Casi!Casi! Learning from Cinemania



Based on recommendations from  Jacob Burns Film Center we viewed Casi Casi: All’s Fair in Love, War, and High School to participate in a larger conversation about viewing, critiquing, and learning from film and incorporating the language of film into our classrooms.

There are several areas that we can think about as teachers and literacy leaders:

Films as mentor texts: What are the ways you think Casi Casi offers middle and high school students a mentor text for early filmmakers and digital storytellers?

Messages to Think About: What are the themes or messages of this story offer middle and high schoolers opportunities for reflection?

Issues of Identity: In the film, the protagonist says in his election speech, “I’m one of you.” What do you think the identity connections could be for students when viewing this film?

First person narrative: There aren’t many films that offer this narrative style. In what ways can students learn about first person narration through viewing this film or scenes from this film?

International film study: And, of course, the film is in Spanish. What are the benefits of exposing to students films in other languages? What do we learn from this experience as viewers of the film?

As a final note, there are so many opportunities in this film to consider the history of films that portray school…here are a few we’ve discussed and some others to consider…What do you notice as sites of influence within these film clips that may have inspired the filmmakers of Casi! Casi! in writing and filming their film about high school, unrequited love, and all around teen antics.

Breakfast Club

Dazed and Confused

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

My So Called Life

That Seventies Show

Looking forward to everyone’s final reflections.


“Talk that Talk”: The Language of Images and Film

Multimodal texts are all around us. Almost every one of our students engages in multimodal texts from the minute they wake up to the second they go to sleep, so it is important that we teach our students and familiarize ourselves with the semiotic systems which make up these new forms of texts.  Anstey and Bull stress the fact that our students see these semiotic systems in print texts, visual texts (commonly seen in pop-culture and include both still and moving images), and multimodal texts which “rely on the processing and interpretation of print information, with blends with visual, audio, spoken, non-verbal, and other forms of expression produced through a range of different technologies” (102).  Being that there are so many new forms and types of texts available to us, which do you find yourself using the most in your classroom?  Does the type of “text” you use change for different subjects you teach (math, science, history)?

Compare what you use most in school to what you use most in your everyday life. What kinds of texts do you engage in most in your daily life?  Do the kinds of texts you use in your everyday life match the kinds of texts you use in your classroom?  Do you think what is happening in your class has any relevance to the lives of your students?  If not, then you may want to rethink how you are using texts, and if they are reflecting your life more than your students’ lives.

A clip from the movie Clueless which refers to pop culture long before your students were born will definitely not be as meaningful or personally relevant for them as it would be for you. (On a related note, I recently found out that over half of my students had never seen the movie Sandlot. It was a sad day). This means we have to be “in the know” of modern-day versions of these films, and familiarize ourselves with the music of One Direction vs. *NSYNC, for example.

I don’t think One Direction can hold a candle to bands like *NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys, but that’s for another post.

But it’s more than about being “hip”, because students can sniff out right away when teachers are trying too hard. It’s about picking and choosing still and moving images that are both current and clearly relate to what students have been learning. It’s about teaching students how to talk about the images they are analyzing and find meaning from them, beyond the surface level. We have to teach them to “go deeper”. Check out this lesson plan which has kids “go deeper” into interpreting their favorite TV programs. Imagine your students filling out the Media Observation sheet after watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars, Sam and Cat, or Spongebob Squarepants!

What’s interesting is that the interpretation of texts is not just about the “reading” skills one has, but it is also constituted in the funds of knowledge the person brings to the table. The interpretation of the text involves “interaction with the text and not merely identifying the meaning of the text” (105).  In other words, whenever we or our students interpret an image, a film clip, a painting, etc., we are bringing our own personal experiences and our perspectives to our interpretations. One way we can have our students realize this fact is by viewing, talking about, and analyzing advertisements, determining how our interpretation is shaped by the author’s choices and whether the author’s perspective matches our own.

View the advertisement below and see how you interpret it with these questions in mind: What is the purpose of this text? Who is this text produced for? From whose perspective is the text constructed? Whose interests are being served by this text? Who is included or excluded from this text and why? Are there any stereotypes represented or challenged?

If you had trouble making meaning of that text, then perhaps you need to brush up on your semiotic systems.  Semiotic systems are “systems of signs that have shared meaning within a group, whether societal or cultural, that allow members to analyze and discuss how they make meaning” (107).  Our job as teachers can be to teach students the metalanguage to talk about and make sense of the construction of texts like still images.  For example, many codes make up still images: color, texture, line, shape, and form. These codes are combined through the conventions of balance, layout, and vectorality to make meaning.  Students need to be able to communicate how meaning in still images is conveyed by consuming the text and also how it can be conveyed by producing the images within the print text.

Thinking back to the amount of time you spend engaging in different types of texts, estimate the amount of time you spend teaching about still images (codes and conventions) and the amount of time your students spend engaging in them.  Do you see any discrepancy between the amount of time your students are learning about the codes and conventions and the amount of time they are engaging in it?  It’s not enough for students to simply analyze still images; they need to put those skills into practice by creating their own!

Try examining still images by using the picture below from a well known picture book.  Think about the things you need to know about the codes and conventions of still images by focusing just on color.  How do you crack this image using what you know about the codes of color? How does the code (color) relate individually and in combination, that is, through balance and layout?

Just as important as the semiotic system of still images is the semiotic system of moving images.  Because students these days are constantly exposed to TV, video, film, as well as consuming and producing their own videos, it is in our best interest to teach our students the codes and conventions of moving images. For example, we can explain to students the different types of shots, such as close-ups, medium, and long shots, and examine the effects of camera angles on portraying certain characters by watching and analyzing clips from popular movies.

