The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Spring 2012, Volume 48, Number 2 Expanding Literacies: A Conversation Between Three Literacy Educators Bud Hunt Nannette McMurtry Sarah Woodard
Shrimp and Literacies by Beth Cutter
Increasing Studentsâ€™ Reading Habits with Informational Texts by Karen Buntinas
The Writing Process in Digital Media by Jon Ostenson
Research: (Con)fronting Confusion by Sheryl Scales
Inside this Issue:
Columns: YA Literature
by Marge Freeburn and Jessi Barrientos
Erasmus and Digital Mobility by Philippe Ernewein
Why Invisible Teaching Matters by Josh Curnett
Spring Issue Artwork: Stuart Middle School, Commerce City “Martin” by Martin Mayo (cover) “Treyvor” by Treyvor Mortin (p. 10) “Bailey” by Bailey Blaydes (p. 20) “Nicole” by Nicole Hiatt (p. 21) “Anastasia” by Anastasia Villa (p. 31) “Serena” by Serena Bruin (p. 40) Self-portraits in oil pastel. Teacher: Jennifer Shaver Shaver explained: Students worked from a high contrast photo of themselves that was taken in class. They learned the proportions of the face and how to enlarge a photo while keeping it in proportion. Students also learned about value and color schemes. They selected a color scheme that would represent their personalities and light, medium and dark values to give the face depth.
The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Spring 2012, Volume 48, Number 2
Pondering Expanding Literacies by Sarah M. Zerwin................................................................................................................................... 4 ELA in the 21st Century Digital Mobility: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Can Now Begin with a Single Click by Philippe Ernewein................................................................................................................................ 6 YA Literature YAL Authors Featured at 2012’s Colorado Teen Literature Conference by Marge Freeburn and Jessi Barrientos................................................................................................ 8 Read-Alikes by Jessi Barrientos..................................................................................................... 11 Before the Bell Why Invisible Teaching Matters by Josh Curnett....................................................................................................................................... 37
Feature Articles: Expanding Literacies Serving up Shrimp and Literacies by Beth Cutter......................................................................................................................................... 12 Reflections on the Writing Process in Digital Media by Jon Ostenson..................................................................................................................................... 16 Incorporating Informational Texts to Increase Students’ Reading Habits by Karen Buntinas................................................................................................................................... 22 A Conversation Between Three Literacy Educators with Bud Hunt, Nannette McMurtry, and Sarah Woodard................................................................ 27 What Colorado Teachers are Saying Statement survey results........................................................................................................................ 31
Classroom Research (Con)fronting Confusion and Raising Students’ Critical Awareness in Paradise by Sheryl Scales...................................................................................................................................... 33
Resources Call for Submissions.................................................................................................................................. 2 Guidelines for Contributors...................................................................................................................... 3
Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
Call For Submissions Statement is published two times a year and is one of the benefits of being a member of the Colorado Language Arts Society. The mission of Statement is to advance the teaching and learning of English Language Arts in Colorado. While we welcome readership beyond the Centennial State and we encourage submissions from outside of Colorado, what makes our publication most relevant for our members is content which addresses the interests and issues of Colorado teachers.
Theme for Fall 2012 Issue: Stories from Our Classrooms
Stories matter—so argues Yvonne Siu-Runyan, Colorado educator and current Past President of NCTE. She is not alone in making this argument. Jerome Bruner explains that narrative is as natural to us as language, that we order our world, our lives, and our memories through stories. He says that stories are so powerful that they can even dictate how we see the world. Think about the stories told right now about school and the value of the work of teachers. How do those stories dictate the way people understand what we do? It seems that the current dominate story about schooling centers on accountability and test scores, suggesting what’s most important in education, which has lead to top-down reform measures that don’t always work. But we all know that there is much we do in our classrooms and with our subject matter that is difficult to measure with a test score. Lucky for us, Bruner explains, we seek to tell alternate stories, and those alternate stories can actually change the way people think about some aspect of human experience. Martha Nussbaum sees this as stories’ subversive power: stories order our world, define our world, and reflect how we think of our world. This is powerful–so powerful that simply telling a different story about some life experience can actually change what that life experience means, actually changing how people think about it.The National Council of Teachers of English is moving in this direction with its new National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE). This aims to seek out schools where things are working in ways not necessarily measurable on the tests and to help those schools tell their stories. If we don’t tell our own stories, we will be defined by the stories the world tells about us. So tell us a story. Be it a story of joy or frustration or heartbreak or hilarity, bring us into your classroom. Help the world to understand better what it is that we do. And toward this goal, CLAS will send copies of this issue to Colorado lawmakers, inviting them into our classrooms. Deadline: October 1, 2012.
Recurring Topics for Articles
The theme is only one source of inspiration for contributors. Statement is also seeking articles that address a variety of topics, especially written by Colorado teachers, but also from writers who can speak with authority about current issues or best practices in ELA. Contributors may wish to consider: Teaching ideas Quick teaching tips Current issues Interviews Outstanding lesson plans Vignettes from the classroom Book reviews Technology Expressive writing by Colorado teachers Reviews of professional research
Submission of Photos and Artwork
We are always seeking original artwork or photos: classroom images, Colorado scenes, artistic representations, etc. We value contributions from youth and adults equally. We also enjoy featuring the work of professional Colorado artists. Please send images to the editor as a jpeg attachment. Student work must be accompanied by a “permission to publish” form signed by a parent (available on Statement’s website at https://sites.google.com/site/classtatement/home). 2
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Visit CLAS and Statement On-Line CLAS: http://clastalk.ning.com/ Find information about: • conferences and workshops • publications • grants • CLAS membership • licensure updates • updates on state standards and assessments And find inspiration by connecting with colleagues from across the state! Statement: https://sites.google.com/site/ classtatement/ Find information about: • calls for submissions • becoming a columnist • how to participate in Statement surveys
Guidelines for Contributors Formatting Issues and Submission Process Submissions to Statement should be in MLA style, using in-text documentation with a list of works cited if needed. Documents should be single-spaced and formatted in Word. Charts, graphs, or illustrations should be sent as separate files. Manuscripts should adhere to the “Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language” which can be found on the NCTE website at: http://www.ncte.org/about/over/positions/category/ lang/107647.htm. Statement is a refereed journal, meaning that at least two outside reviewers will read each submission. Once the manuscript has been accepted, the editor may consult with the writer regarding revisions and may share comments from the editorial board as an aid to revision. In light of deadlines, we reserve the right to make minor revisions or formatting decisions. Because we recognize that many of our contributors are not
professional writers but instead actual educators, we will collaborate with contributors to ensure that the article meets the personal standards of the writer as well as the high standards of our readership. In the body of the email which contains the attachment of the manuscript, include the title of the piece, author’s name, author’s job title, affiliation or place of employment, city, state, email address, and website (if there is one). Also include a statement verifying that the manuscript has not been submitted or published anywhere else. Contributors will receive an email acknowledgement once the manuscript has been submitted. Please direct all inquiries or submissions to the editor, Sarah M. Zerwin, at email@example.com. Also see Statement’s website at https://sites.google.com/site/classtatement/home.
Editorial Information Statement Editorial Board Members Jessica Cuthbertson District Coach, Secondary Literacy Aurora Public Schools, Aurora
Julie Meiklejohn English Language Arts Teacher East Otero School District, La Junta
Katheryn Keyes Instructional Coach Adams 50, Denver
Vince Puzick K-12 Literacy Coordinator Colorado Springs School District #11
Shari VanderVelde Writing Consultant and Coach Mesa County Valley District 51, Grand Junction
Mark Overmeyer Elementary Literacy Coordinator Cherry Creek Schools, Denver
Before the Bell Josh Curnett English Language Arts Teacher Eaglecrest High School firstname.lastname@example.org
Becoming Better ELA Teachers Gloria Eastman Associate Professor of English & English Education Metropolitan State College of Denver email@example.com
ELA in the 21st Century Phillipe Ernewein Dean of Faculty Training & Development Denver Academy www.rememberit.org
ESL in ELA Columnist Needed
YAL Update Marge Erickson Freeburn University of Colorado, Denver Marge.Erickson@ucdenver.edu
Elementary ELA Columnist Needed
Jill Adams Metropolitan State College, Denver firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor-in-Chief Sarah M. Zerwin Language Arts Teacher Boulder Valley School District email@example.com
Statement, The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society, is published two times a year. ISSN: 1085-2549. The subscription price is included in the CLAS membership dues. Single copies are $10.00. To join CLAS, visit www.clastalk.ning.com. Reproduction of material from this publication (excluding poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction) is authorized if: a) reproduction is for educational purposes; b) copies are made available without charge beyond the cost of reproduction; and c) each copy includes full citation of the source and lists Statement as the original publisher. Address other requests for reprint permission to the editor. Statement is a member of the NCTE Information Exchange Agreement. The Colorado Language Arts Society opposes discrimination against any person and promotes equal opportunities for access to its activities and publications.
Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
Pondering Expanding Literacies by Sarah M. Zerwin, Editor
Last week, my 12th graders and I had a discussion about media literacy. We read together a document from the Media Literacy Project that explained, “Media literacy is a set of skills that anyone can learn. Just as literacy is the ability to read and write, media literacy refers to the ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media messages of all kinds” (“Introduction to Media Literacy”). I paused and commented to my students that the definition of literacy is far broader than “the ability to read and write.” In fact, I argued to them, being literate in today’s world absolutely includes all the skills listed there in the definition of media literacy. I’ve pondered 21st century literacy quite a bit. It seems that the world we are training our students to enter demands new and evolving literacy skills each year. I look at literacy as the set of skills one needs to be a successful, positive contributing member of our society, able to drive one’s own destiny as much as possible. Generating a list of those skills requires an understanding of the complex landscape we inhabit. Our students must be able to “read” far more than traditional text, the kind found in between the covers of books on library shelves. The reading of traditional text remains vitally important of course, but students also must be able to “read” visual messages and advertising campaigns that seem to be just about everywhere and socially networked spaces and films and youtube videos and political rhetoric and the oodles and oodles of information available at their fingertips via a simple Google search. “Reading” all of this means the ability to discern bias and credibility, to interpret a message by analyzing its intended audience and purpose, to synthesize ideas across numerous sources, to find nuance where often there appears to be none. In the first chapter of an important recent edited book on adolescent literacy, Kylene Beers reminds us that “literacy demands have shifted and we do our students a disservice if we fail to teach to those demands” (7). The shifts in literacy demands are indeed literacies expanding. Beers goes on to explain how literacy demands have always shifted as “a set of skills that reflect the needs of the time. As those needs shift, then our definition of literacy shifts” (7). She explains that literacy once simply meant that you could sign your name–the “signature literacy” of Colonial America. Since then, literacy skills have expanded over time 4
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Sarah M. Zerwin teaches language arts and journalism at Fairview High School in Boulder. She completed a PhD in secondary literacy curriculum and instruction from CU-Boulder in 2009. Her email is sarah.zerwin@ bvsd.org.
to include penmanship, letter writing, memorizing texts to recite, and analyzing texts–a form of literacy that largely dominated the experiences of most current language arts teachers in our own education. Hence, it’s easy for us to get stuck there, in that sort of academic literacy that our own educational experiences demanded of us. By “us” I mean the adults who design what happens in classrooms: teachers, curriculum writers, school board members, and legislators at the state and national level who enact laws that hold schools accountable by doling out funding only if schools do things in a certain way. It is difficult to see beyond the boundaries of our own experience; we are all often operating by default on what we know about schooling from our own experiences with it. A limited view of literacy as the set of skills to succeed academically may not serve our students for what they will actually need in their future. Beers has great concern about this: My concern [is] that we’ll all default to the demands of academic literacy, that we’ll focus on how much we need to teach to make sure kids reach that magical AYP mark, and that in doing so we’ll forget (or perhaps never learn) that how we teach in this new “flat” world Thomas Friedman so aptly describes in The World is Flat (2005) is probably more important than how much we teach. We’ll be damned sure that kids reach AYP (after all, doing less means being labeled a failing school, losing needed dollars that might help with instruction, and having the state take over the school). But in doing that, we will have prepared them for the literacy demands of a world that no longer exists. (7) Beers wrote this in 2007; five years later, add a teacher’s individual evaluation to the consequences of students not meeting whatever test score goal is in place for a school or classroom. There is now even more pressure via policy and legislation for teachers to focus on easy-to-measure-andquantify academic literacies, to focus on how much we teach over how we go about it, thereby preparing our students “for the literacy demands of a world that no longer exists.” As an aside, I know Colorado’s new standards aim to arm students with 21st century literacies, but we do not know yet how our new state assessment system will hold classrooms across the state accountable for this. I am
hoping our new state tests will be engaging learning events for students and that preparing our students for them will demand meaningful shifts in how we teach. But it’s hard to see how that kind of assessment would be manageable on a statewide scale. So I anxiously wait. Here’s where I turn to Daniel Pink for his description of the skills our students need for our changing world: For nearly a century,Western society in general, and American society in particular, has been dominated by a form of thinking and an approach to life that is narrowly reductive and deeply analytical. Ours has been the age of the “knowledge worker,” the welleducated manipulator of information and deployer of expertise. But that is changing.Thanks to an array of forces–material abundance that is deepening our nonmaterial yearnings, globalization that is shipping white-collar work overseas, and powerful technologies that are eliminating certain kinds of work altogether–we are entering a new age. It is an age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life–one that prizes aptitudes that I call “high concept” and “high touch.” High concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new. High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning. (2-3). Pink’s “high concept” and “high touch” aptitudes are a helpful characterization of the ways literacy is expanding. And I see so clearly how the work we do in the English language arts can achieve these goals. Brief Preview of this Issue of Statement The pages that follow tease out how we can and do use our subject matter to engage these expanded literacies with our students, starting with our columnists. In his column, Phillippe Ernewein thinks about those parts of our world that are rapidly changing for our students and reminds us that we must help our students to “also have a strong foundational knowledge of what remains the same through the centuries.” Marge Freeburn and Jessi Barrientos discuss how YA literature often reflects the digital world our students inhabit by incorporating digital technology genres into YA texts and that the digital world even provides more access for readers to YA authors. Even so, Freeburn and Barrientos remind us how valuable the recent Colorado Teen Literature Conference was to bring young readers into real-time contact with YA authors and the strong community of YA readers. Finally, Josh Curnett describes the “invisible teaching” we all do that cannot be measured on the state mandated tests but that is at the heart of our
work as ELA teachers. This issues’s feature articles begin with Beth Cutter, who looks closely at the new Colorado Academic Standards across content areas to show how expanded literacy skills show up in all content areas. We ELA teachers cannot meet the challenge of teaching these alone. Karen Buntinas reviews the research connected to the use of informational text in elementary and secondary classrooms. She makes the argument that if we wish to increase our students’ reading habits (I agree that this should be our goal, that our students must be active, engaged readers above all else to manage the complexity of their world), “what is needed is greater choice and more opportunities to select their own reading materials.” Including more informational text in the curriculum as the Common Core Standards require of us just may help us get there. Expanded literacies mean expanded ways for students to write using digital media. Jon Ostenson reflects on what that means in terms of the writing process. How do we guide our students through the writing process when they write rich multi-media compositions? Sheryl Scales reminds us of how the study of literature can achieve those “high touch” skills Daniel Pink characterizes. She takes us into a classroom where students are discussing Toni Morrison’s Paradise and shows us how this discussion can “transcend the classroom” and help the students toward critical awareness of the situation of other human beings. And toward my on-going goal of making Statement a place to find dialogue among Colorado teachers on the challenges that we navigate in our classrooms, this issue of Statement publishes a conversation about expanding literacies between three Colorado educators and voices from a few more Colorado educators who responded to Statement’s related survey. And once again I’ll remind you that Statement isn’t Statement without you! I’m excited about the next issue’s theme, “Stories from our Classrooms” (see the call for submissions on page two). As a result of the recent Colorado Day of Writing, I’ve already received some stories from classrooms across the state and I look forward to the ones that will arrive between now and the deadline for submissions. There will be much to learn as we welcome each other into our classrooms via the stories that we will tell. Works Cited Beers, Kylene. “The Measure of Our Success.” Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise into Practice. Eds. Kylene Beers, Robert Probst, and Linda Rief. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007, pp. 1-14. Print. “Introduction to Digital Media.” Media Literacy Project. n.d. Web. 5 May 2012. <http://http://medialiteracyproject. org/>. Pink, Daniel. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006. Print. Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
ELA in the 21st Century Digital Mobility: A Journey of a Thousand Miles Can Now Begin with a Single Click
Philippe Ernewein is the Dean of Faculty Training and Development at Denver Academy. He presents annually at a variety of educational conferences. Philippe also writes a blog about education at www.rememberit.org.
