Literacies and Education 2013
Welcome! This course, an elective in the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program, explores peoples ways with words, in and out of schools, families, institutions, cultures, and societies. It's about the work of literacies in making art and change -- and in keeping things the same.
This is the online community space for conversation reflection. Please enter in a spirit of respectful inquiry and wide possibility!
I have started reading the newspaper more often and I found something really striking today. The article “Students Face Tougher Test That Outpace Lesson Plans” is self-explanatory demonstrates the issues of our current education system. In my field placement, I often do wonder how much of the school’s curriculum really focuses on the children’s individual needs and also considering their limitations. To what extent is the education system really heading towards the right direction especially if these children’s’ lives are affected by early exposure to stressful situations in this vulnerable childhood development period? Perhaps this question hasn’t been addressed in our class. In terms of literacy, are parents really pushing their children to read beyond their level as fast as possible? Where is the value of failures, mistakes and patience?
In my meeting with Alice yesterday, I brought up my hope to have a clearer understanding of how to incorporate critical literacy into the curriculum, especially when there are significant structural limitations. I also wonder how one approaches this realm with differing types of students (socioeconomically, racially, gender). In recalling Marsha Pincus’s presentation, I wonder about how she described her experience with a student telling her that her material was “white man’s bullshit.” If I were the teacher in that circumstance I would be extremely intimidated and probably paralyzed (at least temporarily). It seems like a huge challenge to consider each diverse attribute in the classroom without spending too much time on the material or overemphasizing differences; because as teachers we hope to build a united classroom community, I think that stressing our differences too much can create unwanted divisions. However I still do believe that students’ and teachers’ dissimilarities should be acknowledged and celebrated.
So this week, in terms of ed placement I've been trying to discover more of Asian culture in relation to America. In my placement I figure out that I knew nothing of the Asian American experience even thought I want to honor everyone's diversity in my classroom someday. I wouldn't have picked up on this if it hadn't been for my suburban placement having only white and asian kids. I was taught to look at majority and minority balances in terms of possible difference and then I thought "Oh no, I want to teach at a suburban school someday, but white culture is easy to adapt to, what do I do with the Asians?" This was really weird for me because I pride myself on being multiculturally sensitive becuase of my backgrounds, and what was even weirder is that my best friend since 3rd grade is Viet, but I still don't feel like I know how her race and culture relate to her experience. For some reason, that racial experience has always been invisible to me, despite my exposure to literature about the Hmong in the US and other groups. I decided to reconsile this dissonace by bugging my asian friends to help me learn more and I hope to take an Asian American history/culture class before I graduate. I can't believe I didn't notice one of the biggest groups in America in my quest to be inclusive. I'm really embarressed about this, but at least now I know and I can work towards making that better.
SOMETHING TAKES CONTROL OF ME
colors spin around
pick me up
and take me
down a rabbit hole
The previous week we had read an article by Marsha Pincus and this week we actually had Marsh come in and speak to our class, which was awesome! Marsha started off our class with a small activity that I first thought nothing much about it but as my peers and I got into it, I realized just how significant it could be. Marsha had placed a chair in the middle of the circle we had formed and wanted us to imagine of a teacher we once had that has made a significant impact in our lives whether positive or negative...
My eighth grade English teacher was Mrs. Barrish... she had asked to stay after class to talk to me. I remember wondering if I was in trouble but instead Mrs. Barrish had been wondering if I had ever considered applying to a private school for high school. I remember thinking she was nuts because I wasn’t smart and I didn’t think she was actually being serious... I decided to give it a try but only because I wanted to do it for her and make her proud. It wouldn’t be until later on that I realized that she didn’t want me to do this for her but for myself...
I didn’t end up going to a private school but I remember feeling like I disappointed a lot of people and then thinking that the only person stopping me from being the best I can be was myself and so I worked hard and with extra help everything paid off because I am now at one of the most respectable institutions in the world. Marsha’s activity reminded me of where my inspiration to get to where I am today started from.
What I really liked from Marsha’s article that I see is an effective way to engage students in the material presented was by allowing them to participate in letting their voices be heard through their intellectual autobiographies as well as generate their own exam questions. I believe that by taking the approach in making it all about the students was effective in that it encouraged students to participate, boost their self-confidence in this particular area and challenged them as students in critical and analytical thinking.
