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Social Networking

The issue of social networking is interesting considering the population that I work with.

We use social networking through the SpeakOut!2.0 website; however, the women can only access this after they have been let out of jail. Further, the question arises. Will they want to access this social network once on the outside? It seems that most of the women want to leave this part of their life behind, and part of this life is SpeakOut! It isn’t that they aren’t proud of their writing, they are just ready to start a new part of life.

Social networking is difficult to use in some ways. While it is great to get people connected, it also requires a large amount of frontloading and preparation. With this particular group and with our populations, in some ways social media doesn’t work well. I think that the challenges are large and social networking doesn’t necessarily meet the aims we need.

I love technology and I love social networking; however, they should only be used when they have a purpose to fulfill. So many times groups use these types of media but nothing seems to come of it. You must be incredibly aware of your audience, and with our at risk audience they just don’t connect with social networking in ways that other groups might. This isn’t because they don’t want to but the access is greatly limited and when they do get to use it, there is the question of whether they want connections to that part of their life.

Sometimes social networking helps us connect and sometimes it helps us hold onto things we should have let go a long time ago. Perhaps this is the issue for the women in the jail. Just a thought.

Research Project Update : CLAS TALK

Thinking about my research project has made me think about audience more than I ever have before. Writing for someone other than a professor or friends presents a set of challenges I haven’t encountered previously. As someone who has never truly desired to publish something, this is a challenge. While I have always liked the idea, other interests have always taken precidence; however, I am beginning to understand the importance of publishing work. If I am to encourage my students to write and to take their writing outside of the classroom, I must also do the same. I must practice and model what I teach. Further, choosing to attempt publication causes me to write in a different way. Perhaps I am intimidated because I haven’t had many opportunities to write “for fun” or about something that I truly care about, not just something that meets a syllabus requirements.

Below is the link to the publication I am aiming to write something for as well as the “prompt”. It is a Colorado publication and smaller than some of the larger ones, for example NCTE.

Summer 2012: Stories from Our Classrooms

Stories matter–so argues Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Colorado educator and current president of NCTE. She is not alone in making this argument. Jerome Bruner explains that narrative is as natural to us as language, that we order our world, our lives, and our memories through stories. He says that stories are so powerful that they can even dictate how we see the world. Think about the stories our world tells right now about school and the value of the work of teachers. How do those stories dictate the way people understand what we do? It seems that the current dominate story about schooling centers on accountability and test scores, suggesting those are what’s most important in education, which has lead to to-down reform measures that doesn’t always work. But we all know that there is much we do in our classrooms and with our subject matter that is difficult to measure with a test score. Lucky for us, Bruner explains, we seek to tell alternate stories, and those alternate stories can actually change the way people think about some aspect of human experience. Martha Nussbaum sees this as stories’ subversive power: stories order our world, define our world, and reflect how we think of our world.This is powerful–so powerful that simply telling a different story about some life experience can actually change what that life experience means, actually changing how people think about it. NCTE is also moving in this direction with its new National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE). This aims to seek out schools where things are working in ways not necessarily measurable on the tests and to help those schools tell their stories.

If we don’t tell our own stories, we will be defined by the stories the world tells about us. So tell us a story. Be it a story of joy or frustration or hilarity, bring us into your classroom. Help the world to understand better what it is that we do.

Digital Storytelling

Denver Colorado’s Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) has a wonderful collection of short digital stories created by adults, teen, and youth covering various issues from education to identity, for example. The CDS defines digital storytelling as, “A short, first person video-narrative created by combining recorded voice, still and moving images, and music or other sounds.” The stories are short, ranging two to three minutes long each and have a narration component as well as pictures illustrating what is being spoken. The CDS has three main goals: 1) enable learning 2) build community 3) inspire justice. This nonprofit organization strives to reveal and share the value of individual voice and story.

 After visiting the site, I looked at three different stories, covering a variety of issues. The first was by a woman who immigrated to the United States and grew up on a ranch where her parents worked. Her story dealt with feelings she had to resolve surrounding the rancher and her family and their complicated relationship. The next story was written by a young boy who told of his gang, violence, and alcohol saturated community. He described his perfect safe place as his imagination, because there nothing could hurt him. Lastly, I watched a story of a young “transguy” as he put it, who grew up struggling under the assumptions that he would grow out of being a tomboy; however, he ended up in the juvenile system. This young man described how one social worker who cared to listen without judgment changed his life, saved him from a life in the system, and encouraged him to become a well-known California advocate for gay rights.

Over the summer, I had the incredible opportunity to be a part of a digital story telling project with the National Writing Project. As master teachers and pre-service teachers, we assisted a group of local, mostly minority students create digital stories using ipod/iphone/laptop/desktop/mac technologies (just to name a few). Coming from this experience, I learned that while technological literacy can be intimidating and a seemingly imposing hurdle, oftentimes this is not the case. Especially when creating digital stories with youth because they have an immense capability to acquire and use technological skills. We used a variety of tools from Apple’s Garage Band to Audacity. We used headphone recorders and “i-technology” to record their voices which accompanied (most often) hand drawn pictures of their stories. If digital storytelling is taken out of the classroom into the personal lives of adults, then the issue of access varies greatly.

