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Storium, Collaborative Storytelling, Civic Identity

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog (and at the end of this podcast), my current research focuses on tabletop roleplaying games. (I type this with bloodshot eyes and a larger-than-usual cup-o-joe after a late night session of Deadlands). I am most interested in RPGs as tools for teaching powerful civic lessons for youth. The collaborative storytelling that is often shielded behind complex game mechanics and nerdish tropes of dragons, Cthulhu, and steam punk  (oh my!) are powerful spaces to consider for learning and engagement. Which is why, with just over two days left, I want to tell you about why I am excited about Storium. As described on the Kickstarter page, “Storium is a new kind of online game where you and your friends tell any story you can imagine, together.”


 

Anyone that backs the Kickstarter gains immediate beta access to play in/with Storium. And while the system is geared toward fantasy, genre-fiction, and roleplaying enthusiasts (there are some amazing worlds being written by a who’s who of notable authors and game designers), I am most thrilled by the pedagogical opportunities of Storium. And I’m not alone: the final, $200k stretch goal is “Storium for Schools

The connections with history and English are immediate. Think about learning about what is most foul in Denmark by retelling the stories of the titular Hamlet. Or for youth to explore affects of imperialism from globalized, student-constructed narratives. Having played around with the narrative engine that is running Storium, that stuff seems pretty easy to do. A bit of groundwork from educators can make a ton of content-specific modules at-the-ready for teachers.

However, I’m most interested in two things with regards to Storium:

1. Having youth world build and construct their own narratives. Storium encourages a systems thinking approach. Students will have to label their environment, set the stakes, identify assets, subplots, and challenges. Strip this stuff away from a high fantasy or cyberpunk setting and you’ve got an amazing opportunity for youth to label their reallived environment. The narrative possibilities here become lessons in civic identity and can foment action.

2. Building off of this, I want to explore how youth can explore their actual environment through virtual engagement and storytelling. I played around with this last night by creating a new story setting:

I woke up to find two players interested in this story with powerful character identities tied to politics and gender identity.

In creating a Storium world, you create character strengths, weaknesses, and other attributes (these are used as cards that are intuitively played throughout the game to help instigate narrative action). For my world, the attributes are grounded in the kinds of theories I believe are important for civic learning.

Likewise, “weaknesses” are framed around the real world challenges I’ve seen my own students face in the past.

I don’t know where this narrative will go (I’m still waiting for players, so come join me!). I am, however, enthused about this intersection of storytelling and civic engagement.

You can learn a whole lot more about Storium from the Kickstarter page. Likewise, the designers have been making the rounds on the ‘nets. Take a listen to this episode of Master Plan or this episode of Indie Talks to hear more nuanced discussion of the platform.

As I write this, the Kickstarter is currently hovering just about $167k. That’s an amazing number and signals that more than 4500 fans enthusiastic for telling stories and constructing worlds together.

Racial Politics and the Amazing Race

Last night I went on a mini (by Twitter standards) rant about the Amazing Race. Here’s a Storify recap:

The thing is, I like this show. It’s been an early player in shaping many of today’s reality TV tropes. And frankly, aside from a year or two as an undergrad, I’ve probably seen nearly every season of this show. I get the transmedia heroism of Boston Rob as he ventured from Survivor to the Amazing Race and back to Survivor to claim the prize over there. I get how Fast Forwards and U-Turns have been added and the pacing of the show has become more savvy from season to season. But I also get how terrible the racial politics on major network TV get emphasized when we think about what we’re watching as “real” in comparison to more clearly scripted television programs. Couple this with the essentializing of culture as foods, dances, and dangerous taxi drivers in the show and you’ve got something of a critical nightmare.

Again, more to come with regards to this (as always).

Thriving in Practice

Okay everyone, today I’ve been passed the digital baton in the blog tour celebrating Meenoo Rami’s book Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching.

If you haven’t caught wind of the energy and momentum with which Meenoo’s book arrived, I encourage you to look back at the various other digital stops of the online tour:

4/9/14: Teach Mentor Texts!

4/10/14: Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading

4/11/14: Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy

4/12/14: Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.

