Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Having finished my review of this, I’ve now settled into a second edition of my own – an old chapter on early literacy development, which I’m now seeing from a new perspective. One of the things I felt uncomfortable with in Colin and Michele’s book is the re-framing (or is it appropriation?) of the term literacy. When I upload the review to this blog you’ll see what I mean – but it’s really little more than what I already have said here. But reading around for the chapter I had a second look at Hasset’s piece in the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy – and in some ways this uses a similar new literacies perspective to Colin and Michele’s. What Hasset’s article does so well is to expose how literacy curricula normalize a view of literacy-as-concepts-of-print with very little reference to how it is changing. She looks at Clay’s work in ways that I explore here (although I was focusing on how writing changes when we shift technologies). I liked the way Hasset recommends we make “a start toward modifying early reading instruction toward new technologies, new texts and new literacies”: what we tend to do instead is modify new technologies to old practices – old wine in new bottles as Colin and Michele would say.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Another Master
I'm trying to unlock the significance of tagmashes. A tagmash builds a sort of subject heading by combining search terms in a folksonomy - and then storing them. So 'joined' search terms become a persistent and useful category. Thingology reports it like this: "there is no good way to search for 'France during wwii.' The tag Vichy covers some of the ground, but not enough. Tagmash provides an answer. Tagmash: france, wwii (france and wwii) Tagmash: france, wwii, non-fiction (kill the novels) Tagmash: france, wwii, -fiction (much the same)." You can see all this working by following the links on the Thingology blog. There's also a commentary on tagmashes here. It seems that clusters, as used in Flickr, do a similar thing but they work on a frequency count, whereas tagmashes are derived from meaningful combinations generated by users. If I've got it right what we have here is a great example of knowledge building in a social network.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

New graffiti

I don't care
Abandoning an autonomous model of literacy in favour of a practice account, in which literacy is both plural and context dependent, involves accepting that meaning-making varies. It varies not only with changing social practices but also with different physical, material and technological conditions. As a result, I'm increasingly finding that the binary distinction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ is conceptually problematic. I discovered this new writing on a wall near me, and it made me stop and think.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Every picture ...

This photograph captures a Victorian bas-relief above the lintel of Hancock and Sons on Little London Road, Sheffield. They were manufacturers of straightedge razors up until 1909, and the building is located just beside the River Sheaf. The logo of the Mazeppa Works draws on the then popular romantic image of Mazeppa – who is described as “hetman of the Cossacks at the beginning of the 18th century”. The legend of Mazeppa, tied to the wild horse became a symbol of the artist in European art and literature. Voltaire, Hugo and Byron were attracted to the story, as well as many French artists. It is alternatively described as a “blood-thirsty tale of crazy love, abduction, political persecution, execution, and vengeful murder..”

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


This is the must-have fashion accessory for the English summer! I’ve heard it say that English jokes are often linguistic, being based on double-meanings, catch-phrases and wordplay. This kind of humour is one of the hardest things for non-native speakers to tune into because it’s so heavily mediated by language and culture. Visual humour is much more direct, and I guess it travels better. So this picture of shoes (from here) needs only a basic understanding of footwear, flippers and heavy rainfall to raise a smile.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Pink dancer
For a number of years the idea of the print environment has been influential in the discourse of early childhood literacy. Drawing young children’s attention to the presence of print in their world – and its meanings and functions – has been an important feature of the pedagogy of emergent literacy. As often happens this sort of idea is contagious, and those professionals who work in the field of early literacy can become over-sensitized to the print environment. At least that is my own experience, and my interest in graffiti, urban mark-making and stencil-work springs from this. I’m particularly interested in the unregulated meanings made on surfaces like walls, shutters, bridges and street furniture. It strikes me that they are examples of a fundamental desire to express - to express opposition, anger, ambition, desire, social comment, love and hate, and so much more. They are essentially individual expressions, a kind of identity work, and a way of temporarily marking one’s presence in the environment. Stencil-work is a specific ‘genre’, significant because it is predominantly visual, but also because it involves careful preparation, a design process, practising and a choice of materials. But the concept of the print environment becomes less useful when we move into the visual mode – and certainly in the example above, meaning becomes open or fluid. Why a pink ballerina dancing on a lamppost in Sharrow? What could that signify?

Monday, July 23, 2007


Masters of Media’(?) reports on the New Network Theory conference at the University of Amsterdam. Most of this seems about trying to define networks as models, metaphors or theories of social interaction in an age of new media. I liked the Noshir Contractor piece because it avoided the trap of oversimplification. Certainly different networks serve different purposes – but it’s my experience that most online networks overlap with offline networks. That’s what Wellman was saying several years back, and I don’t see a radical shift from that position. OK, so some of my interactions on discussion boards through email, on blogs and in Flickr are with people I haven’t met face-to-face, but they’re a small minority. Most of my interactions are with people who know me in meatspace.

