The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Fall 2013, Volume 50, Number 1
Inside this Issue: Formula Columns A Conversation Between YA Literature by Jill Adams Three Literacy Educators with Penny Kittle, William Pixels and Papyrus McGinley, and Stevi Quate by Philippe Ernewein
Promises for Hannah by Jeff Likes
The Correctness of Art by Mike Jaramillo
by Timothy HIllmer
Formulas–I Don’t Think So by Meredith Collins
The Spark by Julia Torres
by Amanda Cherry
Memorial: Shelby Wolf Remembering Shelby by Shirley Brice Heath
Fall 2013 Issue Artwork: University Hill Elementary School, Boulder Teacher: Mary Powell Kindergarten artist: Skylar Martin (inside back cover, bottom) 1st grade artists: Fatima Adamari Excobar and Betsy Ordaz Lopez (this page) 2nd grade artist: Jack Devincenzi (inside back cover, top) 3rd grade artist: Andrea Morena Contreras (page 20) 4th grade artist: Brayan Contreras Flores (page 18) 4th grade artist: Amairani Contreras Chirinos (cover) 5th grade artist: Lola Dâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;onofrio (back cover)
The Journal of the Colorado Language Arts Society Fall 2013, Volume 50, Number 1
There’s no formula for that. by Sarah M. Zerwin................................................................................................................................... 4 The Spark by Julia Barrus........................................................................................................................................... 6 ELA in the 21st Century: Pixels and Papyrus: Constantly Seeking Balance in a Digital World by Philippe Ernewein................................................................................................................................ 7 YA Literature: Titles that Break the Formula by Jill Adams........................................................................................................................................... 12 Middle Level ELA: Formulas–I Don’t Think So by Meredith Collins................................................................................................................................. 17 Poetry by Amanda Cherry................................................................................................................................ 32 Before the Bell: Benign by Timothy Hillmer................................................................................................................................... 36
Feature Articles: Formula Promises for Hannah by Jeff Likes............................................................................................................................................. 14 The Correctness of Art by Mike Jaramillo.................................................................................................................................... 15 A Conversation Between Three Literacy Educators with Penny Kittle, William McGinley, and Stevi Quate....................................................................... 25
Thinking about the CCSS Reading Between the Lines: Using Comics to Teach Common Core State Standards by Jenn Freeman.................................................................................................................................... 21
Research Adapting and Damaging: Contaminated Students Reflect on Learning in the Digtal Era by Jennifer Gray....................................................................................................................................... 9
In Memory of Shelby Wolf Remembering Shelby (November 10, 2013) by Shirley Brice Heath............................................................................................................................ 19
Resources Call for Submissions.................................................................................................................................. 2 Guidelines for Contributors...................................................................................................................... 3
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
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 Spring 2014 Issue: Effectiveness Senate Bill 10-191 is now in effect, and every teacher across Colorado is to be evaluated every single year toward “effectiveness.” The law defines “effectiveness” using “statewide Quality Standards defining what it means to be an effective teacher” for one-half of each teacher’s annual evaluation. The other half “is based on the Quality Standard that measures student learning over time.” What does it mean to teach the English Language Arts effectively? How well do Colorado’s Quality Standards line up with what is at the heart of our discipline? How might we go about meaningfully and accurately measuring our students’ learning over time? How well will the impending PARCC tests be able to capture this? How do you know that your teaching is effective? What evidence do you seek to measure this success? How well will the SB 10-191 landscape in Colorado support best practice in the teaching of the English Language Arts? (information on SB 10-191 from http://www.cde.state.co.us/educatoreffectiveness/overviewofsb191)
Deadline: March 1, 2014. 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://www.CLASstatement.org). 2
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
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://CLASstatement.org Read this issue and prior issues and find information about: • calls for submissions • submitting artwork • becoming a reviewer
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://www.CLASstatement.org.
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
Editor-in-Chief Sarah M. Zerwin Language Arts Teacher Boulder Valley School District firstname.lastname@example.org
Online Assistant Editor Julia Torres Language Arts Teacher Adams 12 Five Star Schools email@example.com
Before the Bell Timothy Hillmer TOSA Boulder Valley School District 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 YAL Update Middle Level ELA Columnist Needed Jill Adams Meredith Collins Metropolitan State College, Denver Language Arts Teacher firstname.lastname@example.org Cherry Creek School District FmtheSidelines@yahoo.com Elementary ELA Poetry Columnist Needed Amanda Cherry 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. 50, Number 1
There’s no formula for that. by Sarah M. Zerwin, Editor
Back in September, it started raining one day in Boulder and didn’t stop for days. We were out of school for four days–a Thursday and Friday and then the following Monday and Tuesday. During the weekend in between, I didn’t leave my house. The street outside my house was eroding. The main road into my neighborhood was a river. My basement carpet was ruined. There was a creek running through my garage. On Facebook I saw photos of friends’ basements and homes and realized how lucky we were to only be losing our carpet. In the news I learned about the devastation of the mountain towns where some of my students lived. I realized it would be weeks before I could drive up Boulder Canyon to see my brother and his family. Everything felt like it was falling apart, and the only safe place to be was in my living room where I could watch it all from behind the large picture window. At that time, there was no formula for my community. We were in uncharted territory. We had never been there before. Rainy days had frequently led to roof leaks at Fairview High School, for instance, but never before had we lost hundreds of ceiling tiles because of it. Spring run off swells the Boulder County creeks every year, but never before did
“If we teach by formula, students will think that they can live their lives by formula. If we teach by formula, we fail to teach students that they can navigate their lives on their own.” they jump over roads that they usually pass under or roll huge boulders down from the hills or create new canyons or gully out the trails, making them impassable for hikers. It’s been weeks and mostly things are back to normal in my immediate community (that is not the case in areas more hard hit). My basement has new carpet and all the furniture is back where it belongs. Roads are repaired. Trails are getting there–still gullies to navigate, but every time I’m out I notice improvements. But wow it has been an odd semester. My students and I are still reeling from what happened to 4
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Sarah M. Zerwin teaches at Fairview High School in Boulder and at the School of Education at CU-Boulder. She is also a teacher consultant for the Colorado Writing Project. She completed a PhD in secondary literacy curriculum and instruction from CU-Boulder in 2009.
this community, even if we can’t quite name it all in concrete terms. I’m struggling now to find the words as I write this. My students are getting their work done, but it isn’t going as smoothly as it has in the past.There are more extensions, more freak outs, more of a need on my part to be kind and flexible. I’m getting my work done but maybe not with the same efficiency as usual. For example, while marooned in my home during the rain (and until I really felt comfortable being out and around town), Facebook was my link to the people I normally see every day.This increased time on social media chipped away at the time I have consciously dedicated to reading more in the past year. I would rather read books than do Facebook, but it’s taken me all these weeks to remember that. Keeping (hyper)connected helped me feel some measure of security among the instability.We live with instability always, but we’re pretty good at ignoring it most of the time (until something like endless rain, flooding, and the aftermath reminds us in a really concrete way). The point is that no formula would have prepared me or my community for what life has presented this fall. It has been a matter of carefully reading the needs of a moment or situation and then making decisions based on those particular needs. And the same thing does not work from situation to situation and from moment to moment. The flood and its aftermath have meant different things for each of us. Flexibility and agility have been the key. And isn’t it the same for teaching students to be readers and writers? Students who learn to write by formula will not become flexible, thoughtful writers able to read any occasion for writing and to figure out how to say what they want to say for a specific message to a specific audience for a specific purpose. Students who learn to read by formula do not become independent readers with the agility necessary to tackle all kinds of texts. And perhaps we can’t even imagine now the kinds of texts our students will need to be able to read in the future. Teaching reading by a formula based on texts we know now will not prepare students for that task. If we teach by formula, students will think that they can live their lives by formula. If we teach by formula, we fail to teach students that they can navigate their lives on their own.
This fall 2013 issue of Statement–delayed as it is (see above ruminations about the flood)–explores the role of formula in the teaching of the English Language Arts. Somehow I convinced one of my colleagues, an art teacher, to step away from brushstrokes on canvas to put some words on the page for this issue. I asked him to do this after a conversation he and I had last spring while looking at the artwork in our school’s IB art show. Every year this collection of student artwork blows me away, so I asked Mike how he does it, how he inspires his students to experiment with form and medium in order to say something important about their world. He explained to me that it goes something like this: Student asks: “Mr. Jaramillo, can you teach me how to draw a tree?” Mike asks: “What do you want your tree to say?” And immediately I saw connections to my pursuit in teaching
my students to operate in the world as writers: Student asks: “Doc Z, can you teach me how to write a poem/story/research paper/paragraph…?” I ask: “What do you want this piece of writing to say? And to whom do you wish to say it?” There’s no formula for teaching that. It’s different for every single student, for every writing opportunity, for every moment in a school year.
Please help me welcome to the pages of Statement two new regular contributors, Amanda Cherry with poetry and Timothy Hillmer for the Before the Bell column.
Statement needs you! Make a statement. Help drive the conversation about the teaching of the English Language Arts in Colorado. Be the next editor of Statement. The term of the current editor ends in spring of 2014. Let us know now if you are interested. Statement is also seeking regular contributors in the following areas: • ESL in ELA • Elementary ELA Contact the current editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
The Spark by Julia Torres, Online Assistant Editor
This semester and every semester for the past few years, my colleagues and I have been working to perfect rubrics. We call them “fun grids” to try to breathe some life into the task before us as we attempt to clarify the skills students need to do what we all instinctively know how to do. We’ve got rubrics for personal narratives, the unconventional personal narrative, for annotations, social commentaries, reading, and persuasive writing, for analytical essays, for classroom discussions, oral presentations, and the list goes on and on. As English teachers, writing, reading, and usually, speaking all come easily to us. So how do we create a formula for writing, reading, research and
“In the end, when teaching these complex skills, doesn’t it take more than formula?” speaking for those who may not come by the skills as naturally as we do? This is the question the many rubrics attempt to answer. The idea is that giving detailed instruction and clear guidance with regard to levels of achievement will guide students in the right direction. The goal is that teachers who endlessly create, use, revise, and re-create the rubrics (formulas) in cross-curricular teams will not labor in vain. The hope is that student-friendly rubrics can help each person find a way to become better at the craft of writing and the skill of reading what has been written. My reality is that many students can become bogged down with
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Julia Torres has taught Language Arts at Mountain Range High School in Westminster since August of 2007. She is originally from Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. Julia moved to Colorado in July of 2007 and now considers Colorado her second-favorite state. When she isn’t teaching, Julia enjoys reading just about anything, knitting, watching geeky sci-fi television shows or movies, traveling with her family, and cooking (or eating) yummy food.
the slightly different formulas for each task. Sometimes I wonder whether they read them at all after the first runthrough in class, and whether they really help the students who might depart slightly from the formula and wind up producing something wonderful if given the chance. It seems that the most detailed rubric for the most complicated assignment cannot hold a candle to a shining student exemplar, carefully deconstructed read-aloud, or wellmodeled seminar conversation. In the end, when teaching these complex skills, doesn’t it take more than formula? Doesn’t our field still require that personal conversation between student and teacher about the writing that has happened or the various ways a reading can be understood? I do believe the rubrics we have created are of value. However, I also believe in showing students that doorway to something beyond the rubric. I am open to the idea that students might create a piece that is beyond the formula the rubric leads them to follow. When we talk about formula, we cannot forget about the room for risktaking, exploration, and discovery. In writing, reading, and human communication, there is no one-size-fits-all way to approach each piece. Perhaps there shouldn’t be a mold for students to force their work into. We are fortunate to teach students to write, to think critically, to express themselves, and to interpret other people’s modes of self-expression. In the current frenzy to reduce, or refine, these skills by distilling them into a formula, let us not lose sight of the spark that can occur when students depart from that formula from time to time.
ELA in the 21st Century Pixels & Papyrus: Constantly Seeking Balance in a Digital World by Philippe Ernewein
The screen keeps creeping into my world of reading and it has made me start to wonder: How might reading on screen impact my comprehension of what I’m reading? Like many people today, for a variety of reasons, I often have to read text on screens. Along with the endless torrent of emails and media that populates the screens in my life, I have also read a few e-books. The quality of that electronic reading experience did not come close to the enjoyment I get from reading a paperbound book. My gut response to this question was, “Absolutely, it must be!” The experience of reading on screen is ripe with opportunities for distraction and diversion that takes my attention away from the reading and therefore impacting my understanding. But maybe that’s just me; bright shiny objects sometimes do grab hold of my attention. Last week a wolf spider held my attention for about twenty minutes, luckily it was during lunchtime. Devices like iPad, Kindle and Nook have dramatically changed the way many of us are reading text. In 2011, the online retailer Amazon announced that electronic book sales surpassed print book sales for the first time in history (bloomberg.com). Much of the research I encountered while seeking an answer to my question focused on the specific electronic medium or how reading on the screen might impact the amount of time a reader is reading. I am not interested in those categories. I’ve been specifically wondering if the screen is negatively impacting my comprehension of what I am reading. Is reading from the screen impacting what I remember, how I analyze or how deeply I read? My belief that the screen must be negatively impacting my comprehension seems to have its origins in some old research. “People read more slowly on screen, by as much as 20 - 30 percent. Fifteen or 20 years ago, electronic reading also impaired comprehension compared to paper,” Sandra Aamodt, former editor in chief of Nature Neuroscience, wrote in a New York Times Blog, “But those differences have
Philippe Ernewein is the Dean of Faculty Training & Development at Denver Academy. Learn more about his latest project, a teacher training video titled, “How Are You Smart? What Students with Learning Differences Are Teaching Us” at his website www.rememberit.org.
