It was just such a good post title, I had to borrow it from The Paper Graders, one of whom posted this piece commenting on whether/when to use paper turn-in versus online turn-in in today’s digital age. I strongly recommend you read it.
DocZ makes one point in particular that I want to discuss today:
But when it comes to our students’ polished work, I think we teachers–especially the ones who teach literacy primarily–have an obligation to use every task as an opportunity to hone our students’ literacy skills with the things that they will need most in their future. Something tells me that organizing work into a three-ring binder or decorating a shoe box to house the pieces of a multi-genre paper (no matter how much I really did enjoy holding in my hands the objects my students created for this project) are not critical literacy skills they will need in their future.
I like this point for a couple reasons. First of all, I assigned my share of projects that could use any medium — including a shoe box — when I was a teacher. As a student, I did my fair share of these projects, as well. One in particular sticks out in my mind — a painting for my AP English course for our final symposium project, which depicted three novels’ takes on the concept of identity. How very, very strange that my dissertation work now focuses on teacher identity — but that’s another post.
Some of those projects — like the painting — were memorable. Others of those projects, though, felt exceedingly useless. I wondered why I was spending my time making a diorama for a class that was supposed to help me learn how to read critically and write beautifully. Even today, despite my expanded notion of what counts as “literacy,” I can’t help but wonder if taping little people inside a shoebox has a single thing to do with literacy or our jobs as English teachers.
Furthermore, I remember what it was like to assign and grade projects like this as a teacher. I, like Doc Z, got stuck with my fair share of projects at the end of the year. Despite my best intentions, I’m pretty sure that the portfolios that were most carefully assembled were often the ones that scored highest. Did I score them highest because they were best at decorating their work? I sure hope not. I think it was because the care and time they put into assembling their projects often shined through in their writing, as well. But I always wonder, with projects like those, how much students’ literacy skills and development are able to shine through all the glitter (or lack thereof). How much does the packaging really matter — explicitly or implicitly — when we evaluate projects like this?
I like what Doc Z says about literacy here, and about the literacies we encourage our students to practice. She closes the paragraph above by saying,
Our students need to be able to navigate digital spaces and craft them as effective communication tools. Simply moving that three-ring binder on to a Google Site or a Blogger blog or some kind of wiki space achieves that goal.
I agree with this statement, but I want to add to it. I feel like moving my students’ work into an online space does, as Doc Z argues, force them to learn how to navigate digital spaces. However, I don’t think simply changing the medium means students will be able to craft them as effective communication tools. As I’m sure Doc Z knows, because she lives it every day, just because a kid knows how to make a GoogleSite doesn’t mean she knows how to make an effective GoogleSite. That requires literacy instruction.
When I first read the quote above, I thought, wait, then we’ll just continue evaluating the packaging like we did when we admired the prettiest portfolio covers. However, in born digital spaces, perhaps it’s okay to evaluate the packaging, if the packaging (in this case, a GoogleSite) showcases students’ developing digital literacies. When the packaging was a shoebox, which had nothing to do with literacy, I felt stuck. How do I mark a kid down because her glue didn’t stick? This is high school English class, after all. But if I teach my students how blog genres use hyperlinks to route readers through the Internet in purposeful and meaningful ways, perhaps the packaging — their ability to use hyperlinks, images, and videos effectively in an online space — is evaluatable. Therein, I think, lies the real power of Doc Z’s point.
Thanks as always, PaperGraders, for the provocative posting (alliteration intended).