Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Going Public: Exploring the Possibilities for Publishing Student Interest-Driven Writing beyond the Classroom

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Language and Literacy

Going Public: Exploring the Possibilities for Publishing Student Interest-Driven Writing beyond the Classroom

Article excerpt

In this article, we engage in a critical exploration of the literacy events sur rounding a writing assignment enacted in an eighth grade journalism and digital media studies elective class at a public secondary school in the United States. In our current political era, where journalistic writing is constantly politicised and scrutinised, we find it both crucial and timely to investigate the possibilities and challenges of teaching students about writing for public audiences. Here we draw on data from a yearlong ethnographic inquiry with youth who engaged in the study of journalism and digital media, which included publishing for public audiences beyond the classroom (Duke, Purcell-Gates, Hall & Tower, 2006). Informed by connected learning researchers' illustrations of the potential impact of connecting student self-interest with publishing in the academic sphere (Ito et al., 2013), we recognise the learning potential for student-led authorship. Through connected learning, teachers work with students to enact both digital media and analog projects driven by youths' individual and collective interests, with the products disseminated to public audiences within and beyond the school walls. In doing so, teachers advocate for students by making space for their individual voices, within an often disempowering system of standardised instruction and assessment (Garcia, 2014).

While such work is often couched in an optimistic discourse touting the positive, transformative nature of digital technology for learning (Selwyn, 2010), this discourse often fails to account for the on-the-ground messiness of enacting student interest-driven writing and publication. Further, we recognise the way in which student interest in schools is often shaped by what Gee (1996) described as the secondary Discourse of school as opposed to the primary Discourses of passionate affinity spaces in line with a connected learning framework. Following Soep (2006) and other self-titled Critical Youth Studies scholars (e.g., Dimitriadis, 2001; Sarigianides, Lewis & Petrone, 2015) who posited classrooms to be places where power relations are always present and productive, we ask: What happens when audiences beyond the classroom including school authority figures intra-act with (Barad, 2007) students' interest-driven writing? How do or might teachers and youth navigate these negotiations that have both immediate and long-term implications for student voice and choice in the connected writing classroom? In this article, we look deeply at the work of youth and teachers as they negotiated institutional spaces within and beyond the classroom, in particular through the story of Annie and the tensions that arose as her article--critical of her school's approach to Physical Education (PE) classes and advocating for change--circulated among audiences both known and unknown.

To illustrate the tensions and opportunities that arise when student interest-driven writing leaves the classroom and goes public, we draw on scholarship that conceptualises literacy as an im/material practice (Burnett, Merchant, Pahl & Roswell, 2014) and an embodied identity performance (Enriquez, Johnson, Kontokorvi & Mallozzi, 2016). With these lenses come an emphasis on the ways 'literacy is materialised and materialises in different ways through texts, bodies, and screens and the spaces they generate' (Burnett et al., 2014, p. 7). As students and teachers engage in writing for publication beyond the classroom, the literacies they practice will be im/material. In other words, students' literate identities and subjectivities (i.e., ways they perceive themselves as and are recognised by others as literate), are interwoven with the texts they write, their feelings, the screens upon which they appear, and the variety of spaces (e.g., school websites and blogs, online social media) these texts, feelings, and screens make. How does the im/materiality of literacies shape and shift teacher-student power relations? …

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