Category Archives: art as a form of communication

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

SaidVideoGame
My video game shrine
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Poet and Philosopher Vera Korfioti

During my time in Cyprus I (Yiola) had the pleasure of visiting with renown author and dear friend, Vera Korfioti.

Vera has published a number of collections of poetry, as well as books in Greek literature, Education and on the works of Greek Philosophers.  Her most recent publication is on Pythagoreanism.

Vera Korfioti holds degrees in History and Archeology from the University of Athens. She also studied Journalism in Athens. Her greatest love of study is Philosophy and this can be seen throughout her poetry.

I share here one of her short poems of the place where I stayed during my time in Cyprus:

  

There is a tenderness in her poetry; and yet its intensity towards precision and detail gives it such power.

A highlight of my trip was talking about life and the nature of people in today’s age with Vera. While we live on opposite end of the world we share similar understandings on the philosophy of life.  Perhaps what connects me to Vera is not only the beauty of her poetry but her love of teaching.  Vera worked as a teacher of Philosophy in Secondary Education in Cyprus. She also studied in the area of children with special needs in England and the United States.  And, for several years she has been teaching at the Philosophy School of Cyprus.

Language, literacy and teaching brought together for the world to enjoy!

Vera Korfioti, myself and my son Gallaway.

Language is culture: Heading back to the basics

Hello Friends! It is great to be back online blogging about all that is literacy and teacher education.

I (Yiola) came across this link on youtube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y1xy6l9JlSY

The story of a young woman at work who stepped in when a man wanted to place an order and did not share the same language. How simple, yet utterly complex, is the power of shared language. The video clip is a clear and real message that represents the power and purpose of language.

When someone is understood, through language, they belong.   It reminds me of James Gee’s work and the idea of discourse communities. We are all part of discourse communities, multiple discourse communities.  How wonderful it is when we can connect with one another through discourse — through language. This kind of connection also leads to cultural connection.

I am travelling this month and currently in Vienna. Now that I am removed from “my place” I feel the disconnect through language.  My inability to communicate well (I do not speak German) is not only a communication barrier, it represents a cultural barrier, and in turn, exclusion.

In these times of intense consideration of (and experiences of) exclusion, it is worth nothing the power of language and how language itself can foster inclusion, especially with our own “place”.

Language: dialect, nationality, symbols = culture. Culture = understanding and inclusion.  Language is culture. Language is power.

 

A Constructivist Approach to Literature

On the weekend, Clare and I (Clive) saw a wonderful production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya Uncle Vanyaat the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake. We were struck (once again) with how “dark” the play is; but it is so well written and was so well done that we really enjoyed it.

A central theme of the play is how boring life can be. And one thing that occurred to me is how important it is not to take plays (or any literature) too literally. In experiencing such a play – or discussing it with students – we don’t have to accept that life is utterly boring, or even think that Chekhov believed it was.

Rather, we can take this idea as a starting point and go on to consider ways to overcome boredom in our lives, to the extent possible. We can enjoy ourselves, both as we experience the beauty and cleverness of the literary work and try to resolve the problems it raises. We can use the work for our own purposes, rather than feeling tied to a literal interpretation. I think this is part of what is meant by a “constructivist” approach to learning, and it can make literature more enjoyable and useful to teachers and students alike.

Allegory as a Literary Device and the big Screen

Allegory as a literary device is a powerful tool in literacy development.  Beginning in the early years teachers use allegory to explore moral lessons and critical issues. How often do we read books with animal characters who experience significant challenges and how well do children respond to the texts?… very well!

Last week I (yiola) took my children to a birthday party at the movie theatre where they watched The Angry Birds.

Angry-Birds-final-quad

I had no idea what the movie was about although my 4 year son mentioned it had to do with birds protecting their eggs from pigs. Hmmmm, sounds… interesting.  As I sat in the movie theatre I watched and chuckled at the community of birds and enjoyed the simple characters of each bird… and then I watched as ships sailed onto “Bird Island” and a King Pig with a small entourage befriended the birds, showering them with gifts and new ‘treasures’ that were unfamiliar to the birds. Slowly the pigs began to take over the island and they stole all the birds’ eggs.  The birds then tried to rescue their eggs. Lines such as: “They stole our kids… who DOES that?” and later when the birds invaded “Piggie Island” to rescue the eggs the “King Pig” exclaimed, “what are you doing here? This is a civilized brunch” left me sinking in my seat and feeling uncomfortable. Without doubt The Angry Birds, to me, is an allegory of colonialism. After viewing the movie I began researching articles and critiques and while I found several interpretations very few note colonialism.

To my surprise, many an in-depth discussions have occurred over The Angry Birds. From story line to historical facts to critical literacy to media literacy, I am pleased to see how an animated film could spark such interesting discussion. Now, imagine how using popular culture like the popular video game The Angry Birds and combining it with popular media like a Hollywood movie and applying analysis and interpretation of the use of allegory in a middle school or high school setting to discuss critical social issues like Aboriginal history or immigration. Narratives are such powerful tools for thinking about life. Allegory as a literary device has the potential to raise significant awareness and heighten a love for literacy.

