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Archive for the ‘321 Response’ Category

One of the blogs I follow, The Journal of Education Controversy blog, has an interesting YouTube on the state of discipline in schools and how special populations are being removed from the school system and into the juvenile detention/prison system:

This new national trend reflects racial biases, new zero-tolrance rules about disciplinary problems in schools, and may reflect a trend in removing students who perform poorly on standardized test in the era of high-stakes testing.

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While my understanding from reading your blog posts and talking with attendees is that Rafe Esquith’s presentation on Monday night was great, I also heard about part of his presentation that troubled me.

Apparently, Esquith relates a story about bringing the Hobart Shakespeareans to the Empire State Building, and he leaves the group alone to do some task. He has cultivated politeness in his students, so they stand off to the side being well-behaved when they are approached by the ticket-taker who questions the children about their quietness and asks them what kinds of video games they like to play and the like.

The students respond that they don’t play video games, and the ticket-taker tells them they need to behave more like children, or something to that effect. Esquith, meanwhile, has overheard the conversation, and it gives him pause. He asks the students what they prefer: to play and behave like children or to behave politely as he instructs them, making sacrifices to do the things they do.

One of the students responds that they are happy to do what they do, and after all, that person was only a ticket-taker, and they did not want to end up like that.

When I heard this anecdote, I was admittedly shocked by the elitism cultivated in Esquith’s student(s). While I think Esquith’s achievements are grand, I also believe in the value of “regular” jobs, and don’t really buy into the prestige value of one job over another. That is to say, I’ve known restaurant bussers and dishwashers who work just as hard as, say, the president of the United States or teachers who work just as hard as, say, an NFL quarterback. The celebrity or salary of one versus another really doesn’t mean anything to me. In the scheme of things, each person might be said to fill their role equally well. I would never consciously cultivate that kind of attitude in students, especially if I knew they were “watching me all the time and needed a model.”

I’ve worked in plenty of low-status jobs in the retail and service sectors, and plenty of people have treated me (I hope unwittingly, but often suspected otherwise) like dirt. “He’s just a waiter,” they would say.  Or worse, they would try to take advantage of the server-customer social contract, complaining to take advantage of me because “the customer is always right,” expecting servers to be too stupid to see through their schemes and deceptions.

Too, despite our country’s alleged high valuation for education, there is also the adage “those who can’t do, teach,” implying, of course, that if teachers could do anything deemed valuable by US society (i.e. make money, accrue power, and buy stuff), then we would give up teaching to do it in a heartbeat. To me, this reveals a not-so-subtle conflict of interest between what we say we value and what we practice in truth.

This conflict of interest is not dissimilar from the attitude Esquith seems to be cultivating in his students and himself. He seems, in videos I’ve seen, to portray himself as a humble everyman, but egotistically tout every accomplishment and award. I’m not sure that dismissing the ticket-taker is reflective of the kind of values teachers should inspire in students, no matter how high their students’ test scores are or how brilliantly they can capture the emotions of MacBeth on the stage.

Did anyone else who attend take issue with this anecdote?

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Paulo Freire, ruminating on today's teaching in Eng. 101

I want to start by saying that, as a group, today’s class session far exceeded my expectations for this part of the project. I understood that the limitations imposed on each group were strict and imposing (10 min. to teach 20-35 pages of challenging material). On Thursday, I panicked somewhat after the workshop because I felt like I did not encourage enough experimentation or risk-taking in the group projects (which is something I value in this class), although I felt like Thursday’s workshop was helpful in getting some ideas out for what we all valued in teaching (from a student-centered perspective).

And I felt like the presentations today delivered on the assignment. The presentations blended delivering the material from the chapters each group was responsible for with interactive, multisensory activities that encouraged us to do some reflective thinking to make connections between Freire’s theoretical ideas and real situations.

Now that you’ve completed this part of the project, I would like you to do two things:

Summarize (y)our “reading” of the book in a blog post (200-300 words). In other words, what will you take away from Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed from today’s activities?

