In this session we focused on “Writing Next,” and engaged in a “silent discussion” on the text.
This discussion quickly led to questions about character and grit, and thoughts about whether or not we sometimes make learning too easy for students. For example, do students need to memorize math facts? Or, should they just learn how to use calculators? I noted that similar questions could be raised about writing. Do students need to be able to write by hand? We noticed that in the writing-by-hand activity that started our class that night, a few students decided not to use paper and pen. Instead, they opted to type on their laptops. Is that “okay”? Who decides? These questions about skills and what students need to do are always controversial, influenced by power, identity, and a long history of exclusion in education. They are also at the heart of what it means to study literacy.
Moving from our questions about what students need to do, what learning looks like, and what behaviors we associate with literacy and academic posture, students began to raise other important questions. How do we know when we are the ones doing more work than the students? Will students develop the expectation that teachers will always make exceptions and accommodations for them? Several students pointed out that for students with disabilities, the assistance is necessary; their students have plenty of “grit,”they work their hardest all of the time, and so modifications are not optional, but necessary.
I brought in an example of my own teaching to show that some of the same ideas we have been discussing – making learning cultural relevant, bringing students’ lives into the classroom, differentiation, multimodality – don’t need to be seen as approaches to literacy that make things easier for students. I tried to explain by sharing a project I worked on with a 10th grade honors class, where we used photography and social media to develop an approach to literacy influenced by critical literary theory. These theories are often not incorporated in the secondary classroom; Deborah Appleman has pointed out that many teachers view them as too sophisticated for teenagers to understand. In her book, Critical Encounters in High School English, she shows how these ideas can be utilized. In my own work, I found that utilizing multimodal texts (such as photographs) made the concepts more accessible to the students and helped them push their thinking and literary analysis to new levels. After they wrote their papers, I asked them to take the ideas in the papers and present them in a form other than the traditional essay form. The results surprised me, as the students used multiple genres and modes to share their ideas — reinforcing their comprehension not only of the texts they read, but also the ideas that they wanted to share.
Power Point: EDLIT755 Session 9