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Beyond “Dead Channels”: Technology in Education Conference and Expo Keynote

If you happen to be in Western Massachusetts, I am giving the keynote at the Technology in Education Conference and Expo tomorrow, January 14th. With this year’s conference theme focused on Connected Learning, I am looking forward to engaging in conversations about the role of educators in shaping the contexts of connected learning in schools. In particular, I hope to focus on youth understanding of civic and social nuance of how they learn in participatory environments.

I’ll also be signing copies of Pose, Wobble, Flow and Doing Youth Participatory Actions Research.

If you’re at the conference, please say hello!

“Gnawing my way back home”: Books Read in 2015

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I’m currently halfway through Paul Murray’s The Mark and the Void and not likely to finish it before 2015 is over. For the 7th year in a row, here’s my breakdown of books read over the past year:

Books read in 2015: 162
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 28
Books of poetry included in reading total: 3
Books reread included in reading total: 4
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 45
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 13
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings – related to this research work): 22

A few thoughts (As usual, here are my posts on books read in 2014,  2013201220112010, and 2009):

Two different sci-fi novels – perhaps thematically related – were highlights of the fiction I read this year: Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora were robust with ideas, questions, and plot hooks that I continue to ponder nuances from them. I also really liked Station Eleveneven if I wasn’t in search of another post-apocalyptic yarn it was an unputdownable book.

It’s been a while, but volumes one and two of Mark Z. Danielewski’s The Familiar were the enticing reads that returned me to the BSRAYDEKWTDWT genre.

Three different music related books I can recommend:The memoirs by Kim Gordon and by Carrie Brownstein were unflinching and feminist looks inside two tumultuous rock bands I’ve spent a lot of time listening to. And unrelated but Leon Neyfakh’s The Next Next Level was the music biography about a musician I didn’t know that I didn’t know I needed to read. (I would encourage curious readers to listen to the two podcast episodes of No Effects with Jesse Cohen where he talks with the author of the book and with the musician Juiceboxxx.)

In terms of non-fiction, there was no book more important or more affecting this year than Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Enough has been written about this book that you don’t really have an excuse for not reading it at this point. Do it.

Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation is a book that I’ve been chewing on and thinking about over the past two months.

In terms of more popular non-fiction, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed was the book that created some of the more entertaining conversations and arguments with friends. Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance was the book you give to a friend because it looks like another comedian’s memoir but ends up actually being a pretty impressive empirical, social science study.

In terms of other media consumption in 2015, there was no better live music experience this year than seeing Kamasi Washington with family and friends play a flawless and touching (and nearly three hour long) set. Epic indeed.

I listened to the Lady Lamb and the Beekeeper album a bunch (yes, that’s really her name and yeah, I know). The track “Billions of Eyes” lends a lyric as the title of this year’s post.

Other albums I listened to a lot were Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, the Hamilton Broadway Cast Recording, Miguel’s Wildheart, and Chance the Rapper’s collaborative album with the jazz group the Social Experiment. (Check out Chance’s performance on SNL from earlier this month:)

When it comes to writing, I’ve been regularly listening to this Four Tet album, the titular Viet Cong record, and Jaime XX. (Did I mention, I published two books this year? It was an intense year for writing.)

What did you read and listen to in 2015? What are you looking forward to in the new year?

New Book Announcement! – Doing Youth Participatory Action Research: Transforming Inquiry with Researchers, Educators, and Students

YPAR cover

Last month saw the release of my most recent book, Doing Youth Participatory Action Research: Transforming Inquiry with Researchers, Educators, and Students. Co-authored by Nicole Mirra and Ernest Morrell, this is a book that details our work with the UCLA Council of Youth Research and the role of YPAR as a critical methodology. The book is published by Routledge as part of Sonia Nieto’s Language, Culture, and Teaching series.

I’m extremely proud of the work that we’ve described in this volume and would be remiss to note that the narrative of the Council of Youth Research (like many YPAR projects) is one that includes dozens of teachers, students, and graduate students. We did our best to include many of these voices in the book.

Earlier today, Nicole and I published a co-written blog entry for DMLcentral about YPAR and Connected Learning. I believe that this post captures the kinds of questions we are pushing through Doing Youth Participatory Action Research. I’m pasting the intro to our pose below and – if you want to see the ways we address the 5Ws (and “how”) of research, take a look at the whole thing here.

