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Teaching Reading: A Semester of Inquiry

Teaching Reading: A Semester of Inquiry

Written by Antero Garcia
May 06, 2013

Teaching Reading and the Decisive Moment

“Since [writing] is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished. I’m sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out?

Seymour Glass

This is a resource of a specific moment.

Over the past semester my undergraduate class at Colorado State University, “Teaching Reading” embarked on a mutual inquiry into the ways reading is defined, enacted, and challenged within classroom spaces. It was a journey that largely began theoretically before moving toward practice-based exercises. Ours was a question revolving around how the practice of reading is changing in the dizzying world of today’s classroom.

For me, our classroom space was a transformative and potentially revolutionary one. It was a space where we could look at what reading means in today’s shifting classrooms and think about what teaching with “most of your stars out” actually looks like. This resource captures the major constellations of topics we assayed over a semester.

Not all of my students felt comfortable with the notion that they could contribute meaningfully to nation-wide discussions on reading and writing in a digital age.

We’re still students, they’d say.

We’re not experts, they’d say.

Who’s going to listen to us? they’d say.

And this is when I continued to wonder about expertise and knowledge of reading at this moment (May, 2013) and in this place (Fort Collins, Colorado). Because my sneaking suspicion (and one I see echoed across many Digital Is pages) is that literacies are changing. They’re changing a lot. Renowned photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson has written and spoken at length about the “decisive moment”–the snap judgment a photographer makes in capturing a fleeting truth before it disappears into the ethers of unrecorded history. In an interview, Cartier-Bresson explained, “Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative … Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

I’m not a big fan of the professional development notion of “best practices.” They disregard the cultural, historical, and interpersonal contexts in which we teach. Instead of best practices, my students here offer interpretations, questions, and lingering concerns about the state of teaching reading in this moment and this place. We hope you will continue this dialogue with us.

The Practical Side of Teaching Reading

Kelsey,Anna, & Shelby

For this page, since we are introducing practical ways of teaching reading, we thought that it would be appropriate to present our information through a medium that can actually be used in the classroom. A Glogster is essentially an online clip board where an individual can gather information about a specific topic. In our case, we have examples of effective teaching activities. Glogster is a great way to incorporate multimodal learning into the classroom in a way students will love it!

As pre-service teachers, the thought of graduating and actually having our own class to teach is incredibly daunting. As a teacher, there are many different kinds of students that have to be addressed in a classroom. How can we address the needs of every student? How can we continue to challenge the higher level students without overwhelming students with special needs such as ELLs or others? How can we ensure that our students are doing well on standardized tests without losing that human touch? Teaching is an extreme balancing act. It’s not something that you can ever truly become a master of. It is a constant work in progress. These activities that we included in our page are all great starting points for teaching reading. However, they are not perfect. Like the teachers themselves, these activities are a constant work in progress.

The purpose of this page is really for us (and our readers) to explore what sort of practical methods can be used for teaching reading. We hope that these are helpful for pre-service teachers (like ourselves) as well as veteran teachers who are simply looking for new ideas. So thank you for taking the time to look at our page.

Bringing Reading & Fun Together In The Classroom

Jessee Macklin, Emma Steward, Alexis Yeager

Reading in the 21st century

Recent studies have shown that 73% of high schoolers use social media; often times this can even be seen inside the classroom (Jackson). Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube and other popular social media websites are accessed through computers, phones, and other technological devices by teenagers every day. Most teachers have probably witnessed their students trying to hide their phones or iPods in their laps or between books while surfing various websites during class. In a typical 8 hour school day teenagers are bound to hop on the web at least a time or two.
Constantly being ‘in-the-know’ can be a little too tempting for students sometimes. But the fact is that students spend time on social media doing exactly what teachers try to get them to do in their classes: read! Posts, statuses, blogs, articles, comments, links, notifications, photo captions – reading is weaved into almost every aspect of any social networking website. For the majority of teenagers and high schoolers in America this is precisely what reading looks like in the 21st century.

Now that this idea (as negative as it might seem) is formally acknowledged, the next step is thinking about how teachers can utilize social media and the Internet as a learning tools in their classrooms. If students would rather surf the Internet than flip through the pages of the class textbook then there are times when we teachers should embrace that! Teachers can include activities in their classroom that disguise reading as explorations of social media.
Boring book reports are a thing of the past. In order to keep the fun factor in the classroom teachers can provide means for working social media into writing about books. “Book Trailers” can be used as a way to excite students for reading books. Students spend time with Windows Movie Maker or iMovie to create a mini “trailer” equipped with sound, text, picture, or video for a book they have recently read. This type of project can be assigned after reading a class text or as a way for students to introduce a favorite books to their peers. Either way students are utilizing the Internet and social media to talk about the books they are reading. This is also a way to spread interest among a class full of adolescents and expose them to titles or genres they might not have otherwise heard before.

Ask any high school student these days if they enjoy reading and if they do the reading that is assigned in class, and more often than not the answer that is received will be a resounding no. So why do student’s not like reading? How can we, as (future) educators, change these negative feelings when it comes to reading?

There are many reasons why student’s and adolescents in general have an aversion to reading, and those can range anywhere from learning disabilities, to a band experience, to just never really seeing the point in spending their time reading. In a discussion that was had in our Teaching Reading class, a lot of the students mentioned that their aversion to reading started in middle school when a teacher butchered the teaching of a book, and just made in unenjoyable for their students. All it takes is one bad experience to ruin something forever, and reading is no exception to this rule. However! It can be salvaged! In an article written by LuAnne Johnson titled 10 Reasons Why Nonreaders Don’t Read – and How to Change Their Minds which can be found here, Johnson brings up the top ten reasons why students don’t read and explaining them in depth before suggesting things to counter those reasons, and hopefully get children interested in reading.

As teachers, we can help by drawing positive, fun connections between the students and reading, and showing them that reading can be fun! There are a million and one activities that are floating around out there, most of them tried and perfected by other teachers. An example of some of these activities and how they can be used are found online on sites like tips-for-teachers.com which anyone can add too! An example of reading activity tips can be found here.

The question of why student’s don’t read is an old one, and yet, there aren’t many records of teachers and other adults actually asking the students directly why the do not read. After searching online, I stumbled across this documented account of a teacher actually asking her students about their reading habits, and why they were the way they were. She did this via a video, and at the end the students explain what can be done to change their reading habits, the main one being that they wanted to be able to choose what they wanted to read.
How do we utilize students reading books of their own choosing in the classroom? Is it possible for students to master the standards when THEY choose the books? According to various studies, yes. At this point, students are conditioned to dislike a book before they read it simply because they are being essentially forced to read it. There is no dispute that famous novels are famous for a reason, but when students are forced to read things it creates an instant riff in their sense of ownership over the book. This leads them to lean more towards things like cliff notes and sparknotes, instead of actually trying to read the book to see if they’d enjoy it. Certain pieces can be hard to nix– you can’t really teach students about Elizabethan times with anything besides Shakespeare– but letting students learn about a genre that canonical books are usually employed for doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole class novel experience. Gay Ivey, a professor of reading education at James Madison, is a firm proponent of letting students choose with reckless abandonment what they want to read.

