I love Time magazine and I subscribe to their Ten Most Popular Stories of the Week email. One of the stories this week seemed relevant to anyone working with young people. Here is a link to the article, What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed by Christina Hoff Sommers. Her three main suggestions are: bring back recess, turn boys into readers, and work with the young male imagination. This may not be groundbreaking advice, but it’s something that we all find a challenge.
The article includes a link to Guys Read (http://guysread.com/), a web-based literacy program for boys founded by author Jon Scieszka, which I’m definitely going to explore.
American Enterprise Institute. (2013, October 28). What schools can do to help boys succeed: AEI Top Three [YouTube clip]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8-F4VRJQsM
Sommers, Christina Hoff. (2013, October 28). What Schools Can Do to Help Boys Succeed. Time magazine. Retrieved from http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/28/what-schools-can-do-to-help-boys-succeed/
Reflecting on my studies of Youth, Popular Culture and Texts, one of the main concepts I’ve come to understand is participatory culture, which has led us to question which skills are necessary to succeed in this new culture. Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century by Henry Jenkins et al (2006) discusses the implications of participatory culture for education in school and out-of-school contexts. The report points out the potential benefits of participatory culture and argues that all students need not only access to technology but also opportunities to participate and develop the new media literacies: cultural competencies and social skills developed through collaboration and networking, building on “the foundation of traditional literacy, research skills, technical skills, and critical analysis skills taught in the classroom” (Jenkins et al, 2006, p. 4).
The report identifies eleven core skills necessary for participation in this new media culture. It’s easy for teachers to view this as yet another responsibility added to their already full workload, taking away from their core role of teaching the content of their subjects. I teach English to adult international students, so my initial reaction was that it’s not in my job description to teach media literacies. But isn’t it also part of my job to foster the range of skills and literacies my students need to communicate in English and become active participants in this 21st century culture?
The report (Jenkins et al, 2006, p. 22-55) provides some examples of how these core skills can be developed in formal and informal educational contexts, which I’ve used and adapted to explore ways I could incorporate them into my ESL teaching. Hopefully this will demonstrate how these core skills can be developed in any context, which might give you some inspiration for your own situation.
Play: Experimenting with your surroundings as a form of problem-solving
Why is play a central feature of early childhood development, but often considered a waste of time for adults? A growing body of evidence points out the potential benefits of gaming and I’m sure many other teachers have been asked by their young adult students, ‘Can we play a game?’ While this may partly be due to their perception of games as more fun and less serious than traditional classwork, there’s no doubt that young people are engaged as they’re drawn into the world of the game, motivated by a goal and developing skills as they play. According to Jenkins et al (2006, p. 23), “play lowers the emotional stakes of failing: players are encouraged to suspend some of the real world consequences of the represented actions, to take risks and learn through trial and error.”
Jenkins et al (2006, p. 24) suggest games and activities that encourage free-form experimentation and open-ended speculation. Here are some of my ideas for incorporating this into ESL teaching:
- Problem solving activities could be incorporated into a variety of lessons.
- Speculation about current, historical and future real-life events could be used in grammar lessons (eg. conditionals, modal verbs for speculation and predictions) and discussions.
- Storytelling activities like fractured fairy tales could promote speculation by modifying traditional stories, analysing stereotyping and conventions. (Some resources: http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/fairytales/; http://teacher.scholastic.com/writewit/mff/fractured_fairy.htm; http://www.thebookchook.com/2013/02/fractured-fairy-tales.html)
- Students could create a ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ story, speculating what would happen if different choices were made. A film like Sliding Doors could be used to introduce the concept.
- A variety of games can be used to develop communication skills and practise grammar and vocabulary. Many traditional activities can be adapted into games or challenges.
- Students can be encouraged to speculate during pre- and post-reading and listening tasks.
- Students should be encouraged to deduce the meaning of vocabulary from context.
