Photos of the Week

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I really wish I had the motivation and dedication to do a 365 photos type experience.  For those of you unfamiliar with such an undertaking, the basic premise is to register with a group in a service like Flickr, take one photo a day, post the photo to the group’s stream, and repeat for one year.  It’s quite a tremendous way to get better at taking photos.  I’d recommend giving it a try if it sounds appealing to you.  It’s never too late to join a group like this if you’re interested.

For me, I know given my current schedule constraints, I would be an epic failure at such a project.  When all was said and done, I’d be lucky to hit 158 days over the course year.  I’d really like to try it at some point, but I know realistically, this is not the best time to give it a go (we’re potentially three weeks away from the arrival of our first baby, which as I’m led to believe, changes a schedule quite a bit).

So, I thought we might try to start a group for people who would like to work on improving their photography skills but didn’t necessarily want to commit to a picture a day routine.  I think something more in the range of a picture a week is right in the sweet spot of what I can aptly handle.  Of course, if you’re already in a 365 group, or going to give one of those a try, you’re more than welcome to participate in the once a week group as well.  Here’s the deal.

I set up a group in Flickr called “Photos of the Week.”  The basic idea, post your favorite picture that you took from the week.  We’ll post pictures every Friday, and you can post either one or two photos each week.  That’s it.  Easy as that.  I’m hoping the experience will help us all get better at taking pictures, and we’ll be able to support each other through the process.  In the end, we’ll hopefully have a really nice repository of pictures to peruse as well.

The group is set up, and I’m going to start posting my pictures this Friday.  I’m looking forward to the experience, and I hope you’ll join me.

Thanks to Shermeee for the Flickr image.

21st Century Clarification

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I’m thoroughly enjoying the excellent discussion going on here about the whole notion of 21st Century Literacy.  I find it fascinating, and the conversation has me thinking about this in ways I never would have had we not all engaged in the discussion.  That’s certainly a testament to the power of collaborating and communicating, but I surmise that’s a whole separate blog post.  I’d like to take this one to focus on some clarification I’ve had on the idea that there is not such a thing as 21st Century Literacy.

First, and foremost, I don’t believe this is a mere discussion about semantics.  Well, that’s not entirely true, to be honest.  Semantics is the study of language and communication, and that is certainly at the heart of our discussion.  More to the point, semantics is the only reason we’re having this discussion.  Someone recently told me this whole topic is just another semantics discussion when we should really be focusing on what to do.  I find that most interesting.  How, exactly, can any of us do anything when we haven’t decided in which direction to begin the doing?  That’s like me saying that I want us all to start advocating.  Just go advocate.  That misses the entire point.  The only reason we advocate is based on the cause of advocation.  The same is held true for this discussion.  If we want students to learn to be truly literate, aren’t we required to define that which want them to be?

The second point is that I’ve realized we’ve really started misusing the term literacy.  It’s now being applied to mean comprehension, or proficiency, or even understanding.  Look at this example.  For every type of literacy, the word proficiency could and perhaps should be used.  Why aren’t we using that word, instead?  Why take a word which focuses on the core of how we communicate and misapply it to mean a proficiency in a given context?  That’s where I truly disagree with these “new” literacies.

Finally, I believe there is a distinct difference between literacy and skills.  Literacy is based wholly on how we communicate.  In fact, it is the very nature of how we communicate.  We share and gather ideas from one another by writing, reading, speaking and listening.  That is entirely how we form meaning from another’s ideas.  Well, I shouldn’t say entirely.  Just recently Gary Stager suggested on Twitter that perhaps “showing” would be one more way.  If I’m standing next to you, I might show you my ideas through specific movements.  For example, I might show you how to hammer a nail by doing the act itself while you gather meaning from my actions.  Which then begets the need to add “viewing” as well.  I need to think more on this one, but it does have great merit.

If literacy is the way we communicate thoughts and ideas, then what about text messaging, creating videos, using a tool like VoiceThread, or any of the host of emerging technologies we’re utilizing to communicate?  Shouldn’t those be called new literacy?  Probably not.  I would maintain we can only use those effectively by engaging the main four tenets of literacy.  The specific execution of the tool does require a finite skill set, but a skill set is entirely different than a literacy.  Let me get specific using VoiceThread as an example.