In a second blog post, respond to the different acts of teaching this assignment required, considering any of the following or going in your own direction:

  • What do you value as a teacher? (Think about last Thursday’s workshop discussion.)
  • Were you able to stay true to what you value in this project and still cover the material? If yes, how? If no, what parts of the assignment impeded your ability to teach how you would like (the difficulty of the material, taking a section of the book out of context, the group dynamic, time constraints, etc.)?
  • What did other groups do in their presentation, positive or negative, that stood out? Did you have any “a-ha moments” where another group did something you wish you would have thought of? In what ways could groups have improved? Did you have enough to base your “reading” of the book on?
  • Would you ever consider doing a read-group-share assignment like this one in your classes? Compare and contrast collaborative reading with your experience of reading texts independently.

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“At Columbia, Arne Duncan Calls Teacher Training ‘Mediocre'”

I actually agree with a great deal of what this article states. When I was teaching high school, the principal (who observed me once in four years, might I add) said that, since I was not certified to teach, I would need methods courses to improve my teaching. Most teachers I talked with, however, told me that methods courses are generally not effective in preparing teachers to be in the classroom.

I got plenty of practice teaching in different situations and venues during my time as a high school teacher, and I think my teaching improved tremendously because I took my job seriously and worked at developing my teaching style through a system of trial and error, self-reflection, self-analysis, and mentorship from teachers in the school I admired.

Unfortunately, the high school I taught at had neither a formal system of teacher mentoring in house nor a sustained system of qualitative analysis of a teacher’s work. Teachers themselves had to maintain professional development by doing tasks the school deemed appropriate, but many teachers viewed this as a hindrance rather than a sincere way to improve their teaching practice.

It always bothered me that the principal never observed me after my first year when I barely knew what I should do let alone why it would work. The principal was of the opinion that I would not be able to handle a classroom until I had undergone the certification process.

Since coming to ISU, I feel like I have a much better command of what I want to do in the classroom, how I want to do it, and why it is effective. Much of the information comes from five years of on-the-job training (more if you consider coaching to be teaching, which I do) measured against lots of pedagogical theory and scholarship. My road to becoming a teacher was a bit atypical, but like many people, I have been motivated by naysayers and nurturers alike to become an effective teacher.  I’m proud that I haven’t had to compromise my values or personality to teach.

Even though our class is not a methods class, I try to be cognizant that many of you will be educators, and the more space I can offer for each person to think about how they might go about teaching and practice composition-related tasks that will get you all there, the more successful this class will be, in my perspective. Is our class helping to prove Arne Duncan wrong? I hope so.

How do teachers learn best to be teachers?

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After seeing Nate’s visual text on school violence today and learning of the recent murder of honors student Derrion Albert of Chicago’s Fenger High School, I thought I would include some articles and a link the video of the melee. Be forewarned, the video is not easy to watch: awful, chaotic and horrifying.

Here are other articles pertaining to this incident:

These articles state that 34 Chicago students were killed last year. That’s more students than are in our class.

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I’m probably in the minority on this one, but since I’m an idealist, I would hope that Chicago would take the Olympic loss it suffered earlier today and turn it into a chance to work on things in the city. I mean, Chicago still has a school system that needs a great deal of work. Lots of urban projects need to be undertaken to rebuild crumbling neighborhoods. The CTA system needs to be revamped and updated.

I can’t help but think the influx of Olympic monies would have gone to the power barons in Chicago and not to the greater good. The homeless and poor would be shuffled away and hidden (more than they already are). The city would have built a disposable stadium and Olympic village, the former a waste and the later purported to be on the grounds of Bauhaus-inspired architecture, Michael Reese Hospital, worthy of being protected. Chicago would have spent billions on security measures in a post-911 society that could be better spent.

I have also heard talk of extending Lake Shore Drive into Evanston and filling in Chicago’s beaches, all of which would end up destroying part of the city I love just for the sake of sports. I happen to think that the Olympics don’t matter as much as they did when I was younger, in the denouement of the Cold War, and people do not seem to watch them as much.

The grandeur of hosting a world event, in my estimation, is not as important as taking care of things that need attention, democratically, in Chicago. So when the games are held in 2016 in Brazil, a worthy country to say the least, I’ll be glad to be unhappy about the games not coming to Chicago. Will you?