Simulation: Interpreting and constructing dynamic models of real-world processes
Jenkins et al (2006, p. 25) point out the value of learning through direct observation and experimentation, which is now easier than ever thanks to new forms of simulation, which “broaden the kinds of experiences users can have with compelling data, giving us a chance to see and do things that would be impossible in the real world.”
The video games and high-tech simulations described in the report are unlikely to be possible in an English classroom, but I’ve tried to think of ways ESL students could be involved in manipulating and interpreting existing simulations, and creating models of real world processes:
- Simulations – similar to role-plays as students work together on a task, but they don’t adopt an alternative identity
- Business English – simulated business situations (eg. design and market a product and pitch to investors)
- Creating models and charts of real world processes and information, which could be used to practise IELTS Writing Task 1. Hans Rosling’s Gapminder (http://www.gapminder.org/) and TED Talks (http://www.ted.com/speakers/hans_rosling.html) could be useful.
- Design your own game based around a topic of interest/study
Performance: Adopting alternative identities for improvisation and discovery
Role play is an important skill which can be used for a variety of purposes. By putting ourselves in the role of another person, we’re forced to examine our own identity and relationships with others, and rethink our own perspectives and views of the world. Jenkins et al (2006, p. 31) argue that instead of treating role play as “a means to an end – a fun way to introduce other kinds of content,” the skills themselves are actually quite valuable.
Performance can easily be incorporated into ESL classes through:
- Roleplaying – especially useful for practising functional language, cross-cultural understanding and speaking skills
- Use Fakebook to create fake profiles (eg. fictional/historical figures), then role play interviews
- Improvisation – could be introduced by showing TV programs like Thank God You’re Here or Whose Line is it Anyway
- Business English – Epistemic games (Shaffer, as cited in Jenkins et al, 2006, p. 31), which simulate the social context of a profession
- Model UN (http://amunc.net/; http://www.brizmun.org/) could be simulated in the classroom or as a whole-school event with representatives from different classes
Appropriation: Meaningfully sampling and remixing media content
Sampling and remixing existing media content is a major aspect of participatory culture, which may be difficult to accept for educators who emphasise the importance of original, autonomous work. However, Jenkins et al (2006, p. 32-33) point out that all forms of creative expression build on previous works in some way. The main difference is that it’s now so much easier thanks to digitisation and accessibility, which only strengthens the need to discuss the ethical and legal considerations involved in sampling and remixing. Jenkins et al (2006, p. 33) explains that appropriation or sampling provides scaffolding for beginners, allowing them to focus on a few original aspects until they gain the confidence and skills to create their own work. Intelligent appropriation or transformation actually demonstrates analysis and understanding of the content as they take it apart and put it back together.
ESL or English teachers could encourage students to “dissect, transform, sample, or remix existing cultural materials” (Jenkins et al, 2006, p. 33), such as:
- Adaptations from one media format to another
- Adaptations from one genre to another (eg. essay to debate; CV to application letter; letter of complaint to review)
- Modern adaptations of historical stories and literature, such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet or The Great Gatsby (see my group member Kate G’s blog post about this)
- Fractured fairy tales
- Fan fiction (http://www.fanfiction.net/ could be useful)
Part 2 coming soon…
Jenkins, J, Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A.J., & Weigel, M. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF
Project New Media Literacies: Learning in a Participatory Culture http://www.newmedialiteracies.org/
Teachers’ Strategy Guides http://www.newmedialiteracies.org/teachers-strategy-guide/
Project PLAY (Participatory Culture and You) http://playnml.wikispaces.com/PLAY!
Project New Media Literacies. (2008). The new media literacies [YouTube clip]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEHcGAsnBZE
As I’ve been teaching international students in their 20s while learning about Youth, Popular Culture and Texts, what’s struck me is that the differences between generations seem to be more about how young people are engaging in popular culture, rather than what they’re engaging with. The content may have changed, but we still have boy bands, pop music, teen soap operas and all of those things that have been traditionally associated with pop culture. The main difference is the technology used and the way young people participate in this culture.
