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Digital Is (K)not

Digital Is (K)not

Written by UNC Charlotte Writing Project
November 08, 2011

Paper sketches, sticky notes and daybooks are scattered around a table at Jackson’s Java.  Lil, Lacy and Steve sit in the midst of the paper with more words and images on laptops, ipads and smart phones.

“We need to show the complexity in all this stuff, something that gets at the ideas we were reading about in the Fraiberg piece (College Composition and Communication, 62 (2010),100-126.”

“We need this drawing in your daybook, Lil, laid over this sketch Steve has…”

“And it needs to show how it all moves around.”

They try out several drawing programs to show the people and the ideas and the lines that connect them.

“It still seems flat.”

“Oh! Remember that video we saw Elyse post on Digital Is?  We need one of those moving word things!”

Critical Engagement with Digital Stories

If Digital Is, what is digital (k)not?  Is digital work new and innovative or just the same ole hogwash, only stored in digital clouds?  What are those (k)nots and tangles that tie us up and hold things together? Does our work in school merely tie us to the master narratives of our culture—stories of rugged individualism, pulling oneself up by her bootstraps, the self-made man.  Kara Poe Alexander’s College Composition and Communication essay “Successes, Victims, and Prodigies:  ‘Master,’ ‘Little,’ and Cultural Narratives in the Literacy Narrative Genre” made us wonder about the digital stories we were reading on the internet and the digital stories we were promoting in our classrooms. Were the literacy narratives we were telling the literacy-equals-success stories—the more literacy one “gets,” the more successful she becomes?  Was literacy a commodity—something we “give” and students “get” or “don’t get?”  Did we dare speak about The Violence of Literacy, the counter narratives to the master narratives of our culture, the stories and little narratives that don’t quite fit with those that are rewarded and celebrated in schools.

This wondering—this thinking about the cultural work that digital stories do—surrounds the work of the Urban Sites group of the UNC Charlotte Writing Project.  This wondering complicates and supports our teaching—this wondering sustains our community—this wondering pulls us into reflection, inquiry, and action.

Our critical conversations about teaching comprise this collection.  We explore here how and why we see our teaching tangled up in these conversations, how the responses to our digital stories, like the responses we give to student narratives, support and challenge thinking by inviting convergence and divergence with the world around us. We see our classrooms as “figured worlds” (Holland, et al), where our stories and our students’ stories construct identities we live within and against—the identity of teacher, of problem student, of over achiever, for instance, that are part of the narrative of schooling.  Our classrooms are remixes of these cultural narratives, “knot”-connected to each other, the untangling of which propels our thinking and work together.

This video is an image of how we work together in community and solidarity over time, with each other at our site, through our state network, and in conversation with the national network of Writing Project sites.  This short clip—a rant–was taken at a recent writing retreat of our state network.  We learned about “ranting” through Youth Roots of Oakland, CA.  Lacy and Cindy first heard G. Reyes and Youth Roots at the Urban Sites Conference in Portland in 2010.

In 2011 we invited Youth Roots to be the keynote speakers at our Spring Conference where they taught teachers in Charlotte ways of thinking critically through digital composing and embodied literacy practices.  We stand on their shoulders here.

Holland, D., Lachicotte, W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Open Ranting Circle.docx

(K)not Just Small Talk

“So, tell me about what you are writing…”

Suitcases are piled into the trunk, someone’s coffee cup has found a decent perch in the door pocket, and the GPS voice seems to have left us alone with 63 miles before we should veer off of I-85.   In a car full of UNC Charlotte Writing Project teachers this is just about the time that someone starts out:

“What’s happening with your assessment/play/hoarding/blogging piece?”

This is the way we have narrated our smallest conversations.  Conversations with just the two or three of us with time on our hands, or time made, to talk about our work.  Driving along, hands on the wheel, there are no daybook notes to search through, no document to pull up on the ipad.  It just comes down to how these ideas live in our heads and how they are formed again in these small conversations.

“Okay, I just need to try this out on yall, alright?”

In these small knots of people, we pull out the threads of tension in our thinking.  Sitting for quite a few miles with an idea, mulling it over through pitstops and more conversation, there gets to be time to circle back to thinking.  Time to get past just the initial, automatic head nodding affirmation.

