in class last week, but any other titles or names of writers specializing in these questions would be appreciated. It seems to me that the logic of language is probably not only determined inside the mind, but also by environment: isn't that at least partly how dialects develop? Maybe the question of universal human grammar as advanced by Chomsky also figures into this conflict.

This quote reminds me of that beautiful phrase of Shaughnessy's: "the intelligence of the student's mistake," also mentioned in Rose's book. To find and understand the source of mistakes in writing is a difficult task that maybe requires interaction beyond reading and responding to papers, but also active dialogue between instructors and students.
Posted by wynne at 8:06 PM 0 comments

The tutorial center that Mike Rose helped to streamline in "The Politics of Remediation" was a vibrant center for learning where he had a great opportunity to understand more about the process of writing.

I thought the story of Suzette was a particularly apt description of the situation of many writers who are eager to express their knowledge but struggle to meet the perceived standards for writing in college. The following quote described the writers' and writing tutors' conundrum:

Many people respond to sentence fragments of the kind Suzette was making as thought he writer had some little hole in that part of her brain where sentences are generated. They repeat a rule: "A sentence has to have a subject and a verb and express a complete thought." No matter that the rule is problematic, if they can just graft it into the fissures of the writer's gray matter, she'll start writing good sentences. But, Suzette didn't have was a command of some of the stylistic maneuvers that would enable her to produce the sophisticated sentences she was reaching for. The more skilled tutors got at listening and waiting, the better they got at catching the clue that would reveal what Shaughnessy was fond of calling the intelligence of the student's mistake. (Rose 172)

To me, Rose's story illustrates the futility of solely focusing on grammar and sentence-level correction in writing, unless it is combined with an introduction to and analysis of the broader possibilities of expression that come from stringing thoughts and ideas together (using transitions, conjunctions, commas, and active verbs, of course) in paragraphs and pages. When I write, I think about subjects and verbs last, when I am checking for clarity, not while I am building paragraphs out of ideas. Instruction in the logic of grammar can be used to great effect in improving student writing, but I don't think that learning the vocabulary or rules of grammar necessarily makes people better writers. The stylistic maneuvers that Rose is writing about above are acquired most easily from reading widely and practicing writing, but good style is also about a simple awareness of the meaning and uses of words. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the best ways to incorporate grammar instruction into the composition classroom or tutoring session.

The stories of James and Lucia in this chapter also illustrate ongoing problems students face in their transition to college. While professors and lecturers may be well-versed in both the technical demands of university level writing and the nuances of their particular fields' discourses, they should not assume that first-year college students, or third or fourth year, for that matter, have the same knowledge. Instructors may scoff at students who can't write literary analysis, but if literary analysis is never modeled or explained, what else can be expected? How could intro courses in writing or bulk lectures in various fields improve the way they introduce what it means to write or produce other work for the academy? Likewise, what is the relationship between mastering academic discourse and success in the world outside college?

When learners lack the basic functional skills or knowledge necessary to articulate specific goals, the effectiveness of learner-centered instruction is reduced because learners are not self-directed. Instructors need to provide intensive support that will help learners first recognize and describe their needs so that they can then develop specific goals. pg. 18//24 in the copies.

This statement stood out to me because I meet a lot of students who need help articulating their goals before they can start working to achieve them. While it at first seems confusing that instructors might have to create opportunities for self-direction for students, perhaps it can be achieved through careful combination of activities and materials. Practicing reflection about learning may lead to a better sense of purpose for learners, thereby engendering more self-awareness about the direction of lives in general. For example, in the realm of problem solving in math, I often give my students the answers to word problems and ask them to explain how the answer can be found. By focusing on the process to obtain the answer, students are forced to articulate their method, not just to find the correct answer. This simple exercise, repeated in math and other disciplines, might help students to think more about how they learn, and the tools they use to solve problems. Although math might seem far removed from goal articulation, I think that people who engage in reflection of one sort are more apt to be reflective about all their actions...

Adult Learning Bibliography
Here are a few publications related to Adult Learning and Development from the course in the L&L program on that topic last year.

Herman, Lee and Alan Mandell. From Teaching to Mentoring: Principle, Practice, Dialogue and Life in Adult Education. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Knowles, Malcolm. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston: Gulf Publishing, Revised Edition 1990.

Merriam, Sharan, Rosemary S. Caffarella and Lisa M. Baumgartner. Learning In Adulthood: A Comprehensive Guide Third Edition. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2007.

Wlodkowski, Raymond J. Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults, Revised Edition. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, John Wiley & Sons, 1999.

Fenwick, Tara J. Learning Through Experience: Troubling Orthodoxies and Intersecting Questions. Malabar: Krieger Publishing Company, 2003.

Marsick, Victoria and Karen Watkins. "Informal and Incidental Learning." New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education (2001): 29-34.

I'm a little late to this conversation, but I wanted to add that I learned so much from the readings Megan provided and the discussion she conducted in class.

I also wrote my paper about Braille literacy. One book that I used for research was: Foundations of Braile Literacy by Evelyn Rex, et al. This text included some interesting commentary about the sensory "discrimination and perception" of Braille readers.

Teachers who are fostering Braille literacy have to provide their students with opportunities to become "active explorers" of their environment through touch. I think this effort probably compares to the efforts of teachers to create awareness of print in a sighted learner's environment.

Even though we might at first think that learning by touch and committing information to memory is much different than learning by sight, cognitive science has shown that the actual processes in the brain are similar. The most significant difference is that information or experiences recorded in the tactile memory are more fleeting than those recorded by sight.

I think research into the way the brain processes information can provide a lot of insight into the best ways to affect learning in our students. The findings above indicate that while blind students may use a different mode to acquire literacy, they are participating in exactly the same kind of learning as a sighted person. Showing learning processes associated with Braille literacy might help to reinforce the argument in favor of Braille education.
April 7, 2010 4:20 PM

The graduation rate data may or may not be accurate, depending who you ask. For example, the Comptroller for NYC questioned the validity of about 10% of a research sample of 196 people who earned diplomas in 2008.

