Category: Syndicated

The Rumpus: It Starts Again

I just finished course design for the fall 2015 semester. If you were to shine a flashlight into this world every August, you would find me on a couch in the living room, hair disheveled, clothes unchanged for days, various food products tossed to the floor, and surrounded by books ranging from Vygotsky’s Mind in Society to Scieszka and Barnett’s Battle Bunny. I love this time of year. And once I get started on prep, it is almost impossible to stop. For me, imagining a learning environment, curating the texts, and designing for community and participation is like playing a great platform video game. Each course becomes a puzzle to solve as I imagine students inhabiting this world I’m trying to build. And I know–and hope–that they’ll take the world as it’s designed and mess it up. They’ll mess it up in all the best possible ways.

prepImagining the course without students is actually easy…and tidy. The class is so clear in my head: what we’ll read, how we’ll talk about it, what students will make. And then other humans come in the room, and in most semesters, students do things and make things that I could not have imagined. And I learn. And we learn. What I learn mostly is that I have to be willing to let go of my favorite things I’ve designed for the course. I have to let students remix, mashup, and throw out our plans: their questions must drive the course even if we meander at times. I appreciate the struggle that comes from designing a course where it is safe to fail. Where failure is valued, not because “anything goes,” but because we are thinking through such complicated ideas we could not possibly solve them.

Course prep means I’ve probably opened 1000 links in the last few days and I’ve read or re-read 15 books in the last two weeks. And this devouring of material may be why course prep is so engaging: prep is so much more than putting due dates on the calendar. The reading and re-reading reminds me what matters in my field and points out the holes in my thinking. I finish this prep every time with a list of ideas to focus on for the upcoming school year. Here’s how it looks so far:

Multimodal-ing. I want to get clear(er) about multimodal composing: the whys, what assignments do, how to assess, how to give feedback, etc. I’ve been re-reading Gunther Kress and diving deep into Shipka’s recent work. Reading list is in process and a plan to gather a group of colleagues to read together.

Coding. I want to learn more. As I argue for an open web, I feel limited in my understanding of the structures of the web. My plan: time with Code Academy.

Writing. Leslie Atkins, Irene Salter, and myself signed a book contract with Teachers College Press. Our book–Composing Science: A Facilitator’s Guide to Writing in the Inquiry Classroom–aims to provide research and support for teaching writing in the science classroom, particularly in higher education. We would like students to experience writing practices that mirror the practices of scientists (so, no lab reports). We are super excited to be working with all we’ve learned from our NSF grant and the last couple of years we’ve spent teaching and researching together. My plan: level up in my writing with more precise arguments. We have beautiful student data to work with and I’d like to do it justice.

Opening. I started a commitment last fall, after the DML work, to open up my class and make connections outside our space. I want to connect students to communities of practice they hope to join. I started by connecting with an amazing teacher, Wendy Fairon, and asking my future teachers to blog with Wendy’s 7th graders. The two populations of students blew us away with the connections they made to each other and to young adult novels. I’m hoping to continue this work with Wendy and with a teacher from Redding. I’ll also pair students–as peer response buddies (like a pen pal)–across sections. I’ve found that this outside audience is great for our blogs. I’m constantly in search of ways to connect my students to other authors, students, and fellow faculty.

Love the fresh start in fall. Let’s do this.



Literacy Project: Legal Discourse, Narrative Structure, and Literacy

In this project I decided to look at the literacy in legal discourse. Specifically at the translation that occurs between the police reports and the court room. What you will see in these posts is an interview with Mike Ramsey, Butte County’s District Attorney, and Rick West, Butte County’s assistant District Attorney. In this interview we discuss the structure of narrative and language is used to construct these narratives to present them to specific audiences. Like the police report that is presented to the DA and the court case that is presented to a jury.

What you will hear in this first series of questions is how the DA works with police reports to create a story that is presented in a language that jury will understand.