faded in recent studies.” So what about these recent studies? A study published in Educational Technology & Society in 2013, “Using E-readers and Internet Resources to Support Comprehension,” concluded: The results support the hypothesis that children accessed reading support resources (e.g., a dictionary) more frequently while using an electronic reader. However, the results do not reflect the hypothesis that an e-reading method increases children’s reading comprehension. This same report also stated, “While there is no improvement in comprehension scores, it is important to note that there is no reduction in scores.” Okay, that makes it seem like a zero sum deal.Yet, there is still a faint voice in my mind that is asking about the quality of the reading experience I have when I compare paper to pixel, that the screen is somehow investing my thinking brain less. As if the perceived fleeting nature of the screen could not possibly compete with the tangible, and again per-
“The quality of that electronic reading experience did not come close to the enjoyment I felt from reading a paperbound book.” ceived, momentary permanence of a book. Another report, “Impact of presentation mode on recall of written text and numerical information: hard copy versus electronic,” found,“Results revealed no significant difference in the impact of hard copy versus electronic copy on recall performance.” The best answer, or at least the one that minimized my worries the most, was the following statement from the same report: Also, from an applied standpoint, the findings of no Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
difference between hard copy and electronic modes should be reassuring to individuals who may fear that the ever-increasing reliance on electronic dissemination of material might have a detrimental impact on memory performance. Further, the finding of no difference between hard copy and electronic modes lends support to those who encourage environmental sustainability efforts through less reliance on hard copy dissemination of information. Despite these findings, I am still worried. My qualitative, narrative evidence (okay, bias) is that I prefer a book over a screen any day of the week. It made me wonder also if there had been other challenges to the traditional book form. The Smithsonian Blog answered that question with a featured article called, “The iPad of 1935.” The device was advertised as a photographic book. An image was projected on a screen for reading. It was featured in Everyday Science and Mechanics with the byline: “It is practically automatic.” I prefer reading words in a good, old-fashioned book. Like Maryanne Wolf, Developmental Psychologist and Cognitive Scientist at Tufts University, has stated, “There is a physicality in reading. Maybe even more than we want to think about as we lurch into digital reading–as we move forward perhaps with too little reflection.” When I read novels, I like a book in my hands with a bookmark nearby. When I read research reports, I like to have paper in my hands and a highlighter and pen handy. This is my strategy. I do it because it helps me remember and capture what I think is important. It creates opportunities for me to further analyze, apply, synthesize and wonder about what I’ve read. But this isn’t always true. If I need to read directions, a quick fifty word abstract or news story, I’m fine with the screen. I might even say, in those moments of reading, I prefer the screen. The biggest obstacle I’ve encountered in interacting with reading text on a screen is the visual layout. There are aspects of the format of texts that help me understand what I’m reading that are often lost in digital format. Basically I’m thinking here about the visual aspect of the layout. I can easily navigate a textbook, report, book of poems or novel. I am familiar with the shape of the entire text and how the parts are generally organized. Dr. Mark Changizi, an evolutionary neurobiologist, argues that “there are very few visual landmarks compared with paper books or magazines, which makes them harder to navigate.” Yes, exactly! I’m sometimes lost in a document. It feels like I’m in a maze with no sense of direction. My internal 3D movie projector fails, I get clumsy inside a PDF about the latest educational best practice, I can’t put my pen or highlighter on the page. And then I see the wolf spider again. 8
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Okay, maybe it’s just me. I am convinced however that with practice I will be able to improve my navigational skills on the screen, familiarize myself with the landmarks, and chart a new course. I also know that this is not an either or scenario, meaning, it’s not just about paper or screen. There must be a balance. As educators we need to be familiar with our students’ learning profile, invite them into the dialogue about how they will read and comprehend best. And I am also convinced, despite what the best science fiction literature reports the future will be like, there will continue to be books. As a child of the 1970s, I remember I was promised flying cars. As we teach the next generation, we have a responsibility to be thoughtful about what we introduce and take away from our learning environments. I asked a member of this next generation of leaders, creators, readers and thinkers, my 8 year old daughter, which she prefers: screen or book. She said, “If I had no other choice, I’d read a screen, but really screens hurt my eyes and books don’t. Also, books are easier to carry.”
Works Cited Aamodt, S. & Wolfe, M. (2009). New York Times: Room For Debate. Accessed 11/4/13: http://roomfordebate. blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/14/does-the-brain-like-ebooks/?_r=1 Bloomberg, “Amazon.com Says Kindle E-Book Sales Surpass Printed Books for First Time.” Accessed 11/5/13: http:// www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-19/amazon-comsays-kindle-electronic-book-sales-surpass-printed-format.html Changizi, M. (2011). “The Problem With the Web and EBooks Is That There’s No Space for Them.” Psychology Today (online), accessed 11/4/13: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/nature-brain-and-culture/201102/ the-problem-the-web-and-e-books-is-there-s-nospace-them Green, T., Perera, R., Dance, L. & Myers E. (2010). Impact of Presentation Mode on Recall of Written Text and Numerical Information: Hard Copy Versus Electronic. North American Journal of Psychology, Vol. 12, Issue 2, 233. Smithsonian Blog, accessed 11/5/13: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/paleofuture/2012/03/the-ipad-of-1935/ Wright, S., Fugett, A. & Caputa, F. (2013). Using E-readers and Internet Resources to Support Comprehension. Education Technology & Society, 16 (1), 367 - 379.
Adapting and Damaging: Contaminated Students Reflect on Learning in the Digital Era
by Jennifer Gray In 1964, Marshall McLuhan’s book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, reached shelves across America. McLuhan defines media as “man’s extensions,” and he indicates that a main purpose for his work is to “understand the effects of the extensions of man” (20). McLuhan predicts the effects of the digital era decades before his vision is enacted. The book has been called a “cultural relic” by Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows:What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, and McLuhan has been called “the first media guru of our age” by Neil Postman, author of Amusing Ourselves to Death. Without McLuhan, phrases such as “the medium is the message” or “global village” might not exist, and his work brings attention to how the medium’s impacts, and not just the content of the medium, must be examined. McLuhan calls for reflection and study on how users are being shaped by their immersion in the “technological simulation of consciousness.” Education scholar John Dewey stressed over one hundred years ago that the mere possession of knowledge or experience is not enough; we have to reflect on it. During a lecture given in 1977, McLuhan extended Dewey’s message by explaining that he spent his life trying to encourage awareness of and reflection on the medium’s effects on the user. McLuhan died in 1980; however, his observations about learning and his calls for reflection still guide many current scholars of digital learning. His spirit guides my current research project that asks students to reflect on the medium’s impacts on their lives. Almost 50 years after McLuhan’s text, Nicholas Carr chose to open his 2011 text, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, with one of McLuhan’s quotations that discusses the digital era and the lack of reflection concerning the medium’s power. Carr then warns that the continuous “interruptive system” of the internet weakens the brain’s ability to perform deep reading. This lack of deep reading, exchanged for what he terms “power browsing,” is resulting in “superficial” learning that has “neurological consequences.” While Carr indicates that users of any age can experience these neurologic effects, he is most concerned with young users who have never lived without technology. According to Carr, “reading and writing are unnatural acts, made possible by the purposeful” neurologic development.
Dr. Jennifer P. Gray is an assistant professor of English and director of the Writing Center at the College of Coastal Georgia. She is a National Writing Project Teacher Consultant, and she has taught writing courses (8th grade through 6000-level) for more than 18 years. She earned her PhD in curriculum and instruction with a specialization in composition studies from UNC Charlotte. She lives on St. Simons Island, Georgia with her husband, Rob, and their two dogs, Katie Baker and Molly. He calls on the concept of neuroplasticity determinism: “as particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit” that “can end up locking us into ‘rigid behaviors.’” Users’ brains are being rewired to support the rigid behaviors of activities, such as power surfing, and the rewiring’s consequences include a decreased neurologic ability to focus and a lack of awareness in how
“How interesting, though, that such concern and worry is shown to the young users of the digital culture, yet these users’ voices are missing or are marginalized. It is as if the users themselves are contaminated by immersion in the medium and are thus damaged and excluded from social commentary.” the internet chips away at the capacity “for concentration and contemplation.” Carr believes that the deep reader’s brain is “a thinking brain,” and the decreasing ability to read deeply prevents our minds from thinking creatively, which has a heavy societal consequence that “may prove deadly” for “our intellectual lives.” He is not alone with his concerns; however, what Carr, and other social commentaries on the digital era (see also Turkle, Postman, Johnson, Powers, Wolf, Twenge, and Bauerlein) are lacking in particular is the young learner’s/user’s perspective. These commentators have no problem including their own experiences, reflecting on their childhood in and out of school as Carr does. Clearly, personal experience is valued as relevant for many of the writers. How interesting, though, that such concern and worry is shown to the young users of the digital culture, yet these users’ voices are missing or are marginalized. It is as if the users are themselves contaminated by immersion in the medium and are thus damaged and excluded from social commentary. Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
This exclusion is worrisome because many institutions are asking students and faculty to read into the social conversation about the digital era and the medium’s impacts on learning. In particular, Carr’s book has been selected as mandated reading for students and faculty across the country. In 2012/2013, for example, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Texas Christian University are asking all students to read Carr’s text, and it will be the subject of discussion at these schools throughout the year. This exposure is not limited to larger universities; at The College of Coastal Georgia and SUNY Cortland, two small universities, the faculty selected this text for their yearly book study for 2012 and 2011, respectively.The University of Northern Iowa had a Carr-themed session in their professional development program from 2010, and Bowling Green State University suggested the text for their summer reading program for 2012. Carr’s commentary is receiving national attention as part of the conversation about digital learning; however, the specific voices of those subjects he worries over the most are missing from social commentators who are currently publishing and contributing to our culture’s understandings of the digital era. The individuals most impacted and shaped by the digital era (those who have not lived in a non-digital era) are not a contributing component to the conversations currently happening. My study hopes to highlight this omission, bring student voices into this conversation, and call for further study that includes student perspectives. During this study, I shared the work of some of these social commentators on digital culture, and then I asked young users to weigh in on their understandings of the medium’s effects upon them. The users were in first-year college writing classes and ranged in age from 18 to 22. The students had not lived in a world without daily digital influence. Students read excerpts from Carr’s text, The Shallows:What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. The students also watched the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as Hal, the super computer, is shut down. Carr references this movie in his text, and most of the students had not seen the movie. After reading this material for homework, the students provided feedback and response. This study’s analysis includes responses from ten of the 24 students in the course; however, I will be providing a close reading as the main method of analysis used on one of the student’s reflective responses. The student’s pseudonym is Dean. This close reading will examine his perspective on and experience with digital technology’s effects. Paying attention to what the student does, via his language choice, can provide researchers with insight into his conscious and unconscious thoughts about technology. James Paul Gee, linguist, explains the function of this kind of analysis: What is language for? Many people think language exists so that we can ‘say things’ in the sense of communicating information. However, language serves a great many functions in our lives. Giving 10
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
and getting information is by no means the only one. Language, does allow us to inform each other. But it also allows us to do things and to be things. In fact, saying things in language never goes without also doing things and being things. (2) Looking at student language not only tells us what the student is communicating but also what the student is doing, what position the student is taking, what relationship the student is advancing with the subject, and how the student values what is discussed. According to Gee, the writer chooses the center of attention and the writer designs the message. We make a decision to speak and or write in a certain manner. What is said or what is not said and how it is presented in a choice the writer/speaker makes. Gee’s theories of analysis will be used to examine a 138-word piece of student writing. The student, Dean, was a first-year student at the time of the study. Here follows Dean’s written thoughts: Even though I am pretty young and the presence of modern technology has pretty much been with me from the start, I remember a time as a child, where I could sit down and read straight through a small book or short story. This is hardly the case now. I am lucky to spend twenty whole minutes reading without breaks. I think that this is the result of my use of technology, more specifically, the internet. I can see it now that it’s brought to my attention. We are usually only given excerpts and small passages of text now. On top of that, these little chunks of the works are enclosed by an obnoxious array of advertisements and distracting animations. This is what I have adapted to and it has damaged my ability to concentrate on the text. For Dean, technology is presented as a “presence,” like a friend, that has “been with” him. “With” implies partnership, companionship, or belonging to someone/something: “I am with her.” The books of his past haven’t been “with” him; however, technology can take on that role. The relationship is different; he reads books, implying an active role in the experience, and he is “with” technology, which is not the same role. I am spending time “with” someone is a different positioning. In terms of word count, when Dean recalls his past experience as a child, he composes a long sentence, 43 words long (“Even though I am pretty young and the presence of modern technology has pretty much been with me from the start, I remember a time as a child, where I could sit down and read straight through a small book or short story”). Dean punctuated his writing on his own; this was not an oral response that was transcribed. His sentence recreates the image from his memory of sitting down and reading a small book.The rest of his sentences, focusing on the current situation, come to an average of 13.5 words. These sentences present the current situation in declarative statements that
simply state his experiences and do not recreate any mental pictures. His choices as a writer illustrate a longer more detailed description of his past, and shorter discussions describing his current situation. What is most alarming is Dean’s shifting perspective between the past and present, between pre-technology and “now.” His distinction between time periods is indicated by his use of the word, “now.” The emphasis of “now” makes it clear that he is grounding his thinking in the current situation, as opposed to the future or the past. The alarming aspect is how Dean positions himself, revealed in his language choices. Dean’s language begins to shift from an active construction, with Dean as the subject of the sentence to Dean as the object of the sentence. At first, Dean uses active positions: “I am” “I remember” “I could sit down.” By the end of the passage, Dean is using passive positions, taking the object position in the sentence: “This is what I have adapted to” and “it has damaged my ability.” He has become nameless and objectified by the technology he is “with” “now.” He is being acted upon. He is also nameless as he chooses to use “We.” Gone are the references to “I” as the actor in the sentence. Now the actors are “we” or “This/It.” “This/It” refers to technology or the status quo, and this is what has primacy in Dean’s thoughts as he describes his relationship with texts. He has given control over to technology, and technology is now in the subject position of his sentences. He had control in the past, but now he is nameless and an object. As James Paul Gee reminds us, “when we choose words and build phrases and sentences with grammar, we are giving clues [...] to listeners about how to construct a picture in their heads” (71) Dean is showing us his mental pictures. Dean also shifts his perspective concerning the relationship he has with reading. In the past, he had control over the reading, presumably sitting down to read with a book or short story that he selected. “Now,” the reading is not selected but “given” in the form of excerpts and small passages. Curiously, reading is no longer in “book” or “story” form but instead described as a “text” that is wrapped up in “obnoxious” advertisements and “distracting” animations. He concludes that the current situation has “damaged” his ability to concentrate and read. He places responsibility for this damage on his use of technology. He takes ownership of his inability to concentrate by examining how “his use” of technology is impacting his reading and concentrating abilities. He is learning more about the concept of self-reflection and self-assessment. This is such a huge moment of possibility. If researchers can pinpoint the moment of conflict and see it, we can work together, all stakeholders involved, to move past it. It is within that stagnant moment, where the student cannot go any farther, that we can do some amazing work.The importance of this study will only grow. Online education and hybrid courses are increasing. Studying learning within the digital
era is an important subject that should be receiving more attention. Knowing what the student struggles with informs our teaching. The conversations about digital media’s impact on learning need to be broadened to include more student voices. If researchers continue to be so concerned about digital media’s impacts, it seems only logical to include all of the users. In conclusion, and in the spirit of listening to student voices, I pass the floor to Jake, another student in the study. Jake muses in his reflection about Carr’s research, “I think that we [students] are the most essential part of this argument, though somehow, he forgot to mention us. Maybe the internet really is disturbing his thought patterns.” Works Cited Bauerlein, Mark. The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future(Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30). New York: Penguin, 2008. Print. Carr, Nicholas. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. New York: Norton, 2011. Print. Dewey, John. Democracy and Education. New York: Simon and Brown, 2012. Print. Gee, James Paul. An Introduction to Discourse Analysis: Theory and Method. New York: Routledge, 2010. Print. Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. New York: Penguin, 2006. Print. Kubrick, Stanley, dir. 2001: A Space Odyssey. MGM, 1968. Film. McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: New American Library, 1964. Print. Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death. New York: Penguin, 2005. Print. Powers, William. Hamlet’s BlackBerry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. Print. Turkle, Sherry. Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print. Twenge, Jean. Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—And More Miserable than Ever Before. New York: Free Press, 2006. Print. Wolf, Maryann. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: HarperCollins, 2007. Print.