That said, the retention issue is perhaps the most popular conversation in public education today. I think that retention and graduation depends as much on positive social/personal support in the school and community as it does on the quality of the content delivered in the classroom. I am not a public school teacher, but in the GED classroom, a majority of drop-outs are due to outside pressures and complications, not lack of skills or access to instruction. Early and ongoing intervention in these students' lives is the only to keep from losing them in class. Based on a workshop I attended about advising last week, the same reasons for attrition apply to credit bearing courses at the community college level in NYC. I would venture that high school students in the urban environment share many of the same personal/social concerns as young GED and community college students. While politicians and administrators want to focus on delivering the content students need to achieve in the workplace or college, I feel like "soft skills" for managing life (and graduating high school) may be ignored. I know that many people would make the argument that these survival techniques are best learned at home, but what if you aren't growing up in a supportive environment? Don't we see that highly supportive, SMALL charter high schools with good counselors improve graduation rates? Besides $, why can't this be a public school model, too?

As for the teachers, could it be possible that the undergraduate and graduate training they received under-prepares them for the workplace, just as they in turn seem to be under-preparing their own students? Besides being current on pedagogies, should teachers equally be masters of their subject matter? Changing the standards for teacher education might help the content mastery of students in the long run...There are some english ed programs housed in English departments, for instance, but maybe post-secondary education for teachers needs to become a collaborative effort of education professors and subject specific academics.

wynne said...
wynne said...

Thanks for all your comments. In response to a few questions above and in the other blog posts, I'm posting some links and possible answers here.

The Community College Research Center published a study of outcomes of I Best programs in Washington state. You can access a pdf of their study at and searching for I-BEst in the search bar. The study is the first search result. The information presented compares student outcomes from IBest and non-IBest adult education and credit courses.

Someone mentioned the discussion around whether people should earn college credit in integrated vocational programs. According to Amy: Some states such as Washington (IBEST) already offer fully "credited" and articulated pathways for vocational and college programs. CUNY does not but I think the idea is increasingly part of discussions about how to create stronger links between workforce development and higher ed.

As for linking with adult literacy programs outside the CUNY system, I'm not aware of any formal linkage between programs. We do maintain lists of CBOs (Community Based Organizations) that we use to recruit potential students. I'd like to hear more about everyone's perspective on the possibility of using the IBEST model for adult learners who are at the most basic levels of literacy.

Thanks again for all of your comments and participation in the presentation.

wynne said...
GED programs are way more expensive to run per student than the cost of metrocards.

wynne said...
Concerns about targeting only advanced students with this program are valid. However, the best part of this program is that students earn college credits that are paid for by DOE. I would guess that the average additional cost of $500 per student that the article mentions is pretty low, if compared to the average per pupil spending citywide.

When I lived in Washington, I taught at a tech high school that was a magnet school for 16 high schools. This was an alternate route for students in their junior and senior years, where they could earn credits while acquiring skills for a specific profession. Culinary arts, vet tech, nursing, and construction trades were among the programs offered. Washington also has a college/high school program called Running Start. Its described on this wikipedia page:

For many of the students I meet, and for myself, too, I think one of the greatest perceived consequences of no college degree is economic. Here is a link to a bureau of labor statistics graph detailing the relation between education and pay circa 2008:

That said, the social/cultural consequences of not earning a college degree are less statistically quantifiable and less universally agreed upon than an education's monetary value, but equally present as a subject for consideration in and outside the academy. People like Arne Duncan, Stanley Fish, the professor who owns the building I live in, and the students I work with in GED classes cannot really dispute the economic value of a college education, but their social positions and cultural backgrounds determine diverse takes on why or if college is of consequence to them beyond the monetary benefit it is supposed to yield.

In my own education, college gave me the practice I needed to write more accurately and academically (although that may not always be reflected here) and become versed in the practice of engaging into inquiry about how knowledge and ideas are constructed. I bet that outcome is a bit different for a student of biology, as opposed to philosophy. The outcomes described above are practical consequences of training in a specific discipline. They are largely impossible to obtain in high school or in the library, because they are dependent on learning between peers and professors, and shaped by the community in which they occur.

Achieving any of the practical outcomes of college training depends on ascribing to, or at least acknowledging, a set of social norms practiced and advanced by whatever college one attends. I would venture that some, if not all, college graduates retain knowledge or practice of these norms as they conduct themselves in social, familial and business interactions. College is not the only venue where certain norms are advanced by a majority, but I would say that it is one with great impact.
February 15, 2010 5:04 PM

wynne said...
the link didn't post in the previous comment; here it is again:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Braille Literacy Encyclopedia Entry Spring 2010

Besides auditory exposure to language, people with normal vision are bombarded with printed words at every turn of their heads. A casual stroll on any block of a city will yield instant exposure to print in various forms, including street signs, advertisements, building names and license plates. People who are blind do not have the same visual experience with language, but they can be equally immersed in words through Braille. Literacy in Braille signifies an individual’s ability to understand and interpret the Braille system and use it as means to read, interpret, create and utilize language. Braille literacy is one significant component of the total measure of the literacy for a person who is blind.

Braille is a system that presents language tactually through a system of raised dots. Louis Braille developed the system as a classroom tool for blind students to acquire literacy, originally in French. “The system Braille developed was based on a six-dot cell, three points high and two points wide. Each dot was assigned a numerical name” (Rex 30). The six-dot cell can only be arranged into 63 possible configurations, but these are sufficient to present both alphabet letters and mathematical marks and numbers. The small number of possible configurations relative to the vast expressive powers of language is a function similar to the complexities wrought by the alphabet system of print. However, that complexity is doubled by the fact that Braille is a system for re-presenting another linguistic system. Braille is not a language unto itself, but a code used to transmit language and mathematical notation to blind people: “it is a portrayal of print, with special rules and multiple uses of each sign (configuration)” (Rex 30). Current research in Braille acknowledges the difficulties with acquiring both a language and a code used to represent it. Rex writes that “more research is necessary to determine which units of the language code, particularly its syntactical or grammatical units, are not compatible with Braille code” (31). The particular difficulty with matching Braille to printed language arises from the lack of a one-to-one correspondence between characters and dots in these systems. Just as language evolves, so too must Braille code alongside it.

Braille instruction departs from mainstream literacy instruction in so far as it requires tactile components to be effective. Students of Braille must become highly dexterous at feeling the words they are reading: “the learner must engage in multiple explorations to gain information comparable to that gained by the sighted learner in a single viewing” (Rex 26). Educational environments that include the Braille code must include material that appeals to all the senses; especially touch and hearing.

To build Braille literacy, instruction follows a developmental arc similar to any literacy education that adopts an integrated approach to teaching language. Just as English instructors in a mainstream classroom pay careful attention to the way writing, reading and oral language usage are incorporated into their curriculum, Rex and other researchers suggest that these considerations play an equally important role in the Braille classroom:

Professionals who work with individuals who are blind have always viewed literacy as an integrated process involving reading, writing, speaking and listening—which have been called “communication skills”—and have realized that all these skills must be developed to their maximum and integrated meaningfully with life skills. (Rex 9)

Students who learn Braille as part of their the language acquisition process should engage in classroom activities that build a path through emergent literacy to basic literacy, to proficiency in Braille and functional literacy.