4/13/14: Sarah Mulhern Gross at The Reading Zone

4/14/14: Christina Cantrill at Digital Is (National Writing Project)

4/16/14: Beth Shaum at Use Your Outside Voice

4/17/14: Linda Baie at Teacher Dance

4/18/14: Troy Hicks at Hickstro

4/19/14: Joy Kirr at Genius Hour

4/20/14: Tara Smith at A Teaching Life

4/21/14: Antero Garcia at The American Crawl

4/22/2014: John Spencer at Education Rethink

4/23: Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsberg at Unleashing Readers

That list, in and of itself, is emblematic of what I find so powerful about Thrive. Meenoo’s network of friends, colleagues, and collaborators helps generate and expand ideas that stemmed from the book. More than a parade of reviews, Meenoo’s work is sustaining some deep thinking and powerful dialogue across these blog stops. For example, instead simply rehashing the praise that is found on the back of the book, Troy Hicks uses his tour stop to encourage Meenoo to share her thinking regarding how digital writing affects her students’ work. Thrive encourages more than just reviews. There is a coming together of interested educators through this online tour that is a powerful meta-reflection of some of the key ideas in Thrive.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how Meenoo and I first met. It’s possible that we met at one of many NWP functions we’ve both been engaged in. It’s equally likely it was while she was hosting an #engchat discussion one night. Or perhaps it was at the NCTE annual conference. Or a NBPTS thing. Or a Connected Learning webinar. Or Educon. Or. Or. Or. Meenoo’s networks run deep! Her interactions are meaningful and lasting–both with her students and with her peers. And while this paragraph sounds mainly like I am gloating about being friends with such an awesome educator, I wanted to highlight how Meenoo’s professional life exemplifies the principles of renewal and connection that are so clear in her book.

In fact, one of the strongest aspects of Thrive is that Meenoo packs in the stories, voices, and ideas of so many of her peers. Whether it is sidebar profiles throughout, excerpts of Twitter discussions, or an integration of research in her own writing, Meenoo’s book is more than just her own work; it is a bound compendium. It is the closest you can get to seeing a living network breathe across pages.

Many of my students at CSU are reading Thrive for my colleague Cindy’s class. It is clear that the ideas that have been resonating with me have been doing the same for my students. More than any other testament of the book’s value is hearing students–often feeling burnt out as they prepare for student teaching next semester–share sentiments such as, “This book is unlike anything that I have read before.  It is simple, accessible, and focused.”

I look forward to this dialogue continuing to unfold  at tomorrow’s stop over at edrethink.

Updates: Linda Christensen’s Presentation on Tuesday and more ebook reviews

Just a quick reminder that the final speaker as part of the CSU English Department’s Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life Speaker Series, Linda Christensen, will be here on Tuesday. Professor Christensen’s work has been a foundational part of how I grew as a teacher and I am honored to get to learn from her in person next week. Here is a description of her upcoming presentation:

The Tulsa Race Riot: Raising Voices Silenced by History

The past is not dead, and it needs to be remembered for students to understand contemporary patterns of wealth and poverty, privilege and marginalization. Our curriculum should equip students to “talk back” to the world. Students must learn to pose essential critical questions: Who makes decisions and who is left out? Who benefits and who suffers?  What are the origins of today’s problems? What alternatives can we imagine? What is required to create change? In this presentation, Christensen will engage participants in an examination of a historical event from eyewitness accounts to revisit the history of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Through this workshop, she will demonstrate how she uses “silences” in history to construct solid literacy practices including persuasive essays and historical fiction, building a framework for critical literacy that helps students navigate an increasingly unequal world.

As usual we will be in Clark A205 at 5:30 and the event is free. Please join us!

On an unrelated note, there are two new reviews of Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom. Here’s a review from School Library Journal.  And here’s another from Paul Oh using Graphite. (Send me a tweet or email if you review the book!)

If you haven’t caught any of the Connected Learning webinars this month related to the book, there’s still time!

