Blog Post

My One-Book Syllabus

Next semester, I'm teaching yet another pushing-the-boundaries of everything course, "Twenty-First Century Literacies."   Here's my official course description:   Please read that long, detailed, careful description before you throw rotten tomatoes at me for revealing the syllabus:  one book.  A novel.  Room.  By Emma Donoghue.  That's it.


Why?   Because I will lead the first conversation on 21st century literacies, the one on "attention."  And I never start with the obvious, the scientific literature.  I like my students to experience their own atteniton and Room, told from the point of view of a five year old living in an extraordinary world (I'm not going to spoil the plot) that he thinks is  the world, is one of the best discussions of how culture creates attention that I know.   And then, in the course of the novel, when the boundaries of that carefully circumscribed world are broached, the edges of attention must change.


We'll read--and then we will do something.  It's not just a class about reading but also "multimodal" literacies.  We'll visit a museum or music or artist's loft or neuroscience lab or a dance class . . . and then make something together--an attention app for the iPhone or a wiki or a website.  We shall see . . .


Then,  we will go back to the early 1970s work on attention, and on to 1999 and Chablis and Simons, and on to Linda Stone, and Levitin (always, for music and beyond) and Morcom and Fletcher, and Small, and all the rest.


But that's where I stop paying attention (so to speak) to 21st century literacies.  On the second day of class, after everyone has taken home Room and also the list of 21st century literacies, each person will come to the front of the class and "pitch" one of the literacies for us to pay attention to that semester.   There are about twenty or twenty-five on the sheet and they are welcome to take one of those or add another.  They then write their "literacy" (however they want to describe it) on a card and put it up at the back of the room on the wall.  After everyone has heard every pitch, they then go and make a mark on the two cards that interest them the most.   The eight with the most marks will be the start of our syllabus for the semester. 


It's at this point (I ALWAYS do this: it is magical, and the best confidence-builder ever) that I leave the room and tell them when I come back I'd like them to have the entire rest of the class arranged.  I give them the template with breaks and field trips designated, and they fill in who is in what peer-led group on what day, with each person's name on the list, and the topic defined.  There will be some "wild card" days when literacies that we haven't chosen will get attention from the people who could not find others to support their enthusiasm.   We'll do one session (thank you, Anne Balsamo) on how we can express silenced and minority voices in a crowdsourced environment.  


My students will learn more than they thought possible.  I will learn more than what I thought it was possible to be learned in one semester.   And it will begin with only one book on the syllabus and sixteen very, very smart students brave enough to trust themselves and one another. 


1 comment

In 2009, I reblogged several of our friend Howard Rheingold's indispensable blogs on the four "twenty-first century literacies" he defines as essential.  Check these out: