Some of you may know that one of my jobs on campus is to coordinate those sections of first year writing designed for those students who, through placement essay writing, GPA and, in some cases, self-selection, are identified as needing extra support as readers and writers.
The component that is most central to this is a book club. Students work with a facilitator to read a book length work of either fiction or non-fiction for the entire semester. Many of the students in the class have never completed a reading of this length and complexity in their lives.
Our goal is not to make life-long readers out of them. That would be nice, but it's not realistic. What we are really trying to do is help students learn strategies and attitudes that keep them from quitting when the academic challenge gets challenging--so in other words, reading resilience. Writing plays a role in building resilience--and, in turn, the low stakes writing they do in book club via journaling about the text helps them to meet the demands of longer more complex and more intellectually demanding writing assignments later on. Among the faculty of the course, we call this "pedagogy of struggle." Teaching students to lean in to struggle, to not give up, and to see that learning happens in the struggle is one of the most important things we can help our students to understand.
To make up for today's canceled class, please watch this (oft-cited) TED talk on teaching and resilience ('grit" as the speaker, Angela Duckworth, calls it).
THE CLASS: After you watch the TED TALK consider this group of students:
THE READING; If it's 9th grade, you know what that means: Romeo and Juliet is on deck. Even though most students sort of know the plot of R&J , Shakespeare is never a walk in the park for the inexperienced and mostly disaffected reader.
YOUR TASK: Brainstorm a reading and writing assignment or assignments that will build resilient readers and writers using Romeo & Juliet as the text you are reading in class. You can think about the frameworks, but you don't have to at all. And you can bring in any other text or media that might help them. Consider the other TED talks we watched for today's class, and the major points we've covered since the start of class. How can all of this help you to build reading and writing experiences that will build sturdy readers and writers among our students?
Don't be shy and don't worry if you don't know what you are doing. Remember: we started this class thinking about what about our student experiences worked and what didn't. Rely on that. And seriously think about what we've been talking about in class. I mean this seriously: sort of try to have fun. Coming up with assignments should not be a miserable experience.
WHAT TO POST: In 200-300 words, please identify two or three ideas that come out of the TED talks that make up the discussion for our class today. Where possible, connect these ideas to ideas we've already discussed in-class. You are welcome to connect to any of the readings so far: "Why Johnny Can't," Mike Rose, Victor Villanueva, Constance Weaver, and even the Harper Hill High story.
NO NEED TO RESPOND: There is no need to post a response to a classmate. We'll read and respond in class on Tuesday.
For Thursday's class, I've asked you to listen to this podcast. It's heavy. Rather than have you post before class, Iet's just have a conversation in class. So there is no need to post anything to this discussion board prior to class. You'll have time in class to post to this discussion board as preparation for a whole class discussion.
Here's the question I'm going to ask you to write/talk about: Who really cares about reading and writing assignments at Harper High given all the other things that are going on at that school? And, yes, it's a trick question, because, if you can't tell already, my answer is ALWAYS that we should always care about reading and writing assignments no matter what.
Funny Story: A few years ago I had a group of First Year Students who were not the greatest students on the face of the planet, but were fun and funny and even though they made me pull my hair out a lot--a lot, a lot--we had a pretty good time and remember that these are kids identified as "at-risk" readers and writers, which is why they ended up in my class in the first place. One day near the end of the semester while I was sort of scolding, but not scolding them about how they needed to take themselves seriously and not treat their writing like it was nothing and in my frenzy to convince them, I ran out of breath. These guys looked at me and what I thought they were doing was sort of writing me off, but what they were actually doing was taking me seriously. And one of my students sort of looked at me sideways and said, "You know, I thought in the beginning this was going to be some kind of Freedom Writers situation. But this is real sh_t."
Proudest teaching moment of my entire life.
I want to say at the outset that I genuinely and entirely value the story that mIke Rose is telling us in Lives on the Boundary. At the same time, though, there are limitations to what he offers us in the early part of the 21st Century, limitations that, for white educators in particular (because Black and Brown colleagues have known it for a lot longer than that), have been more clearly articulated for us in the current political, cultural, societal moment.
