The Miss Rumphius Effect:
Envisionments for Literacy and Learning That Transform the Internet

Donald J. Leu, Jr.
Rachel A. Karchmer
Deborah Diadiun Leu

Syracuse University
Syracuse, New York, United States

Many of us have enjoyed the story of Miss Rumphius (Cooney, 1982). In this delightful book, Barbara Cooney describes how the title character travels the world, accumulating many adventures. Eventually, however, she returns to her home by the sea and discovers a way to make the world a better place by planting lupines, beautiful wildflowers, wherever she goes. The story illustrates how a committed individual can envision a better world and then act on that envisionment, transforming all of our lives. It is an important lesson for each of us.

The story is also a useful metaphor for a revolutionary development taking place in literacy education. Just as Miss Rumphius made the world a better place by planting lupines wherever she went, teachers and children are enriching our instructional worlds by planting new visions for literacy and learning on the Internet, transforming the nature of this new technology. These instructional resources are then used by other classrooms, making our students' worlds richer and more meaningful.

Recently, we have been studying how teachers and their students create new envisionments for literacy and learning with Internet technologies. Stories of these events are so common and have such profound impact that we have been looking for an appropriate label to capture this phenomenon. Since Miss Rumphius also sought to make the world a better place, we refer to this as the Miss Rumphius Effect. The Miss Rumphius Effect has the potential to change our instructional lives, providing us with many new and exciting resources for teaching. At the same time, it will also change the nature of literacy as new forms of information and communication appear.


Envisionments for Literacy and Learning on the Internet

What is an envisionment? Envisionments take place when teachers and children imagine new possibilities for literacy and learning, transform existing technologies to construct this vision, and then share their work with others. By sharing effective resources and strategies on the Internet, we are quickly developing rich curriculum networks that transcend materials previously available for instruction. It is an exciting and potentially powerful development in the field of literacy education.

One example has been developed by Mark Ahlness, a third-grade teacher at Arbor Heights Elementary School in Seattle, Washington, USA. Mark developed the Earth Day Groceries Project at http://www.earthdaybags.org. Each year, Mark and his students run this project to encourage other classrooms to decorate paper grocery bags with environmental messages and distribute these to stores for Earth Day. The project increases environmental awareness, making our world a more beautiful place. In 1998, over 484 schools participated in this important project, distributing more than 162,000 grocery bags with environmental messages. Visit Mark's web site and explore the potential of this wonderful resource for your curriculum.

Or consider several international projects that took place recently on the Internet. For example, Peter Lelong and his Year Four students at the Fahan School in Hobart, Tasmania, conducted extensive research about the cultures of Indonesia. As part of their study, Peter's students developed a beautiful version of the traditional Indonesian folk tale The Blooming Flower of Flores and posted this on the Internet to share with others at http://www.fahan.tas.edu.au//Compute/Flores/pgone.html. Since then, many classrooms have visited this site to read their work.

This activity led to a second envisionment for literacy and learning in Peter's class -- an extensive e-mail project with Indonesian students in Malang, East Java. During the project, students in both countries learned about one another's culture through their studies and correspondence. Check out the Hobart-Malang Electronic Mail Project at http://www.fahan.tas.edu.au//Compute/indo.html. Since posting the results of their collaborative study, teachers and children from around the world have visited this site. It is an outstanding resource, providing important information about the cultural contexts in these two countries. It also establishes a wonderful model for collaborative learning between students in different cultural contexts. As teachers and children explore this location, using it as part of their curricula, many see related projects for their own classrooms.

This is what happened in Ms. Hos-McGrane's Grade 6 social studies class at the International School in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. After reading about the experiences at the Fahan School, students in Amsterdam integrated the story The Blooming Flower of Flores into their own envisionment for literacy and learning, Creation Stories and Myths at http://www.best.com/~swanson/creation/cstorymenu.html. This is a growing collection of creation stories and myths from around the world. It is yet another outstanding curriculum resource developed by a teacher and her students, available for all of us to use.

And the Miss Rumphius Effect does not end here. Other classrooms studying creation tales have visited Ms. Hos-McGrane's classroom page, exploring the extensive collection of multicultural folk tales and using them in their own study. As they do so, teachers and children around the world envision new possibilities for their own classroom home pages from the wonderful models established by these exemplary educators.


The Miss Rumphius Effect

Every day, teachers and children just like the ones we've mentioned are constructing new visions for literacy and learning with Internet technologies, making their work available to other classrooms. Figure 1 describes a few of the many new resources created by these talented people. We encourage you to visit these fine locations.

The Miss Rumphius Effect is producing fundamental change in the nature of classroom literacy instruction. It has profound consequences for all of us as new curricular materials are developed in classrooms and become available to others. A unique aspect of the Miss Rumphius Effect is that classrooms around the world are exchanging their envisionments. While teachers and children have always constructed envisionments for literacy and learning within their individual classrooms using earlier technologies, doing so on the Internet is fundamentally different. The Internet breaks down traditional classroom walls, making each envisionment immediately accessible to other classrooms. This access allows each of us to benefit from other classrooms' envisionments and to include them in our curriculum. We see an example of this in the story of how the wonderful resources developed by teachers and children at the Fahan School in Tasmania led to connections with schools in Malang, East Java, the International School in The Netherlands, and many others.