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Titles that Break the Formula by Jill Adams
Some people complain that the field of Young Adult Literature (YAL) is too formulaic. Their point has some validity to it—after all, most stories tend to follow a traditional structure (exposition, rising action or conflict, climax, falling action, resolution). As we know, however, the field of YAL— and all literature, for that matter—is much more than that. The genre of YAL itself possesses notable characteristics which help define its own boundaries. The most recent edition of Literature for Today’s Young Adults (9th ed.) notes these characteristics as the following: • Written from the perspective of viewpoint of young people. • Puts parental figures are on the side: “Please, Mother, I Want the Credit!” (Nilsen et al. 48) • Are basically optimistic with characters making worthy accomplishments. • Is fast-paced, containing narrative hooks, secrecy, surprise, and tension. • Includes a variety of genres, subjects, and levels of sophistication. • Includes stories about characters from many different ethnic and cultural groups not often found in the literary canon. Could this be considered a formula? As you think about the recent YAL books you have read, not all of them fit neatly into this view. Perhaps it’s those special texts that break boundaries that stand the test of time. The Giver is not fastpaced but does an amazing job introducing the concept of dystopia to a younger generation of readers. Monster’s protagonist Steve doesn’t necessarily make worthy accomplishments but the screenplay/journal format that creates the movie in his (and the reader’s) mind is exceptional. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief isn’t told from the perspective of a young girl (even though we experience Liesl’s book thievery). Instead, we are exposed to the awesome voice of Death, an overworked individual who certainly provides a unique perspective on the events of the day. The following books do not always follow the formula of YAL from Nilsen, Blasingame, Donelson, and Nilsen, but each of them makes a mark in their own way, even at times breaking the formula. Perhaps that is why they are recommended to you now. 12
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Dr. Jill Adams is an Assistant Professor of English at Metropolitan State College of Denver. She teaches courses in composition, young adult literature, and teaching composition.
The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate, HarperCollins, 2012 Ivan is a gorilla who is the main entertainment attraction in a strip mall along with his friends, Stella the elephant and Bob the stray dog. Ivan seems content with is life (and TV shows) until Ruby, a baby elephant, arrives. Ivan then begins to contemplate his life. Through this, the themes of love and loss are explored. This heart-touching tale ultimately teaches the reader powerful lessons about humanity even though the majority of characters are animals. Through captivity, compassion, and courage, we discover what it means to live. This is a book written for upper elementary students, but it is a text that will invite deeper reading and will assuredly appeal to all ages. It’s a book you’ll never forget, for Ivan surely is the One and Only. How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous, Georgia Bragg and Kevin O’Malley, Walker Childrens, 2012 Good, not-so-clean fun—that’s an adequate description of this middle level-informational text. Ranging from Cleopatra to George Washington to Albert Einstein, this light-hearted ride through history offers odd facts and gory details about the deaths of noteworthy historical figures. The authors certainly succeed in making bizarre facts (such as the fate of Galileo’s fingers) incredibly interesting with the combination of text, voice, and visuals. The illustrations certainly bring the text to life, and sidebars provide even more information. Although disgusting at times, the entertainment value prevails, and you’ll never think of these individuals in quite the same light again. (Sorry, Henry VIII—I’ll always think of your exploding remains now.) Chopsticks, Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral, Razorbill, 2012 It has been said that the song “Chopsticks” can drive one crazy, and madness happens to be one of the themes of this unique novel. Glory is a musical prodigy and retreats into music after her mother’s death. When Glory meets Frank, and we experience their love story through a variety of visuals and words (there is also an online component
that can be explored as well). But life is too much for Glory, and things start to fall apart. At the end of it all, the reader must question what’s real, what’s not, and what’s might just be between the two. My Friend Dahmer, Derf Backderf, Abrams ComicArts, 2012 Many teenagers today do not know the name Jeffrey Dahmer, so Berk Backderf’s graphic novel about a kid he went to high school with may not instantly snatch attention. Once the teen opens the book, however, they will be transported to the 1970s and will be mesmerized by a loner named “Jeff” (as Backderf calls him) who later becomes one of America’s most notorious serial killers. This informational text tries to explain the unexplainable—how Jeff became a murderer. The reader learns about Dahmer’s broken family, sexual confusion, and alcohol addiction as we start to see the quiet teenager with odd quirks develop into an incredibly disturbed young man. Berkderf makes it clear that “It’s my belief that Dahmer didn’t have to wind up a monster...if only the adults in his life hadn’t been so…clueless and/or indifferent. Once Dahmer kills, however—and I can’t stress this enough—my sympathy for him ends…Pity him, but don’t empathize with him.” Sound creepy? It is. Unforgettable? Definitely. Should you read it? You bet. Aristotle and Dante’ Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Saenz, Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2013 There are many truly great books about friendship in the field of literature, and this book is one of the finest. Two loners, Ari and Dante, meet at a pivotal point in their lives when they are questioning many things (family, sexuality, and identity, to name a few). Together, they develop a special bond that helps them weather the rough patches—even times spent apart from each other—and changes their lives forever. As a student of mine, Joel Mollman, wrote, “The true greatness of the story is how it takes this story of these two teens and makes you forget what time period they live in, where they live, and even what race they are as it constructs a story that draws you into the reality of its own world.” I can’t think of any literature more powerful than that. Every Day, David Levithan, Ember, 2013 Imagine waking up, every single day of your life, in a different body. You age, and as you do so, so do the bodies you inhabit for 24 hours. This is the world of Every Day’s protagonist, A. An odd name? Yes—the reference to the first letter of the alphabet actually makes sense, however, when you consider how many personalities he/she has experienced over the years. We meet A as a teenager and see him/her as the following: A boy, a girl, a bully, and a twin. We also see A as someone who is a straight, homosexual, and transgendered. He/she has also been in the bodies of
a drug addict, murderer, and suicidal teen. And, of course, the list could go on. A’s view on life changes, though, when he/she meets Rhiannon. Love has struck. Will Rhiannon be able to love A back, no matter what race, gender, religion, or personality he/she has each new day? This book is grand fodder for discussion on identity, gender, sexuality, and truth. As Levithan notes in the text, ““It’s as simple as that. Simple and complicated, as most true things are.” Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein, Disney-Hyperion, 2013 The definition of verity is the following: The state or quality of being true. Add that word to Code Name, and you have yourself a compelling historical fiction spy novel that begins with a young woman crash landing in Nazi-occupied France. Our protagonist becomes a prisoner of war, and she decides to write down her story to her captors instead of telling it. The book is so much more than that, however—it’s also a female adventure/war story that happens to focus on friendship. It’s also a challenging read (the first few chapters reminded me of the beginning of The Book Thief because, as a reader, I was struggling to figure out what was going on) with an engaging voice. The story the protagonist tells is gripping, but it’s the twists and turns that the book provides that will stay long after the war is over. Far Far Away, Tom McNeal, Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2013 Grimm’s Fairy Tales serve as a backdrop for this supernatural story about a boy, a girl, and a ghost. The boy is Jeremy Johnson Johnson (his mother and father had the same last name before marriage), who can hear the voice of Jacob Grimm, a ghost who is stuck between living and the afterlife. Unhappy Grimm believes he must make sure that is safe in order to go on to the afterlife. Enter the girl–Ginger, who brings adventure to Jeremy’s life. What follows are escapades (sneaking into the baker’s home and being a contestant on a trivia game show, to name a few) and enchantment. Numerous allusions throughout the text–some subtle and others not-so-subtle–make the book fantastically magical. As a result, it joins the fairy tale tradition (with a special homage to Hansel and Gretel) made unique by the ghostly narration.
Works Consulted Literature for Today’s Young Adults 9th ed. Nilsen, Alleen, Blasingame, James, Donelson, Kenneth, and Nilsen, Don. New York: Pearson, 2013.
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Promises for Hannah by Jeff Likes
Last spring at the end of a long unit in my Advanced World Literature and Composition class that focused on the inevitability of human suffering, Hannah’s essay presented me with a problem. During the unit we had read and discussed Oedipus the King, Candide, The Tempest, and “A Modest Proposal,” along with several other shorter texts, and as part of my students’ final assessment, I constructed a writing prompt -- modeled after writing prompts I and my colleagues had been looking at as we designed unit plans based on the new PARCC assessment -- that asked my students to use the texts to support their thinking and understanding of human suffering. As I read to assess her essay, Hannah began with an engaging lead-in and a solid thesis that was constructed effectively and directly addressed the task of the prompt. But her next paragraph began unexpectedly:“This is typically the part where I cite examples from the text to support my thesis. However, it’s been so long that I’ve read these texts that I’ve forgotten their purpose.” She went on to add later in that first body paragraph, “There have been very few occasions in which we’ve been asked to write anything other than an essay, but even then the creative process that is usually present in these types of prose has been hindered by unnecessary restrictions and requirements.” She then concluded the paragraph with this line: “The utter disregard of my creative capabilities is my suffering.” Hannah then broadened her discussion, launching into a well-argued critique of the American education system before bringing the essay back to me. I thought her next move would be to brutally attack me as well. But she didn’t. This is what she had to say instead: “I’m not demonizing you by pointing out the flaws in the education system. I’m simply asking for a broader understanding of the capabilities of your students. . . .Please allow us students to harness our creativity in ways other than countless essays and discussions.” In her conclusion, she finally did have a few things to say about Oedipus and Candide and Prospero, but at that point it didn’t matter. I wasn’t really listening. What was I supposed to do with this? I had no idea how to respond. I had my rubric in front of me. I had everything I knew about assessing formal essays swimming in my head. Doesn’t address the task of the prompt, I thought. You didn’t show me what you learned 14
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Jeff Likes earned a BA in English at Colorado State University and an MFA in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He taught literature and composition at Colorado State University and Aims Community College and currently teaches journalism, literature, and composition at Boulder High School in Boulder, Colorado.
about these books, Hannah. The rubric told me I had to give her a zero. But when I set aside my defensiveness, I had to acknowledge that she had written something remarkable and compelling; she demonstrated that she had command of craft; and she certainly gave me a clear sense of her voice. No doubt about that. Later on, I pulled Hannah aside after class one morning to talk about her essay. I told her I thought she’d written a strong essay. I told her I agreed with many of her points about the flaws in our education system. But I also told her I couldn’t give her a passing grade for the assignment; however, she could redo it for full credit. She never did. So school ended in May, and I eased into summer break and the days finally began to warm after the wet, cold spring. But I still couldn’t file Hannah’s essay away. Because I know, especially now after experiencing two weeks in the Colo-
“She then concluded the paragraph with this line: ‘The utter disregard of my creative capabilities is my suffering.’” rado Writing Project, that I failed Hannah–all of my students –in a fundamental way. Hannah is right. I hadn’t given her the kind of environment and structure in my classroom that provided her with enough choice, that engaged her enough in the writing process, that allowed her to grow enough as a writer. If I could say anything to her now, it would be this: I can’t start again with you, Hannah, can’t redo your sophomore year in my class with you. But I can honor you and your words with these promises. And with these promises, I will honor all of my future students too. First, Hannah, I promise I will be a partner with my students in their writing and value more the writing process itself rather than being primarily concerned with assessing the final product. In my own reading, I am reminded by Ralph Fletcher “that many writers actually discover what they have to say in the process of writing it. The writer’s challenge is to keep this sense of discovery intact; this keeps writing continued on page 16
The Correctness of Art by Mike Jaramillo
“What does that mean?” he said. “What does what mean?” I asked. “All of those marks and paint splatter spots,” he said. I paused for a second and tried to recall a brilliant phrase from one of the many art books that I have recently zipped through. Out of nowhere a mathematical term came out of my mouth, “It’s the Pythagorean Theorem.” I thought to myself for a second and realized that was not right. As my friend stared at me in confusion, I hoped he hadn’t heard me. I also thought that I could convince him that this painting does have something to do with geometry. I collected my thoughts; I tried to get serious, I blurted out “it’s an unrepeatable feeling and action the artist is sharing with the viewer. It’s about mark making and how a mark can affect the mood of a particular space. It’s not about the painting but the space that the painting is in.” My friend proceeded to ask me if this theory is why this painting is ten feet tall. I replied with “Absolutely! The size of the painting is now invading your space. In addition, erratic mark making creates a stimulating environment.” I thought to myself “wow” that was pretty good. I might have even convinced myself that this shopping mall painting was successful. “So what does that mean,” he asked? I thought to myself, “not again?” Whether it’s a shopping mall painting or a piece in the Guggenheim; determining what is great art is a subjective opinion. This subjective opinion is what makes art wonderful, and extremely frustrating. The wonderful aspect of subjectivity relates to the creative process. Subjectivity allows us to individually determine what and how to create our own works of art. This subjectivity is also frustrating when we try to determine what and how great art is created. In the following sentences I want to share my thoughts on the difficulties of formulating two different aspects in art. How does one formulate success in art both creatively and through standard academic measurement? Currently I’m a high school art teacher, and there are two questions most often asked, “How do I grade art?” and “Can you teach someone how to draw?” Just recently in a parent teacher conference a parent asked me, “Mike how do you grade such a subjective subject?” I answered with, “I don’t know what makes great art, because if I did we would all be rich and famous.” I grade on
Mike Jaramillo is an art instructor at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. In 2003 he moved from Houston, Texas to attend graduate school at The University of Colorado. One interesting fact about Mr. Jaramillo is that he studied under the artist Louis Jimenez, who created the giant blue horse at Denver International Airport. the standers set by our school district. The parent asked “Aren’t the standards subjective?” I said, “Absolutely.” So the parent asked again “How do you take the subjectivity out of grading art?” I replied, “I don’t know.” I wanted to tell that parent that I believe art should be pass or fail. Putting a grade on art and telling a student their work has value based on a grading scale can be misleading. Telling a student they have an A compared to a C lets them believe it is right or wrong. How can we determine what is right or wrong in a subject that has no rules? Grading art is the most difficult aspect of my job as an art instructor. How do you put correctness on a piece of art that has you confusingly relieved? How do you use a formula of letter grades on a subject that has no rules?, How do I determine what is correct in the art making process when I have never had a one-man show in any major art center, museum or gallery?