 

Is Texting Killing Language?

Image_JohnMcWhorterOn Sunday Clive posted a blog Short or Long Form Writing? I (Clare) also wonder/worry about our new forms of communication and what is happening to “English.” John McWhorter did a fabulous Ted Talk  asking is Texting Killing Language. http://www.ted.com/talks/john_mcwhorter_txtng_is_killing_language_jk

It is truly worth listening to because he gives us a different perspective. He notes:

We always hear that texting is a scourge. The idea is that texting spells the decline and fall of any kind of serious literacy, or at least writing ability, among young people in the United States and now the whole world today. The fact of the matter is that it just isn’t true, and it’s easy to think that it is true, but in order to see it in another way, in order to see that actually texting is a miraculous thing, not just energetic, but a miraculous thing, a kind of emergent complexity that we’re seeing happening right now, we have to pull the camera back for a bit and look at what language really is, in which case, one thing that we see is that texting is not writing at all. What do I mean by that?

Casual speech is something quite different. Linguists have actually shown that when we’re speaking casually in an unmonitored way, we tend to speak in word packets of maybe seven to 10 words. You’ll notice this if you ever have occasion to record yourself or a group of people talking. That’s what speech is like. Speech is much looser. It’s much more telegraphic. It’s much less reflective — very different from writing. So we naturally tend to think, because we see language written so often, that that’s what language is, but actually what language is, is speech. They are two things.

What texting is, despite the fact that it involves the brute mechanics of something that we call writing, is fingered speech. That’s what texting is. Now we can write the way we talk. And it’s a very interesting thing, but nevertheless easy to think that still it represents some sort of decline. We see this general bagginess of the structure, the lack of concern with rules and the way that we’re used to learning on the blackboard, and so we think that something has gone wrong. It’s a very natural sense.

Literacies Gaming

I (Cathy), my family, and friends have been playing many different kinds of ‘party’ games as of late . Some have boards, in some you create the board as you play, and with others there are just cards. One of my favorites is a game called Codenames.

group

This game intrigues me because it is similar to coding data in a study as it’s about making associations between words, categorizing, and/or generalizing. (There is a narrative component to the game where everyone is considered a spy, but we just ignore all that). It can be played in teams or individually.

In this game many word cards are laid out in a grid across the table (25). One person is designated the clue giver and gives his/her team (or other person) a word and a number. The clue word might be ‘flight’ and the number might be ‘2’. The team then has to identify two words in the word grid they think are associated with flight. The challenge for the clue giver is they may not pick just any words they want in the grid to associate. They may only use certain assigned words and sometimes it is very difficult to make associations. The challenge for the team is, if they pick the wrong word, the point goes to the opposition.

Let’s have a trial run… Your clue is ‘weapons, 2”

again

If you guessed pistol and missile, you just won two points for your team. Let’s try one more, but a little bit more challenging this time! Your clue is ‘Olympics, 3’

third try

If you guessed Bolt, Greece, and Beijing, you earned another three points. (If this is mystifying to you, Usain Bolt set the world record for the 100 m dash at the Beijing Olympics, and Greece is the birth place of the Olympics).

This is a wonderful means of exploring word meanings and associations. It is also interesting how so many words can be both verbs and nouns, or connected as possible compound words, or have special meaning depending on culture and context. (Knowing your teammates well also helps, as I find I can understand my husband’s clues better than other people can). On many levels it is a great pass time with friends and also a great language game for the classroom. It is also, on many levels, literacies in action!

*****

 

A New Book on Participatory Culture and Digital Technologies

pcul

I (Pooja) have long been interested in the notions of participatory culture. Often considered  the opposite of consumer culture, participatory culture is defined by Henry Jenkins (2009, p. 5-6) as a culture in which there are:

1. relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement

2. strong support for creating and sharing creations with others

3. some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices

4. members who believe that their contributions matter

5. members who feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least, they care what other people think about what they have created).

I was excited when I learned authors Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd authored a new book titled: Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce, and Politics (2015). I have provided the blurb on  the back of the book for those potentially interested in learning more about participatory culture in the 21st century like I am:

In the last two decades, both the conception and the practice of participatory culture have been transformed by the new affordances enabled by digital, networked, and mobile technologies. This exciting new book explores that transformation by bringing together three leading figures in conversation. Jenkins, Ito and boyd examine the ways in which our personal and professional lives are shaped by experiences interacting with and around emerging media.

Stressing the social and cultural contexts of participation, the authors describe the process of diversification and mainstreaming that has transformed participatory culture. They advocate a move beyond individualized personal expression and argue for an ethos of “doing it together” in addition to “doing it yourself.”

Participatory Culture in a Networked Era will interest students and scholars of digital media and their impact on society and will engage readers in a broader dialogue and conversation about their own participatory practices in this digital age.

