Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Infected by fiction

I've been busy writing curriculum materials on science fiction. One of the themes is about alien beings, so I was rather put out to catch sight of myself in the mirror with a little red-eye invasion. This has now blossomed into a real top quality alien eyeball (see pic). The chemist shrugged. 'Buster Bloodvessel' is how he addressed me, 'just give it time'. Now no-one can look me in the eye. I feel like an alien. This must be infiction. But at least I don't smell of bacon!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Remembering things differently

Our self-narratives are stitched together from half-remembered fragments. I’m learning this through sharing memories of childhood with my brother. What has become a significant event for me has been forgotten by him, whereas his version of fact is often differently remembered by me. So when Siri Hustvedt writes: 'There is no clear border between remembering and imagination', it strikes a resonant chord. I love the way she talks about how we re-imagine ourselves in narration. 'Time is a property of language, of syntax, of tense' is another favourite. These are both in The Sorrows of an American. But I also recently read her essay on the same themes and this weaves in these threads with the topic of identity 'Identities, identifications anddesires cannot be untangled from one another. We become ourselves through others, and the selfis a porous thing, not a sealed container. If it begins as a genetic map, it is one that is expressed over time and only in relation to time...We do not author ourselves, which is not to say that we have no agency or responsibility, but rather that becoming doesn’t escape relation.' Granta 104. These sort of things occasionally get posted in Blogtrax which seems to have decided to ban me of late. Hustvedt is here and here, but if you want a more intimate and sustained view, this is from the Australian tour.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Literacies past

My father started working life as a teacher in a Nottinghamshire mining village at the time of the Depression. He used to talk a lot about the hungry children with no shoes on their feet. I’ve recently come across his teaching notes from that time, written in pen and ink in a flowing cursive hand. It’s a fascinating insight into the curriculum of the time, concerning what was thought to be important to pass on to the young. Geography and history are unsurprisingly anglocentric, undeniably nationalistic, and sometimes what would now be deemed racist. There’s a strong emphasis on nature study and lots of English. This is usually subdivided into prose, verse, reading, language study and composition. An extract from prose study runs like this: How a Little Boy Spent Two Shillings. The story itself is quite simple, but the following needs explanation :- disposed to talk confidentially; common complaint; lattice; Chippendale. The questions will be asked orally. The surviving students from that era will be about 85 years of age now, having lived through the Depression, World War Two, the Sixties, the Miners Strike, and so much more. I hope their education served them well and that they are disposed to talk confidently!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I don’t know why but I seem to be writing curriculum materials again (Code MD is a theme). So I thought I’d look for some official support for using multimodal texts and video extracts in the primary classroom. Despite all the optimism about curriculum reform I was surprised how little there is out there. OK, so the National Strategies which have been the heavy handed steer on literacy teaching will be disbanded in September 2011 and the new curriculum area ‘English Communication and Languages’ sounds promising, but the draft subject descriptions don’t look that different. QCDA consultations on subjects claim that multimodality has been introduced, but it’s just tweaking, and apart from ‘searching using various sources’ what has been simply titled English is mostly about print and handwriting. Meanwhile, back in the present, the National Strategy has an uncredited and unbranded paper on Multimodal ICT Digital Texts. Not particularly inspiring. I found myself doing a cut and paste on the principle concerns. Here goes: 1.Digital technology and ICT texts will not replace traditional literacy. 2. Books will remain as central to the reading experience 3. Pen and paper will not disappear. 4. Keyboarding and touch typing will need to be balanced with the development of fluent handwriting. 5. There will also be occasions where more traditional forms of literacy are better suited to the job in hand.6. [children] need to be helped to make discriminating judgements about when and how to draw on digital or more traditional forms of texts for communication and understanding. It’s a document of concerns rather than ambitions. I hope the new primary curriculum can be more inventive. Early indications are less than inspiring.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Writing 1540