“For the past three years, Dr. Ivey has been involved with a project at a Virginia school in which 300 Grade 8 English students were allowed full choice over their reading with few strings or work attached, other than classroom discussions about shared themes and small group conversations if several students had read the same book. The goal was to get every student engaged in reading – the kind that you do in your own free time. “It’s [about]the experience we have all had as adults when we forget to eat or go to the restroom because we are so into what we are reading,” Dr. Ivey says. “And that so rarely happens in school, and it certainly hardly ever happens with the whole-class-assigned novel.”

The results, she says, have been overwhelming. “We couldn’t keep up with the need for books,” she says. Even in classes with struggling readers, students read an average of 42 books over the course of the school years, some as many as 100. And even with their options open, students didn’t stick with Twilight and Gossip Girl series for long – as their appetite for reading grew, so did their interest in more challenging reads, coming to class for example to debate the ending of Walking on Glass by science fiction writer Iain Banks.

There’s a perception, Dr. Ivey says, that “when you give choices, they will choose something that’s not good for them. But that is not the case at all. We wouldn’t have kept kids from reading Captain Underpants. But quite frankly even our least experienced readers didn’t choose books like that.”

Instead, she argues, students learned a more important lesson. “Sometimes really hard thinking can be pleasurable – that’s what our kids experience. Pleasure doesn’t have to be a no-brainer.”

Dr. Ivey argues that schools would do well to abandon the whole class novel, which, she says, despite new styles of teaching literacy still remains a common approach in North American schools. And to those who argue in favour of a common base of knowledge through class-assigned novels, she scoffs: “The experience of being assigned a book is extremely common. Having knowledge of [that book]is rare.”

This is backed up by authors like Donalyn Miller in her book, The Book Whisperer. She mirrors this idea and advocates that when you let students read by choice, they tend to become voracious readers and exercise their passion for reading in the classroom. She says that even reluctant readers are able to find a niche they love, and then a knowledgeable teacher can adapt to make sure that the in class books fit a genre.

If teachers are hesitant about abandoning the whole class novel completely, they can consider the idea of doing class set novels. This is expounded upon in articles such as “Reconsidering the Whole Class Novel.”

Some book set ideas from the website:

  • Problems in school:Stargirl (Spinelli, 2000), Leaving Fletchville (Schmidt, 2008), Schooled (Korman, 2007), The 6th Grade Nickname Game (Korman, 1998), and Loser (Spinelli, 2002

  • Irish Famine: Under the Hawthorn Tree (Conlon-McKenna, 1990) and Nory Ryan’s Song (Giff, 2000), and three novels by Canadian authors, Bridget’s Black ’47 (Perkyns, 2009), The Grave (Heneghan, 2000), and the most recent Governor General’s Award-winner, Greener Grass (Pignat, 2008).

If teachers are concerned about whether students will actually read, they can include framed silent reading time in the beginning of class to guarantee not only that students are reading, but that they are transitioned from wherever they came from into the mentality that it is time to be a participant in class.

Finally, teachers can utilize websites like Figment.com for students. Figment, an online community, lets students find other readers with similar interest, peruse book choices, participate in forums and give their own opinion on books.

What is Power?

David Niesler, Katie Sovine, and Dusti Waite

What is Power?

Power structure surrounds all of us at all times. It is displayed at home, in the workplace, and in school. Power is issued in the way we want to regulate things to keep order and structure to what needs to be accomplished. Unfortunately, power can sometimes be abused and is easily appointed to one group of people over others. Here, we will be taking a look at how issues of power work within a classroom setting and how it affects education.

“Children have the right to their own language, their own culture. We must fight cultural hegemony and fight the system by insisting that children be allowed to express themselves in their own language style. It is not they, the children, who must change, but the schools. To push children to do anything else is repressive and reactionary.” Here, Lisa Delpit, a huge advocate for incorporating culture as a tool within the classroom, comments on how we should try to restructure our education system in order to ensure that teachers are doing what they can to provide equal opportunity, voice, and education to all students no matter the background, race, intelligence, status, etc.

What Does Power Look Like?

The power structure takes many different forms and is unfortunately something we cannot always control because of how innate it is to conform to. Power is established just in the way that students sit and the teacher stands. Immediately teachers are given some sort of power that formulates how their classrooms will function and learn. This power is beneficial because it allows teachers to lead their students to success, but it can also be dangerous. Based on how that power is asserted within the classroom can affect how students see their education as well as how they see their fellow peers. If students are not able to share an equal amount of power, they will create cultural hegemony, where students who come from traditionally oppressed backgrounds would normally not gain any feeling of importance or purpose.

Unfortunately, issues of power are usually formed between cultures and statuses. For instance, within education, in this case, a lot of the times White, middle-class students get the most opportunities and privileges. This can be fostered through curriculum, language favoring, and the choice of materials which usually have a White, middle-class audience in mind. It is seen that schools do not currently try to focus on stimulating cultural awareness and appreciation within the classroom.

What Now?

Thankfully, although issues of power are hard to regulate, we are in the process of making culture, whether based on status or ethnicity, a valuable tool within the classroom. Many different programs have been created to help teachers become educated on this subject as we try to go against cultural hegemony. Voices are now being heard and issues that come from unbalanced power established within our world and within education is surfacing and prompting educators from all over the United States to re-think what they are teaching, how they are teaching it, and how they approach diversity and culture within their classrooms.

Here is a video of Lisa Delpit addressing questions about how to reach out to every student even if it is within a culturally diverse classroom.

Lisa Delpit


Paulo Freire

Literacy as Power

Questions of power are at the heart of what we hope to accomplish as teachers of reading. The accusation of language skills should enhance students’ ability to interact with their world, but this is not necessarily what happens in the classroom. Early in the semester, while grappling with the works of Paulo Freire, Donald Macedo, and Henry Giroux, we discovered that without care a language arts classroom can how unintended consequences. Rather than a place where students can become empowered by language, it can become the site where status-quo ideas of cultural-hegemony are manufactured and imprinted on students. In this scenario the language arts classroom merely oppresses students with dominant-class ideology which results in push-back from students—who can’t help but be aware of the disempowerment they are experiencing.

According to Freire and Macedo, “literacy becomes a meaningful construct to the degree that it is viewed as a set of practices that functions to either empower or disempower people.” If our classrooms are giving students the tools they need to decipher language, but those tools are only being used to absorb dominant-class ideologies that ultimately serve to disempower them, the language arts classroom has become a tool of oppression, and students will naturally reject it because of their own sense of self-preservation.

Emancipatory Literacy

The alternative proposed by Freire is an emancipatory model of literacy.

“Within this perspective, literacy is not approached as merely a technical skill to be acquired, but as a necessary foundation for cultural action for freedom.” – Giroux

If we want students to have a transformative experience in our classrooms, where their learning goes beyond technical grammar skills to an emancipatory literacy that gives them the power to critically interpret their world, we must get beyond bombarding them with endless canonical literature.

