Literacy Found in Identity (Pt. 2)

In my last post, I talked about a student named “Jeff,” a super-inquisitive, digitally connected student who presented the challenge of being almost totally disengaged from classwork! After two months of work, it had come time for Jeff to present his work in our culminating event with the community. After the presentation, Jeff’s father approached me and gently knocked me off my feet by mentioning that Jeff had been raving about the project at home – yet, as the father would go on to describe, “the true Jeff wasn’t in this project!”

Jeff’s father was concerned for his son – not in his capacity to learn, but for his passion to learn. And you know what?

He was right to be.

And I need/ed to be, too.

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In the following days, I spent far more time trying to get to know what drove Jeff, rather than on what Jeff needed to learn. I discovered that the disengagement Jeff may have had in class did not translate into disengagement from learning; quite to the contrary, Jeff had been passionately learning all along! In talking with Jeff, I found out that the many, many times Jeff had asked me about watching a YouTube clip during lunch, or the many times he asked what channels I subscribed to were really signals to his passion: digital connection and creation/expression on digital platforms!

So where was Jeff in his learning?

On YouTube! As it turns out, my perception of the moments when Jeff appeared turned off in class, disengaged from in-class work, and uninterested in the content area were only a small portion of the real story of Jeff’s learning. Just underneath the surface, Jeff was soaking in what he was learning on a deep level – and when he left the classroom, he then translated his learning in ways beyond what I could’ve imagined.

Jeff had made an entire YouTube channel dedicated to his learning! Without prompting, he had taken the initiative to take his learning and express it, manipulate it, expand it, and even challenge it on a medium he felt was far more representative of his passions. In one example, as Jeff proudly demonstrated to me one day during lunch, he had developed such digital literacy tools as curation, social networking, and being a “Maker” by mashing together videos about ecosystems from formal and informal sources to tell the story of nature’s interconnectedness in his own way. In another example, Jeff had used his notes and class takeaways to craft a completely original video that used his Minecraft account to build an extraterrestrial ecosystem, complete with biotic and abiotic factors, interdependent beings, habitats, even biomes! Such learning hit far higher levels of thinking than many of our classroom activities and explorations had touched, and Jeff’s creation, synthesis, evaluation, and application made learning meaningful and authentic to him.

For every go-getter in class, there is a Jeff who is equally passionate and creative. Moving forward, I will be considering ways to ensure every student’s identity is present in their learning! Stay tuned!

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