Tag Archives: Davidson

Class, Fri, 3/07

Going Meta (1): Responses to responses [pdf]

Davidson, Now You See Itmooc-online-learning

Fastwrite: Take a few minutes to write a brief comment in reply to a post that you’d like to say something back to, but haven’t yet had time to do so. See if you can link your comment to a particular moment in Davidson’s text.

Going Meta (2): #685dw

x4: Concept in 60

Some examples

(Composed in English 211s, Duke University, Spring 2013)

iMovie 09 Basics

Thinking about Twitter

To do

  1. Tues, 3/04, 4:00 pm: Post x4, Concept in 60, to this site.
  2. Thurs, 3/06, 4:00 pm: Read Trubek and Rosen on Twitter.  Post at least one example of each of Trubek’s four types of tweets (headlines, questions, quips, responses) to #685dw.  If possible, try to do this work on Thursday, so these tweets are near the top of the feed.

x3- Books and Video Games as Interchangeable Vice

Davidson’s book got me thinking a great deal about how I experienced learning as a child and what it would have been like if the tables were turned.  As an elementary school student, I was “the bookworm.”  I carried at least one book on my person at all times and was caught reading Goosebumps under my desk in my first-grade math class on more than one occasion.  Eventually, the school librarians gave me a special dispensation of sorts where I was allowed to take out five or six books per week while everyone else only got to take out two.  I read to the exclusion of almost every other activity, and my teachers and parents encouraged me to read as much as I wanted.

My younger brothers, however, were a different story.  Although they were never opposed to reading, in grade school they would have much preferred to play video games.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s, however, parents and teachers looked upon video games with skepticism, which Davidson attributes to concern stemming from the Columbine incident (147).  Much to my brothers’ constant irritation, video games were a privilege at home- you had to ask Mom’s permission to play them, and you were restricted to an hour or so of playing time.  There were no Call Of Duty-esque games in the house until about 2006, when the older of the two was about fourteen, and even after that, both boys had very restricted gaming time.  In the absence of homework or chores that needed to be done, they’d be told to go “read a book.”

Davidson asserts that “games have been considered an important tool for teaching complex principles and honing sophisticated forms of procedural thinking,” and that such activities can teach players to recognize “all parts of a problem, all possibilities for winning and for losing, [. . .] and the best set of responses (procedures) to maximize success” (146).   Science has apparently proven that they improve multitasking abilities, hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and metabolic function, (149-50).  I was not aware of any of this, to be honest.  I’ve never been a gamer, and I don’t see the attraction.   However, now that I understand a bit more of the science behind how games work, things make a bit more sense.

It makes sense now that both of my brothers are great with team work and have a more positive view of dealing with other people.  On the other hand,  I loved the isolation and pure imagination that came with books, and am typically a bit more apprehensive of working with others.  Where I love endlessly discussing strange theoretical ideas and minutia, both of my brothers enjoy and are skilled in the application and processes of creating a cohesive product.  All three of us are skilled, but in markedly different ways.  Of course, all of this begs the question:  Do games and books attract people of a certain personality type, or do they have a heavy hand in creating them?  For space’s sake, I won’t go into that.

In the above clip, from the 2006 Doctor Who episode “Tooth and Claw,” the Doctor encourages his companions– including Queen Victoria herself– to arm themselves with books and knowledge in order to defeat the werewolf-like creature that is terrorizing Torchwood Estate.  In this context,  the books are defensive mechanisms, preparing the Doctor and his companions to deal with the aggressions of a dangerous enemy.   If books were demonized even half as much as video games have been, education and childhood for children around the world would have been markedly different.  If those tables were turned and books were limited and seen as a vice because they were regarded as dangerous and violence-inducing, the Doctor, Rose Tyler, and Queen Victoria might have been in a very different sort of situation.

I was fortunate to have teachers who understood how important reading was to me, and more than one of them made a point to encourage reading, response, and analysis as a part of their curriculum.  My third grade teacher created an optional advanced reading activity group for about twelve students, in which we read different books and had our own special binders for discussion and response.  Davidson seems to agree with my opinion that reading is one of the most important ways to encourage imagination and curiosity in learners of all ages, calling the kindergarteners “the luckiest children on earth” (98).  Not only do they they have the privilege of quiet time to spend reading whatever they choose, but they have an educator who recognizes and encourages independent, self-directed learning.

