Session 11 (online)

For Wednesday, June 17.

For this session you are presented with the same three paths offered to you in Session 10. For this session, please select a different path to focus on. This time leave a public comment below. In your comment, please be sure to reference at least three of the texts in the path you selected and pose 1-2 questions to the group.

All materials can be found on a Google Drive folder: click here.

NOTE: To watch the videos, you will need to click on the “present” button on the upper right hand side of the slide.

Path 1: Critical literacy, writing & representation

  • Allen Luke on critical literacy (video)
  • Kittle, P. (2008). “Grammar, Punctuation, and What Keeps Me up at Night,” in Write Beside Them: Risk, voice, and clarity in high school writing. New York: Heinemann.
  • Graham, S. “Writing-to-Read”
  • “Geeking out with Junot Diaz,” (video)

Path 2: Student experience & hip-hop pedagogy

  • Kim, J. (2011).”Is it bigger than hip-hop?: Examining the problems and potential of hip-hop in the curriculum.” In V. Kinloch (Ed.), Urban literacies: Critical perspectives on language, learning, and community. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Michie, G. (1999). “You gotta be hard,” in Holler if you hear me: The education of a teacher and his students. New York: Teachers College Press.
  • Valerie Kinloch, “Harlem Gentrification Project” (video)
  • Bomer, R. (1995). “Creating literate environments in secondary school literacy classrooms,” in Time for meaning: Crafting literate lives in middle and high school. New York: Heinemann.

Path 3: Critical literacy & the writing process

  • Wallack, N.B. (2009). “Focused freewriting: How to do things with writing prompts.” Writing-based teaching: Essential practices and enduring questions. Albany: State University of New York Press.
  • Janks, H. (2010). “Orientations to literacy,” in Literacy and power. New York: Rutledge Press.
  • Dr. Steve Graham (video)
  • Nikky Finney on blackboards (video)

24 thoughts on “Session 11 (online)

  1. Path 2

    I really liked a lot of things Heineman said in “Creating Literate Environments in Secondary School Classrooms,” but found some things to unrealistic. I love the idea of having students write journals to find out more about them personally and academically. What shaped them as students? What type of learner are they? What do they hate? What do they love? We can learn so much about our students; we can play to their strengths and build their weaknesses’ through what we learned. A journal can be reviewed at any time and doesn’t take much time for students to write. What I didn’t find feasible is keeping a personal log on each student each day. Who has time for that in a class? I know I certainly wouldn’t. Again, when the teacher mentions theater activities to build trust and community, I thought, who has time for that? I do think building a trusting environment is extremely important, but I think you can do it without taking away class time (through discussions and demonstrations that it is a safe space). I also agreed that displaying student work is great. This can help to show students you are proud of their work and that may carry over to their feelings of self. I also loved the idea of having constants in the classroom that can travel with you. Overall everything was very personal and well thought out, but some ideas were easier to implement than others.

    “Urban Literacies: Critical Perspectives on Language, Learning, and Community” by Valerie Kinloch brought up a concern of mine about using rap in the classroom. There is such diversity and cultural differences in our students, will rap benefit them all? Or will it make learning more difficult for some? I ended by thinking, nothing reaches all students, so hip hop can be used to reach some. She also brought up how rap has changed over the years, one major thing I grappled with is the role models of rappers. Most rap that is popular today isn’t what it used to be. It isn’t rooted in the same positive messages and I am not sure we should be praising rap in the classroom. I struggle with this because if you do it in the right way and have students rap in the classroom, it’s turning things around and making for the positive form of rap by defining hip hop differently, which is great. What I loved most was when she brought up looking at hip hop as a whole and not just rapping. Improve and experimental teaching can turn out to be amazing, even if you were skeptical. I loved trying new things when tutoring. You never know what your students will run with. However, I must ask, is this realistic in most schools or is there a strict, set curriculum you must follow? I am curious as I am not currently teaching.

    Unfortunately, the story of gang’s in our school communities is something some of us will face in NYC schools just as “You Gotta Be Hard” discussed. However, I don’t think we should ever give up on our students because they are showing signs of being in a gang. Did the student drop out because of the gang? Or did the student drop out because his teachers stopped believing in him? Relating to this, I think it’s really important to show students compassion and understanding. Treat students as equals, just as the Preacher Green did. Later, the piece talks about parental support. There is a theme here, no matter what we need to be there to support our youth.

    I think Path 2’s most important message is to support and try to understand our youth as best we can. What can we do as teachers to show students we care on both a personal and academic level?


    • I like what you’ve said here about being skeptical as to whether or not we should be promoting the messages that sent through today’s rap. I agree–if I think about the trajectory that rap and hip-hop has taken over the years (not that I’m any sort of expert), I don’t see a positive trend and feel as though a lot of the music that young people are listening to sends messages that I most definitely do NOT want to encourage in my classroom. How do we make that distinction with our students about what’s appropriate, responsible, encouraging, uplifting, and what isn’t?


  2. Path 3

    One of the biggest buzzwords in education today is rigor. How can rigor be improved in a classroom? How can student thinking be made visible? How can all students be active participants in class versus passively taking in information? Given the demands of high stakes testing and packed curriculums, it can be challenging to find time within the already limited class time to incorporate new strategies that allow for increased rigor and engagement, however, it is all the more important to do so. I firmly believe that designing lessons that are rooted in both rigor and engagement will help students understand content on a deeper level and better retain the material. One way to incorporate rigor into a classroom is through writing activities that allow students the opportunity to grapple with material and consolidate their understandings.

    Thinking back on my years as a student, many of my classes were structured in such a way that the teacher would stand at the front of the room, present material, and then ask questions of the students. This form of instruction though only engages a small percentage of the class, while the majority of students remain passive throughout the lesson. This year at my school we met as a faculty for a professional development period that was meant to teach us strategies to counter that traditional classroom model. One such strategy that we learned that day was the writing to learn ‘placemat discussion.” In a placemat discussion, groups of students are each given a large whiteboard. The whiteboard is then partitioned off into even sections for each student in the group, with a rectangle left in the middle. The teacher then poses a question to the class and asks all students to write responses in their particular section for a period of time. While the students are silently writing, the teacher circulates the room reading student responses and assessing conceptions and misconceptions. The class is then brought back together and asked to read/ share each other’s responses and come up with a group response that can be written in the middle of the board. If the teacher would like, groups can then share out whole class. This activity is quite powerful for many reasons, although my favorite reason is that it is a way to get all students to participate in a discussion versus the back and forth described above that I was used to as a student. Students through this activity also make their thinking visible, which provides valuable data to teachers that can inform instruction in that moment. This activity can be adapted in many ways to meet the needs of particular classrooms and activities. The Nikki Finney video on the value of blackboards is just one example of this. In the video, Finney talks about the importance of having a space to catch and record all of the thoughts that a person has on a particular topic. For her, she likes to use blackboards for the visual, audio and kinesthetic aspects of it. These two activities are just different takes on the same idea—having a space to record thoughts and make thinking visible.

