Friday, May 4, 2012

Blog Post 12: What I Take Home From This Class

There is a problem that frequently occurs within the academic setting, a schism between student and teacher that at once seems ridiculous and insurmountable.  It's that age old struggle, where the teacher and the student regard each other as rivals, turning the classroom into a battle of wills.  I say this is ridiculous because this animosity is largely superfluous, subconscious, and self destructive.  I call it insurmountable because, in spite of its ridiculous nature, the rivalry persists.

Whether trained by cultural precedent or prompted by some contentious instinct, the rivalry between student and teacher persists, and is occasionally taken to literal extremes.  A student may actively seek to disrupt the classroom, fail at assignments, or otherwise work to frustrate the teacher, and feel that any success in these endeavors is a victory.  Likewise, a teacher may force all of his or her students into lockstep compliance with the day's activities.  Either scenario perpetuates the rivalry, generating what are often referred to as "bad experiences".  How many students are turned off from a subject because of a "bad experience" with a particular teacher?  How many teachers revoke their benefit of the doubt because some student causes a "bad experience" for them?  How many of these "bad experiences" can be avoided if one or both parties take a step back and look at what's really supposed to happen in the classroom?

Because I've seen the opposite be true as well.  I've known teachers who don't allow a student's antics to sway them from maintaining a healthy learning environment, and I've known students who have thrived in a class despite difficulties with a teacher.  So it seems that, for some at least, this problem isn’t wholly insurmountable.  The question then is how to prevent or avoid the rivalries in one’s own classroom, and I don’t think there’s a simple, one-size-fits-all answer.

My experience in this class has been somewhat unique, mostly because I was the only English major in the classroom, and therefore much of my education has centered on literacy in the classroom.  As a result, I paid a lot of attention to considerations many of my classmates had about how literacy might play a role in their classrooms.  Looking back on the class, I think the most important thing I’ve learned is the necessity to avoid the rivalries and schisms between students and teachers that I have been talking about.  As teachers, our role is to build a bridge between what our students need to learn to grow and develop and what they already understand.  We can’t fall into the trap of an adversarial relationship with our students, and use techniques that help them activate their natural desire for knowledge.

Because everybody has a desire for knowledge.  The student who raises his hand to ask when he’ll ever use math in his life will often go off with friends and talk about the finer points of sports statistics.  The student who can’t find any value in the literary analysis of a character or a plot point can talk for hours about the comings, goings, and fashion choices of the heartthrob du jour.  A student who thinks chemistry class is pointless just might go home to manage a meth lab.

My point is that we live in the Information Age, and students instinctively understand that in order to survive within the zeitgeist they must find their niches, even if that niche involves intentional marginalization from the mainstream.  We need to show our students that, whatever their dream, they can achieve it, and that the things we have to teach them—regardless of content area—are important for the level of critical thinking they will need to find not just survival, but success.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

SCED 4200 Blog Post 11: Practicing Teaching Analysis

We had many discussions about activating a student’s prior knowledge and incorporating affective approaches to literacy this semester, and during my clinicals at Logan High School I noticed that one of the teachers I observed did this quite well as the class read Romeo and Juliet.  I must say that when I learned the class would be reading Romeo and Juliet during my time in the class I was somewhat disappointed.  To this day the play remains my least favorite of Shakespeare’s works, but in the class I gained a new appreciation for how the opinions of the students, as well as those of the teacher, can be used to further appreciate the text.  Also, it’s often difficult for young readers to see through the different language and cultural references that Shakespeare uses in his plays, but this teacher did a great job of helping his students make connections with events and ideas from their own lives and draw on their own knowledge to understand the text.  Love is a common and obvious theme, and I really liked how the teacher validated the opinions of the students in class discussions.  Some students felt that the romance was charged with drama and closely matched (in terms of that drama) situations that the students themselves had experienced; others saw Romeo as a creepy boy falling head over heels for a thirteen year old girl after breaking up with some other chick.  This disparity among the students made for some very interesting discussions, and led to some in-depth analysis of the play that I don’t remember happening when I read the play at that age.  Making those connections really made the difference, I think, and I plan on doing the same thing in my own classroom.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

SCED 4200 Blog Post 10: Critical Literacy

Literacy is generally regarded as the ability to read and write, and that perception is what gives the impression that English classes are difficult or at the very least that a student can’t find practical application of literary skills or techniques taught in the classroom.  My view is that literacy, in its most basic sense, is the ability to understand the nuances of a given topic.  A person who is literate in wilderness survival, for example, is aware of the strategies and skills necessary to live in the wilderness and can converse with those who share that literacy, speaking in common terms and jargon.