Emergent literacy for blind students depends on repeated and ongoing exposure to Braille materials to complement standard instructional materials that often include classroom print displays, big picture books and labels. Instructors must be careful to create opportunities for blind children to be exposed to language: “since young children who are blind do not have incidental opportunities to observe the reading and writing activities of those around them, care must be taken to alert them that such activities are taking place” (Rex 26). Becoming aware of language is the first step in a student’s acquisition of Braille literacy.

As students continue to practice literacy skills, they require input and guidance from instructors dedicated to and knowledgeable about Braille instructional methods. Lack of opportunities for ongoing instruction in Braille throughout the school years will prevent learners from the immersion they need to become proficient Braille readers and writers. “Regardless of the service delivery model, students who are blind need access to specialized instruction on a consistent and ongoing basis to develop basic literacy” (Rex 11). Just as mainstream students require books, paper, chalkboards and computers to practice literacy, so too do blind students, with the addition of continuous instruction in and experience with Braille.

As Braille students become proficient in using the code, instructors need to provide continued, meaningful experiences with language for Blind students. Functional literacy is not only a requirement for people whose profession involves teaching or communication: all people need to be proficient users of language to function to their highest potential. Educators must…
provide ample opportunities for persons who are blind to master the functional literacy tasks they need for living fully; to use strategies to gain access to print independently, when necessary; to continue to learn new strategies and skills after they leave an instructional program; and to demonstrate self-advocacy skills for gaining information. (Rex 13)

Fluency in the Braille code is the key to independence for people who are blind.
Many researchers agree that the purpose of Braille education is to provide students with the means to communicate to the best of their abilities in mainstream society, in the same or similar ways as their sighted peers. Rex finds that Braille is the best format for blind people to demonstrate their knowledge and practice literacy: “Children who are blind have as much of a right to attain higher and higher levels of literacy as do children with normal vision…Braille is the primary medium that can help them grow continuously in literacy” (Rex 5). Meanwhile, dramatic declines in Braille literacy rates demonstrate that programs and classroom dedicated to Braille instruction are the exception, rather than the rule in education today.

Braille literacy rates in the United States are currently much lower than in previous decades. According to the American Federation for the Blind, the Braille Institute reports that “nearly 12 percent of the 55,000 legally blind children in the United States can read Braille,” (NLS Fact Sheet) which represents a decline of nearly 30 percent since the late 1960’s. A study conducted by Ruby Ryles in the late 1990’s found strong correlations between Braille literacy and educational attainment and employment rates: “Those who learned to read using Braille had higher employment rates and educational levels, were more financially self-sufficient, and spent more time reading than did those who learned to read using print” (Ryles 1). Instruction in Braille not only enables people to communicate with language in an accessible mode, but also creates a broader spectrum of options for advancement in adulthood. As Braille literacy is the key to the independence for blind people, “the decline of Braille literacy in the past three decades may contribute to increased social and economic malaise for the visually impaired” (Spungin 2). Technological improvements in the field of Braille transcription and printing may help to reverse the declining rates of Braille literacy in the coming years.
 While listening devices and computers once replaced instruction in Braille, these and other tools may be put to use in Braille literacy instruction as technology continues to improve. While the costs may sometimes be prohibitive, the availability of these tools ought to become more widespread as time passes. Samuel notes a few developments that should improve students’ access to and facility with Braille.
Portable devices similar to laptop computers allow blind students to type notes and read them back through a Braille display. Similar devices can render text on a computer screen into Braille, using a refreshable display. And software is cutting down on the time it takes to produce Braille reading materials for students, including textbooks. Just listening to books doesn’t teach a blind child how to read, spell, or write, instructors say. (Samuels 28)

These technological advancements, coupled with increased funding to provide more universal accessibility to Braille literacy materials will positively affect students’ chances for obtaining the instruction they require to become independent. Samues writes that “the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)reauthorization includes provisions that are intended to ensure that Braille textbooks are produced faster” (28). Continued legislative motions and advancement in the computer field may reverse the declining rates of Braille literacy in years to come. According to Blake, “for the blind person [as well as the sighted], literacy involves all methods of acquiring, storing and accessing information and all methods of communicating one’s own ideas, opinions and needs” (1). Braille is the code by which these methods are primarily enacted by people who are blind. Even so, other modes to access and transmit information besides the use of the Braille code exist. Blake also includes the “ability to use print and computers, as well as the ability to use readers and recorded materials to gain access to and acquire the most knowledge from information” (1) as components of literacy for blind people.

Media and technology available to the visually impaired complement the use of the Braille code but fail to replace it as the primary tool of literacy. According to Rex, “basic to each type of literacy is the ability to communicate meaning through written language” (6). For people who are blind, Braille is the primary mode of expression in writing and reading: while the characters are different than the print alphabet, they provide the means to communicate through touch. Ike Presley, a project manager for the Federation of the Blind supports the continued use of and education for Braille: “Braille allows a person to have a reading and writing medium for both information access and for personal use... Technology is not replacing Braille. It increases the availability to Braille, making it easier to produce and less expensive” (Weiss 2). While declines in Braille literacy in the past two decades have been attributed to competing technologies, emerging technology may actually improve people’s ability to manipulate language and meaning with Braille.
Fluency in the Braille code is the cornerstone, but not the singular component, of literacy for blind people. Facility with language is required in most of the daily tasks and transmissions of thought any human engages in. Just as sighted people need to be print literate in order to function to their fullest capacity in contemporary society, so too do blind people need a system for using language to its full potential.

The Braille code is an intrinsic component of literacy for the visually impaired. If “ a person’s level of literacy has a direct impact on both physical and psychological well being… it affects emotional well being by enabling independence and confidence,” (Blake 1) then fluency in the Braille code is of utmost importance to the success and personal satisfaction of blind people. The significance of the Braille code cannot be underestimated for its effect on the literacy of the blind.