“Educators must develop radical pedagogical structures that provide students with the opportunity to use their own reality as a basis of literacy.”—Friere/Macedo

This doesn’t mean throwing out the canon, but it does mean that student’s need to have the literacy skills to apply a work to their own reality. If a work has a colonialist message that would seek to obliterate a student’s culture through assimilation, students need to be taught the critical skills to push back.

The juggling act of honoring students’ culture while making them literate in the language of power:

An emancipatory theory of literacy requires students’ community and language to be honored in the classroom:

“Literacy, in this sense, is grounded in a critical reflection on the cultural capital of the oppressed. It becomes a vehicle by which the oppressed are equipped with the necessary tools to reappropriate their history, culture, and language practices.”—Friere/Macedo

but it also requires students to learn the codes of the dominant culture they will need to pass through the gateways in their paths.

“Empowerment should also be a means that enables students to interrogate and selectively appropriate those aspects of the dominant culture that will provide them with the basis for defining and transforming, rather than merely serving, the wider social order”—Friere/Macedo

It is our responsibility as educators to include various aspects of culture in to our classroom, particularly incorporating the ethnic backgrounds of multi- cultural students in the community and in the school. Creating an inclusive classroom atmosphere and developing a teaching a curriculum infused with inclusivity are two primary means of diverse pedagogy.

I personally saw strategies in how to display this sort of cultural blend in my E 401 class. Doctor Antero Garcia pulled in text such as The Dreamer by Pam Munoz Ryan and also took us on various field trips throughout the semester to demonstrate altering cultures in some cases, but also to explore our own in Fort Collins, Colorado. One field trip told a different history of our city through the eyes of the Latino culture. The Museo de las Tres Colonias is a museum that exposes the upbringings of the Latino community in Fort Collins. The museum also displays the significance of their participation in the sugar beet industry while also commending the Latino community’s contributions to building neighborhoods in the city. The museum is shown in the image of the man telling his story to our class (image #1). The museum is aged, small, and low- budgeted.

On the other hand, we took a trip to the Museum of Discovery, which is very high- tech, interactive, and has a high budget. This is the privileged museum of the two (image #2) It was fascinating to see how privilege truly does take a toll in our own community, but also in our schools and throughout the country. Professor Garcia displayed this to us, while also making this realization and learning fun and engaging. We all need to involve cultures in to our classroom in these ways, making it a tool.

#1 The Museo de las Tres Colonias

#2 Museum of Discovery

In The Silenced Dialogue Delpit explains that educators must “empower the powerless.” No matter what culture one comes from, they need to be literate and capable of communicating in today’s society in order to be successful and begin to transform the codes of power in our society. This is a known fact and it is a major reason why we spend so much of our time preparing students for standardized test. We need to discuss this truth with our students so that they know the importance of literacy and their education. But, we also must find ways to welcome diversity into our content and use culture as a tool.

Field Trips in E401 at Colorado State University

Written and Created by: Linda Alexaner, Marie Huntzinger, Jacquelyn Wood.

Throughout our semester long Teaching Reading course at Colorado State University, our class had the valuable opportunity to extend our learning outside of the classroom and into the community. We were able to go on two field trips. The first trip we took was to a museum called El Museo. This space is a small museum dedicated to the lost voices in Hispanic community in Fort Collins Colorado. During our visit we were provided with ipads to document our experiences in “reading” the space. We reflected on how we would implement a field trip like this into our own classrooms and especially focusing on student’s ability to “read the space”. We did something similar at the Museum of Discovery at the end of Old Town in Fort Collins. This was a very different experience than the one we had at El Museo. We were able to participate interactively in the space, as well as experience it with multiple age groups. We took part in engaging in the space as a whole and it was fun watching kids run from station to station enjoying their experiences as much as we were. We almost felt like children in the space, or at least young at heart. During our trip to this museum, we not only read the individual objects inside of the museum, but the environment as a whole. We saw ourselves differently in this museum and were able to “read ourselves” in an entirely different way. Check out our video that we created above.

Our class focused on learning how to read not only a text but also the spaces that reside in our communities. Through two different fieldtrips we got the chance to do this ourselves. We dug into two central questions to the course including: Read What? And Read how? Addressing what is it that we read, as well as how we read. Addressing the question on “what” we read, fieldtrips can extend students definitions of what we read from physical texts, to different spaces that we find ourselves in and what those do for us as well. These spaces allowed us to figure out how to discern different strategies for reading ourselves within these spaces, as well as the different areas within the museums. Every student brings in different personal experiences and connections to cultures allowing them to develop different strategies in reading these spaces in profoundly unique and personal ways.

Image originally uploaded on 2013-05-07 16:39

Image originally uploaded on 2013-05-07 16:40

In each of these spaces, students are able to engage interactively with reading their environments. They participate actively in both museums and develop their own perceptions of the areas and cultures. This can also be reflected in their reading of complex text readings. As students become interactive participants in these fieldtrips, they can also become interactive readers for reading actual words on paper. For instance, after a field trip to El Museo, you can connect thier experiences to an in-class text such as  The Dreamer.  Students can develop writing prompts, make connections and create a fun and interactive environment that connects their experiences with El Museo to what is happening with particular characters in the Dreamer. Compare and contrast how they read El Museo to what they are reading with characters in The Dreamer’s hispanic backgrounds. You can build entire units off of a field trip. They are fun, interactive and extremely beneficial to students.

Image originally uploaded on 2013-05-07 16:53

Below are some students in E401 and their responses to their experiences on the field trip to El Museo. The prompt was as follows: Thinking about the museum, what connections do you see to developing curriculum for the secondary ELA classroom? What similarities and differences do you note from El Museo?

Celia WeissmanMar 5, 2013 Reply

In my experience with ELA, the most important strategy to remember is to differentiate and keep the teaching diverse and hands on. At the museum there were plenty of different options and hands on activities in which those “reading” the space and learning the environment could participate and indulge. My “Teaching English as a Second Language” teacher told me that students shouldn’t participate or engage in the same activity for more than 30 minutes maximum. This means, getting up, moving around, talking, large groups, small groups, taking a walk, engaging the teacher etc. The museum offered exactly that. The opportunity to engage in something new every couple of minutes or even seconds if one preferred. This is how our curriculum for ELA students should be. Diverse, differentiated, engaging, hands on and relatable for students

The main difference between the Museum of Discovery and EL Museo was the engagement. Everything in El Museo seemed so distant and old and historic. Everything in the Museum of Discovery was fresh, modern and engaging. It was hard to find the same kind of enjoyment in both places because of the distance I felt from one over the other. I felt like I was in a library when I was at El Museo, and I felt like a kid on a playground when I was Discovering. The main similarities were the historic images and articles spread around to speak to the history of Fort Collins. Though these were the least engaging parts of  both museums, they were similar in their alienation tactics.

Josh MortensenMar 5, 2013 Reply

I could definitely apply the development of ELA curriculum to experience from the Museum of Discovery, specifically comparing the way visitors interact with the museum to the way students interact with texts.  I believe that the action of “reading” the stations and activity centers in the Museum of Discovery requires the same kind of strategies that good readers need to take meaning from texts.

