John Pruitt, Associate Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Rock County
Perhaps I’m a fool. A role model? Help me decide.
My English 101 students are completing literacy narratives, accounts of significant factors and events that have contributed to their development as readers and writers. It’s a common assignment, asking our students to investigate the role that language plays in their lives and to tell a compelling story of how their past experiences with written and spoken words have created this relationship.
My English 102 students are completing an I-Search project, a genre I discovered just recently. An I-Search project asks students to choose a topic or question that’s important to them, that they’ve been curious about, that they need answers to, and to write about the process of researching that topic or question. It seems to include everything up to the point of crafting the argumentative research paper.
Now I’m getting to the problematic part: the students must present these projects digitally and using multiple modalities to achieve their intended purpose, and all topics must pertain to reading, writing, language, or literacy.
And I’ve decided to do each project with them.
I didn’t expect such resistance as most of my first- and second-year college students are digital natives. I’ve learned recently that such a term actually means very little. They’re excellent online consumers who can rock a search engine, but they’re relatively unambitious online producers. And so am I.
I suppose it can’t hurt to try. I’ve been in a book discussion of Troy Hicks’ Crafting Digital Writing with other members of the Greater Madison Writing Project, and two presenters at the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English convention delivered a presentation on how their middle school and high school students are experimenting with multimodal writing by just, well, doing it. They toy with apps and software programs and figure out how they work.
My literacy narrative is about how my relatives in the Deep South attracted me to Southern authors from an early age. I fell asleep listening to Elvira Garner’s Ezekiel and adaptations of Mark Twain’s fiction, and in elementary school read Mildred Taylor, Betsy Byars, William Armstrong, and Fred Gipson, progressively graduating to the classics of William Faulkner, John Kennedy Toole, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor, and Carson McCullers, and even more recently to Cormac McCarthy and T. S. Stribling (thanks to Randy Cross).
My I-Search project was inspired by Roni Dean-Burren, who posted a screenshot of a map from her high school son’s world geography textbook, a map with a caption referring to slaves as “workers” and in other parts of the book as “immigrants.” Since then, I’ve been investigating this trend of Texas cleansing textbooks of “liberal bias” and the immense power the state has over publishing companies as their largest purchaser.
So what I’m learning in process, as I’m learning alongside them, is the challenge of composing digitally enhanced web-based texts. It also makes me want to do something more with Wisconsin English Journal. I propose that we take advantage of what a completely on-line journal can offer to a potentially global readership, something in addition to print, hyperlinks, and the occasional graphic.
Excuse me while I start brainstorming. Now where did I put my note pad? Wait, I mean, let me open my blog…