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Developing Critical Literacy

One of the aspects of our current cultural conversation, especially in regards to a digital presence, is the observation that many, many, too many people don’t know how to distinguish between a reliable source and an unreliable source. Many, many, too many people don’t know how to search and find multiple perspectives. This is something that impacts our ability to make compassionate connections and conversations with each other as well as our ability to make informed and educated decisions.

For me as a reading professional, this is a heartbreaking reality because this is what my graduate work focused on: how to develop critical literacy. This was a bit of a revolutionary goal for me as a teacher in high poverty schools because there was so emphasis of developing grade-level literacy BEFORE developing critical literacy. But are they really different? I would argue that critical literacy, digital literacy, and researching skills like distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources are all a part of literacy. If that is the case, then what we have is a literacy crisis.

I appreciate and support parents, teachers, and indeed ministers who are making efforts to include diverse voices into their own personal reading as well as in their instruction and curriculum. While including authors and voices from different perspectives and backgrounds certainly is important, it is not the only tactic we can take to develop critical literacy.

One of the best books, I’ve ever encountered and that is powerful no matter the age of the audience is Voices in the Wind by Anthony Brown. Buy this book. You will see how one day in the park can look so different because of the person who is experiencing that trip to the park.

We love Sandra Boynton books because they are fun and silly, but there are two books that ask readers to look at a story from multiple perspectives by having almost the exact same page in both books.

The top spread is from But Not the Hippopotamus and the bottom spread is from But Not the Armadillo. We can’t read one book without reading the other book now with our three-year-old and then lining up the books just like this to compare and contrast the two pages. This is an amazing critical literacy experience in a fun and non-threatening way.

Our other favorite is We Are in a Book by Mo Williems. This book invites the characters to break the third wall and realize that they are characters in a book. What a powerful way to illustrate that there is a greater story and that it is not only about us.

The best way we can overcome the literacy crisis we have is to work within ourselves to ask good questions and to work with the people in our lives: children, parents, congregants to look at a story from multiple perspectives and different voices with a calm and understanding presence. Sometimes using children’s literature makes practicing that just a little easier and more fun.

Digital Learning Day

I understand the purpose of having a digital learning day to raise awareness and give Arne Duncan something to talk about, but shouldn’t every day be digital learning day. 

When I think about the amount of digital information I have to process and create everyday as a working professional and I think about the lack of digital information that students are struggling with and encountering, the disconnect (no pun intended) seems too big. 

If our goal and purpose as educators is to prepare our students for what they will encounter outside of the classroom, then we have to step up our game. 

Shouldn’t social media integration follow faith tenets?

Are the discussions about social media integration in churches actually following our faith tenets?

A church is like a mini company and social media plays into how you promote your church…a policy can to caution against risky online behavior.

This doesn’t sound like the faith I am developing in seminary. It sounds fear-based.

I understand for many people the world of social media is daunting. I’ve been teaching seminars where people have actually gotten up and walked out because I begged to offer a different perspective than fear-based approach to social media.

I’ve been in numerous conversations with parents of teens as they try to traverse the wilderness of social media.

I don’t purport a policy-based integration plan.

I promote a relational-based discussion.

There’s a huge difference.

The first seeks to explain that one size fits all for churches as they try to understand social media and how it can impact their ministry.

The other admits and understands that each church is unique in its needs, social media and congregational.

If we as the church, don’t adjust the social media marketing advice we are giving the church, we’re just going to miss what the social media can really offer.

Synergistic Experience

I’ve been on enough runs that I know a good one within the first couple of steps. I know whether my breathing is labored or whether it feels like my legs are stuck in molasses. When either of these things are off, then I know that the run is going to be one that I just have to make it through rather than one that I enjoy.

But when my legs aren’t heavy and my breathing is syncing with my steps, then I experience a synergistic experience that allows my thoughts to clear and my creative juices to begin to flow.

As I have been going back and forth with other educators via Twitter about the impact of Common Core, I can’t help but wonder if the fall holds more expectations to abide strictly by CCSS, which will weigh down teachers are they try to foster creative curators in their classrooms.

Can CCSS really be a synergistic experience that includes individuality and digital literacy or is it laboring our classroom time with an atmosphere that makes it hard to catch our breath?

We’re missing the point

In teaching my second set of students in the Social Media conference, I encountered two unique situations.

The first was that another adult entered the classroom and told the students that they needed to put up their cell phones and pay attention. It took me a couple of seconds to respond, but then I looked over and said, “This is the social media conference. They are actually responding to a survey using their cell phones.” To which, she responded, “Oh.”

The second was when one of students made began to text in her purse and I said, “You know you can take that out of your purse. We are going to be using them all class.”

She looked at me with a confused expression and then literally said out loud, “I feel free.”

If adults are responding to Social Media by limiting access and students who are invited to use Social Media in the classroom are acting in a completely different way, then there’s a disconnect.

We’re missing each other.

We’re missing the point of Social Media, which is to connect to each other.

So, why the censor?

After one day of my Sexting, Facebooking and Tweeting seminar, I am shocked and amazed, as I always am, by how astute students are.

We began our discussion by asking, “Why do teachers/adults feel like they need to limit access to devices?” They responded with nice, safe answers like “because they want us to be safe” or “because it’s a distraction.”

After I pushed a little, they hit the heart of the issue with answers like “because they don’t understand how it works” and “because it’s easier to manage.”

All of us are operating under motivations that drive our decisions. Are your decisions and school policies based on ease of operation? Are you making rules based on one or two students who misuse their devices for your whole school?

It’s time to rethink our motivation because like it or not, students understand us much more than we understand them.

How to connect student to student via Twitter

Sometimes, I feel like the conversations about Twitter center around the impact that it can have on professional development too much. I certainly value it for that reason, but I don’t think that students will use it in the same way.

Although I have heard that some teachers are exploring with Twitter in the classroom in ways like back feeding class notes or tweeting as a character from a book, I have not settled on whether these are the best use of the technology. While I can see the benefits, I still think those “integrations” are forced and trite.

Twitter was created with community at the center of purpose.

To connect people.

To connect ideas.

To connect.

So, how can we show students how to connect via Twitter with other students?

Are we connected enough with students to even know where to begin?

Looking for a stronger connection

In preparing for a seminar for youth on social media, I have hit a brick wall. This is not uncommon, I often hit a brick wall in preparing to teach something new, especially when technology is involved; however, in this case I am stuck in the middle.

I have no idea if my students will have any sort of device when they come to my seminar because many of their leaders have taken up their cell phones. I understand the policy and the philosophy where this is coming from. In fact, this isn’t the first time that I have encountered this. I have had parents, fellow teachers and administrators who have limited access to technology and I can think around it.

But when is it going to be common place to find an audience who understands how incredibly deep and meaningful using Social Media in a learning setting can be? When is it going to become common place that instead of making rules to ban technology, we are actually going to have open and honest communication about this form of connecting? When are we going to recognize that maybe, just maybe, if students are connected to their devices, they are actually looking for a deeper connection from us?


Fending of Facebook =Fired


If schools held teachers and administrators to the same expectations, there’d be a lot of job openings:

 In March, one student started fiddling with her device at the front of the class while in the middle of an acrobatic half-moon pose, MSNBC reports.

Although Van Ness didn’t say anything to the student, she did give a disapproving look. And the look didn’t go unnoticed.

“I’m sure my face said it all,” the 35-year-old teacher later wrote in a blog post. “Previously, I had been asked by management to just let the students do whatever they wanted.”