Works Cited

About Braille NLS Factsheet. National Library Services. 5 November 2009. Web. 2 April 2010.
Blake, Sarah J. The Importance of Braille Literacy. Blindness Growing Strong. Web. 2 April 2010.
Rex, Evelyn L., Alan J Koening, Diane P. Wormsley and Robert L. Baker. Foundations of Braille Literacy. American Foundation of the Blind, New York: 1994. Print.
Ryles, Ruby. “The Impact of Braille Reading Skills on Employment, Income, Education and Reading Habits. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 90:3 (1996.) Web. 23 March 2010.
Samuels, Christina A. “Braille Makes a Comeback.” Education Week. 27.43 (2008): 27-29: Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 3 April 2010.
Spungin, S.J. “Braille and Beyond: Braille Literacy in a Larger Context.” Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 90:3 (1996). Web. 23 March 2010.
Weiss, Ray. “High Tech Advantages Can’t Entirely Replace Braille.” Daytona Beach News Journal. 27 January 2010. Web. 2 April 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Final Paper

Literacy practices change as the societies they are embedded in evolve. Modern globalizing trends and the increased appreciation for the plurality of cultures and languages of the human race accelerate the evolution of the ideas that scholars and instructors consider to be best practices for evoking the literacy practices of students and creating opportunities for them to explore new opportunities for reading and writing. Reader response theory, multicultural literacy practices and aural composing are three areas of scholarship in literacy that inform best practices in the contemporary composition and rhetoric classroom.

Reader response theory, as discussed by Louise Rosenblatt, proposes an interactive and circular model to demonstrate the manner in which a reader engages with a text. The interaction that occurs between read and text is a transaction, designating an “ongoing process in which the elements or factors are, one might say, aspects of a total situation, each conditioned by and conditioning the other” (Rosenblatt 17). Instead of a solely text-based model to explain what happens when we read, Rosenblatt’s theory portrays the reader, situated in her environment, engaging with a text as “poem,” thereby deriving meaning from and understanding of it. This complex scenario occurs in flux; reader response to a text is not static, but unfixed and changing insofar as each instance of reading may produce new understandings of a work. Further, Rosenblatt explains that: “the relation between the reader and the text is not linear. It is a situation, an event at a particular time and place” (Rosenblatt 15). Text and reader compliment one another, according to reader response theory, so that understanding is only possible as they work in conjunction. To determine the roles of “poem” and the reader in context and understand their relationship, an analysis of the act of reading according to its constituent parts will provide a glimpse of the workings of the whole apparatus. Structuring the relationship between text and reader here as a dichotomy serves analytical purposes: it is not the true condition of the transaction that occurs when we read as understood by Rosenblatt.

Any inquiry into reading must include an explanation of the function of the text itself. In reader response theory, the ‘text’ is replaced by ‘poem’ to indicate the engagement between a printed work and its reader. Rosenblatt distinguishes the “text” from the “poem,” where the text is merely the set of fixed “printed signs [with the] capacity to serve as symbols” (Rosenblatt 12). A text might refer to a book we observe on the shelf of a library, but once opened and read, it possesses a less fixed status. In its organization, the text “helps to regulate what shall be held in the front of the reader’s attention,” (Rosenblatt 11) but the meaning it contains is subject to the interpretative acts of the reader. Rosenblatt introduces the term ‘poem’ to refer to the “whole category of aesthetic transactions between readers and texts without implying the greater ‘poeticity’ of any specific genre” (Rosenblatt 12).

The primary purpose of the text itself in reader response theory is as “the stimulus that focuses the reader’s attention:” (Rosenblatt 11) as a poem, it is an occasion of sorts that permits the reader to produce her own understanding of the meaning conveyed by the set of symbols printed on the page. Text, or a printed work, has a determined physical status as a bound set of leaves with print running across them, but the meaning it “enables the reader to construct” (Winterowd 59) is subject to the determinations of the mind that engages with it.

Making meaning, or a ‘poem’ from a text requires considerate input and activity on the part of the reader, though some of it may be subsumed beneath normal perceptions of what happens while reading takes place. Even though a text may seem to provide meaning to anyone who cares to explore it, Rosenblatt argues for a less passive position for the reader. “The reader [creates] a poem out of texts by an active, self-ordering, and self-correcting process” (Rosenblatt 11). The act of engaging with a text to derive meaning is a contextualized occasion that depends upon the reader and the knowledge she employs to engage with what she reads. “The finding of meanings involves both the author’s text and what the reader brings to it” (Rosenblatt 15). The capacity of the reader to engage with a text in her own manner defines her facility in “seeking a hypothesis to guide the selecting, rejecting and ordering of what is being called forth” (Rosenblatt 11) from a text. If Rosenblatt’s reader-response theory is an apt description of what occurs between reader and text, then many implications for the teaching of reading and literature arise.

In “The Setting for Spontaneity,” Rosenblatt applies reader-response theory to a critique of traditional approaches to teaching literature and suggests alternate methodologies for choosing texts and teaching about them. Since readers affect texts as they read and derive meaning particular to their situation or experience, “such factors as the students’ general background, level of maturity, linguistic history, major difficulties and aspirations [should] guide the teacher’s selection of works to bring to their attention” (Rosenblatt 73). Beyond consideration for the texts most appropriate for a particular set of students, the teacher should play a fundamental, though decidedly non-pedantic role in formulating opportunities for students to respond to and learn from what they read.

Rosenblatt finds that the instructor has three basic responsibilities to the student of literature: first, “instead of trying to superimpose routine patterns [of reading and analysis], the teacher will help the student develop these understandings in the context of his own emotions and his own curiosity about life and literature” (Rosenblatt 66). Reader response theory as applied to the classroom invokes an understanding of the power of literature to indicate certain qualities or commentary about the experiences of humanity, which each reader will identify with differently. Additionally, while students’ interpretations of texts may not always align with popular scholarship, they “should not be made to feel that their own response to books…is not worth expressing” (Rosenblatt 66). When students read literature for the first, or even third time, they bring entirely different
modes of and means for understanding than a trained scholar of literature might, but this does not make their experience of reading any less of an important, or ultimately formative, educational act. The instructor’s function, then, “is to help the students realize that the most important thing is what literature means for them and does for them” (Rosenblatt 67).