Victor Villanueva's Bootstraps, then, is an excellent counterpoint to Rose because his story is, in so many ways, a similar story set roughly ten years later than Rose, but he brings to the conversation two things: a critical and theoretical framework that Rose is largely lacking, and, also his experience as, as Villanueva's calls it, a "Newyorkarican" in the largely white, middle-class landscape of school/university.
FOR THIS POST: Briefly identify the ways that that Villanueva's story mirrors Rose's story of school and then identify the ways in which Villanueva offers a useful critique of Rose--or perhaps not a critique but an opening up of Rose's story. Makes sure that I can tell that you read all of the material in your post (not that is really a problem for this class. If you post, you guys do a good job of it).
THERE IS NO NEED FOR A RESPONSE TO A CLASSMATE POST THIS TIME AROUND. We'll take time in-class to read and respond to our colleagues.
Hopefully, even if your group didn't come up with many questions for our alums, you've had some time to think about this and have perhaps come up with questions on your own. It's important that folks are asking at least some common questions across our class, thus, on Thursday, in class, we will need to finalize our list of questions. And before we do that, we need a robust set of questions to start with that we can combine, narrow, focus, edit, tweak into a list of 5 to 7 questions you can email your alums and then, either via email or zoom or FaceTime or what have you, get some answers for.
To begin, let me remind you of what you came up with in class on Tuesday:
Draft/possible questions for alums
There is a lot of repetition here and I think that when all is said and done there are really one or two questions that will come out of it.
Here is a question that I always include in this assignment and will again this time. I post it here to give you a sense of of how you might shape your questions in order to elicit more than a few sentences and/or yes/no answers--which will not be helpful to you as you write your paper. Good questions are at the heart of all research, and, in particular, qualitative research (which an interview is).
"if you had to tell one story that summed up your teaching career--one story about a student, about a class, about a year, about a professional experience--what would that one story be and why does it sum up your career?"
WHAT TO POST: Please post one question you want to ask an alum. If you think someone else has posted a good question, you can simply post whose question you think is a good one. Remember, we want roughly 5 to 7 questions to begin with. No need to do anything else and there is no word count. Simply post your question. We'll review and make final selections, word-smithing decisions in class on Thursday.
As I mentioned in class, folks are often pretty enchanted with the early parts of Rose's memoir. It's easy to feel connected to his personal story of searching for the right path for himself, the obstacles he encounters, and how that affects who he is a teacher to others. However, Rose's point is really to get concerned parties--teachers, students, administrators, legislators--to think about his story as illustrative of larger issues in literacy instruction.
In the last parts of the text, Rose turns to larger policy considerations. It's not that he entirely abandons his first-person, personal experience-driven writing--think of how he writes about his moments with the individual students going of the logic of the tests/assignments they were not understanding. But he is pulling back here to make a wider argument about what we need to do, what policies we need to enact and/or change to insure strong literacy instruction for all students.
WHAT TO POST: So, for our last post about Rose, identify one of the policy recommendations that he discusses and talk about where you see or where you don't see that in the classroom today. Remember, this text came out in the 80s. So it's worth thinking about which of Rose's ideas seem to have caught on and which we still seem to struggle with.
NO NEED TO RESPOND TO A CLASSMATE THIS TIME AROUND. We'll make time in class for that and, since I'm asking you to respond to a second discussion board for Thursday, not responding will make this task more manageable.
For these sections of Rose, I want to connect back to what we talked about on Thursday (11 February 2021). Here, repeated for easy access, are the big takeaways I put together--and that many of you also wrote about in the last discussion board post--from the first part of Rose.
1. We profoundly misunderstand what “remedial” means—or what a deficit looks like. And, connected to this, we profoundly misunderstand the role error plays in learning--we despise error rather than cultivate it as a tool for learning in the classroom. This is true about a general public. This is true about the US historically. This is true for many of us who teach in classrooms.
2. We profoundly under-understand the role poverty plays in depriving students of a good education. It is not just a poverty that means you go to a bad school. It also means that you have nothing around you that inspires a passion in you.
3. A humane liberal education, as espoused by the McFarlands of the world is less about content as it is about the process of engagement. It is authentic reading and authentic discussion that creates the file in Rose and the other students in his classroom.
4. Inspiration does not trump academic preparation. When Rose gets to Loyola, he does not have the academic skills to manage this new landscape. This is not to be confused with intelligence. And this is related to what I want to say next:
5. We have profoundly useless measurements of whether a student is a thoughtful, capable thinker (not intelligent—a totally different thing and not just a good student; you can be absolutely a dumbo and do well in school).
