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Two Recent Publications: ALAN Review and The Civic Media Project

I’m sharing a quick note about two recent publications that may be of interest:

First, I have a co-authored article with the awesome Marcelle Haddix in the Winter 2015 issue of the ALAN Review. Titled “Reading YA with ‘Dark Brown Skin’: Race, Community, and Rue’s Uprising,” Marcelle and I look at online communities, representations of race (particularly in The Hunger Games franchise), and discuss implications for educators. I’ll update this post if an online copy is available.

Second, I have a co-authored case study with Ellen Middaugh for the recently launched Civic Media Project website. Our analysis of the Race to the White House project can be accessed here.

Don’t Miss Bud Hunt at CSU Tomorrow (3/31)!

Tomorrow, March 31st will be the third event in the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life series held at CSU. Joining us will be CSU English Education alumnus and educational technology expert Bud Hunt. Bud’s talk is titled “Let’s Hack School: Learner Agency in a Time of New Technologies” and I can assure you it’s not something you’ll want to miss. Check out the flyer:

Mr. Hunt will be presenting his work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. Like all of the series, this event is free and open to the public. And join the dialogue on Twitter at #csulit15.  All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205. I hope you’ll join us (if you are not nearby, you can stream the talk here). Just as excitingly, a week later, Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, the Executive Director of the National Writing Project will be speaking as the fourth speaker in this year’s series (same time, same place).
If you missed last month’s presentation as part of the series, please watch Ben Kirshner’s engaging talk here:

The Problem with “Three Miles,” a recent This American Life episode

Last week, I listened to the recent This American Life episode, “Three Miles.”

The project at the heart of the episode–having students from the poorest congressional district in the U.S. visit with students of a wealthy, $43,000 a year private school. (The title refers to the fact that the schools are only three miles apart.) In good storytelling fashion, there is a strong narrative that pulls the episode together. At the same time, the episode reminded me of projects that took place while I was a teacher in Los Angeles and, particularly, of the Council of Youth Research, which explored educational inequities throughout the city.

Reflecting on the same episode, my friend-and-sometimes-nemesis Mark (co-founder of the Critical Design and Gaming School in South Central Los Angeles) asked: “how are we preparing our students to be resilient in the face of institutional and internalized systems of oppression?

While I appreciated the portraits of inequity, difficulty in college as youth of color, and the candid perspectives shared by the teachers in the episode, I was troubled by the implications of the episode’s principal reporter, Chana Joffe-Walt, at the show’s conclusion.

Discussing how one young woman has struggled to succeed after high school, Joffe-Walt concludes the episode saying:

I have a theory about this: I think Angela has this memory of Melanie making it, triumphantly making it because it is really hard to believe that Melanie would not make it. And I can completely understand that. … I keep expecting there to be news like she’s about to get her big break and things will happen for her. It feels suspenseful but nothing has happened for her for 10 years. I think it’s some special brand of American pathological optimism that so many of us believe the story of Melanie has to turn out to be happy. And if it doesn’t then something unusual has happened. And not just this is what happens all the time.

Up until this final moment of the show, I fully intended for this to be an episode my students–all future teachers–would listen to and critique. But this ruined it. This “optimism” that Chana discusses, while it may be true to her feelings, also reflects a painful naïveté about the state of urban schooling in the U.S.

Talking with a friend about the episode recently, we discussed how the simple choices to go to college, work hard, and succeed are anything but transparent for many youth of color. As a teacher, I was hyper-aware of this in my classroom; even as I demanded highly of my students, the reality of many of them going to college was often low when they were faced with the expectations of supporting family members (both in the U.S. and back in countries like Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Ethiopia). As my friend (currently pursuing a doctorate in the sciences) said:

And this is why I’m so frustrated with this end of this episode. No, Chana, it’s not that “something unusual happened.” The choices and assumptions of success we place on young people are not always realistic or paint an accurate picture of students’ lives. These final words damage; the perpetuate a culture that blames youth of color for not matriculating into higher education rather than condemning a system that operates on “optimism”.” Unfortunately, Chana and This American Life, many of our youth do not conform smoothly with privileged ideologies about “making it” in today’s society.

Teaching Ambassador Fellowship coverage

This article does a great job outlining the U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellowship. This past year, I’ve been one of the returning TAFs discussed in the article (I was first a part of the program in 2010-2011, where the emphasis was on potential ESEA reauthorization… that sounds familiar).

Hands in Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor: Repetition, Rhythm, Remembrance

I spent the weekend reading through Scott McCloud’s new graphic novel The Sculptor. This was an immensely rewarding read and one I plan to revisit soon (and possibly teach); the ambition of this work reminded me, at times, of Asterios Polyp.

In many ways, The Sculptor lends itself well to be read as an anchor text for McCloud’s canonical work on comic books: Understanding Comics. The lessons McCloud etches across his academic text are made manifest in the pacing, the narrative imagery, the layout of panel upon panel.