What the Connected Learning Research Community Can Learn from YPAR

Last month, the two of us (along with our mentor, Dr. Ernest Morrell) celebrated the release of our book, Doing Youth Participatory Action Research: Transforming Inquiry with Researchers, Educators, and Youth. The book tells the story of the UCLA Council of Youth Research (YPAR), a long-running youth participatory action research program that mentors young people from South and East Los Angeles to develop research questions about the educational and social challenges they recognize in their communities and then conduct rigorous inquiry into those questions for the purposes of fostering empowerment and action for social justice.

We drew on our membership in the Council community to detail one year in the life of the program and use this portrait as a lens through which to explore YPAR as a radical vision of knowledge production that can transform how educational researchers approach their work — particularly those in the connected learning community. While the central activity of YPAR — providing young people with the support and resources needed to develop, conduct, and share research projects of their choosing — occurs across many settings (schools, after-school programs, public health initiatives, etc.), YPAR is an umbrella acronym to describe a mode of scholarly inquiry that pushes back on traditional understandings of the key actors (youth), processes (participatory), and purposes (action) of research.

As our DML community so often focuses on the role of participatory culture, collaborative design and research with youth and educators, and the possibilities of digital technologies within contexts of equity-driven education, we believe that the foundational work of YPAR points to design and research pathways for researchers of connected learning in both formal and informal learning contexts. YPAR is inspired by ideas about knowledge that have been reflected for decades in movements for social justice, from Paulo Freire’s work in Brazil to the Freedom Schools of the American Civil Rights Movement. As active participants in meaning making and theory building, youth and adults alike must consider how the work we do continues to work toward liberatory engagement in contemporary society. YPAR has much to teach us today as we consider what research means and what it is for in an ever more connected (and sadly, ever more divided) world.

The remainder of this post explores the 5 “Ws” and “How” of contemporary research: if we are to take the work of youth and our work alongside them seriously, we must question the foundational premises of educational research in the 21st century.

Again, this book was a two-year collaborative writing endeavor to capture more than a decade and a half of engagement in urban education in Los Angeles. I can only imagine it would make an amazing stocking stuffer for the critical educator in your family. :)

Notes for Class: Teaching Methods – Last Day

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I want to emphasize a part of the title of this course for a moment: methods. I know many of you want to know the secret handshake of good teaching. Less flippantly, you want the key protocols that – if you put in the effort (and I know you want to put in the effort) – will make your class move fluidly, perfectly, just like in the movies.

But that’s not ultimately what these methods are about. Yes, we spent a lot of time this semester diving into standards, designing unit plans, and talking about classroom design. However, I want you to leave today recognizing that the methods of teaching methods are personal.

This is about the processes of reflecting, listening, growing, and feeling that make you the patient and responsive mammal that your classroom community needs you to be. It needs to start with that base, instinctual level that we have likely schooled out of so many of us by the time we are about to graduate from college.

You can fake it and be an … okay teacher. But if you want to be really good, teaching methods are the methods of reinvention. Continually.

In graduate school, one of my advisors often described the ongoing tension between “real” time and “school” time. The time for cooking, shopping, doing laundry, walking dogs, etc: it does not move at the same speed as grading, deadlines, letter of recommendation writing. Mentally, we are operating on two different circadian rhythms. Which one do you privilege? At what cost? Being in sync in one space may mean feeling like you are careening out of control in another. Game designer Jane McGonigal’s description of a “stereoscopic vision” comes to mind.

Thinking about the personal methods you are working toward (and it is a lifelong process – not a semester long one), think about where we are right now:

  • Northern Colorado – a shifting space at once familiar and growing in uncertain directions, politics, socioeconomic evolution.
  • The end of No Child Left Behind and the ushering in of … something new. As usual, everything is about to change. Or not.
  • 2015 curtseying adieu, 2016 bringing in new paradigms of engagement, new warnings of kids these days.
  • A period of escalating horror. Daily the news sings new tragedy that is felt in our bones and comprehended by our students. What lessons need to be taught, questioned, demanded?

As much as these are locations (literally and spiritual) about your personhood and identity, they are a part of your shifting syllabus for future methods. So too, is the fact that growing as a person is seeing the ecosystem that you are a part of: the family in your classroom.