The Miss Rumphius Effect has both theoretical and practical implications. From a theoretical perspective, evidence for a Miss Rumphius Effect supports Bruce's (1997) suggestion that literacy, and the cultural context in which it exists, transforms technology. It is clear that new technologies transform the nature of literacy (Reinking, 1998). We are quickly becoming aware, however, that this is not a one-way street. Just as new technologies change literacy, literacy also changes new technologies within a transactional relationship. Teachers and children are transforming the Internet by constructing curriculum that reflects the needs and realities of the classroom -- an exciting prospect.

Another important consequence is that the Miss Rumphius Effect contributes to the continually changing nature of literacy (Leu, 1997, online document; Leu, in press). As new envisionments for literacy are regularly developed and exchanged, new definitions of literacy appear, requiring new forms of knowledge and new strategies for successfully exploiting these information resources. The Miss Rumphius Effect speeds up the already rapid pace of change in the forms and functions of literacy we are beginning to see on the Internet.

In terms of practice, the Miss Rumphius Effect provides important support for all of us as we seek to keep pace with the continuously changing landscape of literacy it creates. By exploring other teachers' classrooms we learn new ways to support our own students. We have much to learn from one another as we discover the importance of exchanging envisionments and building upon the successful models of others.

How do teachers exchange envisionments for literacy, supporting one another in providing better literacy and learning experiences for children? Teachers share information in many informal ways as they begin to encounter one another during their journeys on the Internet. They are also discovering several types of locations that support these exchanges: central sites for Internet project descriptions, central sites for stories of teachers' journeys, and mailing lists (listservs).


Central Sites for Internet Project Descriptions

Increasing numbers of teachers are taking a project approach to Internet use in their classrooms, using an instructional framework sometimes called Internet Project (Leu & Kinzer, 1999; Leu & Leu, 1999). Internet Project is a collaborative instructional strategy in which learning experiences are developed and exchanged between two or more classrooms over the Internet. One example of Internet Project, "Passage to Hiroshima," took place recently between a classroom in Nagoya, Japan, and classrooms in several other countries around the world. In this envisionment for literacy and learning, a classroom in Nagoya sought collaborating classrooms interested in studying the importance of peace and international cooperation. The class proposed to exchange useful sites on the World Wide Web related to world peace. They also asked participating classrooms to develop interview and research questions that the Nagoya class could use during their upcoming trip to Hiroshima. They volunteered to interview citizens of Hiroshima and then share the results, including photos, upon their return. Thousands of projects similar to this one take place each day on the Internet between collaborating classrooms.

Each of these projects is another example of how teachers and children are transforming the Internet through new envisionments for literacy and learning. If you are interested in exploring these envisionments, visit a location where teachers describe upcoming projects and seek other classrooms to join them. You could do this at a number of central sites where teachers post their project descriptions to find collaborative partners. One of the best locations is Global SchoolNet's Internet Projects Registry at http://www.gsn.org/pr/index.html. Here you will find a search engine to permit you to search a rich set of upcoming projects for your class. Permanent, ongoing projects may be found at Global Schoolhouse Projects and Programs Main Page, http://www.gsn.org/project/index.html. If you are looking for collaborative projects with schools in other countries, pay a visit to Intercultural E-mail Classroom Connections at http://www.stolaf.edu/network/iecc/, a wonderful resource provided by St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, USA. Additional information about a project-based approach to using the Internet in your classroom may be found at NickNacks Telecollaborate! at http://home.talkcity.com/academydr/nicknacks/.


Stories of Teachers' Journeys

One of the best ways to get acquainted with Internet use in the K-12 classroom is to learn from teachers who have been using this technology with their students. A few locations are devoted to sharing these teachers' envisionments. They post stories by teachers describing the new worlds that begin to open when Internet technologies are integrated into their classroom lessons. These stories are excellent models if you are just beginning your journey into classroom Internet use.

Several web sites are specifically created to give classroom teachers a chance to share their Internet stories, as well as to offer advice on the best sites, projects, and collaborations available. You can find stories about these envisionments for literacy and learning with Internet technologies at sites such as the following:


Mailing Lists as Gathering Places for Exchanging Envisionments

Many teachers also discover new envisionments through mailing lists or listservs. A mailing list, often referred to as a listserv, is a discussion group for e-mail subscribers. A message sent to the posting address is distributed to everyone who has subscribed to that list. This enables subscribers to participate in conversations among a wide circle of colleagues who share similar interests. By "listening" to the discussions, you will quickly discover many new envisionments for literacy that can be used in your classroom. Subscribing to the right mailing list(s) will provide you with many new instructional ideas as you discover how other teachers respond to common challenges.

