Monday, February 1, 2010

Assessing New Literacies

What to look for, what to teach

The articles on Assessing New Literacies were very interesting. They brought two issues to the front of my mind. One is that we can't assess what we haven't taught. The other is the role of audience in assessment.

In teaching fourth and fifth grade for many years, I have given a variety of multimodal assignments, including picture books, powerpoints, even comic strips. What I have not done is preteach the graphic, sound, and other media skills and aesthetic sensibilities of design which contemporary work demands. Although some students absorb design by osmosis, this is not true for all students. And if teachers are unaware of the elements of design, how are we to teach and enrich our students' work?

Bearne describes Alex as 'an increasingly assured multimodal text writer' as she analyzes his decision making process (including awareness of audience), his structure, and his technological savvy. She does not have a rubric, although she does have areas of evaluation, which she also applies to Luren and Hannah's comic book. She is not rating the students; there is no 3 out of 5 parts mentioned or mastered. She is using evaluation in that she describes the students on a continuum of 'assured multimodal text writer.' Her assessment points toward the next step or level of expertise on this continuum—Alex should learn to use punctuation marks—but she acknowledges, even celebrates, his efforts to express his meaning pictorially as well as verbally. Bearne notes that Lauren and Hannah at age 11 have had rich experiences with “historical information, Internet sources including journal writing, picture books, and films” (p. 30) which they bring to their work. My experience last semester as a digital writer has given me some insight into some design components of 21st century literacies. My old rubrics may be obsolete, but I need to learn what else to teach.

Burke and Hammett quote Knobel and Lankshear (2008) to support their view that multimodal compositions are indeed authentic texts (p.3). They talk about assessment as needing to include process and culture, and for teachers to acknowledge and encourage collaboration and creation as integral to 21st century literacies. I would agree with them that Facebook postings and blogs are written for authentic audiences and therefore are authentic texts. Certainly my Peace Garden Photostories are seeking an audience beyond my prof and classmates and I consider them authentic texts. Without these classes, however, I do not know when I would have come to realize the power of contemporary cultural media. Having an authentic audience is inspiring—or intimidating!-- to the author of both traditional and contemporary texts.

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