    While I have loved using placemat discussions in my classrooms, there are a handful of students that complain about the activity because it forces them to write. My co-teacher is also quite resistant to placemat discussions for he feels that it takes away from instructional time that is better used having kids perform practice problems. This sentiment is echoed in the article How To Do Things With Writing Prompts. In this text, the author acknowledges that given high stakes testing and restraints on time because of packed curriculums, many teachers are resistant to incorporating free writing activities such as this into classrooms. While I recognize teachers concerns related to this, I am a firm believe that with well-constructed free writing prompts and questions, students will be able to engage with material and consolidate their understandings on a much deeper level.

    Teaching Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities:

    When thinking about how to develop writing into content area classes there are many best practices that are helpful to consider. In writing, one of the biggest inhibitors is student handwriting and spelling. When students get hung up on how to spell a word, or the legibility of their handwriting, then it interrupts the fluency of their writing process. In the video, Teaching Writing to Students with Disabilities, Dr. Steve Graham, states that if a student struggles with spelling or handwriting, working with them to improve upon these areas creates quite the ripple effect throughout other aspects of writing. When thinking about how to incorporate writing into a classroom, it is important to identify if students have either of these issues, and then develop ways to help them improve upon these areas.


  3. Agree, rigor is a buzz word…along with grit. In our school it was one of our central focus points for this year. Our special education department was often challenged with how to ensure rigor was balanced with accessibility.


  4. As described in Wallack’s article, I like the idea of using focused freewriting prompts or questions to help readers engage with new or difficult texts. I also prefer this type of more structured writing than the traditional freewriting activities I’ve seen in the past where “all constraints are lifted” other than time. Having students write “I don’t know what to write” when they are stuck never quite made sense to me. I think having students share their written responses to the prompts with the rest of the class would help improve their academic ownership. In an article from yesterday’s reading, the author talked about maintaining a reading library where previous students’ work is kept. I like the idea of students generating public writing instead of keeping it private – realizing that for some students this may cause some anxiety, it may motivate them to complete and refine their writing assignments.

    I didn’t see anything incredibly helpful in Dr. Graham’s video as he seemed to suggest just giving students more instruction and provide extra attention in the areas of handwriting and spelling skills. I did, however, agree with his point that students have difficulty when we ask them to write about thing they don’t know a lot about. From my experiences this year, students were much more engaged and productive when a writing assignment followed a socratic seminar. Giving them a chance to understand the topic in greater depth made it far easier for them to write an essay.

    I loved it when Nikky Finney said “I love a long time ago” when she was talking about blackboards as being a place where kids used to learn something. When taking a class at Hunter College High School, that still has walls of chalkboards, another teacher was surprised they still had them given the dust concern. I’m a child of the chalkboard-only generation and don’t recall any students experiencing ill effects from chalk dust. Does your school have chalkboards? My school does not have a single one. We have smartboards, 90% of which don’t work but function merely as screens for powerpoint projections.


  5. Path 3

    I appreciated the emphasis on students being able to engage in critical literacy. The path for student to engage in this can be difficult since they need to be able to decode, make meaning, and then interrogate; without the first two categories, it is nearly impossible for students to successfully be critical and wary of the text they read. Each of these represents a level of thinking, decoding represents a basic skill, whereas making meaning from the texts, connecting previous knowledge to what the text is saying requires higher cognitive skills. To interrogate the text is to be conscious of what the text is trying to do to you as a reader, and be critical of it. Janks shares similarities with Allen Luke in the idea that critical literacy can only be achieved if we have more than one way of thinking. Janks explains that literacy instruction is not a neutral activity; the curriculum studied represents one aspect of the culture. I thought about how difficult it is for teachers to create a culturally relevant curriculum. Therefore, we must develop students that engage in a distrustful stance against the content and its context. In order to do this, students must be able to deconstruct the text. By undoing the text, students are able to be more aware of the choices the writer/speaker has made. Additionally, Jenks describes domination, access, diversity, and design. These are all interconnected with each other. How much access students have to diverse texts will decrease the power dominant texts have. Design also plays a key role as different discourses provide different ways to see the world.

    As Cathlin mentioned above, I did not find Graham’s video to be helpful. As a special educator, I am aware of the difficulties students that struggle with handwriting and spelling can have, and how it affects other aspects of their learning. I know that kids who struggle with mechanics often do not create as much text. These thoughts seem logical to me. His method to improve this meant increased instruction; however, as we have mentioned in class, this is exactly one of the problems. We do not have extra instructional time where we can address these students’ needs. As teachers, we are also familiar with the need for students to become familiar with the writing process: planning, revising, monitoring, and evaluation, so I would have appreciated more ideas in how to ease this learning than just mentioning that it would make them more successful.

    In regards to the writing process, I liked Nikki Finney’s video because she recalls how when she starts writing in a blackboard, ideas start growing and she starts connecting it to other parts, drawing arrows, circling it, etc. This thought process, maybe on a paper instead, can help our students in the planning and organizing process. They can feel free to write words about the topic assigned and connected them as they go to then write a complete organized text.

    The Focused Free Writing article, pushed my thinking to how I can apply this into my classroom, recognizing that it is not just the usual free writing but that instead is writing with prompts and questions that help develop motives for engaging new or difficult texts, often creating more meaningful work. I connected to the quote Wallack includes by John Bean, “often the struggle of writing, linked as it is to the struggle of thinking and to the growth of a person’s intellectual powers, awakens students to the real nature of learning.” As our students push themselves to keep writing, there are pushing their own ideas and thoughts to come out. Instead of being passive learners, they are engaged and, hopefully, thinking critically about what they have read, or the answers they are putting down. In order to get better and increase muscle memory they need practice. We need the time in our classroom to have writing drills where students can acquire the practice they need to transcend the moment we are in, and instead continue in their future.