Teaching is scary. It is okay to be afraid.

It is okay to be afraid.

Be uncertain but do right.

Likewise it is okay to be wrong.

It is necessary to be wrong.

At the end of most semesters, I talk to my classes about hope, love, courage. It sounds like the verbal equivalent of that “Hang in There” cat poster. But I don’t think I’m clear about a part of this: a big part of teaching we ignore is that it is about self love. Do you love yourself enough to meets the needs and demands arising or being stifled within your classroom?

Methods are personal. It’s about learning to be you in the classroom and willing to reinvent who you are in the wake of tomorrow.

Find Me at #NCTE15 & #NWPAM15

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Like many of you, I am headed this week to Minneapolis for NCTE’s Annual Conference and the National Writing Project’s Annual Meeting. If you’ll be in town, you can catch me at any of the following events:  

Thursday:  

  • I will be co-facilitating an NWP workshop related to Pose, Wobble, Flow with Cindy O’Donnell-Allen. This is a part of the afternoon sessions listed here.

 

  • In the evening from 8-10, the amazing Chad Sansing and I will be running a game jam at the NWP Annual Meeting:

Join fellow National Writing Project educators for an open-ended conversation about games and play in the classroom. Pitch and prototype your ideas for games that teach, join a group learning a new game, or revisit a favorite game with friends. Part workshop, part hangout, all fun. Don’t be afraid to bring your own games, either!

  My NCTE schedule looks something like this: Screen Shot 2015-11-17 at 3.25.00 PM  If you like comics, inquiry, YPAR, yoga, middle school, connected learning, or unkempt hairdos you should come say hello!

I’m particularly excited to invite you to the first SLAM meeting on Saturday night:

SLAM Ad

On Sunday: I rest (or I meet you, IRL, if you ping me on Twitter first!) and then hop on a plane in the afternoon.

I’m excited to learn with many of my friends and colleagues at this year’s conferences. I hope to see you there!

A Few Updates

I’ve been under-the-proverbial-gun writing to various deadlines these past two months and need to wipe the dust away from this blog soon. “Soon,” however, is not today!

In the meantime, three recent-ish updates that may be of potential interest to you:

1. I will be giving a keynote talk at the Colorado Language Arts Conference this weekend alongside a couple of awesome speakers. Check out the flyer below. I’ll also be running a workshop related to key ideas from Pose, Wobble, Flow later in the day. If you’re going to be there, come say hello! You can still register for the conference here.

CLAS Flyer

2. I recently wrote a blog for DMLcentral where I interviewed Jeff Share about critical media literacy and the 2nd edition of his book. Read it here.

3. The Composing Our World project that I am a part of – currently being designed in coordination with teachers throughout Northern Colorado and funded by Lucas Education Research – has a design blog. The blog is very much a work in progress, but will be updated regularly. Interested in learning about our work around Project Based Learning (PBL), Social & Emotional Learning (SEL), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in 9th grade ELA classrooms? Follow along with us here!

New Book Announcement! – Pose, Wobble, Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literacy Instruction

 

I’m thrilled to share that my newest, co-authored book, Pose, Wobble, Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literacy Instruction is out next week from Teachers College Press!

My brilliant co-author, Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, and I wrote Pose, Wobble, Flow as a book for current and pre-service teachers in English classrooms. Considering the feelings of burnout, frustration, and stagnation that may come in waves in one’s career, I see the model at the center of this book as one that supports teachers across their careers. From looking at the civic responsibilities of teachers (both in and out of their classrooms), our role as curators, and the need to “hack” the content standards we engage with today, this is a hands on book that we wrote to think about what do teachers need now and in the future.

But wait!

  • Did I mention that Linda Christensen wrote an amazing (amazing!) foreword to the book? She did!
  • Did you know that both Sonia Nieto and Bob Fecho write amazing things about this book that you can read on the back of the cover? Hell yes, they do!
  • Did you know you can read a sample chapter through (co-publishers) the National Writing Project, right here? Do it!
  • And did you know you can get a copy of the book online here (and of course you should harass your local bookstore and librarian!)?

If that’s not enough, how about this hot-off-the-presses description from the back of the book?