6. Students are not the only people at fault for their lack of success. This connects to many things that we are seeing here. Poverty of home life and educational
7. Access—who gets to go to the good school; who gets internet; who gets to be in a pod; who has someone who is not a working parent able to help them with their work; who has art, music, gym, recess; who has computers (at home and in school).
8. Teaching is a powerful thing.
9. Educating in a democracy is hard and joyous at the same time
WHAT TO POST: Select one or two of the above points and identify places in these chapters that add too, develop, restate, grow the idea. Roughly 200-300 words.
RESPONSE REQUIREMENT: Read your colleague's responses and select one person who wrote about one of the nine things on the list above that YOU DIDN'T write about. Then identify another place in the text that you see as related to their point in some way. Roughly 100 words.
We will be talking about Lives on the Boundary for a number of classes, so, to begin, for these first two chapters, please post between three to five big ideas about literacy education in the United States that we learn from Rose's story--so I'm asking you, as Rose is wanting you to do, to extrapolate from his own experience as a student (and, in the opening, as a teacher), what can we say about what is going on in literacy education in the United States?
WHAT TO POST THIS TIME AROUND: Please Post your 200 words by class time tomorrow (11 February 2021). You will have time in-class to read and respond to at least one of your colleagues.
USE THIS SPACE TO POST QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS. I forgot to post this very discussion board in time for folks to post questions about the syllabus as part of the syllabus check in assignment. I will move any questions that got posted elsewhere to this space, along with answers.
Further, this is a permanent Q&A discussion board. So if you have a question about class, please feel free to post here. I check the discussion board during office hours, which I have everyday except Monday. I will answer any questions I can here.
Of course, if you have a concern that is of a personal nature, feel free to email me directly or come to an open student office hour. However, it's true that a lot of times students have the same question. I will admit to you that I get annoyed at having to answer that same question 25 times. So please use this discussion board for questions that are of a general class nature--if you have that question other people have it too.
So many folks fear grammar. When I fly on planes--back when I did that sort of a thing--I am always inevitably reading student writing. And, also inevitably, someone makes some sort of comment like "are you an English teacher? I better watch my grammar." I always smile politely and fake-chuckle. And then I go back to grading--because I don't want this guy to think I will want to talk for the next two hours (I'm not a New Englander by birth, but one local social norm that I totally embrace is not talking to people I don't know unless I absolutely have to).
But in my heart, what I want to say, is that there are a hundred other things to worry about in this piece of writing before we get to how great or not great the grammar is. It's like that moment in Apollo 13 when Tom Hanks explains that his crew is worrying about step 378 when they need to be worrying about step one. And I almost always want to say that this kid's grammar is perfectly fine, it's the writing that sort of sucks.
Grammar. I know that secretly every English major I teach, and in particular the ones that want to be teachers, think that if only they were grand master grammarians their writing would be perfect--and probably the heavens would open up and hosts of angels would crown you goddess of all things good. And I also know that it is the secret dark shame of these same folks that they don't know every rule.
But what I want you to contemplate is that knowing the rules of grammar is not the same as knowing how to write. And that is the unsaid argument of the three chapters of Constance Weaver (available for download on our class syllabus) I'm asking you to read for today's class.
WHAT TO POST: What, in your opinion, are the TOP FIVE TAKEAWAYS from Constance Weaver? For your reader's notes, try to indicate at least five important ideas that you found interesting. Please indicate ideas that unsettled you or delighted you or a little of both. THEN, post a grammar or punctuation rule that you always feel like you get wrong.
HOW TO POST: For everyone but the first person to post, read the post of the person who posted just before you. Reply directly to that post by adding to their list of five--so things you think they missed--or expanding what they have to say about that top five--including maybe sometimes when you think they are not quite right about how they are interpreting what Weaver is saying. Here too, please indicate ideas that unsettled or delighted you or a little of both. And don't forget to post your grammar/punctuation hate rule. Additionally, if you feel like you know what the rule is or why it is hard to follow the rule that the person posting ahead of you wrote about, feel free to give it a go and try to explain it.
We'll read and discuss what you wrote in class on Tuesday.