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NYT Article: Schools Look Abroad to Hire Teachers

UNESCO Education for All: 15 to 30 million more teacher needed worldwide

Is the United States overstepping its bounds by consuming too much of another precious global resource? I’m talking about teachers this time. According to the New York Times, 19,000 teachers are working in the US on temporary visas, and the number is on the rise.

On the other hand, UNESCO’s Education for All initiative hopes to train 15 to 30 million more teachers worldwide by 2015 (six years from now!) to achieve their goals.

Is the practice of hiring international teachers to work in inner city teaching jobs in the US really undermining the push for more teachers in third world, sub-Saharan nations?

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Ron Lieber, a personal economics columnist/blogger for The New York Times recently weighed in on why college costs continue to rise in a time of deep economic recession (private colleges were proud of last year’s 4.3% increase, the lowest in 37 years and only slightly higher than inflation) in a “Your Money” blog piece.

While my jaw drops to know that high-end private schools cost $50k a year or more and I shudder at the notion of possibly accepting a job at a college or university whose price tag has to, almost by default, classify the school as elitist, I found myself really burned up by some of the article, mainly the way Lieber re-purposes the university as a place of “basic education.”

First, Daniel H. Weiss, president of Lafayette College, and Lieber blame tenured faculty as obstructing the ever-more-common corporate restructuring model in US colleges:

“In some ways, higher education is more like a political environment than the management of a private corporation,” Mr. Weiss said. Except that thanks to tenure, it is difficult to vote anyone out of office. Still, he added, “Alienating some of your faculty members, if you can avoid it, is something you shouldn’t be doing.”

Lieber goes on to endorse the department-cutting model that has been popularized by recent cuts in public education at the elementary and secondary levels in the so-called expensive and unnecessary subject areas of fine arts, music, and agriculture.

Then again, the article argues that “An English student, however, is generally a profit center.” English students, under a traditional notion of English, does not require much cost, as the trend is to have English courses in traditional, technology-free classrooms. Doing English, in other words, doesn’t require the money it takes for the lab work of the hard sciences or the one-on-one training of music. (This same idea has been a part of the rise of MFA writing programs, which can also be a cash cow for struggling private colleges, but that’s a matter for another post.)

In addition to departmental restructuring as part and parcel of the new corporate university, Lieber goes on to question the workload of most tenured faculty members, who at Lafayette teach a 3/2 load in order to allow time for faculty to do research in order to stay current on departmental trends.

Of course, the question of whether research and the sabbaticals (to which faculty are accustomed) make them better teachers remains an uncertain issue. In the corporate university, the obvious answer is that these concepts do not make financial sense, as qualitative, humanistic ideas like recharging one’s vigor for and interest in their discipline cannot be translated into dollars and cents.

Lieber fails to account for the current misuse of adjunct faculty populations, a seemingly disposable work force for higher education. Adjunct professors, possibly once imagined as part-time positions, are now prime for exploitation as full-time adjuncts are sometimes forced to teach 7 or more classes per semester, often at several different institutions, without benefits, in order to make ends meet (at about $1000 per class on the lower end).

Lieber argues that universities are running into a kind of financial ceiling by pricing themselves out of reach for most Americans in the contemporary economic environment. Other factors contributing to the problem are the rising cost of non-faculty salaries (administrators) and security costs in the wake of tragedies at Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech, to note only the most prominent.

In the end, Lieber offers the solution of faster graduation times, which leads to the mentality that the college experience is more of a “degree mill” rather than a time period for holistic development of students, involving educational and social aspects as students transition from parental support to being independent citizens.

Lieber’s questions to end the article is an important one:

The question all of us have to ask now is whether the price of that transformative experience is simply too dear — and whether a basic education ought to be the highest (or maybe only) priority.

This notion matches up with the notion that the days of high school education sufficing for what is required of the average US citizen are gone (I read elsewhere that people with a BA can expect to earn 73% more than those with only a high school diploma over their working life, dang it if I can remember where).

The way things are now, a college degree of some type is almost essential, and this is the site of political struggle, as entire college departments are developing strategic plans to assert there own necessary-ness, entrenching themselves in the emerging university. These plans tend toward serving the college student as a customer, rather the old notion of the university as a place to pursue a depth and breadth of knowledge, moving to extend the boundaries of that concept.

