Cynthia Lewis is Professor of Critical Literacy and English Education at the University of Minnesota. Her current research focuses on the relationship between digital media practices, social identities, and learning in urban schools. Cynthia’s books include Literary Practices as Social Acts: Power, Status, and Cultural Norms in the Classroom and Reframing Sociocultural Research: Identity, Agency, and Power (with Patricia Enciso and Elizabeth Moje). Both books were awarded the Edward Fry book Award from the National Reading Conference. She is past Co-Chair of the Research Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English and has served on the executive board of the National Conference on Research on Language and Literacy.
Given persistent disparities in educational achievement and high school retention, there is an urgent need to understand processes that promote high school success in adolescents at risk for academic failure. An essential 21st Century skill set for all of our nation’s students includes the information and communication technology skills to allow for participation as creative and informed citizens as well as critical thinkers well versed in core subject area knowledge. In light of a pervasive digital divide, it is essential that schools provide the access, resources, knowledge, and skills that will allow all students to succeed academically in high school and beyond. Students from low-income households, who lack access to computers and the Internet in the home, need to acquire digital media practices in school.
Educators have the responsibility to provide all students with an education that encourages them to become creative and informed problem-solvers and citizens. Moreover, our increasingly visual and global culture means young people need to develop the capacity for critical citizenship so that they can “read” the linguistic, visual, and aural signs and symbols that inundate their lives, public and private. High-poverty urban schools rarely have the resources to provide a curriculum that will engage students and develop this capacity. The Digitial Media Program, known as DigMe, at Roosevelt High School, is a program that aims to do just that.
DigMe is a college-preparatory program in a diverse, high-poverty urban high school that uses evolving digital technologies to enhance learning in all subject areas. Developed as a partnership between the University of Minnesota and Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis, DigMe taps the expertise of faculty and students from the University’s College of Education and Human Development, providing a new kind of learning community which gives students a chance to work with the kind of audio, video, and computer technologies that are shaping society. The DigMe Digital Media Program mission is to empower students to think critically, build meaning, and demonstrate their understanding across all subjects by applying college preparatory, project based learning using digital technologies.
DigMe teachers strive to build an engaging and challenging curriculum. All units in English/Language Arts, for instance, involve students in accessing multiple texts in multiple media genres, critically analyzing texts, engaging in dialogic discussions, and, finally, creating (visual art, essays, photography, audio diaries, films) sharing, and reflecting. Brief descriptions of a few of this year’s units speak to the rigor and relevance of DigMe.
Neighborhood Blog Project
In this interdisciplinary social studies and English unit, 9th graders studied their own and others’ neighborhoods in order to answer the following questions: “What is a neighborhood? How do neighborhoods change over time? How does the individual impact his/her neighborhood?” In the process, students wrote about their own neighborhood, interviewed adults about their neighborhood affiliations, read about neighborhoods in The House on Mango Street and Days of Rondo, and researched and evaluated issues facing their own neighborhoods with the use of digital mapping and databases. Students’ collected their work for the unit on blogs.
In advance of creating a documentary film, students in an interdisciplinary English and Social Studies class were asked to take a series of photos that cohere around a unified theme. David Cruz Nava’s is about the working hands of immigrants from Mexico. He decided to use iMovie to create his project and wrote a script to accompany the photos.
After studying propaganda in advertising and politics, students were directed to use comic life and photobucket to create a propaganda poster of their own. Students needed to demonstrate their understanding of propaganda by choosing an issue they care about, deciding the statement they wish to make about the issue, and creating a poster using propaganda techniques and images to persuade an audience.