Watch this clip from Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone in which both Harry and the audience meet Professor Severus Snape for the first time. As you watch the clip, pay attention to the use of medium and close-up shots. At what moment do we get a close-up shot of Snape? Why is that significant? What angle is the camera at? Are we looking up or down at Snape? Harry? Why do you think the camera angles for Harry and Snape differ? What effect do these shots and camera angles have on our understanding of Harry and Snape?

Asking your students these questions can help them see how the director wants us to think of Harry and Snape. Students can clearly see how shots and camera angles are chosen for certain effects–in this case, to characterize Snape as powerful and just a little bit scary.

Finally, examine the codes and conventions of film that are in the following music video.  (Warning: Video may not be safe for work, and we wouldn’t suggest showing it to your students. However, your students may be watching music videos of a similar nature, and even music videos can be analyzed for their point of view and messages about gender and sexuality, especially). Watch it one time without the sound and pay careful attention to other codes of moving images, such as point of view or camera position.  Watch it again with the sound on.  How do the codes in this music video reveal meaning?  How much does the sound (or the absence of sound) contribute to the overall meaning? Do you think the producers of this music video intended these messages?  Would this text be consumed differently by people who are similar to or different from you?

By focusing on the codes of still images and film, such as point of view, we can apply this same level of thinking when teaching our students to analyze narrative texts and nonfiction writing.  The relationship between the semiotic system of still and moving images and written language is that both have codes and conventions which have a profound effect on how the text is consumed and produced, and are both equally important to teach our students in this multimodal world!

Bringing Pop Culture into the Classroom

Each day as students walk through the doors of school they bring with them influences from home literacies. Children from ages 8-18 spend around 7.5 hours a day exposed to media, according to a report from Kaiser Family Foundation in 2010 (Schulten, 2010 Undoubtedly, the significant amount of time exposed to media infiltrates into classrooms everywhere. In middle schools and high schools, teachers overhear comments about last night’s television shows, constantly shout over the headphones, and witness the latest attempts to copy celebrity trends. Even in the younger years, popular culture influences the identities of children. Who has the Spiderman lunch bag? Can you sing all the words to Frozen? A Transformers t-shirt? Think about your own lives as adults. How much of it is spent watching your favorite show or surfing through a celebrity’s twitter?

Should media exposure at home and school be separated and feel like two different ‘worlds’? Many schools look at media as a negative influence on students so they it from classrooms like: music, magazines and clothing.

“Formalized educational spaces such as schools remain largely tethered to archaic notions of teaching, learning and inquiry. When new media and technologies are integrated into curricula, they are integrated within existing pedagogical frames that maintain uneven dynamics of power and authority” (Vasudevan & Hill, 2007: 5)

How can we as teachers help connect home and school for students? What are ways that we can utilize media influence as a teaching tool? Media literacy is the “ability to access, interpret, communicate, and create print, video, audio, and digital media texts” (Vasudevan & Hill, 2007: 3). Teachers can encourage media literacy skills by creating connections between media and students while building bridges across complex texts. The use of media is most often used in literacy classrooms to “facilitate traditional” learning outcomes, which according to research, is an effective way to engage students! Yet with high emphasis on student outcomes and testing, less focus is spent on the relationships between media and students. What are some ways that you incorporate popular culture into your own classrooms while still working toward standards?

Jesse Gainer (2010) states that, “…critical engagements with multiple media sources are essential for the preparation of participatory global citizenship” (p. 364). In order to be successful in today’s society, kids need exposure to the skills acquired by analyzing the media and the world around them. Media can be used to enhance teaching, but it can also be used in the classroom to prepare young adults for their futures and careers.

How can we encourage students to be media literate? When kids start to recognize that the media and literacy overlap, then they can begin to really analyze and reflect on the world around them. If they can see that concepts from everyday life translate into their interests and school, we are helping to build aware thinkers. For example, this video shows how the media and literacy are connecting by teaching literary devices through popular culture:Literacy Devices in Pop Culture

Check out the Twitter ‘feed’ below used in a classroom to synthesize positive thoughts about students’ day from the blog “What’s new in room 202?”


Here is a link of a song a teacher about the history of Galileo to the rhythm of the song Dynamite by Tao Cruz. This teacher took a popular song and turned it into a creative and interactive learning experience for students. Would you rather read about Galileo or learn a fun song about him? While students probably won’t memorize the song they are definitely more likely to focus on the topic and become more engaged! Galileo Song

Would you feel comfortable allowing students to write about video games or films? What about analyzing popular song lyrics? What do you think the reactions of your students might be if you incorporated pop culture into your classroom?

Here is a useful resource that allows kids to interact with the media, but also study its influences. Read Write Think offers a lesson plan analyzing the social perceptions created by the media: Read Write Think

Scholastic Pop Culture Reference also gives great examples of ways to engage students by incorporating pop culture into your classroom!

Happy Planning!  


Critical Literacies & Social Justice in Education

“Students, as they are increasingly posed with problems relating to themselves in the world and with the world, will feel increasingly challenged and obliged to respond to that challenge.”- Freirethink-outside-the-box.jpg

Promoting critical literacies allows students to be active participants in the world.  Rather than passively accepting information students look critically, which empowers them and allows them to focus on the importance of equality and advocate for those with less power in our society.  They begin to explore social issues and see the world with a more critical lens. Critical literacies is the relationship between language, power, and social practices.  It gives students the ability to read text in an active, reflective manner to better understand power, inequality and injustice in relationships, and classes of people. Students begin to explore social issues and see the world with a more “critical” lens, thus promoting engagement, conversation, and a critical mindset to challenge power and societal issues. Can you see elementary students using a critical lens to read and explore social issues? Middle schoolers? High schoolers?  And if so, how could a teacher take this to the next level of action, which is social justice in motion?

