The Calm After the Show

Blogging and the Imagined Audience

I’ve had a great time engaging in blogging for audience and purpose with my class over the past term and a half. Not least, our communication with NASA Educator Astronaut Barbara Morgan last month.

Class 5 Blog

Blogging has proven itself to really bring the world into my classroom and allow the children to engage in meaningful dialogue with an audience that is not necessarily anonymous. Julia Davies (2006: 60) wrote that blogging allows users to share their voice with a dynamic and global audience as well as engaging in powerful writing, which is partly driven by the potency from the immediacy of publication. Boyd (2007) has argued that users in blogging spaces are not fully aware of who their audience actually is. This is true in a sense but in my previous work (Waller, 2011: 101) I argue that although such an audience is ambiguous, it still exists and that children’s writing is subconsciously driven by this imagined audience. It is the imagined audience that is so powerful when blogging. The audience exists and it spans across continents and cultures but it is never truly known. My class enjoy checking the ‘Flag Counter’ on our blog but this didn’t necessarily allow them to understand the true reach of their work. No amount of tracking plug-ins or analytics can tell you the true extent of the audience of a blog. It takes instances like the communication with Barbara Morgan to truly extend their imagined audience. They now have a greater understanding of their audience and the fact that it extends outside of their local area. They also blog about what they think their imagined audience wants to know about – most recently space!

My class regularly engage with their imagined audience, asking questions in blog posts and requesting information. To them the audience is real. Blogging also allows the children to experience the power of written texts through thickening of online ties in the offline world. The letter from Barbara Morgan was much more powerful than a comment – to my class it made part of their imagined audience real. But the global nature of blogging meant that this sort of communication could happen. Developing traditional ‘old’ writing through the ‘new’ is certainly not a new concept but one that is forgotten at times. Blogging does not destroy traditional writing. It enhances it and it extends it. It makes it relevant and it gives it purpose. Next time someone says that technology is destroying writing, remember this:

The effects of technologies are never intrinsic to a particular media, but are always mediated by the uses to which technologies are put and the contexts in which they are used. (Luke, 2000: 74).

 How will you use technologies like blogging?

I write more about this area in an upcoming book chapter (due mid-2013):
Unsworth, L. and Thomas, A. (Eds.) (in preparation). English Teaching and New Literacies Pedagogy: Interpreting and authoring digital multimedia in the classroom. Peter Lang: New York.

boyd, d. (2007). Social Network Sites: Public, Private or What? Knowledge Tree, 13. Retrieved from:

Davies, J. (2006). Escaping to the Borderlands: An Exploration of the Internet as Cultural Space for Teenage Wiccan Girls. In K. Pahl, & J. Rowsell, (Eds.), Travel Notes from the New Literacy Studies: Instances of Practice. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Luke, C. (2000). Cyber-schooling and technological change: Multiliteracies for new times. In M. Kalantzis, & B. Cope, (Eds.), Multiliteracies: Literacy Learning and the Design of Social Futures (pp. 69-91). London, England: Routledge.

Waller, M. (2011). ‘Everyone in the World Can See It’ – Developing Pupil Voice through Online Social Networks. In G. Czerniawsku, & W. Kidd, (Eds), The Student Voice Handbook: Bridging the Academic/Practitioner Divide. London, England: Emerald.

Featured image credit to Thomas Hawk and used under Creative Commons License.

Time for another Changing Horizon…

I have spent today completely re-designing this website. When I say re-designing I actually mean finding a decent template and then modifying it. It is something I have been meaning to do for a long time as I had become unhappy with the dark theme that I had installed previously. Most of the blogs that I enjoy reading have ‘light’ colour schemes and I decided that it was time my blog was themed in a similar way.

DSC_9941_Winter in Denmark

I have decided to re-focus this blog as a way of refecting on literacy, technology and life. I plan on having a Tumblr/Posterous like philosophy with a mix of short and long posts. One of the reasons I haven’t posted anything over the past couple of months is that I have found it very hard to fit writing into my (very) busy schedule. I hope that not expecting myself to write deeply academic posts all of the time will spur me on to write more and add more enjoyment to the process.

Thank you for all the messages and encouragement to get blogging again. Hopefully this blog refresh will help me to get back into the routine and enjoyment of writing.