On page 129, Davidson poses the concept of a year-end “boss-level challenge,” a project (or several smaller related projects) produced from the cumulative learning and particular skills of each student.  It makes so much sense that I’m astounded it hasn’t been implemented more widely in the mainstream.  Instead of testing arbitrary and generally irrelevant knowledge, such a project would give students a platform to develop useful skills like reasoning, communication, the importance of community outreach, and research.  Basically, it sounds like a masters’ thesis for kids that is almost more applicable to real-world situations than an actual master’s thesis.  Whether the project incorporates the skills and ideas they learn from books or video games, all that matters is that it would measure their useful life skills and arm them to be productive contributors to society.

I realized that I never actually got to talking about a classroom educational experience, but I will say that I wish this book had been around when I was in elementary school.  If educators had realized the apparent potential that video games have for developing skills applicable to the classroom and real life, I feel like I would have had a very different and more diversely enriching school experience.  I wouldn’t trade my love of books and the enrichment that they’ve contributed to my life for anything.  However,  Now You See It has forced me to consider the value of video games, which I have generally viewed as useless and a waste of time, and think about how learning would be different if it was books that were considered dangerous vices.

Eternal Sunshine of a Distracted Mind

I am fascinated by the attention-versus-distraction theory upon which Davidson builds the initial standpoint of her work. The idea that whatever exists and whatever does not exist in our current consciousness is a result of lifelong interactions between attentions that are marginalized by distractions and distractions that succeed in becoming attentions attracts my attention, or in other words distracts me from another attention! I would accept that my mind and my world are continuously constructed and deconstructed by two apparently opposite forces playing the leading roles of the same game. Whatever is considered to be my valuable intention today has once played the role of a deceiving distraction from an everyday life. To choose a human science as my major could be a kind of distraction when I look at it from the dominant intention of the surrounding world. However, when one spends some years inside a deliberately chosen distraction and dominates it and calls it specialization, the second level of the game shows up, when anything beyond that specialization would be estimated, or underestimated, as a distraction. This is not really a rule; this is what an educated mind accepts as a rule to get rid of the constant invasion of uncontrollable distractions that remind it of all human limitations in mastering a vast territory. Life is short, choose your path and forget about other journeys. The path is your attention, the attention is your intention, and all other journeys are distractions.

Following the current academic tendencies in the humanities, I would equalize attention with specialization, and distraction with whatever beyond that specialization. “Without focus the world is chaos” (Davidson 2) but how are we going to preserve our small order, or focus, and be satisfied with that in a world that is decentralizing everything by interconnecting infinite centers to each other. Now that in the digital world many apparent boundaries between attentions and distraction are passable by a simple click on an unrelated link and “everything links to everything and all of it is available all the time” (6) how could we draw a line around a territory and call it our field of specialization without being concerned or curious any more about anything that exists beyond that hypothetical line?

“Attention is about difference” (49) but if it is not challenged by new distractions I would call it a sign of indifference rather than a prolonged difference. I would like to go beyond the secure boundaries of conventionally defined fields that justify exclusions before inclusions. I believe in interdisciplinary approaches and interactive projects in different levels of education as the dynamic patterns of keeping balance between attentions and distractions in a world that does not draw any absolute boundaries between various subjects any more. Through interdisciplinary approaches hypothetical boundaries are pushed away and what used to be called a distraction would function as an essential component of the central attention; and that would be in harmony with the basic structure of the digital world.

To keep going through the tension of attentions and distractions,  is to dance among the illusionary boundaries of lights and shadows. I have always tried to move forward through that tension, if distractions do not entrap my attention anymore, that means  I have lost my ability of intellectual survival , and the game is over.

“No one can live at that speed!”: Bilingualism and Language “Wiring”

Cathy Davidson’s main interest in Now You See It seems to be the plasticity and adaptability of the brain in general, with a particular focus on the ways in which this natural behavior and selective attention should be reflected in the ways we learn and teach. Yet, because of my own personal experience, I was particularly intrigued by another thread that kept on coming up in her work: bilingualism.

I grew up in a bilingual English/German household, and have spoken both languages fluently since before I can remember. Since my mother (a native German speaker) worked evenings until I was well past my toddlerhood, I spent most of my waking hours with her for my first few years. At that point, I probably spoke German more naturally and fluently than I did English, despite being otherwise surrounded by English-speakers in the small central NY town my parents and I lived in. This of course quickly changed once I entered pre-school and grade school; it was then that I discovered that bilingualism—a thing that was so mundanely normal for me—was not the norm for everyone, but a source of fascination for my peers (“How do you say x in German? Do you know any bad words?”). To use Davidson’s phrasing, I suddenly saw “others treating our ways of doing things strange” (35) and realized the necessity of acknowledging and commenting on this part of myself–as well as suppressing it in the completion of my  schoolwork. My bilingualism and my cultural heritage at once became my fallback “fun fact” about myself when meeting new people (or on the first day of school/summer camp), but also sometimes resulted in people using this linguistic category as “shorthand” (34), assuming I automatically possessed other “German” traits. The double-edged sword of cultural ownership/imposed labeling is a keen one.