  6. Path 3

    The article “Orientation to Literacy” the author talks about how decoding text, making meaning of text, and interrogating text (and more) are all interdependent skills that are needed in order to be more successful with literacy. Focusing on just one skill may not address all the needs that our students have in order to improve their literacy. In my experience, students who struggle with literacy are deficient in many areas of reading and writing as opposed to just one. Integrating multiple orientations to literacy is helpful especially with students with learning disabilities.

    In the video “Teaching Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities, Steve Graham explains how writing mechanics and understanding content are related. Many students with learning disabilities struggle with one of these areas or both. He suggests focused learning like letter formation or spelling as a way to help students who struggle with mechanics. With one of my male students, I had a hard time determining if it was more important to concentrate on writing more legibly or comprehending the text that was given. There were times when he focused so much on the formation of the words and letters he was writing, he paid no attention to whether or not he answered the given question correctly. After watching the video, i now know there are ways to address both skills. I could give him assignments that allow him to practice letter formation after it has been modeled, and I can organize the text into smaller pieces so my students can concentrate on comprehending one section at a time.

    After watching the Nikki Finney video about blackboards, I am reminded of how every learner is different. Some students may learn better on a blackboard while others may like Smart boards more. My point is that we as teachers need to try our best to accommodate for the learning needs of students. A strategy that works well for one students may not be helpful for another. I find that my most of my students like videos and visuals, but that does not change that fact that I also need to teach the lesson in my own words for my auditory learners.

    Questions for the group:
    1. Have you been more successful addressing one literacy skill at a time, or integrating multiple skills at the same time during instruction? Why?
    2. Does teaching writing mechanics such as letter formation interfere with teaching content? How are the two balanced in the classroom?


  7. In Creating Literate Environments in Secondary School Literacy Classrooms, the author discusses the idea of the classroom being a blank slate that is receptive rather than transmissive. She begins each year by engaging students in a study of who they are as readers and writers. She explains that at the beginning of the school year “we begin the work of becoming ‘us’ by investigating the raw materials of the course, the lives of the people in this place.” Students author their life history as readers and writers, thereby beginning the process of developing their identities as readers or writers. I was struck by this idea not only for its inherent cultural relevance, but also for its ability to engage students through work that is meaningful to them. Many of my students fail to see the value in reading and writing, simply because the value was never explained to them. I think this is a good way to build investment and begin to discuss why reading and writing is so integral to our lives.

    The author continues to develop students’ identities throughout the year by keeping a sheet to record any information that adds to the portrait of each individual student as a literate learner. This also lets students know that the teacher takes the work of “getting to know ourselves” seriously. She also discusses the importance of forming community in the classroom, which doesn’t necessarily mean every one has to like each other, but rather they need to have an awareness of and respect for one another. She builds the community through improv activities and shared literature, which both provide students the opportunity to get to know each other on a more personal level, thereby establishing greater trust. This is something I felt was lacking from my classroom this year and I was really intrigued by her method of building this community, as it was both creative (improv) and practical (literature). I plan to implement many of her ideas in my own ELA classroom next year.

    Valerie Kinloch’s discussions of what it means to be a literate citizen within an urban community. She started talking to a high school class about how they could investigate the changes happening within their Harlem community through writing. The two students she focused on were interested in how people were speaking out against or in question of gentrification within this historically black community. The engaged in this through digital literacy, using a video walk to document his observations of Harlem. I really love this idea of engaging with a community in a critical and political way. I also appreciate the layers of cultural relevance, as the project relates to their community and also uses a contemporary, engaging form of literacy. This is similar to the project the author of “You Gotta Be Hard” assigned to his student about the gang presence in their community. Kinloch’s video closes with a thought that really resonated with me: “Literacy is not just something we gain by sitting in a classroom, but its also something that we do by participating in our communities in ways that we digitally document the stories that are around us.” This really made me think about the limited view we have of literacy within the wall of our school, and what we might be able to do to push those boundaries and allow students greater access to literacy in non-traditional forms.

    My question for the group: has anyone experimented with using non-traditional forms (i.e. digital or community-based) literacy in their classrooms? If so, what did you do and how do you think it changed your students’ identities as literate learners?


  8. The component of path 1 that caught my attention most was Allen Luke’s video where he was speaking about critical literacy and how we should use Paolo Friere’s pedagogy to inform
    the way we cultivate learning and student inquiry in our classrooms. The Friere model is rooted in an idea that the best way for students to learn is to be inquisitive and curious about their learning and about the things they’re learning. Luke says that we should have students “read different versions of the world” and I think this speaks directly to what we have been discussing in class–making sure our students are getting a multi-cultural experience, different points of view in their learning, and learning how to develop different lenses in their studies.

    Penny Kittle’s chapter on punctuation and grammar goes deeper into mechanics of writing and the importance of polished writing, not just to pass state tests, but to adhere to different audiences. With the repeated and regular implementation of small parts of grammar and punctuation, Kittle works tirelessly to cultivate good writers who know how to express themselves in a way that the world will understand. I also feel as though an underlying message in this chapter of her book is that the careful crafting of writing and the use of punctuation and grammar can be used as a tool for sending a very particular message. Students who have mastered the use of these elements of writing, have the ability to manipulate the message coming out of the writing, without changing the actual words.

    I enjoyed juxtaposing the conversation we’ve been having about introducing hip-hop into the classroom with Junot Diaz’s reflection on being kind of a weird kid growing up and using comic books as his gateway to literacy and reading enjoyment. I think it’s important to remember that there’s a number of different things that will hook students in and it wont always (if ever) be the same thing for all students.

    One of the things I’m left wondering is how best to create a project assignment that allows for enough student expression in whatever medium they choose while not having to create a brand new assignment for each individual student.