Fandom, Ownership, and Improvisation: A Triptych on Improvisation

I

Last night Ally and I made the trek to Boulder to see the Brad Mehldau trio perform. I’d seen Mehldau a couple of times back in LA (he’s even released an album titled after my favorite venue). I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that the show was Mehldau performing as part of a trio (with Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard on bass and drums respectively). I’d expected something closer to this (akin to the direction of his most recent album MehlianaTaming the Dragon):

Aside from beginning with an original song, the entire show was a set of covers. From the Beatles to Gillian Welch to Radiohead, Mehldau’s work weaves familiarity with the unexpected. It’s interesting to listen to the audience reactions during jazz performances (something Paul F. Tompkins lampoons here). There is usually laughter in two places in jazz shows. First, the audience will quietly laugh when they know a song. The excitement of familiarity when Mehldau launched into “And I Love Her,” for instance signaled that the audience knew this song. Conversely, the audience laughs when a line or solo goes in the complete opposite direction of where they expected. A mid-tempo solo that flies into high gear, a series of notes outside of the song’s key, a start-stop drum solo. We find pleasure, surprise, and laughter in the familiar and the unknown. It is the mixture of these two that builds pleasure in the consumer here.

II

Saturday, a day before the Mehldau show, I presented at the Colorado Teen Lit Conference. In my session, I mainly facilitated conversations around how participatory media can act as a tool of empowerment for YA readers. In one example (and as described in my book) I highlighted how Cassandra Clare practiced and developed her YA-oriented writing through engagement with fan fiction communities. At the heart of this discussion are a bunch of complex issues revolving ownership, plagiarism, marketing and capitalism. Several in the room (myself included) discussed how we have successfully gotten kids to write powerful stories through adapting fan fiction models for the classroom. The number of NaNoWriMo submissions I got from my students who inserted themselves in their favorite Cirque Du Freak or Vladamir Tod settings was a powerful testament to how fandom can initiate and sustain writing.

Writing is hard. Getting published even harder. Keynote speaker, A.S. King described the arduous process of getting her first novel in print:

 

Teachers steal all the time. Musicians cover as a staple of their own repetoires. Without consciously building on successful models (and remixing what makes them successful), how can young writers develop a personal voice?

III

Like Mehldau, last year when my colleague Leif and I saw Jason Moran in concert, his set was primarily a series of covers (including briefly schooling the attendees about the “Negro National Anthem”). Perhaps more striking is that Moran would begin many of his songs by scrolling through his iPod, playing a song through the house speakers and slowly begin playing along with the canonized recording. Eventually he would fade out the recorded song and he and his band mates would seamlessly move the song into a new, unexpected direction. Like Mehldau, this was a master of his craft playing along with canonical recordings. Thinking about this from a literacies perspective, I think there are (at least) two important reasons covers are so important in musical performance:

  • First: it is a signal to the audience familiarity. Audience members muttered and harrumphed when the first recognizable melodic lines of “And I Love Her” were played by Mehldau. Minutes later, the song was an unrecognizable, rejuvenating­–and highly original–samba.
  • Second: it grounds the artist in a political, historical, cultural, social, place. Just as the audience can understand and recognize the familiar tropes of a cover, a musician can adhere to, respond to, or redefine the emotional voice from which a cover comes from. By starting with something pre-established, a cover song can create pathways and constraints for new work to emerge.

When an audience member requested Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” at last night’s Mehldau show, it wasn’t because he thought he was getting  the ‘90s rock song version. It was because the piece was both familiar and utterly transformed. Likewise, when Moran launches into “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa it isn’t because they are expecting to hear a hip-hop classic.

All compositions are grounded in complex matrices. The social, historical, cultural, and political intersect in the words we write, the notes we play, the lessons we teach. A cover of a standard, or a Beatles song, or a Radiohead hit, or a Harry Potter setting is a more blatant signal for readers and a powerful starting place in tone or message for the composer. This is what we need to consider (and teach) within a literacy context. Even when we compose new work, our words and ideas are influenced by the world around us. We experience in ways that are shaped by the past.

Presenting at the Colorado Teen Literature Conference

Just a quick note to let you know I will be presenting at the Colorado Teen Literature Conference this Saturday. (Yes, I am missing AERA this year.)

I believe the conference registration is already full. However, if you’re going, here’s a sneak peek of my presentation:

Teen Literature as Empowerment: Learning from Participatory Culture and Critical Literacy

This workshop explores the opportunities and challenges that libraries face in an era of participatory culture. Teen literature is a powerful space for critical learning and this session will look at how to adapt to what new teen literature can teach. Through collaboration, participants will build a framework of participatory learning and culture to help libraries and librarians conceptualize multiple, diverse points of access to meaningful literacy experiences.