Like Davidson’s Little Andy, I only became aware of these “cultural scripts” (35) because of the attention paid to them by others, not so much by my family in this case, but by my learning community. As an adult, I still cannot say I can fathom NOT knowing two languages–that is still my normal–but I can more fully appreciate the complex sorts of code-switching that I am capable of. These inevitably occur in even the most everyday conversations between my parents, sister, and I (which makes conference calling an interesting listening experience for any eavesdroppers):

The Clark family communication circuit.png
The blue arrows indicate communication in German; the yellow in English. Even though all of us can speak both, each person’s choice of language depends on who they are talking to.

In reading Davidson and remembering my own experiences, I was reminded of a bit from Eddie Izzard’s 1998 filmed performance, Dress to Kill (original clip uploaded to YouTube by melinda923). In the clip in question, he mimics a quintessentially stodgy Brit complaining about the increasing imperative to speak more than one language: “Two languages in one head? No one can live at that speed!,” Izzard’s Stodgy Brit exclaims, dismayed.

Eddie Izzard on Bilingualism (I’ve had a  bit of trouble getting this to play on TubeChop–it should be 1:51-2:12  of the original video linked above).

Of course, his tongue-in-cheek comment makes the point that many people do indeed “live at that speed” (in and outside of Europe), but that English-speakers are notoriously stubborn about doing so. Language and translation are topics that come up often in Izzard’s stand-up routines, and which obviously interest him on a broader, more serious level as well; he has even performed on tour in both French and German.  Is Izzard (though not a pedagogue himself) not right in encouraging the forging of new connections based on the acquisition and/or cultivation of a new/alternate code of communication?

Izzard’s point therefore seems well taken in relation to the ways in which bilingualism (and second language acquisition) is treated in the average American school environment—that is to say, too often with heavy-handed inefficiency and oversight, as Davidson also suggests (94). One might even extend this to the foreign language examinations required of English graduate students: in the age of readily available access to tools ranging from scholarly translations to Google Translate, how necessary is it really to have superficial reading competency (much less full fluency) in another language—or two? Many admit that the exam is somewhat outdated, and what it tests is no longer fully relevant to all in the field, but are there not ways in which it could be better made to?

In a way, these discussions of bilingualism—the rewards and challenges—seem also to align themselves with those of digital literacies: both are often perceived as skills worth cultivating, but ones we are still trying to gauge and deploy with often incongruent measures. Perhaps my ultimate question is this: can we really ever be bilingual English/digital? Can we  ever truly “live at that speed”?

Close Listening

On the first day of the semester, I have my students play “Two Truths and a Lie” as a get-to-know-you/ice-breaker activity. Last semester, my three “facts” were that I was thirty years old, that I had a daughter, and that I didn’t read any books over the summer. Pretty much every student suspected that the third one was a lie. Sure I look young, but how could an ENGLISH teacher not read any books? Blasphemy!

All of the students that guessed the third one were, however, wrong. The correct lie was “I have a daughter” (but don’t tell my spoiled dog who thinks she’s human). Perhaps though my truth was a bit misleading. Yes, I didn’t read any books, but I didn’t listen to quite a few (the whole 5,000ish pages of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, actually).

I listened to all of these books on my iPhone, much in the way that Cathy Davidson describes Duke students circa 2003 listening to various lectures and recordings on their iPods. When describing the benefits of being able to listen to course material at their own leisure, Davidson explains how all classes “could be taped and listened to anywhere. [Students] didn’t have to go to the library or the language lab to study. [Students] could listen to assignments on the bus, at the gym, while out on a run—and everyone did” (66).

Here Davidson points to a very real benefit of being able to listen to course material on the go: the convenience. Not only do you not have to go to the library to study, you don’t have to sit down. As Davidson notes, you can go to the gym or commute, but you can also do a variety of other necessary tasks, such as grocery shopping or cleaning. Basically, you no longer have wasted time. You can make it so that you are always working.

While this is an important benefit of being able to listen to texts, it is, however, not the only benefit. Audiobooks have advantageous aspects, even if you listen to them curled up in an armchair with a cup of tea. For instance, I am a really slow reader. Like, painfully slow. But with audiobooks, my reading speed is predetermined (and much faster than it would be otherwise). My mind doesn’t wander the way that it does with traditional texts, partly because it’s like listening to someone tell you a story. I feel somewhat obligated to make sure that I’m paying close attention, lest I hurt the narrator’s feelings.