Critical literacy isn’t terribly different from my conception of “normal” literacy.  It’s the ability to not only understand the specific terminology of a given topic but to make decisions based on that understanding.  With the example of the literate wilderness survivalist, knowledge of techniques allows one to make decisions that can lead to survival even in dire situations.  My wife and I actually found ourselves turned around in the wilderness after dark, and we decided we needed to start a fire and wait until sunrise so we could see where we were going.  If it wasn’t for my wife’s familiarity with starting and maintaining fires, we would have been in for a night much colder than it was.

This definition of critical literacy prompts me to challenge my students to not only come to class and fulfill the minimum requirements of the class but to become experts in fields relevant to their futures.  While this should certainly promote competency in chosen careers, it also includes the ability to make informed decisions in social or political issues.  Students should be able to glean life lessons from whatever they read, whether it’s the literary “canon,” or texts the student reads freely, growing as individuals and as members of society.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Blog Post 8: Digital Literacy

Technology surrounds me, and I like to think that I've maintained some level of independence from digital technologies, but the facts just don't support that idea. In a given week, the hours I've spent watching a screen can be measured in days. I'm online almost perpetually when I'm home, even though my attention may not be on the internet itself. I work nights, and while I carry out my duties there I've either got an I-Pod to surf the web or an old palm pilot I use as a word processor (which I actually used to type up this post). I engage in some correspondence through Facebook, but the majority of my online interaction is through the forums and message boards of communities that share my interest, in which I'm often a vocal, central member.

With all that said, I do try to keep my 'online time' prioritized, and to keep it from becoming the addiction I know it can be. At certain times in the past our home has not had the internet, and those times were actually quite relieving; a sanctuary from the outside world, if you will. Though I would have to go elsewhere to turn in online assignments, it actually forced me to plan for such events and organize my life. Such occasional limitations have proven to be a constructive element in my life, and have helped me draw a line more clearly between what digital technology is a necessity in my current lifestyle and what is merely a luxury I can currently afford.

I'm old enough to remember times before the internet, and when a mobile phone was one that had no cord attaching it to the wall but was limited in range from its cradle. A memory of those times helps me appreciate the benefit they are and gives me a frame of reference for how technological innovations have shaped our culture. I think this awareness will help me show students how to use technology for their benefit within the classroom. While I think that students will already come to the classroom more tech savvy than me, I can help them see the constructive uses of the internet and other information tools.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Blog Post 7: Affective Writing Response

Though earlier in life I never considered myself a 'good' writer, over the years I've come to see myself as such. A more accurate term to describe how I see myself would probably be 'storyteller,' but the primary medium for my stories is the written word so, in a broad sense, I've come to be a writer. I enjoy expressing myself through artwork as well, and have often used both media in tandem to present my ideas. For example, I enjoyed reading comic books when I was young, but it was never enough to simply read them; I wanted to participate in the worlds I saw, interact with them, live those fantastic lives as much as I could. Writing and drawing my own stories was my way of doing just that.

Crudely drawn comic books gave way to a more subtle form of writing, namely the materials involved in the preparation and execution of role playing games. It was in that arena that I learned the dynamic nature of characterization and the organic process of developing a creative plot. My friends and I enjoyed ourselves, and I daresay that many of the stories we concocted together would still be impressive by my current standards (or perhaps that's just nostalgia).

It was in college when I really began to see the power of words as I bounced from theater and playwriting classes to a brief time as a journalism major, and finally through the lens of English education. I've seen words both as a means to an end and as the end itself. Despite my background in recreational creative writing, I've found that in an academic setting I enjoy critical analysis papers more than anything else. In such papers I'm expected to dissect, interpret, and evaluate themes and phenomena in given texts. I get to take a literary microscope to the text, learning skills for use with my own writing as well as worldviews of other writers.

That is not to say that I've enjoyed all my writing assignments. I struggle any time I'm given a narrow list of topics or I'm required to write from a position that holds little interest for me. Such assignments are rare, but when it happens I often try to approach the assignment in ways that I find entertaining, and in the end assignments I don't care for end up being at least somewhat creative.