As one example, I was particularly drawn to the deliberate repetition of the sculptor’s hands throughout the work. Specifically, McCloud draws significant narrative significance from the gestured look at one’s hands across the story. Here, a few examples lacking context:

Untitled Untitled


By the end of the 400+ page book, the gesture of looking at his hands has come to signal for the sculptor adoration, disgust, regret, love, remembrance, and much more. The panel is like the sculptor seeing his life flash before your eyes (perhaps it is). We garner this insight across the work. We are reminded of the layered meaning and significance of hands for an artist looking for acceptance and recognition each time McCloud repeats the gesture. The tone of the hands shifts from beat to beat in the book, but each tone is not forgotten. Like palimpsests of thought, the paneled image of the sculptor’s hands builds and layers; a new formation held within the calloused digits.

[Note: These are a fraction of the hand images in the book and I am trying to deliberately remove context here. In terms of both an argument for fair use of the images and to not squelch a powerful narrative, I offer a pittance of samples.]

Ben Kirshner coming to CSU & Archived Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life

If you are in the area, please consider coming to next week’s presentation as part of the Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life series. Joining us will be Dr. Ben Kirshner, director for CU Engage and Associate Professor at University of Colorado, Boulder (and co-editor of the recent #youthaction: Becoming Political in the Digital Age). His talk will be great! Check out the flyer below:

csuwp literacy series ben kirshner

Dr. Kirshner will be presenting his work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. Like all of the series, this event is free and open to the public. And join the dialogue on Twitter at #csulit15.  All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205. I hope you’ll join us (if you are not nearby, you can stream the talk here). In addition, here are the remaining speakers and dates for the series:

  • February 17: Dr. Ben Kirshner, Faculty Director, CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research
  • March 31: Bud Hunt, CSU Alumnus & Instructional Technologist, St. Vrain Valley School District
  • April 7: Dr. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Executive Director, National Writing Project
  • May 5: Civic Literacy Panel, selected Colorado teachers & students

If you missed last month’s presentation as part of the series, please watch Nicole Mirra and Danielle Filipiak’s presentation here:

(And feel free to check out my write up of the event here.)

New article in Teachers College Record and a few other updates


I’m pleased to share that I have a new co-authored article with Robyn Seglem in Teachers College Record. Titled “‘So We Have to Teach Them or What?’: Introducing Preservice Teachers to the Figured Worlds of Urban Youth Through Digital Conversation,” you can find the article here.

I also recorded a video several months ago discussing the research in the article:

(I’ve been answering viewer’s questions in the discussion area of the video above. Feel free to chime in!)

I’m excited about how this article has turned out and continue to enjoy collaborating with Robyn on new research (more on that down the road). I’m pasting the abstract below:

Background: Extant literature contends that it can be difficult for White preservice teachers to develop culturally relevant curriculum for the diverse students whom they will encounter in classrooms. Though there is a significant body of research about culturally responsive pedagogy, teacher education programs have struggled with how to best reconcile the needs of students of color with the experiences and misconceptions of White teachers.

Purpose/Focus of Study: Using a figured world framework, we explore how social interaction made possible through digital tools shaped the actions and identities of 16 preservice teachers. Research Design: This qualitative case study focuses on 3 preservice teachers from Illinois to illustrate the cumulative and different process of change that each went through during his or her interactions with 10th-grade students from Los Angeles. Beginning with a holistic coding of the corpus of data, we looked at chat room transcripts, preservice teacher reflections, and writing samples from approximately 3 months of interaction between the two groups for this study. Coding the data in multiple cycles, we explored how preservice teachers’ digital interactions with urban high school students contributed to preservice teachers’ figured worlds.

Findings: Providing preservice teachers with virtual access to urban youth’s figured worlds allowed these future teachers to better understand the cultural artifacts of these students’ worlds. In doing so, they were forced to acknowledge the importance of maintaining the belief that all students, including those from urban backgrounds, can and want to engage in rigorous learning. The project also provided the preservice teachers with an opportunity to learn more about the discourse of these students, giving preservice teachers insights about how to navigate the language of their students’ cultures, to evaluate their students’ academic language needs, and to instruct their students about shifting their language use to communicate across settings and purposes. Finally, opportunities to interact with urban youth allow preservice teachers to begin to develop identities that are more culturally responsive in nature.

Conclusions: The results we explore in this article highlight the potential that virtual spaces offer for developing constructive dialogue between urban youth and preservice teachers, which can lead to reflective, culturally relevant teachers.

Two other unrelated publication items to share:

1. I am featured in the most recent issue of The Deloitte Review titled “Digital education 2.0: From content to connections.” Take a look here.

2. I recently found out that my introduction to Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom is available for annotation on Genius (you remember Genius, right?). If you’re looking to do some annotatin’ have at it.

New article on the Council of Youth Research in Reading & Writing Quarterly

I have a new co-authored article detailing the Council of Youth Research in the current issue of Reading & Writing Quarterly. Titled “The Council of Youth Research: Critical Literacy and Civic Agency in the Digital Age,” you can access the article here.