Saturday, July 21, 2007


S7 street renamed
Michael Gorman is the latest recruit to the conservative Web 2.0-backlash movement. He launches off on a many-stranded rant over here. I was interested in his take on literacies, however, which made pleased that I’ve articulated my position as best I can because I wouldn’t want it confused with his – I quote from Gorman: ‘True literacy—the ability to interact with complex texts and the ability to express complex ideas in clear prose—is being equated with ill-defined concepts such as “visual literacy,” “computer literacy,” and “21st-century literacies” as if they could make up for illiteracy and a-literacy. Some have proposed that playing video games is an activity on the same plane as reading texts and equally beneficial to mental growth.’ I believe that literacies warrant careful definition; but Gorman’s gives it all away in the final clause, which privileges print literacy as ‘true literacy’, and in the end as a superior cultural product.

Friday, July 20, 2007


eat the rich

I’m thoroughly enjoying Karin Littau’s book on Theories of Reading – particularly because of the careful attention she gives to the physicality and materiality of reading. There’s thorough coverage of everything from obscure historical sources to an informed view of digital literacies, here. I’ve just been laughing out loud at a quotation about the dangers of excessive reading which include ‘susceptibility to colds, headaches, weakening of the eyes, heat rashes, gout, arthritis, hemorrhoids, asthma, apoplexy, pulmonary disease, indigestion, blocking of the bowels, nervous disorder, migraines, epilepsy, hypochondria, and…’ Littau draws careful parallels with the so-called health hazards of new media! OK, and on my to-do list, I’m looking forward to reviewing this book (more eyestrain) and doing a bit of writing (once my hand has recovered from excessive mouse-clicking).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My revolution

my revolution 2
For someone of my generation (the love generation) slogans about revolution can be shaded with nostalgia. Buying into the old ideas of large scale social change and the newer ideas of personal transformation, and sometimes a fusion of the two, a change that freed us from the greyness of the post-war era was really what we yearned for. Although seldom articulated with any clarity it was a myth of ‘the revolution’ we shared – an altruistic vision of the future – a better social world. This is precisely why I was struck by the personal tone of the ‘My revolution’ graffiti – so fitting, I thought, for a personalized world in which it is so much harder to imagine society or indeed any larger group than your immediate social network. And this at a time when commentators are predicting the end of party politics and a new era of issue politics in which our social and civic responsibility is redefined in terms of what matters most of all to us - in immediate terms. I realized how wrong I could be when I discovered that the slogan comes from the lyrics of Felipe Coronel (Immortal Technique) hip hop MC and political activist, with a very clear agenda for social change. Now I’m sure there’s a link or two to critical literacy in all this – and certainly a lesson to be learnt, too!

Monday, July 16, 2007


You can’t beat new media for short, witty items. This Lassie remix is 31 secs long. The first 5 secs triggers the genre - after 11 secs the conflict has been set up, tension builds up to the 18 second mark and then in comes the martial arts sequence and, of course, the humour. Given wide distribution, one can’t assume prior knowledge of the Lassie story line, but I expect for some it’s humorous just because it’s unexpected.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


go for it Jeff
It’s reassuring to discover that some people are paying serious attention to avatar interactions. At the moment the general picture seems to be that avatar interactions reflect real-world interactions – as in real life so in virtual life. Probably the first thing we want to know is whether or not the avatar we’ve met is operated by a human (ie: not a bot). Once we’ve crossed that bridge and we know they’re ‘real’ we want to know their gender. Research suggests that spivaks and androgynous avatars are “perceived as less trustworthy than ones that are clearly either male or female”. After that, according to this, we’re influenced by their height (stature) and probably their status. Then we build up trust through everyday sounding things like eye contact. That’s virtually the same as we’re used to in the real world, surprise surprise!

Friday, July 13, 2007


The Devil Rides Out
“The Drinking God Factor” is a great paper that Anne Haas Dyson wrote for Written Communication (19:4, 2002) just before the publication of “The Brothers and Sisters go to School”. I always find Anne’s work inspiring – particularly that theme of the unruliness of young children – and the Drinking God is all about that. Here’s my favourite quote: “Given its power, children’s agency does not necessarily unfold in orderly practices already differentiated and defined by adults. Moreover, given a small bit of maneuvering room, children have the potential to transform unfamiliar practices into ones in which they are anything but ‘peripheral’.”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Critical practice

Reading Joanne Larson has prompted some thinking about literacies as critical practice (as opposed to critical literacy). I thought the work of our group illustrated ways of moving beyond the highly regulated routines and normalizing discourses of state policy on literacy that have become all too prevalent. Using literacies as critical practice has involved teachers in creatively and collaboratively envisaging something more ambitious than the atomized experiences of contemporary schooling. Giving children voice and agency in matters that are significant in their lives troubles the narrow view of literacy often associated with passive and immersive book reading and provides pupils with the possibility of new ways of thinking about themselves and their world. The projects we have been involved in here have shared four common themes. Firstly they have been created in a context that is relevant to pupils by focusing on aspects of their environment and how they are portrayed and positioned in it. Secondly, they have been engaged in a variety of kinds of guided investigation in which some of these issues of representation have been explored, discussed and deconstructed. Thirdly, they have provided pupils with the tools and technologies to experiment with alternative representations and counter-narratives. And finally, they have involved pupils in multimodal production and publication in ways that have embodied some sort of transformation. This is important work that is neither ‘literacy as tool’; ‘literacy as place’ and probably not ‘literacy as a way of being’ but certainly is literacy as a meaningful practice.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Emergency burger

