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Voices from the Middle, Vol. 19, No. 4, May 2012

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Table of Contents

Issue Theme: New Literacies

  • Call for Manuscripts [FREE ACCESS]

  • Editors' Message [FREE ACCESS]

  • Risks, Rewards, and Responsibilities of Using New Literacies in Middle Grades [FREE ACCESS}

    Margaret C. Hagood

    Abstract: New literacies are affecting the ways that we choose to spend our time in teaching and learning. In this article, Hagood describes the work of nine middle grades teachers’ explorations of new literacies, including digital technologies and pop culture, and their implementations in their content area instruction. She also highlight some of the risks and rewards of working with new literacies and explains the responsibilities of sharing learning with others.

  • Middle Schools and New Literacies: Looking Back and Moving Forward

    William Kist

    Abstract: This article synthesizes 15 years of research in middle school classrooms that have started to integrate new literacies into their daily teaching and learning.  Trends of the data suggest there are certain salient characteristics of middle school teachers and students in these grade levels that make such innovations more successful with them than with other grade levels.  The author suggests that the organizational plan of many middle schools may be one of the keys to allowing the integration of new literacies.  A workshop template is offered that would allow innovation to continue even as most schools transition to the new Common Core English Language Arts standards.  This template includes time for conducting mini-lessons; responding to teacher-selected texts and student-selected texts (both page-based and screen-based texts); writing and creating teacher-directed texts and student-directed texts (both page-based and screen-based texts); and time for exhibiting and archiving student work.

  • How Do I Earn Buy-In from Digital Natives?

    Amy Schechter and Jennifer M. Denmon

    Abstract: Many teachers find it difficult to encourage their students to write in class, yet writing is becoming increasingly important in academic and workplace settings.  Students are already writing through cell phone texting, gaming systems, and social networking sites every day, but these resources go largely untapped in many English language arts classrooms.  We found several ways to motivate our students to write using technology they already use and enjoy. Students loved to create character bookmarks, character Facebook or MySpace pages, and guides for video games.  Incorporating technology students already want to use, we created projects based on literature we were reading in our classes. In the end, technology became the enticement that created a gateway to deeper reading and better writing.  The students then produced exemplary papers and projects with genuine text-to-self and text-to-world connections.  Motivating your students to write is easier and the experience fuller when you include technology.

  • Finding Our Way: Eighth Graders Explore Social Networking Sites

    Chris Leland, Anne Ociepka, and Kate Kuonen

    Abstract: As adolescents spend more and more time engaging in various online activities, teachers are questioning the role that language arts curricula might play in helping them become savvy technology users. In this study, an eighth-grade teacher responded to her students' unauthorized participation on MySpace™ by initiating an inquiry into social networking sites (SNSs). This inquiry explored positive and negative aspects of online participation and included two main components: 1) a series of engagements that focused on social networking issues in the news and 2) extended opportunities to engage in online interaction through, a site open only to teachers and students. Students concluded that participation in social networking provided opportunities for making international connections and for sharing their perspectives without having to compete with others for a chance to speak during oral discussions. The authors concluded that the experience provided opportunities for authentic literacy learning and the development of a more reflexive stance. Students showed evidence of growth in their ability to think critically about how they have used social networking to perpetuate injustices.

  • Writing Teachers Should Comment on Facebook Walls [FREE ACCESS]

    Allen Teng

    Abstract: A middle school language arts teacher reflects on his experience in utilizing a school-housed online social network to create avenues for authentic audience, purpose, and response to student writing.  With many technology proponents advocating a 21st century education, the fact that interacting with the Web 2.0 environment is essentially a reading and writing exercise is too often ignored. Drawing on the work of Wiggins and Sommers, this article examines how effective writing concepts might be translated into the new online tools that make composing and publishing seamless and immediate.

  • Critical Media Literacy: A Pedagogy for New Literacies and Urban Youth

    Mohammed Choudhury and Jeff Share

    Abstract: Using new literacies critically can be an excellent pedagogy for motivating and empowering students who feel alienated from their school and society. This article describes how one middle school teacher engaged his inner-city English language learners with critical media literacy as a way of making their learning more meaningful and motivating. The students interviewed and photographed community members during walking fieldtrips in their neighborhood as well as classroom interviews with guest speakers. During their outings, students explored the community using an inquiry-based approach for observing and documenting the assets and the problems around their school. As part of the critical media literacy, students analyzed portrayals in the media of Latinos like themselves and their neighborhood. This created an opportunity for them to compare their findings with the mainstream reporting from the local newspaper. As a summative project, the students created alternative representations of their concerns and findings in which they discussed the assets in their community as well as ideas for solving some of the problems. Not only did the students increase their self-esteem and sense of pride in their community, they also demonstrated substantial academic gains in their English language development.

