Sunday, April 18, 2010

Thinking about schooling and ennui

I learned a new word this week 'ennui'. In the context of education it means that even kids who are good at English ‘...don’t like what they learn' but at the moment there seems to be a number of things converging for me with regard to digital narratives in teaching and learning. I really believe we learn heaps of stuff through storytelling; culturally, socially, educationally. I know people talk about oral traditions as though they are transient and somehow not sophisticated but in terms of understanding the world I think using narrative is key. Why do students dislike what they learn, why can't play (making stories using digital technologies) work to alleviate this resistance to learning. In my experience (all anecdotal of course) students respond enthusiastically to making digital narratives, even it if means reflecting on their learning about literature.

I've also been thinking lately about how we learn... and we learn deeply and meaningfully through association. For example if you give me a mathematical equation to learn unless I have something to associate it with, something upon which I can build, it hardly means anything to me. Further to that learning needs to be personalised. That has something to do with association but it also has a lot to do with relevance. So, you may ask, what has all this to do with digital narratives.

Digital narratives use personal associations to make sense to the people who make them. They link to context and concept and text when they are constructed in English as a reflection to texts and about texts and ideas. They can be playful, they can be serious, they can be a whole pile of things.

This sort of sums up what I've been thinking (with the help of some other dudes and dudettes:

How we teach, in the 21st century, is as critical to the learning process as what we teach. Professor Carey Jewitt, Institute of Education (IoE) University of London, writes that ‘…the ways in which something is represented shape both what is to be learned, …and how it is to be learned.’ (Jewitt 2008). She further identifies three key areas, which are most affected by technology’s impact on education: including knowledge as curriculum; learning and pedagogy; and literacy across the curriculum. (Jewitt 2006).

Literary study competes with a broad range of texts in secondary school English (Jewitt, 2006; Kress, 2003; New London Group, 2000) but remains the subject’s foundation. As a facilitator for the English Teacher’s Association NSW (ETA) National Curriculum forum in Armidale (April 2010) discussions highlighted increasing concerns, that the study of literature, grammar and multiliteracies in senior secondary contexts, appear inherently dichotomous and oppositional. Professor Len Unsworth (Unsworth 2008) extends similar concerns, as he asserts that ‘teachers do not feel confident or comfortable in the world of digital multimedia.’ While the Stage 6 syllabus ‘encourages students to reconsider and refine meaning and to reflect on their own processes of responding, composing and learning’ (BoS 1999) it is imperative that teachers also position themselves as reflexive learners in 21st century.

An Australian study makes three observations in regard to digital technologies which assert that teachers focus on skills that are already possessed by students, relatively few teachers motivate students and enrich learning (by developing multiliteracy skills) and teachers, when using digital technologies in their classroom, fail to focus on ‘higher order thinking and reasoning skills’. (Kimber & Wyatt-Smith 2009). These higher order skills link with the attainment of ‘higher-order social, aesthetic and cultural literacy’ (BoS NSW 1999) where the ‘study of English enables students to recognise and use a diversity of approaches and texts to meet the growing array of literacy demands.’ (BoS NSW 1999) At this time, (during the construction of a National Curriculum) it is imperative that notions of ‘deficit teaching’ (an idea appropriated from Halliday’s writing on grammar) (Halliday 2002), where the trepidation that teachers recount while using multiliteracy contexts in their classrooms, be addressed.

Students in Stage 6 English in NSW, are required to ‘learn to evaluate the effectiveness of processes and technologies’ (BoS 1999) and it is imperative that teachers develop skill sets to support this and future learning. ‘Monitoring and assessing the most appropriate technologies and processes for particular purposes of investigating, clarifying, organising and presenting ideas in personal, social, historical, cultural and workplace contexts’ (BoS 1999) (while a student learning outcome) (BoS 1999, [9.3]) will inform the study tour so that the tenants of teaching through multiliteracies will be evaluated.

The key tenants of teaching literature and grammar, with regard to digital narrative are the:

• Use of multimodal resources in pedagogy
• Implications for literacy and grammar acquisition as emphasis increases on digital text production
• Links between multiliterate pedagogical practices and literature course delivery in senior secondary English classrooms.

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