Education, learning, Lessons Learned In Combat, Literacy

Creating a Digital Poem: Thoughts on Process

What does your Facebook news feed look like?

If yours is anything like mine, it’s full of text–but not the kind we typically value most in schools. Sure, there’s written text. But we’d be hard-pressed to find a news feed that doesn’t also have images, videos, and links to other web content. Am I right? (Go ahead and take a look at yours. I’ll give you a minute.) Last fall, I wrote about the realization that schools and classrooms were not reflecting the ways in which we compose and communicate in the real world for a piece I submitted to The Reading Teacher pretentiously titled “The Images Deficit in the Teaching of Writing.” I’d post a link to it here, but it costs money to download unless you are a member of the International Literacy Association and is sort of sucky now that I’m looking at it from someone who’s learned a heck of a lot in the past year and a half.

My overall point though, hasn’t changed: that composing, as a whole, is no longer what it used to be. As Anne Herrington and Charles Moran point out in the book Teaching the New Writing, today’s texts “challenge our basic notion of…texts as linear, verbal, [and] single-authored.” This is not an elite, writer-ly trend; even among those who consider themselves “non-writers,” our notion of text has changed.  Considering the way more and more people are composing today, and how our collective understanding of text–as well as “literacy”– has evolved, it would be nothing short of educational malpractice for educators to ignore these changes.

But change is hard, man, and it’s especially difficult for teachers who grew up in a world vastly different from the one in which they currently teach. In order for this idea of “new” writing to make its way into our classrooms beyond a single unit or technology initiative, it is essential that we collectively acknowledge how important it is to provide educators with the space and the time to play with these these evolving ideas of texts/composing. While I (perhaps unfairly) believe that being an educator is a calling, and not merely a profession–one that requires educators to continually seek new knowledge, reflect on their practice, and hone their craft–I am also cognizant of the time and effort this takes. Expecting teachers to do all of this on their own, while also planning instruction, assessing student learning, and taking time to live their personal lives, is ridiculous. To that end, I would love to offer the teachers with which I work the opportunity to compose texts much like the ones we “read” online every day. (How I would do that is another post for another day, but I’m thinking it might happen within the Teachers Write, Right? sessions I offer my colleagues, which you can read more about here.)

But I never ask my fellow learners to do anything I wouldn’t do–or haven’t done–myself, and so I’ve spent the last year or so playing with and thinking about evolving notions of text. Most recently, I was assigned the task of digitizing a poem. During the previous week, in class, my classmates and I had played with the idea of digitizing a poem using one we had chosen from a small bank of poems the instructor had selected for this purpose. For this assignment, though, our instructor had given us the opportunity to either continue the work we had begun in class or to start anew using a favorite poem of our own choosing. I chose to digitize Georgia Heard’s poem “Straight Line” (full text here). In doing so, and in wanting to do the poem and its author justice, I had to reread the poem multiple times; I had to analyze it; I had to think about how to communicate its themes (or rather, what I saw as its themes) to my audience. And in doing all of this, I learned so much about the challenges other composers might face as well as about the potential implications for classrooms where students are given the opportunity to digitally compose and/or “remix” an already existing text. The following table is a representation of a sample of my learning thus far.

Reflections/Noticings/Understandings Further Thoughts/Possible Implications for the Classroom
I was considerably more engaged in the process when I could choose a poem with which I personally connected, rather than choosing from the small pool of poems the instructor provided in class the previous week. The level of personal connection directly correlates to the level of engagement in a task. While open choice might be what some students prefer, others may need the more “guided” choice that is provided by having a pool of poems from which to choose.
It was helpful, as a “somewhat newbie,” to explore digital composition with content that was already created by someone else. It is important to keep in mind what our ultimate goal for students is. If we had been asked to compose a text as well as digitize it, our ability to digitize the work would have been considerably compromised due to the extra effort to would have taken to also compose a text.
The platform used for digital composition makes a huge difference. I chose to use iMovie because I had worked with it in the past and wasn’t sure I had the time to learn a different platform (even while suspecting that there are much more simpler ones to choose from!). It may be helpful to guide students extensively about what the different platforms are for this kind of composing, as well as well as offer them multiple opportunities to play with different platforms before requiring them to create a product. Students could even work in groups with a particular platform and present their findings about ease of use, etc. with their classmates before they choose which one to work with for an assignment.
Although it was reassuring to work with Creative Commons because of the accessibility of their images, it was frustrating to choose images to use in my composition only to then find out that the creator had removed the authorization to use them. Giving students an opportunity to play with an open-licensing site like Creative Commons would be helpful. It may be helpful to devote a number of class sessions to having students collect images for their composition so that they have them at the ready when they are deep in the process of composing.
I was astounded by the sheer number of decisions I had to make in order to compose this digital text, but I was also incredibly empowered by them. Understanding their powerful role as composers (i.e., decision-makers), even in regard to texts that are not entirely “unique” or “original,” can go a long way toward building a community of engaged writers.

Below is the digital poem as it currently stands. What might you do to improve upon this composition? Are there further considerations educators should think about or additional implications for students that I have not mentioned? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

1 thought on “Creating a Digital Poem: Thoughts on Process”

  1. I love that you added this process post, and I think that the most important part of it is your suggestion that teachers need to go through any composition process themselves before asking students to do so. As you’ve pointed out, the number of decisions in a written OR digital composition is staggering, although the digital decisions often seem more obvious (and sometimes more problematic).


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