Of Chalkboards and Laptops and Visual Literacy

This week, AnnMarie (co-author, former student, fellow educator) and I will be presenting a webinar  via UNC at Chapel Hill's SCALE Read. Write. Act. National Conference. Our focus is on achieving greater Visual Literacy through rhetorical analysis. You’re all invited, of course! We're "on" at 2pm EDT, Friday.

Because of the webinar, perhaps, my visual literacy senses are tingling painfully. Every image or video I watch, I consider its potential merit for discussion in a classroom. The image below came through on an assignment in one of my grad classes. We were to assume the role of a school improvement committee and present our plans for a technology upgrade. 

When I first looked at this image, I thought:  

        Graphically, this is a “clean” image. The colors stand out very well, and it’s easy to read. 

All noteworthy points to consider for a PowerPoint presentation. However, something about it bothered me.
It reflects an outdated mental model—that of chalkboards, chalk, and erasers. The word “technology” on a chalkboard doesn’t work. It’s contradictory. And the use of the image reflects the author’s mental model as holding desperately onto some Norman Rockwell idealistic image of teaching. 

Yes, the font is neat. Too neat. I can’t remember the last time my handwriting was that neat on a chalkboard. Yes, the image is clean. Too clean. My chalkboards hardly had any green on them at all as the dust from multiple erasures and changes created a funky nimbus cloud--that of a chalkboard in use. What’s the reality? Why do we strive so hard to avoid it?

This image, presented to an intended audience of teachers, ineffectively illustrates the argument of the slideshow, which was to encourage teachers to use more technology in the classroom. It doesn't work.

How are we going to get teachers to use and authentically integrate technology, if we insist on holding these images up as the ideal?  It’s cute and quaint, I grant you. On a subconscious level, which is where these visuals hit home, it says, "Not really. jk. Hold to tradition." 

Until districts and administrators understand that teachers need specific (paid!) training in how to use the available technology, and until teachers admit that they are somewhat daunted by it and holding onto familiarity, we’ll get nowhere. And our students will continue to disconnect from what we do, noting the discrepancy between the “real” world—an ironically digital one—and our static educational world, leaving us behind in a cloud of chalk dust.

Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!



The best assignments are those that move students from where they are to where they could or should be, but how does the movement work? Is it akin to traveling on a road, making a series of stops, or is it more a snowball effect, creating mass? Most teachers “get” that a high-quality assignment incorporates critical thinking and standards, and that rigor equates to challenge.  However, we sometimes get caught up in creating individual challenging, rigorous lessons without determining how and where they impact the whole.  
If we consider every assignment as a singular event, we create a linear experience. The assignment may be high-quality and may even be rigorous, but if it’s developed with point A to point B thinking, we are buying into the mile-long, inch-deep approach.

However, if we consider each assignment as a connective transition, we don’t move linearly; we create an expanding sphere of knowledge and practice—a fusion of ideas that creates meaning for and from a larger whole. 

Consider the following assignment, which was part of a unit on Evil, which was part of a year-long English curriculum designed to help students contemplate the question “What makes us human?” 

They read Shelley’s Frankenstein and created collages representing their analyses of the symbolism in the novel. Use of a non-text response to a print medium is challenging on many levels, and I could have had them simply present their work and stopped there, assigning them a grade, which would’ve been an “okay” assignment. 

High quality? Sure, if you consider the multitude of standards embraced by it. Rigorous? Yes, at least according to what research has to say on this sort of thing.  

However, by understanding the idea that an assignment is a transition of thought, designed to expand thinking in connection to the next assignment (or unit), we can craft more in-depth, challenging coursework.
We created an art gallery and moved from picture to picture, discussing the works, but the artists were not permitted to speak about their own designs. They had to listen to how viewers interpreted their non-print symbolism analyses; thus, the assignment garnered analysis on two levels: from the spectator p.o.v. as well as self-reflective and evaluative levels (How well did I succeed in conveying the meaning?).
Then the students presented their intended meanings. The class took notes on the intentions, and wrote a rhetorical analysis. How and how well did the artist convey his/her argument for the symbolism in Frankenstein? 

So, for those keeping track: the students have analyzed for their own purposes (creating the collage), analyzed another’s purpose, evaluated, and self-evaluated. Here’s where we really make the biggest impact, though.

While we’d been working on these collages in-class, the students had read their next text: Dave Pelzer’s A Child Called ‘It’.  We had our standard discussion, ensuring comprehension and garnering reactions.
However, the students then had to select a poster (not their own), originally designed for Frankenstein, that they felt best represented an argument in It.  They made extremely powerful, emotional connections between Shelley and Pelzer, the Creature and David as well as Victor and Catherine, which further deepened their understanding of humanity. 

To arrive at the sort of assignment that quickens the intellect, teachers need to have the end in mind, but we also need to understand that the end isn’t a destination. It is a state of understanding that has been reached through a series of expanding, spherical layers. The destination is already inside the student, and purposefully layering assignments to help him/her attain  a personal depth of understanding is what a truly rigorous curriculum does.  
 Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!


In which I argue with a Tim Tebow


In this recent tweet, The Timmy Tebow brings up a valid point on the issue of priorities and values. He implies that the spending on campaign ads demonstrates a mis-step in priority and values, but he doesn’t articulate who makes the mis-step. In other words, who has spent the money on the ads? Who has provided the funding for the money to be spent?

I know that at least some of the money comes from voters. Or, at least, that’s what an influx of emails tells me every day. As of August 2012, Obama raised $348m  to Romney’s $193m so far. However, this doesn’t take into account additional fundraising from their parties – the Republicans have raised $239m  to the Democrats’ $210m – or the money generated by the campaigns’ political action committees (PACs) (McGuiness).

Those PACS can include corporations and unions. There are also non-profit, social welfare groups that contribute money.

So, we’ve got these categories of organizations that sound so vague and general, we sometimes forget that these organizations are comprised of people. Individual people. Primary voters.

When we give donations, we give an organization the right to use it however that organization sees fit to do so.  Whether we donate $3 or $3 million, our priority is made clear in the giving

Every time we choose to spend aka donate a dollar, we’re making an argument of our priority. 

We do love to say that we prioritize education.  (Focusing on education as this is an education blog.) We want our students to be on “top”, but we don’t want to pay a penny more in taxes. We cannot have the educational system of Finland, for example, which provides for truly equal opportunities for students. Why? Consider these points from Kaiser’s article,” Why Can't We Be Like the Finns?”

Finns live in smaller homes than Americans and consume a lot less. They spend relatively little on national defense…Their per-capita national income is about 30 percent lower than ours. Private consumption of goods and services represents about 52 percent of Finland's economy, and 71 percent of the United States'. Finns pay considerably higher taxes -- nearly half their income -- while Americans pay about 30 percent on average to federal, state and local governments.  

Willing to live in a smaller home so that our children can have a better education? Ready to spend less on national defense? Ready to pay half of your income to the government? 


Sorry, Mr. Tebow. Until we’re ready to demonstrate, through our choices of donation and spending, what our priorities are, then you will see millions of dollars spent on these and similar endeavors. It's far more accurate to tweet:

              American voters have spent almost a billion dollars on ad campaigns so far. 

Be mad. Be very mad.


Mindy Keller-Kyriakides is the author of Transparent Teaching of Adolescents: Defining the Ideal Class for Students and Teachers.  Become part of the conversation!