by Philippe Ernewein The word grammar is used by language scholars to mean the description of the structure of a language and the system of rules that govern it. A grammar is like a basket that can hold sentences in that language which we all work. In earlier times language scholars confused writing with speech.This is evident in the word grammar itself – the Greek gramma means ‘letter’ with the root gerebh or grebh ‘to scratch’ (hence kerf, graph, carve). Grammar comes from gramma techne, ‘woven scratches.” But it is quite clear that the primary existence of language (‘the tongue’) is in the event, the utterance. Language is not a carving, it’s a curl of breath, a breeze in the pines. (69) From The Practice of the Wild by Gary Snyder The Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus, also known as Erasmus of Rotterdam, was one of those individuals who not only made tremendous contributions to the collective basket of literature during the 16th century, but also by his example encouraged people to actively lend their breath to the breeze in the pines by traveling. Erasmus, often called a Dutch Renaissance humanist, traveled extensively from his home country of the Netherlands to France, England, Switzerland, and Belgium. His mobility, accessible to only a privileged few during his lifetime, greatly influenced his perspective, learning, and understanding of the world as captured in his books, letters, and journals. Today, Erasmus is the name of a student exchange program funded by the European Union (EU). Currently in its 25th year of existence, nearly three million students from across Europe have participated in a study or work abroad placement (more information at http://www.britishcouncil. org/erasmus-about-erasmus.htm). While the name honors the spirit of Erasmus, it is also a backronym that stands for EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students. In an effort to encourage students to consider studying outside of their home countries, many university campuses in Europe organize International Days. Typically the three days prior to the end of a semester, teachers from 6
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other countries are invited to lecture on topics related to a theme. As part of the International Days at K. H. Kempen University College in Belgium, I was invited to speak on topics about incorporating New Digital Media into classrooms and differentiating instruction. The corresponding preparation and experience made me reflect deeply on my own learning. The language spoken on the network of campuses I visited in Belgium is Flemish, my first language. I learned English at age eight and did all my schooling after 2nd grade in the United States educational system. Although all lectures during the International Days are delivered in English, my goal was to deliver one in Flemish. During the preparation, I quickly realized that the vocabulary demands of my presentation greatly exceeded my second grade education. I was unable to retrieve words in Flemish like noun, verb, differentiate, evaluate, analyze, and apply out of my long-term memory, most likely because they never resided there in the first place. Among the strategies I used to address my language deficit was to read articles and reports about teaching and learning in Flemish with a dictionary close at hand. Listening to podcasts and watching videos on YouTube in my native language also helped, but it was the interaction with text that had the greatest impact on learning new vocabulary for me. Paying close attention to what Gary Snyder calls the woven scratches helped me transfer new words into my vocabulary bank and then eventually, with much rehearsal, into language, into the curl of the breath. While I was struggling with the code switching and translating of my ideas from English to Flemish, I thought about the experience the mostly English language learning students in the audience would be having as well. As students listened to lectures in English, there would be powerful meta-cognitive demands for them to categorize, translate, and interpret the incoming information. What I first sensed during the preparation stage came to fruition during the actual delivery of the lectures. The exposure of a variety of international perspectives by the visiting team in a series of university lectures amounted to a type of transport, a cognitive transport. We were still physically in a small town in northern Belgium, but often with
stories, pictures and video clips, the students were brought to India, Turkey, Africa and the United States. Honoring the spirit of Erasmus and the International Days, students were moved beyond what has become perhaps familiar, assumed, and unquestioned and motivated to evaluate and consider ideas and questions from a different perspective. While we cannot simply transport all our students to various locales around the world to participate in International Days or the Erasmus program, we can bring those places into our classrooms. Directly experiencing the wonderful exchanges of ideas among the international teams and having my own perspectives and opinions challenged made me think about how we can bring the core mission of Erasmus to our classrooms. As the world is rapidly changing, there are foundational elements that, most likely during our lifetime, will not change. Gary Snyder wrote, “As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the late Paleolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth; the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe.” So to successfully understand the constantly changing parts of our world, our students must also have a strong foundational knowledge of what remains the same through the centuries. Perhaps in our classrooms it is not exactly the power-vision in solitude as Snyder writes about but the power of literature in all the mediums we encounter it today. As language arts teachers, we have a unique opportunity to bring this balanced approach to our classrooms. With the speed at which information is becoming available and the sheer volume of content that bombards us daily, it is easy to focus exclusively on the new and get caught up in a race we never consciously agreed to participate in. The tools offered to us as educators in this 21st century create numerous opportunities for us to bring equity of the old and new ways into our classrooms. What can Erasmus look like in our classrooms? How can students experience culture outside of their own without booking a flight to another country? What can vehicles of travel look like in our classrooms that are realistic, meaningful, and memorable? How can we create a culture in our classrooms that truly moves towards capturing a global literacy? Here is a starter kit for bringing Erasmus’ vision into our classrooms: • Compare and analyze news headlines from different countries about similar world events; discuss why there might be differences in the values and beliefs behind the headlines. • Create Google maps of travel that are encountered in literacy and historical texts; numerous excellent examples can be found at www.googlelittrips.org. • Label areas of your classroom with noted geographical sites or world capitals: The United Na
tions Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization website has an extensive list of World Heritage Sites: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list Create a social network group with a partner school. Incorporate questions about culture, literature and learning in the conversations with the partnering students. A list of potential partner schools can be found here: http://erasmusmundus.teamwork.fr/ Initiate a pen pal program with another school: http://www.epals.com/ Support students in starting a KIVA Club that creates opportunities for the lending of raised funds as microloans to entrepreneurs in the developing nations: http://www.kiva.org/ Create your own international days by inviting guest lecturers from local colleges and universities.
Regardless of the dynamic of our classes or readinesslevels of our students, the most important aspect is that we bring the world to our classrooms. Let’s use literacy as our passport to travel the digital landscape and bring nonnative ideas, poems, stories, and themes into our teaching and learning. Invite Erasmus to teach a few lessons. Works Cited About Erasmus. British Learning Council. n.d. Web. <http:// www.britishcouncil.org/erasmus-about-erasmus.htm>. Snyder, Gary. (1990). The Practice of the Wild. San Francisco: North Point Press. Print. Snyder, Gary. (1980). The Real Work: Interviews & Talks 1964-1979. New York: New Directions. Print. Welcome to KH Kempen. Katholieke Hogeschool Kempen. n. d. Web. <http://www.khk.be/khk04/eng/>.
“The main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth.”
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YAL Authors featured at 2012’s Colorado Teen Literature Conference by Marge Freeburn and Jessi Barrientos Much of the current discussion about expanding literacies focuses on the increased use of digital technology by adults and teens, often referred to as the “digital natives.” Our language reflects this emphasis in new verbs: to text, to photoshop, to skype, to tweet, to scan, to upload and download, to Google, and to Facebook, among others. The popularity of e-readers is transforming publishing. Will the e-reader replace the printed book? Will authors by-pass editors and agents to self-publish? How will book stores and libraries change to meet the demands of new types of literacies? How will writers and illustrators be compensated for their creativity and intellectual property? How will new works be distributed? How will competition, convenience, and immediacy determine pricing and availability? Will technology enable greater communication worldwide or emphasize the divide between the haves and have-nots? How do the new technologies enhance reading, writing, listening, and viewing experiences as printed novels and research projects become films, down-loadable videos, and interactive events? Authors who write primarily for the teen audience reflect the digital culture in their stories. Teen characters in contemporary fiction send photos and text from their phones, connect or ignore with caller id, cyber-bully (or not), blog, e-mail, research, and write using the internet. Depictions of today’s ordinary life were once science fiction or in fantasy literature, caused by magic, paranormal abilities or preternatural creatures. Speculative fiction, often dystopic, examines the challenges inherent in the rapidly changing context and may include science-based innovations as well as the yet unexplained. Today’s authors experience reader demands for increased access. Authors attract a particular following who have read the author’s texts, who may have visited the author’s website, “liked” them on Facebook, emailed questions, and expected replies. These readers may have continued the narrative, or changed the outcomes, or moved unrelated characters into new “fan-fiction” narratives. Many authors blog and use social networking effectively to respond to their readers but value the excitement teens bring to live interaction. But the Colorado Teen Literature Conference provides for a more personal connection between authors and readers. Many CTLC teen participants aspire to become published authors and ask specific questions about writing processes, critique groups, and strategies for get8
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Dr. Marge Erickson Freeburn is a lecturer at the University of Colorado, Denver, School of Education. Her email address is Marge.Erickson@ ucdenver.edu.
Jessi Barrientos is a librarian at High Plains Library District with a passion for readers’ advisory and teen literature. Her email is jessi.barrientos@ gmail.com.
ting published. Local authors, some newly published, have a chance to build a following by sharing their experiences. Beyond this, much happens at CTLC to strengthen the community surrounding YA literature. Other conference participants first meet YA writers at the conference. Recently several parents have attended to learn more about the authors writing for their teens. Teachers and librarians encourage both readers and less-than-avid readers to attend and socialize with other teens. Hearing authors speak about their work, their writing processes, and why they write for teens generates interest in the books. Having a friend recommend an author or a particular book is important. On-going informal tweets keep other teens involved in the event. Teen Connection panelists question the featured authors and comment on their reading, often encouraging others teens to apply for future panels. Even though our increased use of digital technology has enhanced the content of YA literature and how teens access and interact with YA authors, the Colorado Teen Literature Conference still provides that critical piece to inspire young readers and writers: face-to-face access to YA authors and the community who reads their work. 2012 Colorado Teen Literature Conference Recommended Reading Written by Featured Authors and by Local Author Panelists The Secret to Lying by Todd Mitchell (CTLC featured author). Candlewick Press. 2010. James is ready for a change, a new and improved persona. Accepted at a new public boarding school for math and science students, he sees his opportunity to create the new James, a cool standout against a background of geeks and nerds. It works! Except for a frosty girl who ignores him, and a mysterious IM contact who seems to know his inner thoughts and real self. Inevitably there is a price to pay for his transformation. This 2011 Colorado Book Award Win-
ner lets readers identify with the intellectually gifted but socially awkward James, and share his discovery of truth. The Wolves of Mercy Falls by Maggie Stiefvater (CTLC featured author): Shiver, 2010. Linger, 2011. Forever, 2011. Scholastic Press. Maggie Stiefvater focuses on the wolves, detailing their beauty, intelligence, loyalty, and their dangerous predicament in the woods outside Mercy Falls, Minnesota. These wolves are different: temperature makes them shift, not the full moon of traditional lore. Humans have been bitten and became werewolves. Grace was bitten ten years earlier, but she did not shift. She remembers being attacked and remembers one wolf who had distinctive yellow eyes. She recognizes those eyes in the young man who works, only in the summer, at the local bookstore. In Shiver, Grace remembers and watches the winter wolves and waits. Eventually she and Sam find each other and begin to wonder and worry about why Grace seems unaffected. Their inquiries into the “disease” of were-wolfism, its spread, and the factors that initiate the shift lead them to seek a cure for Sam. In Linger, Sam remains human although Jack dies after being treated. Grace shifts. Her friend Olivia is bitten and changes as the winter begins. Sam, human, takes responsibility for the safety of three newly-made wolves as they unpredictably shift between forms. One of them, Cole, a talented but suicidal musician, is particularly troublesome. In Forever, Stiefvater raises new questions about the wolves and the cure. What are the possibilities: a cure bringing a and normal teen life with pop culture, music, friends, and independence, or the “forever” of death as wolves and whatever lies beyond? A few residents of Mercy Falls learn the wolves’ real identities and try to protect them. Cole begins scientific experiments on himself, determined to find the cure. A helicopter-assisted hunt threatens to destroy the pack or prevent their move to a safer territory. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic Press. 2011. 2012 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Beautiful, fierce, fast, and predatory horses emerge from the sea near the island each Fall. Villagers capture, train and race them, but they are never tamed. Puck Connolly believes that her only way out of poverty and her dismal life is to enter and win the Scorpio Races. But no girl has ever entered the race and the village turns against her. Puck plans to train and race her own horse, not one of the fearsome water horses. She hopes to win not
by challenging the carnivorous sea horses, but by racing just out of their grasp. Her most formidable opponent in the race is Sean Kendrick, a 19 year old, an experienced racer who works for the owner of the island’s stables, an outsider who holds the mortgage on Puck’s home. Puck and Sean share the narration, allowing Stiefvater to focus on the tentative and wary friendship that grows as they train their horses. Sean’s advice and training suggestions allow Puck a chance in the race. The rituals and traditions surrounding the race challenge Puck’s determination. Her dreams threaten life as it always has been on the island. The adventure of the race and Celtic traditions of island life make The Scorpio Races a compelling read. Puck’s determination, intensity, perseverance, and belief in the possibility of a better life make hers a heroic struggle. The Galahad Series by Dom Testa: The Comet’s Curse, 2005, The Web of Titan, 2006. The Cassini Code, 2008. The Dark Zone, 2011. The Cosmic Storm, 2011. The Galahad Legacy, 2012. Tor Publishers. This six-part series follows 251 highly intelligent teens through their selection, training, and first year as crew of the spaceship Galahad on its one-way journey to the distant planet Eon. The population of Earth has been infected with an incurable virus caused by the comet Bhaktul. Anyone over age 18 is susceptible to the contagion. Humanity’s hope lies in these 15-17 year olds led by Council members Triana Martell, Gap Lee, Bon Hartsfield, Channy Oakland, and Lita Marques. They are aided and advised by Roc, the ship’s computer designed, programmed, and modeled after its creator Dr. Roy Orzini. Author Dom Testa commented that these teen are “Not stereotypes of ‘smart kids’ that we see in pop culture, but they have the same angst, the same issues, the same hormones as the rebels who populate more edgy fiction.” Each volume includes action, adventure, mystery, some romance, and creative problem solving as the teens face conflicts among the crew and inter-galactic threats. Testa develops the six main characters as diverse individuals by detailing their unique memories, talents, fears, and insecurities. Their responsibilities are clearly defined but each volume showcases the strengths of an individual Council member. Dissension among the crew, a dangerous stowaway, extra-terrestrial creatures, wormholes, radiation and other intergalactic hazards confront the Galahad in just the first year of their planned 5 year journey. As their mentor Dr. Zimmer tells Triana, the Council Chair, they can only do what they think is right. They have only their own resources. Each volume is fast-paced, and less than 250 pages. The appealing characters and constant challenges keep Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
the story interesting. Each volume could stand alone as Roc provides sufficient plot and character summaries to bring new readers up to speed while reminding series fans of where the story is going. Reader’s Guides and the inclusion of the first chapter of the next volume at the conclusion of each book add to the suspense. Hollyweird by Terri Clark. May 8, 2012. Flux Publishers. Hollyweird embodies the popularity of the paranormal fiction Terri Clark writes for teens. Constant struggles between good and evil are central to her work. Romance, intrigue, trickery, and mythology surround the
main characters Aly King, bff Des, pop culture idol Dakota Danvers (son of Lucifer), and Dakota’s assistant Jameson (a fallen angel). Aly has won a trip to meet Dakota for a week of photo shoots and more. She invites Des but is encumbered by an older sister “chaperone” with her own agenda. Jameson’s preordained responsibility and his last chance at redemption is to prevent Dakota Danvers from completing his evil scheme to free all of Hollywood’s preternatural creatures in disguise. Frequent plot twists and a text-messaging God keep the adventure moving and make this a satisfying read for fans. Also Recommended For readers who want more Celtic traditions embedded in contemporary YA fiction: The Traitor King by Todd Mitchell (2007 Colorado Book Award Finalist) Lament: The Faerie Queen’s Deception (Gathering of Faerie) by Maggie Stiefvater, 2008 Ballad (Gathering of Faerie) by Maggie Stiefvater 2009 For a more traditional horror story: The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff. Razorbill. 2011. Creepy! An evil atmosphere and buried secrets surround Mackie Doyle, an unlikely hero, who saves the town of Gentry from its past. Next reads Glow (Sky Chasers), 2011, and Spark, July 17, 2012 by Amy Kathleen Ryan. Part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space,Waverly and her boyfriend Kieran will be pioneers of New Earth. Rock On: A story of guitars, gigs, girls, and a brother (not necessarily in that order) by Denise Vega. Released March 2012. The Galahad Legacy by Dom Testa. Released February 2012. The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff. 2011. Razorbill. The oldest daughter of the devil has led an upper class life with no contact with the masses until she goes to Earth to see the other side.
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by Jessi Barrientos, Colorado Teen Literature Conference Todd Mitchell Read Alikes: If you enjoyed The Traitor King, try... • The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper for an epic tale that explores another side of the mythology of the British Isles. • The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke for a set of normal kids who suddenly find themselves thrust into a magical world. • The Light-Bearer’s Daughter by O. R. Melling for a teen who finds herself in the midst of Irish fairies and who uncovers family secrets in her adventures. • Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson for a mischievous kid who is suddenly thrust into a fantastical battle between good and evil, with plenty of humor thrown in. • The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket for an usual story of siblings whose fate seems to be out of their own hands. • The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff for a jaunt into a much creepier version of the fairy world and a character who must face the darkness in his past to save his sister. If you enjoyed The Secret to Lying, try... • Audrey,Wait! by Robin Benway for its laugh-out-loud humor and a story that delves into unexpected consequences that steamroll into much deeper problems. • Will Grayson,Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan for a snarky and pessimistic humor that has true emotion at its core and for exploring the true meaning of friendship. • Looking for Alaska by John Green for a story set in boarding school that delves into the true meaning of growing up. • The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E.Lockhart for a character whose seemingly harmless pranks go a bit too far. • The Teacher’s Funeral by Richard Peck for the author’s ability to create authentic teen characters and for its quiet, rural setting that inspires the people raised there to cause general mayhem. • I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells for something on the darker side that explores the hidden violence of humanity.
Maggie Stiefvater Read Alikes: If you enjoyed The Books of Faerie, try... • Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley for interesting characters who set out on a quest to find a local graffiti artist and who discover themselves in the process. • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman for the story of a human entwined in a world full of ghosts who must face a grave danger from his past. • Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner for a girl who discovers the power to see into the world of the faerie and embarks on a quest to heal two damaged worlds. • The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff for a faerie world filled with not-so-nice faeries and a character who must face the darkness in his past to save his sister. If you enjoyed The Wolves of Mercy Falls novels, try... • Raised by Wolves by Jennifer Lynn Barnes for a strong female character immersed in the strange customs of werewolf society who must face a dark danger with her quirky and loyal friends. • Soulless by by Gail Carriger for a hilarious romp through a Victorian England populated by vampires and werewolves. • If I Stay by Gayle Forman for an intensely romantic and heartbreaking story. • Fallen by Lauren Kate for a paranormal romance full of action. If you enjoyed The Scorpio Races, try... • Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper for an epic tale that explores another side of the mythology of the British Isles. • The Fault in our Stars by John Green for a love story that features two amazing teens trying to figure life out. • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy for a dark coming-of-age tale and the struggle between good and evil (and awesome horses). • Delirium by Lauren Oliver for a girl faced with challenging authority to create a better world and discovering the power of love.