    Digital storytelling was something new to me as of a year ago; however, after seeing the excitement on the phases of young girls and boys who watched their digital story for the first time, I am sold. The two young people I worked closest with will always stand out as perfect examples of the importance of digital storytelling, and perhaps it is more a reminder of the importance of storytelling in general (whether it be digital or not). When the boy I worked with told the story of acquiring the English language and continued to do two versions of the story (both in Spanish and English), I was blown away. He was pouring out a very intimate part of his identity and his struggle at home and personally with becoming an English speaker. The little girl I worked with was so shy, terrified to speak louder than a whisper. However, in order to be heard on the recording, she had to speak up which made her nervous; but, when she heard the play back of her voice her face lit up with an enormous smile. From that moment she gained a newfound confidence.

            Obviously, this new literacy is valuable and has a place in the lives of children, teens, and adults. Further, the short nature of the stories is a great introduction to new technologies. They don’t need to be extravagant productions, they just need to tell a story.

“We cannot take refuge in the silence…” : A commentary on violence and literacy.

“Trauma is caused by events which ‘overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning’” (Horsman).

We live in a world of hurt. This world is nowhere near perfect, and while some people believe that humanity is “progressing” and that world peace and gender equality are within reach, I tend to disagree. Rather, I plainly disagree. Perhaps people are seeing a different world than I do. Perhaps I am pessimistic about humanity, although I don’t think that is the case. Perhaps I just see things the way they are. I don’t believe that everything is going to hell in a hand basket; however, I do believe that over time greater injustices have occurred and more hurt has been created. I won’t go into the reasons why this has occurred, that is something you can investigate on your own; however, I do believe that it is a trend and that we must pay close attention to the consequences of that trend.

Jenny Horsman’s article, ” ‘But I’m Not a Therapist’ The Challenge of Creating Effective Literacy Learning for Survivors of Trauma” was enlightening to say the least. This article appealed to me for a variety of reasons. Not only did it apply to my experience in the local jail, but it also applied to my future as an educator. Whatever situation we are in, we must come into it knowing that many individuals have experienced some violence in their lives (whether emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual). Living in this world, it is hard to escape not being attacked in some area of your life. Horsman addresses specifically the difficulties that accompany being a literacy advocate and active literacy proponent.

One of her opening questions challenged me: “What impacts of abuse do you see in your literacy program/your work? How can/should literacy programs address these impacts of violence?”  These simply stated questions made me think about the jail and how so many of those women have been directly influenced by a variety of violence. How can literacy help them? There is no doubt that literacy and recovery from trauma are closely linked, as Horsman repeatedly claims. Writing is a freeing and empowering act. I think about my classrooms and wonder how my perspective of writing and other literacies will impact the student living with sexual abuse. Will I be able to bridge that gap, as Horsman claims? Will I be able to help those I work with, at jail or at school, redefine “normalcy” so they can move onto a next phase of learning and recovering?

Horsman addresses a critical component of literacy and violence when she discusses the direct role of the literacy worker. When I step into that jail or that classroom, I become the real me. However, what accompanies that role is also the, “cost to themselves [literacy worker] and a limit to what else they can take on in their lives as a consequence of their work in literacy.” When working with groups that have experienced violence, which can be well established is anyone, there is a burden that we as literacy workers take on. I remember after our second or third workshop at the jail, my supervisor asked how we personally debriefed the night. I never really thought until that moment how critically important it was to decompress from that experience. When we sit in that room we are sharing lives, stories, pain, happiness…a full range of human emotion and experience. That can be draining or inspiring, and sometimes both simultaneously.  Horsman highlights the importance of finding a community and support system for literacy workers, and I have been able to experience that importance first hand. I know that when I enter my own classroom it will be vital to have a support group because I will be with my students more hours of the day than not. They will be a part of my life, not something I just “leave at the office.”

Horsman’s article is worth reading and opened my eyes to things I knew existed but needing reminding of. Her connections make me think about this world we live in and the impact of relationship and literacy on life. Her statement, “we cannot take refuge in the silence about such trauma, it is vividly present” is a wakeup call we all need.

Some Personal Findings…


As I have journeyed through the teacher preparation program, I have come across many readings that have revealed things to me about SpeakOut!

A book that has been incredibly influential to my understanding, development of lessons, and interactions with the women writers is, Teaching for Joy and Justice by Linda Christensen. Her entire book is a collection of thoughts, lessons, and examples from her experiences teacher poetry. Now, it is important to note that Christensen takes a very powerful, sometimes controversial, and often incredibly satisfying role. She argues that taking the role of a social justice advocate is vitally important for teaching. She incorporates social justice into her lessons in ways that challenge her students to evaluate their own experience, the experiences of others (current and past), and how they can change the future experiences of those around them. This is powerful. Her lack of trepidation venturing into the marrying social justice and education inspired me.