On its face, this sort of process might seem to favor an open-ended, highly personal experience of reading with little regard for formal literary traditions. Rosenblatt encourages this initial, emotionally based reading, but finds that the instructor also has a responsibility to “initiate a process through which the student can clarify and enlarge their response to the work” (Rosenblatt 76). The instructor must increase students’ experience of a text by enlarging the contexts in which they view a work. Students must be guided to achieve a “critical awareness of their own reactions [and] a keener and more adequate perception of all that the text offers” (Rosenblatt 76). The instructor must work to unite students’ personal reactions to a text with larger conversations about the same readings that occur within the academy. Texts remain unfixed entities in the reader response classroom, so that instructors have the opportunity to promote personal interaction with written works by readers, and then engage these initial experiences with texts as components of the larger social and scholarly circles that approach the same works armed with a litany of critical and interpretative techniques and philosophies. Instead of demanding that students ascribe to a point of view, the instructor works to allow students to align their understandings of a work against or alongside bodies of scholarship on the same subject matter. The teacher who ascribes to reader response theory ought to create lessons that allow students to retain their identities by offering their own interpretations of a text while pointing out where students’ ideas fit in time-tested readings of the same work. Scholarship in most disciplines is a continuum of shifting, but related paradigms, so it seems possible for students to place themselves as readers within it.

As an educator, it seems easy to apply established interpretations of texts to lesson development, to present static information about a work of literature. Beyond the classroom, students have access to a wealth of digital and print materials that easily color their perspectives of whatever text they engage. Rather than limit the literary experiences of students by appealing to published authorities, I make every attempt to place the literature I discuss with students in their complex contexts filled with personal concerns, prior knowledge and culturally-specific modes of appreciating literature. Reader response theory seems a natural extension of the process method for teaching composition: instruction should begin with the activation of the identities and histories of students, and then proceed to align that knowledge with the content that should be transmitted over the course of a semester, or unit. In a set of lessons inquiring into the socio-cultural effects of globalization that I developed for GED students, we read a story about the opening of a Western fast food chain in China called “After Cowboy Chicken Came to Town” by Ha Jin. Our interpretations of and interaction with the text made use of students’ previously activated knowledge about their own culturally specific experiences with food versus their experience with fast food chains in New York City. While we read the short story through the context of previous experiences and discussed them at great length, we also compared the way ideas about globalization were presented in the story with non-fiction readings we covered on the same topic. Engaging this theme through the lens of the students alongside a variety of readings hopefully acknowledged their status as active participants in the transaction of reading, while building content knowledge and critical skills. I hope to continue to explore new ways to think about the act of reading in order to improve my students’ ability to perform critical analysis of the texts they engage.

Multicultural literacy does not simply involve the incorporation of texts outside the traditional canon into a battery of required reading. Rather, it is the activity of both encouraging the representation of diverse works and examining who reads them, the readers’ purposes, the interpretations that result, and the historical situations that give rise to certain texts. Proponents of multicultural literacy defend their practices in part as a critical extension of traditional notions of “cultural literacy” and for the analytic prowess that results from engaging a wide variety of texts. It is, in short, a literacy of inclusion and constant reexamination, an active rhetorical practice including equal consideration for reader and text.

The practice of multicultural literacy involves a commitment to a spirit of inquiry, and not only the careful selection of a set of texts representative of diverse cultural contexts. The ongoing effort to create a more inclusive body of work has yielded results, but true diversity of works studied in traditional academic settings has yet to be achieved: “there are more women in the canon nowadays, more people of color. But the changes are not proportionate to the accomplishments or the potentials of women or people of color, surely” (Villanueva 95). Lisle and Mano note that the English discipline has long recognized the need for diversification of texts studied, but the project of multicultural literacy ought to exceed simple recognition. “The additive approach is merely a quick fix: multivocality demands much more than a token representation” (Lisle 13). According to these scholars, the diverse set of literacies practiced and ontologies ascribed to around the world poses serious challenges to our Western assumptions about language and rhetoric.
Multicultural literacy is a response to this challenge: an effort to reconcile the way language is examined and reading and writing are practiced in the classroom with the complicated reality of the world in which writing is produced. Traditional Western models of rhetoric are limited: “our own conceptions of effective organization and coherence are culture specific” (Lisle 17). As such, the students and teachers who practice multicultural literacy “investigate the influence of culture on the development of texts,” (Lisle 21) develop and evaluate various rhetorical strategies, and engage in exploration of their personal relationship to a text.

The teacher has a variety of responsibilities to uphold when practicing multicultural literacy. First off, the instructor must acknowledge and understand the rhetorical strategies her students may already bring to the classroom and provide them with opportunities to connect prior knowledge to new learning and reading experiences, to “help students understand academic habits of mind and language in relation to their own cultural and rhetorical knowledge” (Lisle 20). The instructor must find a variety of ways to allow students to retain their identity while incorporating aspects of an often foreign, but necessary academic identity into their personae. Instruction and texts ought to provide “opportunities for students to wrestle with the cultural conflicts that are raised by their immersion in academic culture” (Lisle 20). A variety of readings not only can raise students’ consciousness of their place in the academy, but they should be selected with the notion of critical, dialectic engagement in mind on the part of the instructor. Villanueva asks teachers to determine with their students what has shaped a text: “the classics and the national-cultural should be taught in such a way as to expose the…ideological” (Villanueva 95).

Multicultural literacy practices do not involve the simple substitution of the canon with works by other authors, but a commitment to interrogate the rhetorical practices exhibited by authors that students read alongside continued reformulation and examination of students’ own literary practices. This schema makes “clear to students that rhetorical practices are culturally constructed and subject to change” (Lisle 20). Rather than presenting a set of fixed interpretative and communicative strategies, the instructor working to advance multicultural literacy involves students in self and learning community directed interrogation of the ideas and techniques that underpin literary expression in multiple cultural contexts.
Multicultural literacy, then, is a commitment to literacy practices that are more inclusive in terms of texts explored in the traditional classroom, but its practitioners also must apply similar critical strategies to the students they encounter. Moss and other theorists tie their success in the classroom to how well they can understand the rhetorical strategies their students already possess, and how well they make use of these to advance knowledge:

Our success as educators depends a great deal on our ability to understand what literacy and language resources our students, particularly those from non-traditional or non-mainstream communities, bring as part of their cultural backgrounds into the English classroom. (Moss 1)

Incorporating a place for the worldviews and knowledge of students into a theory of multicultural literacy practice is an additional layer of inclusion. Likewise, acknowledging competing, and even opposed, rhetorical formulae creates opportunities for writers to test the bounds of traditional written forms, and incorporate strategies that exceed dominant and seemingly universally accepted prose writing techniques.