  9. It seems to me that the third path of this week’s readings mainly focused on the connection between basic writing skills and higher critical literacy. Essentially, my biggest takeaway is that the aim of literacy instruction must go beyond the a passive notion of reading for comprehension and instead focus on an active one in which the reader finds meaning in a text by grappling, either through writing or mental questioning, with the assumptions that the writer him/herself has taken for granted. However, one cannot get to this level of literary interaction without a mastery of fundamental skills such as spelling. In Graham’s video on teaching literacy to students with learning disabilities, we see this clearly in the correlation he points out between students who struggle with spelling and handwriting and their ability to comprehend/make meaning of a text. Graham argues that students must be given time to learn the basic mechanics of writing through explicit modeling and by doing in practice. This sentiment is echoed in Finney’s video on chalkboards, in which her love for the aforementioned writing tool is used as a springboard for her to talk about the ways in which working with text is the best way of learning. She eloquently shows us that learning is best achieved through active, constructive means.

    This connection is mirrored and tied together in Janks’ writing on Literacy and Power, in which the author argues that a critical lens of literacy is best when it acknowledges many facets of reading (dominance, access, diversity and design). Janks’ belief is that the most powerful forms of literacy and literary instruction are those in which students, exposed to many forms of representation created by people spanning the cultural spectrum, actively take a role in the deconstruction and creation of ideas. This is the point of literacy that Janks’ believes educators should instill in their students.

    I agree with the above notions, but my question is how to best get our students to reach this level of understanding? Here’s my take- In high school, students who struggle with reading and writing and literacy (as in understanding) in general should have their fundamental deficits addressed through direct instruction AND practice through which students are encouraged to question and “read against the grain”. In other words, skills like spelling and decoding should be taught alongside the push towards critical literacy; teachers should ‘sell’ what they’re teaching as a key to understanding the world and its representations in various forms of media that are all around them.



  10. The authors and teachers I read and watched in Path 3: Critical Literacy & The Writing Process all touched upon the mechanical, process based aspects of writing and writing instruction. The main theme I sensed among all four videos/articles was that the form that writing takes- a focused free write, student’s paper with poor handwriting and spelling, an antique blackboard, etc – has consequences for how that writing task will be internalized by a participant and the power it will have in furthering that participant’s writing skills. Furthermore, Hilary Janks’ article on different orientations towards literacy provided an umbrella perspective on the entire school of thought regarding the purposes of and best strategies for incorporating writing instruction in the classroom. Language, Janks reminds us, is both powerful and flexible, and can play many roles depending upon orientation. The role of writing can be to referee power struggles and conflicts of domination, either maintaining and reproducing existing systems of power or be the plane of a “social and political battle”. Alternatively, one’s experience with writing and reading and literacy broadly can change based on what texts one has access to, and when. Further elaborating upon these various orientations toward literacy, Janks discusses the consequences of each pairing, and provides a framework for the hopeful integration of all four orientations. Ultimately, in order to be providing instruction that is truly pushing for critical literacy, Jenks argues that all four orientations need to be present, because all four orientations are linked. Students who learn to approach literacy from all four orientations will be capable of critically analyzing and writing about writing. Based upon all this, my question for my colleagues is this: how applicable is Jenks’ academic & convoluted paper to your classroom – is it really so important to name those “orientations” of literacy? Do you interpret this article as stating that literacy instruction must explicitly consider the orientations of access, diversity, dominance, and design explicitly, or can we as thoughtful and culturally relevant teachers touch upon each one implicitly?

    Moving on to the other three texts & videos, I agree with Maria and Cathlin that Graham’s video was not particularly enlightening. It seemed focused on elementary interventions – it does not seem practical as classroom teachers of secondary students for us to spend any more than brief moments on spelling or handwriting, for example. However, I was intrigued by Graham’s discussion of providing compensatory options for students with major mechanical struggles, such as a word processing device. I am actually serving as a scribe for tomorrow’s Regent exam for a student whose fine motor skills have been attacked by a brain tumor, so I certainly understand that he is entitled to and will greatly benefit from having me write for him. However, where do we draw the line? Graham’s daughter was in the second grade when she started using a word processing device, still very young and, in my opinion, likely able to improve her handwriting and spelling skills. In this age of technology, should we just give all our students tablets and computers at the first sign of handwriting weakness? (As an aside, this question reminds me of our discussion on Monday night about the use of calculators vs. the importance of students learning to do mental math – is it important for us to make students practice skills that will probably be made redundant by technology in coming decades?)

    Finally, I was very intrigued by the video depicting Nikky Finney and her love for blackboards. I tend to agree with her – having a large, vertical space to write my thoughts and ideas is so appealing, and is one of my favorite parts about being a teacher with a whole classroom full of white boards! I have also certainly noticed that moving away from pen and paper and providing alternate mechanisms for writing can be hugely powerful for students who struggle with handwriting, getting thoughts to paper, or students with speech-language impairments. I am thinking in particular of one of my students who fits all three categories. For the first two months of class he sat in the back of my classroom, refusing to write much of anything down and largely refusing to complete any practice problems. Everything changed when I gave him unlimited access to a small, personal sized white-board and dry-erase marker. He now completes every practice problem I ask him to, sometimes on the whiteboard, and sometimes even just on his assigned piece of paper. I can tell he loves the freedom that the whiteboard provides. It is easier to write, the pen is larger and easier to hold, and it is easier to erase mistakes when they happen. Additionally, it makes him feel special – a feeling that this kid desperately needs in his life. I definitely recommend this strategy for any of your students who fit this profile whatsoever.


  11. Path 3
    How do teachers create supportive environments in their classrooms, while simultaneously not losing sight on the importance of rigor and engagement?

    When I was a child we had separate classes for writing, reading, and social studies. It made it easier for me to learn and master the language when I was given certain expectations in each class. Even in my youth, our reading class was not structured so heavily around the common core nor were my teachers evaluated on Danielson. When we read we were able to talk about what did we think about the books we read. We were able to articulate using our own knowledge why a book was interesting. Today, this is not considered a higher ordered thinking question. If given this to write, our assistant principals might be discouraged. Despite the fact, this is what I wanted to talk about. It was easy. I heard the story, so I had things to say about the story. I could cite examples of how it was interesting without even knowing I was citing. A teacher could easy tell me to hold my thoughts and I would “tell my paper” my entire analysis. However these are the questions that need to be asked so students understand how to elaborate on their thinking in a reflective way. I liked the Nikki Finney video because of the blackboards. Kinesthetic props like those encourage and motivate students to capture their thoughts. Even so they need to learn how to first.
    I never made the connection between student handwriting and spelling or how that may inhibit the writing process. In the video, Teaching Writing to Students with Disabilities, Dr. Steve Graham, says that if a student struggles with spelling or handwriting, working with them may improve other areas of writing. I have always been afraid to ask kids to work with their penmenship because I felt it was not really important. I guess learning how to write can help teachers identify dyslexia and what not. These are somethings I need to try in my upcoming year.
    Personally, I love to take time out of my day to check in with my students. I love to do this through writing. I love to have students write me letters about their weekends and how they are feeling about field trips. Sometimes I use them as a precursor to other activities such as group counseling or whole group reflections on social learning topics. I do understand that writing in this informal way and overall has its drawbacks. In the article “How To Do Things With Writing Prompts”, the author expresses her reluctance toward taking time out of the curriculum’s schedule to fit in writing instruction. Given high stakes testing and restraints on time, many teachers are resistant to incorporating writing activities into a classroom. Sometimes it is imperative that the students do engage with freewriting, because it allows them to think about things on a deeper level, which in turn shows us that they are capable of doing so.


