Ed 250: Literacies and Education
This is the online community conversation and resources space for Education 250: Literacies and Education, a course in the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program taught by Professor Alice Lesnick. Please feel free to join us -- via individual and course blogs and mico-blogs (via Twitter) -- as we explore literacy learning as a process of ongoing personal, cultural, and political negotiation and invention among and across people’s ways with words. The focal contexts of our studies will be the U.S. and West Africa, specifically Northern Ghana, where some of us will travel over spring break as part of the interdisciplinary cluster of courses making up 360: Learning and Narrating Childhoods.
Interactive Blogging: Reflections, Connections, Questions, and Information
As our trip to Ghana draws closer and closer, I find it more and more necessary to revisit Lugones's piece on code-switching and world-traveling. I find myself torn between excitement and anxiety in regards to travelling to Ghana.
On one hand, I worry about the implications my mere presence will have in Ghana. I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and pale skin: the epitome of what the stereotypical American is. I have the appearance of a colonizer, my ancestors were most likely colonizers; no matter how good my intentions are, I feel as if it is impossible to detach myself from the power and privilege of being an elite liberal arts college student who has no business pretending like I can fully understand and grasp Ghanian culture. I also feel very limited in knowing only a few phrases of Dagbani, which I'm certain I will butcher with my. Without the ability to code-switch, I feel like my ability to world-travel is much more difficult since I will be conversing in the language of the colonizer, which is used primarily in professional and academic settings.
Going back to my notes on that reading - there was a heavy focus on alienation. Adults may be alienated by being illiterate, but then, forcing them to learn could also be alienating.
I’ve been thinking about all these things because I’ve been reflecting on my internship from last summer, trying to find a connection between that experience and the 360/Educ 250. I worked in the Education department at Nationalities Service Center, especially in classrooms in which immigrants and refugees are learning to speak English. This experience had a huge impact on my academics last semester - I applied that passion to classes on bilingual education, cultural tensions/fusions, and immigration. After that internship, I found connections between the experience and courses about Language, Culture, and Policy. However (and thank you to Alice again, for helping me flesh this out), I wasn’t thinking about the fundamentals. - Fundamentals being, I think, Literacy. So of course there is a connection between my tutoring adults and the class I am taking now.
Researching storytelling in Ghana for our presentation was an interesting learning experience, although there were details that I was previously aware of, predominantly that the act tended to be verbal rather than written. I did find it of interest that being a storyteller is considered being a profession, it made me think of the differences in what we value in this society in comparison. We value reading and literacy, but it is of higher value to be able to write stories down than it is to pass stories on verbally. In spoken word poetry we can see value placed on verbal storytelling, but that art form is valued by a few and is far from being universally appreciated. Why is that we value one form of transmitting knowledge, experiences and stories over another?
I remember the first time I read a novel that had characters that talked like me. It completely changed my attitude towards reading. I began to read one book a week starting in junior high because I loved reading about protagonists that also students who struggled through social problems.
This reminds me of the Gee reading because of the discussion on discourse. At the beginning of the semester, I did not have a firm grasp on the meaning of discourse. However, now it seems that I do understand it more, or I am at least more comfortable with the vocabulary. One thing that the Gee reading reminds me is the importance for people, especially youth, to see their discourse in other areas of life. Being able to read about people who went through similar issues and reading phrases and words that I experienced on a daily basis was in some way a source of empowerment. It made my middle school self feel less alone in the world to know that there are other people who are similar to me and talk the same way.
This week I am revisiting the Lugones reading about world-traveling and feeling at ease in the worlds we travel through. When I first read the reading, I disliked it very much. I did not understand exactly the terms the author used and I definitely could not understand them in relation to literacy. I realize now that the Lugones reading was not something I could read and just immediately get. Instead, I had to experience what she meant by world-traveling and this experience played out this weekend when I attended the Posse Plus Retreat (PPR).
For those who do not know, the PPR is a weekend-long event open to Bryn Mawr students, faculty and staff invited by the Pose scholars on campus. It is an annual event and its goal is to get people connected and to be challenged by conversations about a central topic. The one I attended was on gender & sexuality.
