Saturday, June 20, 2015

Performance - Practice - Literacy

A Response to Lankshear & Knobel, New Literacies, Chapter 2

As Lankshear and Knobel laid out their trajectory in the second chapter, I felt like I was drowning in all the new vocabulary. I've never read sociology, and this was a new use of language for me, and I struggled to hang on. There were a few landmarks that I felt I could focus my eyes on, and I will come back to them below. I began to trust my navigators (L&K) and relax, and by the end of the chapter I felt that I almost could understand and apply that summary sentence on page 46 (and repeated on the last page of the chapter). I'll type it out here, just to plant it more firmly in my head: literacies are
socially recognized ways in which people generate, communicate, and negotiate meanings, as members of Discourses, through the medium of encoded texts (p. 50).
I love a sentence like this, each word chosen so carefully, concise as a poem. The sentence serves as a guide, it's a story unto itself. Some pieces of the sentence are familiar to me from other sources. I recognize the idea of generating and negotiating meanings from cognitive neuroscience, for instance.

There were three distinct landmarks that jumped out at me. When Lankshear and Knobel wrote of social practices being "performed (p. 34)," it rang a bell for me. I am a professional performer (both as a musician and as a teacher), and it is not difficult to find performers who consciously practice (in the critical sense) and who come to see almost any activity in life as a performance. Another landmark was in the discussion of encoded texts:
Perhaps what is most important about literacy as a social phenomenon is that it enables people to do what cannot be done by orality alone (p. 40).
It was the word "orality" that struck me, and made clear for me the contrasting idea of encoded texts. The third landmark was this phrase: "a particular 'configuration' of literary practices: a literacy (p. 49, quoting Barton and Hamilton 1998)." I actually read the colon as an equal sign. These three pieces from the chapter helped me to hold the chapter's main sentence (from page 50, quoted above) in my head.

So I can read a sentence and convince myself that I know what it means. As a teacher, I know that real understanding comes with making actual use of the sentence. In the beginning this will mean making mistakes; misusing words, stumbling over meanings, applying concepts incorrectly. It is no different than struggling to learn and use Twitter and Blogger and Photoshop etc. Trying to read a book about literacy is a kind of literary practice. Here goes:

I can see that in my classroom I am trying to make my students literate in science generally, and physics specifically. I wish to create a Discourse of science students who can generate and negotiate physics meanings through the media of equations, explanations involving technical vocabulary, diagrams and graphs, digital simulations, and tangible demonstration equipment. In particular, I insist on seeing all of our encoded texts as narratives to some extent, in the belief that narrative, or story, is the most natural and accessible meaning vehicle.

1 comment:

  1. I love how you explore your discomfort with our sociology text in the beginning of your writing then take us through your learning journey. You walk us through the points that resonate with you such as "perform" and "orality", but then you take a stab at defining your Discourse as a physics teacher. From my perspective, you define it as beautifully and succinctly as the quote you adore, "socially recognized ways in which people generate, communicate, and negotiate meanings, as members of Discourses, through the medium of encoded texts (Lankshear and Knobel, 50)." Nice work William.