An interesting notion that is discussed in this portion of the interview is the idea of “cop shows”. The audience is expecting to hear language that is presented in media, the seem to be mixing the fiction narrative with the real life narrative. As DA Ramsey explains even the police are attempting to adopt this language. In reverse of this perspective that the DA’s office has been trying to get the cops to use more common language in narration rather than the “cop talk”.

This piece of the interview is discussing the translation that is necessary for the narrative to be conveyed to the general public.


It is interesting to think about the details of language that are considered in the DA’s presentation of the narrative. Such as Ramsey’s reference to pronouns and West’s reference to making the language in the police report more choppy but clearer in the reference of “who” in the report.

This part of interview progress to the use of evidence and how it plays a role in the construction and presentation of the narrative.


What is interesting about this idea of evidence is that language still plays a huge role in its impact. The evidence supports the narrative but also propels the narrative. The initial presentation of the story is crucial to success and use of any further support of the story.

The conversation of evidence continues in this section talking more specifically about pieces of evidence and their use in the courtroom.


Something that is interesting about the position of the investigator is that he or she seems to play a crucial role in the translation of the story. They work with all the different avenues of narrative in order to help to construct the story.

Continuation of the use of an investigator and evidence in the courtroom.


Ramsey’s idea of active listening and being part of the narrative that is occurring in the courtroom is essential to perpetuation of the constructed narrative that they are attempting to present. Acknowledging that there is a difference between the case that is being presented and the progression of events that are occurring in the court room.  I love the door story as a great example of use of evidence in the court room.

We discuss further the importance of timing and presentation of evidence in cases such as the door.


Evidence can only come in with a witness, the evidence only has its place if a witness can put it in the crime. Which is interesting in the idea of narrative and literacy because the evidence’s effectiveness is based on its relationship to the human element of the crime or the case, which in many ways makes it a constant in a variable. The story of the object cannot change but the language and the person surrounding it can.

In this section we discuss how the DA progresses through a questioning sequence and how they account for the changes that can occur in that sequencing the court room.


This relates back to the earlier idea of active listening. The person doing the questioning as to actively listen to the narrative that being constructed in comparison to the one they have built to be presented. And, then have to ask questions that can keep them on track with the narrative they are trying tell versus the one that is being told.

This section we talk about witnesses and how they tell their stories in the court room.


This piece reminds me of learning to work with different personalities. Learning to account for the human element in telling and constructing a narrative is challenging and unpredictable. Which makes these narrative constructions so interesting because the solely based on human interaction, court cases are based upon the wrongs or disagreements that occur between people.

Some ending thoughts. I had a lot of fun doing these interviews and talking through how these narratives can be presented in court. I would like to research further the role of the investigator because they seem to play crucial role in how the stories are translated and told.


I have also included the complete interview here at the end, there are couple pieces that I did not include for the sake of length and relevance but I still found them interesting and if listen to them I hope you do too. Ramsey and West further discuss the role of the witness and creditability to can be established. In this idea of credibility we also discussed some of the aspects of child crimes and children as witnesses.


Project Report

For my project I am looking at some of the language used in law enforcement specifically at how language is used by the DA to construct a story. I have conducted an interview and I a now beginning the process of listening to my interview and breaking it up into pieces that will be put on a blog with both written and audio components.

Realities in The Satanic Verses

When I first started this book I was lost. It took a couple of reads to understand what was going on however, the more that I got into the book I began to realize that this might have been the intention of the author. Since the two main characters are failing though the sky in a kind of chaos, the characters are not a hundred percent sure what is going on, and the reader kind of feels the same way as they attempt to navigate through the text. Nonetheless, once I got my bearings a little in the text there were some interesting analogies that caught my attention. While I expected the religious analogies I did not expect the references made to childhood fairly tales such as Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz. What is interesting about these tales is that they are all very fantastical and operate predominantly in an alternate world or reality. Which fits the beginning of the book and the fall from the plane crash, realistically it would be virtually impossible for someone to survive a fall like that and therefore, the reader must suspend reality in order to believe that this is possible. There is also a relationship to the idea of the world that these actors live in, the person they portray either in reality or on screen seem to be polar opposites of each other. They are not who they appear to be which also questions reality.

