Alternative (part 3/3)>>Monitoring as Emerging Practice

<< Alongside compartmentalizing, participants kept a close eye on changing contexts in order to adjust to new situations. I called this practice “monitoring” (see also Pigg, Zhou and Rosson). Participants writing not only focused on accomplishing tasks in isolation but also kept check on the world around them in ways that allowed them to adjust holistically and “triage” in response to changing priorities. Again, this happened within individual tasks but was also an important part of bringing together the social and affective needs that influenced how writing took place. For instance, Kathryn liked to work in public because she felt lonely at home. Being in a coffeehouse allowed her to position herself to gaze outward toward others, leading her to feel like part of a shared inhabitant of a space that was growing and changing rather than an isolated individual. In her videotaped work session, Kathryn often glanced up at the configuration of people and things around her, monitoring the setup, looking for changes, and motivating herself to keep working by breaking the monotony with a sense that others around her were engaged similarly. This physical activity was mirrored in how she monitored email and social networking accounts. While this activity might be seen as distraction, it was planned and fulfilled the affective needs that made a difficult writing task accomplishable.

How Can Kathryn's Practice Help Us See Student Bodies Differently?

Compartmentalizing and monitoring are alternative ways of understanding what appears as distraction. Reading these as embodied behaviors connected to the materiality of literacy, I avoid localizing student literate activity as cognitive preference or suggesting that the pulls of multiplicity against which students work are related only to personal, generational, or cognitive inclinations toward digital media. However, by calling for a different positionality with respect to student bodies and emerging literacy practices, I do not mean that students no longer need academic literacy instruction. Looking toward emerging practices need not mean that students no longer need school to help them grow in their literate lives. Computers and Writing specialists, in fact, have long argued that we not make broad assumptions about what students’ prior experiences with technologies mean for their ability to be rhetorical, critical, and functionally literate, especially in their encounters with writing technologies (see Selber). For example, Davida Charney studied the cognitive effects of technologies like hypertext on cognitive processing before Scott DeWitt conceptualized the “impulsive reading model” habituated into web reading as a process against which to teach rhetorical reading. More recently, Stephanie Vie advocated teaching critical analysis in order to help students deal with the overload of information and ubiquitous advertising to which they have often become desensitized. And Amy Kimme Hea has similarly cautioned educators to avoid making assumptions about the knowledges and skills that students have with social media. Understanding the emerging practices of contemporary students only better prepares literacy educators for scaffolding pedagogies based not on lack but instead on existing practice. >>