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Scholarship Update! Reflections on the AASL Fall Forum

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As the recipient of the NCSLMA scholarship to attend the 2012 AASL Fall Forum, I’m here today to tell you all about “Transliteracy and the School Library Program.” (Not really, but I will share what I learned and pondered most.) First, a little about me - this is my first year as a middle school librarian in Chapel Hill, NC. I was previously an elementary school librarian in Urbana, IL, so middle school and the South are both new to me! That being said, the topic of transliteracy was also new to me, and I thought this the perfect opportunity to jump in and learn more. 

What is transliteracy? 
“Transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks” (Thomas et al)

Let me paint you a picture that you might be able to relate to:

I’m sitting on the couch. The television is tuned to HGTV - another episode of Property Brothers is on! One of these days I’ll tackle a home renovation of my own, thanks to the knowledge gleaned from these guys. I’m browsing a knitting magazine or two looking for my next project. I text my sister, asking her what she’s knitting these days (she replies with a photo of her latest creation - a lace shawl). I grab my laptop and log on to, a knitting community where I can keep track of my projects, find new patterns, and interact with other fellow knitters from around the world. I search for projects that use the yarn I just bought. I look through pages and pages of results, hoping to find a new pattern to try. Mind you, I have yet to leave my couch. 

Sound familiar? This, I imagine, is not far off from where many of our students are. Change the channel, the hobby, and add a tablet, e-reader, and/or video game system, and welcome to our students’ worlds. 

How does thinking about transliteracy impact my practice as a school librarian?
In our Keynote Session, Henry Jenkins spoke about participatory culture in his travels and experiences. This culture can be summed up with the 4Cs - create, collaborate, circulate, and connect. Think about the Learning Commons model so many of our libraries are adopting (see references) as a place to not only read and check out books, but also to create multimedia products, engage in thoughtful discussions, and connect with others. At my school, students are most definitely participating in our library - they are recommending books to me and to each other. They are writing responses on our “Google a Day” bulletin board and talking about their answers. They write notes on our table tops (we cover them in butcher paper for this very reason!). They write reviews for our book blog, and they will soon begin to use DestinyQuest to keep track of their reading and recommend books to each other. Yes, we have a participatory culture! But what does that have to do with transliteracy?

In our next two sessions, Kristin Fontichiaro presented more deeply on the meaning of transliteracy and how to apply it to our practice. Her “nagging questions” were:
If transliteracy is the ability to move in and out of genres, engaging as a reader/consumer, writer/contributor, and if we believe that is valuable, how do we build those skills to ensure a robust future citizenship?
And how do we talk about effective student work and instructional design? 
These questions led to some very familiar (and sad but true) examples of integrating technology for technology’s sake. You know the assignments I’m talking about - creating a PowerPoint presentation about a famous inventor or moving the beloved bird unit to Glogster. These types of assignments require very little thought on the students’ part and abandon the notion of critical thinking or academic rigor. But somehow they are justified because we are using technology, and isn’t that the goal? Instead, Fontichiaro insists that we employ standards of good technology use, what she calls “Rigorous Learning with Technology.” Learning with technology should be student-centered, focus on synthesis rather than retelling, authentic, value-added rather than automated, and should show a strong understanding of genre/format. When we collaborate with teachers to incorporate technology into their lessons, are we pushing ourselves to these standards? 

In our last session, Barb Jansen asks another BIG question:
How can school librarians ‘bridge the gap’ by connecting the informal learning occurring in the participatory culture to formal educational experiences?
The answer? Collaboration, of course. In its many forms, collaborating with teachers is the best way to make sure that students are able to move seamlessly across formats and genres. Moreover, we focus on moving between traditional print-based media to electronic and interactive media, where students are creating their own digital content with just as much (if not more!) academic rigor. Jansen shared many personal examples of her successful collaborations with teachers (see references). 

All in all, it turns out I knew more about transliteracy than I thought - I just didn’t know what it was called. Now, I can share my newfound expertise in “Rigorous Learning with Technology” with teachers, and we can co-plan assignments that challenge students and use technology to its maximum potential. It won’t be easy to shift some mindsets, and it might be completely new to some teachers, but this is where we really ought to be leaders in our schools, and I’m ready for it. Are you? 

--Natalie Sapkarov
Smith Middle School

Durham Academy Upper School Learning Commons

North Carolina State University Learning Commons

Transliteracy: Crossing divides by Sue Thomas, Chris Joseph, Jess Laccetti, Bruce Mason, Simon Mills, Simon Perril, and Kate Pullinger
First Monday, Volume 12 Number 12 - 3 December 2007

Transliteracy, libraries, and participatory culture : Research 2 Practice by Barbara A. Jansen

Transliteracy: The Word is Not Enough, Part 1 by Kristin Fontichiaro

Transliteracy: The Word is Not Enough, Part 2 by Kristin Fontichiaro

-Posted by Natalie Sapkarov, NCSLMA Fall Forum Scholarship Recipient

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