A student who has trouble using those reading strategies might be able to apply their experience in negotiating physical activities/puzzles to the way they read. For instance, in When Kids Can’t Read, good readers make predictions in the way that museum visitors predict that the mouthpiece fits into the open hole on each horn, and that when they blow into it sound will come out. In another example, good readers use their prior knowledge to inform their inferences. How many visitors used their prior knowledge about navigating technology with a touchscreen in order to interact with certain activities? In addition, when readers don’t understand a word, they use context to find the meaning. This can be related to the way that museum visitors do not understand the freaky forest at first, but then by reading the context of the water and plants, they understand how to manipulate objects and gain meaning from the activity. By creating activities in the classroom similar to those found in the museum, I can show my students how they already use reading strategies, and how they can apply that to reading texts.

Emma StewardMar 5, 2013 Reply

What Jessee, Fairon and I noted on our way out of the museum was that we saw a lot of reading happening in the museum. Instead of mainly words we saw connections and inferences made through kinesthetic actions. The freaky forest for example: without directions it was difficult to know exactly what you were supposed to in the strange room. But once we saw children experimenting and making the waterfall move, a collective “ohhhh” of understanding occurred. This is the same sort of thing that can happen in the classroom. Experimenting and collaborating can be a much more memorable and fruitful way to learn than, say, reading the textbook. I realize this isn’t always a (good) option. But even English teachers can implement kinesthetic activities into their classroom to promote learning! It would also be particularly useful to students who learn in different ways. There are activities that can be tailored to kinesthetic, visual, auditory learners, or a combination of the three.

Image originally uploaded on 2013-05-07 17:06

It is clear that our entire class around this museum useful in thier collegiate experience and all benefited in thier understanding of teaching reading. Each and every one of us, because of our fieldtrip experiences now feel more confident and comfortable teaching students how to read in our future classrooms.

Literature in the 21st Century

Kayla Martinson, Shelby Williamson, Josh Mortensen

This resource approaches the following three questions:

  • Why should students read literature in the 21st century?
  • What qualifies as a text in the 21st century?
  • What literature should students be reading in the 21st century?

 

Why should students read literature in the 21st century?

(image source)

Reading is one of the most important intellectual activities we as humans can ever engage in. It’s more than simply decoding a string of symbols on a page or a wall or a message board. Reading is a process of comprehension and understanding and it applies to every aspect of life where we must decode something in order to lead our individual existences.

Nevertheless, things have changed since the turn of the century, so as educators we must ask: Why should students read literature in the 21st century? The following YouTube video answers that question. The video is a very condensed version of author John Green’s introduction for a miniseries on reading literature. In it, he expands on the reasons why he believes literature is important.

Green’s four main reasons:

  • Stories are about communication.
  • Reading is always an act of empathy, always an imagining of what it’s like to be somebody else.
  • Reading critically and thoughtfully gives us better tools to explain corporate profits and broken hearts and helps us to connect to each other.
  • By knowing what it’s like to be the people we read about, we learn more about those around us, those who came before us, and we learn more about ourselves.

 

What qualifies as a text in the 21st century?

What can be considered a text anymore? Previously it’s been just that: text. It was words on a physical page that people read, but with the ever-growing prominence of technology in life and in classrooms, the word text is much like the word film. We still use it to refer to movies, but we don’t use “film” anymore, do we?

Text should include much more than just words on a page. What about words on a computer screen? Spoken word poetry—which is becoming extremely popular now—screen plays, movies, audio books, text messages, blogs, podcasts, instant messaging, YouTube videos, pictures, and scripts should all be included in this definition of text. As long as a person is able to re-read, analyze, visualize, ask questions, relate it to real life, talk about it, and think about it, why are we devaluing these things as non-textual items? The internet has made it possible for students to take these non-traditional texts as revisit them so that they may analyze them. We are transcending the limitations of print-based texts into this incredible realm of possibility through advancing technology.

[Here we have a student (left) and a regular performer (right) performing spoken word. Is this not a text simply because we, as the mass readers, cannot “read” it? Does it not evoke emotion like a text should?]

Paulo Freire and Donald Macedo in their book Literacy: Reading the Word and the World place heavy importance on students not only paying attention to words on a page, but to what is going on around them. Freire speaks about the reinvention of text by stating that a text cannot stand alone. He uses the example of Socialist Lenin writings and how it is impossible to apply them to another country (in this situation Latin America) without understanding the “social, political, historical, cultural, and economic factors” of said country (Freire 133). Can a student, whether he or she is a conventional student or a student of the world, learn these areas of study solely through words on a page?

While I think that “words on a page” should be the prime focus of a literature class, I do not think that it should be used to assess a student’s overall literacy. Good readers are thought to be active, purposeful, evaluative, thoughtful, strategic, persistent, and productive. As Mraz, Vacca, and Vacca question in their book Content Area Reading: Literacy and Learning Across the Curriculum, why must this stop at the physical act of reading ?

What literature should students be reading in the 21st century?

(image source)

One of the largest online communities for discussing literature is Reddit.com’s r/literature, which boasts over 40,000 subscribed readers and contributors worldwide, as well as an indeterminate amount of casual browsers. This community consists of educators, readers, writers, and publishers. When r/literature was recently asked, “What literature should students be reading in the 21st century?,” this was their reply:

“Absolutely everything they can get their hands on, but particularly texts, studies and theories with a reputation for being challenging. Literature lets us view a variety of ideas. Whether the 21st century is an exception among centuries, or another face in the crowd, people should be educated and prepared for all the wonderful things the world will throw at us.” -Anonymous

“Students of literature of the 21st century have access to a wealth of reading material spanning as far back as the ancients. There is so much to read and learn that it would be impossible to make a selection. The thing with literary studies is that older theories or viewpoints do not become irrelevant as newer theories are discovered. The works of Aristotle can be, in some contexts, just as relevant as Judith Butler. So yeah, it is difficult to make a selection.” -Anonymous

“A technique that I’m fond of, personally, is to structure the curriculum around a set of ‘debates’ between various authors and critics. For instance, reading Heart of Darkness alongside Things Fall Apart, or Wolfgang Iser alongside Stanley Fish. This isn’t a perfect approach, as, like the thematic approach, it tends to over-emphasize certain issues in the texts, but it can be useful in getting students familiar with doing comparative analysis as well as developing critical thinking skills.” -Anonymous

“To me, 21st Century literacy is about more than being able to read and access information; when you’ve got literally anything at your fingertips, you need to know how to discern between what information is correct, reliable, meaningful, and/or articulate. This is the new literacy, if you ask me.” -Anonymous

With the near-unlimited access to literature today, how can teachers possibly construct a curriculum? How can a reading list represent the diversity of classic and contemporary works while also utilizing new literacies and literary theories? The survey below may be used as a guide to answer these questions or help construct a real-life reflection of where other teachers around the world are placing value in their curriculum reading lists. Please take a few minutes to answer the following questions (results below):

Access survey here.