Gunther Kress Book Review, Minus the Review and Book Stuff

At the present moment my review of Gunther Kress’ book, Literacy in the New Media Age, is at best an imagined outline sketch of what a real book review should look like. What is real and present are my own, as Kress would put it, struggles that the “reading paths” that this thing called a thesis has me driving down. In other words, the certain limitations and restrictions put on us based on the format, genre or order of words they’re written in, that lead us down a specific path of interest and understanding. The difficulties on my own reading path, in regards to thesis functionality and formatting, then becomes: How do I deviate from this predetermined path and forge my own road amongst the dirt ridden waste of unformulated thoughts scraped, etched, and embedded across the badlands of my mind, as well as gracefully succumb to the formatting and content norms coffee stained to my blank pages even before I write?

Now, I’m not looking to use this space to come to any large claim or conclusion about how to combat or overcome this issue, and I’m not looking for sympathy or any sort of emotional reaction. I’m just throwing it out there publicly as to why I’m flaking on the other work in my life that is equally important, yet cannot become priority based on the restrictions and constraints in place that surround the thesis and my own life schedule.

So I guess in a way this space has just been used as my personal forum to globally circulate and distribute my issues in hopes that it will better serve as socially useful knowledge to those who are moving up the ranks and ready to attack the beast that is the thesis.

Good luck. Don’t procrastinate. And know it will end no matter what, so Nike this motha f#@%er and Just Do it!

Critical Learning in a Digital Era

Book Review

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

James Paul Gee


As our society pushes the limits of technological capabilities, we find ourselves in a dire need for an educational upgrade. Commonly practiced teaching methodologies such as rote memorization, drilling, “the 5 paragraph essay,” text based reading, etc. is not cutting it anymore (if they ever really were). Beginner students are coming into a classroom with mastery level skills of navigating a global network of information at the swipe or touch of a finger, communicating to a relative via a screen and a webcam, and yes, even the ability to overcome challenges via a video game. Yet why are we not utilizing these already formed mastery skills? Why do we insist on the “read, write, arithmetic, repeat” educational structure, instead of one the enables students to critically think about why these ideologies and practices matter?  James Paul Gee seeks to present possible solutions to these questions in his analysis of the practices that we see players engaging in during gaming.

DISCLAIMER: To throw some caution to the wind, Gee clearly states that his analysis is not a means of answering the controversial dialogues that revolve around gaming, especially those associated with violence and gender (10). If you have picked up this review in search for these answers, I suggest you stop reading here and seek other resources.

To help us better navigate the many areas of gaming that Gee discusses in this text, I will narrow it down to three main categories: Identity, Massively Multiplayer Social Constructs, and Critical Learning.


In what I will refer to as “present –world” learning (meaning the learning practices that we currently see students undergoing in K-12 education), we see the identity of the student as a linear concept. However, Gee argues that video games provide students with a multidimensional conceptualization of identity, which he breaks down into the virtual identity, real-world identity (49), and projective identity (50).  These three identities interconnect in that the real-world identity (e.g. Amanda Haydon) creates and controls the virtual identity (e.g. her World of Warcraft Healer Shaman Gunhgu), who embodies a “virtual identity in a virtual world” (49), and thus can create a projective identity (e.g. Amanda as Gunhgu) where the real-world identity “’projects one’s values and desires onto the virtual identity’” (50) and embodies the successes and failures of the virtual identity as the successes and failures of the real-world identity. The sheer metacognition that gaming offers to players allows them to engage in practices of critical learning.