Further, Christensen’s use of social justice issues through poetry excited me because it directly influenced how I viewed the writing produced by the LCDC women writers. It became blaringly evident to me that these women needed an outlet to take a active role in their lives. In many ways, they were advocates for themselves and for the other women in the room. Conversely, we were advocates for their voice through the publication and sharing of the program.

I believe that taking the role of a social advocate is a vitally important role to assume. Everyone has to assume that role at some point in their life. These women are doing so through writing, which is a liberating experience for them. Also, it is liberating for us to write and to be a part of their experience. Christensen demonstrates the importance of writing as a vehicle for social justice.

Reflection and Assessment

As I reflect on last semester and SpeakOut!, it amazes me how quickly the semester passed and how much change occurred in those brief weeks. Looking back, I have realized that misconceptions have been broken, fears have been addressed, skills have been developed, and a greater sense of social justice has arisen within me. To put, into writing, how immense and incredible this experience has been seems to trivialize it, because in no way can words encompass how I feel about the program.

It is important, with any experience, to have some way to assess it. While the word “assess” presents the idea of testing, and therefore, can create uncertainties in one’s mind, it is important to note that we assess every day. How was lunch? You typically answer the question with an assessment of some kind. What’s your favorite movie? An element of assessment goes into that answer as well. Webster’s Dictionary states that assessment includes deeming value, to evaluate something’s importance, and sometimes it can mean quantifying something.

I believe that SpeakOut! is assessed in a variety of ways. The excitement of the women during a prompt is an assessment. The amount of writing we receive can be an assessment of our ability to encourage writing. The consistency of numbers (participants) assesses the popularity of the program and the success of objectives and goals. Considering the nature of SpeakOut! and those objectives and goals, our assessment can look different than that of other organizations. I believe that assessment of actual writing isn’t the goal, whereas individual growth and discovery of a writing identity is the larger goal. Passion for writing is a primary assessment for me personally, because it is not the place or our right to assess the actual work. Some groups, such as UNESCO compile statistics, whereas SpeakOut! assesses on a more holistic scale.

It is important to note that no one way of assessing or no one thing to assess is “right,” just different. Assessment must fit the goals, because if it doesn’t there is little room to find growth and improvement. Assessment must fit the unique demographics and other context issues (time, place, age, sex/gender, social class, etc.). SpeakOut! has a very unique context that limits traditional assessment tools; however, in the same turn it opens wonderful ways to assess that allows more freedom in where we place value.


“The history of literacy can be looked at as a ‘great debate’ ” : Jim Gee

Jim Gee, in his chapter, “Literacy and the Literacy Myth: From Plato to Freire” presents provocative and intriguing declarations and arguments concerning literacy.  As a pre-service teacher, many of the issues that Gee presents are not new; however, I love reading selections that further challenge my beliefs about literacy. After reading this piece, I believe Gee’s arguments and claims are valid. He states, “widespread education does not necessarily lead to all the good things formerly attributed to literacy” and his overall argument that literacy means nothing without outside components acting on it, I believe, has truth (34).

When I look at my experience at the Larimer County Detention Center, I must realize that these women (more often than not) have had negative experiences with “formal” education. Therefore, it can be assumed that their view of literacy would be different than someone who had a positive experience. Gee is not arguing that literacy is void of meaning; however, he is suggesting a redefinition of literacy. The current literacy, in many ways reinforces social hierarchy, “two quite different sorts of literacy are being taught, one stressing thinking for oneself and suited to higher positions in the social hierarchy and one stressing deference and suited for lower positions” (35). This is quite true, especially when one looks at the track system currently in place in many schools. No, college academia is not for everyone; however, the right to have the same opportunity for thinking is. Why, then is literacy restricting this right? I think in many ways, Gee’s statement that, “In the end, we might say that, contrary to the literacy myth, nothing follows from literacy or school. Much follows, however, from what comes with literacy and schooling, what literacy and schooling come wrapped up in, namely the attitudes, values, norms, and beliefs (at once social, cultural, and political) that always accompany literacy and schooling” is correct (38). Literacy on its own (like anything on its own) is fairly worthless; however, it is what can be brought out of literacy in conjunction with experiences that endows literacy with value.

I believe that literacy, for the women at LCDC is freedom. I think that literacy, on its own for them would not provide anything wonderful, but in the midst of their situation it provides an outlet for them to express and discover. In the case of the SpeakOut! workshop, Gee’s idea that “Literacy practices are almost always fully integrated with, interwoven into, constituted part of, the very texture of wider practices that involve talk, interaction, values and beliefs” is embodied in the workshop because we bring in the assumption that prison is not an “end all” to one’s life (41). We bring to the room the beliefs and values that everyone has the right to write and that their experiences are worthy of being told. The women bring their beliefs and experiences in which they apply their personal literacy to come alive and break free.