Encouraging critical thinkers and promoters of social justice can make a change in our world.  We can give them the tools to question issues and see life through multiple perspectives.  We do extremely important work.

In the article Out of the Box: Critical Literacy in a First-Grade Classroom, Kim Huber wasn’t sure how changing the context of her books during story time would actually affect her class, but she came to realize that story time did not have to be about “happy” books, and basic story elements, but it could focus on equality and social justice.This article could fit into the book black ants and buddhists by Mary Cowhey.  She wrote an entire book about thinking critically and teaching differently in the primary grades. The entire book focuses on teaching kids to use their critical lens and then to set their thinking into action.  She guides her students into looking at equality and power. This is a great book to read to see social justice and critical literacies in action in an elementary school.  Kim Huber came to realize that her students had a lot to say about issues that were inequitable and unfair.  She also discovered that her students made stronger connections to  the topics of social justice than to the “happy” books.  We as teachers have the ability to engage students in thoughtful conversation about different topics.  Do you ever think out of the box?  “It is in settings like Kim Huber’s first-grade classroom that children expand their understandings of the purposes of literacy and begin to see how literacy relates to their interactions with others.” (Lehand,Harste, Huber 2005. p.258) The learning, responding and interaction between her students even changed.  “…she did not expect to find that the children would start treating each other with more compassion and understanding.  She was also surprised to find that they put considerably more effort into their written and artistic responses, took on multiple perspectives, and made lots of intertextual connections when they were reacting to these books.” (Lehand, Harste, Huber 2006. p.258)

Still can’t understand Critical Literacies? Watch this Prezi about Critical Literacies.

Thank you Stephanie Jones for helping us to understand critical literacy and its possibilities in our classrooms through a character that has been written about time and time again as someone who purposefully went around blowing down poor innocent pigs houses!  As he has now spoken up we are able to see the injustice and unfair treatment of Mr. Wolf.  He was framed!!  “History, culture, and social relations are much too messy to be neatly framed, much too alive to be frozen in representation.  At least some of this messiness can be accounted for and analyzed within the layers and tenets of critical literacy.” (Jones 2006 p. 73) Jones goes on to say “The three tenets and layers of critical literacy that I offer here are inextricable intertwined and offer tools necessary to move beyond the superficial and surface level of texts of all kinds.(Jones 2006. p. 73)  She goes on to say that “Their relationship to one another make thinking about critical literacy fascinating, intriguing, and empowering while at the same time their interconnectedness may challenge those of us trying to decide what to do with our students on Monday morning.” (Jones 2006. p. 74)


When she brought in Mr. Wolf, the tenets and layers did not seem so unreachable.  After clear definitions, she gave us questions and ways to bring each tenant and each layer into our own classroom.  Jones writes, “The metaphor of being “framed” is useful in thinking about critical literacy, the three tenets (Deconstruction, Reconstruction and Social Action) and the three layers (Perspective, Positioning, and Power).”  (Jones, p. 71)  We need to teach students how to closely read a text and look at media and modes from multiple perspectives.  Using Mr. Wolf as an example, Jones explains the tenets of critical literacy, “Mr. Wolf reconstructed a mainstream story to place his perspective at the center of attention.  For him to make the decision that a reconstruction needed to take place however, he must have engaged in some level of deconstruction of the original story and realized that his perspective was not taken into consideration.  And finally, by releasing this new version of the “real story”, Mr. Wolf is engaging in social action.”  (Jones, p. 74)  Critical literacy right before our eyes.  We see a little perspective changes everything.  We think it would be an engaging activity to have the students rewrite for an antagonist of their choice in middle and high school and maybe use this same text in elementary school while answering some of the questions she presents as a starter.  Can you think of other books that have taken the antagonist and shown their side of the story? High schoolers and middle schoolers would have to critically read the story and look at events from a different perspective.

Like us, you may have read over Jones’ questions and suggestions and noticed a few that you have already implemented into your own lessons.   Her Classroom possibilities for Deconstruction of text start off simply by reading a book and asking questions about whose voices are important or unimportant, encouraging the reader to question and challenge the author’s perspective and use of power by locating disconnections or feelings of disconnection, questioning advertisements, to finally rereading a favorite book from a critical perspective. She  goes on to share classroom possibilities for deconstruction of identities. She feels this is important for students who have not experienced marginalization.  She then shares classroom possibilities for reconstruction, and social action.  Some of these are very difficult questions about identities and our position in the world.   Take another look at the different “Classroom Possibilities” sections, are there questions or activities that you could bring into your classroom?  With what you are working on right now?

Jones then writes about the layers of critical literacy.  She begins by saying “all texts are embedded with multiple meanings and one way to examine some of those meanings is to peel away the layers through the consideration of perspective, positioning, and power.” (Jones 2006. p.79) “Perspective refers to the creator of the text, the text itself, and the reader.” (Jones 2006. p.79)  Positioning allows the writer to place someone or something using the power of language and ideology.  Power is about negotiating.  “Power is never static, or stable, or still; it moves, shifts, and is used differently depending on the context in which people are relating and the people themselves.”(Jones 2006. p. 83)  She again gives us questions to help us analyze the text through perspective, positioning and power.  Did you think these questions were helpful?  Can these questions guide your readers?

Ending with a thought from Jones, “Thinking and acting through the tenets and layers of critical literacy is one way educators can begin to ask difficult questions about texts and what kinds of tools their students need to critically read their world.”  (Jones, p. 85)  We are not just giving them the questions to ask when they are reading a text, but also perspectives to consider as they move through and interact in the world.