This book proposes a pedagogical model called ”Pose, Wobble, Flow” to encapsulate the challenge of teaching and the process of growing as an educator who questions existing inequities in schooling and society and frames teaching around a commitment to changing them. The authors provide six different culturally proactive teaching stances or ”poses” that secondary ELA teachers can use to meet the needs of all students, whether they are historically marginalized or privileged. They describe how teachers can expect to ”wobble” as they adapt instruction to the needs of their students, while also incorporating new insights about their own cultural positionality and preconceptions about teaching. Teachers are encouraged to recognize this flexibility as a positive process or ”flow” that can be used to address challenges and adopt ambitious teaching strategies like those depicted in this book. Each chapter highlights a particular pose, describes how to work through common wobbles, incorporates teacher voices, and provides questions for further discussion. Pose, Wobble, Flow presents a promising framework for disrupting the pervasive myth that there is one set of surefire, culturally neutral ”best” practices.

As the online appendices gets uploaded shortly, I will be sharing additional info about the book, including places that Cindy and I will be hosting workshops and presentations related to the book.

If you can’t tell, I am really excited about this book: I think Cindy and I are presenting a model of teacher support and education that reflects our beliefs about how English classrooms today can transform society. I hope you’ll take a look!

Attend Our #SDCC15 Comics in the Classroom Workshop!

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If you are an educator headed to Comic-Con this week (K-12, University, Librarian, etc.), I’m pleased to invite you to our educator workshop!

Held on Preview Night (Wednesday, July 8) from 5-8 p.m., this workshop is free and any SDCC pass-holders are welcome to attend. Here’s the description:

Antero Garcia, Peter Carlson, Susan Kirtley, and Jenn Anya Prosser lead a hands-on workshop for K-12 educators interested in utilizing comic books in classrooms. Open to teachers of all subjects, the program will look at how content-area literacy can be supported through comic books and popular culture in various disciplines. During this workshop panelists will explore how comics support student achievement, discuss ways teachers can align curriculum to use comic books meaningfully, and provide resources for participants to take into their own classrooms.

Though Preview Night is typically reserved for four-day pass holders at SDCC, we’ve gotten confirmation that educators holding any pass for the Con are welcome to join us (If you have not picked up a badge, bring the confirmation barcode that you likely received via email). Note: This workshop will be held at the nearby Shiley Special Events Suite at the San Diego Public Library.

This is the first year SDCC is hosting a workshop of this nature and length. We may experiment with the format, timing, and content in the future. We will also be sharing resources from this workshop online using the Twitter hashtag #comiced. See you at the Con!

[By the way, I’m way stoked about who “We” is. “We,” in this case, includes my always trusty compatriot Peter Carlson, Eisner-winning author and director of the Portland State University Comics Studies Program Susan Kirtley, and amazing Denver-based English educator Jenn Anya Prosser. Think of us as the #comiced Voltron!]

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Four Emotions While Watching Pixar’s Inside Out: Body Shaming, #CharlestonShooting, and the Privileged Feels

Building off of the four key emotions portrayed in Inside Out, a quartet of reflections on Pixar’s latest.

Joy

It’s a fun Pixar film that gives you Pixar feels. Yay.

(Also, the fleeting nod to Steve Jobs’s “reality distortion field” was a nice gesture.)

 

Anger

As much as I wanted to love this movie, I kept wondering why the characters of “Anger” and “Sadness” had to be the heavyset characters. The former resorts to violence and the latter is so lazy she is dragged on the floor throughout a third of the movie. If I think about the diverse bodies we have, I can’t help but ponder what effect seeing one’s larger body type manifested as someone that is “angry” or “sad” will have on an impressionable audience. What does this movie say about who I am and my relationship to feelings of joy if I am considered “fat” by society’s definitions?