Social Media and other Web 2.0 jazz…

I’m currently in the process of researching various types of Social Media and Networks for my MA research. I hope to build on some of the work I have written up recently in relation to New Literacy Studies and @ClassroomTweets.

It’s apparent from my classroom experience and reading that the simplicity of creating and updating content with Web 2.0 systems empowers readers to write – @ClassroomTweets has really made me realise this. But what the literature also tells us is that audience is key and that Web 2.0 allows users to create imagined audiences as well as real networks through social networking systems (SNS). Web 2.0 clearly allows users to create the web and collaborate. However, large proportions of schools (including my own) now use virtual learning environments (VLEs), where communication tools such as discussion forums, blogs and wikis usually serve single class instances – not a larger network. Furthermore, although content creators within a VLE can easily link to the outside Web, the reverse is not true, because inbound links are often blocked (Alexander, 2008). This really asks the question – how do you maintain conversations on either side of a password barrier?

I don’t have the answers, but I hope my current research helps to inform the debate. I’m currently in the process of looking at social networking systems such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and the potential education and privacy issues that arise from them. Over the coming weeks I plan on writing a series of blog posts that explore different social media as well as reporting my overall findings at the end of the project. For now I’m going to leave you with the excellent ‘A Vision of Students Today’ video which really highlights the need to rethink education in the light of the impact of Web 2.0:

Perceptions of Literacy – A fixed point

As part of my MA in New Literacy Studies I have been researching perceptions of literacy in relation the context of the original National Literacy Strategy. I will of course write a more in-depth post about my findings in due course but here is an initial report of what I discovered:

Grim reading isn’t it? Of course the framework has been renewed and offers a much more pluralist approach to literacy education. However, some schools do still use the original strategy AND remain loyal to it’s deeply conservative ideology. We really are at a fixed point in how literacy is defined and taught in schools. More soon.

Half-term Hecticness

I’m currently in the midst of a half-term break. However, I have literally not stopped since walking out of the school door on Friday. I’ve been dashing about all over the place and yesterday I travelled to Hathersage (in the picture above) to visit Elaine Millard who I first met at the UKLA conference in Greenwich. Not only is Elaine’s published work exceptional, she is also one of the nicest people I have ever met. We enjoyed a lovely lunch and managed to sort out her blog, which is now online here . Elaine has been one Orange Class’s most active followers on Twitter and we are hoping she will visit Orange Class soon! But we will accept tweets in the meantime!

I’ve also been spending some of my time reading some of David Barton’s fascinating book ‘Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language.” He suggests that literacy takes place in many different domains which embody different types of literacy. I feel like I have been dashing around in different domains all week!

Doctor Who – Infinite Possibilities

A few people have asked me to post some information about the Doctor Who work my class completed last week. It was planned with the aim of beginning to engage some of the learners who had negative attitudes towards literacy. I’ve always found using the children’s own popular culture in the curriculum to be an effective way to make them realise that literacy is relevant to their own lives. This isn’t a new idea of course – you just have to read some of the work of Anne Haas Dyson, Elaine Millard and Jackie Marsh (among others) to understand the importance of popular culture in the curriculum. (more…)

Circle, Circle, Dot, Dot…

Circle, Circle, Dot, Dot… Now you have the Cootie Shot!

Anybody outside of the US ever heard of that phrase? I hadn’t until recently but it’s actually a huge part of North American children’s popular culture. It’s a ‘vaccine’ for the condition of Cooties, a fictional disease perceived to infect others, particularly members of the opposite sex through body contact, proximity or touching a person’s possessions (definition from Wikipedia). It’s probably best compared to the ‘lurgi’ in the United Kingdom.

I don’t know how to quite describe the Cooties thing. Children inventing a new disease to fit in with their play and construction of their worlds. If children are playing in their own worlds why not invent these real life factors too? They have even invented their own cure (the ritual above) and some children also sell cootie shots – talk about trying to take part in the global economy. From this single idea many other areas of literacy have begun to bleed in.