VoiceThread is an excellent way for people to post an idea and have others add value through conversation.  At first blush, it may appear that in order for this communication to happen, a new literacy would have to be formed.  A person must understand how to post on the internet, and perhaps the person would want to do so recording an audio comment, wherein he/she would have to have the ability to operate both a computer and a recording device.  This is all true, but those are finite skills specific to a certain tool or even era.  At some point in the future, VoiceThread won’t be necessary anymore as something else will come to be that will do what it does, only better.  Or perhaps the tool itself will evolve into a better iteration, but either way, the user experience will change, thus making the specific skill set required to utilize VoiceThread simply a finite set that will change over time.

The real essence of using VoiceThread, however, is in engaging the true process of literacy.  First, I must either read or listen to the original idea being posted.  Once I’ve gathered meaning by doing so, I can formulate a response.  To respond, I will either speak or write my thoughts.  If I can’t do these core tenets of literacy effectively, VoiceThread will be useless to me.  It is the very act of engaging literacy that makes this process meaningful.

This same rationale applies to all the aforementioned tools that appear to be changing the nature of literacy.  The nature isn’t changing.  Yes, the skills are, but skills are different than literacy.

So why this whole discussion in the first place?  I think it is imperative that we all work together to help better the learning experience for students.  If we’re all calling and advocating for different things using the same terms, the result will be to dilute the power of what is most effective.  Some have said that the words we use don’t matter, but the fact we have the conversation and talk about this is what’s really important, and while I think the conversation is good, I think establishing what is most effective is better.  If we come to the conclusion there are 21st Century Literacies and the 21st Century Skills are really simply those which have always been, what will happen when we present these notions to the decision makers in our districts/regions/nations, and they find the obvious holes in the entire structure and leave us appearing as though we’re espousing an empty philosophy?  We will be discredited, and our effective efforts to support change will be blocked.

There’s still much to talk about, and certainly I hope in the near future the talk will turn to action.  But again, I would hope we can resolve exactly what the action will look like before we sit atop the horses and begin the charge for change.

Thanks to j /f /photos for the Flickr image.

7 Things You Might Not (want to) Know About Me

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So I’ll take a quick break from the 21st Century Literacy discussion to indulge a much less academic call I’ve been given.  I have a follow up post written and incubating clarifying my position on the 21st Century discussion.  I’ll post that in the next couple days, but for now, I’ve been “tagged”.  Angela Maiers was the tagger, and I must now write seven things that you probably don’t know about me and then pass the tag on to seven other people, and if I don’t do it I’ll have a lifetime of bad luck and none of my dreams will ever come true.  Hmm, maybe I’m getting that last part confused with this one letter I got in high school.  Anyway, here’s my list.  Oh, and pardon the picture, it was the best I could find.

1. I was a painter.  Not the cool kind who actually produces a piece of art upon a canvas, but rather the sweaty guy who stands on a ladder outside your house scraping, caulking, priming, and painting.  On days you were lucky, I kept my shirt on.  I did it for 13 years, and I’m glad I’ve moved on. The skill does come in handy, however.  Especially since I might have had to repaint every room in our house at least once due to general color displeasure.  Not my displeasure, mind you, but we don’t need to talk about that.

2. One time, I played in a legitimate wiffle ball tournament.  It would be cool to say I did that when I was in middle school or something, but no, it was two years ago.  I was 30.  I was not the youngest one at the tournament.  We honestly thought going in we had a shot at the title.  My team didn’t make it past the first round.  I’ve never played in two wiffle ball tournaments.

3. I have a bonafide addiction to coffee.  If water could be coffee I could always be happy.  It’s not, so neither am I.  My current bean of choice is Trader Joe’s Smooth and Mellow.  It is both of those things and more.  Try it, you won’t be disappointed.

4. I play guitar and sing for church.  Well, it’s been a while, but I used to.  I miss doing it, and my poor Taylor 414 sits so neglected in my office.  I take it out periodically just to see if I’m as rusty as I remember.  I am.  I can strum for all of about five uninterrupted minutes before my fingers feel like they’re going to start bleeding.  I’d like to get back into playing, and no, I won’t play Free Bird if you ask me to.