Multi-Literacy in the Digital Environment

What is Multi Literacy? – Anna Haschke, Sergio Rushing, Carla Vangrove

  Multiliteracy is a fairly new term that has come about because the way people are communicating is changing due to new technologies.  Not only are their shifts in the way English is used within various cultures, but we are redefining what it means to read and what it means to compose.  Written text is not the only way in which we communicate anymore.  These days the term “text” is being extended to include sounds, videos, and images.  In our E402 Teaching Reading class, we believe this term not only refers to digital sounds, images, and videos “read,” but also that spaces can be read, such as museums, objects, or situations.  At the beginning of the semester we were given 15 minutes to go around campus and take a picture of reading.  Some of use took pictures of books, others of signs, still others of people to demonstrate how one can read situations as well.
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“Reading doesn’t always have to be words.”  -Fairon Bleam, Shelby Jackson, and Linda Alexander

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“Jacquelyn has a “Passion To Know.” A picture of reading taken in Morgan Library.” ~Jacquelyn Wood & Anna Haschke

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“Lexi Reading Social Situations” — Jake Pappas, Alexi Yeager, and Nick B.

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“Our photo of “reading”. Reading body language. -Anna Burris, Matt Cleland, and Jessee Macklin

This activity was a good way for us to be thinking about how, as teachers of reading, it is not only our job to teach our students how to read word text, but be able to “read” and comprehend all kinds of text being used for communication in our world today.
 
Online Class Community Pages

In our Teaching Reading class, we explored the potential uses of online community pages such as Google+ and what these pages offer to the classroom environment. Not only did we find that these pages offer new mediums for discussion, but also offered students an online space where they could share information and related media with one another. Through this page, we built a classroom community. The Google+ page was a place where we could all share ideas and thoughts, as well as connecting to one another by sharing class jokes, helpful information, and pictures taken at events that our whole class participated in.

We found that online communities such as Google+ are full of potential in the field of education. Not only do these pages offer a space for discussions, but also offer a space in which discussions can be inspired. They offer students an online space to ask for help outside of class, and give students an opportunity to share media that they feel is related to what their class is discussing, as well as allowing students to share things they have done for the class, or are working on. Finally, these spaces offer students new opportunities for community building in their classroom.

 One of the main purposes of the Google+ page our class used was to initiate class discussion based on a topic from the previous class period’s discussions. A prompt would be posted, and we all wrote responses to the prompt by the next time we met. This writing activity served as an interactive method of brainstorming before opening class discussions. During the following class discussions, students would often cite discussion posts made by themselves or their peers.

 Here’s an example of what a Google+ discussion usually looked like: our professor, or another student in the class, would post a topic for discussion. Everyone else left their responses to that discussion in the form of comments left on the post. Responses often ranged from a couple of sentences, to a couple of paragraphs.

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 The Google+ page also served as a space for students to ask one another for advice or assistance. When students became sick, they could post on the Google+ page to communicate with group members during group projects, or to find out about anything they missed during class. Others used the space to ask their classmates where they could find information that they did not know the location of, or if anyone had recommendations for a project they were working on. Assignment sheets and syllabi were posted to these pages as well, so that students always had access to them.

The following example shows two different students using the Google+ page to ask their fellow students for information. If anyone had an answer, they always posted it in the comments below the original inquiry.

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When we were not using the Google+ page for inquiries and discussion, we used it to post media. Some of the media was directly related to our class discussions, such as photos we had all taken at locations we visited for class, or chapters from books that we needed to read for the next day’s discussions.

 Other media was less related, but served to spark discussions. Some students posted music videos to share with the class, which got other students thinking and discussing the topics addressed in the videos. Not all of the media added to the page was discussable, but served to build the community as a whole. The non-engaging media came in the form of gifs posted in response to comments or announcements.

The example below shows a collection of photos taken at the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery after our class visited that space.

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Teaching Demonstrations

Not only did we discuss how we could use and teach multiliteracies in our classrooms, we but it into action. One assignment we had this semester was working in groups to create a 4-6 week unit for a certain kind of text. The groups were The Things They Carried, The Absolutely True-Diary of a Part-Time Indian, To Kill A Mockingbird, a collection of films of the group’s choice, “Julius Caesar,” and a collection of Multicultural poetry.  Each group’s unit had to include one multi-modal activity and many of our in-class demonstrations exhibited the use of multiple kinds of texts as well.  Below is a list of the various kinds of multiliteracies we used in our in-class demonstrations and how we used them.

Videos

 We discovered that sometimes using a video can engage students more with something that might otherwise be very boring and uninteresting to them. Sometimes that visual element is that last step required to captivate your students.  Incorporating video into your classroom will also benefit your students who are more of visual learners. One example of taking something that might be less interesting to a student and making it more accessible by presenting it in video form is how the Things They Carried group opened their in-class teaching demonstration. This group explained that they would introduce their unit by showing the class an interview by Tim O’Brien. Instead of simply handing the class a print transcript of the interview and having them read it silently or take turns reading it aloud, students would be given the opportunity to hear Tim O’Brien’s words directly from his mouth by watching a video recording of his interview. Not only is watching images move more interesting than reading static text, it is more engaging overall because students can see what the speaker looks like and hear how he is saying what he’s saying, which can have an effect on how the information is received as well.

Another great thing videos can offer to the classroom is the opportunity to analyze and give commentary on media and pop culture in the classroom. With the vast amounts of video available to us through academic sites like PBS and less academic affiliated sites like YouTube, there is nothing to keep us from bringing all sorts of resources into the classroom.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian group took advantage of this possibility and incorporated a video into their teaching demonstration. They had the class think about the different ways in which Native Americans are portrayed in different texts, and how these portrayals relate to common stereotypes. One of the five texts they gave the class to analyze was a trailer for the movie “The Lone Ranger” that had been uploaded to YouTube. This video on YouTube allowed them to present a depiction of Native Americans in pop culture easily and effectively. Using movie trailers or clips are not only visually engaging, but students can also make connections between these videos and their personal lives which will automatically make them more invested in the activity at hand.

Still images

Still images can be really helpful in the classroom as well. They are another great multiliteracy for students to read, and are more visually engaging than plain word text.  Sometimes having a picture accompany text can enhance it and help students better understand the words. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian group also used still images for the class to analyze. One of the pictures was actually a page out of Sherman Alexie’s novel. Images are a large part of this novel, so it only makes sense that they would make images a part of their lesson.

This picture is accompanied by descriptions that are presented as labels. The group could have easily provided the class with two lists: the characteristics of White person, and the characteristics of an Indian, but this would have not had the same effect.  By presenting these characteristics along with the drawing, students can get a better insight into what the author was thinking. Other novels, such as Bone, also rely heavily upon images to tell the story. The mentioning of Bone brings up a whole new topic about how graphic novels are becoming more and more present in classrooms, and since a graphic novel would be practically incomprehensible without the pictures, the need for students to learn how to “read” images properly is growing in importance.

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[Picture of image on pg. 57 of Part-Time Indian]

Pictures from graphic novels can also be used as a tool for other lessons. The film group demonstrated this in their teaching demonstration by using images from Bone to illustrate the different kinds of shots within framing:

Long shot: the whole room (scene)

Medium shot: see the face, not the whole body

Close-up: extremely zoomed in

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[Picture of images on pg. 93 of Bone]

They also used videos to demonstrate these terms, but the graphic novel was a great way to connect these ideas back to novels. Using a graphic novel to demonstrate these techniques can help bridge the gap to students understanding how authors can use these same ideas and present them through written words as well. Students will learn to see these long shots, medium shots, and close-ups in the images they create with their imagination while reading written text.

