Monday, June 26, 2017


Right now I'm smiling my way through a delightfully irreverent and waspish account of fear and loathing in Silicon Valley's startup culture. Antonio Garcia Martinez's Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune and Random Failure in Silicon Valley has the kind of bite that can make long haul international plane flights seem like a rewarding experience.

Among many unexpected bonuses flying in from left field is this gem of a perspective on writing in which, of course, I have a more than passing interest, thanks to my own line of professional misadventures over the years.

As he begins to recount the process by which he and his two colleagues set out to create their startup pitch to prospective investors, our author take a paragraph out to address his question "What is writing?" With the politically incorrect candor that typifies his book as a whole, Garcia Martinez responds:

"It is me, the author, taking the state inside my mind and, via the gift of language, grafting it onto yours. But man invented language in order to better deceive, not inform. That state I'm transmitting is often a false one, but you judge it not by the depth of its emotion in my mind, but by the beauty and pungency of the thought in yours. Thus the best deceivers are called articulate, as they make listeners and readers fall in love with the thoughts projected into their heads. It's the essential step in getting men to write you large checks, women to takeoff their clothes, and the crowd to read and repeat what you've thought. All with mere words: memes of meaning strung together according to grammar and good taste. Astonishing when you think about it."

Small wonder literacy educators find the challenges so demanding.

Small wonder the theory can often seem so precious.

Small wonder the research can often seem to fall so short.

Write on.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Vale Brian Street

Along with many others in the literacy research and scholarship world, we are today mourning the untimely death of Brian Street. Brian was a pioneer in the English speaking world of a sociocultural approach to understanding literacy. In many ways he said it all in the opening sentence of his 1984 book, when he wrote that 'Literacy' is best understood as a shorthand for the social practices and conceptions of reading and writing.

Happily, he want on to say a lot more and to do a lot more over the next 30 plus years to help establish a robust area of academic interest and activity. It is easy enough to locate and appreciate his written contributions. But many of us were also fortunate to have Brian impact on our lives in more embodied and hands-on ways. He was generous to a fault with his time and energy whenever there was an opportunity for him to provide encouragement and support.

During 1986 I was working on my first literacy book and was searching for works that would support the kind of 'non psychological' line on literacy that I had been fumbling toward since wrestling with Freire's pedagogy of the oppressed. Harvey Graff's wonderful book "The Literacy Myth" gelled with what my gut told me -- that literacy as mere encoding and decoding was hopelessly over-rated and, in many cases, could actually be as much of an impediment as a support in 'making one's way in life'. But how to get beyond encoding and decoding, in ways that augmented Freire's literacy as praxis approach, was proving elusive. That was when I found Brian's book "Literacy in Theory and Practice" in the Auckland University library. (Remember the library?)

It gelled. It absolutely gelled.

This was before there were computers on New Zealand academics' desks. Writing meant banging out text on at best an electric typewriter. No email either .... (well, outside of the Computer Studies department, of course, and -- of course -- they were keeping it to themselves). But bang out words I did; banging away con mucho gusto with some reliable guides to help me along.

When 40 the conceptual chapter on literacy had been banged out I wondered if I'd got my head around what these guides were saying. Forty plus pages were jammed into an A4 envelope and snail mailed to one Dr Brian Street at the University of Sussex. I'd never met him, and he'd surely never met me. I should probably have written a letter first to ask if it would be OK to burden his post box. But book contracts pressed very hard in those days, when it would take maybe 10 days for an airmail envelope to get from the Antipodes to Mother England.

I could make this a long story, as you well know, but to cut it short, guess what happened. A few weeks later an even bulkier envelope arrived in my pigeon hole from the University of Sussex. Brian had returned the original typescript, with comments hand written throughout the text, PLUS a few sheets of his own written thoughts. He basically said "Yep, you've got what I am trying to say and you've used it in a way I believe is sound, and I want to encourage you to keep writing".

Needless to say, I was over the moon. We all have to start somewhere, and where we usually start from is a place that is more or less naive. What we most need is encouragement and some gentle nudges in a productive direction. Brian was simultaneously encouraging and gentle in his nudging.

The book I wrote was the beginning of everything that followed for me in my academic life, and I know that many other people in our shared area of endeavour can say exactly the same thing: without Brian's support and encouragement we would have lived much leaner and more arid academic lives.

Vale, Brian Street. Rest in peace and, while your example and your work live on, we are already missing you and your boundless collegiality and goodwill with deep aches in our hearts.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

A charming and magical evening with Roger McGuinn

It's funny how things go around. When Sam was one month old we were at Auckland airport seeing my mother off on a flight. This guy, with a distinctively US accent just asks out of nowhere "How old's the baby?". I tell him Sam's a month old and ask where he's from. He says "From Los Angeles, but we're flying to Sydney". I say -- because I had already bought a front row seat ticket -- "Oh what a shame you're not staying on a little longer, cos next week a fabulous Los Angeles band is playing here; the Byrd's are doing a show". He replies "I know, we're them" as he gestured with a hand. I looked in the direction of the hand and immediately registered Chris Hillman. But I hadn't recognised the speaker, which puzzled me. I wondered in an instant, silently, is he road crew? So I said "I'm Colin". He said "I'm George Grantham, from Poco, drumming for them on this tour". I said "Hey, Poco, Richie Furay's band". He says, "Yes". It was all family: After all: Souther Hillman Furay. Why *wouldn't* Poco's drummer be playing with the Byrds on a short tour?