“How can we determine what is right or wrong in a subject that has no rules?” I was trained as an artist and not a teacher. I have a B.F.A, and M.F.A in drawing and painting. An M.F.A is a terminal degree in the studio based discipline of drawing and painting. I mention this because I have the highest degree possible in my content area. I graduated with honors in undergraduate studies and was trained by a world renowned artist. My M.F.A experience was all A’s and only one or two B’s. According to my grades in all of my academic experiences I was consistently told that my art was close to perfect, but when I left graduate school I was continually turned down by galleries, art centers and numerous art competitions. I desperately wanted to take my transcripts to all those art curators and say, “Look at my grades, I have all A’s! My work has to be good! My art is perfect and created in the correct way. I know this because my grades tell me so.” I guess the grading formula of A’s and B’s doesn’t always mean my work is successful. The second question most commonly asked is “Can Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
you teach anyone how to draw?” We all draw differently and there is no one right or wrong way to draw. To learn to draw is learning how to see and understand ones physical habits. When I mention learning how to see, I’m talking about learning how to break down an object visually. When I mention physical habits, I’m talking about the way a person holds a pencil or positions the paper on the desk. Every art student has their own muscle memory which has been learned and conditioned over time. I don’t believe in one correct way to hold a pencil or position a student’s paper. I believe you help the students understand their habits and how they have been conditioned physically and how these influences effect their drawing. One common visual occurrence I see in young artist’s paintings is how figures and objects slant from the top right of the paper to the bottom left of the paper.This occurrence was also shown to me by my instructors. They said objects continued from page 14 fresh and vibrant” (21). I want to facilitate that discovery in my students as they grapple with words and sentences and paragraphs, working and struggling to craft their ideas into coherent expression that’s meaningful for them. I promise I will find a balance between the “formal” kinds of writing–writing that district curriculum asks of them, that state and national standardized tests ask of them–and the kind of writing that frees students to unleash their own passions and creativity. I will value choice in topic and genre. I will encourage my students to write about the things they care most about because I agree with Penny Kittle when she reminds us that “Emotion is the engine of the intellect; we write more powerfully when it is from the center of who we are” (39). Hannah, I wish now that I better knew what you care most about. Had I given you a classroom environment where you had the freedom to explore and share your interests, I would have known you better because I would have written alongside you, talked with you about your writing as you worked to develop and shape it, shown you tricks I’ve learned along my own path as a writer that might have been of use to you. Kittle is right when she says of her students “They have so much before them–and so much that calls to them from their past. They are perfectly positioned to write well. When we align curriculum with their personal interests, put the skills within their reach, and give good feedback, they write with power” (94). I know this. I will remind myself of this every day. I promise, too, that I will ask my students to read great writing not only to discuss and analyze works as great literature but to use them as mentor texts to guide and instruct them in their own writing. I will share texts, as Kittle says, “that have tight writing that shows what I want my students to imitate: clarity, specificity, and thoroughness” (132). I will remind my students what Fletcher has reminded me: “The writing becomes beautiful when it becomes specific” (48). When we read “A Modest Proposal,” Hannah, I asked you 16
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
in your painting are slanting because you have been taught to write with your paper slanting at an angle. I then realized that I probably could paint, and my objects looked disproportioned because of the muscle memory developed over many years of writing. I asked my instructor what should I do now? They said “Nothing,” we all have habits which have been created over time. It is easer to adjust and understand your habits than it is to try and learn new ways to paint and draw. There is no formula on how to draw or paint. Everyone can learn to draw by learning how to see and having a better understanding of their physical habits. Teaching art is a gift and a responsibility. It is the educator’s responsibility to understand the effects of trying to formulate a subject and process that contains such diverse subjectivity and creative possibilities. Art is a gift to educators because they are exposed to endless possibilities and abilities. and your classmates to pay attention to how Swift constructed his argument, how he used satire and irony and voice to ridicule the English for their appalling treatment of the Irish, and by doing so, to promote change. We read it as literature. But I didn’t ask you and your classmates enough to wrestle with important issues in your own writing; I didn’t show you how Swift can teach us to become better writers of argumentation ourselves; I didn’t share with you Kittle’s observation that “The best writers assemble ideas like a tower of blocks, one thought resting on the one before, all supporting each other to create an imposing final product” (132). Going forward, my students will read great writing not just to become better readers but to become better writers as well. Finally, Hannah, I want to acknowledge that you took an enormous risk in your essay. I admire you so much for that. So I will take some risks too. I will write alongside my students. I will share my writing with them. I will tell them about my own struggles and insecurities as a writer. And in doing so, I hope my students will feel safe to take risks too, to know that in our classroom it is an expectation that we share and experiment and even fail occasionally. Fletcher says, “On many different levels, the writer faces a shaved margin of safety, if not outright danger: the danger of being misunderstood, ridiculed. The danger of failure. The danger of rejection” (25). Initially, I did misunderstand you, Hannah. When I first read your essay, I thought you were merely indulging in classic adolescent rebellion. To some degree, maybe you were. But now I see your essay as so much more. Your essay is a gift to me, whether you know it or not. Works Cited Fletcher, Ralph. What a Writer Needs. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2013. Kittle, Penny. Write Beside Them. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2008.
Middle Level ELA
Formulas—I Don’t Think So by Meredith Collins
Ahh…formulas. Merely saying the word brings a smile to my face and almost forces me to shake my head, at minimum just a little. Why you may ask? We live in a world where everyone is looking for the magic pill, the magical wave of the wand, hell, even plain ole’ magic to sprinkle perfection all around. I only wish educating our students were so simple. I’m not the perfect teacher. And I don’t believe in a perfect formula that’s going to magically raise the scores of standardized tests. But I do understand good teaching, and for me there have been certain things I do to maintain my reputation of being a good teacher—even a great teacher depending on who is asked. And just so I’m clear, none of the things I do have anything to do with the number of books needing to be read or papers to be written or how many paragraphs to be thrown into an essay. Quantity is not the issue in my classroom—it’s all about quality. Like I tell my students, “If you write 10 pages of crap, it’s still 10 pages of crap. I want quality work, not a ton of crappy work…” We need to get over this mentality that more is better and only giving accolades to the student who turns in the most. To me, being a great teacher means being a memorable one. I want my students to remember being in my classroom. And from the letters, emails, and drop-bys I get I would have to say they remember. Being memorable takes more than throwing more work at a student. It has to do with the teacher and the expectations given. For me, the following are crucial in my classroom: Consistency This isn’t as easy as one would imagine. Being consistent means following through. It means understanding the ins and outs of the assignment before it’s ever assigned. Consistency means knowing the why behind each technique being taught and sharing the why with the students. Want to teach a student how to write? Teach a child how to break the rules. Teach them how they can’t break the rules if they don’t understand them in the first place. Believe me, they will not only learn, but want to learn. I mean, who doesn’t want to break the rules? Consistency is understanding not
Dr. Meredith Collins is a mom, sister, wife, friend, teacher, critic, Starbucks junkie, writer, coach... She currently teaches 8th graders and writes for Statement, Glass Heel, and Women Forbes. An avid lover of fiction, Meredith is working on completing her first YA novel and is proud to present her first novel, Mr. Rights Gone Wrong, which can be found at http://mrrightsgonewrong.com/index. php. You can find her blog at http:// merelovesthepack.blog or on Twitter: @ FmTheSidelines.
only your school and department standards, but the state and national ones as well. Sound familiar? Backwards planning should—if it doesn’t please, please, please look it up. Being consistent means telling your students something is due on Monday, and making it actually due on Monday. It means keeping your expectations high and following through when they aren’t met. Consistency means reading all of their work—and it’s not easy, believe me I know. It means not skipping over the kids whose handwriting is giving you a headache. It means not skimming through. It means re-
“We live in a world where everyone is looking for the magic pill, the magical wave of the wand, hell, even plain ole’ magic to sprinkle perfection all around. I only wish educating our students were so simple.”
membering what you read on their assignments and discussing their ideas with them. It means tailoring mini-lessons for each class, giving them the personalized instruction they need in accordance to the work they’ve turned in. Once consistency is under control, students know your classroom is not about playing the game of school, but about learning and thinking and applying their knowledge. Being consistent will make you tired. Very tired. Responsibility This one makes me smile a bit because for some reason everyone seems to be literally frightened to allow a child, a student, to be responsible. Being responsible means allowing a child to experience success and failure. Yep, you heard it right. How can a student learn pride, accountability, and intrinsic motivation if we continually hold their hand? Let go of the hand, people, and allow them to grow. I can’t think of a single growing experience I’ve ever had where there wasn’t a little bit of heartache, appreciation, feeling exStatement Vol. 50, Number 1
tremely uncomfortable, joy and angst all rolled into one. In order for growth to occur, students must be allowed to be responsible and to be accountable when they’re not. Holding students responsible can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Regardless, keep fighting the fight—they need you to.
so not their best work the first go-around. Sometimes it means sitting next to them in another one of their classes during my planning period so they truly understand what my refusal to give up on them looks like. Persistence is a bear— it is not fun. It takes a lot of time, patience, and dedication to the profession to be persistent. Being persistent means Accountability acknowledging every child, even the ones who take pleasure This one gets harder and harder every single year be- in driving everyone to the edge, becomes one of my children cause very few want to allow students to be accountable the moment they step into my classroom. And if they are for their actions—unless it’s positive accountability that is. one of mine, they will be taken care of. I would never give My question to you is how can a student truly feel a sense up on my kids and they know this. Of course, they don’t of pride and accomplishment if they get the same feel good always like it—but I’m not there to be their friend. I’m there feedback regardless of how they did? Holding a child ac- to teach, to guide, and to kick them in the pants when they countable should be as important as holding the teacher, need it. the administrator, or the parent accountable. I want my students to struggle—because if they’re always doing what One extra paper, one extra book read, one extra whatcomes easy to them how in the world are they learning? ever it is will not create a memorable or an effective teacher Simple—they’re not. Please, for the love of God, let them in the classroom. Want to be an effective educator? Be be accountable for their performance—and I’m not talking passionate, be an orator, be a listener, be a storyteller, be about on a standardized test; I’m talking about in the class- humorous, be yourself. And then allow your students to be room. In all seven of their classes. Squash the notion of why the same. Let them be passionate, be an orator, be a listener, did you give me this grade? I don’t give out grades; students be a storyteller, be humorous, and be themselves. Imagine earn them. that. Foster each part of them. They’re amazing human beings—please look past the raging hormones, the smell, the Persistence cool factor they think they have, the attitudes, the flippant This one is all about me and one I hope eventually trick- remarks, the texting, the texting, the texting. And then finalles down to my students. I have to be persistent with my ly throw in a bit of consistency, responsibility, accountability, students and I have to understand persistence takes on a and persistence. Should one decide to turn my advice into different form dependent upon the child I’m working with. some “formula” of sorts—and then go to the ever popular Sometimes it means finding them in the lunchroom because route of turning it into an acronym, do be careful as it would they need extra one-on-one time with me. Sometimes spell out CRAP—but then again, even the most beautiful, it means I have them redo an assignment because it was magical things need a bit of fertilizer in order to grow.