Sounds

Finally, we discuss the use of sounds in the classroom. Music, recorded interviews and speeches, and sound effects all have their place in the classroom as well, and what better group to demonstrate their benefits than the film group?  The film group discussed the “reading” of sounds and how we interpret them. Certain sounds can have an ominous feeling while others make us feel joy. Being able to examine these parts separately will help students become better readers of film, a form of multiliteracy that is being used more and more for instruction these days.

The film group also addressed the effect music can have in films. To demonstrate this, they showed a clip of the last scene from the movie “Children of Men” and we discussed what the music and sounds were doing, and how it changed the tone and meaning of the scene.

Music can also be a good tool standing alone. Culturally relevant music can be a nice accompaniment to literature being read it class. It can further students’ knowledge of the culture they are reading about and give them insight into the kind of world in which this piece was written. Music can also strongly benefit the study of poetry because of the parallels in sound structures and rhythm.

Google Hangout

Along with our Google + class page, some of us also had opportunity to ask questions and have a genuine discussion with Danille Filipiak and Jamie Gartner about their classrooms. Although this video chat took place in a different classroom (Cindy O’Donnell Allen’s Teaching Writing to Adolescents) the link for Danille’s video was posted to our Google + class page in Antero Garcia’s E 401 Teaching Reading so it was more available. These video chats are the perfect examples of how multi literacy can be used within the classroom. It provided us as pre-service teachers the ability to get questions answered from teachers who are experienced in the educational system and have personal beliefs about power structures and classroom management. The video below is Danille Filipiak’s chat with our classroom. Unfortunately there were technical issues with Jamie Gartner’s chat but it still was very beneficial to my class.

Danille Filipiak,  a renowned doctoral student/teacher in both secondary and post secondary schools in Detroit. She has many useful and inspiring articles on the Digital Is site along with conversations we have with some of her own students in her education classes. The chat we had with her focused on issues of power and also how as a teacher you have to be somewhat vulnerable to have a conversation with your students about their cultural background. This conversation resonated with Filipiak’s experience in Detroit’s education system, which is heavily diverse, with students that from low-income families. These schools are also faced with budget issues and substantial scrutiny coming from the media.

Jamie Gartner, a five-year teacher in the Boston area. We connected with her based on an article we read that she wrote, which is called It All Came Down to This. The article is about her experience from earning her teaching degree in a white middle class area to actually teaching at Foreman High School, which has the twelfth highest poverty rate in the United States. The discussion we had with her focused on her experience since she wrote the article. Some of the main topics consisted of defensive and resistant students, building the classroom, culturally relevant texts, SIFE students in her classroom, collaboration with ESL teachers, becoming a parent figure for those who don’t have any, and showing that school is something they can control and succeed in.

A Digital Experience

These types digital meets were a great way to gather information from some very credible and relevant teachers. As pre-licensure teachers, we need more of these opportunities so we can get different perspectives and see the realities of education in the United States and even out of the states. More teachers should be taking advantage of these types of digital meets to give the student’s a different way to attain knowledge that is coming directly from an individual, who either wrote the article that you discussed in class or has gone through the necessary experience to be able to speak about a certain topic.

Wrapping Up/Our Thoughts

There is a time and place for everything. Multiliteracies are excellent tools to work into the classroom for both teaching and for student response.  Students are already immersed in a world filled with multiliteracies, we might as well use them to our advantage in the classroom, too, as well as teaching students how to read and comprehend all kinds of text. Using multiliteracies in the classroom offers students a chance to look at media they already use, and learn how they can use it as a responsive tool, or a way to get their ideas out into the world. Showing them how they can use something like Google+ as more than just social media gives students a new way to see digital spaces, or showing them how different angles in an image changes the focus can teach them not only how to think critically about that media, but also give them what they need to use it to their advantage.  Understanding all forms of literacy is essential for student’s success beyond the classroom, so perhaps all forms of literacy should be used to work towards success in the classroom.

We believe that being in a 21st century society means that students have to literate in various forms of literacy. Traditional text has its uses, but as the world progresses we have to progress with it. Students will benefit from these multi literacies by being able to make connections between text, video, images, and sounds. One of my favorite books by Gunther Kress, speaks about multi literacy in his book Literacy in the New Media Age. He states: “The world told is a different word to the world shown” (Kress 1). I believe his statement is true and students have to be able to make relevant connections to these types of literacies, but they also need to know how to understand them singularly. I think that multi literacy and the digital sphere is talked about in a lot educational environments, but as teachers and pre-licensure teachers we need to be able to show the benefit and difference in writing and reading in these types of contexts rather than just accepting it as another version of the traditional print based literacy.

 

What is Literacy?

by Chelsea Geier, Nick Bonnet, and Fairon Bleam

When thinking about the question of what literacy is, it is important to define the elements of the “traditionally” literate student. Literacy has for a long time meant “the ability to read and write.” Technically, this encompasses 4 main elements for reading and writing skills:

  1. Phonology: the ability to recognize and reproduce speech sounds.
  2. Orthography: the ability to recognize and reproduce spelling patterns.
  3. Semantics: the ability to pick out the meaning of words.
  4. Morphology: the ability to recognize and reproduce the patterns of word formations.

An educator today knows that, though these things are important, they are far from being the only markers of the fully literate student. This definition of “literacy” is simply the groundwork that needs to be established before the more critical pieces of literacy are added on.

As a class, we spent the first weeks of the semester working to come up with an initial definition for “literacy.” Some of the books we’ve been reading about literacy this semester are When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do, Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, and Reading Reconsidered. To communicate as a class of future literacy teachers, we have been responding to prompts on Google Plus about our thoughts on the readings and in-class discussions. In one of our first prompts this semester we discussed definitions of literacy overall (Literacy definitions.pdf).

One of the most important aspects in defining literacy first begins with attempting to define what literacy is not. Is there such a thing as not-literacy? Surely literacy involves reading of some sort. What our class spent time deliberating, though, was how we read. Is reading simply looking at words on a page, understanding what words those are, and putting those words together to make a sentence? How can meaning be drawn through the recognition of words on a page? As we started discussing the possibilities of what that looked like, our confusion grew. We discussed how to know if a student is below reading level. How can we as educators know when our students are not reading? We spent time in class developing reading assessment plans to address students with needs in reading. No matter how many textbooks we read though, those only provided suggestions. In the real world, when we enter into the classroom, we will not have a textbook for every students’ struggle. Some students will slip through the cracks without us even knowing, and what are the consequences for those students after our class?

As a class, we also said that literacy is a lot more than just looking at words on a page, it is discerning the meaning of things. Meaning making is a huge part of literacy. What our class is still struggling with, as a whole, is how do we teach students to make meaning out of what they read? Our role as educators is to show students the importance of literacy to their lives – whether that be understanding the meaning behind words on the page, or making meaning of the unwritten world around us.