More and more recently, I find myself talking about ‘kids these days,’ a phrase that I never imagined that I’d be using in my mid-30s. Listening to my parents and other older people complain about the younger generation, particularly the perceived deterioration in pop culture, I always wondered whether we all inevitably reach a certain age when we begin to nostalgically treasure everything from our own youth and criticise anything new. Perhaps with the rapid pace of technological and societal change, we can no longer view a generation as a 15 year period. To be honest, I’m glad that I’m part of the generation that grew up without much of this technology, so we picked up the technological skills (some of them, at least) while realising that it’s possible to live without technology.
In particular, I find myself wondering why I’m so disconcerted by young people’s reliance on mobile phones and other forms of technology. During the breaks between classes, my 20-something international students sit around, staring at their mobile phones, with little interaction or communication with each other. They’ve come all the way to Australia and have the opportunity to talk to so many different people, yet they don’t. Why?
Firstly, I think young people often use their phones as security blankets. Instead of having to make small talk and risk uncomfortable silences, the pressure’s taken off when they at least appear to be using their phones. For Generation X (like myself) and the older generation, it seems a bit rude and antisocial to use your mobile phone when you’re with other people, but many young people don’t see anything wrong with it. In her TED Talk Connected But Alone, Sherry Turkle (2012) explains that people want to spend time together but keep each other at a distance, in amounts they can control, which she calls the Goldilocks effect. She argues that “we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.” By using their mobile phones in these situations, young people can maintain that distance while remaining close enough to have the option of engagement and communication. This might be acceptable if they’re with people from their own generation, but there are plenty of situations in which we need to be able to make small talk, such as mingling and networking with clients at business events. Are young people learning the necessary social and communication skills?
Secondly, there’s an increasing need to feel connected and keep up with the fast pace of information being distributed through the internet and social networking in particular. This would naturally be stronger among young people living abroad, like my students, but I managed to survive several years in Japan in the late 90s without any of this communications technology. In fact, I think I would’ve felt more homesick if I’d been constantly in touch with people at home. The difference is that young people are so used to always being connected that they constantly feel the need to check their phones or computers.
Turkle (2012) explains that people want to spend time together, but at the same time they also want to be connected to all the different places they want to be. The question is whether it’s possible to be in many places and devote your attention to many things at the same time. By engaging with their phones, young people are disengaging from the people right in front of them. Are all those little chunks of connection via phone or internet really worth sacrificing these opportunities for face-to-face communication? In real life, we have to pay attention to the boring bits. Are we raising a generation that simply tunes out if it’s not all about them and their own interests? If so, will employers just have to accept that they’ll never have their employees’ full attention?
Turkle (2012) argues that our mobile phones “are changing our minds and hearts because they offer us three gratifying fantasies. One, that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; two, that we will always be heard; and three, that we will never have to be alone.” Many people aren’t used to being alone with their thoughts and feelings, so they feel isolated and try to solve the problem by reaching for technology, but Turkle (2012) believes that this attempt at connection is more like a symptom than a cure. In her opinion, solitude and self-reflection are important and we need to teach children how to be alone and entertain themselves. Most importantly, we also need to make time for real conversations.
I think that mobile phones and other forms of technology have transformed our lives in many positive ways which cannot be ignored. However, I can’t help contemplating the question I posed as the title of this post: Does communications technology really encourage communication? What do you think?
Turkle, S. (2012). Connected, but alone? [Video file]. TED 2012. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together.html
Other work by Sherry Turkle:
Turkle, S. (2010). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. Retrieved from http://alonetogetherbook.com/
Turkle, S. (2012, April 21). The flight from conversation. New York Times Sunday Review: The Opinion Pages. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/22/opinion/sunday/the-flight-from-conversation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0