Gee’s account of the importance of identity in relation to critical learning practices clearly illustrates a need for such structures within our present day academic institutions. In his book, he gives real world context to the  notion of identity by relating it to that of a student in a science classroom. If students were only encouraged to put on lab coats and embody the practices of a scientist, then they would, in an ideal world, be able to engage in the practices and adopt the metalanguage of a scientist. However, what the author fails to bring to light is how instructors can create real world excitement around the creation of these alter-identities. In a game,the player can fully dive into the story and virtual identities. However, in the real-world, in what ways can instructors ‘normify’ projecting a real world identity with a real world virtual identity in order to form a real world projected identity? What structures must be put in place? In order to make this a possible practice, would we have to re-think cultural social norms surrounding identity in the classroom?


With the emergence of Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) gaming, we can see the potential and importance of what Gee refers to as “distributed knowledge” (196). Through the analysis of one player’s experience (Adrian), Gee illustrates the “centrally social nature of game play” (183) by exemplifying the “affinity group” (27) that one builds in these massively multiplayer worlds.  Adrian’s testimony (found on pages 183-187) outlines that “play…is inherently social” (187) and involves communication and the placement of digital trust in both the real world players and virtual characters. Adrian also exemplifies that “knowledge and skills are not only distributed across himself…” (187), but that objects and tools within the game are also part of building a cognitive understanding of the multifaceted complexities and challenges within the game. With the tools for social, distributed, and networked practices, it feels easy to get on board with Gee’s overarching question as to why schools do not place a higher level of importance on social learning practices.


So what do projected identities and social constructs have to do with critical learning? EVERYTHING. At some point in our lives, it becomes uncool for us to play doctor with our peers. Why? Because we socially construct our children to believe that playing “dress up” past a certain age is just plain weird. So what do we do instead? We play video games that allow us to pretend with our friends that we are some fantasy creature who can overcome any obstacle. We are able to develop what Gee refers to as an “appreciative system” or “the sorts of goals, desires, feelings, and values that ‘insiders’ in that domain recognize as the sorts members of that domain (the affinity group associated with that domain) typically have” (92-93). What this means is that through social interaction and projected identities, we are able to build situated meaning and context for “the thing” that we are trying to accomplish.

Video games also allow players to explore and engage in what Gee refers to as the “four-stage probe/hypothesize/reprobe/rethink process” (93). Students are engaged in a rhetorical, metacognitive process where they must strategize and analyze how a certain choice could affect the entire affinity group, as well as the “tri-identities”.  This is critical learning. The ability to explore without restrictions, become the identity, form a metalanguage socially, distribute knowledge, rhetorically process how decisions will affect others, engage in multimodal texts, and create situated meaning within a semiotic domain or subdomain all play into the practices needed to critically learn, and are found in what Gee declares as “good games” (38). “Good games” set the stage for potential “good classrooms” where students can actually identify with the discourse they are engaging in while developing cognition socially.

Gee’s elaborate and captivating depiction of how video games engage players in critical literacy and learning practices leaves the reader asking how can we incorporate these needed components into academia? While Gee offers multiple suggestions, a common pattern seems to come into the readers full view. First, we, as a society, must revisit the conceptualization that we must “learn to play” instead of “playing to learn”. As Gee shows, the traditional in-classroom ‘read, write, memorize’ repetition does not align with how we develop cognitive critical learning practices. Second, critical learning involves “becoming” that which you are trying to learn. Students should be encouraged to seek outside resources in order to develop the metalanguage needed to fully understand and create situated meaning of the domain in which they are engaging in. And last, critical learning is not and individualistic affair, but one that requires the social dependency of distributed knowledge brought to the table by other learners. As Sir Ken Robinson states, it is not a reform that our educational institutions need, but a revolution. Why not kick start the revolution by pressing the “start” button?