  12. I found the “Urban literacies” article to be interesting in its framing of hip hop as a powerful educational tool. I mentioned this in a previous response regarding a performance be Kendrick Lamar at an urban school school, but there is clearly tremendous creative potential that can be channeled through the hip hop. The genre is dynamic, accessible, and had deep socio-political roots, and using hip hop as a way of grappling with the social dynamics of the inner city and expressing ideas is without a doubt a positive good. I do think context and timing is important, however…and considering this article appears to have been written in the 1990s, I would argue the genre has changed as it has reached a more mainstream audience, and that there are important problems with using the genre in its current form as an educational tool. The sexism, self-centeredness, materialism and violence in the genre has become much more pronounced and even encouraged as artists have reached s more mainstream audience (and thus been driven by a lowest common denominator approach). This is a far cry in many ways from the social consciousness, rhythm and poetry that helped define the genre during its heyday in the 90s, and given this direction I believe many of the arguments advanced in this article likely deserve closer scrutiny.

    The “You Gotta Be Hard” article hit on some relevant concepts I have experienced in my own classroom. I think it can definitely be easy to subconsciously label and even write off students we know are gang affiliated. We can make the judgement that “well, they have made their own choice to go down that path” and rationalize their failure based on the associations we know they have. I think this article effectively highlights how damaging this kind of perspective can be, and how we must make an effort to see the human being and potential in students who may be affiliated with gangs. This may sound self-evident, but I have noticed how surprisingly easy it can be to be lulled into this way of thinking, and reading this article reinforces how important empathy and open mindedness are in these situations.

    The video on gentrification I thought presented a unique vehicle for discussing a complicated subject with our students. The teacher in the video used an approach in which students took personal ownership in describing how gentrification had personally affected their lives and communities. For example, the student named Malik took videos on his neighborhood highlighting how local businesses have been displaced by corporate pharmacies that charge higher prices, and documented and narrated this through video. I think this approach offers a more hands on and individual perspective to the issue, which makes it more personal, relatable, and understandable. In future discussion of this complex issue with students, I will make an effort to follow her example and give them pathways for creatively explaining the impact of these forces in their own lives.


  13. Path 3

    In the video on teaching writing to students with learning disabilities, Graham talks about the specific pieces of writing that need particular emphasis and explicit instruction for students with learning disabilities. He talks about how handwriting and spelling are a struggle and stand in the way of the writer and their reader: if you cannot write legibly or clearly, how is your meaning going to be understood? He talks about how it is important to work on these skills in conjunction with writing content. He says that students need to have sentence kernels as they begin sentence construction and have modeled examples of how to expand these sentences to create complex ideas. He also talks about the importance of helping students understand and master the writing process, from pre-writing to editing. I don’t disagree with any of what he says, and in many ways this is how I teach writing to my students, but I have often thought that we are doing a disservice to our students by not giving them more creative power through this process. The question I often ask myself and my colleagues is why are we only teaching expository writing? Why are we simply giving our students a formula to follow, not showing them how to break the rules?

    The Focused Freewriting article helped me think through how we might make writing less of a formal process for our students. Wallack makes the case for writing being a way of thinking, rather than just a formal presentation of thoughts. The focused freewrite is a time where students have to struggle through their thoughts; they have to be writing, it doesn’t matter if what they are writing is any “good” or not. It is just about putting words to whatever thoughts they have in response to a rather open-ended prompt. By teaching just the formal process of writing from brainstorming to outlining to drafting to revising to editing we are teaching our students that they have to develop clear thoughts with a clear structure in order to begin writing, which is not wrong for most academic writing. But in order to be a capital W “Writer”, students must have a more organic relationship with writing. That’s not to say they should give up on the formal process, but they should develop multiple understandings of what it means to write and how different writing is used for different purposes. Wallack argues that writing is a way students can learn to process and form their thoughts.

    Nick Finney talks about how the blackboard works for her as a place to jot her ideas and process them because it takes her back to being a student. She likes the sound, the smell, the feel of the chalk in her hand as she writes. Writing for her is about using many senses to get her thoughts flowing. I don’t think many students think about writing as a sensory process, like eating or creating artwork, and I think that is because it has become so formulaic. I want to help my students experience writing as a multi-sensory activity, even the formal writing they do. How do we help our students see all the possibilities writing holds, even the academic writing we expect of them? How do we help them explore these possibilities without losing the formal writing we have helped them to develop?


  14. Path 1: Critical Literacy, Writing & Representation

    In “Writing to Read: A Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Writing and Writing Instruction on Reading,” Graham and Hebert (2011) test the idea that writing about a text that is read should facilitate the comprehension of the text. This is based off a functional view of reading-writing connections from researchers Fitzgerald and Shanahan (2000), who believe that this facilitation is done because of explicitness, integration, reflection, personal involvement/connection, and transformation of the text. Graham and Hebert conducted a meta-analysis of studies that looked at the correlation between writing about texts and comprehension, and there was a positive correlation in 94% of the studies analyzed. Additionally, there was a positive correlation when looking at the relation between writing skill instruction and enhanced reading. Overall, Graham and Hebert support writing instruction to target both comprehension and writing skills, especially extended writing, summary writing, note taking, and answering/generating questions. In my school, we have students write a summary of the overall lesson at the end of every class in order to help enhance comprehension.
    In “Grammar, Punctuation, and What Keeps Me Up at Night,” Kittle (2008) discusses that in order to teach grammar and punctuation by being patient, using repetition and conferencing and using mini lessons. However, how do you target these skills in a rigid curriculum? In my school, we have to adhere to the EngageNY ELA curriculum, which does not address grammar and punctuation skills at all. Additionally, trying to conference with students in class and after class would be extremely difficult, since many of them are not motivated to stay for extra help. While many of my students would benefit, there is almost no time to do so.
    Lastly, in “Geeking Out with Junot Diaz,” resonated with me because many of my sophomore students read comic books and are very aware when a character that is created or revived as a minority. For many of them, they feel a personal connection to seeing a Black or Latin@ being represented in a world that was mostly White for almost 50 years. As Fred mentioned in a previous session, graphic novels would be great to use to help with reading comprehension and motivating students, even though the skills used to analyze a graphic novel/comic somewhat differ from a traditional narrative text.