How can we teach our students to really think critically about texts or issues when we now live in a world of snippets of information?  When they are outside the classroom, they find can find information quickly and easily.  Google it-we do it everyday.  One can usually get just enough information to move on.  Guilt comes of not knowing who wrote the information.  In High School Research and Critical Literacy: Social Studies With and Despite Wikipedia, Harouni takes us through his journey to expose Wikipedia and teach students better research practices and strategies.  Harouni’s curriculum centers around a classroom that fosters critical literacy-yet he witnessed students that were not questioning or engaging with their texts.  Observing their research, Harouni writes, “Missing, however, was a diversity of resources,personal investment in developing certain points beyond others, and distinctions between fact and opinion.”  (Harouni, p.475)  His students were simply gathering facts from Wikipedia and presenting facts for research.  There was no enthusiasm or text-to-self connections.  Instead of banning Wikipedia, he took the students through activities that exposed Wikipedia as a source that was not always credible.  This act became important to them.  This is their culture and a huge part of their lives.  A very important lesson in critical literacy- looking at the website and questioning it.

Our students should have classroom experiences that value diversity, challenge injustices and examines the right for everyone to reach their full potential in society.  Developing and implementing social justice strategies and lesson plans should be part of a school’s curriculum.   In, Developing Social Justice Educators, Duncan-Andrade shares Ms. Grant’s social justice philosophy,  “Racial, cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic status has no effect on students’ abilities to acquire knowledge.  Schools should provide students with the fundamental skills and ideas necessary to develop within the system while also preparing them to transform the system.”  (Duncan-Andrade, p.70)  Duncan-Andrade’s article shared the teaching philosophies “guiding their instructional practices, curriculum designs, and relationships with students, that made it clear that the strength of their teaching focus came from a focus on student-empowering social justice pedagogy.” (Duncan-Andrade 2005 p.70) These teachers show us how social justice has a place in the classroom thus allowing students to feel empowered to make changes that affect them right now.  This type of teaching allows the students to be change agents in their own communities while also developing their literacy skills. What do you think of some of their practices and how could you implement social justice pedagogy in your own classroom?

We have an opportunity to help our students look at issues and injustices in their communities and the world.  They are our future and can begin to find ways to make their communities better.  It is tough to tackle some of these topics-but they are important to the children and important to our society. The children in these classrooms tackled issues of poverty, racism, violence and inequality because these were issues facing them.  What are some issues facing your own students? “The philosophies of social justice embraced by these educators go beyond the traditional narrative, which sees education as a vehicle to escape financially impoverished communities. These teachers view education as a vehicle to invest in that can improve conditions in urban areas.” (Duncan-Andrade 2005 p.71) Do any of you work in urban areas i need of change?  Can you see your students as change agents in 4th and 5th grade?

Leland, Harste and Huber write, “while we might wish that children did not have to deal with issues like racism, poverty, and war, the fact of the matter is that many children are deeply concerned about these difficult issues when they walk into our classrooms.” (Leland, Harste, and Huber, p. 267).  What does social justice look like in your school?  Is there a need to work on more opportunities to bring social justice activities and lessons into the curriculum?

As teachers, we need to be the change so our students can be the change.  We need to think out of the box and use our curriculum in ways that not only teaches our students but allows our students to be their own change agents while they also develop  the literacy skills necessary for school success. We can do this!

“Lights, Camera, Engagement!”

” We are our stories. We compress years of experience, thought, and emotion into a few compact narratives that we convey to others and tell to ourselves. ”
– Daniel Pink

The human imagination, a powerful tool, has given people across all cultures the ability to communicate ideas to others, whether through pictures, words, or both. These stories, which been passed down over generations through verbal communication, drawings, and books, are used for entertainment, teaching, and for passing down wisdom. Telling stories through cave drawings was an advanced writing idea for the cavemen in their time. Overtime, writing has advanced to telling stories through books, and now to telling stories through digital means. The ways in which we tell stories is bound to change eventually, right? How do you think our children will tell stories in a century or even just a decade? Thinking about how our technology will evolve from how advanced it is now is a concept that is unimaginable to me and does not even seem possible, yet I won’t be surprised if by the time my grandchildren are in school, technology and how stories are told will be so advanced and unimaginable, I will be like the woman in this video: illiterate grandma. In today’s modern world, we have found a way to tell stories both orally and visually through “digital storytelling”. Storytellers old and young, and students of all backgrounds, can communicate their stories through showing images and texts, and playing sound and video.

In Make Me a Story by Lisa Miller, Linda Rief writes in the foreword of the book that she is “not surprised when students forget to bring pens or pencils to class” (xi). Why? Because the word “writing” to students now does not mean pencil to paper, but rather fingers to keyboard. Should our current and future practices forget about traditional paper and pencil writing? What could be the benefits to both traditional writing and digital storytelling? Technology is the tool that allows students’ stories to come alive. They choose the words they want to say, images they want to show, voices they want the audience to hear, and the sounds they want the audience to feel in their emotions. Digital storytelling transforms students’ writing and it allows students to feel as though their ideas matter and are important to others. Why do you think (or do you believe) that students feel differently when they create their own digital story compared to a story they wrote with paper and pencil? How does (or does) digital storytelling give writers the confidence to share their story that paper and pencil writing cannot provide?

The video below called “Digital Storytelling in the Classroom” is about a middle school 8th grade US History teacher who describes how she uses in classroom. She describes her fears about technology and hesitation to allow digital storytelling in her classroom. I loved this video because it is from a teacher’s perspective and about US History (not a student favorite in my opinion) however the students were engaged in this subject through their digital stories. Do you have any thoughts about this specific video? Can you relate to this teacher?