This weekend, I travelled to a new world and it was not without unease. A little ignorantly, I thought that there wasn't much to learn about the topic because I had two gay best friends, I went to a very open high school, and I go to Bryn Mawr, a school that is very supportive and vocal about the LGBTQAAII community. Of course I was completely wrong. Even worse, I left the retreat feeling like I had never belonged or felt at ease in that "world" even when I thought I did at first. Feeling, in some ways, excluded, I left PPR with more questions than answers to my frustrations. I think they are very relevant to the Lugones reading so....
This week I was not sure what exactly the blog post was about. I want to build off of the information that we have been presented during the past week in the class presentations. I was extremely interested in both the language presentation and the story telling presentation. I found it interesting how in the first presentation we learned about the different languages and dialects spoken in Ghana. We were taught this information by students in the 360, none of which are from Ghana. Then a guest, a student, came to talk to us about her experiences as a student and a Ghanain in relationship to language. I was instantly struck by how I became uncomfortable in the classroom. In the begining when there was no one from the country being taught present I was comfortable learning about the culture and language. However, once a student from the country was physically present I became a lot more uncomfortable and uneasy. It made me wish that either we were not 'teaching' about Ghana or that the guest herself was talking instead. However, I then became even more frustrated. People of places are not always 'experts' or good representations of a place, but more importantly, no one person should be forced to be a 'representative' of a place or story. I do not actually have an answer or a final conclusion. I was just very confused myself after class on tuesday about what had taken place. What does it say about me as a learner? my comfort? my discomfort? What difference does it make who is 'teaching' and what they are 'teaching about?
I wanted to go back to Maria Lugones article about world traveling after thinking about this concept in our daily lives. I recall in class when we did a comparison between world traveling and code switching through investigating their differences. In short, some aspects of world traveling included being present and listening, a goal of being at ease, and participating and observing in a open and accepting environment. We discussed code switching as a product and knowing what is expected and trying to fit into a particular situation instead of experiencing it with fewer predefined expectations. Lugones' idea of traveling between many worlds presents an idea similar to code switching but with different intentions: "Those of us who are "world"-travellers have the distinct experience of being different in different "worlds" and of having the capacity to remember other "worlds" and ourselves in them" (11). Through experiencing these different worlds, world travellers are able to be comfortable and expose themselves to many different environments and experiences shifts in their personality and ways they act. Lugones emphasizes that these are often not conscious and happen naturally due to the environment they are in (11). This differes from code swtiching where there are often active attempts to change oneself to fit into a situation. After reading this article and thinking about it in the context of daily experiences, there are many instances of code switching that happen regularly and shape the way we learn, act, and are perceived by others.
This past week my group presented about "NGOs in Ghana." On the topic of Millennium Develpment Goals, I said how Ghana was on track to accomplish their MDGs by 2015. With consideration to the time limit I was unable to go in depth on Ghana's specific progress on the MDGs so I will expound more on it here:
Over the past few weeks I have been studying NGOs in Ghana. I was not very surprised by the information that I learned by specifically looking at Ghana but I was surprised by the role of NGOs on an international level. The first question I wanted to learn when I was assigned this topic is what exactly is the role of an NGO? Why does its name only describe a thing that it is not? Couldn’t there have been a more descriptive title than “non-governmental”. I was interested to see how people in our class would respond to being asked to describe NGOs in one word. I was not surprised that it was difficult for people to do because NGOs cover such a wide variety of interests. Depending on the area of need, NGOs will help with poverty, healthcare, childcare, nutrition, microfinance, and education.
I was overall intrigued and impressed by our presenters this past week and the perspectives and information varied greatly, though related to various forms of literacy. I am interested in the way literacy regarding the written word intersects with literacy in textiles and other art forms. In this sense does literacy mean proficiency in a certain area? The ability to decode and recreate material in that code?
For our presentation on Storytelling this Tuesday we will have students break up into groups to write their own fables on a topic of their choice. Although we will have limited time and limited art supplies we are interested in providing students options to convey their fable through oral and written word as well as illustrations, physical art such as masks and props, and using the body to act out the message.