Additionally, audiobooks can add material to the text that cannot exist in a traditional print format. Watch this quick clip to see what I mean. For those of you unfamiliar with the story you just heard excerpted, it’s considered to be the first gothic novel. And even if you were unfamiliar with what that genre entails, you’d probably be able to venture a pretty good guess from that 20 second clip. The narrator’s stony voice, the hushed whisper at the end, and—perhaps most importantly for my point—the clap of thunder and rain at the end of the chapter all provide the atmosphere that is quintessential to the gothic novel. While the text of the novel does not need these added elements in order to be gothic, I nonetheless think they add something valuable to it.

Yet despite all of these benefits, audiobooks are still not considered “serious” by the academy. Davidson asserts that after the introduction of iPods, “sound suddenly had a new educational role in our text- and visuals-dominated classroom” (66). While this may have been the case at Duke in 2003, I do not think it remains so for universities as a whole. Listening to audiobooks instead of regular books is certainly not encouraged, and I’m hesitant to even admit that I do.

When I was talking about this issue the other day with someone —who is also a self-admitted audiobook fanatic—he asked me: “How do you talk in class about a book you listen to? You can’t close read it, right?” And no, you can’t close read, but you can close listen, and I, for one, think that that is just as good.

Now You See It, Now I Don’t: How Schools are Failing Our Children

My fourth grade daughter reports that of each school day, she only enjoys 40 minutes. And surprisingly, it’s not lunch and recess.

For less than an hour, she and a handful of other “advanced” students leave the regular classroom and spend time in “enrichment” class. There, Evelyn and her cohort read (more) challenging texts, debate how to solve difficult word problems, and craft creative responses to writing prompts.

“Something I really like is when we break into groups and each group has a set of algebra problems to do,” says Evelyn. “I feel like I learn better that way because I have something that I can share with the other people, and seeing what other people did helps me too.”

As far as enrichment goes, Evelyn’s teacher requires nothing remarkably collaborative, challenging, or interdisciplinary. Yet compared to how learning happens in my daughter’s regular classroom, the approaches taken by her enrichment teacher look revolutionary.

When she goes back to class after enrichment, Evelyn must then make up the work she missed in class; she often brings home a stack of worksheets and worry about whether she will earn an NP (Nearing Proficiency), MP (Meeting Proficiency), or EP (Exceeding Proficiency) on her next standardized test. (How someone can *exceed* proficiency is beyond me, but that’s quibbling over semantics.)

In other words, the learning she and her friends do in enrichment isn’t seen as replacing or even extending the regular curriculum. She still must complete every worksheet in order to ensure solid results on the standardized test that Delaware requires she take three times a year, every year.

When I talked with my daughter about some of the classroom projects Cathy Davidson writes about in her book, Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21st Century, she expressed admiration and a tinge of jealousy. The process-based methods used by innovative teachers like those at Voyager Academy and Quest 2 Learn were both alien and appealing to her.

Mostly what she longs for is to learn in interesting ways. Nearly every subject–from science to social studies, language arts to math–has the potential to interest her and her classmates, but the perpetual testing cycle and limitations of time and focus discourage fun, curiosity, and questions.

The elementary-aged kids I talk to know that the system is broken; they know that standardized testing, at least in its current form, is a chain hanging around their teachers’ (and by proxy, their educations’) necks. But they’re trapped.

“Standardized tests just show what you wrote. They don’t show what you actually know,” explains Evelyn. “Something like a project can show how much a student cares about their work.”

Evelyn, limited by her formal school experiences as well as by her youth, would probably admire Davidson’s idea of an “exciting end-of-grade test” (130). Davidson proposes an end of year “synthesis” that students would create that would use what they had learned that year. The project would show “each child what he or she could do in the world,” and these ideas would be on display at an “idea sale” (130).

In my searching online for a video intersecting with Davidson’s theoretical concepts and my hopes for my children, I found a video made by a class of 7th graders in Joanna Sanders Bobiash’s Grade 7 class at École Wilfrid Walker School. The video, which won the 2009 “Best in Class” Best Buy Contest, grew out of a collaborative text written by the students based on their goals for the future and the impact of technology on their lives.

See the video here (I’m having trouble getting it to embed from tubechop).

Now, there are many other more polished videos available on Youtube, even those ostensibly made by middle schoolers. This one did not stand out to me because of its professionalism; the video footage and editing is fine and the audio quality is okay.

What moved me deeply was getting to hear the words and voices of young adolescents speaking their goals and dreams. Not by themselves in private. Not to a friend or family member. But as a team, to the world (and in two languages, no less!).