This eclectic range of writing experiences helps me understand that students often come to class with their own interests in writing, ranging from "none at all" to "the next teen author." I've had experience with many registers of speech and text, and I see merit in writing just about anything, from complex essays and intensely crafted created works to more informal, socially driven writing like Facebook, texting, or forum-based dialogue. Because of this, I can help students recognize that they too are 'good' writers in at least one area of their lives.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SCED 4200 Blog Post 5: Research Abstracts

Ruble, Julie, and Kim Lysne. "The Animated Classroom: Using Japanese Anime to Engage and Motivate Students." English Journal 100.1 (2010): 37-46.

Teachers introduce Japanese culture through several media, most notably Hayao Miyazaki’s anime films like Spirited Away and Ponyo. Through these texts, students learn not only about the culture and history of Japan but also about environmental concerns. Students also learn about the animation process, developing a project where they make their own films. Focusing on the skills and techniques they’ve learned, students become directors and screenwriters themselves, collaborating to communicate their own environmental messages through film. Students are then assessed based on the originality and creativity of the script, as well as their ability to collaborate.

"What Activity Has Been Most Effective in Assisting High School Students to Read Successfully?" English Journal 93.5 (2004): 20-23.

Several teachers share their experiences and insights about how to help students become successful readers. From introspective activities encouraging students to discover their own feelings about reading to social interactions that help students feel comfortable with being readers. Students have many gateways into successful reading, such as through graphic novels or through reading texts based on personal interest.

Vasudevan, Lalitha M. "Looking for Angels: Knowing Adolescents by Engaging with Their Multimodal Literacy Practices." Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 50.4 (2007).

An eight-month vignette of the life of one young reader. Labeled a “low literate,” the student nevertheless exhibits creativity and intelligence in contrast to arbitrary standards imposed by the school system. This perceived discrepancy is exemplary of how schools are blind to young people’s voluntary engagement as both producers and consumers of a variety of texts.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

SCED 4200 Post 3: Affective Dimensions of Reading

I've never thought of myself as anything but a good reader, but I wouldn't be surprised if teachers I had growing up might disagree. I love to absorb information on topics I enjoy, but the opposite is true with subjects or material that don't interest me as much.

I mostly gravitate toward science fiction in my reading preferences, and most other texts I read point back to that genre one way or another. I've been an avid comic book reader since I was young, and have practically devoured novels based in the Star Wars universe. I've read a lot of biological texts over the last few years, especially those that provided insight into my xenobiology project.

I've never really disliked reading in general, and have always been encouraged by friends and family to explore stories in multiple media. Over the years, I've come to appreciate what I've read in other genres, be it fiction and non-fiction. There may occasionally be a text that I just can't get into, but such events have never soured me on the enjoyment of a good book.

I hope to convey this love of reading to my students in the future, and help them see that even if we're covering something in the class there are things they do enjoy reading about and that they should cultivate the skill for use in all aspects of their lives.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

SCED 4200 Post 2: Literacy Autobiography

I don’t remember learning to read, but I do remember helping my brothers learn to read, which I suppose was good practice at that age. We started with small and simple books, the ones that have more pictures than words, but the novelty of that soon wore off; reading another story was less interesting than making up our own stories in the back yard. Reading was always a part of our lives growing up, but more important was a sense of understanding: of ourselves, of each other, and of the world around us. We were raised to be very observant, and when I think of the word “literacy” this sense of awareness and understanding comes to mind.

I never made that connection while growing up. In school I learned that literacy was the ability to read and write; I learned about spelling and handwriting and how important it is to be able to read and write well. All of that is important, and I took to it all quite well in my youth, but such tasks never engaged me as much as my extracurricular experiences with reading. An avid comic book reader from a young age, my mind was engaged both by the fantastic stories and by the colorful artwork on every pulpy page. I was enamored with the whole industry, dreaming of becoming a comic book artist and putting the pictures in my head on paper. I didn’t wait for acceptance in that profession to write and illustrate my own stories, stapling together my own little books and placing them on the shelf with professional works. I always saw my words standing side by side with the publications of artists and storytellers I admired. I wanted to learn how to make my works as good as theirs, so when I saw books about drawing I would read them, and I looked at stories written by others to see if I could make my stories just as fun and interesting.

