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CLASH! Superheroic Yet Sensible Strategies for Teaching the New Literacies Despite the Status Quo

reviewed by Melda N. Yildiz - January 17, 2014

coverTitle: CLASH! Superheroic Yet Sensible Strategies for Teaching the New Literacies Despite the Status Quo
Author(s): Sandra A. Varva & Sharon L. Spencer (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617355178, Pages: 312, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

Sandra A. Vavra and Sharon L. Spencer’s 2011 edited book, Clash: Superheroic Yet Sensible Strategies For Teaching The New Literacies Despite The Status Quo was a lucid, informative, and passionate teaching strategies guide for literacy teachers as well as other educators who are searching for innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to integrating new literacies into education. This book is the last volume of the Literacy, Language, Learning series edited by Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt. While exploring innovative trends in literacy instruction for the 21st century classroom, the book outlines the opportunities and challenges in developing lesson activities using new media resources (e.g., National Geographic’s ZipUSA activity, collaborative Youtube and wiki projects,) that promote 4Es-Exposing Knowledge, Employing Information, Expressing Ideas Compellingly, and Ethics: Right and Wrong on the Information Highway (Warlick, 2004). Fortunately, Clash, is available for educators, and it can serve as a comprehensive resource to create lesson activities and inspire teacher educators, in-service and pre-service teachers to promote 21st century literacy skills not only for students but also for themselves.

Organized with detailed steps, most of the chapters in the book draw heavily from the first hand experiences of authors who designed, implemented and experienced literacy instruction integrating new genres (graphic novels, TV advertising) and educational technologies such as Youtube, wikis and blogs. The editors, Vavra and Spencer, both faculty at North Caroline Central University, organized this book with relevant and field tested ideas and strategies for educators seeking for guidelines to develop innovative and interdisciplinary literacy based courses. As such, most of the chapters include teaching activities and some include suggested projects such as producing TV commercials and gallery walks that are based on the authors’ experience, with a focus on the importance of developing new literacies among students.

Some of the metaphors and comparisons in the book that are related to superhero characters from comic books may be hard to understand for those who have never read or watched Batman or Spiderman or are not familiar with American culture. Nonetheless, in each chapter, authors as superhero educators and their collaborators brought together connections to the word “Clash” as a metaphor for change and challenge in the educational status quo. Even though there are plenty of books and online resources available for educators focusing on literacy instruction, few are especially written by educators for educators in a conversational manner like Clash. Some chapters take the reader from development to implementation of suggested project-based and issues-based activities in literacy education, suggesting cost free online resources (unfortunately some of the URLs given in the book are outdated), and other chapters provide interdisciplinary classroom activities, teaching strategies and assessment instruments.

The book has 4 parts and 15 chapters. The book documents the journey of over nineteen educators who shared their heroic projects and collaborations, experiences in designing and implementing lesson ideas and activities for literacy instruction. Each chapter starts with a captivating title followed by a short abstract that draws readers into the focus of the chapter. In each chapter, we gain an insight from the authors and their teaching experience.

Part I, Batman Begins, Simply, has three chapters: The first chapter, The Cold, Hard Cash of Truth about Literacy in the 21st Century, is written by the co-editors who outline current literacy research, define critical literacy, and argue for the importance of embracing new media and technologies for 21st century learning. As Vavra and Spencer note “Change is imminent. We can either put on our capes and soar into the potential of this century or be relegated to the dusty shelves of the past” (p. xvii).

In the second chapter on teaching argumentative essays, Tom Scheft shares his teaching strategies and highlights the importance of creating TV commercials in the language arts classroom. Students experience each step from brainstorming to production stage while learning new literacies using new media and technologies. In the third chapter, Sarah Wynn shares her Superheroic Resourcefulness: [by] Expanding Literacy and Engagement through YouTube in the composition. Youtube is used as a collaborative learning tool for writing across disciplines and for creating a collective learning atmosphere that encouraged students to collaborate, communicate and compromise with their peers as well as the world community.

Part II, The Force Is with Reluctant New Media Adopters, contains three chapters. In Chapter Four, Tabetha Adkins shares her experiences as the director of a writing program transforming a  “traditional” English 100 course into a multimodel one by integrating elements of popular culture such a comics and movie clips. In Chapter Five, Collie Fulford suggests the use of wikis and blogs in writing classes. She outlines the steps and issues of integrating a wiki as a collaborative composing tool, introduces the use of wikiglossary for listing key terms for the class and also highlighting new media ethics. In Chapter Six, Rachelle S. Gold uses NPR’s thisibelieve.org website to teach media literacy and historical, civic, and cultural awareness.

Part III, Bringing an X-Mentality to the Everyday Classroom, includes five more chapters on various projects. In Chapter Seven, Lisa Carl incorporates new media (e.g., audio, video recordings of poets) into teaching poetry. In Chapter Eight Sara Littlejohn and Hephzibah Roskelly incorporate graphic novels to develop digital literacies. In Chapter Nine, Sarah M. Henchey and Sharon L. Spencer share their gallery walk project integrating various new media focusing on the paradigm shift between teachers and students. Students have choice in their learning while becoming producers versus consumers of knowledge. In Chapter Ten, Stefanie Frigo presents the Changing the World—One Zip Code At a Time project using National Geographic web resources. Doris K. Tyler outlines Universal Design for Learning (UDL) guidelines, the importance of backward design (UbD), and describes the role of new media such as webquests in designing inclusive classrooms in Chapter Eleven.

Part IV, From Indiana Jones to Buzz Lightyear: Moving Literacy from the Temple of Memory to Infinity and Beyond, contains the last four chapters. Chapter Twelve encourages educators to integrate media production. Colleen Reilly shares her journey developing a producer classroom culture using Wikipedia and video making projects. In Chapter Thirteen, Mark Pepper proposes digital composing for language learning. George Pullman provides a historical look at information literacy and a critical dialog about memory versus writing in Chapter Fourteen. He argues for the importance of being able to organize, remember and present ideas in the digital age. And finally, in Chapter Fifteen, Tom Sura offers a definition and rationale for archival literacy, and demonstrates how to use a wiki for course archive projects.

In short, Clash invites us all to become superheroes and exceed “customary norms and the limitations of the status quo” (p. 4). In each chapter, the authors challenge our ways of teaching by providing resources and lesson activities; they explore the role of new technologies in our teaching practice by citing a long line of scholars, philosophers, and superheroes from Plato to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Marshal McLuhan to Paulo Freire; and, most importantly, they bring together discussions about how we will adapt the new media and technologies, not whether we should.


Warlick, D.F. (2004). Redefining literacy for the 21st century. Worthington, OH: Linworth.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 17, 2014
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17384, Date Accessed: 5/19/2022 5:32:52 AM

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About the Author
  • Melda Yildiz
    Kean University
    E-mail Author
    MELDA N. YILDIZ is an associate professor in the School for Global Education and Innovation at Kean University and adjunct faculty in Master of Education in Technology in Education at Lesley University. 2009-2010, Melda served as the first Fulbright Scholar in Turkmenistan. Since 1994, she taught Media Literacy Education, Multimedia Production, Women Studies, Asian Studies, and Global Education to P-16 educators and teacher candidates. Melda worked as a Media Specialist at Northfield Mount Hermon School, taught video and media production to grades 9-12, and published and presented featuring Educational Media, Global Education, Media Literacy, Education Semiotics, and Multicultural Education in many national and international conferences. She received her Ed.D. from University of Massachusetts on Math & Science and Instructional Technology. She received an M.S. from Southern Connecticut State University on Instructional Technology. She majored in Teaching English as a Foreign Language at Bogazici University, in Turkey.
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