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Cynthia Lewis

Professor of Literacy Education, College of Education, University of Minnesota

Cynthia Lewis
Cynthia Lewis has just joined the College of Education at the University of Minnesota as Professor of Literacy Education. For the last eight years, she has been at the University of Iowa, most recently as Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Language, Literacy, and Culture Program. Her research focuses on how young people’s literacy practices are shaped by social identities and the politics of classrooms and communities. Specifically, she has studied adolescents’ responses to literature as well as their digital literacy practices and is interested in the implications of this research for the teaching and learning of reading/writing. A study on social identities and Instant Messaging is forthcoming in Reading Research Quarterly and chapters on adolescents’ digital literacy practices will appear in the Handbook on Teaching Literacy through the Communicative, Visual and Performing Arts (LEA) and in the Encyclopedia of Children, Adolescents, and The Media (Sage).

Lewis is author of Literary Practices as Social Acts: Power, Status, and Cultural Norms in the Classroom (LEA, 2001) for which she has received the Edward B. Fry Book Award and the Thomas N. Urban Research Award and co-editor (with Patricia Enciso and Elizabeth Moje) of Identity, Agency, and Power: Reframing Sociocultural Research on Literacy (LEA, forthcoming). She is past editor of the media and popular culture column for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and co-editor (with Patricia Enciso) of a special issue of Theory Into Practice focusing on the social politics of reading education. Lewis is a past recipient of the NCTE Promising Researcher Award and a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. She consults for centers of research and teacher education in the U.S. and Singapore and currently serves on the executive board of the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy.

Links: Home page | Language, Literacy, and Culture Program (U. Iowa)

Research Sample: Excerpts from Lewis, C. & Fabos, B. (in press). “Instant Messaging, Literacies, and Social identities.” Reading Research Quarterly, 40:

The social identities and subject positions that we have found to be central to IM are important to how we think about young people and their literacy learning in schools. As we have already argued, ways of knowing and ways of being are interrelated. Epistemologies and pedagogies intersect to produce available subject positions for students to take up. IM draws on practices that shape users’ relationships to knowledge and identities. IM practices demand that users adopt habits of mind that are flexible, adapting across genres and modes, performing enactments of self that relate to changing discursive and social spaces. The knowledge and identities that users bring to IM, shape the technology and how it is used as well.

Kress, Jewitt, and Tsatsarelis (2000) argue that the social politic outside of school—the global, fast-capital economy, the communicative webs, the multiple modes of representation—are all about multiplicity, performativity, flexibility, and adaptability, while the social politic in school remains centered on notions of stability, authenticity, and unity. Obviously, then, typical ways of being in school leave out the compelling lives many young people live outside of school. Kress et al. argue further that for schools to meet the new demands of great economic and social change, educators need to begin to see learners as “remakers, constantly of the materials with which they engage” (p. 28).

Preparing for changing epistemologies, identities, and practices should not mean either appropriating young people’s popular technologies for school use or disregarding the deep and deliberative reading and writing processes associated with analytic and critical understandings and interpretations. Although bringing IM or other forms of Internet communication into the classroom may be possible for particular projects and purposes, doing so should not be viewed as the lesson to learn from this research. In fact, such appropriation would change the objectives and motives of the activity, the roles of the young people engaging in the activity, and the group norms associated with the activity. One of the reasons that the youth we studied used IM literacy so productively is that they were very clear about these aspects of the activity. Their heightened knowledge of the objectives and motives, roles, and rules led to what is clearly a strategic and analytic use of literacy. The question we believe should be asked is not how to actually use IM in the classroom, but how to apply to school settings the literacy practices we observed young people take up with a great deal of engagement. As we have tried to show throughout this paper, the change in literacy practices is more significant than the change in literacy tools. The tools afford particular practices, but the practices themselves are producing new epistemologies. Because schools inevitably legitimize some epistemologies or others, it is important to introduce those epistemologies connected to literacies as they occur in a range of settings such as homes, libraries, work places, churches, community centers, all more frequently making use of digital tools.

  clewis, 04.08.05

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