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Serving Up Shrimp and Literacies by Beth Cutter Shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. . . . There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. . . . Benjamin Buford (“Bubba”) Blue to Forrest Gump in Forrest Gump In our family, we imitate Bubba Blue’s meditation on the infinite variety of ways people prepare shrimp anytime we want to telegraph the infinite variety of ways people define concepts they think “everyone” holds in common. Take communication, for instance. “You can communicate verbally, nonverbally, formally, and informally,” my husband might intone in Bubba’s drawl. “You’ve got written communication, visual communication, digital communication, business communication, social communication. . . .” What about knowledge? “You can gain knowledge by observation, experience, reading and listening,” I might start. “There’s personal knowledge, procedural knowledge, propositional knowledge, social knowledge. . . .” Likewise, when it comes to literacy, the definition depends on the context. You can be functionally literate, aliterate, biliterate. There’s cultural literacy, critical literacy, media literacy, and digital literacy. Across the field of literacy studies itself, researchers and practitioners often split between “a one-dimensional conception of print-centric reading and writing, as contrasted with the intersection of people, texts, modes, practices, and the varied meanings of literacy learning in different situations and cultural contexts” (Alvermann and McLean 3). In a state like Colorado, whose academic standards integrate the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, it makes sense to investigate how the Common Core authors frame literacy. In a section entitled Key Design Considerations (4), they stress a model that integrates reading, writing, speaking and listening and “insist” that instruction in these domains be “a shared responsibility within the school.” The Introduction also notes Just as students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, so too must the Standards specify the literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines. Literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, 12
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Beth Cutter started as an English teacher in 1974 and joined CLAS shortly thereafter. A former school and district administrator, she now teaches in the College of Education at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
science, and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields. (3) To continue the Bubba Blue analogy, in other words, there’s historical literacy, civic literacy, financial literacy, scientific literacy, numeracy. . . . The purposes of this article are to point out some of the ways each of these literacies differ, to encourage teachers of English language arts to clarify the literacies unique to their own discipline, and to advocate for discipline-based literacy practices. Writing In the “Teaching Reading and Writing in the Content Areas” course that I teach for an alternative teaching licensure program, candidates in math, science, or even social studies will sometimes say, “I plan to get together with English language arts teachers [on my team, in my wing, from my planning period] and ask for advice on how to assign and grade writing.” “A nice start,” I typically reply. “Those ELA teachers will appreciate your interest in writing and will be honored that you consulted them. They will gladly enlist your alliance in their battle for paragraph development and logical organization. However, your notion of literacy is – or ought to be – different from theirs.” To illustrate, I draw their attention to the Colorado Academic Standards approved by the State Board of Education in 2009 for most content areas and revised in 2010 for Reading, Writing & Communicating and Mathematics. I line up grade level Evidence Outcomes from different content areas and ask teachers to discuss what types of written assignments would prove that students had met them. Table 1 below illustrates the range of writing modes that one secondary student might need to produce for four separate teachers. As the math/social studies/science teacher candidates usually infer, the nature of writing in their respective disciplines might differ significantly from the nature of writing as their English colleagues teach it. While all content area teachers share a responsibility to prepare students for the literacy demands of college and/or the workforce, their roads diverge when it comes to what those demands are.
Table 1: Writing-Related Evidence Outcomes in the Colorado Academic Standards, Grades 9-12 Reading, Writing Mathematics Social Studies Science & Communication (ELA) MA10, G.HS, S.3, GLE.1, SS09, G.HS, S.1, GLE.1, S09, G.HS, S.1, GLE.1, Evidence Outcome RWC10, G.10, S.2,
Primary Mode of Potential Writing Assignment KEY
Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
Summarize categorical data for two categories in two-way frequency tables. Interpret relative frequencies in the context of the data (including joint, marginal, and conditional relative frequencies). Recognize possible associations and trends in the data. Exposition
Construct and defend a written historial argument using relevant primary and secondary sources as evidence.
Develop, communicate and justify an evidencebased scientific prediction regarding the effects of the actionreaction force pairs on the motion of two interacing objects.
RWC10 = Reading, Writing & Communicating 2010 MA10 = Mathematics 2010 SS09 = Social Studies 2009 S09 = Science 2009 G = Grade HS = High School S = Standard GLE = Grade Level Expectation EO = Evidence Outcome
As Bubba Blue might say, “You’ve got English writing, math writing, history writing, science writing. . . .” Reading In pre-service and inservice circles, virtually everyone who has taught a content-area literacy course has encountered two strains of objections: One from math, social studies, science, or even world language teachers who say, “It’s not my job to teach reading; students get that in English language arts” and the other from ELA teachers who say, “It’s not my job either; I’m too busy with themes and elements of literature.” The Colorado Academic Standards not only emphasize all teachers’ shared responsibility for preparing
literate graduates, but they also highlight the unique challenges of reading in each discipline. To return to a contentarea-by-content-area comparison, Table 2 below illustrates the variety of texts high school students may be tasked with reading in order to meet Evidence Outcomes in their respective subjects. Although many of the teacher candidates in my alternative licensure program are impressively well educated and versatile, viewing a table like this tends to elicit a Bubba Blue-style chorus of “There’s English reading, math reading, history reading, science reading. . . .” To meet the No Child Left Behind definition of “highly qualified,” teacher candidates have invested a great deal of time and effort acquiring
Table 2: Academic -Text Examples in the Colorado Academic Standards, Grades 9-12 Reading, Writing Mathematics Social Studies Science & Communication (ELA) RWC10, G.10, S.2, MA10, G.HS, S.3, GLE.1, SS09, G.HS, S.1, GLE.1, S09, G.HS, S.3, GLE.6, Academic Text
Two different artistic mediums (e.g. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts” and Breughel’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus)
Categorical data in Maps and other visual two-way frequency representations such as tables (including joint, satellite imagery marginal, and conditioanl relative frequencies)
Data, maps, and models concerning the direct and indirect evidence produced by physical and chemical changes that water, air, gravity, and biological activity create
RWC10 = Reading, Writing & Communicating 2010 MA10 = Mathematics 2010 SS09 = Social Studies 2009 S09 = Science 2009 G = Grade HS = High School S = Standard GLE = Grade Level Expectation EO = Evidence Outcome Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
knowledge and skills in the content area(s) in which they are pursuing licensure, and possibly less – if any – time immersed in other disciplines. An English teacher candidate who can readily help sophomores deconstruct the scenes in “Musee des Beaux Arts” and Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (Reading,Writing and Communicating 61) might struggle to assist those same students in explaining how “The interaction of Earth’s surface with water, air, gravity, and biological activity causes physical and chemical changes” (Science 88). Math teacher candidates unfazed by the expectation that their students “Summarize, represent, and interpret data on two categorical and quantitative variables” (Mathematics 104) might find it a challenge to assist those same students in analyzing what satellite imagery suggests about the disappearance of the Aral Sea, the location of lost cities, or the melting of polar ice caps (Social Studies 49). As Reading Apprenticeship advocates would say, If students are to become skilled readers of academic texts, the invisible processes involved in comprehending such texts must be made visible and accessible to them as they actually engage in meaningful literacy activities. Clearly, the best mentors for student apprentices learning discipline-based literacy practices are those teachers who have mastered these very practices – subject-area teachers. (Schoenbach 134) Forrest Gump’s mother always told him, “There’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes. Where they’re going, where they’ve been.” Teachers who have “worn the shoes” of mathematicians, biologists, anthropologists, and geographers are in the best position to explain not only what is read in their respective disciplines but also how to read it. Oral Expression and Listening
The tension between shared responsibility and discipline-specific competencies continues with speaking and listening. For example, all content area teachers share responsibility for turning out graduates who can “[u]se language appropriate for purpose and audience” (Reading, Writing, and Communicating 24). However, language that is appropriate for an audience at a poetry slam is different from language appropriate at a science conference. Who better to train students in the unique conventions of diction, syntax, and tone than teachers with experience in those milieus? Shanahan and Shanahan describe the increasing specialization of literacy development as a pyramid. The base, of course, consists of the skills underlying virtually all literacy tasks. Progressing higher in the pyramid, however, requires that students acquire “more sophisticated but less generalizable skills and routines” that are “probably not particularly easy to learn” (44). Each discipline has its own norms for rhetoric, its own formats for representing ideas or information, and its own modes of discourse. The video a group of students might produce for a public policy debate in civics will draw on different conventions than the skit they develop in Spanish to demonstrate the preterite or the oral presentation they prepare in math to explain which longdistance calling plan is more cost-effective. “Scope creep” happens either when English language arts teachers fail to discern the fine distinctions and assume exclusive responsibility for teaching speaking and listening – or when teachers in other content areas fail to realize the specialized skills and routines they have acquired during their own education and let them. Table 3 below suggests the diversity of listening/ speaking skills that one that one secondary student might need to demonstrate to meet evidence outcomes in four different courses. The point is this: when goal setting and/or planning conversations arise in secondary schools, teachers of mathe-
Table 3: Listening/Speaking Tasks in Colorado Academic Standards, Grades 9-12 Reading, Writing Comprehensive Music & Communication Health & Physical (ELA) Education CHPE09, G.HS, S.3, M09, G.HS, S.3, GLE.2, Evidence Outcome RWC10, G.11, S.1,
VA09, G.HS, S.1, GLE.2, EO.c
Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.
Practice conflict management and listening skills in a competitive atmosphere.
Debate divergent art Classify and describe unfamiliar but represen- histories and traditions. tative aural examples of music from a given culture and explain the reasoning for the classification (Indonesian Gamelan or Japanese Koto)
RWC10 = Reading, Writing & Communicating 2010 VA09 = Visual Arts 2009 G = Grade EO = Evidence Outcome Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
MA09 = Music 2009 CHPE09 = Comprehensive Health and Physical Education 2009 HS = High School S = Standard GLE = Grade Level Expectation
matics, science, social studies, health and physical education, music, and visual arts do not get to say,“We’ll leave the reading/writing/speaking/listening part to the English language arts teachers; they’re the literacy experts.” Nor do the English language arts teachers get to say, “Okay, we’ll take the literacy piece; after all, all the reading/writing/ speaking/listening expectations are in ‘our’ academic standards anyway.” As the tables above demonstrate, literacy expectations span all disciplines.
teachers will have enough to do without taking on responsibility for teaching students how to write scientific predictions, read satellite imagery, or mediate a dispute on the basketball court. Teachers of the English language arts must keep the herbs, spices, and methods of their own discipline in store at all times. And that’s all I have to say about that.
Works Cited Alvermann, Donna E. and Cheryl A. McLean. “The Nature Disciplinary Literacy of Literacies.” Secondary School Literacy: What Research So how do ELA teachers politely mind their own busiReveals for Classroom Practice. Eds. Leslie S. Rush,A. Jonaness but still support reading, writing, speaking and listenthan Eakle, and Allen Berger. Urbana, IL: National Couning in other content areas? One way might be to broach cil of Teachers of English, 2007. Print. the concept of disciplinary literacy and refer colleagues Colorado Department of Education. Colorado Academic to the many articles and books that have been written on Standards in Mathematics and The Common Core State the subject in the past decade. One such primer is ConStandards for Mathematics. 2010. Web. 28 Jan. 2012. tent Matters: A Disciplinary Literacy Approach to Improv- ---. Colorado Academic Standards in Reading, Writing and ing Student Learning. As editors Stephanie M. McConachie Communicating and The Common Core State Stanand Anthony R. Petrosky explain it, disciplinary literacy (DL) dards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/ means “learning to read, write, talk and reason as a junior Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. 2010. member of a particular discipline” (21). Predicated on the Web. 28 Jan. 2012. idea that academic disciplines are “unique knowledge com- ---. Colorado Academic Standards in Science. 2009. Web. 28 munities with their own histories, epistemologies, questions, Jan. 2012. and concepts” (17), DL practices help adolescent students ---. Colorado Academic Standards in Social Studies. 2009. understand content knowledge deeply, both in subjects they Web. 28 Jan. 2012. elect and in subjects they are required to study. In English Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core Language Arts, for example, key lesson and unit design feaState Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in tures include the following (140-141): History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. • A nominal theme or a genre study that focuses a June 2010. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. unit of study on big ideas (for example, miseduca- Lee, Carol D. and Anika Spratley. Reading in the Disciplines:The tion or writing and identity) that reaches across all Challenges of Adolescent Literacy. New York, NY: Carnegie of the texts in the unit Corporation of New York, 2010. Web. 28 Jan. 2012. • Identifying significance tasks that ask students to lo- Leu, Donald J. et al. “What Is New about the New Literacies cate significant moments in a text and explain why of Online Reading Comprehension?” Secondary School those moments are significant to the text Literacy: What Research Reveals for Classroom Practice. • Writing tasks to invite students to write about Eds. Leslie S. Rush, A. Jonathan Eakle, and Allen Berger. texts and to write like the texts (in the style of the Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, selection and in imitation of an author’s sentences 2007. Print. and grammatical structures) McConachie, Stephanie M., and Anthony R. Petrosky, eds. Clearly ELA tasks differ from those in other disciplines Content Matters: A Disciplinary Literacy Approach to Imwhere, for example, students routinely analyze data and forproving Student Learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, mulate explanations from evidence (science) or apply a rep2010. Print. ertoire of problem-solving strategies like working backward, McLaughlin, Maureen. Content Area Reading: Teaching and guessing and checking, and trying a special case (mathematLearning in an Age of Multiple Literacies. Boston, MA: Pearics). son, 2010. Print. If shrimp is the fruit of the sea, literacy is the fruit of Schoenbach, Ruth et al. “Apprenticing Adolescents To Readeducation. However, just as curry shrimp calls for a differing in Subject-Area Classrooms.” Phi Delta Kappan. 85.2 ent recipe than lemon shrimp, so does ELA literacy draw (2003): 133-138. Print. on different content – and pedagogy – than geographical Shanahan, Timothy and Cynthia Shanahan. “Teaching Disliteracy, music literacy, scientific literacy, and so on. As we ciplinary Literacy to Adolescents: Rethinking Content delve more deeply into the nature of the new Common Area Literacy.” Harvard Educational Review. 78.1 (2008): Core State Standards, especially with their emphasis on text 40-59. Print. complexity as a measure of increasing achievement, ELA
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Reflections on the Writing Process in Digital Media by Jon Ostenson Turning on the lights, I see mixed reactions from my students: a good number of faces show eagerness, but just as many show anxiety. I have just shown a model of the character analysis piece I’m asking them to write on the novel we finished studying the day before. But instead of assigning a traditional essay, I’m asking them to compose a photo slideshow, including a background audio track, that communicates their analysis of one of the major characters in the book. I try to assure all my students that while this assignment will be different from what we’ve done so far in the year, I will be there to guide them every step of the way. As they leave the room, there’s an excited buzz as students are already talking about the music they might use and the character they’re going to choose. I’m excited, too, and a bit anxious as well, since I know this project will stretch my students—and me—in challenging ways. In the past few years, I have assigned more writing in digital media for two reasons. I have sensed that students are more intrinsically interested in composing in digital media since it mirrors much of what they see in the world around them and values the skills they pick up on their own outside of school (Prensky). But I also feel compelled to move this direction because of new demands placed on high school graduates in college and the work force. As the role of communications technologies has expanded, so have the demands on readers and writers and any who seek to play active roles in today’s communities and economies (The New London Group). So I have started to assign digital writing in addition to the traditional written work we do in class. Whether I assign a traditional written piece or something that uses multimedia elements, I have the goal of teaching my students something concrete about the writing process. I want to help them become independent, competent writers by teaching them the strategies skilled writers use in their process. In assigning more digital writing, I have not wanted to give up on this goal. This has led me to reflect on and study the way the writing process shifts as we move into composing in digital media, and the way my instruction changes to match the possibilities and demands of new media. I have found much that connects the processes of traditional writing and digital composing—our goals and purposes in each phase of the process are often similar, for 16
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Jonathan Ostenson taught junior high and high school English for eleven years and currently teaches in the English education department at Brigham Young University. Email him at email@example.com.
