04
Aug
19

from there to here

Route 50 – The loneliest highway

Fatigued by driving on Major route 80 between California and parts east, I chose to set out for the Golden State by way of Highway 50, picking it up off of Route 6 in Utah. I settled in for a calm, relaxing journey as I came through Santaquin. This is the last big town for a while. A good place to gas up. From here on in there will be relatively few towns. There is only one place posted “no services for 85 miles”. On average I would say there is someplace to stop for a comfort station at least every hour; but these are not necessarily marked as cities on a map: some are motels, like Cold Springs, which are posted with FOOD and LODGING icons, but which are not full mini-marts nor gas stations. Keeping the gas tank more than half-full gave me confidence to get across the desert terrain.

Look for this icon across the state to claim your free Survival Guide book and get it stamped.

Road trip across nevada

Each participating business or visitors’ center has a city name ink-stamp: they will stamp pages containing the map, the mail-in postcard, the major city’s info, and participating organization’s listing in that region. [N.B. There is nothing about teaching in this post, but I learned that many of those who lodged as I did in Austin were teachers and professors. I tried to write about things I would like to have known before taking this trip myself.]

One of the very few rest areas. No rest rooms here; and the other rest stop I clearly recall was “closed”.

I would make a point of stopping where restaurants, gas stations, or numerous historic landmarks offer a chance to get out of the car, walk around, and get refreshment.

Stokes Castle

My first night was spent in Austin, Nevada, at the Union Street Lodge. Though some of the lodging along the whole stretch feels a bit “Bates Motel-ish”, and the historic districts are half “ghost town” half thriving, my spacious accommodations, thermos of hot morning coffee, and tasty french toast and bacon breakfast, and great hosts made this stop fully alive! They had told me to catch the sunset from the castle, a mile’s walk – which I did; I read about a number of bike trails, featured in a small local booklet, and chose to ride my road bike up to and past the castle the next morning, for views up and down the whole broad valley.

I assume that since there were vacancies at my bed and breakfast, there were other vacancies in the motels down the street and along the highway. Before I started the trip, I was concerned about making my goal for each day’s driving. would I always be able to make it to my destination? If I needed to, could I find a room with no reservation? I am pretty sure in any town there would be something, and I did use the phone several times on the road to call ahead. Verizon is said to be the best for this region; I used AT&T and though there may have been a few No Service spots, I had service when I needed it.

There were other drivers on the road, even if there might be several minutes between them in either direction. I never had the concern of being totally alone for long, but there were so few cars as to keep the drive very relaxed: no hostile tailgaters. Occasionally cyclists are on a section of the road, but this was rare, and typically accompanied by posted yellow caution signs about cyclists sharing the road.

Singing Sand Dune doesn’t whisper any longer, due to dune buggy devotees, but any chance to get off the roadway and stretch your legs will be worth it. There are dozens of Nevada-shaped signs and interpretive markers. They pop up with little notice – at 70 mph you make split-second choices about whether to pull over.
I would have done this!

Ely has food trucks! Based on a tip, though, I went to The Jailhouse Casino, to find Juanita and Chava’s Taco Shop. Just what the doctor ordered: the salsa bar had salsa verde, salsa roja (so hot I had to shy away from it!), and pico de gallo; plus pickled jalapeños and radishes, sliced cucumber, house-made tortilla chips. Next time I may try the park across the street, and get some food truck lunch for a picnic. At this location, go to the Jailhouse Casino cashier for your stamps.

the room where it happened

Docent Bill Pickering points out the upper room at Fort Sutter in Sacramento – where gold was first weighted and determined in fact to be gold in 1848. This is the only original building, but there are many historically accurate “living history” rooms and activities, especially popular with California History curriculum (4th grade).

Historic sights were part of the attraction. There are Railroad museums in Ely and Carson City, a courthouse in Austin, mining and archeology sites, petroglyphs, and others.

Sacramento has its Old Town, Fort Sutter, and the American River Bike Path. The bike path has various access points; I suggest finding one with a lot of people – the parking are under a highway on the far East end didn’t feel that safe to leave my car. I have ridden much of the path itself before, though, which is well-travelled.

