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Contemporary Literacies Beyond the Classroom: A Teacher Seeks Out Participatory Culture

Publication: New Jersey English Journal
Date: April 2014

Summary: High school English teacher Lauren Goldberg chronicles her experience developing her own contemporary literacies and making professional learning connections online—and how it has informed her teaching practice.


My first Twitter chats immersed me in new literacies, or 'Twitteracies' (Junco), demanding that I learn new skills for participation. Besides forcing me to represent my thoughts in a condensed format, the chat challenged me to read in a fast-paced, nonlinear way. Along with learning Twitter abbreviations and the etiquette for participation, I was bombarded with new terminology and texts.

I am still awestruck by the way Twitter allows me to quickly connect with experts. After designing a lesson using storyboards based on an article from New York Times' 'The Learning Network' (Olsen and Schulten), I tweeted the authors that I adapted their lesson. Within six minutes, I received a tweet from @NYTimesLearning asking for samples of student work.

When—to my horror—I discovered at the start of my sophomore American Literature class that a streaming video I had planned to show was no longer available online, I turned my horror into a teachable moment. I told my students of my failed attempt to save the video, how I had emailed the website's support staff last year and asked how long they planned to keep this video online for free. I searched my 'sent mail' folder live on my projection screen: 'There are no plans to take [the video] down for a while,' my saved email read, signed by the Communications Director of the company that produced the film. I recruited my students to use their smartphones to loc.ate a copy of the film online. One student found a free version on iTunes, but when downloaded, the file would not play.

I recognized this unexpected conundrum as an opportunity to practice authentic writing for different audiences. As a class, we composed four messages: a message to our school's technology department; a reply email to the Communications Director; an email to iTunes customer support; and a tweet to the director of the film. I then adjusted my lesson plan and began the next day's activity early. To my surprise, two class periods later, the original website's video was working again. I sent another tweet to the film's director; a member of the director's staff replied, 'Hi there—[the film] is back up and working! Enjoy!' I also received a reply from iTunes customer support correcting the problem in iTunes. While the original lesson may not have gone as planned, I was able to model for my students how to solve problems in the digital age; we combined our knowledge and resources to affect change."

About the Author
LAUREN GOLDBERG has taught English at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, New Jersey for seven years. She is pursuing a doctorate through the Contemporary Learning and Interdisciplinary Research (CLAIR) program at Fordham University. Contact her at or on Twitter, @LGreader.

Copyright ©2014 by the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with Permission.
Goldberg, Lauren. "Contemporary Literacies Beyond the Classroom: A Teacher Seeks Out Participatory Culture." New Jersey English Journal (2014): 29–34

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