instance. But I have also found important differences in the process of composing in digital media, mostly as a result of the unique demands and affordances of the media we compose in. In this article, I share some observations and practices, focusing on the work I have done with students to create photo slideshows consisting of static images with music or recorded narration. Photo slideshows, I would suggest, provide a nice entry point for teachers and students into composing in digital media since they require less equipment and less technical know-how. An Internet connection and free software (Apple’s iMovie or Microsoft’s Movie Maker or Photostory applications) are all you really need to start composing in this genre. Pre-Writing and Digital Composing When we engage in pre-writing as part of the writing process, we’re looking to find something to write about— something we care enough about, something we want to explore, something we need to be share. And Deborah Dean suggests that pre-writing is about more than simply selecting a topic; it often includes significant inquiry as we explore a topic in preparation for writing about it. Good pre-writing strategies help us to explore topics, choose ideas that really matter to us, and flesh out the message we want to communicate to our audience. In composing in digital media, we can retain much of what we might usually do with pre-writing in traditional written essays, since much of the process of generating topics and exploring ideas overlaps. With digital narratives, I share with students the same strategies for finding an experience that will resonate with an audience and for exploring their past experiences in depth. With digital essays, I encourage students to track whatever I will ask them to explore in their compositions (e.g., characters or themes) throughout our study of the novel and related texts, just as I would if we were preparing to write a traditional essay. Regardless of the assignment focus, much of these inquiry activities look similar whether we end up writing an essay or composing a digital slideshow. However, one significant difference in composing in digital media is that students need to consider, as early as possible, the way that images and audio will influence how their message is communicated. When we work in the realm of words and sentences, students are on comparatively famil-
iar ground: years of exposure through reading and writing have given them some understanding about how we communicate with words. Once we bring different media into the picture, all that can change, and we often find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. Early in my efforts with digital writing, I felt that my students needed little mentoring about how to compose in multiple media—I figured they were naturals at this, having grown up immersed in a multimedia world. I’ve since found that this attitude assumes wrongly that this immersion has given students explicit knowledge of the way multimedia messages convey meaning. So rather than waiting to explore issues of how media shapes the message until students have a clear sense of their message, I’ve found that we need to start thinking about this from the very beginning of the composing process. Before we begin exploring topics or ideas at length, I encourage students to consider questions such as these: • How will still images change the way I share what I want to share? • How can sound (either voiceovers or music) enhance or support my message? • How will I organize my ideas now that I’m including images and audio? To provide a concrete context for these questions, I use models: photo essays from the New York Times and Time magazine web sites, book trailers from Amazon.com and YouTube, and even my own digital creations. I have students analyze these models similar to how we use mentor texts in traditional writing (Dorfman; Fletcher; Gallagher). Troy Hicks, author of The Digital Writing Workshop, has outlined the strengths of this approach in a series of posts on his popular blog. He argues that in examining these mentor texts, we should ask “students to think about how the video was made as well as their emotional and intellectual response to it.” We analyze the message of the piece by examining our responses to it, but we also spend significant time analyzing the form of the piece—how it was constructed and how the form influences the message. These discussions of form I have usually saved, in traditional writing instruction, for later in the process, usually when we’re revising. But I have found it critical to have students consider form earlier in digital composing since form and message are so uniquely connected in multimedia compositions and students have little concrete experience with these forms. So in the pre-writing phase, I usually allot time to examine two or three mentor texts, and we view each one at least twice (sometimes more): The first viewing is just to capture the feel of the piece, while subsequent viewings allow us to analyze how the author achieved the intended effect. As we discuss, I find myself often framing questions with “How did the writer …?” as a way of directing my students’ attention to important issues of technique: How did the writer use lighting in the images to create the mood? How did the writer choose transitions that enhance the
message? (Troy Hicks’ blog provides some concrete examples of how to analyze digital mentor texts this way.) I’ve found it helpful to have students keep a list of the things we notice at this stage of the process. We refer back to this list while drafting and revising to help keep us focused on important principles in composing with digital media. Below are representative ideas from these lists: • If music has lyrics, those lyrics can enhance the message by communicating similar ideas or themes. • Lighting of images is important: Shadows or low lighting can communicate mystery or uncertainty or even darker feelings; bright lighting can be warm and welcoming but also harsh, depending on what the author wants to communicate. • Transitions between images are important: Smooth dissolves are calming and help connect images together; harsh cuts can be jarring, and if they’re really fast they can confuse or disorient us. • Pacing of images communicates something: Images that appear briefly leave a brief impression, while those that remain longer allow the viewer to dwell on details. Changing the duration of images can influence the mood or feeling of the piece. • Writers make choices based on what they want to communicate in the piece. Choices of transitions or sequencing might mean different things in different contexts; those choices have to be interpreted within the context of the message. Analyzing mentor texts allows my students to develop important understandings that will guide them in the choices they make while composing in digital media. I find the process of exploring mentor texts to be critical to developing students’ explicit knowledge about how digital compositions are constructed, knowledge which informs their own composing. As Wendy Bishop says, “writers consume more than they produce” (v), and my students learn valuable lessons here that influence our work throughout the composing process. Drafting and Digital Composing In the drafting stage of the writing process, we start getting ideas out into concrete form. This process takes on a unique shape for each writing situation, based on our purpose for writing, our audience, and the genre we select (Dean). Traditionally, I’ve taught students in this phase how to get more ideas out onto paper than they’ll need for a finished product, how to start connecting the details and ideas in their writing, and how to organize their ideas. In the context of digital writing, I have similar goals, although they sometimes take on a significantly different form. When I’ve worked with students on digital narratives, we’ve written out most of the narrative in a similar fashion as we would if we were composing in print. That writing then becomes the basis for the script of the voiceover narStatement Vol. 48, Number 2
ration in the digital composition. In fact, we don’t often seriously consider selecting images to accompany the narration until this script is fairly complete. With other projects, like a digital character analysis or a book trailer, the drafting process has moved into selecting images and composing with software much earlier as we don’t often have a physical text to work from first in those situations. The use of images suggests a very real deviation from the way I present the writing process traditionally. During this stage, we deal with three primary issues: purposefully selecting images, compiling them into a coherent message, and adding audio.
words that they can then put into image databases, returning potential images that they can then browse through. As they peruse, these images can often spark ideas or take ideas in a new direction. For example, one student I worked with was looking for images to represent isolation. She wanted to find an image of an object standing alone against an empty landscape; when she instead found a Photoshopped image of a vivid yellow pansy against a field of greyed-out flowers, she was struck by the way the image communicated a sense of being surrounded and yet isolated at the same time, a notion she decided to capture in her composition. As we look for images, I encourage students to attend to the responses the images evoke and to consider the new directions those Selecting Images might take their thinking. Images in a digital composition are analogous to the When we use others’ images, we must be explicit about ideas and content we refer to in traditional writing; and just copyright issues, something usually saved for writing reas we teach about carefully selecting details in writing, we search papers. I require students to stick to public domain need to address purposefully selecting images.To help estab- images or those licensed through the Creative Commons lish criteria for choosing images, we return to the mentor (www.creativecommons.org) licensing arrangements. I take texts and analyze why and how writers made the choices the opportunity to explain terms of copyright permissions they did.This analysis yields some criteria for selecting these and licensing to students as well as the implications of using images: others’ work without giving credit or without permission. • An appropriate image should enhance the detail of I suggest the Creative Commons search engine (search. the story being told in ways that the writing can’t creativecommons.org) as a good place to start and show or it should communicate things about mood and students how to select the appropriate permissions (usually tone in the piece. non-commercial or derivative) within that search engine. In • An appropriate image may emphasize a moment or line with these licensing terms, I require students to add a feeling in the story or a point we’re trying to make “works cited” section to their digital compositions where in the piece, enhancing any words or narration in they give credit for images they’ve used. I hope these efthe piece. forts will help students develop a much-needed respect for • Good images will show attention to things like how copyright. the image is framed (what’s included and what’s emI have considered letting my students take their own phasized in a shot), the way the image is lit, the angle pictures, especially given ubiquitous cell phone cameras used in taking the picture, and the clarity (focus or today. This would be an easier way to approach issues of definition) of the image. copyright and permissions, but I worry about students takIn this process, I try to move students beyond choosing ing photos that merely illustrate rather than creating images only images that illustrate the message and towards images that enhance and communicate beyond what words alone that enhance or communicate something more figurative. may do. Some students have the artistic sensitivity (and even Illustrations provide a visual image that complements the the training) to appropriately compose such images, but I text (an image of a moving van for a narrative describing think that for most students, using pre-existing images is an influential move in a student’s life, for instance) whereas more efficient and yields better aesthetic results. If I were to other images might supplement the narrative by conveying allow students to take their own pictures, I would be sure to subtleties about tone or mood (images of storm clouds or share these concerns and to provide at least some rudimendeep chasms to represent the student’s conflicted feelings tary ideas about photography concepts such as composition, about the move). I encourage students to include images lighting, and balance. that convey subtle meanings that enhance the message in ways that words cannot. Compiling images In this process, the selection of images feeds the develOnce students have started gathering images, they are opment of ideas in an interesting way. Regardless of the kind usually anxious to fire up the software and start putting evof composing we are doing, I do not usually encourage my erything together. I try to direct this excitement by talking students to think extensively about images until they have a about the need to plan such details as the sequence of imsense of what they want to communicate, although it is okay ages and the transitions between images ahead of time. I to be unclear about all the details of the message in these usually require some kind of storyboard from my students early stages. These initial ideas give my students some key- once they’ve selected images and before they can start using 18
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software to compose their projects. Sometimes this storyboard is formal, but at other times it may be as simple as annotating a printed copy of a script or narrative. Whatever form it takes, a storyboard allows my students to think through important decisions about sequencing the images they’ve chosen and the ideas they want to communicate. Our discussions of the possibilities for arranging these often sound similar to those we have when writing in traditional genres.Which images do we start with? Which do we end with? How can we arrange these images to achieve the strongest effect given the message we want to convey? I try to help students see different organizational possibilities (often by returning to our mentor texts), and encourage them to choose an organizational pattern that will best support their message. The use of transition words and phrases is a frequent topic of instruction in print writing, and transitions are just as important in digital writing, although their form is quite different. We often return to our mentor texts and talk about the effect of transitions such as jump cuts (i.e., no transition, simply “cutting” from one image or scene to the next) versus that of fades or dissolves. A fade into black can signify an ending or the passage of time; using dissolves between images can emphasize the connectedness of those images or what they have in common where jump cuts might emphasize differences. I have found students to be remarkably sensitive to the effects of these transitions, partly due to their being immersed in so many digital messages. Where I often help them here is in reminding them of how important the context of the author’s message is to determining the effect of these transitions. I encourage students to see the storyboard as a rough draft of their final composition. I tell them that, just as when we’re composing in written forms, these ideas are initial and once we actually sit down with the software, we can consider other ways of organizing images or different kinds of transitions. Nothing is set in stone at this stage, but considering the possibilities and mapping out some initial choices here helps make the rest of the composing more efficient.
ways that audio can enhance meaning or its potential to detract from a presentation. I want my students’ audio choices to be purposeful. Where recorded narration is integral to the digital piece, we need to discuss how to make that narration good: What elements of pacing, sentence structure, volume, and vocal expression will make the narration compelling? When students want to include a music track in their compositions, we talk about how that could compete with voiceover narration or how careful choices need to be made about the tone of the music or its lyrics.
Revising and Digital Composing I see revision as taking writers “from self to society, from the writer’s concerns to the readers’ concerns” and requiring that we “compare versions, consider alternate methods of development and organization, assess the quality of [our] communication, and play” (Bishop vi). I find it one of the most compelling of the writing process stages in the context of digital composing; in fact, I would argue that my students have learned more about the nature of revision by composing in digital media than from writing in traditional forms. I have been pleased to see revision in digital writing as providing meaningful opportunities for the kinds of activities Bishop describes. As my students compile their digital work, they engage in importing and sequencing images, editing and compiling film clips, adding transitions between elements, or recording and importing audio tracks. Observing students at work like this, I have noted how they instinctively begin to explore different possibilities for their compositions. For instance, students will often play with different transition types to see what effect each might have. And they frequently experiment with different ordering of clips and images, trying out different patterns and observing the way these possibilities alter the meaning of the piece. For those compositions where a music track is used, students often try two or three different pieces as they search for a suitable match. Where at times I face resistance from students when I ask them to consider things like alternative phrasing of sentences in their print writing, I’m pleased at how willing Adding audio students are to try out alternatives in their digital comA final consideration during the drafting stage is audio. positions. Part of this is certainly thanks to the power of How audio is used also varies according to what we’re com- software that allows for easy manipulation of digital pieces posing, but considerations at this stage are similar. I’ve found in these compositions; students can explore options rathit useful to return to our mentor texts and examine their er easily and, if they’re unhappy with the results, a simple use of audio, considering these questions with students: “undo” command restores the original. But I attribute some • How is using music with lyrics different than using of this response to the immediacy of the effects they can see instrumental music? Why and when would we want and perhaps their own increased sensitivity to digital media to use each of these? over the written word. • What makes for good voiceover narration? What I am also consistently impressed with how eagerly kind of sentences sound better read aloud? students reach out to fellow students, often without my • How and what does silence communicate? Can it prompting, for their responses to these experiments. For be as powerful (or more so) than words? whatever reason, their sensitivity to audience in these comThe goal of this analysis is to help students attend to the positions is heightened, and they seek out the responses
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of potential audience members to the choices they make in their compositions. I encourage these solicitations and stress to students the need to be sensitive to audience and how their message will be perceived, so our time in the computer lab is often filled with talk and sharing. Throughout this process, students learn valuable lessons about how audience considerations can shape revision. Not all of this emerges naturally, however, and I have found that I do need to impose some structure on these revision sessions, just as I have had to do when we write in print. I usually set aside at least a class period or 40-50 minute block of time for revision and ask students to pair up and show each other their multimedia compositions. While they watch, I ask them to make notes about what they are observing. Our earlier work analyzing mentor texts helps model for students how to respond to each other’s work, but I also like to provide some additional prompts to structure this experience: • Consider your emotional response to the piece: What feelings does it evoke? Do the author’s choices (images, sounds, transitions, pacing, etc.) reinforce this emotion? Can you think of ways to make the emotional impact stronger?
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Consider the message of the piece: What do you infer is the author’s main point? How consistently does he/she stick to that point? Which images/transitions work well in supporting this message? Which don’t work so well? How well does the audio (if present) connect to the message? Does it enhance or detract from the message? • Consider the sequencing of images: Can you see a clear organizational pattern in the work? How appropriate is that pattern for the message? Would an alternative pattern work better? I have students solicit responses from as many partners as time permits, and then I allow them time to adjust or revise their compositions based on the feedback they’ve received. Again, nothing about this structure is far removed from what I do with students in print writing, but they do exhibit a level of engagement that is unique and I am consistently pleased with the results of these revision activities, not just in the quality of work my students produce but in the lessons they learn about revision as part of the writing process. Editing and Digital Composing When we reach the editing stage in the traditional writing process, we have drafts that are complete in terms of ideas and organization and we’re looking to polish the writing, to correct errors, and to make sure we’re in line with conventional usage. But what does “correctness” look like in digital compositions? And what about conventions or usage in these new media? This is where the connections between traditional print writing and digital composing can become quite confusing. Some of this confusion comes from the fact that “editing” in the media production process often refers to the work of compiling images and adding transitions and audio—what I have students do in the drafting process described above. Nevertheless, I continue to work with my students on this phase as separate from revision in the sense that here we’re polishing our work to make it the best it can be. I begin by asking students to share their thoughts about polish in digital compositions. Often, they identify characteristics about multimedia pieces that they’ve had a negative reaction to in the past: pixelated images, shaky video footage, scratchy or hard-to-hear audio tracks. Their comments give us a place to start in considering how we might polish our own pieces. I push students to consider if scratchy audio or even blurry images might not sometimes be used purposefully, which leads us to the conclusion that decisions about polishing need to be made considering the purposes and intended message of the composition. A point I stress at this stage is that sometimes we are drawn to the glitzy options that our software allows.
The current version of Apple’s iMovie software, for instance, features two dozen different transitions and nearly a hundred sound effects. We talk about the wisdom of using all of these transitions or sound effects, and I help students see the value of using appropriate and consistent effects—just because you can use a unique, eye-jarring transition between each image or video clip doesn’t mean you should. Throughout this editing process, I stress the need to be sure that all their choices (sequencing of images, choosing transitions, adding text or audio, recording narration) be made so as to consistently reinforce their primary message. Reflecting on an Evolving Process In all honesty, I have to admit that a big factor influencing my initial decision to allow my students to compose in digital media had to do with my sense that they’d be more motivated to work in these media. And I was right: many of my students find working in digital media to be more interesting and rewarding. But I have since come to find that I have just as much need to teach the process of writing and the skills and strategies associated with that process in a digital context. In so doing, I’ve also been pleased to see how that learning has transferred for my students into their print writing processes. After their experiences with revision in digital composing, for instance, I have seen students take audience considerations for their essays more seriously; at the very least, their experience in digital media has given me another source to draw on when exploring the process in print writing. I started my efforts at digital composition seeing this as little more than some window dressing for our traditional assignments. I have come to realize, however, that composing in the digital forms requires that I help my students develop new skills with visual and audio media as well as with the affordances of digital genres. While our traditional understandings of the writing process provide a good frame for what we do when we compose in digital media, my students and I have explored new skills and devised unique strategies for dealing with the challenges of composing in these new forms. As The New London Group and so many others have recently argued, our students are living in worlds where images and audio are proliferating as new technologies provide increased access to media and production tools. While I don’t believe that skills in print writing are going to be any less important in the future, our students will also need to be fluent in these digital media and skilled at composing in these new forms. By taking what we know about the writing process and reshaping it to meet the demands of digital composition, we can deepen our students’ engagement and learning at the same time as we prepare them for the world outside the walls of our classroom.