I picked up road maps and guidebooks before the trip from AAA, and read a great blog by a couple who had taken such a road trip within the last two years. A more helpful map found in a guidebook I picked up at the Border Inn listed and marked many major sights, including viewing areas for wild horses. The thing about highway 50 is that there are quite a number of signs indicating a turnoff (cross-street), but little or no explanation, and only 1/4 mile warning. Then, as you approach the road sign, the mileage appears – often 7 to 10 miles for interesting sights. One was marked something like “You Dig ‘Em Fossils” – TRILOBITES – 10. The point is to be ready to make split-second decisions by deciding to slow down whenever possible to give yourself time to read; have a pre-planned number of minutes you can afford to set aside for exploring novelties.

It is a scenic highway, and just driving with a single goal of getting across Nevada would offset the benefit of choosing this route over Interstate 80. As long as you are on this relaxing road, allow yourself to go at a “slow pace” (still 65-70 mph most everywhere) and let yourself pull off for unusual stops.

I turned out at a reservoir, since it was only 1 1/2 miles off the road. The pavement turned immediately into an unpaved access road. I assume many other similarly marked sights are on unpaved roads. There are quite a few places along the way where RVs or tents were set up – recreation areas requiring a permit, but not necessarily attended by a ranger. But some had a one-hour grace period if you walked in on foot, no payment required.

Carson City Capitol Building
Tiled entrance to a contemporary mercantile bears traces of historic past

At Carson City, I realized the major portion of my “lonely” drive was over with – big city; lots of people.

As David Letterman used to say, “You’re tired; but it’s a good kind of tired.”

Old City Hall behind the main street in Austin, NV

28
Jul
19

daggers and dreams

David Downing’s Just Theory promises to be a powerful book, a tool for exploring certain aspects of learning in our 21st Century. I am still in the early chapters of the book, newly available from NCTE. I hope other English teachers (or “classical” and liberal arts/humanities teachers) also reading it this summer might want to exchange comments or questions about it. In the current section, “Why Is Plato So Upset at the Poets, and What Is Western Metaphysics?” I am wrestling with the term “dialectics” as Downing explains it, and having to reframe my thinking. In this post I reflect on my prior knowledge of that term, and then offer a brief example of a contemporary novel that connects to but is not overshadowed by allusions to canonical literature.

By the end of Chapter Two, we are rolling into adventurous territory, having to consider which is more subversive – poetry or philosophy; we must reexamine assumptions about Plato’s world and literature’s role with respect to independent thinking and democratic learning.

Dowling helpfully examines concepts of interest to me as an English teacher. Downing demonstrates important links between dialectics and dualities, binaries, and absolute truth. His illustrations from “The Allegory of the Cave” and Hegel reacquaint me with theories of knowledge I encountered at St. John’s, and revive a thread which was initiated at the California Association of Teachers of English. Presenter Amy Goldman alerted us to the “Platonic ideal” language in Fitzgerald’s work; her Facebook group “Teaching The Great Gatsby” has been a fun resource.

When I read a book that connects to my prior knowledge, reawakens past positive experiences, and triggers new thinking, it is similar to a “beach read”, only I need to carry a notebook!

In my Curriculum and Instruction class at San Francisco State University under Helen Gilotte, teacher candidates in the late 1980s were expected to use dialectical journals as tools for our students’ learning. Whether called dialogue journals, double-entry journals, or a facing entry logs, variations abound and continue through template structures such as “They Say … I Say”. As the author points out, one familiar derivative form of dialectic is “thesis – antithesis – synthesis”. I am always hoping students will enter the Great Conversation and that, in their expository writing, they will transfer the two-column practice (“quotes” and “commentary”) into support for written and spoken positions across the curriculum.

authentic and learner-centered

I soon recognized the value of dialogue journals as a starting point for opening classroom conversation, and continue to use them in new incarnations, often combining them with Sternberg’s creative, analytical, or practical responses and with pre-, mid-, and post-discussion thinking log entries. In his 2010 Critical Education article about Mikhail Bakhtin’s influence on critical education pedagogy, Trevor Thomas Stewart (U. of Georgia) writes: 

Making authentic dialogue the centerpiece of instruction creates spaces for teaching and learning to become a multi-voiced activity that offers both teachers and students the opportunity to be active participants in meaning making.   

Trevor Thomas on Bakhtin’s influence

Dedicated to incorporating better practices in my own classroom by de-centering the teacher in conversation, I applied and was accepted into the St. John’s College Graduate Institute, where we read and discussed works of the Western Canon active participants in Socratic seminars; faculty tutors facilitate dialogue between students, but lectures are reserved for campus-wide weekly assemblies. At St. John’s in Santa Fe I encountered Plato and The Republic again, which is Downing’s starting point.  