For instance, I remember my junior year in high school, my teacher made a similar approach in that she asked us something about ourselves, which I liked because it showed that she was putting in the effort in trying to get to know me. In addition, I felt like to her we weren’t just students but young adults. For instance, in class we would hold discussions on the text rather than just jotting down notes and being expected to know and understand the material. And when we did not understand something, she had no problem in breaking the passage down for us and going over it while asking for our opinions on what we thought. I enjoyed being in her class because I felt like I was a part of something and that it was my class, my teacher and I all learning the material together which, encouraged me to be more active in class and feel like I actually got something out of it.
silence breaks into pieces
and stabs my ears
MY BRAIN FLIES OUT OF MY HEAD
The second thing that was notable this week occurred today during our class discussion with Marsha Pincus. As I shared in class, when I was in middle school we went on a week long overnight field trip, in which we were divided into groups. At the time, we noticed that the groups seemed to be divided by cliques, including which teacher was leading the group. For example, the athletic kids were with the gym teacher, the kids in band were with the band teachers, etc. A few years later, the gym teacher whose group my friends and I were in confessed that they had drafted the groups. At the time, we absolutely loved our groups. I was with my favorite teacher and all my friends, so it seemed like the ideal situation. However, reflecting back now, I see that all that did was establish and enforce the stereotypes that we already felt about each other and ourselves. While it is true that these groups already existed, making these groups established that they were concrete and acknowledged that the teachers were also aware of them, and felt no need to attempt at integration. In high school, we all developed other interests, but the groups remained. Perhaps part of this is that we were not encouraged to reach outside of these groups at a young age, which lead to the cliché, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This was also an example of our teachers projecting themselves onto us, as in many ways the groups seemed to be divided by who they would have liked to be friends with if they were our age.
Please use this space, and Marsha can find us and join in!
Hey guys I've been really bad at posting entries.. Sorry I'll post them here and you all can chose which, if any to comment on. =)
Journal Entry 5
In class we split up into journal groups and created checkpoints for teachers to assess student’s learning processes. We decided these as key points in creating a productive learning environment
Instead of my usual placement this week I was treated to a special morning. This week, the middle schoolers get to choose to participate in a three-day enriching seminar-style learning experience. The topics vary but I was able to observe the basketball option (“Hoops and Dreams”) as that’s what my supervising teacher was assisting with. The girls (all in different grades) were able to come to school in out of uniform, athletic clothes since they would be playing basketball every afternoon in addition to watching basketball films and documentaries and games every morning. When we got down to the court and the girls began to take off their heavier sweatshirts and sweatpants (in favor of their tank-top style shirts and shorter shorts) I was immediately blown away by how there seemed to be three distinct discourses of clothing. One group of girls who congregated together all wore Lululemon shorts, headbands, and tanks. They weren’t all the same style, but they were all the same brand, and the girls, even though they weren’t all friends and were in different grades, automatically congregated together as the coach divided them up into teams. Another group of girls that congregated together were the girls that were all on the middle school varsity basketball team. These girls (from diverse backgrounds, some of whom were students of color) wore basketball-specific athletica clothing (longer, mesh shorts and tanks). A third group of girls that congregated together wore miscellaneous “athletic” outfits.
For my journal entry this week, I wrote about my first visit to my field placement. Expectation and preparation are words that frame how I am thinking of this first experiences. For this first visit, I traveled with students from the women’s mental health class. I had no idea what kind of program I’d be walking into, or what sort of participation would be expected of me. I knew only that I would be getting ‘oriented’ to a program geared at teaching functional spoken and written English to the mothers of children who attend preschool at the center. The four college student-volunteers were placed in different “offices” and rooms of the prefabricated building, we each worked with two or three mothers. The day’s lesson was intended to prepare the moms to order food in restaurants. The program’s leader had formulated a series of questions she thought would be at an appropriate conversational level for the mothers.
I had my first field placement on Friday, and it went extremely well! I got to speak with the teacher for twenty minutes before the students came back from Spanish, and I was immediately able to tell how much she loves to teach and how much she adores this school. She has a great deal of experience, and she was very eager to have me help out in the classroom (she is co-teaching with a teacher who I have not met yet). The children (first and second grade) came back and, after introducing me to the students and having the students introduce themselves to me, the teacher gave them a spelling test. This gave me the opportunity to see what level the children are at in their spelling, and to learn a new way to set up a spelling test: the teacher glued illustrations of Native Americans on the top of the page to remind the students about what they are studying (each year they alternate between studying Native Americans and People of the World).
One thing that I did notice was, when the teacher read a story, there was a part that read, “You fight like women! Can’t you fight like a man?” I was a bit concerned that the teacher did not have a metaconversation with the students about gender stereotyping, as that simple sentence can have a serious impact on the way students think about their own strength in relation to their gender.
During one of discussions last week, we talked about how teachers often get frustrated with their students when they aren't doing they things they are asked to do. We also talked about students who are demotivated, not unmotivated, but demotivated from school work because they are struggling to connect. Thus, the challenge that I would like to focus on is how does learning happen when there are so many other situations that the learner faces outside of the class. Here, the learner is both the teacher and the students.