  • Bridging the Disconnect: A Layered Approach to Jump-Starting Engagement

    Nanci Werner-Burke, Jane Spohn, Jessica Spencer, Bobbi Button, and Melissa Morral

    Abstract: The authors describe the steps they took to ramp up their efforts to reach out to students by retooling their teaching. Four factors became essential: the use of writing as a tool for engagement and learning, the necessity to prepare students to compete in an increasingly digitized world, the motivational appeal of the graphic novel genre, and the need to interweave the social aspects of learning with teaching. For these students, the layering of alternate texts, computer-facilitated written discussion, and digitally supported illustration proved to be an effective combination. This project engaged students and enhanced their learning because it was built upon their need to bridge school literacy with their world, allowing them find value and build connections to real life.

  • Multimodality in an Urban, Eighth-Grade Classroom

    Adrienne Costello

    Abstract: Young adolescents are immersed in 21st century literacies in their daily lives, and they bring into schools a level of appreciation and expertise that often goes untapped. This article presents an eighth-grade English classroom’s experience with digital video composing and informal classroom drama as multimodal literacy practices. Students in this urban setting developed deeper understandings of literary issues such as characterization and theme while working through dramatic activity and movie-making processes. Responses to literature became deeper and more nuanced as students brought elements of the text to life through dramatic video. New literacies can be infused into formal study of more traditional aspects of English language arts, and have the potential to position students as actors, experts, and active producers of multimodal texts.

  • Shakespeare in 3D: Bringing the Bard to Life through New (Old) Media [FREE ACCESS]

    Nick Kremer and Harlow Sanders

    Abstract: Shakespeare didn’t write scripts so much as he wrote plays—live productions to be acted out in front of audiences through multimodal forms of expression.  Yet some teachers’ script-only approach to the Bard inadvertently isolates students from the many visual, auditory, and performative elements that make his plays so enduring.  This article offers a varied remix of strategies for incorporating multimedia—and the various literacy skills needed to comprehend them—into the study of Shakespeare, including YouTube clips, graphic novels, audio recordings, and films. With a multimodal approach, the Bard can come to life in a 21st-century classroom.

  • From Knowledge to Wisdom: Critical Evaluation in New Literacy Instruction

    Phil Nichols

    Abstract: In an effort to expose students to a wide array of 21st century literacies, it is easy for teachers to forget the equally important role of leading students in critical inquiry regarding “when” and “why” particular media ought to be used. This results in students who possess knowledge of how to use a medium but lack the wisdom to truly understand the costs and benefits of selecting one medium over another. To correct this deficiency, the scope of literacy instruction must be expanded to include not only a breadth of media environments but also evaluation of how these environments alter the ways that humans sense, behave, and interact. The “Ideal Society” Project is one example of how teachers might meet this need: students conduct inquiry into various media environments as they design multimedia marketing campaigns aimed at specific audiences and later reflect on the strengths and limitations of the media they selected.

  • Nontraditional Texts and the Struggling/Reluctant Reader

    Joan C. Fingon

    Abstract: This article highlights the Wimpy Kid diary book series by Jeff Kenney and discusses how educators can increase their knowledge base and take advantage of integrating such highly visual and nontraditional texts within the reading and language arts curriculum to enhance students’ vocabulary development and reading comprehension. The article stresses the importance of what classroom teachers can learn from listening to young adolescents, including struggling readers and English Language Learners, and what they have to say about their reading interests and utilizing such books as a visual support to engage them in the reading process.

  • Young Adult Literature—New Literacies Books: Technology-Based Formats for Motivating Tech-Savvy Middle Graders [FREE ACCESS]

    Barbara Moss, editor

    Abstract: This column reviews online resources designed to help middle school teachers create communities of motivated readers. It describes websites, book trailers, and Glogsters that can provide students with unique formats for book response. It also reviews ways authors of traditional titles incorporate digital communication formats like blogs, websites, and emails into their storytelling. Examples of motivating multiplatform books, both fiction and nonfiction, are provided, as are selected graphic texts for mobile devices like the Ipad and Iphone. The column concludes with suggestions for classroom discussions focused on student responses to books in these unique formats and ideas for helping students incorporate digital formats into their own writing projects.

  • Student to Student—Getting through Tough Times: What Adolescents Can Learn from Literary Characters

    Wendy Ranck-Buhr, editor

    Abstract: Learning to navigate tough times is one of the hallmarks of adolescent development. Many teens look to the adults and peers around them to help them make decisions and take action when times are tough, but books are another source of insight and learning. The books in this column have resonated with middle school students and have helped them to learn some valuable lessons about dealing with tough times.

  • Coda: Our Compulsory Goals: Effective Teaching and Meaningful Learning through Powerful Cultural Tools

    Jeffrey D. Wilhelm, editor

    Abstract: Wilhelm asks, “But are new literacies just fun?” Then he immediately answers, “Absolutely not—if we as teachers provide the right context and conditions of their use.” Offering research-based advice on incorporating technology to increase motivation and deepen learning, Wilhelm boils it down to this bottom line: it’s engaged, substantive, reflective learning that is the thing, not the new literacies or the technology per se. To the degree that new literacies and technology promote this kind of deep learning, we must embrace it.

  • Index for Volume 19

* Journal articles are provided in PDF format and can be opened using the free Adobe® Reader® program or a comparable viewer. Click here to download and install the most recent version of Adobe Reader.

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