At the invitation of Molly Robbins, a Denver Writing Project (DWP) teacher at Aurora’s Cherokee Trail High School, Remi and I will help facilitate today DWP’s screening of American Creed, a documentary which will be released nationally by PBS on February 27. We’ll share about the Marginal Syllabus after the film, but our first order of business will be to lead the “writing into the day,” a routine practice at National Writing Project professional learning.
By remixing lines from Allen’s chapter into sentence frames for teachers to use as starting points for their own writing, I will ask them to write about their classroom experiences, or to reflect on the purpose of democracy…or both. (Or neither, if they want to write about what they had for breakfast instead.)
After the film, when we convene a breakout discussion group about the movie, we’ll invite attendees to add their informal writing into the margins. This small experiment with a “nerdy book group” convening is another example of the way this project tinkers with replicable professional learning practices in the context of equity conversations.
The Internet is good for making and circulating lists. Blog posts with titles like “3 ways to engage students with Google Slides,” “10 ways to make your Makerspace buzz!” or “The 5 classroom management tricks you need for Monday,” abound online and elicit a clickbait response from curious teachers.
At its core, a public syllabus is a curated list of texts and resources that has more substance and transformative power than informal, clickbait lists. The most noteworthy and potentially impactful examples of public syllabi that I know of are the #Fergusonsyllabus and the #Charlottesvillesyllabus, both of which illustrate the way social tools mediate vital public conversations when current events provoke an activist’s response from educators. The vision for the #Marginalsyllabus is to tinker with the affordances of the Internet in much the same way other online social justice efforts have (though I would not want to compare our humble efforts with the aforementioned, mostly because of the way those two captured the response of educators of color so profoundly.)
The #MarginalSyllabus aims to convene equity conversations in the margins of texts about equity. It tests the potential of public syllabi and online annotation. In the conversations we convene, we observe all kinds of things, and the work gives rise to all manner of questions. Our project unfolds monthly, one author partnership at a time, one text at a time, one new reader at a time. Remi studies what emerges formally, and I chicken scratch in my notebook and blog about what I see informally.
While syllabi and their evolution have an importance historically that predates Twitter and tools like Hypothes.is, the current social landscape of the web is fraught but fertile ground where things emerge. Reading Twitter as I do to better understand issues of equity, I’ve encountered two tweets lately that help me think about the role of syllabi. What is more, participating in the #MarginalSyllabus this month has helped me make two connections between texts. What follows is my attempt to describe the connections that I make between tweets, and between texts, a reader’s response of sorts to the wide reading I’ve done lately in a politically charged time.
Two tweets –> two lists
What’s the most absurd/invasive thing that tech platforms do or have done that sounds made-up but is actually true?
Chris Gilliard’s tweet is overtly invitational. The volume of replies he received on Twitter created a pop-up syllabus of sorts that kept me navigating back to his tweet and reading the responses for a few days. I think his tweet, complete with replies, should be required reading for anyone working educational technology in public schools.
Clint Smith’s tweet is a call to interrogate syllabi. His stance and tone are markers of our turbulent political climate. When I read Smith’s tweet it caused me to reflect on my own teaching and the texts I’ve put in front of my 11th grade students this year as an English teacher in an urban setting. It also reminded me that all teachers should regularly reflect on the texts we put in front of students, especially white teachers like me who work in urban settings, because choose texts for students with different cultural backgrounds than our own.
Two connections between texts
This project, and our partnership this year with the National Writing Project, has given Remi and I a few occasions to look back at our first year’s syllabus for the purposes of curating it. The internet’s good for that too- curating curation efforts. This month’s reading, Danielle Allen’s chapter “Night Teaching,” excerpted with her permission from her book Our Declaration, caused me to look back at last year’s syllabus because of the connections I made as a reader. I was reminded of two texts and found myself looking back at my notes.
In the note pictured above, I explain the connection I see between two important texts about social justice. I was inspired by the way Allen focused on the word “autonomy” when reading the Declaration of Independence closely. She does so to foster agency in her students. It reminded me of the way Linda Christensen aims to foster agency among teachers with her article, Critical Literacy and Our Students’ Lives .
Though I didn’t create the link in my notes, this same section of Allen’s text reminded me of the way Bronwyn LaMay asked her 11th grade students to define the words “truth” and “agency,” work she detailed in “Revising Narrative Truth,” a selection from our syllabus last year. Both Allen and LeMay explore words and their meaning with students as an way to unpack identity. Their teaching goes beyond word study towards a study of the self. For me, this intertextual connection helps me reflect on my own work as a teacher and see ways I can be more responsive to my students.
The monthly reading we do with educators invites educators to make these kinds of connections and to test out the bridges they see between texts with other readers who might tread over those bridges on the way to more equitable teaching.
Here’s hoping the Internet is also good for promoting more equitable teaching.