“I’m still thinking about that thing you said before.  You’ve got me wondering…. where are the other teachers in this story?  or….where is the tension in this story? or… how can you show the background thinking?  You know, the things that you usually don’t get told?”

Through starts and stops all three of us in the car or airport bar or just sitting in the Writing Project office start piecing together the missing parts of the story.  What hasn’t been told and what has been told in the same old way, supporting the same old stories of heroes, mountain-top reaching and driving it alone.  Everyone throws in ideas about what else this story could be doing.  Daybooks are found for fast and furious writing.  We want to get down every possible word from this group thinking.  We are so much smarter here thinking together.  Gotta save this up, and more moments just like them, talking about the same-different ideas.  So that these knots of thinking can show up next time we try to talk out our ideas on paper.

Um-hm… now you’ve got me thinking about what kind of work it is I want this story to do…”

Knotting Up Group Convos

“So tell me about your writing.”

We gather at Jackson’s Java, Amelies, in Fretwell Building on campus, or in the mountains of North Carolina.  We come together as the UNC Charlotte Writing Project to talk about our teaching and our work with our colleagues in professional development.  We gather to think deeply about our work.

“How does your writing fit with, call into question, problematize the stuff we have been reading?”

This is the way we have narrated our larger conversations, conversations among 10, 15, 25 of us when we gather to think about our site’s work.  Sharing the professional writing of scholars in the field helps us to see our teaching and our thinking as part of a larger community, a network of writing teachers who are committed to teaching and learning.

“Okay, let me try out this idea with all of y’all.”

In these knots of relationships we find supportive colleagues who love teaching as much as we do and who will challenge us to go deeper into our work, make us wobble as we gain energy and confidence to do our work.

“I’m wondering about this Fraiberg piece.  It didn’t seem to imagine me as its reader, but I can see the importance of this idea of knot connecting as a powerful concept for teachers.”

Knots Online

Image originally uploaded on 2011-10-20 11:13

Image originally uploaded on 2011-10-20 11:13

Image originally uploaded on 2011-10-20 11:12

The dinging reminds me that an email has arrived in my box.  The electronic whistle says that someone has posted to Skype chat.  TweetDeck chirps messages to the top of my computer screen. Flipbook organizes Facebook and Twitter posts on my Ipad . . .

Cindy Urbanski    Morning writers! Are you ready for our writing sprint?  Let’s go–8:00-10:00.  Are you ready?  1,2,3 go . . . 7:56 am

Our digital community keeps us connected, keeps us responsible to each other, keeps us engaged as readers and writers.

@steve8071 u gotta check out this stuff from Fraiberg… it’s totally going to rock your blogging piece #unccwp

We write together every day, check in to the community conversation, read each others’ work or pieces sent as .pdfs that are “must reads.”

date     Sun, Sep 4, 2011 at 11:44 AM
subject  Your Essay

FLAGGED Important mainly because of the people in the conversation.


Attached are my thoughts as I was reading your piece. Let me think with you here about what I see going on in your piece and where you might go next with it…

We challenge each other to think deeply, to stick with difficult pieces of writing, to learn new things. The digital universe makes this work possible.

Google gets this one right with the conversation flag. These conversations, the ones that can be the most difficult to start and return to, keep us going in our writing, thinking and teaching. And they are important mainly because of the people in the conversation.

Linking It Up to Cindy, Meaghan and Keia

The clickable images below link out to resources of UNC Charlotte Writing Project Teacher Consultants as we continue to explore the knots in our digital thinking.

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-01 08:51

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-01 08:54

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-01 08:57

Linking It Up to Steve, Lacy and Lil

The clickable images below link out to resources of UNC Charlotte Writing Project Teacher Consultants as we continue to explore the knots in our digital thinking.

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-01 09:03

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-01 09:06

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-06 14:47

Linking it Up to Tony and Sally

The clickable images below link out to resources of UNC Charlotte Writing Project Teacher Consultants as we continue to explore the knots in our digital thinking.

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-01 09:17

Image originally uploaded on 2011-11-01 09:19

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