Meanwhile, teachers introduced me to “literature,” stories that are recognized by many as noteworthy and representative of the breadth of human experience. I didn’t see any value in reading these works, of course, maintaining that nonfiction was never as interesting as the fantastic worlds of speculation. Things that actually had happened somewhere in space and time never seemed as potent to me as things that could have happened, or that may yet do so; many teachers were frustrated by the lack of interest I expressed in what they offered, especially when I would avidly read the works of Asimov, Card, and many others, and when I would write my own stories rather than complete essays or writing for their classes. It wasn’t until one teacher, Mrs. Riggs, presented a different face of literature that I had my first breakthrough.

My interest had turned to role playing games by that point, both for the sense of camaraderie developed among participants and for the shared storytelling that had thrilled me since I played in the backyard in my youth. I was constantly on the lookout for story ideas that I could appropriate into enjoyable tabletop adventures, and, as I entered Mrs. Rigg’s classroom, I was looking outside of my comfort zone for ideas and understanding.

Mrs. Riggs provided the other end of the bridge I traveled into more traditional areas of literature, most notably by reading one of the earliest works of science fiction: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. We studied the novel just as we would any other, and it was the first time I had seen anyone apply that much scrutiny and analysis to science fiction, pulling from it the same quality of insight and values that I saw done with the “canon.” It was the first time that I could consciously take hold of the tools I had been given in school and use them to unwrap something I loved and show it to others in the world, and in ways that could be understood by others.

It’s that sense of awakening I want to bring as a teacher. I know not everyone has the love I have for speculative fiction, but everyone has a love for something that I believe literature can unlock. For those who wish their voices to be heard, I want to show how others have stood out and loaned their voices to the world. For those who want to learn more about themselves, I want to help them see their reflections in the faces of characters. For those who claim that literacy plays a small role in their lives, I want to help them see that learning, and growing, and understanding anything around us is literacy, and they can use that desire to know to do great things.

Monday, January 16, 2012

SCED 4200 Blog Post 1 (Introduction)

My name is Evan Black and I'm studying to teach English at the secondary level. My minor is Spanish and I will also receive my certification for that as well. I see a lot of connections between the two fields, especially as it applies to literacy, as both focus on language and its use in society. The goals of the Spanish class are more utilitarian in nature since most students will enter it with little to no experience with the language, so much time is spent on basic learning. English classes in America are more in-depth, exploring the language in its complexity and usage in literature and interpersonal settings. All these aspects of language interest me, and I want to help my future students develop a similar appreciation for words and the power they can give us all in our personal lives and in society as a whole.

I also hope to incorporate several forms of media in the classroom, mostly due to the fact that my love of words has developed through many different sources in my life. Growing up I was an avid comic book reader; at the time I had difficulty seeing how this could be considered a form of literacy, mostly due to society's view on the medium. I also participated in tabletop roleplaying, which encouraged me to explore the nuances of character development and the relationship the character has with the plot in which it finds itself. Finally, I wrote a script for a short fan film with my friends that helped me understand how words on the page can translate into images on a screen. I'll probably talk more about how these activities have shaped my literary experiences in my next post.

Also, I've cultivated a strong artistic talent over the years (my parents say I stopped drawing stick figures before I had even learned how to write), engaging in projects both personal and professional. One of the major endeavors at this point in my life is a project I've worked on for two or three years called Nereus. It's essentially a scientific speculation on extraterrestrial planetology and xenobiology, where I design as plausible a planet as I can and populate it with equally plausible alien flora and fauna, then provide articles and illustrations for my imagined species. Geeky, I know, but after reading about my other hobbies are you really surprised at this point?

After showing people my artistic work I'm often asked why I'm going into teaching English instead of Art. The answer is that, quite frankly, art has come too naturally to me. When I think about teaching others how to develop their artistic talents my mind draws a blank. The process is too subconscious for me to articulate, and I don't know how I could help students learn the same.

By contrast, my interest in language and literature is something that I've developed over time. In other words, I had to learn to like English, and because I had to learn it I can understand when students have to learn to like it as well. It's for that reason that I believe I'll have better success teaching English than Art.

That's all I can think of to introduce myself. If there are any questions just add a comment on this post and I'll answer them as I can.