“Digital Storytelling in Classroom”

Through digital storytelling, all types of learners can express their ideas about topics across the curriculum, such as on historical matters as 9/11, on science topics like polar bears, and literature ideas like how to express foreshadowing in a story. Before students can express their ideas through digital stories, students must have an understanding of how stories, such as narratives and science reports for example work. Miller states that “talking about books they’ve read will give students ideas about what they might write about and how, all the way through the writing process. We can all learn by imitating great writing” (14). Digital storytelling is a forum where students can express their ideas about writing and allow them to find their own writing style. How can a class of elementary aged students (k-5) create digital stories on their own on their computers? Is this too difficult of a concept for them to understand?

Below is a (cute) digital story from a kindergarten ESL class about information they gathered from a non-fiction book about polar bears. How amazing is it that kindergarten students who are just starting to write their names and a few other words are able to express their ideas with others, farther than just their class, through their voice and pictures?!  Digital storytelling allows these students to explore how storytelling works, how stories are made and created, and about the basic elements of stories. Technology allows students of all ages and backgrounds to voice or show their ideas to other populations. Now since this video is on the world wide web, people of all backgrounds and curiosities can view this video and learn something from it, whether about polar bears or about how kindergarten students can create a digital story.

Digital Story on Polar Bears!

The image below shows the correlation between 6+1 Writing Traits and the 7 Elements of Digital Storytelling from the website Do you think students should be taught about the traditional writing traits before they are taught about the traits of digital storytelling? Or do you think these elements/traits can be taught simultaneously? How do you go about teaching young writers/readers about these writing elements through digital storytelling?

Enabling children to tell their stories digitally can also be very appealing to the their audience. Very often, I find that children have a difficult time focusing in class during presentations (of any kind). But, by sharing digital stories, students have the opportunity to enter the life of the person telling the story. It is almost as if we were living within that moment. Through the use of pictures and songs, we are able to travel back to all these important moments in a person’s life. In the text Crafting an Agentive Self: Case Studies of Digital Storytelling by Glynda Hull and Mira Katz, delves into the lives of 24 year old Randy and 13 year old Dara. Randy identifies himself as a writer whereas, Dara views herself as a writer and a story teller. During this case study, we are able to see how Randy and Dara use digital storytelling as a tool to capture and share stories about pivotal moments in their lives (or events that happened in someone elses life).

 As teachers, we must all keep in mind that not all students all traditional writers. Some are better at sharing their stories through the use of technology. In the article, Hull and Katz both argue that their goal is to promote “how alternative spaces for learning can sometimes effectively support adolescents’ interests in literacy and foster their developing sense of agency (6). Digital storytelling should not be utilized to replace traditional writing, but it should be used to aid students have difficulty writing or lack interest. What are your thoughts on that idea?

 While reading this article, another thought that occurred to me was how these experiences could help Dara at school, given that this type of technology was made available to her through DUSTY’s. Dara was able to negotiate what she wrote about at DUSTY, but this might not be feasible at school. As teachers, how can we help children develop a passion to write about topics that don’t appeal to them? How can we develop a curriculum that fosters academic writing/ writing for pleasure through the use of digital storytelling.

 In coherence with the Hull and Katz’s article, I believe that Korina M. Jocson’s piece Situating the Personal in Digital Media Production was also intriguing. For some students, writing or even creating poetry can be a daunting task. For some, the flow of writing just doesn’t come natural. Therefore, producing work that is deemed to be “good” becomes a problem. But, what would happen if students were given the opportunity to write digital poetry? Wouldn’t it be more meaningful? Like sharing digital stories, I believe that the use of technology to write poetry would be a great idea. Students would be given the opportunity to give voice to their work. I believe that pictures and sound are appealing, but they also give voice and convey a message that sometimes cannot be depicted in a traditional writing piece. This is something that Jocson also emphasizes strongly in her article. Jocson also argues  “digital visual poetry as one type of digital media that leaves plenty of room not only for experimentation to produce texts but also for participants to imagine selves and create meanings toward personal and social transformation” (187).

 Digital poetry also gives students the opportunity to be creative! How often do we do we see creativity utilized in a classroom? Many teachers are now afraid( or don’t know how) to to be creative without taking away from the Common Core State Standards. But, what they are unaware of is that there are effective ways of integrating technology into the curriculum  without taking away from the Common Core Learning Standards  have called upon. Now that we have talked about digital storytelling and digital poetry,  can you think of any other ways to use technology to teach other subjects?

EXCELLENT RESOURCE TO LOOK AT: The website “Educational Uses of Digital Storytelling” is a great resource for teachers to look at and use as a resource to understand more about digital stories in the classroom, the 7 elements of DS (digital storytelling), 21st century skills, and examples of what digital stories might look like. It also provides teachers with information how to create storyboards, which is a written out explanation of what the video will include (direct quotes, pictures, music, what scene should be first, etc). Below is an image from the website of an example of storyboards, using index cards.

The topics of digital stories that are included on the website range from personal narratives, to mathematics, to pop-culture, and to single-image digital stories. What is so fascinating about the single-image digital stories is that “a single picture can say a thousand words”. One single picture along with a student’s voice can be just as effective as the audiences’ emotions than a story with numerous pictures. It is so fascinating that there are countless ways that students of all backgrounds and ages can express themselves through digital stories!

*Final thoughts: If you had to choose any topic to write about in your first digital story, what would it be? How would you want the audience to feel? What would you want the audience to look at or listen to? Who is your audience to begin with?!

“Video games are bad for you? That’s what they said about rock n’ roll.”