  15. Path 3
    Focused free writing allows students to focus their writing using their voice and the strategies that they learn inside of the classroom. Focused free writing allows students to be more reflective and increase their creativity too. Using free writing regularly in the classroom is also extremely important for students, when they become accustomed to the expectations; they are able to express themselves differently than they are able to do on the state tests. Focused free writing gives the student something to focus on while writing so there purpose and content is organized and structured. It also generates public responses as opposed to more private ones, the students are the focused on the same topic.

    Critical literacy is a type of pedagogy that should be used in all classrooms, especially in culturally diverse classrooms. It encourages readers to actively analyze texts and offers specific strategies for how to uncover underlying messages. Having students analyze textbooks in the classroom and really dig deeper to their true meanings is a fantastic way to really engage them. When students use language and other symbolic forms to understand power, relationships, value, and hierarchies in society. Critical literacy provides students with the creativity to invoke change and transformation. It can be powerful for students to get involved in reading in a way where it gives them the voice and reason to fight for change. Multicultural education is meant to encourage students to become activists in society and demand equality in all forms of society.

    Using critical literacy and focused free writing in the classroom especially in a social studies classroom is a great way to get students to think about the past in an active way. Students must use their critical lenses to understand the past and how it affects their present and future. Using critical literacy techniques and focused free writing can give students the structure they need to voice their opinions in a positive way.


  16. The article on Focused Freewriting by Nicole Wallack has made me think about the importance of including writing in the classroom because it prompted me to consider my own struggle and growth with writing. In the article, Wallack quotes John Bean who said, “When we make students struggle with their writing, we are making them struggle with thought itself. Emphasizing writing and critical thinking, therefore, generally increases the academic rigor of a course.” My college experience defends this assertion. Oftentimes, the process of writing a final paper helped me come up with new ideas and realizations. As a philosophy major, I had to write a lot of argumentative essays. I’d mentally plan out my ideas and begin writing. As I wrote, it was natural to think critically about the topic, with more depth and consideration and sometimes, I’d end up with a stronger argument against my thesis. These were great learning experiences (though less than ideal when you are writing final papers on a deadline). I would start off my papers so sure about what I wanted to argue, but the very process of writing and putting my thoughts to paper made me truly think and reconsider.
    After reflecting on this I, as Wallack anticipates, thought about how my “students are struggling enough.” I agree with Wallack to some extent because struggle and challenge are essential in the classroom. But I think my concern lies in the fact that my students do not know how to struggle. As we’ve mentioned in class, grit and perseverance are skills not easily learned. And though I have a lot of faith in my students’ capabilities, I must admit that working through the struggle is not one of their strong suits. Struggle is only beneficial when students are gaining something from it, instead of shutting down. As such, my first question is when is rigor appropriate? How can I as an educator strategically balance struggle and success, to keep my students motivated while expanding their intellectual powers?
    I think these questions become more relevant when you consider the Dr. Steve Graham’s advice about teaching writing to students with learning disabilities. “Many students with learning disabilities struggle with spelling and handwriting early on and it has a number of negative consequences.” Graham explains that it prevents them from understanding messages, it devalues their own writing, and it interferes with other writing processes. Graham suggests a balanced approach with a bit of emphasis on these areas because effects will carry over. However, after watching his interview, I am still not sure how this sort of approach can be balanced. How can you balance mechanics instruction and incorporate writing that leads to “the growth of a person’s intellectual powers”?
    One thing I am considering is how I can make the process of writing something students look forward to. I loved hearing about Nikky Finney’s love of blackboards because when I was younger, I also loved blackboards. I enjoyed presenting my work, so putting it on a blackboard was something fun. We do not use blackboards at my school and I wonder if it has somewhat different effects than the average smartboard experience.


  17. Response to Path 3
    Is there something freeing about being able to erase really easily? Blackboards make writing highly physical. Is the computer not a physical enough environment for active learners? Are blackboards lower pressure because they are so easily erased? I have students who struggle with writing who hate to write on paper, but are comfortable and request writing on small dry erase boards.

    Focused freewriting allows writing students to see that writing can serve a multitude of purposes. Just as we have a “purpose for reading,” there is s purpose for writing. That purpose, however, does not have to come in the form of an essay question to which the only proper response in a highly structures essay. This pre-writing exercise gives students their own voices and generates ideas that can become more refined throughout the writing process. Freewriting is an avenue to allow students to express themselves in potentially constructive and theroputic ways.

    Connecting the ideas in Focused Freewriting to Dr. Steve Graham, it would seem that freewriting is one way that students can develop their fluidity. Because mechanics often interferes with the writing process, making it too self conscious, freewriting can help to free students who struggle with mechanics, such as spelling and handwriting, opportunities to practice getting ideas onto the paper without judgment. Students with teachers can then take smaller “kernel” sentences and learn how to develop the grammatical structure to convey more intricate ideas.

    “‘Curriculum is to be understood as constituting a particular, unavoidably partial ‘selection’ from the culture’ (Green, 2002: 9). These selections are positioned and positioned: the language that is chosen as the medium of instruction, the literacy texts that are prescribed, the particular selections of popular culture for inclusion (or exclusion) are some examples. All of these choices are fundamentally political along with the questions of: Who decides? (Janks, p. 23)” This question of who decides is critical. Who is to say what requirements of teachers are truly for the better education of students? What is arbitrary and well funded, and what is going to better the education of students? If the DOE is telling us to not directly teach grammar, then what else are they telling us that is in direct disservice to our students? In our education system, who is being served?