Open Literacy definitions.pdf
Open Critical Literacy.docx

Diversity in Teaching Reading

Merriam-Websters definition of diversity states, “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” In the classroom context we have to understand diversity is seen not only in the fact that all students are differing in their identities, but their opinions and ability levels as well. The idea of diversity is often times confused with the actual root-issue of diversity, in that initial judgments and stereotypes based on identities tend to become our foundation for the way we treat individuals. Instead of addressing the multiple learning styles and diverse needs of students, we perpetuate these concepts of harmful stereotypes and associations. Some of the multiple learning styles reflected in the classroom can include kinesthetic, verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, visual/spatial, auditory, etc. Because of this range of learning styles and student-based needs, it’s vital that teaching styles, lesson plans, and units should accommodate all students. Throughout this page we’ll take a look at some of the views that professionals in the field, such as Freire, Macedo, Miller, and Christensen, have expressed on embracing diversity.

In their book Literacy: Reading the Word and the World, Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo discuss the issue of literacy in schools. They bring in different views and ideas to define what exactly literacy is, and how we speak to the diversity of learners via our teaching method and our very idea of literacy. In the chapter “The Illiteracy of Literacy in the United States” They speak specifically to the dropout/expulsion rate of youth in America and wonder at the causes and root of this issue. Freire argues that the illiterate kids are the ones who are either expelled or drop out of school not having been supported by the system. The system in fact represses them and gives them no opportunities to grow. On pg. 121, Freire asserts that “We must not forget the question of power, which is always associated with education.” This power is shown through the system and “students are reacting to a curriculum and other material conditions in schools that negate their histories, cultures, and day-to-day experiences. School values tend to work counter to the interests of these students and tend to precipitate their expulsion from school.”

Schools are not responding well to the diverse needs of students which is, in turn, creating this tension and dichotomy to which students are negatively responding. Students are feeling this pressure and this power struggle which causes stress and feelings of insignificance, resulting in drop out and expulsion rates skyrocketing. Students leave school needy and illiterate. The diversity is not being addressed, with only a specific type of learner being helped, and the rest being set out to dry.

Freire also discusses the idea of reinvention and reworking ideas to help speak to this cause and to address different approaches to literacy. Freire believes in a critical approach in the idea and experience of reinventing. He states that “to approach others’ practices and experiences critically, is to understand the validity of social, political, historical, cultural, and economic factors relative to the practice and experience to be reinvented.” (133) In order to address these different needs, we must experience this reinvention and begin reworking what’s been set forth in order to address these different approaches. We shouldn’t use one text and adapt it to our own context, context is key to each and every person, but there’s some sort of rewriting going on there that allows different needs to be addressed, and for the issue of diversity to be dealt with and experienced in the most cohesive way possible.

Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer addresses the diversity in her classes by describing three different types of readers she’s taught throughout her experience as a 6th grade teacher of language arts and social studies. The developing readers, commonly called struggling readers, are the students who are not reading at grade level for one reason or another, including any learning disabilities.or inadequate reading experiences. Miller also mentions the dormant readers. These readers are often seen as reluctant, because they view “reading [as] work, not pleasure” (28). Miller’s third type of student is the underground reader — the kid who excels in reading, but sees their reading for school in a completely different sphere from the reading they do on their own. While Miller emphasizes the importance of positively framing these types of readers, she focuses on this facet of diversity in her classroom to create lessons and help choose texts that will engage all students.

In our E401 class discussions of The Book Whisperer we worked through these definitions of students and also responded to Antero’s discussion question posed on our Google+ community: “Does this breakdown of classroom readers make sense to you? Who, do you think, is missing? How would you challenge Miller’s framework, if you do?”

The responses on our class page discussing the categorization of readers was an example of diversity in our own class with Antero. These posts on Google+ were a way to showcase our opinions and critical thoughts of the concepts we were learning, and gave us a chance to engage in thoughtful discussion with our peers.

Throughout the semester our class worked on an Assessment Portfolio — a project that included a letter to parents, three assessment plans (with detailed lessons), and a personal reflection. Antero asked us to focus on English Language Learners in our hypothetical classrooms for one of our three assessment plans. In developing a lesson that addressed the needs of ELLs, we worked to meet the diverse population of our students and accommodate their experiences in and out of classroom. For example, here is Jake’s and here is Celia’s assessment plans for ELLs.

In Teaching for Joy and Justice Linda Christensen promotes the importance of diversity and giving students opportunities to write their experience through various activities and lessons. Christensen outlines student work she’s seen ranging from “I Am” poems to developing identity through fictional narrative writing. Christensen writes, “Not all students have suffered the same conditions, so while some students find comfort in characters whose circumstance resonate with them, other students might read to develop empathy” (168). With this frame of mind, we can start to see students embrace the experiences from their own lives and diverse experiences of others in the class. An example lesson plan adapted from Christensen’s text is embedded here, which was used in Cindy O’Donnell-Allen’s E402: Teaching Composition.

Throughout E401 we took field trips, had meaningful discussions, and learned from each other in multiple contexts to define our own practices in teaching reading. Our class worked to foster a community of diverse opinions and individualized teaching theories, coupled with experiential learning opportunities. Check out the video below for a short example of some of the topics surrounding diversity that were addressed in our class.

 

Standards and Textbooks: Hidden Connection

“…how a student sees the world: sometimes opening new possibilities, sometimes threatening familiar ways of knowing and saying” (Reading Reconsidered by Dennie Wolf)

The above quote resembles the way that we can think of standards as teachers. They may be helpful because they don’t impose exact rules upon us. However, they may also be threatening because they act as if they were rules and give us a list of requirements that we must meet. The Colorado State Standards do not need to be something to fear though. Many teachers may think that the standards are overwhelming and they are hard to meet. However, we would like you to think of them more as guidelines to follow that you can twist and turn to meet your classroom needs. There are many ways that teachers can meet the expectations of the standards. This page focuses on meeting the standards when textbooks and other materials do not.

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What you are looking at above is a graph of the cost of textbooks that different states spend on average per student. Also included is the publisher’s price of textbooks on average. Just by looking at this chart, it can be seen that textbooks are extremely over-priced. Schools get them cheaper when bought in bulk, but for some schools this may not be possible. For a low income school, buying textbooks every other year is just not something feasible.

Teachers do not need to have actual anthologies or textbooks in their classrooms to teach English. There are many poems that can be accessed online. By finding resources online, a teacher can print out poems or stories to use in a classroom rather than thinking that knowledge cannot be taught because there aren’t any current textbooks. The majority of an anthology is not taught in one year anyways because there’s simply not enough time. By printing the poems that you want to use, you save school funding. Then you may ask about the issue of saving on paper. However, with poems you can always print multiple on a page and cut them out. When wanting to do a novel study or studying a Shakespeare play, these can be found really cheap. A Shakespeare play, when sold alone, can be found for about two dollars. Novels can also be found for about six to seven dollars and even if they are not well-known novels, they can meet the standards. One does not need to use the newest literature in a classroom, nor the oldest, so you can find novels that meet what you want to teach and make it work with your budget.