If you’re anything like me, you just think of Palatino as a font on a drop-down menu, but actually Palatino (Giovani Battista Palatino) was an early scholar of the technology of writing. He was fascinated by the different forms of writing systems and those used in other languages at various times in history. This is his rendering of Arabic. In 1540 he published a writing manual in Italian called The New Book of Learning to Write. Was this literacy sponsorship? Anyway I suppose that it was his version of new literacies!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

DJ literacies as process

The practices of music production and consumption have always fascinated me. In writing about literacy, DJ-ing and remixing have become popular metaphors, as for example in the work of Dyson (2003) and Lanshear and Knobel (2006). They have also been used to describe the Web 2.0 user/developer (Boutelle, 2005). But I want to re-focus on the DJ and what might be called DJ-literacies. The short video segment shows a successful London-based DJ, preparing his material. Note how the tracks are downloaded from specialist sites, assembled on CD, catalogued on word-processed labels ready for remixing on digital decks in performance. There’s a whole string of literacy events that lie behind the live recontextualizing. To me this illustrates how a focus on digital literacy as text can be rather reductive, concealing the depth and complexity (or the absence of these!) of everyday practices. And that's a call for a richer description!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

All a Twitter

Reading today’s Guardian you might be forgiven for thinking that the nation is obsessed with Twitter. The front page reports the Ofcom story of young people’s declining use of Facebook and Twitter, the Sports section has a piece on a footballer who’s using tweets to slag off his manager in a transfer deal, and the IT section has two pieces. The first of these is perhaps the most interesting because it looks at this guidance on governmental tweets. The second reports on Guardian journalists at play with the techies. The best of the latter is the Guardian Twat Race (their name not mine) which captures government feeds and uses them to animate a robot! When I was out with friends last week the T-word quickly became a topic of conversation. Somebody 'didn’t get' social networking...common enough...and then this was followed by '... and as for Twitter!' But you don’t need a very long memory to remember the same about blogging or about texting. The trajectory is interesting. At first these things bumble along quite nicely, then you get some high profile users, the application gets popular and it’s quickly followed by plenty of coverage which polarises public opinion. And after that? After that it all settles down, gets integrated in people’s everyday literacy practices, end of story.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Reviewing new literacies

Although I always look forward to the latest edition of Reading Research Quarterly, I rarely read all the articles. One thing the journal excels at however is the essay book review. I nearly always look at this. In 44:1 there was an excellent review of The Cambridge Companion to Vygotsky, which was well argued, erudite and gave a balanced appraisal of the book. I learnt so much about how Vygotsky has been differently interpreted by different translators and theorists. In the current issue, Robert Tierney has an extended review of The Handbook of Research on New Literacies. It is a very close reading of an impressively sized tome. Ever the egotist, I quickly noticed that there was a decent paragraph on my chapter! There is also a perceptive conclusion; a summing up of the work which I suspect would have even stretched the illustrious editors. On another note, I’ve been asked to do an entry on Critical Media Studies for a new dictionary of applied linguistics, so if anyone has any suggestions please leave a comment. I’ll also try Twitter (often really useful for this sort of thing).

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Heidegger's hammer

I’m back, but slowly, slowly. First Second Life, then the emails, next a bit of Twitter and now the blog! The video is from my daughter’s blessing in Marrakech and that’s where I was last month (there’s another video here). Whilst I was away the Special Issue of Literacy that I guest edited with Vic came out. It’s a great issue and explores some interesting themes on identity and literacy. Check it out! Although I’ve not been working I have been reading. One of the things that’s made the most impact has been Heidegger on technology, and particularly the idea that users become absorbed in their interactions with technology until the tool itself ‘withdraws’ from experience. This phenomenological approach offers an alternative way of looking at the experience of being in the zone as described by gamers. Vic also writes about this, using the example of the way the mobile phone only really comes into view as an object when you can’t get a signal (as with Heidegger’s hammer). And so, back to the blog as a fairly fluid way of expressing myself. Yes, I said fluid; not fluent!