The video below shows a video produced to raise awareness of Cooties…

Interesting… but what if children made their video when they actually believed cooties was real? Children raising awareness of an issue that they perceive to be completely true. That would be very interesting indeed…



A few months ago I recieved an email asking if I would be interested in visiting Futurelab to discuss the use of digital literacies in the primary classroom.  For those of you who haven’t heard of Futurelab (you should have!) it’s an independent non-for-profit organisation interested in transforming how people learn through innovative practices mostly with digital technologies. They’ve developed a range of projects including the recent Beyond Current Horizons and Enquiring Minds projects – both of which are well worth a read.

Futurelab is a really cool place to be (that’s the best word to describe it I think). I was invited to discuss the Digital Pariticaption project with Cassie Hague and Sarah Payton. I had a brilliant day talking with Cassie and Sarah about digital literacies, critical literacies, then moving onto multiliteracies and its importance for the current educational context. It was great to speak with two likeminded people about issues that are really important to me. They were also excellent hosts and really made me feel welcome, especially with an amazing lunch. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about this project when data is collected and keeping in touch with Cassie and Sarah via Twitter.

If you haven’t read any of Futurelab’s work, you should…

UKLA Conference

Greenwich University

Last week I spent four days in Greenwich while I attended the UKLA conference and focus day on writing. It was great to see so many people attending the conference and a chance to meet up with old friends is always welcome. I enjoyed catching up with Guy, Julia and Jackie as well as Lynda and Angela (who incidently has a new blog).  I also had another chance to get to know Angela Thomas and chat about the fantastic work she is doing in second life (which I must start to use more). I was in complete awe when when I got to meet Courtney Cazden (one of the inventors of multiliteracies) as well as the amazing Elaine Millard, who is genuinely one of the loveliest ladies I have ever met. It was great also to meet with Bill Lord who I’ve spoken to frequently on Twitter about educational issues and new technologies and his collegues at Birmingham City University. I also convinced David who I work with on the Multiliteracies Learning Initiative to attend the conference so it was great to see someone from the North East there too.

The symposium went very well and the room was packed. It was real honour to speak in front of so many distinguished members of the literacy community about the fantastic work that Orange Class has produced.  The keynotes and parallel sessions were very interesting and there seemed to be a lot about digital literacy coming through, which is encouraging. It does confuse me however at the lack of emphasis on multiliteracies as a means of transforming education and the curriculum. It covers so many different types of literacies in the world – cultural, social and professional to name a few but just doesn’t seem to be mentioned that much.

Also while in Greenwich I had the most amazing Jack Daniel’s flavoured steak at a tiny cuban bar and finally got to ride the Docklands Light Railway (on a hilarious journey with Julia and Kate). I’m looking forward to Winchester already!

Out with the new… and in with the old?

Over the past few weeks I have had tremendous amounts of work to complete and little time for reflection. It isn’t until you manage to catch a quick breath that you realise how you miss appreciating the little things in life. I have just finished watching the ‘100 Greatest Scary Moments’ on E4 and I remembered my love for horror films. I have been so engrossed in researching and understanding children’s popular culture and literacy practices that I have been neglecting my own. I can’t remember the last time I sat down to watch a decent horror film at home. I only ever seem to have films playing in the background while I am at a computer working. So I have decided to dedicate some time in the holidays to watching three films on blu-ray I haven’t seen before.

I have been working hard on developing the new school website – an immense project in itself with Web 2.0 possibilities allowing the children to create and shape the site. While doing this I have forgotten about the MLI website and this blog. After thinking recently about where I want the Multiliteracies Learning Initiative (MLI) to go in the future I have decided to have a bit of a redesign and realignment of this blog. The blog is now more of an independent entity as it really represents my views and my life rather than that of the MLI members. So I’ve therefore spent the evening redesigning the layout, updating the core Joomla system and components and giving it a more general literacy and ‘life’ feel to it. I’ve also made the URLs and site contents a lot more accessible and easier to navigate.

I’ve chosen to stick with Joomla for blogging. Although its not a dedicated blogging platform I am blown away by its potential and I’m really enjoying learning how to use and develop the system for my school and the MLI. Plus I don’t want to have to learn another progamming language or set of rules when I have too much else on!

I’m trying to put work-related things to the back of my mind for the next few days. I am going to reclaim some time for me. I have movies to watch, family to see and friends, who I just don’t see enough of, to meet up with.