Wrestling with new concepts, or reformulating familiar ones, can be difficult for me. But the implications are useful for my upcoming year. First, Downing’s exploration of dialectic and cultural shifts promises to address the establishment of more just spaces for student learning; second, the early chapters alone provides me with useful historical background for a new Judeo-Christian Ethics class; and finally, through disequilibrium, I am forced to find a balance or synthesis as I reckon with traditional values intersecting with contemporary lives.  

Contemporary resonate with Classic as Shakespeare, Fitzgerald and Quiñonez collide

One such intersection is to be found in Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams, a 2000 novel in which the Gatsby-like Willie Bodega from Spanish Harlem is briefly compared with Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“He was street nobility incarnated in someone who still believed in dreams. And for a small while, those dreams seemed as palpable as that dagger Macbeth tried to grab.” 

Bodega Dreams

Intersections like this one are significant to me. I have been reading the novel as a potential multicultural alternative to Gatsby for my junior English class. I am surprised, however, when the spectre of an Elizabethan character wades across the stage of my mind. Such moments of surprise and delight offer good opportunities for readers, learners. Ghosts and daggers have power. They haunt, suggest imbalance, invite usurpation, destabilize the status quo. Great books have always done this.

If a newer book such as Bodega Dreams can summon students to talk back, listen, and feel, we teachers can make room for it at the table. If a book invites my Latinx students into a conversation with The Great Gatsby and Macbeth, why not revisit our booklists?

Not only is there a cool Shakespeare connection to this 21st C. novel, but Amy Goldman demonstrates a Plato intersection in Gatsby which is echoed with the idealism in Bodega Dreams: “Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself.”

Goldman had alerted us to Fitzgerald’s use of green light as hope, and of romantic idealism. Here, the narrator describes Willie Bodega, whose

"life had been triggered by a romantic ideal found only in those poor bastards who really wanted to be poets but got drafted and sent to the front lines. During that time Bodega would create a green light of hope." 

Ernesto Quiñones from Bodega Dreams

Just Theory is most vitally interesting to me because it pursues questions I, too, have been seeking to address through my own recent reading. How closely aligned are contemporary Social Justice and classical Justice? What factors contribute to learning and are activated by the de-centered authority in inquiry-driven English classrooms? Because of my existing curiosity about Socratic learning, cultural shifts, YA literature, and critical pedagogy; and because of the author’s familiarity with English education, I am eager to keep reading.

Poetry, like democracy, fosters genuine individuals.


M.A.R. Habib from History of Literary Criticism and Theory:
From Plato to the Present
(2008). Quoted in Just Theory

My closing thought is that when language gets a hold of us, it is a perfect opportunity to make that language a star for a moment or two. Put sentences on the table, play with them, and let us talk about “what the words do in you”, as Peter Elbow says. When we are awake and alert to words, their power becomes palpable – whether destabilizing or empowering.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”


LEWIS CARROLL (Charles L. Dodgson), Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, p. 205 (1934). First published in 1872. Bartleby.com “Respectfully Quoted”, 7/28/2019

Works Cited: 

Downing, David. Just Theory. NCTE 2019

Goldman, Amy. “Teaching The Great Gatsby in 2019: How to Love Gatsby” Feb 23, 2019. CATE Convention, Burlingame, CA.  

Quiñonez, Ernesto. Bodega Dreams. Vintage Contemporaries. March 2000. 

Stewart, Trevor Thomas. “A Dialogic Pedagogy: Looking to Mikhail Bakhtin for Alternatives to Standards Period Teaching Practices” Critical Education (Vol. 1 No. 6) Aug 26 2010. Accessed July 18 2019.