Works Cited Bishop, Wendy. Introduction. Acts of Revision: A Guide for Writers. Ed. Wendy Bishop. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2004. Print. Dean, Deborah. Strategic Writing: The Writing Process and Beyond in the Secondary English Classroom. Urbana: NCTE, 2006. Print. Dorfman, Lynne R. and Rose Cappelli. Mentor Texts: Teaching Informational Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-8. Portland: Stenhouse, 2007. Print. Fletcher, Ralph. Mentor Author, Mentor Texts: Short Texts, Craft Notes, and Practical Classroom Uses. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2011. Print. Gallagher, Kelly. Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts. Portland: Stenhouse, 2011. Print. Hicks, Troy. “Digital Mentor Texts Preview.” Digital Writing, Digital Teaching. n.p. 6 Jan. 2012. Web. 14 Jan. 2012. ---. The Digital Writing Workshop. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 2009. Print. Prensky, Marc. Teaching Digital Natives. Thousand Oaks: Corwin, 2010. Print. The New London Group. “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures.” Harvard Educational Review 66.1 (1996): 60-92. Print. Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
Incorporating Informational Texts to Increase Students’ Reading Habits by Karen Buntinas Reading under the covers after lights out is the only reason I can recall for ever being grounded; my eighth grade teacher resorted to confiscating my books so that I would actually do class work or interact with other students during recess, and ‘no books at the table’ was such a common refrain at meals that I developed an ability to quickly hide a book under my leg or inside my coat in restaurants. Reading was my obsession. Recently, I learned about labels of primary potency in a class on teaching grammar. The idea for this kind of label comes from Gordon Allport and is essentially a label that has a strong emotional connotation (Andrews 303). Growing up, my label of primary potency was simply, “a reader.” My reading habit started with The Black Stallion and continued on through The Bobbsy Twins and The Lord of the Rings. While I eventually developed preferences for certain genres and authors, I was often indiscriminate in my reading; I would just as soon consume a book on the gold rush or how stars are born as I would about Frodo. I remember being thrilled when my parents purchased an encyclopedia set. I would spend hours in the alcove where the set was shelved, reading about bobcats (and then cheetahs, tigers, and ocelots) or rain forests (which inevitably led to savannahs, deserts, and oceans). My curiosity led me far afield, and I enjoyed the ability to explore anything. I have recently heard a lot of discussions among teacher educators and pre-service teachers around informational texts and how to include them in the language arts curriculum. As a graduate student at Colorado State University in English Education, my classmates and I are trying to understand how and when and even why informational texts are integrated into the English Language Arts classroom. The new Common Core Standards outline a fiction vs. informational text guideline, where students will increasingly read a larger percentage of informational texts in school. In 4th grade the percentage should be 50/50, in 8th grade 45/55 and by 12th grade it should be 30% fiction and 70% informational text (Common Core State Standards Initiative). The Standards stipulate that “a significant amount of reading of informational texts take place in and outside the ELA classroom” (para 10) and that “a great deal of informational reading in grades 6–12 must take place in other classes” (para 10), but there is still concern that the focus 22
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Karen, a graduate student at Colorado State University, is finishing her MA in English Education. She serves on the executive board of NCTE@CSU and lives in Fort Collins with her husband.
of English classes will shift away from the teaching of traditional literature. A New York Times article published on April 24th, 2011 noted that “While English classes will still include healthy amounts of fiction, the standards say that students should be reading more nonfiction texts as they get older” (Santos). What does this mean for the traditional ELA curriculum of literary fiction? Some are uneasy with the idea that traditional fiction and literary classics may be displaced in favor of expository texts. There is hardly enough room to read the necessary literature as it is-what will happen if we need to make room for an entirely new genre? On the other hand, too many students don’t read enough now. Could it be that a neglected category of text, informational text, could be the key to improving reading habits? I suggest that by incorporating explicit reading strategies for informational texts (Heibert and Cervetti, Marinak and Gambrell, McTavish,) and utilizing extensive reading programs for students in which informational texts are made widely available (not just traditional fiction texts) (Hughes-Hassell and Rodge, Krashen, Russikof and Pilgreen), students may discover a love for reading while making gains in comprehension across multiple subjects (Akerson and Young, Granowsky). Reading Strategies for Informational Text John Dewey observed decades ago that children learn when they are engaged. He pointed out “an end which is the child’s own carries him on to possess the means of its accomplishment” (Dewey 25). Children will find a way to learn what they want to learn, which is one of the best arguments I can think of for providing an extensive reading selection (informational text, nonfiction, and fiction) to children in order to facilitate not just their reading, but their learning as well. This is what I was doing every time I looked something up in the encyclopedia. I certainly wasn’t aware that I was switching genres or that I needed special skills to interpret informational text. Nevertheless, with help from my parents I learned how to cross-reference information, use pictures and visual aids to assist in comprehension, and skim headings for the information I wanted. This is the kind of reading the Common Core Standards is referring to when it talks about informational texts. Informational texts have the potential to greatly ben-
efit readers at all levels. These texts aren’t always simple to comprehend, however, and findings show that “students across grade levels struggle with reading and understanding nonfiction text” (Cervetti, Bravo, Heibert, Pearson, and Jaynes 489). This points to an important avenue for improving reading comprehension, and due to the cross- curricular nature of informational texts, there is great opportunity for such texts to improve reading comprehension across subject areas. When focusing on the earlier grades, there is the potential that “using informational books in a guided reading program for the primary grades may help students overcome the ‘fourth grade slump’ later on” (Granowsky 56). As students progress through school, there is an increased emphasis in other subjects on informational texts, so why wouldn’t we explicitly teach these texts in the earlier grades in order to prepare students for the reading tasks that lie ahead? Not all early readers switch between text genres effortlessly, so why not teach these informational reading skills early on? Even if informational texts are only a small portion of what they are reading; they won’t be for long as students read more and more non-fiction text books in the later grades. With the advent of reading strategies, teachers have become increasingly aware that students need such strategies to be taught explicitly if students are going to make them a part of their regular reading habit. Reading strategies are not always transferrable across genres, however, and in fact informational text often requires quite different strategies. Marianne McTavish conducted a case study with a 3rd grader where she asked the student to explain her reading strategies when reading a narrative and an informational text. While the student utilized several effective strategies to navigate the narrative text, she struggled when reading the informational text because many of her fix-up strategies were inappropriate to the genre (424-425). For example, when the student became confused by a section of informational text she slowed down her reading, used her finger to follow the texts, and re-read difficult sections (McTavish 425). While these strategies helped her when reading narrative texts, they did little to help her with the informational texts. Strategies that could have helped (and that she failed to utilize) included using picture cues to help explain a section of text or noticing a change in topic flagged by bolded headings (McTavish 424). McTavish observes that sometimes “teachers have an implicit expectation that students know how to use these comprehension strategies and therefore do not teach them” (McTavish 425), but in fact students “need to be explicitly taught how to read these types of texts” (410). She goes on to explain that useful informational text reading strategies include “accessing background knowledge, using picture cues, [...] teacher thinkalouds, mental imagery, question generation, analysis of text structure, and comprehension monitoring” (426). McTavish also points out that “teachers need to explic
itly teach text patterns” (McTavish 425), where “text patterns” are how a text is organized and for what purpose. Marinak and Gambrell discuss the idea of text patterns further, pointing out that there are very different elements to narrative and informational texts. Whereas narrative texts have the five elements of narrative, setting, problem, events, and solution, informational texts have author’s purpose, major ideas, supporting aids, and vocabulary (Marinak and Gambrell 19). Students can engage in a variety of activities to better understand these patterns and the texts in which they are found, thereby better preparing students to understand and comprehend both types of texts when they encounter them. Another key difference in teaching informational texts is how vocabulary is taught. It is important “to recognize the differences in the vocabularies of narrative and informational texts” (Heibert and Cervetti 1) because in subjects like science “words are conceptually complex and represent new concepts” (Heibert and Cervetti 18), but in narrative texts vocabulary words “are often numerous but represent concepts with which most students are familiar” (Heibert and Cervetti 18). This means that in science contexts at least, new words need to be taught in relation to other words and through hands on demonstrations or illustrations (Heibert and Cervetti 15). Graphic organizers would be particularly helpful with this type of vocabulary. There are more reading strategies available for helping students comprehend informational texts, but even if taught explicitly, these strategies won’t benefit students unless informational texts are also being integrated into the curriculum on a regular basis. Many teachers are already doing this, “integrating multiple forms of texts—such as informational texts paired with narratives […] in order to address students’ life experiences” (Risko, Walker-Dalhouse, Bridges, Wilson 376), but it isn’t as wide spread or as in-depth as some think it should be. Marinak and Gambrell argue that in the primary grades both “the amount of informational text available to elementary readers and the number of minutes spent reading informational material is far less than needed” (19). J. Kevin Spink, in “The Aesthetics of Informational Reading,” suggests that this may be partly because some teachers see informational texts as available purely as sources of information, which is exactly how he viewed them when he first started teaching. But it needn’t be an either-or choice between reading for pleasure or reading for information. Spink describes his experiences with informational texts teaching in a first grade classroom by explaining that at first he “assumed that we would be reading stories for fun and reading information books to learn” (Spink 136), but instead he discovered that his first grade students eagerly approached all texts, whether fiction or informational, eagerly and with a desire to absorb the content. His earlier views are understandable, as there is a view that “fictional narratives are inherently more engaging than informational Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
texts” (Cervetti et al. 489). This makes sense given that we, as English teachers, most likely enjoy reading fiction and assume that others, especially children, will enjoy it too. On the other hand, others argue “reading motivation can extend beyond aesthetic experience with text to include the motivating aspects of knowledge seeking in text” (Cervetti et al. 490). Knowledge seeking is itself a pleasurable activity and, especially when self-motivated by one’s own curiosity, can be a powerful impetus to read. Engaging Students with Informational Texts Of course, there is also the potential to engage certain populations that are often less interested in narratives. Many researchers believe that “certain children, often boys, are far more excited by content such as reptiles, mammals, and faraway people and places found in informational books rather than by narrative tales” (Granowsky 56). Spink, however, found both boys and girls equally engaged in informational texts. In exploring Reader-Response theory in relation to his students, Spink decided that they derived as much pleasure, or aesthetic experience, from informational texts as they did from narratives, and that informational texts are not simply utilized by children for their ‘efferent’ qualities. He concludes, “many of us tend to misconstrue Rosenblatt’s theory as applying only to stories and poems and not to nonfiction literature of the sort we ideally are able to use when teaching science and social studies [and] that we as teachers have tended to define literature too narrowly” (Spink 142). An interesting study that looked at the use of text in a science class discovered even more specific information about student interests. Cervetti, Bravo, Heibert, Pearson and Jaynes conducted a study (2009) where third and fourth graders were asked to read two texts containing science content, either a fictional narrative on snails and an informational text on erosion, or an informational text on snails and a fictional narrative on erosion. The results demonstrated that students “do not overwhelmingly choose fictional narrative, despite teachers’ consistent preference for this genre” (Cervetti et al. 491), and that when the concepts are complex and abstract (erosion) there is even a slight preference for informational texts. The authors concluded that fictional narratives, when it comes to science content, have “limitations for conceptual learning” (Cervetti et al. 504), and that students prefer informational texts that help them make sense of abstract or complex topics because the content is presented in a more direct manner. Another researcher working with first graders found that when offered a picture book of their choice, 84% of students “evidenced an overwhelming preference for the nonfiction, informational texts” (Mohr 89). When asked about their selections the dominant reason for selecting a specific book wasn’t genre (fiction or informational) but topic (25%) (Mohr 93), and students most often preferred books about 24
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animals. Mohr observed, “students chose books that served as windows to the world around them, especially the animal kingdom, rather than texts with characters reflecting their gender, ethnicity, or cultural background” (Mohr 97). This idea explains why I, as a child, enjoyed learning about ocelots and rain forests. Why not take advantage of children’s fascination of and wonder with the world around them? In looking at high school students and their preferences, it might be assumed that most students prefer fiction, but even here the evidence is mixed. In one study that looked at urban adolescents and their reading choices during their free time, researchers learned that they often are more interested in popular magazines (Hughes-Hassell and Rodge 26) than in narrative fiction.While there could be many reasons for this, the fact remains that if we want to increase reading habits, we first need to know what kinds of texts students, of all ages, are interested in, and if those texts are not traditional fiction, what should be our response? In aiming to increase the amount of reading adolescents engage in, a wider variety of texts need to be made available, including magazines (Hughes-Hassell and Rodge 28). All of this leads to the conclusion that what is needed is greater choice and more opportunities for students to select their own reading materials. In the age of NCLB there is a great deal of content that must be covered, but it can be covered much more easily if students have the reading skills to comprehend the material. To this end I would suggest this is where Extensive Reading, or Free Voluntary Reading programs become key to improving student reading comprehension. Extensive Reading Extensive Reading originated in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL) research, and is “reading in great amounts for the purpose of a general understanding of the text or for the enjoyment of the reading experience” (Rodrigo, Greenberg, Burke, Hall, Berry, Brinck, Joseph, and Oby 106). It is based on the theory that “people learn to read by reading” (Rodrigo et al. 106), and holds true for L1 learners, L2 learners, children, and adults. In mainstream classrooms it is sometimes called Free Voluntary Reading or even the more well known Sustained Silent Reading. In practice it aims at allowing students to read material that is at their level, consists of few unknown words, and allows them to read for comprehension and pleasure; it is reading that allows readers to focus on the message instead of the difficulty of the medium (Krashen, Free Voluntary 81). There is great potential for extensive reading to improve reading comprehension, move students towards more difficult texts over time, and to turn kids into the kind of student that is described simply as, “a reader.” Research has shown that extensive reading can aid substantially in improving reading comprehension (Krashen, Free Voluntary 1-9). While some argue that extensive read-
ing doesn’t provide enough of a challenge to move students to the next level, Krashen argues that it lays the necessary groundwork, primarily through repeated exposure to vocabulary and grammatical constructions (Krashen, Free Voluntary 23) as readers become more familiar and at ease with words that they don’t encounter during their day-today lives. In extensive reading students are reading out of curiosity and for pleasure, and so they read much more than they might for an assignment. They are also reading for their own interest, not to answer a comprehension question on a quiz. In this way students are exposed to a great deal of written text that inevitably contains more complex grammatical structures and vocabulary than they encounter in conversation or on TV. Research shows that conversations contains 9.9 rare words per 1,000, TV contains 22.7, and comic books and popular magazines contain 53.5 and 65.7 rare words, respectively (Krashen, “The Comparison” 21), over double the amount students encounter watching TV. Students are exposed to far more vocabulary from reading, even light reading, than they do from not reading and engaging in other activities. Additionally, simply spending time reading contributes to eventually taking on more difficult texts, as “light reading serves as a conduit to heavier reading” (Krashen, “The Comparison” 23). Light reading has been defined as texts that include “comic books; magazines; newspapers; and novels which include adventure, mystery, romance, sports, folkhero, science-fiction, and serialized forms” (Russikoff and Pilgreen 122). In contrast, heavier reading is reading that is “advanced and challenging” (Russikoff and Pilgreen 123), such as a course textbook, instructional manual or business report (Russikoff and Pilgreen 123). Light reading helps struggling readers move to heavier reading by building fluency, another idea that comes from teaching English learners, and one that is particularly relevant with struggling readers. EL learners and struggling learners share a common problem: reading is difficult. But with access to light reading materials that are of interest, both groups can quickly gain confidence and create a positive affect associated with reading. More importantly, though, extensive reading offers the opportunity to practice–practice recognizing known words, practice making meaning out of familiar grammatical construction, and practice extracting meaningful content from text. None of this will happen however, unless learners are motivated. This is why, time and again, research emphasizes that “learners’ motivation to read increases when they are interested in what they are reading, which is why it is up to the learner to decide what to read in the ER approach” (Rodrigo et al. 107) This leads to the conclusion that students need authentic informational texts to read in and out of class. If the only place students encounter informational texts is through assigned reading, they are unlikely to ever develop enthusiasm for the genre or master the skills necessary to make sense
of the text structures, visual aids and vocabulary. Students “should read and comprehend informational text for authentic purposes” (McTavish 426). No teacher ever asked me to investigate ocelots; I simply pursued my own interests to that end. Whether the book is informational or narrative, it is still true that “when students read books of their own choosing, they are likely to be more motivated, independent readers” (Mohr 82). What this means for schools is we need to give students ample opportunity to read as many different kinds of texts as they want, in and out of school, and it means stocking our classroom shelves with a wide variety of texts, beyond the traditional literature of fiction, drama and poetry. Akerson and Young suggest that teachers build a non-fiction library in (their) classroom in order to create valuable resources that will support science and literacy learning (Akerson and Young, para 9). This will ensure that students are more likely to discover authentic texts to engage with because all too often school libraries and classrooms are the only place some students can go to find texts. In a study on the leisure, or Free Voluntary, reading that urban adolescents engage in, research shows that they primarily get their reading material from either the school library (71%), the public library (53%) or the classroom (53%) (Hughes-Hassell and Rodge 27). This highlights the second, all too often over-looked consideration that must be made when encouraging students to read books of their own choosing: students need a time and a place to do this reading. Extensive reading programs create this space. Giving students time to read self-selected texts during the school day is “particularly important for economically disadvantaged urban students who often have to work to improve financial conditions at home and may not have a place or the resources to read texts of their choice outside school (Hughes-Hassell and Rodge 30). Both text variety and opportunities to read are necessary. Conclusion What does reading for pleasure mean? For many of us it means cracking open the latest thriller or mystery novel from our favorite author. But for others reading for pleasure means opening the latest book by Doris Kearns or Richard Dawkins. In order to truly implement an extensive reading program that will genuinely benefit all students, student preferences need to be taken seriously, and many students prefer non-fiction texts. Therefore, it is incumbent upon teachers to not only ensure that their students know how to read such texts, but that there are also a wide variety of such texts available to choose from. Nowadays, with no one around to scold me, I can stay up as late as I want, finishing Sue Grafton’s latest mystery. Yes, I also still read a great deal of informational text, only now it’s the latest edition of The Atlantic arriving that gives me a thrill. I’ve even enjoyed perusing my husband’s SciStatement Vol. 48, Number 2
ing and Instruction of Vocabulary.” Reading Research Report 11:01 (March 2011): 1-20. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. Hughes-Hassell, Sandra and Pradnya Rodge. “The leisure reading habits of urban adolescents.” Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy 51:1 (September 2007): 22-23. Works Cited EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. Akerson,Valerie L. and Terrell A.Young. “Nonfiction KnowHow.” National Science Teachers Association: Science and Krashen, Stephen. “The Comprehension Hypothesis: Recent Evidence.” English Teachers Journal (Israel) 51 (December Children 41:6 (March 2004): 48-51. EBSCO. Web. 26 1997): 17-28. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. Nov. 2011. Andrews, Larry. Language Exploration and Awareness. Mah- Krashen, Stephen. Free Voluntary Reading. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2011. Print. wah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc, Inc, 2006. Print. Cervetti, Gina N., Marco A. Bravo, Elfrieda H. Hiebert, P. Da- Marinak, Barbara and Linda B. Gambrell. “Ways to Teach About Informational Text.” Social Studies and the Young vid Pearson, and Carolyn A. Jaynes. “Text Genre and Learner 22:1 (2009): 19-22. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011 Science Content: Ease of Reading, Comprehension, and Reader Preference.” Reading Psychology 30 (2009): 487- McTavish, Marianne. “’What Were You Thinking?’:The Use of Metacognitive Strategy During Engagement with Read511. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. ing Narrative and Informational Genres.” Canadian JourCommon Core State Standards Intitiatve. English Language nal of Education 31:2 (2008): 405-430.Web. 26 Nov. 2011. Arts Instruction: Introduction: Key Design ConsiderMohr, Kathryn A. J. “Children’s Choices for Recreational ations. 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. Reading: A Three Part Investigation of Selection PreferDewey, John. The Child and the Curriculum: Including The School ences, Rationales and Processes.” Journal of Literacy Reand Society. New York: Cosimo Inc, 2008. Print. search 38:81 (2006): 81-104. EBSCO. Web. 8 Dec. 2011. Granowsky, Alvin. “Get Real!” Teaching Pre-K-8 34: 8 (May Risko, Victoria, J., Walker-Dalhouse, Doris, Bridges, Erin S., 2004): 56-57. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. Wilson, Ali. “Drawing onText Features for ReadHeibert, Elfreida H. and Gina N. Cervetti. “What differences ing Comprehension and Composing.” The Reading in Narrative and Informational Texts Mean for the LearnTeacher 64:5 (2011): 376-378. EBSCO. Web 26 Nov. 2011. Rodrigo, Victoria, Daphne Greenberg, National Council of Teachers of English Victoria Burke, Ryan Hall, Angelee Berry, Tanya Brinck, Holly Joseph, and Michael Oby. “Implementing The Professional Home of the English Language Arts Community an extensive reading program and library for adult literacy learners.” Reading in a Foreign Language 19:2 (October 2007): 106-119. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. ith resources on early Russikof, Karen A., and Pilgreen, Janice L. “Shaking the Tree of ‘Forbidden literacy, writing, reading Fruit’: A Study of Light Reading.” instruction, ESL, and Reading Improvement 31:2 (1994): preparing your students for 122-123. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. standardized tests without Santos, Fernanda. “A Trial Run For “teaching to the test,” The Standards that Encourage DeepNational Council of Teachers er Thought.” The New York Times, April 24, 2011. Web. 10 Dec. 2011. of English has the solutions Spink, J. Kevin. “The Aesthetics of Inforyou need to support you in mational Reading.” The New Advoyour classroom, career, and cate 9:2 (Spring 1996): 135-150. EBSCO. Web. 26 Nov. 2011. community. ence News, although I don’t understand as much of it as I’d like. Perhaps I should have spent even more time with that encyclopedia set.