Readers and writers in the classroom practicing multicultural literacy can build the critical academic skills required of them by participating in cross-analysis of texts and writing to analyze the literary and rhetorical strategies they observe in reading. Lisle and Mano suggest that “a writing course based on cultural difference and multivocality can help students develop the intellectual complexity most valued by the academy” (Lisle 25). The act, then, of acknowledging the origins, style and ideas presented in a text creates the kind of analytic or critical consciousness most valued in academic writing. Instead of simply celebrating differences, true multicultural literacy practice works to demonstrate difference and similarity between works, and understand the reasons for such comparisons and contrasts. “The goal is not necessarily to have students relinquish national-cultural myths, the goal is to expose them to differences and similarities within the literary convention they have to contend with, to know the traditional norms while appraising them” (Villanueva 100). Multicultural literacy does not advance a prescribed political or cultural agenda, rather it asks students to determine which agendas they can observe and note how they are constructed or presented.

In the freshman writing classroom, it is my responsibility to create an academic consciousness in the students, while introducing them to the accepted rhetorical modes of expression in college. The most important characteristic I hope to develop in them, however, is their ability to think critically about texts and ideas they read about or already possess. The best feature of multicultural literacy practice in the classroom is that it lends itself to advancing critical thinking skills without imposing one singular technique. The greatest barrier to creating new understandings or interpretations of any content is to limit the ways students can learn. Likewise, the easiest way to silence a considerable portion of the students in any CUNY classroom is to fail to acknowledge their established identities, or ignore them entirely. A semester long curriculum designed around a set of texts with origins in a variety of cultures would allow students to explore thematic, rhetorical and linguistic similarities and differences through carefully scaffolded critical analysis. In a course I took last spring, I wrote a set of lessons for a composition class that inquired into the themes of globalization, language and culture. I chose some short texts by Arudhati Roy, George Orwell, Annie Lamott, and several news writers alongside a poem by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and a story by Ha Jin. Even though the lessons were for a composition classroom, I tried to introduce a variety of writers working with different cultural and historical perspectives. The greater variety of sources I collect to read with students writing at any level will increase my ability to provide opportunities for critical analysis of texts in the classroom.

Aurality is an ancient form of discourse now largely ignored in composition classrooms, a nearly lost yet highly valuable form of rhetorical expression. While other sound-based experiences pervade our being, from music in our ears to announcements over loudspeakers, the composition classroom is decidedly less noisy. “Sound, although it remains of central importance both to students and to the population at large, is often undervalued as a compositional mode” (Selfe 617). Cynthia Selfe explores the aural possibilities for rhetorical expression and makes the case for a reincorporation of them in from the rest of the resounding world. Our experience of the world is shaped by sensory perceptions unconstrained by the fashions of rhetoric. But even so, the written word privileges the sense of sight over all others, perhaps to a rhetorical disadvantage: “the history of writing in US composition instruction, as well as its contemporary legacy, functions to limit our professional understanding of composing as a multimodal rhetorical activity and deprives students of valuable semiotic resources for making meaning” (Selfe 618). By incorporating aurality and other modes into rhetorical or literacy practices, the composition classroom would offer additional options for communication, thereby improving the quality and range of ideas and rhetorical strategies explored.

Print-focused literacy practices came to dominate composition instruction practices in the universities and elsewhere as impetus for increased powers of objectification and analytic specificity were demanded by industry and science.
“Since the late 19th century…the rapid rise of industrial manufacturing, the explosion of scientific discoveries and the expansion of the new country’s industrial trade…required both new approaches to education and a new kind of secular university, one designed to meet the needs of individuals involved in science, commerce and manufacturing” (Selfe 620).

Since those seeking education in the universities of the early industrial age needed to write and read more critically for the purposes of their work, rhetorical strategies taught in college classrooms focused primarily on teaching written English. “Newly emergent departments of English focused primarily on their ability to provide instruction in written composition” (Selfe 621). While English may be a relatively new discipline, formalized instruction in written composition strategies is a nearly universal course in colleges in the United States.
Unfortunately, the preference for the written mode of discourse over the aural limits expression by disallowing one mode of powerful expression. Selfe writes, “when we privilege print as the only acceptable way to make or exchange meaning, we not only ignore the history of rhetoric and its intellectual inheritance, but we also limit, unnecessarily, our scholarly understanding of semiotic systems and the effectiveness of our instruction for many students” (Selfe 618). Reintroducing aurality and additional modes of expression into the composition classroom might permit for the introduction of a multi-modal and more inclusive setting for learning about how to use language.

Groups existing outside the dominant cultural mainstream have historically maintained strong informal aural practices that continue to inform students’ literacy practices prior to entering the classroom. While English composition programs moved to print-based instruction in writing, “aurality retained some of its power and reach where individuals and groups were forced to acquire both written and aural literacies by a range of informal means or through an educational system that retained a fundamental integration of the language arts” (Selfe 623). Cultural and social groups outside the majority in the United States have preserved oral forms of discourse in churches, other religious centers, and oral recitation of poems or folktales. Likewise, the world outside the composition class is highly aural in nature. Perhaps aurality has been missing from the composition classroom even while it continues to dominate less formalized modes of expression, both in and outside mainstream culture.

Nevertheless, transitioning into a composition classroom from a highly aural community is a great challenge. “The almost exclusive dominance of print literacy works against the interests of individuals whose cultures and communities have managed to maintain a value on multiple modalities of expression, multiple and hybrid ways of knowing, communicating and establishing identity” (Selfe 618). Students who do not grow up practicing the dominant literacy must still acquire and be able to use it. The instructor who wishes to create an inclusive classroom ought to find ways to engage not just the oral/aural powers of students, but invite them to engage in other modes of communication as well.

The aural mode may serve to engage traditionally un-enfranchised groups of students by making use of forms of expression they already possess. Teachers have a responsibility to understand the complexity of culture-specific literacy practices in effect outside their classrooms. “Students have to identify their own communicative needs and to represent their own identities to select the right tools for the communicative contexts within which they operate, and to think critically and carefully about the meaning that they and others compose” (Selfe 618). A teacher committed to working with the contexts her students dwell in can develop lessons that ask students to inquire into their own literacy practices, not only as a form of self-assessment, but so the instructor can increase her knowledge of the strategies students use to express themselves. Students can often provide different views and understandings of content matter when they can engage topics with discourse or modes of expression that are already familiar.

Specific instructional techniques ought to be applied in the classroom to engage multiple modes of expression, including aurality. Teachers must “respect and encourage students to deploy multiple modalities in skillful ways—written, aural, visual—and that they model a respect for and understanding of the various roles each modality can play in human expression” (Selfe 626). Diverse technologies and teaching strategies provide teachers with the opportunity to create so many different kinds of assignments beyond the time-tested analytic essay. “The aural is one modality among many on which individuals should be able to call on as a rhetoric” (Selfe 638).