GRAPH SOURCES

1) Freedberg, Louis. “State Law Could Delay New Textbooks 8-10 Years.” California Watch. N.p., 29

Mar. 2011. Web. 08 May 2013.

2) Rado, Diane. “Illinois Textbook Costs Going up.” Chicago Tribune. N.p., 09 Aug. 2010. Web. 08 May 2013.

3) Kentucky. Legislative Research Commission. Kentucky State Senate. The Costs of College and High School Textbooks in Kentucky. By Lisa Cave, Mike Clark, and Christopher T. Hall. Frankfurt: Program Review and Investigations Committee, 2008. Print.

4) North Carolina. Department of Public Instruction. Division of School Business. Facts and Figures 2010-11. By William C. Harrison. Raleigh: Department of Public Instruction, 2011. Print.

5) “Utah Open Textbook Project.” Utah Open Textbook Project. N.p., 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 08 May 2013.
Open Textbooks and Standards.mp3

Class Definitions of Literacy

As a class, we spent the first weeks of the semester working to come up with an initial definition for “literacy.” Some of the books we’ve been reading about literacy this semester are When Kids Can’t Read, What Teachers Can Do, Literacy: Reading the Word and the WorldThe Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child, and Reading Reconsidered. To communicate as a class of future literacy teachers, we have been responding to prompts on Google Plus about our thoughts on the readings and in-class discussions. In one of our first prompts this semester we discussed definitions of literacy overall (Literacy definitions.pdf).

One of the most important aspects in defining literacy first begins with attempting to define what literacy is not. Is there such a thing as not-literacy? Surely literacy involves reading of some sort. What our class spent time deliberating, though, was how we read. Is reading simply looking at words on a page, understanding what words those are, and putting those words together to make a sentence? How can meaning be drawn through the recognition of words on a page? As we started discussing the possibilities of what that looked like, our confusion grew. We discussed how to know if a student is below reading level. How can we as educators know when our students are not reading? We spent time in class developing reading assessment plans to address students with needs in reading. No matter how many textbooks we read though, those only provided suggestions. In the real world, when we enter into the classroom, we will not have a textbook for every students’ struggle. Some students will slip through the cracks without us even knowing, and what are the consequences for those students after our class?

As a class, we also said that literacy is a lot more than just looking at words on a page, it is discerning the meaning of things. Meaning making is a huge part of literacy. What our class is still struggling with, as a whole, is how do we teach students to make meaning out of what they read? Our role as educators is to show students the importance of literacy to their lives – whether that be understanding the meaning behind words on the page, or making meaning of the unwritten world around us.

Literacy is All Around Us

After watching that short video, what was running through your mind? Think about it for a second. Were you constantly putting images to words? Making connections to your life? Comprehending what the picture was? It’s crazy to believe it, but just by watching that video you were defining a form of literacy that most people wouldn’t even think twice about. So what does this mean for the 21st century of readers? What exactly does reading look like? To start off with, reading is everywhere! It is especially crucial to surviving in this world. Think about the pictures from this video. For example, when you go into a restaurant to have a nice evening with some friends, you have to know how to read the menu just to order your food. Actually, you even have to be literate to be able to put words into sentences to comprehend and express what your friends are saying as well as responding back to them. It’s really crazy huh? Taking a simple situation such as going out to eat and connecting it with literacy.

So, what exactly counts as a text? Think back to the video for a second, was that a text in itself? It showed a bunch of images that readers can piece together a story or make a connection to whatever they want. Text is everywhere. Imagine yourself walking down a street and you come across a nice lady walking her dog. How do you know that it’s a nice lady walking her dog? How did you make that connection and ‘read’ the situation to know you were safe? It’s a form of literacy. Learning and teaching in schools allows students to be able to go out into the world to help make connections, comprehend, and explain what is going on around them. This leads to the question of what exactly is involved in the reading process? The reading process includes taking a text (whatever form that might be) and being able to break it down, decipher what’s being said or assumed, make connections to their own lives, comprehend for example differences from right and wrong, and then produce understanding and be able to relay information back out. There are many different issues that come up when understanding what a good reader is. Some students are very good readers when it comes to reading out loud, but when it comes to answering questions on a quiz, they have no idea what they just read. That is why to be qualified as a good reader is takes much more effort than just having one skill. Our students need to be well-rounded, engaged, excited to learn, and most importantly understanding what is going on and being able to explain that understanding.

To wrap this section up, again literacy is everywhere. It’s important to understand that everything we do, anything we encounter, is a form of literacy. It’s much more than just a text in a book that you assign for your students to read. It is vital to understanding and surviving in this growing world. It’s a challenge to know how to meet the needs of all students and providing them with information to grow into successful beings in this world, but as long as we keep open minds and keep learning as educators, we should have confidence and access to the knowledge that we love and hope to learn.

The Many Forms of Literacy

 Literacy Project mp3.mp3

 *please play this song before continuing with this section

You may be wondering what a crudely thrown together song has to do with the topic of literacy. Quite a bit, actually, but if you still don’t believe me, then it is my hope that this short blurb can change your mind.

As educators today, we have seen a significant shift in what a “literate” student looks like. There are, in fact, many other types of literacy than what we might traditionally think of. These words are seldom treated as equally important to the traditional definition of literacy, yet I could safely state that they are just as important to our students in today’s society as morphology and phonology.

Here’s a list with some brief definitions:

     1. Digital Literacy- Cognitive skills that are used in executing tasks in digital environments

     2. Computer Literacy- Ability to use a computer and software

     3. Media Literacy- Ability to think critically about different types of media

     4. Information Literacy-Ability to evaluate, locate, identify, and effectively use info

     5. Technology Literacy- The ability to use technology effectively in several different ways

     6. Political Literacy- Knowledge and skills needed to actively participate in political matters

     7. Cultural Literacy- The knowledge of one’s own culture

     8. Multicultural Literacy- The knowledge and apperciation of other cultures

     9. Visual Literacy- The ability to critically read images

With this list in mind, it’s simply irresponsible to continue to teach our students based off of the old definition of literacy. This is where the song at the beginning of this blurb comes in.

When you first pressed play, all you heard was drums. It set the rhythm, built a structure for the song, but it was pretty basic. This is what teaching traditional literacy does for your kids. It provides a gateway to accessing more levels of literacy needed to successfully be literate in society. After a while of the drums, the bass came in; it added more of a foundation, while also giving the song the start of a voice. For each additional voice that was added to the song (IE guitar and vocals), the song started feeling a little bit more complete. Moving away from the metaphor, for each type of literacy that your student can utilize, the closer they are to being completely literate.

However, we don’t want to sound like we’re being too righteous here. It’s easy to say on paper that, as a teacher, you are going to teach all of these literacies to your kids and that everything will go smoothly and according to plan. This simply isn’t so. It’s a huge concern of ours that this important part of student education is dauntingly huge. It should be worrisome to all educators, future or present. Literacy is not just a topic needed to be addressed in English. It’s something that every subject matter needs to address- at least in some small part.

But unfortunately we have no solutions for those other contents, as we are focused steadfastly on our own English concentration. What we do have for us English-y types, is a somewhat new pedagogical teaching approach: Critical Literacy.



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