Monday, May 22, 2006

Multiple Literacies

I set the kids to writing summaries as part of my holy-crap-did-they-actually-retain-anything month. I scaffolded it like a champ: pre-writing outline with partners, rough draft, peer editing, mini-lesson on in-text citations, revision, and the final products came out looking strong. I decide to allow them to type their final drafts.

This was, of course, excruciating.

In the Capital of Silicon Valley:

  • Hunting and pecking, with one finger of one hand.
  • Debilitating shock and awe at the appearance and persistent existence of the dreaded MS Word red line beneath any proper noun.
  • Inconsistent and illogical ideas about indentation.
  • Repeated inability to master the alt-ctrl-deleting necessary to log-in.
  • A single-minded commitment to the acquisition of the Old English font in which a serious lack of font-acquiring knowledge and skill proved incapable of blunting even a little.
  • Persistent sudden "disappearance" of all text I magically bring back utilizing sleight-of-hand and ctrl-Z.

Obviously, there is no greater pain.

I could go on, at great length, about the absurdity of kids living in the (literal and figurative) shadows of Silicon Valley techno giants lacking basic computer knowledge and word processing skills. I could write this as another symptom of systemic inequity -- the rich kids learn to read and type! -- or another gross example of a floundering educational system that cannot adequately prepare young people to enter today's global economy. I should point out that money has been directed at the problem -- we have a functioning computer lab, five flatscreens in every classroom, every teacher has a laptop and access to an LCD projector, and we have two mobile laptop carts replete with theoretical wireless access to the internet and a printer -- but still the problem persists. I could write all that, but really, we all know the words to this particular song.

My thing is: How do I fix it? On some level I question even the necessity of teaching kids the finer points of MS Wording and Start Menu management when they cannot decode, comprehend, write, or analyze. Yeah, the kid's not coming off the screen with a hard roll, and he forgets to move into help when the ball is two passes away, but he also can't dribble or make a lay-up. Where is the area of greatest need? I don't disagree with myself in this one, but I'm still scribbling notes on the legal pad I keep by the bed because the ideas tend to start squishing out sometime between the hours of two and four a.m. -- which is all pretty disgusting when you get right down to it. I'm making embryonic plans like building in computer lab trips as part of first week activities, establishing procedures and norms around the typing program my RSP push-in colleague found and had installed, making typed words per minute the fifth Big Goal.

I wonder at the interplay of computer literacy and English literacy, the acquisition of critical codes with no objective referents. How one can be used to build upon the other, or inform the process of dual acquisition. Yes! Dual language immersion: English and Windows.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow--what a great question, how do you fix it without losing more valuable instruction? Typing is a great skill to have, and those students will really benefit if you and your school can figure out how to work it in.

12:00 PM  
Anonymous Laura said...

Gosh. At least my kids have the excuse of living in the middle of tobaccoland. But really, most of them have had a computer class or two at least foisted on them by the time they get to me in the 10th or 11th grade. So it's slightly less excruciating, but I do know what you mean

1:20 PM  
Anonymous Magistra said...

In third grade we were taught cursive handwriting and touch-typing. Three guesses which skill I use more often, and the first two don't count. Of course, in third grade I was already devouring books and playing with square roots over breakfast - not exactly a typical background. But if you can type, you can do all that outlining and revision you wrote about a lot faster. Good luck trying to develop both languages.

3:40 PM  
Blogger happychyck said...

Wow! Well said. I know what you mean... My students all had their own laptops, and they were pretty swift of them, but it's the basic stuff that they don't do--OR REFUSE to do--that just drives me crazy. And, yea, how much time should I spend on teaching it? They are young, and technologically adept. If I should them once, I think they should get it after that.

There are some things I never had to teach them but they are old pros at--plagarizing, buying papers off the Internet, downloading music and games, bypassing the firewall and surfing on myspace, and sneakily playing games when they should be doing other assignments.

4:12 PM  
Blogger The Teacher said...

Typing needs to be started in kinder. Seriously. We need more time in the computer labs earlier. How can we be required to have them word processing by 4th grade? I think it's something we need to do... There is this program, Type to Learn. I love using it with my students, but we only have 3 computers and we don't get into the lab often enough... Someone needs to force me.

5:10 PM  
Blogger leyla said...

because we are in silicon valley, perhaps some corp would give mass amounts of tax-dect. money for a typing class?

btw, even the kids who do have computers at home (not the majority), seem to never have functioning printers with ink and paper. this kills me. they have 8 1/2 by 11 color photos of Usher in the front of their folders, though.
gee, i wonder where all the inks goes. argh!! sorry. breathe. calm.

7:11 PM  
Blogger ms. frizzle said...

I think the goal should be to get them typing comfortably enough that it's feasible to type most important projects. Then, for each project, you can devote a couple of days to typing and teach stuff like formatting conventions and tricks within Word as you go along. It IS important to be able to use basic word processing and other programs if they are to have any shot at being competititive in college & the workplace (seen any hand-written resumes recently?). Also, keep in mind that some kids will actually become better writers using the computer as a tool - it takes a lot of the pain out of revision, which can free certain kids up to express their ideas. That's not the majority - but don't discount it, either. I compose much more fluently on the computer than I do by hand, and prefer it over writing by hand 100%. Other people work in other ways. Give them access to as many tools as possible.

My kids' first project is a lab report done in PowerPoint with a partner. I introduce a few conventions at that time. We slowly scaffold to independent computer work.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Mrs. N said...

Yeah, Mr., I see it too. It drives me crazy that kids are double-returning instead of doing the format-document-double space. Or that they don't know how to indent except to double-return. Or that they think a sized-16 font will not be noticed by me. Or that I can't explain to them enough times how to right-justify their names.

I just posted something on my blog about the goals I'm setting for next year. One includes working technology into the classroom more often as a means to an end. Another is creating a style sheet with my basic expectations for typed work, and basic instructions for how to do something things. Yeah, hot-keys should be there - good idea.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Brisbane_Artist said...

Yes I think it all should begin in Kinder too.
Do you know we are teaching the kids to make sculptures in the sand and then teaching them how to make them talk through animation.
We begin with the sculptures in year one and work from there.
tech is good when it is wporking well and a night mare when not!
great post love your Blog.


1:44 AM  

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