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Remembering Shelby (November 10, 2013) by Shirley Brice Heath
Shelby Wolf, 22 September 1950 - 5 October 2013 Editor’s Note: The world of children’s literacy has lost a true champion. Shelby Wolf passed on October 5, 2013. Shelby was a professor at the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where over two thousand students (undergraduate and graduate--including me) had the opportunity to work with her. I will never forget sitting in her office, surrounded by shelves and shelves of the very best children’s literature in existance, grateful to be in her beaming presence. Shirley Brice Heath was Shelby’s mentor during her doctoral work at Stanford. The following was read at Shelby’s memorial service on November 10, 2013. Today we gather in separate places and in different ways around the world to celebrate Shelby’s life. I cannot be with you here in Boulder, because I am in the air somewhere over Europe, flying back from Copenhagen. Why? I have been there the past week putting into practice as much as possible of what Shelby taught me to do: help museums of fine arts become effective learning environments for the neediest of children. In London, where Shelby worked for nearly a decade, and in Copenhagen, those children are immigrants and refugees (today primarily from civil wars in the Congo, northern Kenya, and Somalia). For nearly a decade, she worked to link the collections of Tate Modern Museum with children and artists in some of the neediest of schools in London; at her death, she was working on the book that would have reported on that work. Previously, she and I had together worked throughout England to link science and art environments with schools in regenerating areas where children grew up never having seen employment redevelop in their region after mines and mills closed three generations earlier. Together Shelby and I wrote three books on that work, and Shelby added another three on her own. It is fair to say that many of England’s teachers and their children will always remember Shelby sitting attentively listening to them think and talk through
how they learned when they worked side by side with professional actors, artists, and poets, as well as museum curators and architects. I share here just one of the tributes to Shelby that has come to me in recent weeks since news of her death reached England. One of the fine teachers with whom Shelby worked has written: Shelby was a truly inspirational person who just by her presence created an excitement and desire to learn and do more, to challenge and take risks for the benefit of our children. The world is a poorer place without her and children may never know the thrill and mystery of imagination unless people like us see this as her lasting legacy and continue to move forward and resist the pressures of producing super data and strive to nurture super kids! Another teacher wrote: “Shelby became a dear friend and champion of ours. She made us feel invincible and gave us strength to believe in and carry on with what we were doing.” Of course, the teachers with whom Shelby worked in England had children themselves, and they came to know Shelby’s daughters. To the girls, these teachers have a special message: “We all send our thoughts and condolences to her two daughters who truly lit up her world.” One teacher with whom Shelby and I visited on our trip to England earlier this year wrote this: “Having lost a parent at a relatively young age, I have some understanding of what these girls must be going through. … I hope that they are looking after themselves and allowing time to reflect and grieve. We sometimes try to be strong for others and neglect ourselves.” Others, besides teachers, have also written. On the very weekend of her death, scholars in children’s literature were gathering to create a new book on this topic. They wrote in shock and sorrow. Scholars in children’s literature and authors of children’s books, as well as the director of Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Seven Stories, England’s famed museum of children’s literature, have written to honor and to remember Shelby. The founder of Seven Stories wrote: “Shelby was a brilliant editor and helped me discover things about my writing that I did not know were there.” All who have written express the view that they have been changed by her direct work with them and also through her leadership in the creation of the Handbook of Research on Children’s and Young Adult Literature. This volume is sure to be used and respected for years to come. In its innovative ways of bringing together historians, social scientists, literacy experts, children’s book authors, and book publishers, this landmark volume is truly unique. Shelby was a worker, not a joiner. From the earliest days of her career in academic life, Shelby knew where she stood: firmly and forever on the side of teachers. She dedicated herself first and foremost to teachers and to her own teaching. Those in this audience as well as teachers in England will never forget the well-illustrated materials she created whenever she taught or presented professional papers. Her research on children’s literature, methods of teaching through literature, and ways of bringing children and teachers to the pleasures that come from picture books, illustrations and fine language in children’s books, and the collecting and savoring of these works changed attitudes and practices throughout the United States and England.
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Shelby was my student, teacher, colleague, co-author, editor, critic, and inspiration as a dear friend. I shall miss her in so many ways. But as I suspect many of you in Boulder know as you celebrate together a life of dedication and commitment to the essence of what education should and must be, we cannot say only that we will miss Shelby. Instead, we must know that she would want much more of us. She would want us to feel and to keep alive her drive, energy, curiosity, and integrity. She would want us to love language as she did and to hone our writing, refine our thinking, and reject platitudes and easy answers. In the quiet corners of the historic order of academic life, Shelby has prepared her last lecture and richly illustrated presentation. We cannot imagine the world without Shelby. And yet we know she would tell us gently in this tearful goodbye that we must not be stalled by thinking we need her to push us. Instead, she would encourage us to remember and to put to action for ourselves and others what she leaves for us to do. She would want us to create in our own ways the power of listening, imagining, laughing, and playing and dancing with words and images her legacy leaves us. Today and into the years ahead, I feel sure she would expect nothing less of us than that we move ahead as she did–to support, cheer, challenge, and promote learning and to forever be thankful for the precious gifts of good teachers and teaching.
Reading Between the Illustrated Lines: Using Comics to Teach Common Core Standards by Jenn Freeman My first memories of reading with my parents are of me climbing into bed with them on Sunday morning to read the comics as they read the newspaper.While the three-paneled antics of Garfield hardly seem comparable to the article my dad was reading or the feature my mom was perusing, sixyear-old me was gaining important reading abilities through this section of the Sunday paper. I take for granted so much of the knowledge and understanding that comes with reading comics that I forget what fundamental tools I gained through reading them: dissecting the pictures, filling in the gaps between panels, engaging in the story, and building a comprehension for how the words support the image. As Common Core State Standards are implemented in schools across the country, there is a reexamination of how students learn and how to foster that understanding of books and information. Visual literature, in the form of comics and graphic novels, is a valuable tool in helping build and support students’ ability to evaluate and analyze texts. Graphic novels appear to be easily applicable to teaching some of the Common Core Standards, such as the seventh College and Career Ready Anchor: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words” (“College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading”) or the seventh English Language Art Standard for 9th and 10th graders Reading Informational Texts: “Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums, determining which details are emphasized in each account” (“Reading Informational Text Grades 9-10”). When understood and properly taught in the classroom, graphic novels can be applied to all of the criteria for Common Core English Language Arts Standards. What’s more, the number and variety of graphic novels and illustrated texts has grown substantially in the past few decades. Teachers have a wealth of options available to them. Beyond the basics of “Garfield” or “Spiderman,” graphic novels have become actually that: novels, illustrating a vast range of issues such as a father’s stories from Auschwitz (Maus), a student’s experiences with a high school aged Jeffrey Dahmer (My Friend Dahmer), important topical
Jenn Freeman is a postbachelors secondary school English education student at Metro State University of Denver. A Colorado native, she is a graduate of Denver East High School. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from Dublin City University in Ireland in 2007.
documents (The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation), a girl’s life in Iran during the Islamic Revolution (Persepolis), famous historical moments and speeches (Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel), or the biography of familiar figures (Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness). The application of graphic novels and visual literature is much more significant than just a story in another medium. From a literature perspective, the fundamental goal of Common Core State Standards is for students to develop a deeper understanding and comprehension of any text, as well as the ability to analyze and synthesize it in order to become truly literate and college and career ready. By studying comics and visual literature, students are able to gain and utilize valuable skills that will help them to better dissect larger texts, whether they are literary or informational.
“When understood and properly taught in the classroom, graphic novels can be applied to all of the criteria for Common Core English Language Arts Standards.” Much in the way that studying a foreign language causes a student to recognize and better understand how his own language works, studying comics helps a student analyze his reading habits and how he decodes messages. Often readers glide over or fail to grasp the significance of a comic’s composition. Reading a series of panels appears to be so straightforward that a six-year-old can do it; however, the actual process is more complicated. Analyzing the process of properly decoding sequential art is a valuable skill that can be applied to understanding any text. Empowering the Reader In Understanding Comics, the book that has become the foundational text for reading sequential art, author Scott McCloud outlines how comics affect the reader and force a different perspective into the text. Among the ways an artist Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
accomplishes this through the basic form of image structure found within comics, which allows the reader to insert himself into the story. McCloud explains: When two people interact, they usually look directly at one another, seeing their partner’s features in vivid detail. Each one also sustains a constant awareness of his or her own face, but this mind-picture is not necessarily so vivid; just a sketchy arrangement [...] a sense of shape [...] a sense of general placement [...] Thus, when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face–you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon–you see yourself. (McCloud 35-36) Initially this concept allows for the reader to further engage in the story. On a basic level, by identifying with the characters, he is drawn into the narrative, and hopefully becomes more invested in it as a result. In terms of literary analysis and comprehension, recognizing this reflection of self in the text fosters a better understanding of first person perspective in literature and is a strong starting point for teaching the sixth College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Reading Craft and Structure, “Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” This understanding also helps the reader to comprehend the perspective of the other elements in the piece. As certain characters or objects are drawn in more detail, the reader becomes aware of their otherness or other significance that the author may be attempting to convey (McCloud 44). Through the manipulation of details and imagery, the world of comics becomes one of concepts and symbols, helping the reader to better recognize and understand how these elements are used as literary tools. Comics further empower the reader through a process McCloud calls the sequential art theory: through the structure of a comic and the artist’s use of gutters, the white space that falls between panels, the reader must draw his own conclusions as to what happens between the panels, inserting his own imagination’s images from one segment to the next. This engages the reader, and empowers him to interact with the text in a way that no other medium is capable of doing. Again, McCloud explains, “Every act committed to paper by the comic’s artist is aided and abetted by a silent accomplice. An equal partner in crime known as the reader. I may have drawn an axe being raised in this example, but I’m not the one who let it drop or decided how hard the blow, or who screamed, or why” (68). Beyond the basic implications of this concept and how it applies to graphic novels, McCloud’s theory serves as a steppingstone for introducing reader response theory and understanding the significant relationship between the author or artist and the consumer. The concept of perspective, identifying with the story through envisioning one’s self in the story, and reading between the lines are some of the greatest lessons that graphic novels offer the student. 22
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
The artistry and unique sense of perspective that is found in graphic novels offer teachers a strong foundation for introducing and developing the concept of plot development and illustrating how an author develops the story, one of the key ideas and details of Common Core Standards for reading literature from grades six to 12. This message of reader empowerment, once learned, is a significant tool in interpreting and analyzing literature: a strong awareness of what you bring to the story and how the author is trying to influence it. A New Perspective on the Holocaust: Maus Perhaps the most widely taught graphic novel is Art Spiegelman’s Maus. It is the powerful story of Spiegelman learning the entirety of his father’s experiences during the Holocaust, including his internment in Auschwitz, depicted through animals: Jews as mice, Germans as cats, Poles as pigs. The novel is riddled with illustrative and structural symbolism that differentiates it from any other World War II literature. In This Book Contains Graphic Language, author Rocco Versaci explains how this medium of storytelling is particularly apt for survivor’s tales or other stories of deep emotional trauma. By depicting his father’s story through comics, Spiegelman is able to “emphasize the humanity and the stories of the victims rather than overwhelm these features, as realistic representations–especially of atrocity– are wont to do.” The illustrations give the reader distance, while emphasizing and thoroughly examining the historical importance of the Holocaust (Versaci 98).The potential discussion relating to Spiegelman’s illustrative symbolism is a strong example to use for introducing the fourth reading literature standard for sixth graders: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone. Maus is also only one of a series of graphic novels that offer a unique perspective on larger world issues, filled with symbolic illustrations that help develop strong analytical skills. It can be used as a bridge between the literature and informational texts in the classroom. Other examples of graphic novels that can be used in a similar fashion include Persepolis, mentioned above, and Joe Sacco’s Palestine, a work of political and historical nonfiction based on a series of interviews from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. A Story in One Panel: From Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness One of the recurring goals of the Common Core State Standards is analyzing a story across multiple formats to understand perspective and focus. There are a number of graphic novels that offer a different perspective of a known story, Maus being among these. Reinhard Kleist’s Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness is a strong example of how a story can be adapted while also giving students an opportunity
to consider some of the analytical tools necessary for deciphering a text. The second page of the graphic novel is broken into four horizontal panels. The first shows the front of a car, with clouds of smoke surrounding its right side, the license plate “HELL” centered in the panel right above a man’s, presumably Johnny Cash’s, hand in the panel below. There is nothing in the panel besides the car and the smoke, the sky is dark as is the sliver of windshield and window that is visible. The ground surrounding it is primarily flat, with slight hills off to the right side, the smoke emerging, uninterrupted, from the white plains. This singular, relatively simple panel is filled with symbolic meaning.The juxtaposition of darkness and light, of sky and smoke, and the very literal labeling of the car as Hell can all be applied to Johnny Cash’s life: his career, his faith, and his journey through addiction and recovery. These symbols are carried through the next panels, which are a wordless depiction of the song “Folsom Prison,” a song that is widely understood to be a metaphorical autobiography in and of itself. A strong writer could beautifully convey the famous singer’s loss of control and, considering the plethora of Johnny Cash biographies (including some by the musician himself), there may already be words to this effect, but it is difficult to impart such a huge amount of information so succinctly. Kleist does in this single panel without one word of text. Using just this panel in the classroom with a little bit of context makes a powerful demonstration of how to analyze images and text. The uneducated student can easily glide over these pictures, much like a novice poetry reader can overlook the importance of a single word. By coaxing this information out of students, assisting them to read and interpret all of the symbols and information that Kleist has woven into the image, they will gain valuable analytical skills. These skills apply to several of the Common Core Standards, starting with grade six key ideas and details: “Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text” (CCS. ELA-Literacy.RL.6.1) and “Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions and judgements” (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.2). Similar standards for textual analysis can be found in the Common Core literature requirements through high school. Additionally, it draws attention to the creative liberties that are taken by authors and artists when conveying a nonfiction story. That moment never happened. Johnny Cash, nor any likeness of his, never drove a car with a license plate that said “HELL” through the Nevada desert. Kleist, with a substantial amount of knowledge of Cash’s life and the relationship that existed between the musician and his songs, created a story that represented the novel that follows. Yet,
Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness is listed among Amazon’s Best Sellers under Biographies and Memoirs, indicating to the uneducated eye that it can be considered a factual account. Being able to critically analyze a text that is presented as fact, recognizing that some element of storytelling exists in nearly any book, fiction or nonfiction, is an important and difficult skill to develop. By teaching Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness, or any nonfiction graphic novel, there is in an opportunity to explain the reader’s need for caution and attention when decoding a text and to introduce the active readership necessary when discerning any source of information. This is a crucial part of the Common Core Standards for understanding and analyzing informational texts, especially on the sixth and seventh grade levels. In this regard, Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness fits into a larger category of nonfiction graphic novels. Included with this is a subcategory of graphic novels that Rocco Versaci calls “comic journalism.” Versaci compares it to the New Journalism movement of Truman Capote and Thom Wolfe. New Journalism “fictionalized the facts,” as Versaci puts it, by constructing narratives around a series of facts and presenting it as a feature story, and now graphic novels are doing the same thing in the format of nonfiction stories (110-111). These books range from discussions of the meat industry (Dead Meat) to issues in the Middle East (To Afghanistan and Back and After 9-11, among many others), and other topical issues. These books can help fulfill some of the requirements in the informational text standards, while helping to bring another form of media to the classroom. The 9/11 Report and Trinity: Understanding bigger concepts through illustrations The incorporation of informational texts in the English classroom goes beyond the inclusion of biographies and memoirs in the syllabus. Graphic novels are a fantastic resource for helping dissect and interpret science and history texts, which are often intimidating. These texts are obvious tools for building students’ understanding of how different mediums help present different ideas and concepts (CCSS. ELA-Literacy.RI.8.7). Additionally, informational graphic novels lend themselves to recognizing the author’s voice in a book (such as I See a Darkness), another of the Common Core Standards, and highlighting how ideas are developed and supported within the text. Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón’s The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation presents the actual document published by the 9/11 Commission into a well illustrated book that breaks down the complex and dry contents, making it far more accessible to the average reader. Because of illustrations that support the text, the reader is able to better track the long list of names that are mentioned in the commission report, as well as the locations, timelines, and details. The drawings support the text by offering a clear image that illustrates what is being said. For example, when the commission reStatement Vol. 50, Number 1
port mentions Osama Bin Laden moving from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996, Jacobson and Colón place the textbox over a small map, charting the movement (28). Moving from social studies to science, Jonathan FetterVorm tackled the history and science behind the first atomic bomb in his graphic novel, Trinity. Like The 9/11 Report, the history of the atom bomb is an extensive array of people and world history; however, the atomic bomb is possibly more complicated with the inclusion of difficult scientific concepts. With the support of illustrations, Fetter-Vorm is able to explain the science, the political climate of World War II, and the key scientists and politicians involved in the development of the bomb. Visual aids help the reader remember who’s who, as well as understand the representations of scientific concepts. Occasionally, Fetter-Vorn creates symbolic pictures to help explain more complicated details, such as stacking dominoes to depict the instability of uranium or plutonium, helping the weakest science student to understand. While books like Trinity greatly deviate from the standard texts found in an English classroom (some teachers might even find The 9/11 Report to be a stretch from their regular coursework), these graphic informational texts are valuable tools and should be included in language arts syllabi. In addition to helping students better understand any text, they lend variety to the classroom. Graphic novels can potentially reach out to that disinterested student or assist a strong English student to bring a bit of a literary mindset into the history or science classroom. As college students and adults, nearly everyone will need to understand dense documents filled with unfamiliar content, whether they are contracts, work documents, or news pieces. English teachers should be helping prepare their students to understand these complicated texts. Graphic novels like The 9/11 Report and Trinity are interesting and helpful tools for beginning that process. Conclusion Art Speigelman once said, “Comics are the gateway drug to literacy.” With the drastic changes that are occurring in the education system through the implementation of Common Core State Standards, there is an opportunity to restructure and reinvigorate a student’s approach to literature. Comics and graphic novels give teachers a resource that diversifies reading in the classroom and gives students a different viewpoint in which they can decode and analyze information, be it imagery or text. While most of this paper covered graphic novels’ roles as supplementary or introductory texts, it is imperative to remember that there are graphic novels that suit all reading levels. Graphic novels are valuable literature and classroom content in and of themselves. This article is only a segment of the possible uses of visual literature in the classroom. There are materials that can help the unfamiliar teacher 24
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
“Art Speigelman once said, ‘Comics are the gateway drug to literacy.’” better understand how to use comics in the classroom, including Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics (which has been also used as a text for students to read and study), Rocco Versaci’s This Book Contains Graphic Language, a compilation of essays that was published in spring 2013 called Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom, or any of Will Eisner’s books about understanding comics. Additionally, the website ReadingwithPictures.org offers lesson plans and ideas of how to incorperate graphic novels into the classroom. Graphic novels are a truly unique art form. The relationship they create between words and pictures assists the reader in understanding the contents, empowering the earliest of readers, while also adding a level of depth that is not seen in any other medium. As Scott McCloud says, “The comic’s creator asks us to join in a silent dance of the seen and unseen.The visible and the invisible.This dance is unique to comics. No other art form gives so much to its audience while asking so much from them as well” (92). To truly appreciate this dance, they must be taught, and by teaching them, we are helping students to better understand all media. Works Cited “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading.” CommonStandards.org. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Web. 15 July 2013. “Reading Informational Text Grades 9-10.” CommonStandards.org. Common Core State Standards Initiative. Web. 15 July 2013. Colón, Ernie. TeachingBooks.net. TeachingBooks.net, 2006. Web. 23 July 2013. Fetter-Vorm, Jonathan. Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. New York : Hill and Wang, 2012. Print. Jacobson, Sid and Ernie Colón. The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. New York : Hill and Wang, 2006. Print. Kleist, Reinhard. Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness. New York : Abrams ComicArts, 2009. Print. McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York : Harper Collins, 1994. Print. Scherr, Rebecca. “Teaching ‘The Auto-Graphic Novel’: Autobiographical Comics and the Ethics of Readership.” Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom. Ed. Carrye Kay Syma and Robert G.Weiner. Jefferson : McFarland & Company, Inc, 2013. 134-144. Print. Spiegelman, Art. MetaMaus. New York : Pantheon Books, 2011. Print. Versaci, Rocco. This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics as Literature. New York: Continuum, 2007. Print.
A Conversation Between Three Literacy Educators with Penny Kittle, William McGinley, and Stevi Quate
William McGinley is a professor of Literacy Studies at the University of Colorado. His professional activities are an attempt to conceptualize research, teaching, and community service as connected activities. Across these contexts, his work addresses issues of literacy and English education. Specifically, he has examined theories of emotion and sentimentality in democratic politics as they connect to literature instruction. He teaches courses in memoir writing and story.
From the editor: Here I present a conversation between three literacy educators who have certainly pushed my thinking about the role of formula in the teaching of the English Language Arts. 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 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. This theme was inspired in part by “Changes in Writing Instruction–The Challenge and the Promise” in the March 2013 issue of The Council Chronicle from NCTE, Heather Lattimer, assistant Professor at the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego says, “So many students are simply going in and applying a formula as opposed to being able to communicate a message, an idea–and that is the crux of what all writing is about: having an idea and being able to communicate it effectively for a clear audience and a clear purpose.
Penny Kittle teaches high school English and is a literacy coach in New Hampshire. She is the author of five books, including Book Love and Write Beside Them. Penny speaks throughout the U.S. and internationally on empowering all students to love reading and writing and to develop independent thinking through workshop teaching.
Stevi Quate taught middle and high school English. Currently, she consults with PEBC and international schools. She was the literacy coordinator at CDE, faculty at UCD, president of CCIRA and CLAS, and co-director of Colorado Writing Project. She and John McDermott are coauthors of Clock Watchers and The Just-Right Challenge.
[...] We don’t know all the ways now that kids will be expected to communicate in five, 10, 20 years from now.We need to teach kids not just the medium or the genre or the particular form, but how to navigate and manipulate structure and form in order to fit with your purpose and your audience.” To these three educators, I posed several questions. 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 IS the formula for great teaching in the English Language Arts? William McGinley: There are so many dimensions to the language arts that the thought of a “great teaching” formula seems overwhelming. Still, I see the occasion for conversation to be full of potential and possibility, and I am less interested in the formula than what the discussion of it might engender. In response to the invitation, I think immediately about the topic of literature teaching and the role of these creative narratives in the language arts. And, I think of the poem by Pulitzer Prize winning author Stanley Kuntz called “The Layers.” I love the poem, and this question especially makes me think about the opening lines which, at the age of 73, and looking back over a lifetime, Stanley wrote, I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
and I am not who I was, though some principle of being abides, from which I struggle, not to stray. So, while I’m not sure there is a language arts formula that is meaningful and enduring across time and context, I am confident that, as a teacher, I have “walked through many lives.” It is also the case that, in teaching the English Language Arts, there are definitely a few principles from which I have struggled not to stray. In imagining those principles, I usually begin with the idea that what counts as “great” writing instruction or the “great teaching” of novels, stories, poems, and plays depends on some thoughtful consideration of what an education in the humanities might offer young students. The questions, Who am I? Where do I come from? What might I become? What I am called to do? How can I make the world a better place? How can I learn about the lives and feelings of others with whom I share this world? are not new. Inspired more recently by humanities educators, they have occupied our collective and individual imaginations for centuries. This kind of consideration invites us to envision instructional possibilities in the language arts where whole-hearted, empathetic imagination is the norm, and where the life-informing qualities of literary conversation are cultivated and affirmed. This is a place where we take seriously the idea that our lives are narrative creations, and the narratives we tell about ourselves are understood as the primary means through which make sense of experiences. This way of thinking, and the approaches to teaching it might inspire, challenge the status quo and provide images of the possible. They do so because the text-based tradition of reading literature, which continues to dominate secondary English language arts classrooms, fails our students and by extension our community. In short these questions make the case for an approach to language arts instruction that urgently makes room for the transformative, saving power of literature and stories to take hold. Stevi Quate: “...some principle of being abides/ from which I struggle ,/ not to stray…” Since I read those lines a few days ago, they’ve been lingering in my mind, nudging me to name those principles that have resonated over the years and seem particularly relevant to this discussion of formula: our reading and writing must grab the heart first and foremost, and student voice matters. I wanted to teach because I loved the world of story and knew the magic of flow as I put pen to paper. I wanted the students who spent time in my classroom to be touched by the books, essays stories, poems, and plays that we read and wrote; I wanted them to feel the power of writing as they discovered and explored ideas. I knew that if we started too high up on the “intellectual food chain” I would lose a good number of my 26
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
students. Analysis of diction, identification of literary terms, and recognition of symbols weren’t entry points for most of my students.Teaching writing through formula meant disenfranchising and discounting student voice.
“Engagement is everything.” –Penny Kittle Penny Kittle: Engagement is everything.The art of our work is the layers of thinking that represent decisive acts. We author each of the decisions in our classrooms and make them based on values and beliefs each day. I think of five balls I try to keep in the air at all times: helping students develop reading lives; daily low-stakes writing in notebooks with time to reread and listen to writing, then tune it to a clearer meaning; the study of texts that look like what we’re trying to write; my writing process as a bridge for how to write; and daily conferring with readers and writers to listen to their intentions and teach into those. I know with those priorities I am most likely to engage and empower my students. Once engaged, they violate the child labor laws as Don Graves used to say. They write and read far more than I expect and amaze themselves with the clarity and beauty of their work. William McGinley: I love the thought of “the clarity and beauty” of students’ written work. At the same time, I wonder what we mean by the phrase “clarity and beauty.” I suppose that in some sense it depends on the kind of writing students are doing. But, if it were a story or some kind of “creative writing,” for example, how would you know beauty when you read it? I wonder what we would consider to be most important. Does the piece evoke an emotional response from readers, and is that important? Does the story function as a way for the student to make sense of an experience in their life? Is “beauty” more a function of the technical proficiency of the writer and their use of language? I’m just trying to get us to make transparent beliefs about why we want our students to write, as well as always revisit what we mean when we say, “that’s good writing.” I’ll share the following story for what it offers us: I teach a memoir course at CU. We read several memoirs, study some ideas about the role of stories in our lives, and write several memoir vignettes. My students are mainly college sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Looking back on the most recent semester, it is clear that students in the course ultimately wrote to “save” their lives. This quality of writing emerged as the most fundamental one over the course of the semester. It became one of the primary ways that we defined what counted as “good” or “beautiful” writing. One of the students in the course, Bill Campbell, explained it best:
Once I engaged in this writing experience, it was like riding an alpine slide, gravity pulling me along through the many twists and turns of memory. But that analogy alone does not suffice. I also saw this process like wandering around in booming dark rooms of my past with a small flashlight, illuminating pieces of memory, once thought lost, and giving me a sense of the shape of the memory and my accompanying narrative. This class allowed me (forced me) to write more about my life, to better see what stories are touchstones in my life narrative, and to realize many of these touchstones remain waiting for me to uncover them. Yet another student, Megan, included the following narrative poem in her final portfolio, a piece that evoked the emotion of many of her peers with its poignant and tender portrayal of a complex childhood: on a street whose name i can’t remember god grant me the serenity to accept the things i cannot change, the courage to change the things i can, and the wisdom to know the difference. this is my memory of you and the frame that hung on your bedroom wall next to the blueprints for your house and the memorabilia of your achievements and the money in your sock drawer and the socks without matches and the beds without sheets and the children without a father and it was never our house and they were never our achievements and we never saw any money and now all my socks have matches and perhaps this is knowing the difference. Is this “good writing?” “Is it beautiful” If so, what makes it “beautiful?” For those of us in the class, reading the piece was an experience in human feeling, about what is deepest and most enduring in our lives. It portrays life in an emotionally evocative way, and it invites us to journey outside of ourselves and into the emotional life of another. As readers,
“Questions about a formula really led me to think about the humanities, the lives of our students, the experience of living in a rapidly changing, contingent world, and the ways in which language arts teaching might be responsive to that life, those students, and the promise of an education in the humanities.” –William McGinley
we cross borders, trespass on to “private” property. It’s a powerful and beautiful piece of writing because, while it reveals the emotional contours that bathed her individual life and separated her from us, it also connected us to her and to one another. Isn’t that what creative narratives do? As a powerful complement to all our academic reasoning, we might think of Megan’s poem as a way to revisit and wonder about what counts, what’s possible, and why we ask young people to read and write in our language arts classrooms. Penny Kittle: I think all writing that represents truth is beautiful. Stevi Quate: Sorry, but there is no formulas. There’s a framework, but not a formula; a set of well-honed beliefs, but not a formula; a well-informed theory, but no formula. By their nature, formulas leave little room for originality and typically lead to a predictable outcome. And the truth about teaching is that every day and every class brings the unexpected. Every day and every class presents its unique set of challenges, dilemmas, successes. Students aren’t variables that we can gallantly manipulate like numbers in an equation. Teaching isn’t about a litany of procedures; instead, it’s about knowing our students, starting from where they are and moving them forward. A good theory informs our decisions but doesn’t dictate our teaching moves. Formula is about inflexibility, but a rigid set of steps isn’t what we need; instead, we need to know the basic dance steps, the way to follow our partner, and the need to adapt when the rhythm shifts. Formula won’t take us to the beauty of the dance, but having a framework, a set of guiding principles, a distinct theory will. William McGinley: I completely agree, Stevi, and in my experience as an English teacher the principles or “beliefs” have always seemed a little bit elusive. I think of the “five balls” that Penny describes trying to keep in the air at all times, and I wonder how we create time and space for thoughtfulness about why we teach reading and writing, why we read novels, stories, poems, and plays. Add to that, the ever growing list of instructional “content” that is increasingly described as “core,” “basic,” “fundamental.” What are the “basics?” What is “core?” For me, questions about a formula really led me to think about the humanities, the lives of our students, the experience of living in a rapidly changing, contingent world, and the ways in which language arts teaching might be responsive to that life, those students, and the promise of an education in the humanities. I think that’s why I ended up proposing a collection of “principles” for literature instruction, and maybe they might also spark some thought about language arts instruction more broadly. Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Penny Kittle: We must create time and space for thoughtfulness about what we are doing; as teachers, yes, but also inviting our students to ask the question as well. We don’t teach books or strategies, we teach kids. Editor: When is formula necessary and/or effective in the teaching of reading and writing? Stevi Quate: Formula is never necessary. Sorry, wish there were some short cuts, but there aren’t.