For many years the use of video games have been looked down upon, and been thought of as a waste of time, or something that will “turn your brain to mush.”

Through recent studies and research however, we have learned that there is something about the environment, culture, and mindset that surrounds video games and other forms of gaming, that has enthralled children, taught them, and helped them improve countless skills ranging from hand eye coordination to collaboration, and even confidence when it comes to making a mistake and trying again. There are many students who in a classroom are humiliated and embarrassed after fumbling or making a simple error, however when faced with making a mistake that either takes them back a level, or restarts their video game, they are met with nothing more than a more intense and severe determination.

These complex games require each player/character to develop a deep skill set in a specific domain and know how to collaborate with other gamers.  Users are inspired to use the same skills that they hate using in school and in class with such ease in the game. Video games require the learner to think in many unique ways that are not found in school.  Gee explains to us that learning should be both a “frustrating and a life enhancing” experience.  The video game industry is very successful because their product has evolved with the expertise of its consumer.  The creators continuously make games more complex and difficult to understand and yet people are still buying them; the business is booming.  Gee explains how on the contrary, education has moved in the opposite direction – over simplifying or dumbing down tests to make it easier for every student to mold themselves into this linear 20th century model.  Gee refers to the idea of gaming becoming more complicated and difficult to achieve expertise to darwinism.

Check out this clip of James Paul Gee sharing his thoughts on the video game world.

When watching the clip of Gee we noticed one theme that was consistent between here and the other reading which is the concept of handing “ kids the manuals without the games.”

The fan communities that surround video games are instrumental to developing the literacy practices.

In Steinkuehler’s article “Video Games and Digital Literacy” he, like Gee in the video above, discusses the importance of fan-based collaboration. “Members of fan communities”, he writes, “collectively read and write vast cascades of multimodal text, as part of their play from communally authored user manuals, to online discussion threads, fan sites, fan fiction, and digital fan art” (61). Therefore, there is much more to the field of video gaming than just the games themselves; rather, it is the world that we, as communities, build around the games in order to create meaning. Video games, by themselves, are tools – the world we establish around them is what gives them meaning and importance in the development of our literacy and education.

On another note, Whitmore’s article discusses the actual, physical layout of an arcade space versus a school classroom. Oftentimes, teachers arrange their classrooms in ways that don’t allow for the optimum amount of student collaboration. In their case study, Whitmore and her colleagues discovered that Jeff (the teacher they observed) was well intentioned and enthusiastic, but the way his classroom floorplan was arranged could not compare to the layout of an arcade. In arcades, they describe, video games (especially the more difficult ones) are placed near one another so that children who are playing can easily look on with a friend, help someone who is stuck on a difficult level, or reach out for help themselves without having to leave their games. Even though actual video arcades are growing fewer and fewer these days, we can still see these elements of collaboration in new and emerging video games. A few of my friends play games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft and, throughout the entire game, they are constantly engaging in conversation and strategy with countless other players from all over the world. Now, instead of the limitations of the physical arcade, players can can collaborate with thousands of others from anywhere in the world without ever stepping outside their front doors.

Just think  – if our students collaborated half  as much in the classroom as they often do when they play video games, who knows what they might create or achieve?!

As it turns out, students, educators, and video gamers have already been forming these types of collaborations both in and out of the classroom. As the field of STEM education grows and more schools develop makers spaces that promote invention and design (even at the elementary level!), educators are beginning to see the important role that video games can play in our students lives.For the past several of years, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center has put out a challenge to young video game enthusiasts to build and create their own video games. Last year, they received over 4,000 entries from students of all ages and abilities, working with different systems and platforms to actually code and create their very own games. AND, while many critics out there complain that our children are obsessed with violent, destructive types of video games, the judges learned differently. After the results were in, 46% of the contestants created educational video games on topics ranging from math to community service.

Below, you can see screenshots from a couple of the winning games. In the first image, a tenth grader named Aaron Gaudette has created a game called “Crystal Physics” where the players attempt to gain crystals by knocking down a tower. At each level, the game teaches its players a new physics concept that they must use in order to knock down the tower:



“Crystal Physics”, created by Aaron Gaudette, a tenth grader from Germany.


Another finalist, Janice Tran (12th grader) created a game that she calls “Little Green Planet”. In the game, players must create a robot made of self-sustained materials in order to help stop a pollution-hungry villain. They must develop an extensive knowledge of environmentally-friendly tactics in the process to do so:



“Little Green Planet”, created by Janice Tran, a 12th grader from Palmdale, California.


If you want to see more of the games created by last years contest finalists, just click here!

Being that this has recently become a hot topic in both parenting worlds, and in teaching circles when thinking about children’s screen time and the integration of violence in games, there have been many researchers who have begun to look more closely into the effects action games have on their users. Below is a TED talk given by Daphne Bavelier. She researches the effects that video games have on  people when looking at skills that are prevalent when involved in general learning and information processing. Through her research she has found that those who play action packed video games have significantly better visual discrimination skills, multi-tasking skills, and  overall better ability to process a question asked about a visual and find the answer faster than peers who do not play action packed video games. She explains many of the tests and her process in testing the individuals in her lab in a clear and concise way. One of the tests she gives, and even gives to the audience is something you may have seen online often. An example would be seeing the word “red” written, however it is written in the color orange and you need to respond by stating the color of the text. While watching the video you have a chance to take these assessments. See how you score!

When watching the assessment seven minutes in…


Get the Picture?!

