Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mapping English Skills in the New Millennium

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has forged alliances with key national organizations that represent the core academic subjects, including Social Studies, English, Math, Science and Geography. As a result of these collaborations, the Partnership has developed this map to illustrate the intersection between 21st Century Skills and English. The maps will enable educators, administrators and policymakers to gain concrete examples of how 21st Century Skills can be integrated into core subjects.

As this map was announced earlier last week, Kylene Beers, president of the National Council of Teachers of English pointed out that the English map includes interdisciplinary themes, outcomes, and examples from best classroom practices when it comes to integrating 21st Century Skills.

Cross-cultural themes of this curriculum are:

Creativity & Innovation
Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
Information Literacy
Media Literacy
Information & Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy
Flexibility & Adaptability
Initiative & Self-Direction
Social & Cross-Cultural Skills
Productivity & Accountability
Leadership & Responsibility

Very exciting stuff as we see curricular revolution brought on by the contemporary technological advance that determines our disciplines work in tandem and in service to such life skills

At any rate this map will help we educators wrap our minds around what and how 21st Century skills might be best addressed, reassuring to progressive teachers and motivating to ones ready to get up to speed as we head to the first decade milestone of the millennium.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Fair Use Guide for a Digital Age

The Center for Social Media recently released "Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy Education" which will help teachers and students in the United States navigate copyright in the digital age. At the focus is the U.S. Copyright Office's limit on copyright known as "fair use."

This code comes timely. As the "Code" reports, educators have often erred to liberal and conservative definitions, some believing anything used in the classroom was fair game while others believed they'd find police officers ready with handcuffs at their classroom doors if they so much as showed transparency of a magazine ad to their students and thus they "hyper-comply" to imagined rules.

What is are the limits on copyright, so called "fair use"? Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Law states "the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered 'fair', such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. It also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair:

  1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  2. the nature of the copyrighted work;
  3. amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

"The distinction between 'fair use' and infringement may be unclear and not easily defined. There is no specific number of words, lines, or notes that may safely be taken without permission. Acknowledging the source of the copyrighted material does not substitute for obtaining permission."

Still, in the digital age which includes internet publishing of information and the natural inclination to encourage students to produce works for global audiences, the copyright office' definition of "fair use" falls short of clearly delineating what is acceptable and legal.

The "Code" document has been reviewed by five attorneys and endorsed by National Association for Media Literacy Education, Action Coalition for Media Education, National Council of Teachers of English, Visual Communication Studies Division of the International Communication Association, and Media Education Foundation.

The process was coordinated by Profs. Renee Hobbs (Media Education Lab, Temple University), Peter Jaszi (ProMedia, American Universitgram on Information Justice and Intellectual Property, Washington College of Law, American University) and Patricia Aufderheide (Center for Social Media).

As teachers use the motivation of world-wide audiences for their students' voices by having them use and remix copyrighted material and produce their own copyrighted works (in America copyright is extent at moment of creation) via internet media, it become incumbent that we inform and guide them. The "Code" notes:

"In particular, educators should explore with students the distinction between material that should be licensed, materialthat is in the public domain or otherwise openly available, and copyrighted material that is subject to fair use. The ethical obligation to provide proper attribution alsoshould be examined. And students should be encouraged to understand how their distribution of a work raises other ethical
and social issues, including the privacy of the subjects involved in the media

The "Code" is a sure step for teachers to prepare for such lessons and conversations with their students as consumers and producers of digital media. Get your copy now and school thyself.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Creative Stuff

Something Ken Robinson writes about in his book Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative has been in my head since I read it about a year ago. He describes the curious aspect of research in English studies as compared to research in say, as he does, physics. At least at the university level, physics profs are expected to do science, whereas English teachers are expected to research about English.

"Professors of English are not employed to produce literature; they are employed
to write about it. They spend much of their time analyzing the lives and
drives of writers and the work they produce. They may write poetry in
their own time: but they're not normally thanked for doing it in university
time. They're expected to produce analytical papers about poetry.
Producing works of art doesn't count as appropriate intellectual work in an arts
department: yet the equivalent in a science department, doing physics or
chemistry does" (65-66).

Point taken. At the high school level it's much worse, isn't it. As a teacher do more talking about English, than do English. That is, I research, and mostly secondary source research at that, on texts, authors, composition, grammar, etc.

Most of the time the curriculum I teach in asks my students to do the same--except for a semester or two when I might have section of Creative Writing or for the occassional assignment in my literature classes when I ask for a script or narrative piece.

A colleague of mine, Mary Culbertson-Stark, art teacher, and working artist, once asked me about my stuff. By this she meant original writing, presumably fiction or poetry, particularly what I going to be working on writing over the summer. I was flattered by the idea that she thought I had stuff. But I shrugged it off. Truth is, I've had a few poems and some short stories, and a couple of essays. Not much stuff.

Of course what concerns me is not only how little writing, acting, storytelling, and videoing my colleagues do ourselves but also how little we ask of our students. Much of literature study is done as a study without any attempt at writing, outside of a personal response of a paragraph or two, or a once a year ritual called the reseach paper. A dearth of writing of any sort by most of us English teachers exists. Some don't even read for pleasure.

I can hear the cry "where the time!" (I'm not sure I have the answer. It's been nearly three weeks since I've even posted to this blog.) We're are already teaching too much, and "covering a subject in instruction" is frequently just that covering, as in hiding and opaquing. Yet, I feel a bit of a hypocrite if I am not reading and writing while asking my students to do so. I challenge you, dear teacher-reader (as Dickens would say), to consider your own practice, in regard to yourself and your students. Begin to fit in the creative work in your life and your teaching and you students' lives and learning.

For every authentic project of writing, acting, or other creative work, about three other units must hit the dustbin. Isn't trade worth it? Our students are going to be called to be creative as much as they are going to be called to be analytical, so teachers might best get on with it and celebrate both. After all, can we teach creativity without critical thinking?

Surely, we've thought we could teach the analytical domain without the creative. And succeeded. On the other hand, creativity skills may, in fact, supercede anything on Bloom's taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Adding doing your discipline to your own practice as well as to your curriculum can only lead our creativity and that of our students to deeper, more meaningful places of inquiry.