“Formula is a limitation. It is dependence. It teaches students to mistrust their instincts for audience and organization and how to deliver their ideas and experiences to readers.” –Penny Kittle
William McGinley: I’m a little reluctant to suggest that there is a language arts “formula” for us to create or discover. I’m William McGinley: Yes, for sure, Stevi. With or without a not sure that creating or finding such a formula is even the “shortcut” there is the implication of a journey or some objective or goal.What I do find most powerful and produckind, of travel to a destination. I immediately get the sense tive is the opportunity to discuss and explore what matters from what you’ve written that we want our students to get most as it pertains to teaching and learning in the language “somewhere,” correct? So where is that somewhere, and arts. To me, it’s clear that there are important principles that what will it mean to get there? abide, and from which all teachers have seriously struggled Your comment makes me think about a 4th-grade not to stray in their teaching life. Today, it is perhaps inteacher I had the real pleasure of working with at Francis creasingly difficult not to stray from those beliefs. While the Parkman Elementary School in Detroit years ago. We were principles I imagine and outline here are not the only ones standing in the back of the room between classes. I pointed worthy of consideration, I do believe in the fundamental or to the ABC’s she had posted across the top of one wall in “basic” quality of many of the ideas that derive from questhe room. I remember looking up at them. I turned to Vicki tions about the nature of an education in the humanities. and said, “I see you have the ABC’s up there for the children As to the above question, will these formulas, principles, to see.” She looked back at me, a smile on her face like I or ways of thinking “prepare students for future communihad set her up. “Well, the only ABC’s I care about are L, I, cation and needs we can’t even imagine now?” I like the part F, and E.” She turned away. Her children were restless for about “needs we can’t imagine now.” I like it not so much class to begin. I stood there in the noise of classroom life for what it might suggest about preparing students for “our as she disappeared into 30 young lives. It was an interest- increasingly technological world,” but for what it suggests ing moment for what it revealed about Vicki’s focus and the about the nature of life and living in an increasingly diverse sense of purpose that defined her language arts teaching. I’ll and contingent cultural world that consistently challenges always remember those few words, spoken between desks the narrative ability of our students to make sense of their and language arts lessons in the back of a classroom in De- experience. In response, I guess I would pose the following troit. She was not so inclined to “academic” discussions. She question, as well: was also the first teacher I ever heard who, on finishing a How can language arts instruction respond to the lives story with her students, would almost always ask, “What do of students and the challenge of living in a diverse and you think this author would like us to do now that we have multifaceted world where goals are often mutable and read her book?” change is the norm? What kinds of stories will be required to help students make sense of this kind of exPenny Kittle: Formula is a limitation. It is dependence. It perience? teaches students to mistrust their instincts for audience and Answering this question automatically requires a considerorganization and how to deliver their ideas and experiences ation of our primary sense-making tool, narratives and stoto readers. This doesn’t mean we don’t talk about formulas ries. In other words, as it informs thinking about a language as we analyze texts we’re studying or consider how alike arts formula, what would it mean for teaching if we were to forms can be… it doesn’t mean I don’t talk about the build- take seriously the idea that our lives and our students’ lives as ing blocks of arguments or the way movements forward and we know them are narrative creations? As I mentioned above, backward in time can be organized for readers. It means when asked to think about a formula, I was drawn to the I never tell students how to write what they’re thinking. I idea of a set of principled ideas or beliefs related to teachnever give them rules for writing as if we can reduce all we ing literature specifically, and within the language arts, more know about language to an equation. I show them possibili- broadly. In what follows, I take a first swipe at some of these ties. I encourage them to listen to their writing and hear its principles. For me, the idea is to ask what it might mean limitations. I show them how I reorganize as I rewrite. I be- for instruction if we were to begin with this sort of “rough lieve we create independence by freeing writers to fail and draft,” and certainly revisable, collection of possible beliefs. I then write better. think of them as a kind of someday-maybe, might-be, could28
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
be, what if, proposition. Principle 1: Our lives are narrative creations.Teaching stories is important because with different stories we build students’ options for making sense of experience, as well as for making sense of text. Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson, changed my life. In her book she describes how each of us has worked by improvisation, discovering the shape of our own life story along the way, rather than pursuing a vision already defined. The act of “composing a life,” as she writes, is fundamentally a narrative or storytelling process. This idea begs the question, what is the role of the language arts in this life-composing, life-making process? What if in reading novels, stories, poems, and plays in school, we are also assisting students in composing their lives? What if the stories we offer young readers provide them new ways of telling about or narrating their own experience? What, in addition to comprehending text, are we involved in helping students to comprehend and compose? In the literature classroom, we offer students ways of building their repertoire of ways of composing a life. In this sense, language arts teachers “save lives” in as much as they are engaged in “co-authoring” the lives of their students each time they offer them a novel or story to read. In this very act, we cultivate student’s ability to narrate and “compose” themselves. It’s important and empowering for language arts teachers to think of themselves as individuals whose work engages them in saving lives.
guage arts content standards or curricula. Principle 3: Stories provide us with practice in the art of possible. They change the world by changing or altering our ways of seeing and conceiving of “the real,” and therefore, what is possible. As story readers, we are often provided with events that ask us to negotiate what was initially expected with what eventually transpired. It is really important to think about what when happens when the expected does not transpire? Very simply, it asks that we re-think “the real” or the expected, as something alterable and open to change. In the literature classroom, we provide students with practice or “instruction” in how to see beyond what is given, accepted, or expected. In that way, stories tinker with “the real” as they also tempt us into seeing beyond “the facts “ – the facts of another’s life or the facts of a situation. As such, they have the power to change our habits of conceiving what is possible versus what is canonical.That is how stories change the world. Each time we ask students to read a story, we invite them to chance where they can re-imagine and imaginatively re-make the world in some small way. Activities that ask students to envision new possibilities, relationships, and ways of being are natural extensions of this principle. Principle 4: Story reading cultivates and enlists our emotion and imagination in ways that are useful for living in the world. Imagination and emotion are central to the process through which readers conceive of alternative ways of seePenny Kittle: I love this, Bill. It is a principle I organize much ing and understanding others and the world. A story invites of my thinking around. And I just ordered the book. a reconsideration and even a refutation of the canonical, the “natural,” or the received. They gesture toward an alternaWilliam McGinley: Principle 2: The fundamental fact of nov- tive world or toward a way of seeing and understanding els, stories, poems, and plays is human feeling. Because of this, individuals and events that could not otherwise have been stories offer our students a uniquely powerful way to learn about imagined. When we ask students to imagine the life of a disthe emotional lives of others. This is important equipment for tant other, we cultivate their literary imagination. We also living. cultivate their empathetic imgination. This kind of creative As the author Arnold Weinstein tells us, feeling is likely thinking is essential equipment for living in a democratic sothe primary currency of our lives, and the imaginative nar- ciety because it enables us to see the struggles of others as ratives we read are always telling us about human feeling, our own in some small way. about what is deepest and most enduring in our lives. ActiviPrinciple 5: Story reading is valuable because it is a form ties that invite students to think about and imagine the emo- of “creative outreach.” tions of story “characters” and others in the world build on The experience of literature and art is an exercise in this idea. But, this also requires a special kind of imagination, freedom and in negotiating experiences and lives that are a kind that is rarely acknowledged in the majority of lan- not our own. Story reading actually links students emotionally to the world and feelings of others. As Alfred Weinstein tells us, cultivating emotional engagements with stories “The claim that the five-paragraph leads readers out into the lives of others as individual expeessay is the building block of all rience is circulated. When this happens things like love, joy, essays is wrong. [...] Need we lie to pain, hurt, struggle are made public and shared. A reader’s imagination is central to the process of connecting to the our students about the importance emotional lives and experiences of others whose lives are of learning to write this artificial, different from their own. Instructional activities that invite stifling form?” –Stevi Quate students to imagine the emotions of the “possible people” they encounter in books are essential.
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Principle 6: Stories are speech acts. They almost always mean more than what they say. Meaning is something that readers create or perform.There are many meanings to a single story. Stories invite readers to perform meaning because there is always an ambiguity of meaning. Stories are intentionally open-ended, and that is how they invite us into the mightbe, could-be worlds they create. Activities that invite students to “perform” multiple meanings is more academically rigorous than trying to discover the one or two “primary” meanings that presumably reside “in” the text. Meanings are made, not found. Principle 7: Maxine Green wrote once that imagination is the basis for empathy. Stories are essential because they develop student’s literary imagination and the ethical and compassionate insight that comes from this exploration. This kind of insight comes from “experiencing” the complex inner lives of “possible people,” and it is uniquely cultivated through engagements with stories, novels, poems, and plays. Martha Nussbaum explained that stories give students a special kind of insight into the lives of others – not just into the lives of “characters.” This “compassionate insight” comes from following a life through all of its adventures in all of its concrete context and from experiencing lives that are presented in emotionally evocative ways. This is how lives are presented in creative fiction. As she tells us, experiencing the emotions of others in stories is essential to helping students to develop a view of human understanding that promises to be ethical and compassionate. Editor: When/how does formula get in the way of the effective teaching of reading and writing? Penny Kittle: I think it is presented as an answer to writing well. It isn’t. It gets in the way of the hard work of leading students to authentic audiences and purposes for their ideas. Teachers should model decision making, not formulas. Formulas will not be sufficient as the world of print evolves. We need kids who can think, not kids who follow formulas. Why do we believe that students need crutches like a fiveparagraph essay? Young writers show us we need to get out of their way and guide them to make their own decisions. Somehow between primary school and high school kids become dependent on teachers. They say, “I can’t write unless you give me a topic. I don’t know how to revise. What do I do?” Classroom conditions create this dependence. Stevi Quate: Of course, the most familiar formula out there is the five-paragraph essay, an essay that exists only in American classrooms. How does formula get in the way? Where to start? First of all, the claim that the five-paragraph essay is the building block of all essays is wrong. Check out any publication with essays to see if you can find a five-paragraph essay, and then check out those essays to see if the thesis is always in the 30
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
“If, by either intention or effect, a formula puts an end to conversation and discussion, it becomes problematic.” –William McGinley first paragraph. Shock of all shocks, some essays don’t even have an explicit thesis. And, shock of all shocks, it’s unlikely you’ll ever find a five-paragraph essay. Need we lie to our students about the importance of learning to write this artificial, stifling form? Second, teachers often claim that the five-paragraph essay teaches students the basics. I’m not sure that learning how to organize in a rigid, predictable manner is one of those basics. We don’t start writing by planning how we’re going to organize; instead, writers often start with an itch to scratch and writing is the back scratcher. Writers work to find and shape their ideas. Only after ideas begin to take shape do writers search for a way to arrange their ideas in a way that can grab the reader and leave the reader with something to think about. Third, learning to write through formula often fossilizes that learning to the point of inflexibility. As just one example, a first year college student explained that the five-paragraph essay was the only kind of essay she had written in both middle and high school. When she received her first assignment in college to write a multi-page (page, not paragraph) essay, she struggled to organize it in five paragraphs. What a disservice we did to her by not teaching her how to write. Fourth, they’re boring to read. Need I say more? [Note to reader: the answer to this question was five paragraphs long, not because of a formula but because of the need.] William McGinley: If, by either intention or effect, a formula puts an end to conversation and discussion, it becomes problematic. I think of the Baldwin short story, “Sonny’s Blues.” In the story the character Creole tells us that the blues “are not about anything new.” He and his boys, are simply in search of new ways to “make us listen.” For Creole, the decision to keep it new was not without it’s creative risks, but as he says, it really wasn’t his choice. The blues are stories of our emotional lives, our undergrounds, and the visceral traffic of our experience. They lend us images, scenes, plots, and themes of struggle, hope, and redemption that we might wish to make use of and re-fashion into our own lives. As Baldwin tells us in the story, the blues memorialize life stories that “always must always be heard.” So, though conversations about our reasons for teaching stories and language arts to young people do not mirror the human urgency and struggle embodied in the musical blues, for those of us who teach them, the reasons for doing so need to be continually voiced, heard, examined, argued. Editor: We live among increasing demands on our teaching and
“How do we move teachers to understand that education must build from strengths, build towards the future, and nurture habits of mind?” –Stevi Quate on students’ learning. How might the search to find the formula for success in this context make us lose sight of what it takes to invite our students to engage in our classrooms authentically as readers and writers? Stevi Quate: A myth bouncing around in teacher-land is that state assessments demand formulaic writing. Programs, such as Step Up to Writing, promise to deliver the goods on raising scores. Yet, where’s the evidence? Not anywhere that I can find. Now with Common Core flexibility in writing is explicit: “[Students] learn to appreciate that a key purpose of writing is to communicate clearly to an external, sometimes unfamiliar audience, and they begin to adapt the form and content of their writing to accomplish a particular task and purpose.” A writing formula certainly won’t develop writers who can consider the form if they know only one way to write. William McGinley: What does it mean to “engage authentically?” I wouldn’t want to assume that there is any kind of agreement or shared understanding of what it means to “engage authentically.” In light of the direction I have taken in response to these questions, my hope is that what counts as “authentic” depends on how one answer two important question: Why read? Why write? Stevi Quate: I think of engaging authentically from a different perspective. A few years ago I interviewed some students at a high performing high school about a class discussion that I had just witnessed. In class, the students had been talking with great animation about To Kill a Mockingbird. In the interview, however, I learned what a game those students had been playing. Most of them hadn’t read the novel and most knew the game of school quite well. Their discussion was a game of fooling the teacher rather than engaging authentically with exploring the ideas in this novel. Classroom moments like this scare me. Penny Kittle: Any time we teach books or assignments instead of students we’re in trouble. Kids are the curriculum. They will engage, but they will need different paths to get there. We are creative enough to find those paths, but we have to be looking for them. Stevi Quate: I so agree, Penny. The teacher in the class I described above was teaching To Kill a Mockingbird, not the
students in her classroom. Editor: What question would you like to include in this conversation? William McGinley: Why do we teach novels, stories, poems, and plays? Well, I think I’ve at least provided as place for readers to begin to try discussing and perhaps answering this question in ways that speak to the circumstances of their personal and professional lives. Stevi Quate: Another way of asking that question is why do we offer students the novels, essays, nonfiction, poems, and plays that we offer them? Why do we teach those students who sit in front of us ways to engage in those texts and why do we invite them into the life of possibilities that comes from reading and writing? Your principles, Bill, offer answers to these questions. Penny Kittle: I use poetry to spring writing almost every day in my classroom. I ask students to engage with ideas or images that strike them in the poem--but I don’t ‘teach’ the poem. I ask students to build a reading life that is as individual as they are. This idea of a reading life is different than “proficiency” and “complexity.” It is larger—it contains multitudes. It is Leo Tolstoy and Sherman Alexie and Billy Collins and shelves of young adult literature consumed like the last deep breath you take before a dive, because it is real life to teenagers and when books reach them, they reach for books. I expect my students to read 25 or more books independently this year and I nurture that mission through my daily work conferring with readers and matching them to books. This is different than ‘teaching’ books. I embrace diversity. As Don Murray said, “We should be seeking diversity, not proficient mediocrity.” Penny Kittle: What are you reading? What are you writing? Stevi Quate: Right now I’m reading The Lonely Polygamist. I just finished The Orphan Masters Son, one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. In terms of my writing, I’m in the process of figuring out what I want to get smarter about. I’m reflecting quite a bit on the teaching that I’m watching, trusting that an idea for a new book will emerge. Using formulas to guide our instruction does exactly what? How do we move teachers to understand that education must build from strengths, build towards the future, and nurture habits of mind?