 

The Children’s Books That Took Our Breath Away in 2015 by Devon Corneal

I (Clare) was reading the Huffington Post education section and it listed some of the top books of 2015. I want to read them all! Here is the link: http://www.readbrightly.com/best-childrens-books-2015/?ref=72E6CF384C67

ImageHenkesWaiting

by Kevin Henkes

It seems funny to choose Kevin Henkes’s Waiting as the book that blew me away in 2015. Waiting is a quiet, gentle picture book about a group of toys on a windowsill looking at the window, each one waiting for something to happen. Henkes’s pastel illustrations and crystalline prose are enchanting. This is the perfect before-bedtime book. I can’t wait to read it to my 6-month-old niece.

Polar Bear’s Underwear

by Tupera Tupera

Image_PolarBearUnderwearPolar Bear’s Underwear shocked me by being a book about underwear I was actually willing to read to my children. It was so cute, clever, and fun without being crass or gross. I didn’t even know it was possible!

All the Lost Things

by Kelly Canby

A young girl follows her heart and changes the world she lives in. The gorgeous illustrations and hope-filled message are what make this one of my favorite books of 2015.

The Penderwicks in Spring

by Jeanne Birdsall

The Penderwicks in Spring is the fourth book in Jeanne Birdsall’s charming series about the adventures of four sisters. Nana gave my Penderwick-crazy 8-year-old a copy, and she promptly disappeared until she devoured the whole thing. My daughter bubbled over with desire to tell me what’s happening to all her favorite characters, and I shushed her right back, because I love them too, and I want my own turn to sit back and get my Penderwick fix.

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Lockwood & Co.: The Hollow Boy

by Jonathan Stroud

Jonathan Stroud books make me happy. I hoard them like a miser, waiting, just waiting until I can share them with my daughter and slowly but surely blow her mind. Stroud’s best works fall into the category of “supernatural YA,” which might be one of the most over-saturated genres in literary history, but his stories are so good, his worldbuilding so confident, his characters so vivid that they stand above the rest. In Stroud’s latest series, we follow a group of pre-teen ghost hunters trying to make a difference in a spirit-plagued London and, with the newest volume, The Hollow Boy, I have become as invested in this story as I have been for any beloved TV series that I’ve ever binged on Netflix or Hulu. I can’t wait for the next one.

The Jumbies

by Tracey Baptiste

My daughter was thrilled when Baptiste held a reading at a local bookshop — meeting a Black woman writer reminds her that she has the power to tell the stories she wants to tell. Then she heard an excerpt from this book about a courageous girl who takes on supernatural forces with flair, and that was it! She dove into the story (to the point where I was saying that “Put that book down NOW and eat/do your homework/go to bed” type of thing I’d thought I’d never say) and devoured it in what seemed like minutes. Then she hounded me to read it too — she wanted to talk about the chills and magic, yes, but was especially intrigued by the nuanced story of power, culture, and ownership that Baptiste tells. I loved that my daughter wanted to talk about the book with me; I picked it up, and yep, could NOT put it down. Left me breathless for sure, and thinking … and left both of us absolutely itching for a sequel!

The War That Saved My Life

by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Image_WarThatSavedThis wonderful historical fiction novel is a page-turning adventure set in England in World War II. The story centers on Ada, a 10-year-old girl born with a clubfoot who has been hidden away in a cupboard her whole life and led to believe she is worthless. When she escapes her apartment in London with other children being sent to the countryside due to the impending attacks from Hitler’s German army, a new world unfolds to her. There are so many important themes that come alive in this story — from what’s it like to live with a disability to what defines a family to the impact of war on our society. The many layers of this story, coupled with the intriguing characters and perfectly paced plot, took my breath away. I’ve been recommending this book to mature fourth graders and up who loved Number the Stars or other historical adventure stories.

Every Last Word

by Tamara Ireland Stone

Every Last Word by Tamara Ireland Stone is a beautifully written story of a girl struggling to find herself and her own voice (literally and figuratively) while working through her OCD. Stone’s empathy toward the subject of OCD comes shining through in this gem of contemporary young adult literature.

Orbiting Jupiter

by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt is a heartbreaking story that still lingers with me months after reading it. It made me weep. It made me think. It made me see love in a new way. It also reminded me that each of us have a story, even a 14-year-old foster boy on a dairy farm, desperate to see the child he fathered by the only love he ever knew, a love that is now gone.

The Thing About Jellyfish

by Ali Benjamin

And me? I’m having a hard time choosing between The Thing About Jellyfish and The Marvels and since I get to compile the list this year, I don’t have to! The Thing About Jellyfish is a rare middle grade novel that realistically captures the emotional conflict of late elementary school and provides readers with a protagonist they can really relate to. Handling death and survivor’s guilt in a developmentally appropriate and compassionate way is no small feat, but Ali Benjamin manages it beautifully.

The Marvels

by Brian Selznick

In The Marvels, Brian Selznick continues to highlight his talents as both an author and an illustrator in a tale that covers generations of a single family and their adventures on sea and on the stage. The illustrations alone are extraordinary, but the story is equally engaging.