One young woman says, “I want to share my work with the world and learn from their feedback.”

That simultaneous confidence in reaching out and acknowledgement of what one has yet to learn, it seems to me, are at the heart of Davidson’s manifesto: “Confidence in your ability to learn is confidence in your ability to unlearn,” writes Davidson, “to switch assumptions or methods or partnerships in order to do better” (86).

Schools that encourage and reward that simultaneous confidence (learning) and awareness of personal shortcomings (unlearning): that’s what I want for my daughters and my son.

But when another thick packet of worksheets and workbook pages land on the kitchen counter, it’s hard to feel hope that a place like Ms. Bobiash’s 7th grade class and Q2L and Voyager Academy are more than rare mirages in an educational morass.

Now I See It: Standardized Testing vs Experimental Learning

Entering high school, I had a choice between two tracks in the Math department: the traditional path (Geometry, Algebra II, Pre-Calculus, and Advanced Placement Calculus) or the Interactive Mathematics Program (IMP). According to our guidance counselors, IMP encouraged group work and problem-solving that emphasized critical thinking over individual memorization of mathematical skills. You started with IMP I and then moved through the following three levels, each of which integrated mathematical concepts into “real-world” and technical applications.

I chose Geometry.

What would, to Cathy Davidson (and to me, today) seem like the much more exciting option was by far the more worrying. I was more comfortable with the traditional classroom where you were evaluated on your own individual work through homework and on exams. I wasn’t alone either. IMP was widely considered by my peers as the program for those students who weren’t “smart enough” to succeed in the traditional path.

I can’t say, however, that I regret the decision I made, even if I recognize the problems with my (my peers’, my schools’, etc.) previous thinking. It wasn’t only that I was scared to break out of the traditional mode. It was more that it seemed like that class would work against me. Because Math was not the most interesting subject for me, I wanted the skills for one primary reason: testing. Not only for the more familiar testing that came with the average math classroom, but also for the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS). And not just MCAS, but the SAT’s. And, finally, the AP exam and college placement tests. Passing the MCAS was a graduation requirement, and scoring within the top 25% of your high school class led to free in-state tuition at state universities. Passing a certain threshold for the SATs was necessary for many universities, and the AP was crucial for the more prestigious colleges. Doing well on placement exams (along with AP credit) meant I wouldn’t have to take as many math courses at the college level.

All of these tests were built around a traditional understanding of mathematics. So, what would be the point of IMP? I didn’t see one at fourteen, and the tests certainly did not (do not) support the type of interactive, immersive learning IMP promised. As Davidson argues in Now You See It, although the job market today requires “attention to surprise, anomaly, difference, and disruption” (77), the educational system relies on standardized testing geared toward college preparation (75).

What I want to draw attention to in addition to this, however, is something beyond Davidson’s point about tests failing to consider new ways of learning among children, but how students are blamed for perceived failure. I’d like to take a look at this clip from Boy Meets World

Boy Meets World “Quiz Show” Clip (Full clip posted by KillerRhino)

This episode of Boy Meets World, “Quiz Show,” aired in 1997, still eight years before I would begin high school  (Episode Information). In the episode, Cory, Topanga, and Shawn participate in a knowledge game show that moves from testing traditionally academic knowledge to pop culture trivia.  On the one hand, I can understand Mr. Feeny’s frustration as the quiz show begins as this:

Quiz Show 1

And becomes this:

Quiz Show 2


Yet, I am more interested in how the instructor blames the students for pursuing the wrong knowledge and using technology for the wrong reasons. At the same time the students are accused of wasting their time playing Mario (a game, which I’m sure Davidson would point out, encourages collaboration in many versions), the classroom is empty of any technology. The games that they play would lead to Davidson’s call for surprise (as did the transformed game show they participated in). Feeny’s classroom, however, doesn’t suggest any technological advancement, and as far as I can recall, computers weren’t featured on the show until the characters are in college. There may have been a website published every six seconds, but at no point is there a class project encouraging students to use those resources.

Mr. Feeny goes on to say to the class, “Shame on you. You deserve what you get.” I remember seeing a rerun of this episode a few months ago, prior to reading Davidson’s work, and my initial feeling was one of guilt, being a part of the generation fairly ruthlessly criticized.

The educational system blames students for its own failings – just as the standardized tests poorly designed to evaluate student learning point blame toward students instead of reflecting their own inadequacies. It’s not surprising that Feeny’s lecture opens by lamenting students’ supposedly declining verbal and mathematical skills. More than 15 years later, the situation is remarkably similar. My sister (who is 10) has to take many more standardized tests than I did. And IMP has been discontinued at my high school.