    If we want students to become thinkers, then it makes sense to expose them to many different perspectives. “Critical discourse analysis is used to understand how language works to position readers in the interests of power (Janks, 23).” The single-minded traditionally academic viewpoint, the viewpoint that looks like text books written exclusively by white men) is not the only perspective to study and understand. By engaging in different points of you, and engaging with different mediums which express an array of viewpoints, students have opportunities to develop their perspective flexibility.

    “Anything that has been constructed can be de-constructed (Clark and Fairclough).”
    There is power in understanding that all of the texts we read and revere in school are constructions based on ideas and ideologies that can be deconstructed as artfully as they were constructed.


  18. In regards to the article, “Is it Bigger Than Hip Hop?” by Kim, J. one aspect of the text that was significant to me was the following description of Ms. Florence’s teaching style: “While Florence does teach traditional ELA skills she also includes texts and assignments that are often not apart of the ELA curriculum.” This is significant because our students’ various needs, interests, experiences, and curiosity is much more expansive than the curriculum they are required to learn. As such, in order to meet our students’ needs, interests, etc. we often need to step outside of the curriculum. In my experience, some of the most powerful class discussions and moments of learning were centered around subjects and issues that were not apart of the curriculum, but were incredibly important and relevant. While as educators, we are expected to teach the curriculum to our students, if we recognize that the curriculum is not truly serving our students the way it should, what should we do? Should our teaching be centered around a curriculum or our students? How can we merge the two? When is it necessary to simply stop teaching curriculum that is not serving our students the way it should?

    In regards to the article, “You Gotta Be hard” by Michie. G, the poem, ”I Have A Feeling,” crafted by two 7th grade students was an incredible piece. Now, I am inspired to incorporate dialogue poems into my own classroom as many of the topics we discuss in ELA and Social Studies lends itself to these kinds of poems. Moreover, it seems like a powerful way to allow students the opportunity to grapple with different perspectives and to craft their own creative pieces collaboratively.

    Finally, in regards to the video “Harlem Gentrification Project” I enjoyed learning about the literacy project created by the two students because the project seemed to effectively engage students in literacy by making what is important to them and their experiences central to the classroom and curriculum. Even more, it allowed the students the opportunity to actively address a reality that is troubling to them and their community. This project was an excellent example of how literacy can be utilized in valuable and relevant ways outside of the four walls of a classroom.


  19. In “Is It Bigger Than Hip-Hop?” I was deeply struck by one of the things Florence said. She said she used Hip-Hop in her classroom because she wants to acknowledge and validate what students deem important to them. She sees Hip-Hop as a mirror that reflects what students see or want to see in their everyday life. To be honest, when I read that sentence the first time, I was very resistant and reluctant. I’ve always thought they students come to school to be in a structured environment where they will learn and do as they are told like I used to. But I keep forgetting that America has a very different culture, and students view themselves as individuals at a much younger age than students in my home country. Even though at their age they might value things that I, an adult, deem trivial and unimportant, I need to be able to listen to their side of the story in order for them to be willing to hear my side of the story. I also appreciate that this article ties together cultural relevance and critical literacy. To be culturally relevant is to bring in different voices from the community to the classroom content, and to read critically is to be able to compare the different perspectives from different — or even the same — communities. It is important that our students are fluent in both skills so that they can be a world citizen in this ever-changing society.

    The video, Valerie Kinloch: Harlem Gentrification Project, discussed some interesting ideas and ways to help teachers become culturally relevant to students. The story is told from a very specific point of view: the student’s point of view. I would also love to let my students take me on a walk around the neighborhood and introduce me to their world using their own voice. In the video, she was surprised by the things she overlooked until pointed by Phillip and Khaleeq, and she interviewed them to hear their opinions about the gentrification that’s been happening in the community and how it changed the world they live in. I remember during last summer during institute, one of the things that all the then teachers-to-be at my site did together was to take a walk around the neighborhood of the school. The idea was to help us familiarize ourselves with the area and get a sense of the demographics and the atmosphere of the community around. Even though it did not really do much for me that hour-long walk was not enough for me to familiarize myself with any place, I do have a much stronger sense of community with my current school and would love to be a more prominent presence in it. If I had the time and permission, I would love to do a similar project with my new students. But realistically speaking, it doesn’t seem very likely. I wonder if there are other ways for me to collect the same information without having to make it into a field trip.

    “Creating Literate Environments in Secondary School Literacy Classrooms” returns to the heart of our recent discussions: It talked about being culturally relevant, knowing our students as writers, readers, and people, and understand their ideas about the world and learning instead of telling them what to think. It talked about using literature as a shared experience and a platform for people to share individual experiences. While it is important to tie the community together, it is just as important, if not more, to value each community member’s experiences and how those experiences have influenced and changed them into who they are today. To apply that in a classroom, I think it is crucial to pick a text that all students can relate to but have different perspectives of. I really want to be able to apply this in a math classroom but I am having so much trouble applying these amazing ELA-tailored ideas into my math classroom.


  20. Path 2

    Dr. Graham discusses the fact that many students struggle with writing and such struggle will lead to students producing less, both, in terms of comprehension since writing is key to decode meaning and reading fluency. As a way to help students with disabilities, he suggests to help students by giving them time to learn the mechanics of writing and focus on the organization, brainstorming, and selection of ideas that would be helpful for the reader to hear. In order to achieve this, students have to be familiar with the topic that is assigned to them or the topic they select, otherwise they will struggle tremendously. Therefore, if the goal is to learn how to write well for better comprehension, I personally think that there is no better way to learn to write well than by handwriting as opposed to typing. I want to talk a bit about technology use in this specific writing topic. On Monday we discussed how technology is making our students “lazy” with the fact that they are not forced to internalize foundational concepts such as multiplication tables and spelling considering that technology does it for them. Dr. Graham briefly mentions that “spell check” is not as “powerful” as people would like to believe and I wish he could have gone into more detail. I would really like to know the opinions of professionals who study literacy on the use of technology in the classroom.
    On the other hand, Finney and her learning experience with chalkboards brought back memories of my own learning experience with a chalkboard in the classroom. She beautifully described the “old fashioned” way of learning—listening to the sound of the chalk on the chalkboard, using chalk from different colors, touching the chalkboard and feeling its texture, erasing and starting over, etc., and just physically engaging with your own writing and learning. It is a very active way of learning and all of this goes out the window with technology where students only look at a screen. To sum up, actively working with text/writing is very beneficial for one’s own learning.
    As for Janks’ stand on literacy, he argues that the most beneficial and powerful practices of literacy involve different forms of content representation, cultural relevance and active participation in the construction of ideas and concepts. Similar to what Finney mentioned, students’ literacy skills can be improved by actively engaging in their own learning and I couldn’t agree more. No student wants to sit for an hour the whole time listening to a teacher talk. However, I do think educators need to be better trained at teaching literacy skills to all students regardless of content. I think many of our schools leave this “burden” to English teachers and that is totally unfair. Literacy is highly important in every subject and students should see it that way too.
    -How do you teach literacy in an efficient manner to SIFE students who are 18-20 year-olds, especially when they have to be ready for standardized testing? I am at a loss here.