Having A come in this week was a great “reality check” for me. It also made me think harder about all of the literacies I have gained this semester and year in my field placement. My placement is in a very vocabulary-y school--there are catchphrases for everything, from “catch a bubble” for not talking to “X is off the team, but working hard to turn it around.” When I first started there last semester, I was constantly overwhelmed by the vocabulary. I could usually understand it in context, but I was unable to apply most of it independently. Now, I’ve led a small group lesson, I regularly work with individuals, and I’m preparing to teach a writing lesson to the whole class on Friday. I’m also going to get a pull-out small group for word study.
When I started thinking about this post, word study was really the connection. I recognized so much of what A was talking about--digraphs, blends, welded sounds, the idea of a picture representing every sound. I also learned that my school uses a balanced literacy program. It fits with my experience in the classroom, and it was great to hear a different teacher talk about the same curriculum. I really have developed an understanding of what’s going on in the classroom, and I no longer need (although obviously I still appreciate) my mentor teacher’s input on vocabulary when I’m moving throughout the classroom and working with individuals.
As I thought about this past week's speakers and read through people's posts (i.e. Amanda's reflections on the speakers, and Lucy's thoughts about using music to inspire learning), the main question that kept coming up in my head was: How do we make learning more fun and interesting for kids?
This past summer my internship centered around improving educational disparities in China. Moreover, my focus was on teaching English because that is the subject that separates the rural students from the urban students on the college entrance exam. The main problems surrounding teaching English in China were the teachers' lack of experience, and students' lack of interest, which in turn affected teachers' motivation to teach English. Many students did not see the use in learning English; they said they were never going to use it. And teachers, believing the harsh reality that many of their students would never get the chance to even leave their villages to ever use English, cannot convince students otherwise and easily lose motivation to teach English. In addition, as mentioned before, teachers are inexperienced in English, rarely using it themselves, even with their fellow English teachers. Classrooms also already lack resources in general, let alone any effective English teaching materials. Thus all these factors combined, including many more, discourage (English) learning in China.
I really enjoyed Tuesday’s lecture in class by Amy because I found the information on the traditional literacy process very interesting. Furthermore, it reminded me why I do not desire to be a traditional educator. If I could achieve her level of knowledge on reading and the reading process, I would consider being a teacher, but I over analyze too much to be able to be a good teacher in action. Being able to think about Tuesday’s lecture in comparison to Thursday’s lecture, I think about learning in a classroom versus learning a new type of capital that the women in Zimbabwe acquired through the women relatives in their lives.
This week I decided to write my post on music as a means of developing literacy because I will be bringing my Ukulele to Ghana. I am still unsure of how to use my instrument as an educational tool. I want to use it to teach but I still have not completely figured it out. At the very least I can use it as a tool to show how fun and easy learning an instrument can be. I would like to use my ukulele to help improve literacy through song but I would also be happy if my ukulele can be music education on its own. I think it is incredibly important for kids to learn instruments and I wish that I had started at a younger age. That being said, I wish I had more time and knowledge to use my instrument as a teaching tool. There are so many ways that music can be beneficial in teaching languages. First of all, almost everyone loves music, there is so much appeal in everything that has a tune. Little kids are always humming and trying to whistle. They view it as a fun thing instead of an educational thing. I remember when I was little, I always liked it when people sang to me. I liked it when my teachers sang my class songs, I also liked learning educational songs (such as songs about the names of 50 states), and my parents even sing to me before I went to bed. When I was little I had so many different people singing so many different songs that I became really interested in learning how to do more with them and actually learn an instr
This past week, we had two speakers come to class to speak about two vastly different topics: teaching reading and writing to students and women's agency through microfinance in Zimbabwe. These lectures marked a shift from the conceptual framework we were exploring during the first section of the class to more contextualized information in the second half. The connections between the two speakers were not necessary explicit which encouraged me to really expand my thinking and see how the many different concepts and material we have explored have been related.
A big connection I saw between the two lectures was the theme of empowerment and what it means to be educated. Reading gave power and agency to the children in Anna’s class while the women selling their products in Zimbabwe gave them power and agency. I appreciated that Mary’s presentation portrayed literacy and empowerment outside of an educational context since most of what we have been focusing on is literacy in an academic setting.
I am wondering how the rest of the semester is going to look for our class since we have presentations up until spring break. I am curious to see how we will be connecting our trip to Ghana to the different placements to new materials and speakers in class.