Teachers and students are both people and sometimes when our basic needs aren't met we tend to feel frustrated about other things that we think we can control. For example, in our small group discussions we talked about how teachers have no bathroom or snack breaks. Even the students have a bathroom visit limit and a restriction from eating in class. As we all know, these are some basic calls to nature that we all must abide by to be healthy. Yet, students and teachers are often shackled down from these needs. Without energy from the food, our inhibitions go down and we can't learn. So, is there really a point even to be in class if no one can focus? Without our inhiitions, we get frustrated easily and channel anger towards those who aren't even part of the situation. As outsiders, we can judge and say that the angry person is incensitive, but how will that solve that fact there's something else in the lives of the students and teacher that requires more immediate attention?
(I'm sorry if this is long, my real journal entry is longer).
I wrote my post this week on chapter 3 of the book our class is reading Teaching for Social Justice by Connie North. In one of the chapters one of the characters, Joe, acquires his social studies gig as a teacher and it is clear that he would not have gotten it if he wasn’t a minority. The district didn’t want a “blond, blue-eyed woman” despite the fact that she had masters in African American history and Joe did not. The idea of reverse racism is a prevalent one these days as I have heard some of my friends wonder if they actually have to fight harder because they are white, and some councilors joke about how colleges need minority students so that can make it more likely that a student who is a minority will be accepted into a school of their choice. I’m not sure where I stand with this issue. I am a political science major and last semester we talked about descriptive and substantive representation. In the first, constituents want their politician to not only stand up for their beliefs but also look like them, and in substantive constituents also want a representative who will advocate for their best interests, but the person doesn’t have to look like them.
Through my observations in the classroom and the subsequent examination I have made of myself as a possible future educator, I have thought a lot about the specific role of compassion in the school environment. I often tend to have a negative initial reaction to teachers who are brusque with students, even though I consciously recognize that it is part of maintaining discipline in a classroom that they, but not I, spend hours in every single day. I think it is easy from an outsider’s perspective to expect that every classroom interaction should be compassionate, and to think this isn’t happening when a teacher is short with a student who keeps asking to go to the bathroom, for example. I think that there is something to be said for focusing on creating relationships of caring and concern in a broad sense within a classroom environment, which is something that takes time and energy on parts of the student and teacher. A truly compassionate educational relationship, like any relationship, would be characterized by being able to deliver and accept criticism while also feeling safe and ultimately supported in one’s endeavors. I think this speaks to Margaret’s point that deeper relationships exist where the desire to please is put aside.
"I talk to my student teachers about failure all the time because they don’t need my help with success. Success is actually a naturally occurring phenomenon. If something’s not going well, you know it and roll with it. You need preparation for failure, not success.” (North, 26)
After having had read Lives of the Boundary Mike Rose and Noa’s Arkby David Schwarzer, I began entering the class feeling enthusiastic and of course full of ideas to experiment with my tutee. My goal from this visit was to further extend Mike Rose’s statement regarding human connection. I wanted to gain trust but equally gain respect from my tutee. I started the session by asking if he had any homework. He responded “yes” accompanied by an unwilling spirit. We started the homework with math problems regarding symbols such as < (less than), > (greater than) and = (equal). It occcured to me that it takes a lot of creativity to form something interesting that can gain my tutee’s interest. In terms of English, we did a few words that required us to fill in the blanks. One of the vocabulary for today was the word “shade”. At first we tried to illustrate the word through drawing tall trees shading people below them. Later, I tried to illustrate this word through some acting techniques. I was trying my best to create a third space between us while reminding myself not to be oppressive but still gain respect. . It was certainly a tiring day but I learned so much more about my tutee and I was so proud of him when it came to reading time. Last session, my tutee was barely interested to get by two books. Today my tutee told me that he wanted to make his parents proud and he read me 5 books.
This week at my field placement I was able to observe a metacognition class. When I walked in the students were seated at their desks working independently on what seemed like different steps of the same process. Some were reading through packets of paper, others writing by hand, and still others on their computer. At the beginning of the year the students learned about different learning styles and figured out which type of learning style they have. They learned about how their brain works and why one method may work better for them. As the year progressed they learned about different study skills and techniques and practiced developing these skills in the classroom.
I was amazed that this school is implementing this type of learning at a sixth grade level. I think it is an extremely important skill to possess and I am happy that these students are able to have the resources to develop their study techniques. However, I would argue that the meta-learning process needs to be taken one step further. I think it is important for students to apply the same methods to talking about the curriculum and where they are in their learning process within their core subject areas. I hope that I have the opportunity to talk with some of the students in the class to see what they think about this process and their learning.