Image: Blackgang Chine | Tumblr https://www.tumblr.com/search/blackgang+chine

12
Jun
19

Constructing Trust

open to interpretation

As I browse through The Annotated Emma, Jane Austen’s novel annotated and edited by David M. Shepard, I pause longer than usual over his Notes to the Reader, where he signals plot disclosures and literary interpretations. He explains that Austen “developed … with great skill” several “mysteries … crucial to the story”, and I lean in to listen more carefully, because I have settled on this novel for an upcoming high school English course. Then I come to a complete halt, since I need to see him face to face as he tells me this: “Comments on the techniques and themes of the novel … represent the personal views and interpretations of the editor.” I realize that such a disclosure may be one of the most helpful aspects of my own instruction that I can offer to my students.

emma-annotated-david-shaphard

open to question

I have mentioned elsewhere how as a sophomore I asked my own teacher “How do you know?” What I was really wondering was, “What tools can I use myself to construct meaning, notice an author’s craft, or spy a symbol embedded in a landscape of detail?” I may have been curious about how much of what had been placed before us was open to question. As I design my course, it may be beneficial to students if I publish similar disclosures at the outset. I appreciate the way Shepard expresses himself, stating that while his views will “provoke disagreement”, he hopes that “in such cases the opinions expressed [will] provide useful food for thought”. And I sincerely trust that my students desire to think critically, needing only to be shown both where and how such questioning can be most productive; their questioning demands my openness to disagreements.

out of a job

I am describing a process by which students learn to be resistant readers. A full menu of theory and procedures for care and feeding of confident and resistant readers may be explored in Gordon Pradl’s Literature for Democracy. What I glean from Pradl’s work, including his NCTE session several years ago on a texts’ authority and context, is that authority, whether of a text, a teacher, or an interpretation, must be allowed to withstand scrutiny.

In a classroom, what would it look like for the teacher to invite questions about her, his, or their own interpretive process? When does a young reader become confident enough, feel free enough, to enquire of the instructor or tutor? It happens best when the younger apprentice sees themself supported by the tutor who guides, but who necessarily does not do all the leading.

apple norms size standards

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

I have heard it said that teachers hope to become obsolete – once our students think, write, and read independently, there is no longer any need for us. I want to revise this commonplace. There shall always be a need for experienced readers in a community of readers. If we press toward ensuring shared authority of both co-leaders and co-learners in our interpretive communities, anyone might feel not only welcome at the conversation table, but also enfranchised: having a sense that their full participation as members of such a community is worthwhile. The conversation should feel so lively, unplanned, visceral, and thrilling that no one wants to miss the new revelations or discoveries that might happen there.

a shift in control

Where discussions are thought-provoking and texts are inviting, according to Judith A. Langer, students learn literary language, with support of a teacher, from their involvement in “discussions that matter”. The focus of the course must be on readers developing their own changing perspectives and interpretations; she argues that “a shift in control from teacher to student is a necessary first step for the social interactions to shift from recitation and guesswork (What is it the teacher wants?) to substantive thought and discussion that can extend students’ range of understanding.”

Learning to listen to students’ ideas and to base instruction on students’ responses is a difficult shift to make. (99)

What can I do in September this year to make the shift easier for my own students?

close up of gear shift over black background

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

For one thing, I can take a lesson from Shepard and demystify my own interpretive processes, by being transparent at the outset of year that my own analysis of a book such as Emma is not the content of the class; rather, their own emerging understandings will be.  I can focus less on homework and grading policies and be more upfront about shifting toward assessments and feedback designed with student thinking, social contexts, and multiple readings and texts in mind.

trust and voice

I have felt at my most vulnerable before students when sharing my writing with them: writing before them, or reading a poem or homework assignment I have written alongside them. Such openness to criticism was presumably a signal of my trust in them to be respectful of my fragile creations and ego. Yet a stronger and more intentional invitation of their trust in me would be issued by course disclosure of expectations at the outset.

A Star Is Born 2018 Trailer – at smooth.com

You have a voice. The opinions expressed here are open to question, provoking disagreements, providing food for thought. Your thoughts matters. I will support your learning purposes. The texts we explore are avenues down which we walk together. There are also some great stories here. And we will get to know some people; and wherever avenues are explored, we’ll encounter more mysteries – “mysteries crucial” to our stories.

Recommended Reading

Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. 1980. Harvard University Press.

Langer, Judith A.  Envisioning Literature 2011. Teachers College (Second Edition).

Pradl, Gordon. Literature for Democracy Reading as a Social Act. 1996. Boynton/Cook [Heinemann] .

 

 

04
Apr
19

My Passion, you ask?

I like finding things out with help.

 

This may actually be a key to some of the things I am passionate about.

img_4396

Recently, for instance, I have joined several book clubs because I like to keep reading new things – whether they be volumes by Dickens and George Eliot or Shakespeare I have not fully read, new titles out across many genres and including Young Adult and multicultural authors; or discovering ideas about art, education, via a well-written essay or film review.

