Saturday, May 23, 2009

the new literacies

Happy Memorial Day Weekend, everyone. Here in the Northeast, it looks to be a rainy start, so I'm not that disappointed that I have to wait for my car to be serviced before taking off for the Cape. I thought I'd post my latest Clink-related musings, while I've got a moment or two to spare.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about "the new literacies," those newer, more technology-oriented types of reading that include podcasts, blogs, wikis, Kindle, and other web-based texts and resources. There are more avenues to reading now than ever before. To keep my students up to speed with these new literary paths, I've been giving some of them a road test in my classroom. I've managed to sell a few tickets to the young men I teach, and I've been pleased to see them buy 'em up and come back for more.

For Domenic, whose main goal is preparing for the GED test, we've been using baseball and the New York Yankees as an inroad. In addition to reading The Yankee Years (see previous post), I've introduced the Bats blog on to Domenic's reading rotation. On a daily basis, Domenic starts his first-period class with ten minutes or so of reading Bats, which provides in-depth coverage of the Yankees and Mets. He reads both the posts made by the writers (Tyler Kepner, Jack Curry, Joe Lapointe, and others) as well as the comments posted by readers. It's a great daily lesson in language mechanics, grammar, punctuation, topic development, and more. One of Domenic's mini goals is to compose and post his own comment on Bats. Not only would he be refining his writing skills, but he would get the huge ego boost and satisfaction of seeing his words, his voice out there in the real world. To me, I see this as a vital part of the plan to reconnect Domenic to the world and transcend the incarcerated existence he's known for many of his developmental years.

I've also taken a liking to a little vocabulary-related podcast called Hot For Words, produced by a very attractive woman named Marina. Hot For Words podcasts are a series of educational short films that explore the meanings and origins of words and phrases. I've been able to use Hot For Words as a means of pre-teaching vocabulary words prior to reading other articles or texts, so that the kids can ultimately gain greater comprehension of what they read. Put simply, they love it. They can't take their eyes off the screen (which is pretty small, given that they watch it on my IPhone). After watching a podcast, which lasts anywhere from 60-90 seconds, we discuss the word and its meaning, write it, speak it, and use it in sentences. It's a great word-attack strategy and vocabulary-building tool. I do need to be judicious in which podcasts I allow the boys to watch (for example, I elected not to show the podcasts titled "Pull A Boner" and "Peeping Tom." I'm sure I don't have to explain my reasoning here). But Marina's podcast for the term "Kangaroo Court" was a great scaffold for the Bats post that described the mock court used in the Yankees' clubhouse as a way of cultivating a lighter team atmosphere. Check out Hot For Words and see what you think. Am I using sex to sell reading? Maybe. But I see it like this: I'm meeting these boys where they're at, and I'm using this platform responsibly to teach a few simple words and concepts that they can then build upon for further learning.

The new literacies could never be a replacement for real books. But as a teacher, I believe it is my responsibility to prepare my students for the real world and offer tools they can use to engage safely and productively with their surroundings. I hope I can make a difference.

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