  21. Path 2
    The path I chose to follow this session was path 2 on student experience and hip-hop pedagogy. During our discussions and examination of hip-hop pedagogy in the classroom I felt like incorporating this in my 11th grade English classroom was something that would not translate very well with my students and my teaching style. However, after reflecting on “Problems and Potential of Hip-Hop in the Classroom” by Jung Kim, I realized more how to intertwine student interests with academic content, even when the interest doesn’t align with your teaching style. For example, Kim brought up an interesting performance task in which students analyze and create projects based on Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raising in the Sun, Nella Larson’s Passing, texts by Judith Jameson, and Tupac Shakur. Additionally, Kim brought up an interesting way to incorporate relevant T.V. shows that students are interested in to guide deeper discussions. I could see my students discussing some of the same moral questions we ask about literary texts and apply them to the reality shows they watch.

    Valerie Kinloch’s video on Harlem Gentrification also demonstrated a way in which students could find more space to engage in literacy outside the classroom. Kinloch remarks that the meaning of being a literate citizen can change depending on the environment that you live in. The demands of a literate citizen in Harlem are different than the demands of being a literate citizen in other parts of the United States. Kinloch recognizes, and passed on to the students she works with, the idea that literacy can be used in order to show and explain the social justice issues of our time and how literacy can be used in order to expedite change.

    Ultimately, this path shows what students are capable of doing and the potential they have when they are given opportunities to express and contribute. This is not to say that all performance tasks or parts of a lesson cater to a student’s interests, but they should feel a sense of belonging in the classroom and a chance that they can offer insight even if it is through an unconventional medium. The anecdotes found in “You Gotta Be Hard” show how literacy impacts students when they are transitioning from middle school to high school. Students who associated with gangs were given opportunities to demonstrate their art and talents through graffiti, drawing, and artistry. Whether its hip-hop, drawing, graffiti, breakdancing, video recording, etc. the opportunities are endless for students to demonstrate their understanding.


  22. It seems to me that there are two critical problems addressed in Path 3:
    First, as pointed out by Steve Graham, children with learning disabilities often struggle with handwriting and spelling. Although many teachers view spelling and handwriting as secondary concerns, Graham points out that, in reality, these deficits in mechanics can affect both the quality and the quantity of writing produced by students: if students are occupied with the mechanics of writing, they may be less able to focus on clearly expressing complex thoughts in their writing.

    Second, I have noticed that many of my students struggle to engage fully with text, especially in the way described by Hilary Janks as “reading against the text.” Many of my students take what they read at face value and assume that anything stated in text must be true. This is especially apparent in their writing. In verbal conversation, they are able to express and justify their agreement or disagreement with an author. But in their writing, they often revert to superficial engagement and passive agreement with the text.

    I wonder if these two problems are related. Perhaps students are so focused on writing mechanics when writing about what they read that they struggle to move beyond surface-level engagement with the text. If such is the case, then I think focused free-writing, especially using the categories described by Wallack, may help solve both problems. Free-writing has always appealed to me as a teaching tool because it allows students to express their thoughts in writing without the pressure created by formal writing assignments. I think it’s likely that the removal of that pressure may also shift students’ focus from mechanics to clear, honest expression of their thoughts. Focused free-writing takes it a step further. By giving students prompts that are aligned to the categories described by Wallack, teachers can push students’ thinking about text without causing students to feel the same level of anxiety that they might feel if asked to engage in formal writing.


  23. I gathered many informative take-aways from the content in the Path Three: Critical Literacy, Writing and Presentation folder.
    In his video discussion, Dr. Graham provides us with insight on focus areas for our students with and without disabilities. He first informs us that SWDs often struggle with handwriting and spelling early on in their academic experience. This can have many negative consequences. If students can’t read then they will struggle with comprehension. If students are presenting writing that has many misspellings and errors, people will devalue the message in which they are attempting to convey. Lastly, struggles with handwriting and spelling can interfere with other writing processes. Dr. Graham tells us that these problems can be alleviated by proving extra attention in this area. Investing a little extra in this area pays off in various ways which include improved spelling, improved handwriting, improved sentence construction and improved quality of writing. Children who struggle with mechanics often don’t create as much text. In this case, Dr. Graham recommends spending extra time focusing on obtaining, organizing and thinking about information and determining what would be useful in regards to the purpose of the text.
    In the video Blackboards, Nikky Finney shares with us her fondness for blackboards. The video is filmed in her home where she shows viewers her collection of blackboards. Nikky associates this with her love of writing. She explains that her first writing experience was with a small slate with a piece of chalk. She discusses the joy she feels touching the chalkboard, using different colored pieces of chalk and the sound made when writing on the board. I connected with Nikky’s affinity with chalkboards because I have a similar love for pen and paper. I prefer to carry a notebook to class, hand write cards and letters and even write my lesson plans. I love the feeling of scribing and putting ink on paper, drawing and doodling outside the margins, using different styled and different colored pens. I prefer tangible writing and reading materials as they provide a certain sense of nostalgia. I can get lost in craft and supply stores selecting unique notebooks and journals to add to my collection. There is a sense of comfort and security on those pages. Something that can’t be lost in cyberspace. My father was one of my first teachers and would spend hours practicing reading and writing with me.
    In the article, Orientations and Literacy, there is an excerpt really resonated with me. It states, “… developing in students a critical stance in relation to content. Such a stance is predicated on students gaining access to and facility with the language and literacy tools they need to be both critical and creative, problem powers and problem solvers, social analysts and social agents.”
    I question how one can effectively create this mindset and culture among students?


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