 

The club’s help comes by virtue of an ethos that we will arrive at a specific date and time and discuss the work without a prescribed agenda. The other part of this is when I discover a reading that encourages me to seek out a filmmaker or artist or musician or author I feel that reading HELPED me along toward something I was not aware I was missing.

 

I began taking piano lessons, getting some help in playing jazz piano from a jazz pianist. I was already interested but needed help with skills, hearing, listening, feeling rhythms. And the guidance offered was not the sort I would have found in books: direct and immediate feedback was helpful.

 

I joined a weekly bridge game several years ago as a substitute player. I would do my book and online learning during the week between Bridge Club meetings. But at the club we would play a hand and I would receive lectures by my partners if I ignored a rule I had not learned, or if I asked for help.

   I learned better when I asked for help than when I was lectured but had not even known the rule I was violating.  

img_0482

So I apply a similar policy in my approach to classroom learning. We can all cover a reading together in my English class, or all work to bring a poem to life through dramatization in small groups – – – but students have more chance in those small groups to ask for individual help on a specific line, a gesture, a comprehension or interpretation than they would have if questions and investigations were handled one person at a time in large class.

   Socratic seminars are built around question-posing, and when students arrive after homework readings with THEIR questions brought to the seminar table, the interpretive community (See Stanley Fish Is There A Text in This Class?) becomes all-important. Here I am doing something WITH the students, not TO them. (See Self-Directed Education and articles on exploration vs. education – “Educare, Educere…”) We learn together about Henry James and the effect of his ghost story. I learned yesterday, by watching my students’ reactions to a dramatized scene from Tess of the D’Urbervilles, that Thomas Hardy has as much appeal in this day and age as ever before – that we all clearly approve of the 17-year old woman’s resistance to the overt advances of an older male to whom she stands in an inferior position. I wonder silently how they will connect this scene and the male character’s later unwanted advances with the #MeToo movement. And I anticipate we all will enjoy seeing improvised role-playing where the tables are turned and what the scene might look like if a woman were in a position of power and a younger male or female were the object of emotional or physical abuse or harassment.

 

I need students’ help to understand such things; it keeps teaching literature FUN and INVOLVING!

 

I am passionate about learning not being confined within the classroom. I have enjoyed taking Pilates classes in recent months and learning with help of instructors and class members how to properly exercise, use equipment, and acquire better knowledge of anatomy/musculature. Now even on my independent hikes and bike rides I am aware of how to work out more wisely and safely. I am also learning how dancers think about their physical tools: I had known that actors see our bodies as tools for expression – but now I can appreciate dance in a way I had not before.

   

My passion for learning as “finding out, with help” aligns with Vygotsky theories of a proximal zone of development.

 

My ongoing passion in the language arts, then, is – to discover better ways to keep learners IN THE ZONE (I capitalize since there is a book on this topic by Nancie Atwell). How do readers and writers remain in the zone where they are able to do things ALMOST independently but still depend on another person to AID them? – to honor that fine line between challenge and frustration.     

 

Can you all – parents, learners, co-teachers, administrators, and co-leaders – please help me?

Photos: Top – Socratic seminar group – St John’s Salt Lake City Alumni Group; Bottom – students generated and led an activity using art to understand a concept. 

  

14
Feb
19

a little learning is a dangerous thing

I came upon this allusion to Alexander Pope in Jane Austen yesterday. She writes:

Good company requires only birth, education, and manners, and with regard to education is not very nice [fastidious or scrupulous]. Birth and good manners are essential, but a little learning is by no means a dangerous thing in good company; on the contrary, it will do very well. My cousin Anne shakes her head. She is not satisfied. She is fastidious.

In Persuasion, protagonist Anne listens to cousin Mr Elliot, and disagrees on this point. If I recall it properly, from freshman year at college, Pope’s Essay on Man declares it this way:

A little learning is a dangerous thing

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierean spring.

I stand corrected – checking my source, I see it does indeed come from Pope, but is found in “An Essay on Criticism”, the spring being the “metaphorical source of knowledge of art and science, according to Wikipedia.