Last week's keyword for me was, "Disconnect." Although I appreciated the guest lecturers, I found myself either not paying attention at all or zoning in and out. When the first woman, I forgot her name, came in to speak, initially I was intrigued by the handouts -- I liked that they had practical teaching methods for reading. I also payed attention when she explained how the iPad was used in the classroom as a tool for gathering data and as a tool for visual communication between parents and teachers. However, I'm not going to lie, I barely listened to her speaking for most of the lecture and the same thing happened when Mary came in to speak about the Zimbabwean (?) women and their role in the trade markets.
The fact that I paid very little attention to the guest lectures bothered me. So, I began to wonder, is it me or is it what was being said? I think it was a combination of both.
The more we talk about literacy, the more I realize about myself as a learner. I know now that I get completely lost when a connection between what is being taught and the overall "picture" is not made. Take for instance Mary's lecture, it would have never occurred to me that the women of Zimbabwe had become literate in a different setting, the market, if Mia had not made that connection for me. And I find myself experiencing similar disconnects in Pim's and Rob's class during discussions.
I want to reflect on Amy's visit to our class last Tuesday. I thought she was an excellent guest speaker and brought the practice element to our class that is sometimes missing in education classes. Especially after our discussion in ed311 about how there is more theory than practice in education classes, I was really excited to hear Amy discuss her role as a literacy specialist in a classroom. As our class has progressed so far, I feel like we have discussed a lot about meanings of literacy in terms of technology and connections to Ghana. This definitely makes sense as the Ghana trip is the central part of the 360, but I feel like we hadn't addressed how literacy plays out in classroom situations such as at placements. I was really impressed by Amy and the way that she took initiative and responsibility for students' learning. Her handouts were really informative, especially the sheet explaining what a balanced literacy program was. I started to think about these elements in terms of my placement which was really productive in terms of helping me make connections between our class and my field placement/work at a kindergarten. Without actively realizing that I was following such a program, I realized that many of these elements are incorporated into what I do every morning when I teach. Although it is tricky to put a set definition of what sort of elements and activities make up a productive way to teach literacy, I do think it is helpful for some guidelines to be put in place as starting points for how to treat reading and writing.
In thinking of favorite books from childhood, it made think about what we absorb as children and what we futher gain when we look back on the books we loved as children. In many ways, what we learn from books as children is as valid as what we later on understand, but in other ways I think that the adult view on childrens literature is more full and developed. Here is an example from my own personal experience:
This week during the guest presentation on Thursday I wanted to ask a question relating to literacy in research. I was wondering how the professor communicated with participants in her research. I thought her research and findings were extremely interesting. I appreciated how she framed it as giving agency to women and discussed them as being resilient. Additionally, I liked how she discussed their agency and role in relationship/in the framework of macro systems and the involvement of SAPs, the IMF and the WB. But I want to know more about her research methods and process: What kind of language was used, what tone, what formality of words? Did how interviewees were talked to different based on their age or experiences or backgrounds? I wanted to ask, which I didn’t, how participants were told about the research they were part of. Did they know why they were being interviewed, what it was being used for and what story was going to be told about them? In research, what do participants get out of the experience? I thought it was a really interesting presentation not just in the content, but that the skill/ experience/ perspective she brought as a guest speaker was her profession and specific research interest. Being a researcher requires competency and literacy in how to do (in her case) qualitative in-depth interviews. Knowing how to frame questions, how to ask them, how to interpret data, code and analyze date are all part of a literacy in social science research.
Right off the bat I want to thank Jenny and Jamey for handling the presentation so well in spite of my abscence due to illness. (Still sorry about that guys)
My part of the project focused on primary education in Ghana because primary education has always been my passion. What was most important for me to convey was the awe I felt when looking at how much work had gone into the education system. I know it seems strange because so much of the formal education history is filled with failure and inequality, but I found myself inspired by how many times the education system was built back up in the face of failure. Obviously there is still a long ways to go and a lot of improvements need to be made, but I was struck by how resilient people were in terms of pushing the education agenda. I wanted to convey some of that because I think it can often be too easy to get lost in the government policies and issues surrounding funding and jurisdiction and we often miss the drive of the people.