Harvey Graff’s "Literacy Myth" Review

Let me begin by bringing you up to speed on the point of this book. In our society we hold a very high importance on what it means to be literate. The idea is that being literate affects your success and wealth and status in our society. The term “Literacy Myth” comes from Harvey J. Graff in his book, Literacy Myth in which the myth is that literacy translates into economic, social and cultural success. The same ideals we hold in our society. Our idea that success comes from literacy is not true and Graff uses his expertise in the history of literacy to show us that our ways of thinking are actually quite wrong and that literacy is something we use to hold power in our society.
The Literacy Myth was written in 1979, a point I feel forefronts the basis of this book as well as where we have come since the Literacy Myth had been written. To be honest, we have not come far. In fact, this myth is still very much alive and well, even in this digital age we live in. The definition of literacy has changed, but what we do with that power of what it means to be literate is still exactly the same. In fact, Graff does an excellent walk through the history of literacy and the lack of consistency when researching literacy. The book covers excellent topics such as literacy used in society as a moral basis, which also includes its importance in the economy and social order...key components to the importance of literacy in our society, or at least how we view the importance of literacy in society as stated, “...the presumed needs for social learning attracted the attention of many concerned individuals, including those dedicated to the reform of society and the reformation of the masses comprising that society” (25). IN other words, this book is a historical walk-through of our society and how we have used the idea of literacy to continually hold power over those who are “less literate” than others. He gives a break down and walk through of the myth itself.
Some of the best points made are exactly the whole idea behind literacy that, “we have seen, those without the experience of of education and without its badge of literacy, have been perceived as inferior and pathetic, alien to the dominate culture, subversive to social order, unequipped to achieve or produce, and denizens of self-perpetuating cultures of poverty...illiterates are seen as different in attitude and social attributes” (51). With that being said, the book shows both sides of what the literacy myth is how it came about and what truths can be said about it as well as what constitutes literacy as a myth. As stated by M.M. Lewis, “‘Literacy is relative...the level of literacy is the extent to which the individual falls short of the demands of literacy current in his society.’ Conversely, the level of literacy is demanded by society is also relative” (292), a point that I feel aptly points out the flaws surrounding the idea of literacy and how that does, in the end effect a society and those who may be considered “illiterate”.
The book is structured very sound in the sense that it gives a great outline of the history of literacy then goes into how literacy is considered in society, in jobs, in relation to criminal activity as well as a look at both sides using research and studies based on what they knew at the time in literacy. The truth is there isn’t much that has changed in society on the idea of what literacy is and how we react or feel towards those who are not literate. Sure the literacies have changed from paper to screen in a sense, but the myth is still there and still strong. If you imagine it was over 25 years ago that this was written and since then computers have become household staples, the internet was created, and cell phones are in the pocket of just about every single person, at least in America. In America, you would be hard pressed to find a single person or family that doesn’t have some form of digital device that can provide them with an opportunity to become literate in the sense that they have the opportunity to communicate or read communication with some other person. Even with all of this information at fingertips, our definition of literacy changes so frequently that those who may not read Faulkner but can communicate quite aptly are still considered “illiterate”. Our definition of literacy changes frequently, and even though this book was written almost 40 years ago, it still highlights the issues we currently are faced with in a very clear way, the only difference is the type of literacy he mentions.
Based on how much information is in this book and how pertinent it is to teaching reading and writing, I feel like this is a necessary read. Honestly, there have been many things written on this book and about it since, but I think reading this as an original source really lends itself to how important the book and topic really is. I feel this book is a necessary read in and of itself, mostly because I think it is revolutionary in the sense that, they saw a problem, addressed it and yet we are still questioning the same things every day. I would say this book is an excellent choice read for those who have a stigma about being literate or would like to understand more of the history of the literary myth. That and if you read anything else based off this book, it helps to have read it yourself to really get an understanding of any critics or those who praise it.
   Overall, honestly, don’t let the size of this book intimidate you. It is an excellent book that brings up some very important issues. There are pictures included of sample writings and what was considered adequate writing decades ago will almost shake you seeing how far we really have come as a literate society. It also includes great statistics that originally seem overwhelming, but upon reading the book it really puts the information into perspective. This book also opens your eyes to what we do in a society in relation to being illiterate and how, even 35 years later, we are still having the same questions.