Picture Splash

According to Robyn Seglem,”Visual literacy is the ability to understand and use images, including the ability to think, learn and express oneself in terms of images.”(Seglem,2009, p.38).
When you first glance at a newspaper, what is it that tells you whats going on in the world? Hello, we all know it’s pictures.As adults we use visuals to aide our understanding and spark our interests. What more do we need to say pictures tell there own stories. Do you agree?
Think about early readers do they pick up novels? Hahaha,absolutely not! Illustrations grab an early reader’s attention and help the story come to life.

According to Lalitha Vasudevan, “Recognize that children’s identities- who they imagine themselves to be and who they imagine they could become- are inextricably bound with learning”(Stornaiuolo,Hull,& Nelson,2009.p.384) Picture books and visuals allow students to use their imagination and form their identities. According to Seglem, picture books allow student to draw conclusions, make inferences, recall details and engage in their learning. Let’s be serious,young children are now reading books on iPads rather than taking out books from the library. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? As educators today we should be open and knowledgeable to the multimodal world our students live in today.

In the article written by Vasudevan,Digital literacies allow for “greater collaboration, participation and distribution with respect to the production of knowledge, meaning and attendant literacies” (Vasudevan,2010, p.44). Technology allows students choices such as reading books online, researching from home rather then in a library. Students are provided with the resources and tools to complete tasks in school using different forms of technology.Do you remember the days when we went to school and were only given a pencil and paper. It was only a few years ago when computers became a learning tool in classrooms. Technology has changed our society with visuals and text and multimedia outlets from children through adulthood. Vasudevan explains that,
“Technologies rapidly transform many of the everyday practices of youth. Their modes of communication, information access, and representation now routinely include the use of texting, instant messaging, microblogging(e.g.,Twitter), blogging, creating social networking profiles and commenting on friend’s online profiles, just to name a few” (Lenhart,Arafeh,Smith,& Macgill,2008). Basically this proves that children can communicate through social media.

As teachers we need to be aware that if students are not understanding what they are being taught, we need to change the way we are teaching. Some ways we can do this is by incorporating technology and visuals into our classrooms. As adults would you want to be limited to just text? We prefer having the choice to choose what resource we want to use at work, in school and at home. Due to this we shouldn’t limit our students to one option. If children can learn how to use technology then they should be given the chance.
Ipad picture book
Dr Seuss

Monique & Talia

21st Century Multiliteracies

You’ve just received a new pair of shoes in the mail, and you’re so excited to open the box. However, when you do, you realize that these aren’t the shoes you ordered. What do you do? You immediately get on the phone and call the company. While on the phone, not only are you speaking to customer service but also you’re writing down notes, listening to the customer service representative, and searching the website for the correct pair of shoes all at the same time. This mundane act of calling customer service in order to rectify the horrifying issue of receiving the wrong pair of shoes in the mail actually represents the multiliteracies that we engage in on a daily basis.

According to Michele Anstey and Geoff Bull, multiliteracies “…refers to the range of literacies and literate practices used in all sectors of life and how these literate practices are similar and different” (Anstey & Bull, 2006, p. 20). The New London Group, which included James Gee, met to discuss the changes in “…increasing globalisation, technology and social diversity…” and created the term multiliteracies in order to develop a path for literacy teaching in an ever-changing society of technology (Anstey & Bull, 2006, p. 20).

One of the most important things that we can do as teachers, especially with the implementation of the rigorous Common Core State Standards, is allow students to “play” while incorporating literacy. The CCSS can still be met through various play-based activities, especially in the lower elementary grades. According to Karen Wohlwend, “the multimodal quality of play offers children multiple ways to expand meanings of the messages they produce. When a message is conveyed in several modes, the combination of modes amplifies and/or complicates the separate strands of monomodal meanings” (Wohlwend, 2008, p. 128). Literacy Centers, Writer’s Workshop, and Choice Time, which are all part of the daily routine in the classroom and are learner-directed activities, allow children access to a variety of materials, such as books, writing and drawing implements, and manipulatives, in order to make meaning for themselves (Wohlwend, 2008, p. 129).

Playing off Wohlwend’s ideas, in the article Rereading the Signs: Multimodal Transformations in the Field of Literacy Education, Marjorie Siegel introduces us to the idea of semiotics, which is defined as an “[an] interdisciplinary field of study that examines how meaning is made through signs of all kinds – pictures, gestures, music – not just words” (Siegel, 2006, p. 65). As we can see, literacy is “mutlimodal”… it takes on more forms than simply reading and writing. There is a “change in the literacy landscape that puts images, gestures, music, movement, animation, and other representational modes on equal footing with language. We need not only consider the ease with which children today can not only draw, sing, and dance but also produce their own digital movies, master the intricacies of computer games, and participate in fanfiction or interactive websites such as to recognize that literacy today means more than ‘knowledge of letters’” (Siegel, 2006, p. 65). As teachers in the 21st century, we will need to keep up with the several modes of literacy our students will be taking part in, in our new “digitalized” world. Literacy is, and will continue to go beyond traditional print texts to a whole new form of digital communication.

To learn more about multiliteracies in the 21st century, check out this video. While watching the video, think of some ideas that come to mind about the many different forms of literacy shown and how we, as teachers, can both keep up to date on them and include these in our classroom. What does this mean for literacy pedagogy?

-Kristie & Kori


Today was just like any other.  I woke up, checked my texts and Snapchats, looked on Facebook, and sent out a tweet about the Superbowl.  Although I’m not interested in any of the teams playing this year (the Giants aren’t in it… boo), Superbowl Sunday is a time to get together with friends, eat some yummy snacks, and laugh at commercials.  Needing to bring something to this gathering, I hopped on Pinterest to see what wonderful creations others have made and crossed my fingers in hopes that mine turns out looking half as good as what is presented on that site.  I found a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Dip and figured that would be perfect.  Then, I went to lunch with Megan to figure out what to write this blog on.  We discussed our mornings and realized how much social media and technology we use in our everyday lives.

