Adolescent Literacy

Thinking about a number of things as I prepare to teach Reading in the Content Areas again:

One, how much of one’s approach as a high school teacher has to be triage for the damage done by previous teachers? Unlike a fifth grade teacher, who can look at a group of children and know that they might, with a lot of work, be able to catch everyone up, a high school teacher can look around the room and know that getting all student to grade level is nigh impossible. And all of the horrid things that have been done to kids in elementary school and middle school in the name of literacy…well, let’s just say that high school is a chance for a revenge, whether the suburban “I don’t hear you version” or the urban “read it yourself chump” version.

I think about Mathilda and the discovery of the joys of reading. How do you get teenagers to feel that same joy if they’ve never done so before?

From Sven Birkerts, whose Gutenberg Elegies I have assigned…I’m scared of the outcome — I love this book but I’m really worried my students will hate it.

“The main difference between childhood reading and reading undertaken later is that in the former, futurity — the idea of one’s life as a project, or adventure, or set of possibilities — has not yet entered the calculation. The child reads within a bubble. He is like Narcissus staring at his lovely image in the water’s mirror. He is still sealed off from any notion of the long-term unfolding of the life, except in the perfected terms of fantasy: I, too, will be a pirate…

The change comes with adolescence, that biological and psychological free-fire zone during which the profoundest existential questions are not only posed, but lived. Who am I? Why am I doing what I’m doing? What should I do? What will happen to me? It is in adolescence that most of grasp that life — our own life — is a problem to be solved, that a set of personal unknowns must now be factored together with the frightening variables of experience. The future suddenly appears — it is the space upon which the answers will be inscribed. The very idea of futurity now becomes charged with electricity.

Birkerts, S. (2006). The Gutenberg elegies : the fate of reading in an electronic age (Pbk. ed.). New York: Faber and Faber, 89.

Either you believe it…

Started reading one of the new journalist-not-academic spends a year at a school book to determine whether testing is having an impact or not.

And there’s lots of recent debate in various educational blogs about NCLB and its renewal.

Here’s the thing: either you believe that standardized tests measure something or you don’t.

If you believe, then you can look at pretty graphs and form all sorts of judgments. You can put yourself on the back for connecting accountability with these numbers and you can fret over the children and schools that just can’t seem to get it together.

But what if you don’t believe? What if you think these numbers measure nothing more than a child’s performance with a number two pencil on a single school morning? What if you think that what it takes to read and write effectively can never be measured on a standardized test?

What if you’ve spent enough time in schools to see the difference between test results when it’s the only thing focused upon versus those days when schools had other goals in mind?

I know schools are mandated to take standardized tests, but what happens if a parents refuse to send their kids to school that week? Can a principal mandate a test? I know that the number of children who take the test is included in the results but what would happen if a parent flat out refused to allow their kid into the room while the testing was taking place?

critical consciousness vs. up-n-out

Most of the literature on successful inner-city teaching focuses on critical consciousness,social justice or racial theory. You don’t have to look far to find these books, most of which enable bright young assistant professors to become bright middle-aged associate professors. And I like some of these books and found some of them immensely helpful in constructing my own classroom practice.

Here’s the problem — the top students, the ones who are most invested in learning and school, the ones who will be engaged regardless of the pedagogy — well, most of those students are looking to get up-n-out. They want to push the button in the glass elevator and be free from the struggles of inner-city living; to re-phrase in a more academic way, they want to be free of daily confrontations with the structural inequalities of urban life.

A critical pedagogy serves these children — as it serves all children — but I do wonder if this sort of classroom does a disservice to a student who wants nothing more than to do well in college. Obviously the best teachers manage both but where should I place my emphasis as a teacher educator?

Hitchens on Harry

Christopher Hitchens, professional literary bomb thrower, has a great review of Harry Potter in this weekend’s Times. My favorite line:

“The schoolchildren appear to know nothing of Christianity; in this latest novel Harry and even Hermione are ignorant of two well-known biblical verses encountered in a churchyard. That the main characters nonetheless have a strong moral code and a solid ethical commitment will be a mystery to some — like his holiness the pope and other clerical authorities who have denounced the series — while seeming unexceptionable to many others.”

How do you teach…

Thinking about my secondary student teacher seminar and wondering if the traits I perceive as most valuable for a new teacher can actually be taught in a seminar:

Humility ?


Intellectual curiosity?

Liking teenagers?

I feel as though — at least on good days — I might be able to inspire number three. By my example, perhaps I can demonstrate why humility and patience matter in a classroom, but I’m somewhat dubious as to how deeply that will penetrate…

As for liking the energy, the angst, and the smell of teenagers — either you have it or you don’t.

Teach like your hair’s on fire

Usually I can’t stomach former teacher books but this one is excellent… perhaps because Esquith is still in the classroom ?

Many great lines — his portrayal of literacy coaches is devastating and all too true — but one favorite of mine is his description of a quiz his students composed about reading:

1. Have you ever secretly read under your desk in school because the teacher was boring and you were dying to finish the book you were reading?
2. Have you ever been scolded for reading at the dinner table?
3. Have you ever read secretly under the covers after being told to go to bed?

My only question: can you bring high school students to this point? Is it ever too late?

Esquith continues, “If a child is going to grow into a truly special adult — someone who thinks, considers other points of view, has an open mind, and possesses the ability to discuss great ideas with other people — a love of reading is an essential foundation.”

Equith, R. (2007). Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56. New York: Viking, p.33.

One other good line:
“there are so many charlatans in the world of education. They teach for a couple of years, come up with a few clever slogans, build their Web sites, and hit the lecture circuit.”

Add a line about really nice suits and it’s perfect.

How to change a drive letter

How to assign a drive letter
To assign a drive letter to a drive, a partition, or a volume, follow these steps:
1. Log on as Administrator or as a member of the Administrators group.
2. Click Start, click Control Panel, and then click Performance and Maintenance.
Note If you do not see Performance and Maintenance, go to step 3. Performance and Maintenance appears in Control Panel only if you use Category view. If you use Classic view, Performance and Maintenance does not appear.
3. Click Administrative Tools, double-click Computer Management, and then click Disk Management in the left pane.
4. Right-click the drive, the partition, the logical drive, or the volume that you want to assign a drive letter to, and then click Change Drive Letter and Paths.
5. Click Add.
6. Click Assign the following drive letter if it is not already selected, and then either accept the default drive letter or click the drive letter that you want to use.
7. Click OK.

I Heart Microsoft

While opening a new word document in Office 2007, I clicked on letters, than academic templates.

Within this collection were the following:

Complaint about teacher
Complaint about teacher to principal
Complaint about teacher to school board

Make it as easy as possible to poop on those damned teachers.

Studying teachers

I spent much of the past three days putting together a proposal for the major conference on education. In documenting teacher work, I based my argument on the notion that the only way to explain how it feels to teach is to actually teach.

Today I got the link for the new TCRecord and the lead article was a statistical analysis of survey data taken from thousands of teachers. I just can’t help but feel that no matter how clever the survey author, and no matter how clever the analyst, you miss something by not talking to teachers directly.

Similarly, the summer issue of the HER features some great articles gathered under the heading of VIS (voices inside schools). Wonderful — the words and thoughts of students, counselors, and teachers ! Maybe in four years we’ll see another edition that embraces a similar approach.

I suppose it’s just my own wariness regarding how certain kinds of “research” are perceived and my fears that now matter how rigorous and theoretically grounded, the kids of teacher research that I think actually helps folks in the field will continue to be forced underground.