How do you subscribe to a mailing list? There are slightly different procedures, depending upon which software a list uses. Listserv is the most common software used for mailing lists, but other popular programs include Listproc and Majordomo. You will find directions for using all types of mailing list software at the following locations.

Each location contains extensive lists of mailing lists organized by topic. Each also contains a search engine. These are useful locations to begin your search for the mailing list that matches your precise interests.

To subscribe to a mailing list using Listserv, the most common software, send a subscription message via e-mail to the list's administrative address. Figure 2 indicates the administrative addresses for several mailing lists popular among literacy educators. Type the administrative address in the "To:" box of your e-mail window. Leave the "Subject" box blank. Then, type a subscription message in the first line of the "Message" box. Your subscription message should contain only the following information:

Be certain to disable your signature, if you use one with your e-mail software; any other information in your subscription message will confuse the mailing list software.

For example, to subscribe to RTEACHER (the mailing list run in conjunction with this column that discusses instructional practices related to traditional as well as Internet literacies), you would address your message to the administrative address for this mailing list at listserv@bookmark.reading.org. Rachel's subscription message would look like this:

Shortly, you will receive a "Welcome" message. Save this message! It usually gives you directions for how to post a message to the mailing list as well as directions for leaving the list.

To "unsubscribe," or leave a list, you usually send an "unsubscribe" message to the administrative address. The message should read as follows:

To unsubscribe from the RTEACHER list, for example, you would address your message to the administrative address for this mailing list at listserv@bookmark.reading.org and then send the following message:

Many educators find mailing lists to be a useful way to discover new envisionments for literacy and to share their own envisionments with others. They are a wonderful way to sustain your professional development, meet new colleagues, and make new friends. You may wish to join at least one of the mailing lists in Figure 2 and explore its potential to support your needs.


The Shifting Epistemology of Effective Instructional Practice

Increasingly, technology is changing faster than our ability to evaluate its utility for literacy by using traditional approaches (Kamil & Lane, 1998; Leu, in press). In literacy research, for example, it has become difficult, if not impossible, to develop a consistent body of published research within traditional forums before the technology on which a study is based is replaced by an even newer technology. Unless this situation changes, it is likely that traditional research will play a much less important role in defining our understanding of new technologies and new literacies. We believe this potential may result in a fundamental change in the epistemology of effective literacy instruction. Teachers' envisionments, tested in the realities of actual classroom practice, are likely to become more important in defining effective literacy instruction. In the future, the Miss Rumphius Effect may exert an even more powerful influence in determining effective classroom strategies for teaching and learning.

Increasingly, classroom teachers, not researchers, may define the most effective instructional strategies for literacy and learning. Teachers can evaluate instructional effectiveness and quickly spread word about an especially useful strategy on the Internet faster than researchers who currently require substantial time before results are published, often in journals with limited circulation. Our understanding of effective literacy instruction may be informed more often by teachers who use continuously changing technologies on a daily basis and less often by traditional forms of research.

Perhaps, as Broudy (1986) suggested, we will have to depend more on the credibility of advocates for different claims than on verifying the truth of their claims. This would be an important development in our field. Increasingly, teachers who develop highly effective and widely recognized envisionments for literacy may serve as central informants for effective instructional practice. There would be a pleasant irony to this development for, like Miss Rumphius, we would return home to the place where the most important part of our work takes place -- the classroom.

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References

Broudy, H.S. (1986). Technology and citizenship. In J. Culbertson & L.L. Cunningham (Eds.), Microcomputers in education (85th yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, pp. 234-253). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
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Bruce, B.C. (1997). Literacy technologies: What stance should we take? Journal of Literacy Research, 29, 289-309.
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Cooney, B. (1982), Miss Rumphius. New York: Viking.
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Kamil, M.L., & Lane, D.M. (1998). Researching the relationship between technology and literacy: An agenda for the 21st century. In D. Reinking, M. McKenna, L.D. Labbo, & R. Kieffer (Eds.), Handbook of literacy and technology: Transformations in a post-typographic world (pp. 323-342). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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Leu, D.J., Jr. (1997). Caity's question: Literacy as deixis on the Internet. The Reading Teacher, 51, 62-67. Available: http://www.readingonline.org/electronic/RT/caity.html
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Leu, D.J., Jr. (in press). Technology and literacy: Deictic consequencesfor literacy education in an information age. In M.L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, P.D. Pearson & R. Barr, (Eds.), Handbook of reading research(Vol. 3). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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Leu, D.J., Jr., & Kinzer, C.K. (1999). Effective literacy instruction (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
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Leu, D.J., Jr., & Leu, D.D. (1999). Teaching with the Internet: Lessons from the classroom (2nd ed.). Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
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Reinking, D. (1998). Synthesizing technological transformations of literacy in a post-typographic world. In D. Reinking, M. McKenna, L.D. Labbo, & R. Kieffer, (Eds.), Handbook of literacy and technology: Transformations in a post-typographic world (pp. xi-xxx). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
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Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted April 1999
Published April 1999 in The Reading Teacher
© 1997-2000 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232