"C'mon over", says George, "come say hello to the boys". So we did. They all looked tired and like they wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Notwithstanding, Roger McGuinn not only said hello, but sounded like he meant it.

I stored that away. That, and the fact that while he had his own project in mind he put that to one side to let a precocious upstart called Gram Parsons call the bigger shots on what the test of time allowed decades later to be recognised as one of the landmark albums of all time: "Sweetheart of the Rodeo". The music ruled, the music was bigger than the individual ego. It's true, ask Keef.

In short, Roger McGuinn is someone I have always loved as a favourite favourite musician. The real deal. A good man. I just kind of knew it.

A year or so back Michele was coming back from the airport with Caesar, the man with the limo she always uses. This night Caesar asks if it's OK to double up because someone is going nearby. Michele is fine with that. The fellow traveller turned out to be Warren Zanes, a one time muso whose band once opened for Tom Petty. More recently, Mr Zanes has written a superb biography of Tom Petty, amongst doing many other good things around the world of rock music. I read the book at home in Mexico. At one point I was much taken by a story about Petty once berating a record company official for giving McGuinn a lousy song to record. Good stuff, I thought.

Then I thought "But hang on a minute here, I wonder if Roger McGuinn is still playing gigs". It's easy to get out of some loops when living a full life in Mexico. I did the google thing, and to my unspeakable delight quickly discovered that he was playing a concert on 4 May within a few short miles of our place in New Jersey. Michele found tickets and a couple of nights ago we grabbed a diner meal and walked across the road to the venue.

The show began, as scheduled, at 7.30pm. Just after we'd bought the CD and DVD version of what was to be in store. Good call. For the next 2 hours and some, punctuated by just a brief intermission, we were treated to an illustrated partial biography of the musical life and times of Roger McGuinn: from his early guitar and banjo lessons at the Old Town music school in Chicago and his first work with the Limelighters, to his current work in American folk music preservation. There were short demonstrations of guitar picking styles, accounts of how Byrds' versions of other people's songs were put together, memories of moments shared with peers and friends that were part of shaping a musical heritage. It was beautiful.

One of the first things I noticed about his Martin 6 string guitar was that he had modified it in the exact same way that my long time ago friend, Jae Renaut, had modified his Martin -- which my friend Jean and I bought a long time ago, and which stayed with Jean as her treasured lifelong guitar companion. The procedure involved inserting an extra string -- a high G -- alongside the conventional G. My eyes fixed on the guitar and I was telling Michele in whispers between songs how I'd only ever seen one other Martin guitar that had been modified that way. I had barely finished relating that resonance when McGuinn wove the story of the signature McGuinn Martin 7 string into his evening's narrative.

In the days and weeks leading up to the show I found myself wondering how he was going to do the show, since it looked like it was going to be a solo gig in an intimate venue. Would he perform "Chestnut Mare"? Surely not, because just how could he do *that* solo. That and other mysteries were all explained. He did what, for me, ahead of the show, seemed beyond daungting. He did it with ease. From start to finish it was somewhere north of sublime. My cup overflowed.

I'd taken a camera thinking I could get some photos without using the flash. But we were told before the show, no photographing; no recording; all phones to be off throughout. And then came the magic words: "But you can take photos in the encore". I thought "how perfect and how fair". Just like that "hello" at the airport so many years earlier, there'd be something precious to be had from a musician with a bankable sense of proportion.

And, as luck would have it, having bought the CD/DVD pack before the show, I was able to get the last poster of the close up photo of the man's face when the show was done. The perfect finale to a perfect evening.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Spanish language edition of of New Literacies and Teacher Learning

La edición en español de New Literacies and Teacher Learning: Professional Development and the Digital Turn acaba de ser publicada en México por Ediciones SM en México. 

El contenido del libro es el siguiente:

Para ver el contenido más claramente, haga clic en las imágenes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

We have a new edited collection out!

We're both very happy to announce that Researching New Literacies: Design, Theory and Data in Sociocultural Investigation is now out. This is a collection that addresses a number of themes that we feel rather strongly about; including the importance of demystifying the qualitative research process, recognizing the messiness of conducting research--especially in relation to new literacies, and the need for how-to accounts grounded in practice and that target newbie researchers.  We are deeply grateful to our contributing authors for dealing with all of these things in their rich accounts of their research processes!