I equated Anne’s listening to her cousin with my class reading, reading aloud, and  listening to Flannery O’Connor’s phrases this week “good country people” and “nice people”.  Like Anne, we hear the words but are uncertain how to judge them. Are they spoken ironically? Which characters are conscious of their own and others’ use of the terms as cant, or platitudes? I remember my instructor, “Lord” Grundt, telling “Clear your mind of cant” (another line from Pope, I believe).

For several days now, beginning when one student missed an assignment and offered to make it up, students have taken turns volunteering to lead class, with my support. Their decisions can frustrate me, but I proceed with the knowledge that they are taking small steps toward full self-directed learning and self-regulating.

It feels dangerous to me, as if perhaps these stories are too fragile, these students too delicate to read the best of short fiction without an experienced guide. I once had a friend who had led river raft trips in Utah and Colorado, and who explained that an experienced guide knows where all the rocks and currents are: navigating in June is very different from running the same rapids in August, as water levels change so much. What terrors might await us at the hands of an inexperienced pilot?

Well, so far this week we have survived the perils of two 45-minute classes and even the cataracts of a 90-minute block. Among the dangers well behind us are decisions about

  • how much time to spend on free reading
  • accountability
  • taking turns reading aloud
  • making sense of complex texts
  • discussions
  • analyzing diction

If I must me honest, no one fell out of the boat. Each leader had the opportunity to actually make decisions about how we spent our class time. Classmates all respected and responded to instructions given by the leader.

The class demonstrated that they were practicing self-directed learning and self-regulation.

I occasionally flourished and fluttered my reams of little notes, big notes, stacks of books, wildly and recklessly displaying my knowledge, preparation, willingness to bend over backward to assist if the ship went down, became worried that no Captain was there to steer them in a specific direction. I held my tongue until it was bruised.

In our case, a little learning was not a problem. We passed the dangers. I am pretty sure the students are better for it. As I listened to their conversations, circulating around the room, so many had picked up interesting insights about the characters and meaning of the stories. Certainly, I heard crazy interpretations and even one fascinating retelling, which I am pretty sure was a student embellishing a summary with many false details to see if his friends had actually read one of the sections for homework.

The morning felt relaxed, casual, yet businesslike. The uncomfortable knot I get in my stomach when we read a significant work of literature dissipated and I was able to enjoy the ride. 

Are you enjoying the ride today? 

Offer students more opportunities to take the helm. You may be in for the ride of your life.  

 

 

 

 

19
May
18

run away! ! !

Yes, I am obsessed with, and keep returning to Monty Python.

As inspiration, as nostalgia, as poultice; as philosophy.

Thanks in no small part to the gift of the COMPLETE Python collection on DVD, courtesy of best friend and science educator extraordinaire, Susan Berrend. Beneath a shared love of British gardens, humor, and baking shows (and no small affection for Oxford commas and Anglican prayers) resides an even deeper shared commitment to pedagogy, an unwavering interest in discerning student needs and experimenting with new ways to meet those needs.

Which brings me to the force of my allusion to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. King Arthur and his knights are on a quest, but when nearing a treasure horde which may yield the coveted grail, they are frightened by a rampant rabbit.

avoidance strategy

This year I have seen students avoid reading. Some practice what Kelly Gallagher describes in Readicide – where students get assignments done without actually reading. This is ascribed to teacher expectations. One of my students, fascinated by problem-solving, is absolutely convinced that by dedicating time and energy to memorizing punctuation rules and grammar definitions she will inch her way forward and improve her standardized testing score.

Why?

running from or running toward?

Lest I forget that learning is social, and that literacy processes do not occur in a vacuum, these avoidance strategies serve to alert me to the motivating factors in my learners’ worlds.

One learner is driven to complete tasks as quickly as possible in order to move on to the social interactions they look forward to that day. Therefore they will do precisely what the teacher demands, in order to prove to their parent that their calendar is now open to schedule play dates and plan parties. My skill set allows me to integrate even those plans into journaling, research, organizing, and writing-to-learn; I can also involve cooking, makeup, and executive function lessons in authentic and meaningful ways.

For such a student, part of my challenge is to de-school the learner, who will benefit when they see learning as something one does for oneself, as opposed to what one does for others in authority. True, there are wonderful social benefits to the greater community when individuals grow intellectually and acquire wisdom; but one does not learn to love reading just to complete a checklist whose goal is to free one FROM reading.*

race to the finish

Today’s Preakness Stakes reminds me that other learners, like my prescriptive grammarian pupil, run headlong toward a clear goal they have set for themselves, which motivates them. Even if I do not understand the full enticements of these goals, I must acknowledge their power in putting a student in charge of her own learning.

