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Coffee Spoons 2018: What I Worked on This Year and Why

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I’ve been thinking about how opaque the researching/writing/publishing process is for academics. Like most of my colleagues, I did a lot of work this year that is largely invisible and that won’t see the light of day until next year (or later). This often meant digging into data analysis with colleagues, engaging in field work in various cities as well as virtually in online environments, planning, preparing grant reports, and other day-to-day activities that move scholarship forward. It also meant spending a lot of time writing, re-writing, editing, and re-editing. Even when something is accepted for publication, it can be months until it officially reaches the public.

In light of this, I want to highlight some of the research I worked on this year. This is not a definitive list; Google Scholar has a close-to-complete list of the publications I wrote this year and I am sporadically trying to add PDFs of various materials to my Academia page (I don’t love the service, but it’s an easily findable platform where I can put papers until requests for them to be taken down trickle in). Instead, I am hoping this post describes what this research is about, the purposes underscoring my work, and the kinds of social, community, and activist commitments that drive  what I do.

Healing, Politics, and Responsibility

In several essays, I focused intentionally on the role of healing, politics, and the responsibilities of researchers. Generally, I have been arguing that emotions are intertwined with politics and that both of these are topics that teachers are not well-equipped for in classrooms; this includes teachers’ own emotions as well as those of their students. Though youth civic identity has been a key part of the work I’ve been doing, this focus on healing and politics comes from my own inability to work in the months after the 2016 presidential election. I have been focusing intentionally on the ways teachers and researchers must account for affect and politics in our work. This article in English Education is probably the clearest distillation of this work for me right now (and that link includes the many crowd-sourced, open web annotations that were collected as part of the Marginal Syllabus). The special issue of Learning, Media and Technology that Thomas Philip and I put together was first developed in early 2017 and digs into these themes as well (it came out three weeks ago, to echo impetus for this post). I’m planning to dig further into these topics in more empirical work in 2019. Likewise, the research on student civic writing practices during the 2016 election are also tied into these themes and I am hoping to share these findings next year.

Reading, Writing, and Technology in Classrooms

I continued to research classroom reading and writing practices—both in articles that came out this year as well as in data still making its way through the publishing pipeline. In general, my colleagues and I have looked at assumptions about technology and what count as reading and writing in classrooms. Classrooms today are shifting in ways that are often overlooked when we think about new advances in technology, classroom interactions, and relationships—the fluidity of video links, of complex learning I’ve been researching. At the same time, the resilience of traditional, factory-model instruction remains staunchly in place. My work in this area tries to push on broader understandings of technology and pitfalls of forcing new contexts into old forms of schooling structures. Further, the ongoing Compose Our World project that I am part of is in its fourth year of data collection and I am excited to begin sharing our work around project-based learning in ELA classrooms soon. Further, I’ve been engaged in a couple of practitioner-facing book projects related to classroom equity in secondary ELA classrooms as well. I am hoping I can share these in the early months of 2019.

Multimodality, Gaming, Analog Interactions, and Digital Literacies

Somewhat related to the above topic, I also spent a substantial amount of time thinking about and troubling notions of sociocultural literacy. This ILA Literacy Leadership Brief is a short synthesis of my push on understanding how technology can meaningfully support students and teachers. The gist is that the emphasis needs to be on people and what we can do in collaboration with one another; hearing, empathizing, and working in solidarity with one another must be centered with tools playing a secondary role. Likewise, like in my chapter in this volume, I’ve been trying to tease out the differences between digital literacies, analog literacies, and gaming literacy practices. Several of my articles have been intentionally pushing toward “analog” literacy practices to guide our field to be more intentional about what we refer to as “digital” literacies and what is overlooked with sweeping, generic terms. Though I didn’t have other gaming-related articles come out this year (they are in the works!), my previous work still managed to piss-off a bunch of gamers.

Related to this scholarship, my frequent collaborator Robyn Seglem and I co-edited a special issue of Theory Into Practice on Multiliteracies. The various pieces in this issue all are pushing on new understandings of literacies as informed by the New London Group’s seminal work (not officially old enough to join us at the bar for a celebratory drink!).

Equity-Driven Design and Methodology

Nicole Mirra and I have been engaged in a bunch of work that pushes on familiar concepts of civic identity, equity, and imagination in classroom and informal learning contexts. In general our work is about broadening how we interpret civic participation, research around it, and engage in models of research that elevate the voices of youth, teachers, and the communities we learn alongside. Though from 2017, this article that Nicole led is a useful position from which we situate a bunch of the articles we have in the works. Somewhat related, my co-authored chapter in this book and in this book and in this book speak to ways that I see research and design intentionally engaging practitioners in this work.

Literature and Pop Culture

I still spend a bunch of my time reading YA books and thinking about comic books and pop culture more broadly. I still don’t think our pedagogies and policies take seriously the role of pop culture in classrooms and this has been a serious area of what I’m investigating. Likewise, when it comes to the role of YA literature, transmedia, and fandom, the burgeoning methodologies in these spaces are awkwardly suited for engaging in spaces of educational research and I’ve been exploring methodological approaches to these spaces; all of this work is still developing right now. The chapter on Cathy’s Book that Bud Hunt and I co-authored was fun to work through and has hints of this thinking. Similarly, I spent a lot of time on a large editing project related to comic books and pedagogy which I hope I can announce in the coming months.

Though not definitive, I think this gives a snapshot of some of what I spent 2018 doing. I also realize that my work can look a little scattershot when described as above. I’ve been trying to work on articulating the driving agenda around youth, identity, and civics that compels me to study PBL in 9th grade classrooms while also thinking about layers of gaming in Dungeons & Dragons while also analyzing student letters to the next presidents; these are all of a piece in my attempt to understand civics and schooling today. Maybe the links across my work will be a little clearer in 2019.

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