 

Disgust

At the heart of this movie (and not really a spoiler) is a young girl struggling to adjust to life in a new city with her parents; there are delays from a moving truck, a fleeting moment of embarrassment in school, an argument at home. The entire social and emotional range that this character undergoes is rooted in the pretty comfortable life of being a white girl in an upper-middle-class family in an industrialized, wireless, and accepting society. As I watched the movie, I reflected on Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s scholarship on “critical hope,” the signs of PTSD that youth in spaces of poverty experience, and the ways youth of color’s feelings would be triggered by entirely different circumstances than those of the protagonist of the film. This is very much a film for and about white feelings. (My caveat here about reading Catcher in the Rye with my high school students applies to this concern. But. But the whiteness of the film’s emotional core is frustrating in light of where American discourse stands in 2015, which brings me to…)

 

Fear

Last night, nine people were murdered. It was fueled by hate and our country needs to do more than mourn. We need to have important discussion and action about race, our history of racism, and what “fear” means when it feels like it is open season on unarmed boys and girls of color in the U.S. I worry that the snow-globe like feelings of Inside Out and an underlying feeling of see-we’re-all-the-same does more harm than good when the very real differences in where we’re born and from whom can mean life or death.

“Just One More Minute”: Exuberantly Doing Too Much

I’ve been thinking a lot about the video above. It’s not Owen Pallett’s best performance – a little rushed and rough around the edges (perhaps for obvious reasons as you watch it). However, the joy in performing and exploring and sharing his work – in recklessly racing past a threshold of safety in doing so – feels infectious.

Lately, I’ve been doing more work than I expected or probably should. I’m in the midst of writing, reviewing proofs of, collecting writing of others for several different books. I’m diving into the beginning of a three-year grant project with some awesome colleagues here in Colorado. I’m moving forward with a multi-year ethnographic study of tabletop gameplay. All of these are exciting announcements that will merit their own posts as they slowly manifest online real estate in the next few months. I suspect, if pressed, mentors will tell me to scale back on some of this work. Focus.

And yet. I love that I can chase down so many avenues of what learning, engagement, and literacy look like today. Career-wise it’s not a race, but I also think about the urgency of the students in our schools, everyday, that deserve better. I didn’t leave the K-12 classroom to coast comfortably through academia (and such notions are quickly laid to waste when looking at tenure requirements and the expected hustle of labor in higher education). And at the same time, all of the work I’m doing feels fun. Sure, the moment-to-moment drudgery of editing or writing is work, but it’s rewarding work that feels like prodding in unfamiliar spaces of our understanding of how people learn and how to make our educational processes better. I’m often racing from one online conversation to meeting with an advisee to chasing down a writing deadline. “Just one more minute.”

This summer has already been a busy one. The CSU Writing Project’s kicked off a summer youth program for the Youth Scientific Civic Inquiry work I helped conceptualize with other scholars in Fort Collins. I’ve collaborated on several presentations and teacher workshops at comic conventions (both in Denver and next month in San Diego). I helped organize a local panel with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in Denver. There were several workshops with school districts. Some game design work for teacher PD that is being funneled into public existence very soon. All this to say I write this from LAX, having spent a week in LA for three different events: a handful of presentations at the DML 2015 conference (easiest link-fodder: this ignite talk with the wonderful Anna Smith), the first (of many) C:\DAGS game jams (full write up coming), and a day-long Games+Learning Summit held in conjunction with the E3 convention currently happening. “Just let me finish this song.” Foolhardy, rewarding, energizing.

I’ll end here by noting that this isn’t just about being busy (something I’ve reflected on here). Whether watching “bad” reality TV (I am seriously pondering a post on Married at First Sight at some point), occasionally hiking, or playing board games with friends (Sushi Go is our latest favorite), being deliberate with when I’m “on” has been rejuvenating. I recently bough a digital alarm clock so that my iPhone doesn’t come into my bedroom, something that’s helped me be deliberate with reading at night, not checking my email as soon as I wake up, and not worrying about what’s happening in the digital realm for a few hours each night.

Earlier this month, Ally and I trekked to Red Rocks to see a couple of openers for the band The Decemberists – Spoon and Courtney Barnett. Their performances were loud and playful in the occasionally raining weather that CO is so good at surprising me with on a near-daily basis. Spoon finished their set backed by the panache of lightning across the Front Range. Afterwards, the venue went into a weather delay. I remembered seeing the Decemberists playing in UCLA’s Kerckhoff Hall coffee shop more than a decade ago and we decided to make the long walk to our car, toward shelter, back home. I was sure that the Decemberists might be giving their own “One more minute” performance in one of the most amazing, natural amphitheaters in the world. But we pick our battles and this was a time when it felt wonderful to splash in the parking lot toward our car and to find respite, even if we were missing someone else’s opus.