Resources, Strategies, Lesson Plans, and Membership information available online at www.ncte.org or call (877) 369-6283. 26
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A Conversation Between Three Literacy Bud Hunt is an instructional technologist for the St. Vrain Valley School District in Educators northern Colorado. Formerly, he taught with Bud Hunt, Nannette McMurtry, and Sarah Woodard
Nannette is a passionate learner and reader—she’s always looking for new technology to discover and try. She is currently an Educational Technology Specialist for BVSD, but she will always be an English teacher at heart. Her email is nannette.mcmurtry@ bvsd.org and you can follow her on Twitter at @namcmurtry.
From the editor: Here I present a conversation between three literacy educators from Colorado. As explained in the previous issues of Statement, inspiration for this regular feature came from a conversation on the pages of Adolescent Literacy:Turning promise into Practice, a recent NCTE edited book by Kylene Beers, Robert E. Probst, and Linda Rief. Beers, Probst, and Rief argued that they wanted not a coauthored chapter by three national leaders in litearcy education, but “something that suggested the starting and stopping, the rethinking, the interrupting, the contradictions (of self and each other), the hesitations, the silences, the rush of ideas, the spontaneity of the moment that comes when you put three very bright, very passionate, very dedicated teachers into one space” (105). That’s what I am going for here. Teaching litearcy is complex, and I hope that these ongoing conversations between Colorado literacy educators (and the occasional guest from the national stage) will capture that more effectively than anything else. For this issue, I recruited three Colorado educators who have truly inspired my thinking about literacy in the 21st century and how that colors my role as an ELA teacher. Bud Hunt works in instructional technology for the St. Vrain school district. At the NCTE 2011 conference in Chicago, I attended an exciting session on emerging web-based instructional tools presented by Sara Kajder, Troy Hicks, and Bud (who presented from Colorado via internet-based video conferencing). Nannette is a new to Colorado, hav
high school language arts and journalism at Olde Columbine High School in Longmont, Colorado. He is a teacher-consultant with the Colorado State University Writing Project, an affiliate of the National Writing Project. Bud is a co-founder of Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation. He reads, writes, and worries about the future of reading and writing and teaching and learning at http:// www.budtheteacher.com. Sarah Woodard teaches 8th grade Language Arts at Falcon Bluffs Middle School in Littleton, Colorado. She is a co-director of the Denver Writing Project and a National Board Certified Teacher. She was also the co-chair of the fall 2011 CLAS conference focusing on expanding literacies. Her email is swoodard@ jeffco.k12.co.us.
ing recently left her high school language arts classroom in Texas to work in instructional technology for the Boulder Valley School District. She has already contributed a great deal to IT in BVSD. Sarah was the co-chair of the fall 2011 CLAS conference. The theme of that excellent conference and my experience at the conference have inspired the theme of this issue. It is only fitting to have in this particular conversation a voice representing what inspired this issue to begin with. To these three educators, I posed five questions that you’ll see below. They each responded to the questions via email and then had the opportunity to read and respond to what the other two had said. What follows here is the resulting conversation. Editor: What are you doing to push your students and their thinking to become “truly literate in a rapidly changing world”? (or to help the teachers you work with to be ready to meet this challenge?) Bud: As a teacher who now works at the district level as an instructional technology coordinator, I’m continually thinking of teachers, students, and administrators as students who are needing to be literate in the world of the Web. That means constantly creating situations where they can be reading, writing, and thinking the Web. That’s no differStatement Vol. 48, Number 2
ent from any other literacy–what you use, you know and grow.
Editor: What concerns do you have about the new literacy demands of our rapidly shifting society?
Sarah: It is imperative to ensure students have numerous opportunities to expand their understanding and application of many different kinds of literacies in our changing world. I think it’s important to allow students to work with a variety of Web 2.0 Tools as well as other technologies to allow students the opportunity to collaborate with not only their peers, but also other people and resources that can be accessed via the World Wide Web. I regularly (daily) use tools such as Google Apps with my eighth graders–in fact, virtually all of our work is completed in a collaborative, online environment. We use the Internet (cloud) for research, inquiry, collaboration, reading, writing, thinking, forming and sharing ideas, giving one another feedback, publishing our work, etc… truly, the possibilities are endless. Above all, I believe it’s essential to help students learn to problem solve and adapt to various situations in our rapidly changing world. It isn’t possible for us to prepare young people for all of the situations they will face with respect to their learning and life; rather, we need to provide them with varied situations to help them become critical thinkers and problem solvers with real-world application.
Sarah: I’m not sure if I have concerns about the literacy demands of our rapidly shifting society, but there are certainly numerous implications that I need to consider when thinking about preparing students for their futures. For example, as I previously mentioned, it isn’t possible for me to prepare my students for all of the literacy situations they will face in their lives. Rather, I need to help students become critical thinkers and problem solvers. I need to help students become flexible and creative when considering how to approach situations that require new and complex literacy skills. I suppose one concern is making sure that I provide my students with a variety of situations and contexts for them to apply literacy skills. I also need to be vigilant about continually improving my own understanding, knowledge, and application of new literacies and technologies so I’m able to integrate these skills and technologies into my classroom.
Nannette: I like the opportunity to be the third voice in this conversation about changing literacies. I believe, like Bud, that exposure to the world of reading, writing and thinking on the web builds stronger literacy. And like Sarah, I believe that students need exposure to the multiple streams of communication available on the internet through Web 2.0 tools and collaborative experiences in learning. Yet, I also believe that to make students “truly literate” is to recognize that the content of literacy itself is once again in flux. The last couple decades or so in secondary language arts classrooms has brought about a shift from focusing on a set of texts based heavily in fiction to a set of “texts” (print, visual and media) based in expository and persuasive styles. This shift has led to a new perspective and approach in teaching reading and writing in our classes. For this reason, I think we need to recognize that the basic components of literacy haven’t changed, but there is a shift in the type of reading and writing students are exposed to on a daily basis. Our students can now access almost any opinion, with any view, by anyone, with any slant, and at any time. They have to be prepared, now, more than ever before, to be able to decode that piece of information for what they believe to be right, what they believe to be wrong, and then they must have the ability to reconcile both to establish their own opinion on the topic. The ability to read and write expository and argumentative pieces has increased in our society because of the amount of information and opinion students are bombarded with every day. 28
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Bud: One of my biggest concerns about “the new literacy demands of our rapidly shifting society” is that the whole idea might be illusory. The times have always been changing. The needs of the last century were the most quickly moving and hard to define the world had ever seen. Everyone has always been struggling to race to figure out how to live in the world that is coming around them. While I’ll acknowledge the the world is moving fast and that technology is growing and fiddling with the world rapidly - hasn’t that, to some degree, always been the case? And, too, it seems to me that the basic skills of a literate person don’t change so much as the environment they live in does. Folks still need good crap detectors, and to be able to discern from the communities they inhabit and visit what the norms or participation are. The best way to do this has always been to observe and participate in those communities. And we’ve never quite gotten teaching and learning around reading and writing quite right. What makes us, right now, more unique than all the folks who’ve come before? (I don’t ask that question flippantly. I’m genuinely seeking to understand.) Nannette: Like Sarah, I’m not sure the word “concern” captures the feeling I have towards the rapidly shifting society. I echo the sentiment that it is imperative that students become critical thinkers with the ability to adapt to situations, ideas, and experiences as needed. And to Bud’s question, I think what has made us more unique is the open accessibility to almost anybody or anything in the entire world. We need to teach our students to navigate in a world where everyone has a public voice, and it seems as almost everyone is screaming at the top of their lungs that they’re right. We now live in a world where regimes have been toppled
because of Twitter, where students can watch a video online about how to commit suicide or read a news story about a monk committing self immolation in protest of a government regime. I’m not saying that we need censorship or to limit what our students experience, but my argument is that this accessibility to the world has made the need to cultivate 21st century literacy skills greater than previous generations. A great example of this is the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman case–the Facebook chatter, bullying and outright racism on both sides would not exist (to the scale) were it not for the social networking tool. It is extremely difficult to pick through all of the opinion to find the real story–and part of our role as a 21st century educator is to teach students to do that very thing. Editor:What does “literate” mean in the 21st century? Bud: The same thing it meant previously–the ability to navigate the communication spaces of the age. That there are more spaces and opportunities to be literate makes for a complex landscape of texts and tools. It’s a fun time to be a reader and writer and a teacher of both. Sarah: To me, being “literate” in the 21st century means the ability to shift and adapt to numerous situations. Literate in the 21st century requires the ability to navigate many kinds of texts and texts in different forms–new genres and types of text are being created and formed all the time, and a literate individual needs to able to make sense of all kinds of information.The ability to synthesize and create new meaning is a valuable skill for all individuals in the 21st century. Nannette: I feel like just shouting a big “AMEN!” to Sarah’s statement–her remark that “the ability to synthesize and create new meaning is a valuable skill for individuals in the 21st century” captures the common sentiment I’ve seen across the disciplines and from educational gurus around the country. I think that’s also why I agree with Bud in that it is a great time “to be a reader and a writer and a teacher of both”–it’s a wonderful journey to be a part of with our students! While I believe the basic definition of literacy remains the same, I also believe the definition now includes the ability to adapt and embrace change more than ever before. A “literate” person in the 21st century moves seamlessly between modes of communication (written, visual and media) and avenues of reading–they’re comfortable and capable in any world they wander into, whether it’s writing a blog, reading a novel or working for an online newspaper. Rather than see society in light of “new” literacy demands, I see it as more of a shift in focus–students will need to be able to read and think critically in this 21st century society because of the demand on their ability to adapt, evolve, evaluate and
produce, rather than just consume. Editor: What place do traditional literacies hold in this context? Bud: Again, “traditional literacies” are the foundational abilities that don’t necessarily change when there are new spaces in which to read and write and compose. Nannette: I agree that traditional literacies are still a necessary component in our modern context, and I am of the mind that reading for pleasure is almost as necessary a skill to cultivate as the ability to think critically about a text or image. I think more than navigating a text, students need to learn how to engage with a text and find meaning and value in what they read. Granted, when they’re in their college courses or reading informative textbooks this skill loses its “value.” Yet, at the same time, their ability to immerse themselves in stories, to experience “bibliotherapy” as my college English professor called it, is the kind of escapism that expository and persuasive texts don’t normally provide. I fear that our shift to these ideals of the 21st century literacies can sometimes cloud our ability to recognize the importance of fiction in our students’ lives today. Sarah: I definitely believe traditional literacies are of value when considering new literacies or 21st century literacies/skills. For example, knowing how to navigate specific types of texts–fiction, nonfiction, poetry, drama–such as magazines, scripts, ads, indexes, articles, free verse poetry, blogs, tables of contents, etc., is imperative for helping students transfer these skills to new situations and learning contexts. Understanding the characteristics and nuances of traditional texts and literacies provides an essential foundation for knowing and understanding what skills to use when students encounter new texts and situations. What do you see as an example of doing “old things with new tools”? What kinds of things should we be doing instead? Bud: I’m not terribly impressed when I see teachers asking students to complete poorly thought out assignments in new spaces–a bad set of closed questions is a crummy thing to ask a student to do, be it on paper or on the Internet. There’s plenty of old wine in new bottles that wasn’t ever new wine. Sarah: This is an excellent question. In fact, this question makes me think about some of the things I’m having my students do and whether or not I’m just requiring them to do “old things with new tools.” For example, instead of having students analyze texts using a hard copy of a graphic organizer, I have made templates for text analysis, video analysis, etc., on Google Docs. Students then make copies of the template, rename it, share it with several of their peers Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
and me, and we are able to share our thinking and learning with others. I suppose the most important difference is the collaboration factor with using new tools–in the past, the ability for students to share their thinking and collaborate with one another was not nearly as efficient or as authentic. Likewise, as a teacher, I’m able to provide students with meaningful feedback in a timely and efficient manner using Google Docs/Apps. I think as educators we need to consider the kinds of skills our students need to be successful in the future and we need to revise our lessons so that students have the ability to explore and use new skills and technologies. As teachers, we need to demonstrate the skill of life-long learning and be willing to learn alongside our students. We need to welcome our students’ insight and interests. Nannette:This is the core struggle I have with districts who see the technology, and not the teaching, as the savior of their student’s learning. Technology tools really have nothing to do with good teaching, and one does not necessarily produce the other (i.e. giving technology to a poor teacher doesn’t necessarily lead them to becoming a better teach-
er).The change happens in the approach to student engagement, learning, and assessment. We now have the ability as educators to learn with students in organic processes that move away from “assign, grade, return” models to immersive experiences where students, teachers and anyone in the world you invite into your classroom work together in the learning. As part of the process, students create a product or are assessed in a way that is authentic, that provides either a “real-world” scenario or a “real-world” opportunity. We can do this without technology BUT, the technology sure makes it an easier process to achieve these kinds of learning experiences. I like what teacher and author Carol Jago says about the learning she wants her students to experience every day technology or not: she wants them to be “intellectually exhausted” when they leave her classroom, wiped out from their level of engagement. That’s what I always think about when I use technology with my students. Of course, they’re excited to make that really cool-looking website in Wix, but is my assignment worthy enough of an intellectual challenge for my students, or, is it just busy work that I’ve moved from pen and paper to monitor and mouse?
Call for Proposals Send or e-mail proposals by May 31, 2012
Visit http://clastalk.ning.com/ for more information! 30
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Please include the following: 1. Presenter(s) Information: Include name(s), title and school affiliation, mailing address, all contact information (home phone, work phone, cell, email). All correspondence is sent to the first presenter’s name. Please keep your colleagues informed as correspondence continues. In accordance with professional tradition, all presenters must register for the conference. 2. Session Title: Include the title of your session and its suggested level and strand. Suggested Strand: Writing, Reading, Speaking, Technology, or Other Suggested Level: Elementary, Intermediate/Middle, High School, or College 3. Description: Concurrent sessions will be held on Saturday morning; Saturday afternoon and Friday afternoon sessions are reserved for workshops. Concurrent sessions typically present a best practice or engage the audience in a focused presentation and/or discussion of a topic relevant to the theme of the conference-Linking Literacies. Describe the session in detail in 2-3 paragraphs; provide explanation of background to and identification of the topic, its relevance to the conference theme, methods and materials to be used, including audience participation. Please note on which aspect of the conference theme your presentation will focus. 4. Abstract: Give 4-5 lines of description to appear in the conference program. Identify the intended audience(s) and area of focus. 5. Presentation needs: Each session meeting room is a mediated classroom (equipped with audio, video, and projection). Presenters must bring their own laptop. 6. Texts: Please note any texts or resources you will specifically reference in the presentation so that we can try to have them available for purchase.
Statement Survey What Colorado Teachers are Saying about Expanding Literacies In an effort to hear from more ELA teachers across the state, Statement invited teachers to weigh in on a survey connected to this issue’s theme. Below are the responses from the teachers who completed this issue’s survey. Look for future surveys on the CLAS Ning (http://clastalk.ning.com/) and on Statement’s website (https://sites.google. com/site/classtatement/).
Survey Respondents: Klaudia Neufeld, Pathways Extended Education Program, Adams 12 Five Star Schools Paula Reed, Columbine High School, Littleton Tracy Brennan, Fairview High School, Boulder What are you doing to push your students and their thinking to become “truly literate in a rapidly changing world”? Klaudia: I have developed multi-genre projects that serve to function as final assessments in my courses. These projects require technology integration and literacy from students. I continue to assign classic literature, while remaining current with trends and genres in literature such as flash fiction, spoken word, etc. The standards- based curriculum pushes students to hone critical reading/writing/speaking/ listening skills. All of these contribute to literacy in our world. Paula: I am spending more time in my classroom teaching kids how to detect bias and determine the validity of a source in a world with the internet, where anyone can post anything without a vetting process. Tracy: I encourage them to read a lot, whether it be books, poems, drama, or essays. I ask them to be open to all kinds of literature, including books and ideas published online as well as film. I try to get them to think of literature in a wider way than they have (or I have) in the past.