In GED classes I teach, we often practice descriptive writing in a few lessons and writing assignments during the term. Aural modes of composing would work quite well for the descriptive pieces. I am already helping students to engage the five senses via words in their writing, but this appeal to the senses via aurality could extend the act of describing to more familiar modes of composition. Including aurality in rhetorical practice aligns theoretically with the process theory of writing, where students move along a continuum of writing activities. Different modes of expression, including aurality, could work well when applied at certain points in the writing process. Without too many resources, the teacher of writing can easily incorporate the aural mode into lesson plans. I would like to invite my students to create aural reactions to a site we visit together, or a painting or song I share with them. We need little more than the materials I compile and our voices to do so.

Theories of reading and writing blend with definitions of literacy to provide a large body of ideas available to inform instructional practices. While using language seems to be a simple and almost unconscious act, once we begin to analyze what really is happening when we read and write, complications arise. Likewise, once an instructor begins to think carefully about the best ways to teach writing and reading, a host of possibilities arise. When the instructor meets students, their needs, skills and backgrounds also inform the complicated effort to improve and understand literacy.

Works Cited
Lisle, Bonnie and Sandra Mano. “Embracing a Multicultural Rhetoric.” Writing in Multicultural Settings. Ed. Carol Severino et al. 12-26. New York: MLA, 1997.

Moss, Beverly J. Introduction. Literacy Across Communities. Ed. Moss. Creskill NJ: Hampton Press, 1994. Print.

Rosenblatt, Louise M. “The Poem as Event.” The Reader, The Text, The Poem. 6-25. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994. Print.

_________. “The Setting for Spontaneity.” Literature as Exploration. 57-77. New York: MLA. nd. Print.

Selfe, Cynthia. “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” CCC. 60.4 (2009): 616-663. Print.

Villanueva, Victor. “Of Color, Classes and Classrooms.” Bootstraps: From and American Academic of Color. 91-118. Urbana: NCTE, 1993. Print.

Winterowd, W. Ross. “To Read.” The Culture and Politics of Literacy. 57-83. New York: Oxford, 1989. Print.

Class Presentation

Literacy as Involvement: The Acts of Writers, Readers and Texts, Deborah Brandt
Chapter One:  “Strong Text: Opacity, Autonomy and Anonymity”

I. What is a strong text interpretation? A “strong text” interpretation characterizes literacy in terms of individuals’ interactions with written texts. 
A.  The theorists who support this interpretation investigate the features of texts to find what printed words require of their readers.  

B. The adjective strong is used to describe this theory because printed works are traditionally fixed and unchanging (i.e. strong) and therefore determined, and continue to determine how literacy developed and works.

II. What scholastic tradition permits this understanding of literacy?
Many scholars in a variety of disciplines traditionally investigated literacy in terms of the oral-literate framework, a dichotomy that places texts clearly on the literate side of the pair. According to this dichotomy, linguistic, cognitive and social distinctions can be made between oral-based communication systems and literate (text-based) communication systems. 

                                                            ORAL                                                LITERATE
Involvement focused
Message focused

III. What are the assumptions that ground the strong text model of literacy?
“[Strong text] Literacy is best understood as a technology, a penetrating force that unnaturalizes and reorganizes all that it comes in contact with”(23).
            A. The alphabet is opaque because it is a closed, self-referential system of             representation:  there is no such thing as a subjective letter. 

            B. Texts are not subject to context, time or other human pressures.  Their             materiality gives them autonomous status.

            C. Texts’ contents exist independent of human identities, so they are             anonymous and objective self-referential systems that produce ideas             independent of experience.

IV. What are some examples of strong-text scholarship/How is the basic strong text model interpreted or appropriated by different theorists?

A. Jack Goody: Written communication shapes culture. 
            -Writing distances language users from each other and themselves
             -Writing makes hierarchical “anonymous” social systems possible.
 -Writing creates an external, self-reflective system of expression that             reorganizes the way people understand the world

B.Walter Ong: Written communication shapes the way we can think.
            1. Writing creates “social and cognitive disengagement” from lived             experience.
 2. Writing is a technology that intervenes between language user and                                     lived experiences.

IV.  (Continued)
C. Deborah Tannen:  The continuum between “message-focused” and             “involvement focused” is a movement from communication that             prioritizes words to one that prioritizes language users. 
 D. David Olsen:
1.The literate environment of school demands immediate and             continuing adaptation from orality to literacy, thereby privilege written             texts over oral communication.
2. Children learn language initially for its uses to demonstrate objects in                                     the world
3. School forces students to use language out of the context of                                                immediate use
4. Students can explore worlds outside their experience in writing,                                                 because written language creates alternative possibilities
5. The more [scholastically] literate the household, the easier the transition                         to school
V. What are the criticisms of this model of literacy/Why is this model incomplete? In general, dissenters are troubled by the privileging and decontextualizing of text and favor a more complex intersubjective interpretation.
A. Scribner and Cole: Literacy is embedded in social practices
            -cognitive habits are formed by school and society, not the act of reading
B. Shirley Heath: Practices and meanings of literacy are socially constructed
C. Brian Street: Dominant social groups create dominant capital L literacies
D. Deborah Brandt:  Strong text theories do not explain what makes literacy possible.  They also rely on an oversimplified dichotomy of oral and literate modes of communication.  Context and language acts cannot be separated, so text is not objective or separate from lived experience.  In fact, writing demonstrates “the means by which we make the world together”(31).  Social involvement is the true “key to literacy and literacy growth” (32).
VI. Responses to the Criticisms
Ong: textual distancing is only possible with the relationship to speech.  Knowledge ultimately resides in the mind of the knower, not in print.
Goody: softens the break between orality and literacy to acknowledge a continuum in later works
Tannen: involvement focus may be useful to readers
 Olson: orality is the training ground for literacy.

Discussion Questions

1.  The digital age presents us with new opportunities for authorship, like blogs and self-publishing on web sites.  Will these new opportunities affect the commonly held idea of published writing as a source of authority and knowledge?

