Multiple Literacies and ‘Digital’ Code Switching

In today’s digital age, students are now learning in blended learning environments and flipped classrooms, where they are asked to use their devices for means other than personal and social use. Students are asked to use their devices to search for an article and respond to a prompt in a blog post, or to watch a how-to-video on a computer application and perform that skill on their own. Students are so used to using their smart phones and tablets for means other than education; most notably Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and others.

Students being asked to change the way they use their devices is a prime example of code switching in today’s education. (I like to call this ‘digital’ code switching). To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, he urged people to “adjust their default setting” and think outside the box. I feel that in today’s education (at least in the district where I teach) students are now being asked to adjust that default setting and use modern technology for learning to enhance their digital literacy, which in turn will improve their reading and writing skills no matter the socioeconomic background.

I have seen that many districts now are using the term “career ready” when discussing skills students will obtain in school. In my opinion, to authentically prepare our students for a career in their chosen fields, they need to have a sound background in how to properly use this technology to complete tasks and solve problems. Those who do not experience this until after high school will already be behind their peers from districts who did utilize this technology to improve digital literacy in their schools. This can have a huge impact on students who are not digitally multi lingual in large part because of the larger learning curve and lack of preparation compared to their counterparts from districts who did use this technology to prepare them for a career in today’s digital world.

In “Social Linguistics and Literacies,” James Paul Gee explains, “If readers know the language, can decode writing and know the requisite background ‘facts’ to draw the inevitable inferences any writing requires, they can construct the ‘right’ interpretation in their heads.” (p. 46, 5th ed.). In my school, I have to interpret different speech on a daily basis. Our student population is so diverse, bringing several different cultures into the classroom. Each culture has their own way of speaking, and with that I have to interpret the meaning of what my students are trying to express. In my classroom, if you were to listen to me speak when walking around the room and conversing with my students, you would hear different tones in my voice and varying rates of speech with all the different cultural and societal backgrounds in the class.

To echo James Paul Gee, because I have a sound educational background and enough experience working in a diverse environment, I am able to put together a valid interpretation in my head of what a student is asking me, and what their current needs are. Below is a clip from the movie “Airplane!” that relates to how my speech changes from student to student at times. (NSFW).

When I think about technology and what it affords our students, it allows them to be who they want to be and escape the social norms of the educational society they are in on a daily basis. Education is now asking teachers to utilize technology into their classes, tapping into students’ social interest in social learning sites such as Edmodo and Google Classroom. I appreciate and respect the fact that young people can now separate themselves from their educational selves, and be able to truly express themselves on other personal platforms that they interact with outside of the normal school day.

Jamila Lyiscott discussed the ability to diversify your speech to display articulation in her Ted video, “3 Ways to speak English.” Modern technology offers this ability through how people interact in social media. I do not expect my ‘straight A students’ to retweet the latest article on the current unemployment rate of our country; where as I appreciate that they have the opportunity to display how they can be themselves, whether it is expressing their current emotions or retweeting the latest viral video trending on Twitter to their peers.

Whether it be in school, hanging out with our peers, or highlighting our qualifications in a job interview, we live in an age where we are free to display our vast levels of articulation no matter who the audience is. If President Obama, perhaps the most articulate man in the public eye, can let his guard down in public, why can’t we?

One person who apparently does not care to adhere to the norms of society is Marshawn Lynch, star running back from the Seattle Seahawks. Lynch has become a pop culture icon within the last couple years for his refusal to cooperate with the media. I understand that he does not want to speak to the media about football, but it is part of his job description. There are many things that I do not like to do in my job, but I do it anyway because that is called discipline and being a role model for others. Lynch clearly does not care to be a role model to our young citizens, but his actions are actually glorified in the media.

His interviews are shown on loop on ESPN and shared via Twitter and other social media outlets. This has a negative impact on our youth as they see a professional football player who does not go by the rules. This just shows our youth that they can do whatever they want and make up their own rules as they go.

I respect Marshawn Lynch for the talent and competitor that he is, but he has to understand that he has to shut off his ego and switch on his professionalism, because he has an easily influenced audience just craving for someone to look up to.

-John V


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