The digital margins of Nicole Mirra and Antero Garcia’s article, Civic Participation Reimagined: Youth Interrogation and Innovation in the Multimodal Public Sphere, are crowded with notes. As the second reading in Writing Our Civic Futures, this year’s #marginalsyllabus project, their piece has drawn a lot of reader response from educators interested in equity, civic education, and innovation. For the uninitiated, this professional project invites educators to mark up texts about equity using hypothes.is, a social online annotation tool. The notes respondents have written so far on this text include links to related reading, summaries of work that readers have done related to the topic of youth civic engagement, and even debates about the content of the article. (For a detailed discussion of the activity in the text to date, read Remi Kalir’s thoughtful analysis here.) Since the text, the marginal space and the notes are digital, the already-crowded margins don’t prohibit others from joining in the reading and discussion. On the contrary, we’d love it if more readers weighed in. Still, like a book club meeting that has morphed into an overly noisy party that spilled out of a house into the front lawn and onto the street, the volume of images, videos, commentary, and discussion in this margin might seem daunting to interested participants who want to respond. In this post, I’ll offer a few ideas for how would-be participants might navigate the crowded margin and join our social-reading-as-professional-learning project, which might seem at first glance like a noisy party.
Approach #1- for the student on assignment
A participant’s approach to participating in the annotation of Mirra and Garcia’s text would depend on her purpose for joining. For readers who have been steered to the piece as part of teacher education coursework, it might be particularly important to read the text carefully before looking at the marginalia. As a co-organizer of this project, I’ve found myself in circumstances just like a harried student might find herself- with a day or so to read a chapter, needing to come away from the reading with something intelligible to say about it. On these occasions, I prioritize reading first, and online discourse second. I like to print the article, read it on paper and make notes with a highlighter and pen in order to have a grasp of the text. Then, I look back at my notes in order to decide which I want to make public. This keeps my attention from being drawn away from the text to the margins and the discussion there. In the same way I used to pick over the overly scarred used books while shopping in the college bookstore, in this medium I prefer to avoid navigating too many markings when I’m trying to make sense of what I am reading.
Another way to read an unmarked, clean text the first time through without printing it out, is to click the eyeball icon on the hypothes.is sidebar. When clicked, it hides the notes and accompanying highlights in the text. Click it again and they’re back.
Approach #2 – for readers in search of interaction
Other participants might be drawn to this social reading in order to interact with the authors of the text, or to discuss the subject matter with other interested educators. For readers who want to extend the text in a social way, looking at the margins first might be the place to start. Skimming the interaction among readers and authors shows the social layer to this reading. This kind of interaction-focused reading holds potential for educators to share earnest questions about equity issues and civic education, or promising practices that they connect with the text. Jumping into the collaborative annotation for the purposes of discussion could be very much like jumping into a conversation at an overcrowded party, it will require a quick study of the context and a reliance on social instincts. When marking up the text for this purpose, I could look for and respond to a note written by the author, or I might share a note I’ve written with the author on social media. (As luck would have it, Mirra and Garcia about both terrific folks to follow on Twitter, their handles are @Nicole_Mirra, and @anterobot, respectively). Using the hashtag #marginalsyllabus on Twitter amplifies the response and broadens the invitation for others to participate.
In the Tweet embedded above, Remi Kalir shares a link to an annotation, tags the authors of the piece, and incorporates hashtags to broaden the open invitation for educators to participate.
Approach #3 – for MOOCers and online learning enthusiasts
Skimming the crowded margins of Mirra and Garcia’s text, I see images, videos and links in addition to the text notes. Some readers might join this project out of a sense of curiosity about social annotation as a professional learning experience. The #marginalsyllabus project was hatched as an idea born out of experiments with playful annotations using hypothes.is, and in keeping with those roots, digital innovators might take to the text with a production-centered focus. When I come to a text with the goal of remixing it, I ask myself, “What does this text inspire me to make?” Would-be readers familiar with the work of the #clmooc community might ask, “How could these margins be a make cycle?” These digital margins of a text could be a creative canvas for connected teachers interested in testing the affordances of the hypothes.is tool for remixing, and tinkering with the way digital reading response might transform a text or spawn stimulating networked interaction among readers.
These recommendations are just a short list of possibilities born out of a very short history of online annotation-as-professional learning. For my part, social annotation causes me to be aware of my reading process, and to think about how I move from the text, to my notes, and then to a public and social layer of response. Surely, thoughtful readers, writers, and innovators, drawn to the crowded margins of Civic Participation Reimagined: Youth Interrogation and Innovation in the Multimodal Public Sphere, will bring new ideas about how such a professional learning experience might serve them best, and vital reflections about their experiences reading, responding and participating. My hope is that the potential problem of a crowded margin in this text becomes a larger problem of practice for an expanding community of practice of educators who are drawn to reading about equity and compelled to act, respond, make and inquire.