There’s a lot of speculation about the ultimate destiny of the printed word. The concept of publishing, long defined as the issue of printed matter, has surged to a new paradigm, thanks to ever-advancing technology and the connective power of Web 2.0 applications. Educators, time-honored promoters of pen and paper, are forced to concede that literature has become a changeling. Having writ, it moves on, into ever-expanding digital and electronic formats.
Digital writing tools have also swelled the ranks of published writers. Electronic publishing, most notably through weblogs, completely bypasses the gatekeepers of the publishing world. Many of them are widely and regularly read. (The celebrity news site TMZ took top blogging honors for 2009, logging in more than 8 million visitors—a number far exceeding the requirement necessary to make The New York Times’ Best Sellers list). Websites, podcasts, tweets, wikis, and social networking also offer open and continuous channels for our ideas and our work. We are living in a world given voice.
So publishing in the 21st century has many forms and faces. The possibilities of that rich variety to deepen literacy often seems overshadowed by the lively debate among academicians who see expanded forms and the literacies that emerge with them as either/or propositions. The fear that computers will ultimately replace books supersedes the reality that the two, used in tandem in a thoughtful learning environment, complement each other perfectly. The core of the written word—the mission and substance—remains the same. At its heart, publishing is about sharing ideas, regardless of the medium.
The truth is, today’s readers and writers find themselves in exciting, albeit occasionally confusing, places. At last, there’s something for everyone. We, and our students, are fortunate dwellers in a broad and long-time-coming base of possibility. We are finally able to choose our reading medium. That world of “information on demand,” in its totality, has finally opened to everyone. Personalized delivery of information and ideas is the word of the day. Do you like to read on-the-go? Kindle offers more than 20,000 ebooks. If you are a freeway commuter, audiobooks, also available by download, may fill your road time nicely. If you are a traditionalist, you can still count on the paperboy to throw the morning edition on your doorstep and the mail carrier to bring round your copy of Reader’s Digest. It’s a world that most of us have become accustomed to—one that we expect. But how does that real-world experience translate to the classroom?
A Vision for Fusion
What we teach our children—and the way that we choose to teach them—is only as relevant to the delivery as the forum that we create for sharing. Teachers are entrusted to provide a broad and lasting education to their students. That means, in part, exposing them to both many forms and many formats of literature. If we can help them to see the connections between those formats, then all the better. When we can lead them to see, understand, and thoughtfully combine print and nonprint formats as tools for their own expression of ideas and mastery, then we have begun to arm them with the tools necessary for lifelong learning.
The faculty and staff of Chets Creek Elementary School in Jacksonville, Fla., have managed to do just that. They embrace a creative and effective program for introducing—and connecting—literature and learning in many formats. With approximately 1,300 students in grades K–5, Chets Creek is a Duval County Public School. (You can take a delightfully “edutaining” virtual tour of the school, produced by school technology coach Melanie Holtsman, at http://holtsmantv.blip.tv/file/658931). The school is also a model site for America’s Choice Schools (www.americaschoice.org), a group of research-based school improvement solutions, including strategies that encompass professional development, student performance, and shared communication.
When you walk through the portals of this school, you will see evidence of those strategies everywhere, from framed work chronicling selected students’ growth in language arts and math over their 6-year span at Chets Creek to bulletin boards that not only spotlight student work but clearly explain and analyze the objectives and response to the lessons generating that work. One wall featuring an attractive display of book covers and photographs archives the history of the principal’s Book of the Month Club. Susan Phillips, principal of Chets Creek Elementary, described the rationale and results of the Book of the Month Club.
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