This is a great story about a 4 year-old girl who called the emergency services 287 times on a mobile phone. Apparently they tracked her down by discovering she was hungry and suggesting that if she gave her address they could home-deliver a MacDonald’s! The report doesn’t say whether or not she actually got the burger, but her mother has now repossessed the phone. Back at the ranch I’ve been reading Steinkuehler on researching literacy. She (and her co-authors) take Markham’s notions of internet as tool; internet as place; and internet as way of being and substitute the word ‘literacy’ for ‘internet’ – a sort of academic mash-up, I suppose. The article works on some levels. Referring to MMOGs (but it might as well be new literacies, in general) they suggest “they offer new contexts and resources for forms of semiotic work or play that challenge antiquated models where production and consumption are held as separate ends of the meaning-making process.” Nothing new there, but it’s well put and forms a useful way into considering methodologies.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Love and money

I found this video, that purports to explain social networking in plain English, on Jill Walker’s blog. I must say that I have problems with a version of social networking that defines itself in terms of romance, money and finding security (somewhere to live). It strikes me that blogs, wikis, photosharing sites like Flickr and portals like Netvibes don’t really do any of that. True an online social network extends everyday networks in interesting ways, but basically a network is a connective web for communication. Clearly then, romance, money and so on are possible, but so is sharing, knowledge building, recommending books and films and much, much more.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The mighty book

This weekend I have been listening to some familiar conversations about the pleasure of being lost in a book. The privileging of the book in our conceptions of literacy is persistent but not altogether helpful. Despite the perceived value of sustained and immersive reading, it has to be acknowledged that this is a cultural construct, a pleasurable activity that has become reified as a high status literacy practice. Whatever the benefits of immersive book-reading may turn out to be, in much educational discourse they have a tendency to overshadow the fact that demanding and purposeful uses of literacy in everyday life, however lightweight they may seem in comparison, are nevertheless highly significant social practices. This seems to be particularly true in the case of new literacies and technologically-mediated social networking.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Networking class

I suppose it’s inevitable that class affiliation is evident in social networking – after all we’re not all wired into some kind of utopia. Nevertheless it’s not received much attention and of course it is hard to research. Here’s Henry Jenkins commenting on something said by Danah Boyd. Now earlier this week I made some observations about the rise of Facebook in the UK and commented on it’s elevation to the status of “cool”. I’m not suggesting that everything American can automatically be read on to the UK scene – in fact, to the contrary, we have very different stories to tell about the technologies we take to. Yet it is interesting how the MySpace v Facebook thing is differently nuanced in the two countries. Of course you could say that what’s cool is related to class, but my hunch is that it’s a lot more subtle than that. Gender, age, race and occupation are probably just as influential in our social networking choices…why wouldn’t they be?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Change of use

125 bin
The stories that teachers tell are so interesting. Today I was listening to teachers talking in Barnsley … and then Chesterfield… and became fascinated by the way that professional lives are blended with the everyday. I made a note in the margin that said ‘teacher as magpie’ as I heard one teacher describe how a short film that she shot on holiday in Fuerteventura became a stimulus for some creative writing back in school. Another recounted how a pebble found on a beach became a magical object for her class. And then I remembered how Jackie used an old fridge door from a skip as a place to do magnetic letters. Perhaps this creative use of materials is where teaching-as-bricolage begins. Teacher-bricoleurs should be encouraged, because the connections they make are non-standard and they trouble the normalizing discourses of centralized curricula and entrepreneurial publishers.... And now for something completely different – the talented guitarist Annie Clark.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Literate bodies

Last night I watched some extracts from Into Great Silence, one of which showed book-binding work in meticulous detail. I was struck by the physical labour of knotting and threading that was once part of publishing. The work of the hands has now been simplified to clicks and keystrokes by digital media. The changing work of the body in literacy fascinates me still, so I’m looking forward to this summer reading that looks at the physical dimension of reading. Today, after several disastrous attempts, I managed to photograph the Noah graffiti which appeared just after the floods on a wall near here. Along with the spontaneous humour and topicality of graffiti, there is the secret physicality of this work. Writing to scale, probably at night, with a spray can is a completely different engagement of the body.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Virtually under water...

Originally uploaded by outallnight.
Back here I blogged about Schome - the “education system for the information age” in Second Life, which is a study of learning in Teen Second Life. I didn’t realise at the time that Julia Gillen was involved in this, but many thanks to her for the link to the report. This weekend Guardian readers have been tempted to Second Fest – Glastonbury without the mud. That’s interesting because I thought that being there was what was important (although remembering it less so). Whether or not virtual worlds constitute Web 3.0, they’re certainly getting a lot of airplay. (Photo courtesy of outallnight.)