I hope to see you there!

New Article in Educational Policy

I have a new co-authored article in Educational Policy titled “Schooling Mobile Phones: Assumptions About Proximal Benefits, the Challenges of Shifting Meanings, and the Politics of Teaching.” The article can be viewed at this link. Here’s the abstract:

Mobile devices are increasingly upheld as powerful tools for learning and school reform. In this article, we prioritize youth voices to critically examine assumptions about student interest in mobile devices that often drive the incorporation of new technologies into schools. By demonstrating how the very meaning of mobile phones shift as they are institutionalized and by highlighting the divergences between adult and youth assumptions about these devices, we make a significant contribution to policy debates about the role of new digital technologies in the classroom. In addition, we explore challenges such as privacy, freedom, and resource-use that emerge when scaling-upthe use of mobile technologies in the classroom.

I want to thank my co-author, Thomas M. Philip, for working on this with me. Thomas has been an invaluable mentor and collaborator and he is the recent winner of the AERA Division G Early Career Award. To hear Thomas talk about findings from this article and other avenues of work he’s done, check this out.

Catching up with the Connected Learning Classroom

A few updates regarding the recently released report/ebook Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom:

Most timely, tomorrow–and every tuesday in April–I’ll be participating in the ConnectedLearning.TV webinar series focused on the major principles highlighted in the book. Tomorrow’s event is titled “Networked Classrooms: Providing Equitable Access to Connected Learning” and I encourage you to check out the  hashtag #wherewelearn in preparation for the webinar.

We have some amazing guests scheduled throughout the month. Our final webinar in April is an unHangout where you can more directly join in on the conversation. Be sure to join us! (A special shout out to Nicole Mirra who has been doing the brunt of the organizing for this series. She also wrote this post about the series. If you aren’t reading her blog, Revise and Resubmit, do so now.)

Two weeks ago we hosted a related webinar about the report for Educator Innovator. You can rewatch the discussion here:

A few reviews of the book have been trickling in here, here, and here. (If you are interested in reviewing it, please pass along the link!)

Finally, the ebook is now available for the Kindle here. While that’s great and all, the file costs $.99, which is exactly $.99 more than the pdf version of the same material. Full disclosure: I don’t have any control over this cost (and none of the authors or curators of the book–myself included–gain from this).

It’s been thrilling hearing the many ways educators have been engaging with this work – I hope you have had a chance to dive in!

Revisiting Divergent and Female Sexuality in YA

Did you watch Divergent this weekend? I’ll admit I think it was a stronger film adaptation than many other YA-related films lately.

In any case, I’d like to point you back to an excerpt from my book that focuses on Divergent and female sexuality originally posted here. The film adaptation readjusts this scene to be more about sexual violence than about the sexuality of a scared, uncertain girl. Being afraid of sexual assault is an entirely warranted fear for young people (particularly women) to feel. The ways this fear was different within the book, however, are more problematic. I am curious how the film version will cast aside past readings as this book becomes more entrenched in its film vision (when you think of Harry Potter do you conjure an image of a young Daniel Radcliffe or a non-Hollywood image of the-boy-who-lived?). Again, check out the excerpt from my book – I plan to share another one soon!

Related, I think the Maze Runner film adaptation looks strong, too. A shame that the two other books (and prequel) absolutely fall apart… (you should probably read my book’s chapter focused on the perils of serialization while you’re at it!).

Patrick Camangian’s Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life Presentation

On Tuesday, as part of the CSU Literacies of Contemporary Civic Life series, Dr. Patrick Camangian, offered his insight in a talk titled “From Coping to Hoping: Teaching a New Ending.” The entire discussion can be viewed below and I hope you will take a look.

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Dr. Camangian’s work can be accessed via his Academia.edu page. Additionally, Patrick mentions that his work builds on the scholarship of Jeff Duncan-Andrade and I would point readers to his “Note to Educators,” which offers a necessary look at “critical hope.”

As Patrick mentions at the beginning of his talk, he and I have been in similar circles for nearly a decade. My first teacher education class (taught by Dr. Duncan-Andrade) met in Patrick’s classroom. The picture of Tupac above his clock, mentioned in his talk, was my first look at what a caring, urban classroom could look like.