What does “literate” mean in the 21st century? Klaudia: In my mind, literate represents the ability to multi-task. It encompasses the myriad of forms of written communication that we must digest, comprehend, and synthesize. Literacy today means the ability to adapt quickly to change, whether it be reading public transportation schedules, learning technology on a new phone, or learning a new iPad. Literacy involves an individual who is able to be comfortable in a variety of settings, able to fend for oneself in a business setting, at a job interview, learning new computer software, responding to a text, blogging or reading a manual. Paula: It is broader than ever. Can a student recognize a timeless theme and identify its presence in his own culture? Can he see how it affects his culture and his own thinking? Can he participate in the global conversation about it? Think: Can a kid read Walden, explore climate change today, identify bias in the current exchange on this issue, and vote or purchase responsibly, or even be inspired to pursue a career from that course of study? Tracy: Being able to read and write well and being able to approach all kinds of media and information with ease but also with a discerning eye. Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
What place do traditional literacies hold in this context? Klaudia: Some traditional literacies are becoming extinct. Others are adapting with the changing times. Now in our classroom we can meet the needs of auditory learners by using audio files of short stories or books. We are capable of looking at traditional literacies in a new way. For example, the old Power Point presentations have been redesigned in the form of the Prezi. Those who are in “the know” shudder to see a Power Point in a formal presentation. Sadly, the hand-written letter is losing its appeal; though to some, like myself, the letter brings a smile when it appears in my mail box. Classic literature can be read on a Kindle or a Nook. I feel some of our students are missing out on the reading, writing, and arithmetic aspect of education because of this fast-paced, rapidly changing literacy; however, for the most part it is a positive and irreversible trend. Paula: They are critical. The study of The Great Gatsby shows students that the greed and corruption that led to the financial meltdown of 2008 are timeless human frailties, and from this students can see that Fitzgerald is right, we pursue dreams, ignoring reality, at our own peril. (Think housing bubble.) The classic five-paragraph essay teaches a method of thinking, not just writing. It develops the concept that sound ideas are based upon evidence and thorough analysis, sans rhetorical gimmicks. The current focus in media is on spin and entertainment. By allowing writing instruction to lean upon these traits, as well, we actually TEACH kids to be shallow thinkers. Tracy: I think we can still bring traditional forms of literature to our students, but we need to be able to approach them in a 21 st century way. We need to relate old stories to new quandaries in our world and see how the old can inform the new.
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What concerns do you have about the new literacy demands of our rapidly shifting society? Klaudia: My primary concern is that our students are literate, able to function in a world that requires job applications, resumes, business writing, financial literacy. I want my students to be able to function on their own with career ready skills and life skills that enable them to be contributing members to society. Students must be able to read and write. Paula: I worry that we confuse shifts in society with shifts in human nature. We are abandoning works of literature that are ages old and that have already survived huge shifts in many societies. They survive because they can endure if we do not simply shove them under the mountain of information and technology now available. When we decide classics are “not relevant” (as though age old themes like family, love, jealousy, isolation can ever become irrelevant) we intentionally deprive kids of a wealth of human culture and experience. Tracy: My main concern is not being able to keep up with new forms of literature and literacy in this brave new world. My students are naturally inclined to be inquisitive about learning in many different modes, and I have to come to them on their level, not just mine.
What more do you wish to say about how these issues affect your teaching? Klaudia: I absolutely believe that these changes have enabled me to better differentiate in the classroom. I work in a blended learning environment, where students are online for part of their day, then in small groups and individual conferences for the rest of their day. It is necessary for me to keep current with technology and various forms of literacy simply to continue meeting the needs of my students. Paula: I feel we are falling into an allor-nothing trap. We either teach exclusively classic literature and formulaic writing or we do everything the “new” way. Curricula are not developed with a thoughtful scope and sequence, bridging timeless concepts with modern manifestations. We are supposed to jump on the latest bandwagon and throw in some classic stuff if there’s time (to humor old-fashioned teachers). If we advise caution in throwing out classics, it is assumed that we are “afraid of change.” It worries me that it doesn’t seem to occur to those in curriculm development that one can teach classics and yet change that teaching a great deal in response to global changes. A bunch of writing assignments developed just to cover “a variety of audiences and purposes” mashed in with random literature, or literature studied soley as a way to write, is far from optimal. These things should be thoughtfully, carefully, seamlessly integrated. Tracy: These issues of literacy make me ponder every day how I can better relate to my students and meet them halfway using some older texts in newer ways.
(Con)fronting Confusion and Raising Students’ Critical Awareness in Paradise Sheryl D. Scales is a University by Sheryl Scales
Those of us who teach or who have taught multicultural literature to adolescents and young adults, ranging from junior high to college freshman and sophomore students, have probably experienced class sessions where discussions of cultural issues have been met with students’ silence, reluctance, or resistance (Beach; Plaut; Shor;Thein, Beach, & Park). Posing seemingly gentle open-ended questions like these, “What are your first impressions of the novel?” or “How do you feel about reading it?” can cause students to become silent, hang their heads, and avoid eye contact. As teacher wait time persists, some students may respond with generalized retellings of the story, tepid responses, and/or responses regarding whether the story is liked or disliked before a student finally says “I don’t get it.” And, if teachers are lucky, those downward heads rise and nod, acknowledging that they, too, didn’t get it, along with someone uttering “it’s confusing.” This scene is illustrative of what transpired in Stella Lane’s (pseudonym) college freshman-sophomore Introduction to Fiction class when she asked the two aforementioned questions about Toni Morrison’s novel Paradise. In “Teaching Uncomfortable Topics,” Lisa Jakubowski asserts “the process of teaching and learning can become both alienating and meaningless if it does not address, in a comprehensible way, the concerns that emerge from social realities of students” (65). The crux of this article examines the “comprehensible way” in which Stella, who is Caucasian, (con)fronts and unpacks her non-African American students’ confusion about the socio-cultural issues that impact the fictionalized African American community in Paradise. Conceptualizing (Con)fronting Confusion Can speaking to and (con)fronting students’ confusion generate a critical examination and discussion of a multicultural text? The answer becomes yes and maybe, depending upon what one means by critical. Before moving forward, it is important to define the terms used in the title. The parenthetical “con” as it is being used means to study or carefully read, derived from its Middle English origin “connen, to learn, know, study” (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary).“Fronting” connotes what is primarily at the center of concern. “Confusion” is understood as the “dis
Supervisor at Washburn University, working with Early Childhood/ Elementary Education studentteachers. Interested in critical pedagogy and critical literacy, she has a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction. Her email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
equilibrium” of thought and awareness and attributed to the inability to “assimilate information” into existing “schema” (Plaut 392). The term critical awareness as it is used here recognizes the contemplative focus, consciousness, required to reflect upon one’s perceptions with an ability to analyze events, situations, and personal predispositions (Kincheloe). Raising critical awareness, then, refers to the active process of questioning one’s beliefs and acknowledging that the construction of knowledge is due in part to accepted, dominant cultural, societal, and economic influences (Freire, Jakubowski, Kincheloe) that pervade life experiences. Therefore, on day three of this four day Paradise unit, Stella (con)fronts students’ confusion to raise their critical awareness by facilitating a discussion centered upon what they notice about the text. Paradise Paradise presents an African American community residing in the fictional town of Ruby, Oklahoma, a township founded by the descendants of freedmen who fled racism in Haven, Mississippi. It is told through many indices of time using a series of discursive flashbacks from the perspective of female characters, who are inhabitants of Ruby and others who live in a convent outside Ruby. Undergirding the story line are complexities of race, racial identity, gender, social mores, and cultural values, which are complicated by the (m) oral(izing) historical narratives that have been passed on for several generations within the community. Racial purity is an ideological theme that the community’s norms and values orbit, causing contention and concern for the prominent families of Ruby. When the novel opens, the town’s cultural heritage and legacy has been threatened by the women at the convent and undermined by some of the women in Ruby. The reader is told “They shoot the white girl first.” Engaging Critical awareness This novel exemplifies how socio-cultural norms of the past, transmitted through narratives, can influence and socially construct a present-day generation’s ways of thinking and behaving. Abreham Alemu summarizes the power and influence oral narratives have on politics, molding societal Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
customs and belief systems, and what it means to be a socially-constructed individual: Put simply, the form and content of a community’s preferred narratives play a significant role not only in influencing and shaping their mode of thinking, feeling, valuing, perceiving, believing, etc., but also in the (re)production, legitimating, and maintenance of the set beliefs, the multifarious institutions, and power structures governing their behavior and interaction. (61) Stella uses Paradise to demonstrate how socially constructed categories like race, gender, and class can marginalize individuals, a consideration which some of her students have rejected or resisted. Engaging students in an awareness of social constructionism and its implications risks alienating students who do not see themselves as socially constructed beings or socially positioned within any given context (i.e. family, school, church, community and society at large). Stella explains her concerns and approach, thusly: I think my goal is simply to point out that we often think that there’s a true or genuine self...I’m trying to point out that that isn’t always accurate. There are many selves there are many performances, and I think literature is a good way to sort of look at the ways different people perform…especially when performances change throughout a text, so I guess that’s why I think it’s important, … to sort of work around the notion of “here’s my true self” that’s something you hear all the time from students. (Interview, March 2009) The remainder of this article illustrates the pedagogical steps Stella takes to raise her students’ critical awareness and the theories that support her practice.
(Elbow) their reactions to the novel then charts the reactions on the board (see Table 1). Next, students form small groups to discuss the reactions and to freewrite, generating topics and themes they see at work in the novel. In these small groups, students also mine the text for support of their positions while discussing, collaborating, accepting, and rejecting their thinking. Collaborative group work (Bruffee), which is conducive to authentic inquiry (Hadjioannou), allows students an opportunity to investigate their ideas, finding the strengths and weaknesses in their arguments and beliefs. Table 1, a reconstruction of what appeared on the board, captures the beginning of Stella’s instruction that assists students in unpacking their thinking.The “reactions” column on the left identifies the structure of the text as confusing to students. The “Topics / Themes” column on the right reveals students’ understanding about the elements they found at work in the text, which are representative of socio-cultural norms and values. Focusing students’ attention to each column, she says: What I want us to think about are here, [our] reactions and here [our] topics and themes…What is the relationship between these reactions and these topics and themes?…Are the topics and themes somehow related to our reactions?… If so, how can we use these topics and themes to perhaps make sense of our reactions? As each question piggybacks upon the preceding one, adding more ways in which to engage critical thinking, she summarily asks, “how can we use these topics and themes to make sense of our reactions,” and, “why might Morrison have made these sorts of choices that make us feel certain things as readers?” Affirming that confusion is a reasonable and valid reaction, Stella reminds students that Paradise perplexed book reviewers, too, evidenced by the book reviews students found and shared in the class period prior to read-
Student-generated “Reactions, Topics, and Themes” Undeterred Table 1: Students’ Reactions and Topics/Themes by students’ confusion, silence, Reactions reluctance to • Confusing–doesn’t focus on one character–jumps around–figure out who is talking–distracting–not speak and possible resistance chronological to Paradise, Stella • Further reading, more details, exposed deeper has students recomplications consider their • Multiple story lines–all over the place confusion, plac• Focused on people and relationships–lots of charing it front and acters center of the examination and • Everyone is looking for something discussion on • Relationships aren’t standard and cookie cutter– relationships are described briefly this day. She be• Cuts between history, and story plots are annoygins the lesson ing by having students quickwrite • Concentration on drama of women 34
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Topics / Themes • Insider / Outsider • Race–racial purity, skin color • Identity • Family traditions • Searching–safety, love • Utopia / Dystopia • Acceptance–ideals of the town • Religion / Morals • Gender • Sexuality–sexual purity • Freedom • Secrets and scapegoating • Old versus new • Seculsion and isolation
ing the novel. She states: Because your reactions are not uncommon, you read the book reviews and people have these common reactions. So based on these reactions (indicating students reactions written on the board), why might it be a little confusing; why might there be brief descriptions of many relationships? Encouraging authentic inquiry and promoting an active discussion can be especially difficult when students clamup or tiptoe around what they intend to say with “ums,’ pauses, and false starts. As demonstrated in the discourse that follows, when the discussion stalls, Stella and her students refer to students’ quickwrite and freewriting notes. Stella also uses scaffolding techniques: uptaking (Nystrand et al.), integrating or “incorporating” parts or all of previous responses to form “subsequent” questions, linking them together for further examination and re-presenting (Shor), “synthesizing students’ remarks into questions and statements…[creating] a focused problem for further reflection…” and “pull[ing] the [dialogue] process forward to the next phase of inquiry” (Shor 113). Because of the recursive nature of the discourse, it is important to note that not all the reactions and topics / themes are presented in isolation as they appear in the table. Student names are pseudonyms.