2. How can silent reading possibly be a social act?

Midterm Essay

Encyclopedia Entry:  Digital Literacy

Everywhere we remain unfree and chained to technology, whether we passionately affirm or deny it.  But we are delivered over to it in the worst possible way when we regard it as something neutral; for this conception of it, to which we particularly like to homage, makes us utterly blind to the essence of technology.  –Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology

The term ‘literacy’ is often and easily misappropriated to refer to a sufficient and usable body of knowledge concerning any topic.  People may refer to themselves as wine literate or baseball literate to mean they that possess knowledge about these topics.  Similarly, in the current computer rich age, the term ‘digital’ serves as a convenient blanket term for a breadth of technological tools and settings where they are in use.  A coffee shop may advertise its “digital lounge” to refer to a location of wireless access to the Internet.  The accepted definitions for both these terms are often misconstrued, because they are so favored for the linguistic and technological powers they bespeak.
Rather than greet common misuse of terms like digital or literacy with chagrin, the wise lexicographer and student of language ought to recognize the many values and meanings assigned them as a sign of their import to our times. In combining these already complicated terms, defining the phrase digital literacy involves consideration of the competing perspectives of educators, consumers, politicians, students, and organizations and individuals involved in the technology industry.  Digital literacy refers to the ability of an individual to incorporate the use of various technologies with the efforts to participate in, create, and analyze discourse in a variety of modes that may exceed the traditional print medium and simultaneously appeal to more than one of the five senses.
            A variety of competing definitions exist for digital literacy, and even simple agreement on the substitute of a seeming synonym like ‘technological literacy’ does not exist.  A cursory search for one definition yields a plurality, because our understanding of literacy in the digital age is still in flux, and different takes on the term are developed for different uses, not simply as objective explanations.  Literacy scholar Cynthia Selfe contrasts the U.S. government’s definition of digital literacy (in 1996) with her own, where the government defines digital literacy as “computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, production and performance” (Selfe 10).  While the federal definition may be sufficient for legislative purposes, Selfe finds that it fails to account for the contexts in which acts of digital literacy occur.   For her, digital literacy “refers to a complex set of socially and culturally situated values, practices and skills involved in operating linguistically within the context of electronic environments, including reading, writing and communicating” (Selfe 11).  Selfe’s understanding of literacy takes care to acknowledge the extension of the socially constructed nature of language into the digital realm. 
Other scholars challenge the notion that digital literacy only involves the extension of language ability into the realm of technology, and expand their definition of the term to include other, non-print based modes of communication.  Carey Jewitt acknowledges the origins of literacy in print based reading and writing, but finds that “new technologies appear to blur the boundaries between the visual and written” (113).  Images, sounds, and responses to human touch can share an equal prominence with the written word in the multi-media or “multi-modal” forms of discourse possible to create with the use of computers.  The new modes of communication afforded by computer technology do not deny the power of language, but supplement it to create a more complete sensory message that can convey meaning on a variety of levels. 
Most scholars accept the notion that “typography [can be used] to visually express something,” ( Jewitt 114) so that font and text size of a message can affect the reader’s interpretation of the message.  Just as the visual properties of printed language can help determine its received meaning, other visual, oral and tactile effects now possible to create with digital technologies can enhance, or alter, the meaning of the intended message.  Any careful web page designer will include images, colors, fonts, and perhaps music that align with the language content of the web site:  hot pink leopard print background may be more suitable for a fashion web site than a high school biology class site, or perhaps staid and predictable choices in web page design may only serve to reinforce established perceptions and ideas.
The digital literate has a wider range of choices to reckon with beyond choosing the right words and the right font to make a message complete.  The richness of the content available on the Internet may be more effective at presenting meaning than language on its own.  Williams suggests that “language and print literacies cannot provide the full meaning of the multimodal content that is obvious to anyone within moments of connecting to the Internet” (Williams 7).  In order to be considered digitally literate, a person must be aware of and competent in the use of the technologies necessary to create true multimodal presentations or communications.  Digitial literates must be versed in Web 2.0 technologies like wikis and blogs, but also aware of the possible evolution of ideas and communication through multi-media.
Not only do more possibilities for the presenting information exist in the digital realm, but also the context in which literacy is practiced is more interactive, and has the potential to be more culturally and socially diverse than traditional print discourse communities.  The ability to participate in social networks or correspond via email with people around the world in real time affords a much different experience of communication practices than traditional modes of print distribution.  According to Williams, “the interactive capabilities of online technologies have highlighted and intensified the ways in which relations within discursive communities determine how reading and writing happen and who is able to participate in literacy practices” (Williams 16).  While digital technology presents the opportunities for increased collaboration, unexamined practices may only eventually reinforce norms of the traditionally exclusive print literacy communities. 
The digitally literate and socially conscious individual must learn to interrogate and analyze the communities of digital discourse she participates in, to see whether practices that seem to reinforce collaboration and increase opportunities for communication may actually reinforce exclusion of traditionally disadvantaged populations.  The digital community is by no means universally accessible; its availability to users tied to economic resources, geographic location, and community perceptions of the uses of technology.  While technological resources are commonly taken to be tools to alleviate contemporary socio-economic stratification, Cynthia Selfe found mixed success at achieving this worthy goal in her study of technology’s effects on literacy in the late nineties:
 If the project to expand technological literacy has been justified as a means             of achieving positive social change and new opportunity, to date it has failed             to yield the significant social progress or productive changes that many             people have come to hope for. (Selfe 6)

Highly technologically literate individuals remain a privileged minority, due to the unequal appropriation of the tools of technology by different social classes and cultures.
            The definition for digital literacy remains in flux, as new technological tools continue to emerge.  Educators should be concerned with establishing a workable definition for the term, because their students’ success depend on their literacy not just in terms reading and writing printed text, but in their ability to assess, understand and produce communication in the many modes afforded by digital tools.  To guide continuing efforts to establish a normative definition, the National Council of Teachers of English established a working definition for 21st century literacies in February 2008.  As adopted by the NCTE executive committee, 21st century readers and writers need to be able to:
            Develop proficiency with tools of technology, build relationships to solve             problems collaboratively, design and share information for global             communities, manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of             simultaneous [and competing] information, and critique, create, analyze and             evaluate multi-media texts. (

The guidelines established by the NCTE may serve as a tool for determining necessary adjustments to educational philosophies and pedagogical practice for teachers committed to advancing literacy in the 21st century.  For example, a teacher planning lessons designed to build literacy could supplement thematic explorations of immigration with real-time dialogue online with other students studying the same topic, could create assignments that require multi-media presentations, and could ask students explore the blogs and web sites of organizations and individuals interested in immigrant rights.  The printed text is no longer the teacher’s only source of worthwhile curriculum materials:  just as educators must teach students to use digital tools, they must become proficient with them as well. 
            While the legions of digital literates will continue to increase, so too will the best definition of the term continue to evolve.  Heidegger’s caution that we may easily assign a false neutrality to tools of technology ought to be heeded:  the notion of digital literacy and use of tools that make it possible are situated in a host of social, economic and political contexts that are no less objective than the words printed on any page.