“Any time we teach books or assignments instead of students we’re in trouble.” –Penny Kittle Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Amanda Cherry teaches 6th grade language arts and reading at Southern Hills Middle School in Boulder. She enjoys writing fiction in her spare time and loves sharing her passion for writing with her students.
by Amanda Cherry Teasing
Chubby. I was red-cheeked and round. Marked by rolls and rolls and rolls Of fleshy skin around my middle. Skin that hid my belly button And feet. Skin that prayed no one would look too close. Skin that drug its contents every day To school/hell/school. Skin that radiated fear. You don’t know what it’s like To be under five feet tall And weigh 140 pounds in 6th grade. Until you’re under five feet tall And weigh 140 pounds in 6th grade. The worst minutes— 1:32 p.m. until 2:21 p.m. Gym class churned my insides. But one day I actually sparkled— For a second. We played tug-of-war. I beat the first kid. And another. And another. And another. Until I obliterated every kid in class. Some willowy girl I thought didn’t know my name Tossed me a high-five. And a grin I couldn’t suppress covered my face. Then another girl said, She just plants her weight, And nobody can touch her. I couldn’t decide if that was a compliment Or not. It felt sort of good and sort of not good. Like a kiss from a boy you don’t really like. 32
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
At first, warm in your belly— Then wormy. She asked three kids to take me on all at once. I embraced the warm And swallowed the worms And nodded,Yes. They tugged tugged tugged. I tugged tugged tugged. They let go. Dirt blood tears shame. Everyone knows the last is the worst. I didn’t tell anyone. I’d already been down that road. They’re just teasing, they’d say. Just let it roll off your back, they’d say. My back must have been too broad and fleshy Because it wasn’t rolling anywhere. Years later, an article told me bullying Wasn’t a rite of passage Or something that cut us down To somehow help us grow tall. Instead it was a daily bee sting That eventually drove its victims To lash out and slaughter the bees Or curl up and succumb to the hive. So teachers, take care of your insect problem Before it’s too late. But then it said, Don’t confuse bullying with teasing. Strange kids get bullied. Fat kids get teased. Teasing isn’t as bad. Can’t you take a good jab or two? Fat kids should get over it. Oh. Last week in my 6th grade classroom,
I was using music to teach kids about poetry. I played a song by Chubby Checker. I didn’t even think about his name. You see, I’ve racked up the years And dropped the pounds. So the word has lost some of its electrical charge.
Knock knock knocked at my conscience Until I cracked the door. She thought I should have Explained that some jokes are just jokes. And some jokes are swords in disguise.
Chubby went from lightning fierce To a used battery shoved under a bunch of crap In a dusty drawer.
She thought I should have Told the kids about the girl who played tug-of-war And ended the battle With her teeth and pride in the dirt.
Maybe you know that Batteries should be kept in a safe place Even if you think they’ve lost their spark.
She thought I should have Finally stood up for her When I had the chance.
I didn’t know that. Yet.
I told her, Listen. It’s hard to remember What it was like as a kid. It’s hard to know what to do In the spur of the moment— How to handle those thorny situations That happen every day.
A girl used Chubby’s name to make a joke About a boy in our class. Stupidly, all I could think was, He’s not that chubby. Like that mattered. I mumbled something. Asked the girl to apologize. Quickly moved on with the lesson. But I watched the boy, Who parked a ferocious gaze out the window. He wouldn’t look at me. Too busy trying to talk the tears Out of surfacing. Too busy trying to negotiate with the lump Emerging in his throat. I placed a hand on his shoulder as he left class. He shrugged it away Without raising his eyes from the floor. I tried to slough it off. Told myself he’d be fine. Give it a decade or so. I went home And stared in the mirror And pinched my sides And weighed myself And skipped dinner. And the little girl in my head, Who got jabbed with fat jokes so many times Her skin could barely hold together,
Plus, I’m busy. I have a lot of teaching to do. I needed to get back to run-ons and fragments. She looked at me, that girl in my head Pudgy cheeks turning from red to gray So full of stab wounds I could see right through her. And she reminded me She’d heard every excuse in the book For why no one would ever come to her aid. But none made the pain any better at all. And she reminded me She didn’t ever want an army to defend her. She just wanted one person to say, You don’t have to absorb all those jabs. I’ll shield you for a while. And she reminded me That while time can be a salve on the wounds That have resulted from old wisecracks, The sores still weep on occasion. Mostly, she thinks I let an ideal opportunity To say what needed to be said to the kids in my charge Slip by. So, since I can’t go back, I’m saying it now. And I’m listening for the next time She’ll want me to bear witness Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
To the abiding ache Of too much teasing.
What’s she doing here? Makes me feel Like you just don’t understand me at all.
You Don’t Get It
You Why are you looking at me like that? Like you feel sorry for me. Maybe you’re judging the canned peas, too. You must be taking in Mom’s baggy sweatpants, Her bleached hair, The wailing baby in our cart. Nothing like those other kids’ families, I guess. Of course, you know all about us already. Because I had to tell you, All red-faced and mumble-y, That I couldn’t afford your stupid field trip. Me and that boy that always stinks Like sour milk and newspapers. The one we all know you don’t really like. And you gave me the same look You’re giving me now. All soft edges and sorries. Makes me feel Like you just don’t understand me at all.
Me I round the corner, Turning into the canned goods aisle At the neighborhood grocery store. The one all the way across town From our middle school. I shop there so I can avoid Bumping into you. Didn’t work. You’re standing with your mom Looking at canned peas. I consider turning around. Too late—you notice me. You I can’t believe she still buys Those crappy canned peas. If anyone at school knew we ate Peas out of a can, they’d laugh. Not organic ones from Whole Foods? Nope. This town is strange, I think, Snapping one of the 15 Plastic bracelets lining my wrist. Nothing like Mom’s last choice For a cross-country move. Oh weird, it’s you. What are you doing here? I wonder if I can hide behind Mom. Too late—you notice me. Me I try to smile in a disarming way. It’s okay; I won’t ask you about Your six missing assignments I try to say, without saying anything. I see you cock your head, That funny look you all give When you see me anywhere That isn’t the hallways or classroom. Guess what? I want to say, I don’t sleep in that cabinet At the back of Room 209. I need tea bags and toilet paper, too! Don’t get me wrong— It’s not that I don’t want to see you Outside of school. It’s just that I wish you wouldn’t give me that look, That look that says, 34
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Me I like your bracelets, I say. That’s my go-to. When I don’t know what to say I compliment your stuff. You seem embarrassed. I know— So lame to be told you’re cool by a teacher. Like that time I walked by you and your friends In the cafeteria. And I said I liked your poem. The one about how you skipped stones With your grandfather once. You looked down and pretended I wasn’t there. But I was just trying to get on your good side. What did I do wrong? You You like my bracelets? That’s nice. Guess you didn’t notice They’re from Kmart. Or maybe you did notice. And you want to make me feel better. Kinda like when a kid Who we all know is completely clueless Raises her hand. And no matter what she says You act like you really really really liked it.
But we all know it was lame and obvious. I called a kid on that once. Before I got your game. A kid said something dumb, And I said, Yeah, we know, all sarcastic-like. I thought you’d think I was smart. You ignored me. But I was just trying to get on your good side. What did I do wrong? Me I can see frustration bubbling up in you. Sorry I showed up in the canned goods aisle And ruined your day. Yes, I eat crappy peas out of a can, too. Your foot-to-foot dance and scarlet cheeks Remind me of that day I tried to help you With your story about your dad, The guy you never really knew. You seemed to get so angry When I said, Capitalize the letter “I.” And you can’t write the letter u When you really mean the word. You scrunched up your face And looked away. But if you don’t do these things, I said, Readers won’t take the time To hear your message. I heard you suck back a sob. You walked away Didn’t even grab your paper. And I sunk down into my desk, All guilty and ashamed. Don’t you see I was just trying To help you understand? You I see your eyes roaming. I can tell you want this conversation To be over. Can’t say I blame you, Can’t say I don’t see what you see. A family that just doesn’t fit. A kid that just doesn’t get it. Ever. Reminds me of that time I got really pissed at you And shouted out during a lesson About commas or semicolons or something, Why do we have to learn this stupid stuff? The other kids sucked in their breath. Guess they weren’t used to A kid saying what she thinks. You bumbled through an explanation, Saying words like college and when you’re older
And entrance exams and careers. I rolled my eyes and laughed loud. Your face got red; your voice got shaky, I could tell I upset you. And I sunk down into my desk, All guilty and ashamed. Don’t you see I was just trying To help you understand? Me I don’t know what else to say. Without haikus and commas and theme between us, It’s hard to know what to talk about. What questions do I ask, When I can’t inquire about last night’s reading? What encouragement do I give, When I don’t have your writing to reference? I make up an excuse to leave And continue grabbing yogurt and frozen dinners. Well, I guess I’ll see you Monday, I say, glancing at my watch, A polite way of letting you know I have other things to do. But I leave with a well of words I should have said rising in my throat. Why can’t I just... Talk to you? You I guess we’re done. You wave and start to turn away. I feel relieved You didn’t bring up My six missing assignments In front of my mom. I try to say, Thanks for that, Through my smile. I even open my mouth, But all that comes out is a whispery Bye. Why can’t I just... Talk to you? Us I wish I could tell you That I’m doing my best, in spite of everything. That I realize now it wasn’t right To ask you to speak the truth And then respond not to your words But to your mistakes. I can tell you don’t like me. I can see you seething when we talk. I’m sorry I screwed up with you. But you don’t know how hard it is. You don’t get it. Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Before the Bell Benign by Timothy Hillmer
Last March I received a medical report from my doctor that used the word “benign” a total of thirteen times within the body of the text. To make a very long story short, this document was the biopsy result after a six year journey with prostate cancer, and I received the good news with a stunned feeling of both disbelief and immense gratitude. Hours later, I’d become more aware of the fact that my “good news” might also be seen as a rarity in this day and age. I’ve been married to a health care professional for twenty-seven years who frequently encounters patients with a terminal illness and a bleak prognosis. “Benign” is not part of their world. Instead they struggle with other words that hint at something much different: chronic; metastasis; end stage; recurrence; malignant. These are words that require far more courage to confront and address than I can even imagine. After meeting with my doctor and receiving a copy of the lab results, I came home and sat quietly while staring at the single page. There was a diagram and chart on the right side of the sheet, and directly above this was a box with the word BENIGN stamped inside. I tried to think of situations when I’d heard the term before and wondered about its power in my life at this very moment. Who else has seen this word? Who else has felt relief, thankfulness, maybe even guilt? As a writer and teacher, I’ve often been fascinated with a word that has a dual meaning or might be interpreted in a new way depending on its use. At that very moment, however, I felt overwhelmed by the power of the six letters and the impact they were having on my life. I looked up “benign” in the dictionary on my desk and was surprised at the results: of a gentle disposition; showing kindness; not injurious or damaging or hurtful; kind; good-hearted.
Statement Vol. 50, Number 1
Tim Hillmer is currently in his 30th year in the Boulder Valley School District where he works as a classroom mentor to support new and veteran teachers. Tim has also served as a teacher and consultant with the Colorado Writing Project. He is the author of two novels: The Hookmen (Scribner) and Ravenhill (University of New Mexico Press)and lives in Louisville with his wife and two daughters.
On the back of the biopsy report, I scribbled down these definitions. What does the word mean to me now? I thought. How might it change me? And in that moment at my desk, “benign” and its various meanings spoke of something very different than just being a survivor or staying alive. I realized that in the last six years there had been times when I’d become the opposite of benign and often blamed it on the threat of cancer: of a harsh disposition; showing spite; angry and hurtful; hard-hearted. A wave of shame poured through me, followed by a desire to shun and even ignore this truth. I thought about words like gentle and kindness and good-hearted and how American culture often associates these adjectives with weak, soft, scared, even failure. That day at my desk as I stared down at the biopsy report, I came to a hard truth that could take months, maybe even years to fully grasp. As a veteran teacher, as someone who has spent thirty years in the classroom trying to remain empathetic and compassionate , what can I learn from benign? Even though there have been times as an educator when I’ve been bold and filled with conviction, I’m also aware that I’ve exemplified benign in the truest sense when I try to understand my students and fellow teachers and attempt to walk in their shoes in order to learn their stories Perhaps benign is more than just a medical term or a diagnostic tool. Perhaps benign is a way to live when facing adversity, or a lesson to be learned in the aftermath of a journey. Perhaps benign is a way to be each and every day I set foot in a classroom.
Colorado Language Arts Society 12841 W. Asbury Place Lakewood, CO 80228 ADDRESS SERVICE REQUESTED
Additional copies of Statement are $10.00.
Non-Profit U.S. Postage PAID Permit 973 Denver, CO
Address request to: Sarah M. Zerwin, Editor, Statement, 1515 Greenbriar Blvd., Boulder, CO 80305