My student can tell me how she learns best, what I should focus on, and how quickly she is improving; she can also relate which fall semester class she wants to qualify for, and how many minutes a day she will dedicate to this finish line. Now, I am no genius, but if you don’t like reading I am not sure why you would want to get into a course that expects you to do a ton of it. The challenge? Actually, I suspect that, like thoroughbreds, the air of competition somehow drives them to top performance.

Yet what role do I play as a democratic instructor who advocates for student voice and shared authority? As a trusted teacher and coach, I can offer advice and exercises that stretch the reader, inviting her take up a text and enjoy it.

I suspect that my I do not fully understand my influence at this time.

A couple of nights ago a school parent from the past recognized me at a concert, and made a point of telling me “Mr. Hultberg got me to like Shakespeare!” The parent also said that our production of King Lear made Shakespeare clear to them. This was poignant, since the performer on stage was Michael Bigelow, a jazz arranger and saxophonist, who had played Lear in that show, which I stage directed and Berrend tech directed.

I have also received a printed invitation to an upcoming ceremony at my current school, and I R.S.V.P.-ed in person to the preteen who had handed me the slip. She said, “I knew you would dress nice, because you always show … respect for people.”

At this moment I simply want to show my respect for the learning choices my students make, and to honor the freedom I claim to value.

When it is most important in their lives, I have to trust that my role as an engaged reader and lifelong learner will exert its due influence some day.

rabbit rampant

So the next time you are frightened by a rampant rabbit, or notice students running quicky in the opposite direction from which you wish to lead them, P A U S E. Remember that they are on a personal quest of their own, and nothing you can do will alter its course. Confide in your trusted friend as I do in mine; value your relationships with students and colleagues, knowing that others will be inspired by your commitment. Trust that what is most important to you – a garden, music – will not fail to exert its due influence in its time.

*Checklists: As I write this post, many of my students are actively engaged in reading ten books this summer in order to win free passes to the state fair!


Image at http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_7FAsUT6FePU/SWOhlsoMZgI/AAAAAAAAAdA/1Emq5jvchOc/s1600-h/Holy-Grail-Killer-Rabbit-Posters.jpg cited in Moviedeaths.blogspot.com

Degas painting public domain

Photo by GH pradlfan 5/17/2018

18
May
18

yesterday once more

When the emailed Groupon ad for Barry Manilow in Las Vegas at half price finally fell into my IN box, I wondered if there really might be something to this “algorithm” thing.

Did it know that I secretly hum Carpenters songs and “Could This Be The Magic?” as I ride my bike this spring?

image Fanpop.com

I had the same nostalgic feeling this morning as I stumbled upon a remark about teaching the art of conversation. It recalled me to the sense of purpose and excitement I had first felt as I completed my bachelor’s degree in Speech and Communication Studies.

Nostalgia is a persuasive tool.

Classroom Conversation

In an essay on Slow Teaching, Mike Grenier of Eton College describes using educational research to inform good teaching. Not much of a surprise, but one detail hurled me back to the ‘eighties with all the force of a Barry Manilow anthem:

I vividly recall the evenings sitting on the floor of our instructor’s home, circled up, reporting back our observations from that afternoon’s Human Interactions class small group discussions. It was the charting and turning of such discussion into data, and analyzing that through conversation theory that sparked my classroom practice of recording book discussions in English class.

I developed new charting systems – replacing Symlog with Kathleen Andrasick’s Opening Texts seating chart, tracking the added element of time with Martin Nystrand’s Opening Dialogue, and coaching student co-leaders to monitor their own participants’ contributions employing Victor Mueller’s In The Block series (e.g. Socratic Seminar in The Block).

Slow Teacher

According to Grenier, there are 4 essential maxims for the Slow Teacher, first established by conversation theorist Grice:

1. Manner

maintaining the most helpful order and structure in what we say

2. Quality

truthfulness or accuracy

3. Quantity

when to lecture, to talk, to prompt, or in fact to say nothing

4. Relevance

sticking to the topic

I strive to be an effective slow teacher, but find myself hurrying to catch up to students who are scurrying away.

In my next post, I want to take a look at why they are running, and what they are hurrying toward.




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