Reflections on NCTE

I always feel so revitalized when I get back from NCTE. It is great to be around a group of teachers who truly get the paradigm shifts involved in new literacies.

I was struck by a question from an audience member during our presentation on supporting striving writers through non-traditional narratives. He asked if our work in digital narratives supported traditional writing.

I went through the normal caveats (well most measures of writing our single item assessments, what exactly is good writing, etc). I then concluded by saying instruction in digital writing has to improve traditional tools for communication but simply providing writing instruction using paper-based tools ca not improve important new compositional skills.

You see I am a true believer that real meaning is found in the negative space and not copy. Unfortunately most writing instruction makes learning about meaning making a negative space instead of learning to make meaning with negative space.

I came to this conclusion rather serendipitously. It was actually at my first NCTE conference in NYC. I was sharing a room with Doug Hartman, whose command of literacy theory always blows me away. We were looking to kill a few hours and shield ourselves from a blustery October wind. I read that the local school of design (not sure which one) was hosting a museum exhibit to honor Steven Heller, a man who has touched everyone of our lives with his art.

I realized before new literacies were on the radar those in the field of graphic arts had come to many of the same conclusion literacy theorists are still lumbering towards. I picked up his book Design Literacy. Heller writes:

True design literacy requires a practical and theoretical understanding of how design is made and how it functions as a marketplace tool as well as a cultural signpost, which takes years of learning and experience to acquire.

I came to realize exactly what the New London Grup was going for in terms of design and (re)design. We had to recognize that digital writing in terms of making meaning on the world is a process. We also have to stress the importance of design in digital composition.

That’s why I view Heller’s book as a must own for all ELA educators. It is not a how-to. It doesn’t go over different design no-no’s. Instead it is a collection of essays on important works of graphic art that have had an impact on history. Its a great read in the classroom or the porcelain library.

It is time to teach students about negative space and instead of making writing a negative space for learning.

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