We are curious about how much social media affects others everyday lives, as well. Take a minute to think about how many social media outlets you use on a general basis. Take the poll below.

According to Sweeny, technology is about staying connected. She states that people “use technology in two distinct ways: to socialize and to seek out information” (Sweeny, 2010, p.124). Thinking about my morning, these were the two goals I achieved by using these various technologies- seeking out the perfect Superbowl snack and communicating with others through various applications. Today, students are considered “digital natives”.  If the use of technology is a norm for us as teachers, as well as our students, shouldn’t we find a way to incorporate these multimodal texts into the educational setting?

“The current information and communication technologies (ICT’s) are fundamentally changing the ways in which youth today read, write, and communicate” (Sweeny, 2010, p.121).  The problem is that teachers are afraid that using forms of technology for literacy instruction will have students not take the work as seriously.  We believe that many teachers do not view social media as being a quality literacy resource.


There is a disconnect between how people view literacy and the most effective ways to teach these particular skills in the classroom setting. Before reading these articles, if asked about literacy, we’re not quite sure we would have considered technology or social media a valuable tool for instruction.  Now, we believe that teachers should embrace these tools and use the technological advancements that are available in order to differentiate instruction and bridge the gap between the changing world and school. What do you think?  Is social media something that can be used effectively at both school and home?  How?

Social media provides a means for self-expression.  Think about Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Snapchat.  These are all social media applications that allow us to make decisions that reflect who we are and how we communicate with others.  As Gee would say, it’s how we express our multiple identities.  According to Gee, “there are four ways to view identity, that is, what it means to be a certain kind of person” (Gee, 2000, p. 100).  These four identities include the Nature-identity, the Institution-identity, the Discourse-identity, and the Affinity-identity.  How can your students express their identities in an effective and productive manner in your classroom?  Can social media be used as a tool to help students recognize these identities?

These articles helped us think of new ways to approach literacy instruction and presentation in our own classrooms.  Rather than limiting students to a paper and pencil or a typed format approach, teachers can offer options and flexibility for assignments.  With an end goal in mind, students can express and identify themselves through the use of multimodal texts such as pictures, video, and audio.  Do you think, with our world becoming so technologically advanced, we will see more social media and other outlets appear in the classroom?  We look forward to hearing your ideas and thoughts!

TTYL- Alex and Megan

Change is the Only Constant

We are in a hyper connected world.  This is changing the way we read, write, interact, gather information, share ideas, and connect with one another. Anstey and Bull (2006) remind us that change is the only constant.


They state that “previously technology was either for communication or providing information. Now one piece of technology can fulfill both purposes” (p.14). Absolutely. Blogs, wikis, pinterest, Facebook, Twitter…these technologies provide information and provide possibilities for communication simultaneously. The literacies we use when we engage with these technologies is defined by our purposes. First, I’m viewing my friend’s Facebook post and then I’m tapping into her pinterest pins to learn more about how she designs her classroom. Then, I’m following a blog to learn about issues in the field of literacy and next I’m clicking on a link that sends me to the NY Times article on statistics about college.

The digital landscape is not only changing the way we gain information and communicate with one another, rightly so, it’s also changing the way we teach. Or it should be.  Salman Khan advocates for changing the script–for flipping the classroom. To put content into video for students to view, review, and review again at their own pace. Leaving classroom time an opportunity to help students where they need it most. Having peers interact with one another to solve problems, analyze text, and ultimately humanize the classroom. Do you think video is reinventing education? How would this work for your students? What are the benefits? What are the costs?

Khan Academy Using Video To Reinvent Education

Some argue that what’s changing in schools may be superficial rather than fundamental. Leander (2007) considers how “technologies are essentially social, and thus serve to constitute particular values, ideologies, preferred practices, power relations, social relations, and modes of learning” (p. 26). Leander looks at the production and organization of school space and time and in his research on wireless classrooms and the use of laptops where the technologies of schooling were largely left unchanged. Kahn might argue that the physical spaces of our classrooms are becoming more obsolete as we engage with students increasingly over digital spaces and that the 45 minute teaching blocks do not allow for repeated practice, student ownership, or enough collaborative possibilities–his site changes that. But what about the teacher as a critical part of the physical space? of the technology that is school?


As teachers in physical school spaces, how do we incorporate new technologies and new literacies into our teaching without simply responding to the latest “new” educational trend. Lankshear and Knoebel (2007) argue for what they call “new ethos stuff”–that is–”active collaboration and participation, leveraging collective intelligence via practices like eliciting user annotations, distributing and wilfully sharing expertise, decentering authorship, mobilizing information for relatedness, hybridization, and the like” (p. 20). The new ethos is about access and power and participation and the possibility that anyone can learn new information and share ideas. Want to learn how to play guitar, there are a myriad of videos and teaching tools online to do so? Want to find a recipe for the perfect pancakes? Voila. Want to write about the overtesting of children in public schools? You’ll have a captive audience.

What’s happening with technology is about literacy, teaching, learning, and schooling but it’s also about far more than that. Anstey and Bull (2006) urge us to consider the power of globalization in our increasingly technology-driven world. Teachers in Kenya can learn from teachers in New York via Skype. Teachers can gather ideas together through google docs and exchange best practices across the globe. Children can engage in experiments in LA and discuss the results with children in Taiwan.

Information Globalization


In the video below, we see Digital Humanitarianism at work and how the earthquake in Haiti changed everything about how responders can reach people who need critical help immediately and in an on going way.

Digital Humanitarianism TED Talk

This matters.