others’) reading of the portrayal of a character’s history and identity and offers the characterization of Billie Delia as an example, stating, “Yeah, and Billie Delia is a really good example of that, right?” Excited, she asks Phillip, “Did you think of that? I mean, how do we first see Billie Delia? What are we told?” This question is met with a pregnant pause, filled with tension and readiness, as evidenced by the expressions on students’ faces. Therefore, she restates her question, “When do we first see Billie Delia” and “What are we told,” attempting to make salient the marginalizing effect oral history has had on Billie Delia. Billie Delia is light-skinned, a sign of racial impurity. Stella presses on, when no one responds, asking “Does anyone remember?” Penny, who has been fidgeting with her pen, breaks the silence and, says, “hoe,” a slang referent for “whore.” Stella responds by quoting from the text, “Yeah, she’s ‘the fastest girl in town,’ right? But later when we hear the other story from Pat, what do we hear about her then?” After a few seconds of wait time, when no one else responds, Stella backtracks and rephrases her question and re-presents Penny’s characterization of Billie Delia. She asks, “When do we first see Billie Delia? When does she get this reputation?” “When she was three,” offers Alexia. The Discourse: Making Sense of Reactions, TopThis response causes a few students to laugh as Stella ics, and Themes confirms, Stella has students, “circle up,” form a large group circle Yeah, when she was three, and she pulls down her that she joins. Opening the whole group discussion, she says, panties to ride a horse, right? Because she’s three “All right what sort of things did you come up with? How and this is what three year olds do, right? They sort do we make sense of this, our reading, when we have these of embrace life in ways we’re sort of not allowed to reactions and these topics and themes?” as adults, which is really quite a shame, but – yeah. Marcus says, So, we have that as a perfect example of getting [inUm, well they’re kind of like, the topics aren’t really formation] from different people. simple to go through and look at, so [Morrison] is The dialogue, thus far, illustrates how raising critical a little more confusing like looks at the history and awareness is an incremental process occurring as students tradition, but she also makes it confusing by going recognize the subtle yet marginalizing effect of narrative through stories. [The history, tradition, and stories] retellings. When Stella places Marcus’s, Phillip’s, and Penny’s kind of help us understand what the whole story is responses together, a critical dialogic space is created, pinbuilt on. pointing oral history as a marginalizing factor (Alemu). PhilStella responds, “Yeah there’s not this sort of like one lip accentuates this point when he re-presents Stella’s last main thing that’s going on,” then recognizes another student. response and elaborates, posing a query concerning the dif“Yeah, Phillip.” He references his freewrite: fering narrative points of view in the novel: Um, like the inside and out[side] thing, it’s present So like multiple characters can – (he interrupts himalso when like you’re reading [the book]. It makes self and starts again). Like one character can be like you feel like there’s this outsider walking into Ruby multiple characters…, so that [Billie Delia] can be – almost like you’re the outsider. The other thing I [seen as] easy-like or whatever. And later on in the [wrote] is like the whole identity thing. The actual story, the same [story is told] and she’s a completebook itself being confusing and also having a focus ly different character, then. like that, and the fact that we meet people through Validating Phillip’s initial assertion, Stella reiterates, other people; it’s going to be like a lens that we see “Yeah, we are sort of like outsiders in a sense.” The talk each person out of – through another person’s lens. about being an outsider, learning about individuals through Stella uptakes and re-presents his idea concerning how others’ perspectives, and identifying Billie Delia as an outhis experience of being “an outsider” influences his (and cast transforms the dialogue as students start to make sense
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of their own reading. The dialogue is becoming critical as it begins to expose how oral histories situate and oppress individuals. Stella asks Marcia to share what she wrote. Marcia responds, “I wrote kind of–I guess, I didn’t necessarily understand what you were saying, and I was kind of connecting things in a way.” “That’s okay,” says Stella. “Well, I think one reason why [the story is confusing] is because of the ‘old versus new’ because things are so different between the two, and you can’t describe one without describing the other,” explains Marcia. Stella agrees, “Yeah, we have these opposing forces and their influences.” Marcia agrees with her assessment as the class waits in silence. Stella asks Rhonda “what did you write?” Rhonda offers: Um, I put down that maybe it’s confusing in the beginning because [Morrison] kind of gets the reader to have more of an unbiased opinion about the town, and as you go into the book she adds more details so then you’re able to kind of understand and piece it together – like figure things out for yourself. And, I also put that she is confusing when she jumps from one person to another because she’s trying – maybe she’s trying – to show the extreme between the different people in the town and outside of it like the ladies in the convent. Stella responds, “Yeah, it sort of heightens that difference right? If we’re jumping between two really opposing story lines, you’re jumping between them, you’re like ‘well this is a very different read on what’s going on here,’ very different.” Then she turns to another student: “Samantha, how ‘bout you?” Samantha says, “Um, it kind of goes along with everyone else. [Morrison] throws in so much stuff so we can get like in the minds of people in town and figure out like (she pauses and restarts). It’s kind of being an outsider too and like asking why the girls at the convent [are] being killed.” Samantha’s statement, “get… in the minds of people,” causes Stella to make a connection to ethnographic research. She inquires, “Is anyone familiar with ethnography, at all? [This story] is a little bit like an ethnography. I just thought of that right now when you were saying that. Do you know what I mean?” Stella’s example of ethnography substantiates students’ ideas and claims of feeling like outsiders, as well as demonstrates how her own knowledge is transforming. “Joseph what do you think?” asks Stella. Joseph replies, “Yeah, well, it’s the people in the study who look at things, observing objectively. Instead of correcting Joseph or pressuring him to qualify his statement, she uptakes his point about “observing” and links the reading of Paradise to the work of an ethnography: Yeah, and observing it, and if you go into [the read36
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ing of Paradise] just to observe, you’re not going to get every story right away, right? You’re going to have to spend – (pauses and interrupts herself to reframe what she says next). People spend sometimes years doing an ethnographic study, going in and trying to figure out like how are the power relationships working in this society, right? It’s not so clear, perhaps, to say like men are all in control or women are in control. There’s a give and take of power.Yeah? She asks, “Um, how about the utopia idea – utopia / dystopia?” When no one responds, she elaborates on her question: “Does that connect to any sort of confusion? Might our confusion or the nonlinear nature suggest something to us about paradises or utopias?” After a brief pause, Alexia responds: I said utopias because like at the beginning a town could possibly be a paradise except once you start putting all the details into the town like money. And like, where you’re going to get your food and who’s going to do this and who’s going to do that? It ends up being more – (pauses, grimaces) – like the government, you can’t have (interrupts herself).There’s no perfect government. Alexia’s statement that “there’s no perfect government” acknowledges that even as a utopian society constructs its own “government,” power will be distributed unevenly and will lead to marginalization. Her assertion connects the untended consequences of governing and governments to the real world politics. Stella agrees with Alexia’s ideas and continues Alexia’s line of thinking, recalling the assertions made during this group’s previous class period concerning the political trouble that the town’s iconic oven was causing. She says, “Yeah and you throw in ovens and inscriptions and all this stuff, right, and things start to slowly (pauses) really unravel. We sort of see that going on from New Haven to Ruby, an attempt to sort of reinvent the new paradise after the last one failed.” Phillip offers, Well, like there really is like a perfect government, but the problem is the, uh, freewill.Technically communism, that idea, would work perfectly but with freewill, as especially in this book, the people can do whatever they want. It kind of throws everything off – off base like that. Stella inquires, “No one really follows all the rules, right?” Phillip clarifies: Right-right, but that’s what I’m saying especially when like some of the people strive to not follow the rules. It seems like the fact there are contrasts in [the story]; it is not how the city works on paper. [On paper] it’s really easy, a simple way and there’s
no flaws besides one [which] is not accounting for freewill and people being different and (pauses) sex. At this point, silence creeps in again. Timothy restarts the discussion, stating that Morrison may want readers to “look at the whole view like the holistic view that goes on between the generations and how that is working out for them.” His generalization synthesizes many of the assertions, most significantly Marcia’s old versus new idea, Alexia’s no perfect government, Stella’s opposing forces, and the oven as iconic cultural artifact. Timothy’s statement also speaks to Ruby’s elders holding steadfast to Ruby’s cultural heritage, which is causing friction between the town’s elders and the current (early 1970s) generation of young people. Phillip uptakes Timothy’s major points and reveals the contradictory and intense reaction the men in Ruby have against the women in Ruby and at the convent. He says: I thought it’s kind of funny like how there is the convent and the women in the town. [If the women in town] don’t like something [they] leave this problem… They go to the convent… like some of the men do in the [town], who are most of the reason some women leave. And also [the men] don’t like [the women going there]. They go after them. Do you know what I’m saying? Like the one reason, why [the women] leave [the town] is because of [the men] … and there’s this nasty circle… Stella responds, “Yeah, and how’s the structure of [Paradise] like that too, right? It’s not a straight line! We definitely have sort of the circular – like you said – happening. ” In the background a pen rhythmically clicks, accentuating the rise in new knowledge – and less confusion – that is being constructed. Stella continues, “And there’s certainly the vicious circles being repeated over and over again in this town, right? We sort of have that happening at the convent as well, and the men also go to the convent for different reasons, and, like you said – quite a bit, too.” Phillip adds, “Right!” Bringing it Together Stella’s instructional strategies, the quickwrites, freewrites, small collaborative group workshop, and whole group discussion, aid students in the mental work involved in “making sense” of their “reactions” and “topics/themes” and in raising their critical awareness about conditions of marginalization in a closed society. One of the major obstacles students experienced was the feeling of being positioned as an outsider and the self-conscious effect it was having on their (in)ability to engage with the text. The complications they experienced with the outsider/insider theme speak to Rosenblatt’s “transactional theory.” She writes: The transaction is basically between the reader and what he senses the words are pointing to.The paradox is that he must call forth from memory of his world what the visual or auditory stimuli symbolize
for him, yet he feels the ensuing work as part of the world outside himself. (21) Stella’s instructional strategies not only (con)front students’ confusion but in a systematic way her scaffolding techniques also keep the dialogue open, exposing correlations between students’ reactions and topics and themes they saw operating in the text. The topics and themes, “race/racial purity,” “old versus new,” “gender and sexuality, “utopia/dystopia,” and “ideals of a town,” are the sociocultural elements, causing the conflict in Ruby. Furthermore, students’ reactions, specifically, the “multiple story lines – all over the place” and the fact that the novel “cuts between history and story plots…” highlights the arbitrary and contrary nature of how a community’s “preferred narratives” (Alemu) are constructed. Lastly, the discourse and Stella’s role in it is an example of what dialogic teaching looks like. Dialogic teaching is self-reflexive and strengthens the likelihood that critical awareness will manifest as critical literacy (Stevens & Bean) is enacted. It encourages students’ responses by creating a space for students to delve beneath the surface structure of a text in order to involve themselves in the “tension, even conflict between the conversants, the self and other, as one voice ‘refracts’ another” (Nystrand et al. 8). As Stella demonstrated, in dialogic teaching the authority of the teacher is decentered. The teacher becomes a facilitator and one of the “discussants” in the group, keeping students’ dialogue engaged and moving toward a critical awareness without relinquishing instructional duties. The most important and perhaps trickiest aspect of dialogic teaching is maintaining a navigational balance, avoiding the heavy handedness of teacher-initiated and teacher-led discourse found in traditional lecture formats (Lensmire, Nystrand et al.). To some, this dialogue may seem inchoate because the discussion is discursive, hinging upon recalling significant story details, and as a result might be misconstrued as less than critical due to its incompleteness. But what must be taken into account when evaluating this discourse, is students were confused and reluctant to share their thinking about the novel in the two class periods prior to this one. As displayed in this discourse, Stella’s strategic lesson coupled with her role as facilitator illuminated sources of students’ confusion. Using their confusion as a starting point, then, opened up a space for students to connect, stretch and expand their thinking while honoring their collective initial reactions. Another concern might be that not all of the students participated in the whole group discussion. Shor contends that whether or not students actively participate in the discussion does not negate the fact that an evolving critical awareness is underway, because both students’ presence and their silence in the discourse impact and influence both what is and is not uttered. In other words, the silence Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
is just as meaningful under these circumstances as the actual dialogue because the absence of dialogue, too, directs the discourse. A Final Consideration for Multicultural Literature Teachers Just because students are confused about or reluctant to discuss sensitive topics in multicultural literature does not necessarily mean that the subject matter should be skirted or dropped. With deliberate and strategic maneuvering, teachers can aid students in recognizing what students do understand as they navigate a course to critically investigate that understanding. In Envisioning literature: Literary Understanding and Literature Instruction, Langer maintains: Teachers’ decisions about how to help and what to do are also essentially social; they arise from and interact with the ongoing social activity in the classroom. To know what to do requires us to step into and become part of the conversation; it is from a participant perspective that we best learn about the kind of instruction needed. (79) Stella’s pedagogy demonstrates that placing students initial “reactions” to a multicultural text alongside the “topics and themes” they see operating in a text can inform students’ thinking and raise their critical awareness. Bringing about a critical awareness of how socio-cultural and historical elements can condition and marginalize individuals in the real world is a promising goal in teaching multicultural literature where critical meaning and understanding are to transcend the classroom. Finally, teachers of multicultural literature will need to create a classroom culture that seeks to expand students’ literacy, helping them search beyond what is confusing and seemingly invisible. Raising students’ critical awareness is a process, which occurs incrementally and over time as students critically read and engage with multicultural text.
Editorial Positions Available
The Colorado Language Arts Society is seeking candidates for the following positions: ELL in ELA Columnist, Statement The viewpoint of an educator who is immersed in ELL issues is desired for the position of Statement columnist. Must possess strong writing skills and be able to meet deadlines. Elementary ELA Columnist, Statement A teacher with strong opinions, strong elementarylevel pedagogy, and strong writing skills is needed to fill the position of Statement Elementary ELA Columnist. Must be able to meet deadlines. If you are interested in either of these positions, please contact Sarah M. Zerwin, Editor, at sarah.zerwin@ bvsd.org. 38
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Works Cited Alemu, Abreham. “Oral Narrative as Ideological Weapon for Subordinating Women: The Case of Jimma Oromo.” Journal of African Cultural Studies 19.1, 2007, 55-79. Print. Beach, Richard. “Students’ Resistance to Engagement with Multicultural Literature.” Reading Across Cultures: Teaching Literature in a Diverse Society. Eds. Theresa Rogers & Anna Soter. New York:Teachers College Press, 1997. 6994. Print. Bruffee, Kenneth. Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1999. Print. Elbow, Peter. Writing with Power: Techniques for Mastering the Writing Process. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. Print. Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 1970. Print. Hadjioannou, Xenia. “Bringing the Background to the Foreground: What Do Classroom Environments that Support Authentic Discussions Look Like?” American Education of Research Journal 44.2, 2007, 370-399. Print. Jakubowski, Lisa. “Teaching Uncomfortable Topics: An Action-oriented Strategy for Addressing Racism and Related Forms of Difference.” Teaching Sociology 29.1, 2001, 62-79. Print. Kincheloe, Joe. Critical Pedagogy. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. Langer, Judith. Envisioning Literature: Literary Understanding and Literature Instruction. New York: Teachers College Press, 1995. Print. Lensmire, Timothy J. “The Teacher as Dostoevskian Novelist.” Paper presented at annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New York, NY. 1996, (ED399231). Print. Morrison, Toni. Paradise. New York: Plume, 1997. Print. Nystrand, Martin et al. Opening Dialogue: Understanding the Dynamics of Language and Learning in the English Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press, 1997. Print. Plaut, Suzanne. ““I just don’t get it”: Teachers’ and Students’ Conceptions of Confusion and Implications for Teaching and Learning in the High School English Classroom.” Curriculum Inquiry 36.4, 2006, 391-421. Print. Rosenblatt, Louise. The Reader, The Text, The Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978 / 1994. Print. Shor, Ira. Empowering Education. Chicago: University Chicago Press, 1992. Print. Stevens, Lisa & Steven Bean. Critical Literacy: Context, Research, and Practice in the K-12 classroom. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2007. Print. Thein, Amanda, Richard Beach, & Daryl Parks. “Perspectivetaking as Transformative Practice in Teaching Multicultural Literature to White Students.” English Journal 97.2, 2007, 54-60. Print. Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1975. Print.
BEFORE THE BELL
Why Invisible Teaching Matters by Josh Curnett
There are, arguably, two dominant worlds within the galaxy of teaching: the visible and the invisible. We teachers are judged and evaluated regarding what is seen--what is visible—which seems pretty fair initially. After all, what we do for a living is paid for by the citizenry; we teachers are trustees of and servants to the people of Colorado. Look around your classroom, your school: most everything is paid for by us, the Coloradans.We should be accountable for what others see, if only for that fact. There is a lot of money in K-12 education—it’s the biggest slice of the Colorado budget pie. Many adults—administrators, parents, colleagues, mentors, coaches—walk in to and out of our classrooms during any given week. Each one of them makes a silent assessment or evaluation of what can be seen, of what is visible. Are the students working well? Is the teacher organized? Is the room clean, friendly, and purposefully-arranged? Or, are the students off task? Does the teacher seem out of sorts? Does the room need attention? Teachers are judged and evaluated on how we are visible in the larger professional community, too. If we are on time for meetings, show up for extra teaching workshops, and attend activities (the school play, the fall parade, the dances, the fundraisers), that means that we are being seen. We develop reputations as “participatory” and as teachers who are “on board” and who are “team players” as a result. In these situations, visibility is all. And, of course, with the reality of Senate Bill 191, fifty percent of our professional evaluation rating will reflect how our students perform on tests. Much of this percentage will come from student performance on statewide assessments, while a smaller percentage will reflect locally-administered assessments. That set of data is most definitely visible, and it becomes visible to every Coloradan through the media and on the CDE website. The thing is, I know that invisible work is happening each and every day, and this kind of teaching work is not often recognized, nor is it formally evaluated. Frustratingly and as a result, our myriad endeavors for our students, our colleagues, and our schools have, in a certain sense, been reduced to what is visible, and we are often judged without regard to these obscured and equally important facets of
Josh Curnett is a National Board Certified Teacher and a S.T.A.R. Mentor in Cherry Creek Schools. Email: jcurnett@ cherrycreekschools.org.
the profession. My evidence is qualitative and true. Invisible teaching work not seen by administrators, parents, students, coaches, and mentors happens each day (including weekends), and this invisible work is what makes us great educators in Colorado–the best in the world, in my opinion. We teachers are invisible when we are considering what is best for our students. When we are engaged in this kind of complex, esoteric mapping of our lessons to address multiple learning styles (and behavior styles!) as lenses for our content, which is then braided with that content’s standards, we are invisible. The hours we spend preparing, reading professional literature, reviewing and revising our own knowledge of content, and grading student work are completely invisible and are not evaluated. We teachers are invisible when we are closing the achievement gap, the part which is the foundation for (or perhaps the ceiling of?) any data gathered. We are not seen when we are actually connecting with students who, before they had us as teachers, believed they were bad students or even “dumb.” We are not seen when we are explaining to their parents what happens at school and when we are patiently listening to what happens at home. We are not seen when we give a high-five for the first completed homework assignment or the first good grade on an assessment or the first incisive comment offered during a class discussion. We are not seen when we drop a note in the mail to let the student, and the student’s family, know that we care about them. We are not seen when we hunker down, stare a student right in the eye and say, “I need more from you, starting right now” and the student blinks back, feeling, perhaps for the first time, the pull of high expectations. We teachers are invisible when we are in our rooms before or after school as we sit for an hour or so with a few students who need more help learning. We are never evaluated on this teaching facet that also matters so much. Is giving a lesson to thirty students more important than spending an hour (usually outside of or contract time) with five struggling students, re-teaching material to help them learn? Hard to say, but only one of these teaching situations is reflected in an evaluation. Statement Vol. 48, Number 2
drug addicted, the raped, the attacked, the criminal, the hungry, the bullied, the depressed, the unclean, the mentally ill, the uncared for.We have to take these poor children and, after initially relying on our instincts that tell us something is “not right,” put them in better hands than the ones who are “responsible” for them at home. Again, we are invisible here. We teachers are invisible when we are supporting each other in this most difficult of professions. We do this before school, during planning time, and after school. We sit, talk, process, review, and help each other navigate our jobs. We teachers are often responsible for each other’s success, and this dedication to the community of teachers is often far, far off the radar. Perhaps what is most challenging about being invisible is that we teachers are invisible when we turn students’ lives around. Here is what I mean: when this kind of student enters the teacher’s classroom in August, the student hates school and is unmotivated to learn and achieve. When the student leaves the teacher’s classroom in June, the student believes in himself or herself and feels that he or she can succeed in school–because of the teacher–and begins to achieve at whatever level is next. There is no evaluation for this teacher-catalyzed transformation, this secular miracle. I am thinking of the faces of so many teachers I know, veterans and rookies alike, who can and do turn students’ lives around in a 180-day period. This happens every year for thousands and We teachers are invisible when we are having a conthousands of students, and this Herversation with a parent of a student who is failing in school. culean and most important of tasks is completely invisible These conversations can play out over days, weeks, months, when it comes to our evaluations. or even years. We are invisible when we give these parents Let’s begin to promote the idea that teaching well commoral support, encouraging them to help their students, al- bines what is visible with what is invisible to the observer. lowing them to begin to understand that at least one adult That recognition starts with a different conversation, a pubin the world—the teacher—thinks the student can still suc- lic conversation, about trusting Colorado’s educators.When ceed despite all evidence to the contrary. those responsible for the laws regarding our performance We teachers are invisible when we have to identify and evaluation and assessment begin to trust that teachers work help students who are being hurt or who are hurting them- just as intelligently, courageously, and purposefully when we selves. We receive no evaluative comment for this terrify- are not seen as when we are, then a more authentic, qualiing, constant, and invisible facet of our job. As public school tative, and meaningful review of teaching effectiveness can teachers, we teach them all: the homeless, the cutters, the begin. 40
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CLAS Welcomes Kelly Gallagher and Donalyn Miller June 7 and June 8, 2012 8:30 â€“ 3:30
Eaglecrest High School Theater in Cherry Creek School District 5100 South Picadilly Street Aurora, CO 80015 $125 per person. Fee pays for both workshops, lunch each day, and a copy of Readicide by Kelly Gallagher and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. Register deadline: May 25, 2012 One Adams State Credit available for an extra fee June 7: Kelly Gallagher Reading is dying in our schools. Educators are familiar with many of the factors that have contributed to the decline -- poverty, second-language issues, and the ever-expanding choices of electronic entertainment. In this provocative new book, Kelly Gallagher suggests, however, that it is time to recognize a new and significant contributor to the death of reading: our schools.
June 8: Donalyn Miller Donalyn Millerâ€™s approach is simple yet provocative: affirm the reader in every student, allow students to choose their own books, carve out extra reading time, model authentic reading behaviors, discard timeworn reading assignments such as book reports and comprehension worksheets, and develop a classroom library filled with high-interest books.
Register on the CLAS ning no later than May 25, 2012: clastalk.ning.com Questions? Contact Mark Overmeyer: email@example.com
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