5. Of all the random, bet you never knew this types of facts that you’re not really sure if they are true or not, I really, really hate the one that goes, “the average person eats eight spiders a year.”  That information I could have lived quite happily not knowing.  Kind of makes me not like spiders all that much.  Especially if I’m sleeping in someone’s basement, and I know I’m a bit congested, and I’m going to have to sleep with my mouth slightly agape so the spiders can…well, we don’t need to talk about that, either.

6. I keep stopping the starting of working out again.  I’ve tried no less than 10 times this year.  I bought the program, P90X, and it’s a great program, but I lack the gumption to really commit to it.  I did it for three concurrent months last year, and you should have seen the results.  Probably would have made you want to have me paint your house with my shirt off.  Well, probably not, but I did notice a difference when I played golf and softball.

7. I am married to the best woman in the world.  Seriously.  Could anyone else put up with my consistent attempts at poor humor and persistent state of being on some sort of electronic device?  If I’m not on my computer, I’m on my iPhone or Blackberry for work or looking to use someone else’s computer if I lack access to all those.  She’s truly an amazing woman, and I’m not just saying that trying to kiss up.  Honestly, she’s wisely never read my blog.

So that’s me.  I hope I dutifully fulfilled the requirements of my task.  I now exercise my power to tag,

Judi Epcke

Bud Hunt

David Jakes

Andy Kohl

Scott Meech

David Pohlmeier

Dan Rezac

21st Century Confusion

I don’t think I’m a fan of the whole 21st Century Literacies concept.  I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the entire approach.  I did say “think”, so I’m still working through all this.  Let me explain.

The traditional definition of the term “literacy” means to be literate.  This comes from the most current version of Webster’s Dictionary.  That begets the question, what does it mean to be literate?  Again, according to Webster, being literate is being able to read and write.  Typically, traditional literacy also includes speaking and listening as well.  So, if this is the case, what’s the 21st Century distinction of the term?

I believe this is where the whole notion is lost on me.  If we’re talking about literacy, let’s talk about literacy, as in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  If we’re talking about other skills that people need to be successful in the modern era, then we’re probably talking about skills rather than literacies.  If we’re being specific about these skills applying uniquely to the 21st century, we should probably call them such.  Although, are there really any skills that are being called 21st Century Skills that are new in the 21st century?  Think about it.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills believes demonstrating originality, communicating, being open and responsive, acting on creative ideas, utilizing time efficiently, accessing information, etc. are all 21st Century Skills.  I’d retort that in reality, these skills have always been in existence and of the utmost importance.  They don’t need to have the 21st Century moniker on them to make them significant.

And I think that’s the heart of the issue for me.  The whole idea of qualifying all of these skills, or even literacies if you want to adopt a broader sense of the term beyond the traditional, with 21st Century confuses what the real focus should be.

A perfect example of this is a discussion I heard recently on the “It’s Elementary” podcast.  Angela Maiers was the guest, and at the beginning of the conversation, she established her working definition of 21st Century Literacies. She gave a definition that included the traditional aspects of literacy as well as collaborating, investigating, and communicating.  A few minutes after stating her definition, she explained that all of this comes from research that is over 5 decades old.  Again, if what we’re talking about is what we’ve been talking about for so long, why do we feel the need to throw the catchy buzzword in?  Why can’t we just accept that we’re still talking about traditional literacy?  Why this great sense of urgency to rename it?

Coincidentally, while I disagree with Maiers’ naming conventions, I do believe her approach to teaching literacy as she explains later in the show is dead on.  She talks about teaching kids to inference and reach deeper levels of comprehension, and she advocates that we stop focusing so much on the oral fluency piece devoid of comprehension.  Being one who has witnessed many assessments that only test students based on their oral fluency rate, and then places them in intervention groups based on that rate, I can say that I wholeheartedly agree with Maiers on this.  I just really wish she wouldn’t call that type of instruction 21st Century Literacy instruction.  Simply put, she should just call it excellent literacy instruction.

It’s rather self-evident that society has changed dramatically over the past 100 years, and the way we engage students has changed as well, but the fact remains that the primary vehicle we use to educate is still an iteration of communication.  Technology is playing a vital role in the way we will hopefully shift from an industrial model of educating to a new learning-centric model that has yet to develop, but the technology itself isn’t the point.  The 21st Century whatevers aren’t the point.  The point is learning.  I believe if people were more prone to discard the rhetoric and engage in true learning, the conversation about what we call it would be rendered rather moot.

Thanks to Ken-ichi for the Flickr image.

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