How do you view (your) higher education? Is it a service you are paying for (money + student + classes + degree = career)? Are you here to expand your horizons and change yourself by exposing your mind to different viewpoints and ways of knowing? Are these concepts mutually exclusive? Is college the new high school in the US education system?

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Reviving Writing

Wired artilce

Unfit Times article

I wanted to write you to let you know there is a battle going on over you all (young adult writers) right now. On one side, people bemoan the end of the age of literature and how new media is doing to book culture what mp3 players and downloadable music did to the album. On the other side are people who argue that people compose more writing in their everyday lives than ever before.

The former group views writing as something that aims toward permanence, a storehouse of the best wisdom of the age that is meant to be eternal. Historically, print or textual culture emerged originally as a technology to aid speech and evolved into a storehouse of knowledge only after mass replication and notions of intellectual property and copyright interceded. Methods of teaching writing followed the older paradigm as writers wrote in the accepted essay modes, crafting writing for a distant, imagined audience or simply for the teacher.

New media has changed all this. Now, we write in text messages, on Facebook and Twitter, on Blogs for a more immediate, real or potentially audience. This changes the way we write. First of all, many of us, myself included, do not always realize we are writing when interacting with social media sites or texting. Additionally, we have to write in these spaces with a new sense of economy. For example, I’m wary, when writing on the blog, that massive paragraphs and long, essay-like pieces will not be read.

Concision is key. Get to the point and quickly. In efforts to be more concise, we often code language more deeply, making what we write do more in a shorter space. This is something I know that I do when writing creatively, and interacting with new media (aka social writing or life writing) has that same feel of writing to be brief, clever (dare I say creative), and say what needs be said.

I just wish scholars and critics did not get so nostalgic about textual culture. What we are experiencing here is a paradigmatic shift, opening up the idea of what can be composed and therefore read to include things that are beyond text or things is which text is but one aspect of a composition. I’m glad to see articles like this from respected scholars doing empirical work; it’s a step toward acceptance of this new idea of multiliteracy.

What do you think? Do you feel like life writing is real writing? Had you thought of this before looking at these articles/this post?

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Article

As I’ve progressed on and on in my academic career, I find myself feeling more and more resistance to assigned readings, especially when the instructor does not do a good job of articulating why we are reading what we are reading, either before, during or after reading the text. With that in mind, I’ve been working harder and harder to articulate my rationale for choosing what I choose, telling students why I value reading the texts I’ve chosen. I also work hard to include student choice in what we read for a class.

I was heartened to read the Motoko Rich article “The Future of Reading: A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like” that featured Lorrie McNeill, a teacher using  an experimental system of having student-center, flexible reading list, allowing her students great freedom. Of course, McNeill hopes to increase student literacy through this project although she herself has doubts that, although rooted in sound pedagogical thinking, the method is too idealistic.

McNeill’s strategy brings together the two sides of literacy: reading and writing. Enhancing those two skills ought to be the focus of English courses, and standardized testing, if it doesn’t already reflect them, should be changed to do so. The shift in English studies includes an opening up in the field of what is considered a text worthy of reading and writing, and contemporary methods should reflect this change. McNeill’s writing tasks seem to bring authentic writing into her classroom, as journals, book reviews, and advertising-type pitch proposals were mentioned in the article.

On the other hand, I wonder if McNeill is still too ingratiated to book culture. The article does mention To Kill a Mockingbird and The Diary of Anne Frank, long-honored junior high staples, with an, in my opinion, unhealthy nostalgia. In other words, are we moving fast enough? A student with a laptop was mentioned who only read the James Patterson “Maximum Ride” series. Is it his fault that he doesn’t expand into reading other books? What if McNeill takes a more cultural studies approach and works with the disinterested student on reading visible texts like advertisements, films, or other digital texts. Many people bemoan the dethroning of books and book culture as the seat of literature, but I look at it as a possible expansion of literacy, involving student in challenging, complicated digital reading and composing processes.

What is your feeling on reading lists? How do you best teach and measure contemporary literacy?

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