From the back cover:
This book provides an expansive guide for designing and conducting robust qualitative research across a diverse range of purposes concerned with understanding new literacies in theory and in practice. It is based on the idea that one of the best ways of learning how to do good research is by closely following the approaches taken by excellent researchers. This volume brings together a group of internationally reputed qualitative researchers who have investigated new literacies from a sociocultural perspective. These contributors offer "under the hood" accounts of how they have adapted existing research approaches and, where appropriate, developed new ones to frame their research theoretically and conceptually, collected and analyzed their data, and discussed their analytic results in order to achieve their research purposes. Each chapter, based on a substantial and successful study undertaken by the researchers, addresses the research process from one or more of the following emphases: theory and design, data collection, and data analysis and interpretation. Core elements discussed in each chapter include research purposes and questions; theoretical and conceptual framing; data collection and analysis; research findings and implications; and limitations, glitches, and difficulties experienced in the research process.
Contents and authors:

And the cover:

The only thing we're sad about is the nose bleed cost of the book...  This was a visceral shock for us.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A new book in our "New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies" series!

Congratulations to Belinha de Abreu (with Vitor Tome) on the publication of her book, Mobile Learning Through Digital Literacy! This volume insightfully tackles head-on what has become tricky terrain in many schools and classrooms around the world: what to do with the mobile communication and information systems that students bring with them to school. 

From the back cover:
Mobile Learning through Digital Media Literacy proposes media literacy education as a conceptual framework for bridging mobile technologies in teaching and learning. As cell phones have become more advanced and applications more innovative and fitting, candid conversations are taking place as to how technology can be a purposeful tool in the classroom. Mobile technology already attracts students and encourages text-language development; yet its accessibility affords the potential for more extended use, offering enhancement and flexibility for instructional development. In light of a shared vision of collaboration and growth developing globally within educational circles, this book examines mobile learning as a formal literacy, as a productivity environment for creative growth in and out of the classroom, and as an advancement to social learning through online networks. The book surveys media literacy education—both within the classroom and its extended implications—for concerns of civic participation and data privacy, as more educators and policymakers internationally consider the possibilities of connected classrooms and m-learning on a universal scale. 
This is a must-read for all of us in literacy and media education!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Most recent new book in the series: Learning to Teach in the Digital Age

The most recently published book in our New Literacies series is Sean Justice's Learning to Teach in the Digital Age

Subtitled 'New Materialities and Maker Paradigms in Schools', the book recounts a qualitative case study of K-12 teachers beginning to connect with pedagogies of digital making and learning over the course of a school year. It explores how these teachers interacted with and responded to 'the maker movement and digital making and learning tools and materials.

Recent Book in our series: Gamify Your Classroom

More recently, Lang published Mattew Farber's Gamify Your Classroom which provides a 'field guide' to implementing games-based learning (and 'gamification' techniques) in classroom settings. It combines a survey of 'best practices' derived from interviews with leading scholars and practitioners in the area of gaming and games-baed learning and the author's own practical lesson plans, links to further research, and selections of games to play (and why).

Recent book in our series: New Creativity Paradigms

Since we last updated this blog with information about books recently published in our New Literacies and Digital Epistemologies series, three books have been published in addition to the one mentioned in the previous post.

The first of these is Kylie Peppler's  New Creativity Paradigms: Arts Learning in the Digital Age, commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, and focusing on research that explores how young people are learning new ways to participate in artistic creation based on their own interests and on the own time -- and how educators can draw on these experiences to make connections to everyday youth practices in formal curricular work.

The Delivery Man

It's been a long time since we posted here and there are all kinds of reasons for this. I'll get to one of them in a subsequent post. But, for now, part of the reason has been the usual pressure on time, and part of it -- in  my own case -- has been a feeling of getting 'past my use by date': a feeling of having nothing much fresh to say that might repay people's time in dropping in to read a new post.

But those are poor excuses, and the bottom line is that since we last posted some valued colleagues have published some good books in our "New Literacies" series, and at the very least we should be posting information about those here.

So, as a way of getting started, with something close to home, I'll begin with yesterday's small adventure, which saw me in the role of 'delivery man'.

When I came back to Mexico after summer I brought with me a very nice new (Zara Man) postie bag satchel. I love postie bags, and for years have used the canvas one from Common Ground Publishing I'll still use that one, of course, it's been a good friend. But for heavier loads, as was the case yesterday, the new leather one will b very handy.

So, one of the recent books published in the series was co-edited by our colleague, Judy Kalman, who lives in Mexico City. And along with the new postie bag my post summer luggage included 5 copies of New Literacies and Teacher Learning to deliver to Judy for her to distribute to the Mexican-based chapter contributors.

The delivery location was the Two Coyotes fountain in the wonderful colonial plaza in the heart of Coyoacan, a short walk for Judy and a short bus hop (or a longer walk) for me.

We met up and had a very nice catch-up talk, I came away with some delicious farm fresh eggs courtesy of Judy's hens.

I suppose that among the contributing factors to feeling past my use by date is that I just won't get with a new mobile phone that has one of those stunning cameras that makes a digital camera practically unnecessary. Indeed, when I get back to Canada on the weekend ahead, one of my first tasks will be to pick up a couple of packs of prints shot over the summer with Fuji film  on Michele's late 80s analogue Ricoh SLR. I had got it repaired here in Mexico City by the same excellent camera man who restored by mid 80s Pentax SLR to full working idea.

But I digress.

I had my 6 year old phone with the pathetic 2 mega pixel camera, and could not resist taking a few pix to mark my first delivery with my brand new postie bag. And, in all their low res glory, here they are.

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