I’m excited about extending and sharing further work around the Council of Youth Research in a future publication as well (stay tuned!). As always, I am indebted to my amazing co-authors: Nicole Mirra, Ernest Morrell, Antonio Martinez, and D’Artagnan Scorza. Thank you. I am sharing the abstract to the article below.

This article explores the relationship between critical literacy practice, digital media production, and civic agency in the Council of Youth Research, a youth participatory action research program in which Los Angeles high school students conduct research and create dynamic, multimedia presentations as leaders of a growing youth movement for educational justice. We examine theories of critical literacy to articulate a vision of literacy that is tied to societal power structures for the purpose of personal and social transformation. In order to bring critical literacy theory into practice, we explore the ways in which critical pedagogy and participatory digital literacies structure the work of the Council. We use ethnography of communication and visual sociology to analyze literacy events from 1 year of the Council’s work to highlight ways in which student digital literacy production manifested powerful civic agency. We conclude by discussing the implications of this work for classrooms and further grounded research in pedagogies of participatory media.

Announcing the return of the speaker series: Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life, 2015



I’m pleased to announce that the Colorado State University Writing Project is sponsoring the return of last year’s speaker series: “The Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life.” Throughout the spring semester we’ll be hosting nationally recognized literacies-based researchers and educators to discuss how literacy and youth civic participation intersect from varying, interdisciplinary perspectives. This is going to be an amazing series, once again, and I hope you’ll join us.

The speakers will be presenting their work and engaging in dialogue from 5:30-6:30, followed by a brief reception. These events are free and open to the public. All of the speakers will be presenting at the CSU campus in Clark A 205.
The speakers and dates for this series are as follows:

  • January 27: Danielle Filipiak, Doctoral Fellow, Teachers College and Nicole Mirra, Post-Doctoral Scholar, UCLA
  • February 17: Dr. Ben Kirshner, Faculty Director, CU Engage: Center for Community-Based Learning and Research
  • March 31: Bud Hunt, CSU Alumnus & Instructional Technologist, St. Vrain Valley School District
  • April 7: Dr. Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, Executive Director, National Writing Project
  • May 5: Civic Literacy Panel, selected Colorado teachers & students

Danielle and Nicole’s talk next Tuesday is titled “Creating Spaces where Choices Can be Made: Critical Literacy in 21st Century Classrooms” (see the flyer below). It’s going to be awesome!

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.55.48 PM

“Where lies the strangling fruit”: Books Read in 2014


I’m currently just cracking the spine on The Last Projector, there’s a day left in 2014, and it’s time for the reckoning. And so, as with the past five years, I offer my annual rundown of books I read this year:

Books read in 2014: 157
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 26
Books of poetry included in reading total: 3
Books reread included in reading total: 3
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 18
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 10
Roleplaying Game-related books (rules, modules, settings … because research): 25

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

I don’t think I had more fun reading this year than the solid 1-2-3 punch of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). There’s heaps of praise for the trilogy and now packaged as a single volume for the holidays, it’s a great way to get lost for a week or two.

I read a handful of music-related books. Some highlights include the slim volume about Dangerous that I previously blogged about, this look at techno-pranksters the KLF, a Q&A for getting lost in the mythos of Will Oldham and Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and a book length work about the greatest album/film/musician of all time.

Though this year was pretty light on poetry for me, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen felt like one of the most timely, necessary reads of the year.

While I only picked it up in the past two weeks, Richard McGuire’s Here is the best graphic novel I read. Following the thousands+ history of a single room, generations of families, prehistoric animals, and futuristic guesses are offered in windowed comic panels, like the pop-up windows of ’90s era online browsing. The premise sounds like (and occasionally literally is) watching paint dry on a wall. It’s unlike anything else you’ll read.

The two best academic books I read are accessible and I heartily recommend them for a general readership. danah boyd’s It’s Complicated takes more than a decade of research on the digital lives of youth and makes it clear how young people are communicating, learning, and sharing today; danah’s work here has been foundational in my own research and It’s Complicated offers necessary perspective on a larger conversation about technology, learning, privacy, and socialization. On The Run is an equally-long-in-the-making ethnography about young men trying to avoid the U.S. legal system. It’s a compelling book with vibrant characters, Wire-like escapades, haunting scenes, and the troubling fact that this is all real and experienced daily by urban youth across the country.

I finished Isaacson’s The Innovators earlier this month. It was fun and exactly what I expected. If you can’t remember why Jim Henson is such an amazing and generous innovator in his own right, the biography that came out a few years ago will remind you. The lessons that Henson’s life illustrate have stayed with me throughout the year.


My year of other media consumption was pretty predictable. D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and St. Vincent’s self titled record are constantly on rotation. Serial is eating my brain. Boyhood made me cry while watching it on an airplane. I saw Future Islands in concert twice this year and the singer terrified me both times.

I listened to this cover of “Johnny and Mary” more times than is probably healthy:

There is an expanded version of Yo La Tengo’s amazing album (do they make any other kind?) Painful, so this is a good time to encourage you to ring in the new year listening to “Nowhere Near.”

What are your reading plans for 2015?