When I reflect on my learning and growth outside of being a student, “sequential” and “orderly” do not come to mind. There are fits and starts, highs and lows, and brick walls. There are memories that stick out as momentous, but at the time, I probably thought I was just browsing the Internet or having a cup of coffee with a colleague. There are times when I thought I was making a discovery, but in hindsight, I did not follow through with the project. Learning can, and in one sense, must be chronological, but that is not the same as linear, like planned learning is often expected to be. Textbooks are arranged in chapters, to be taught and “learned” in sequential order. Yet I can’t think of any way in which my out-of-school learning has been linear.
When I was a young girl, I kept a diary. Since I was the oldest of four siblings, it had to come equipped with a lock (the kind that was more of a suggestion than an actual deterrent). Accordingly, my younger brother at one point read my diary; it was so embarrassing. And so when I was witness to the blogging phenomenon years later, I thought it strange to put one’s diary on the Internet for all to read.
But that’s just what the teens I was studying were doing: recounting the events of their days, processing the meaning of said events, and expressing hopes and dreams, all online for me and anyone else to read. I became intrigued as to how they thought about their audience when they were blogging in this capacity. The three teenagers upon whom I focused all offered some variation of the same idea: that the blog was “just for me.” However, the genre of the blog, by nature hosted online and thus quite public, told a different story.
I remember the way that bathroom smelled as I sat, waiting for the hands on the other side of it to release their weight and allow me to go free. I remember the echo of every sniffle and every moan that I allowed to release from my throat. I remember the silence that accompanied my pleas for help, and the laughter that drowned out my questions of why.
I remember their words.
It was after school one day in sixth grade that I decided I would ask my English teacher for help understanding our reading assignments. I don’t remember what those assignments were, but I remember wanting help, wanting to learn. Maybe I wanted to learn too much—maybe if I had been less obvious, I never would have been in the situation I shortly found myself. I got to her room too soon, and instead of waiting, I decided that I should wash my hands, or blow my nose, or the host of reasons that bring you to a bathroom.
I didn’t see them. I had no idea they were there.
Armed with my excitement, I pushed the door to exit, but the door didn’t move. I was trapped. I was alone except for their words.
I remember their words.
In my studies as a pre-service teacher, I recently read Turner and Paris’s (1995) “How Literacy Tasks Influence Children’s Motivation for Literacy,” in which they discuss the importance of what they call the “Six C’s” to influence children’s motivation to read and engage in classroom work. Those six items are Choice, Control, Challenge, Collaboration, Constructing Meaning and Consequences. These features of pedagogical design, based on what we know about learning and teaching sound solid, but I was left with a question:
In cases similar to mine, what happens when bullying outside of the classroom, bleeds inside, rendering kids afraid to engage, subsequently stunting their abilities to infer, question, visualize, interact with peers, critically view the word and world—or a host of other literacy practices needed to be successful as a reader?
Whether any of us would like to acknowledge it or not, as social creatures, relationships, acceptance and popularity are strong influences throughout our lives. We depend on it in business, politics, and even the teachers’ lounge.
Turner and Paris (1995) say, concerning their second C, Control, that “students want to see themselves as originators of plans and ideas, not as followers in a grand scheme they may not understand” (p. 667), and while I agree that this idea will empower kids to feel in control of their education, my concern is that we still lump students together in much of classroom activity—empowered or not. In this context, what voices are heard? Who is taking credit for the originating ideas? To be bullied is to be made invisible, not heard from, insignificant. The result? Not only do those who are bullied lose their voice outside of the classroom, they suffer the same injustice inside the classroom, rendering their control non-existent.
From that moment in the bathroom, until I left high school, reading and comprehension was no longer something I desired—it was the very thing I avoided. If I didn’t understand, it meant I didn’t have to speak, with the hope that my silence would result in everyone else’s silence toward me. After all, my questions didn’t result in improving my understanding, but rather, in an extremely embarrassing and unfortunate situation. Questions were the cause of my torment, and in a desperate attempt to distance myself from that torment, my questions ceased. Reading became an object of dread for me, and there wasn’t a reading comprehension quiz I couldn’t fail if I thought it would help me. My preservation strategies only resulted in the adverse effect on my comprehension, and it would take me until the age of 27 to finish a book cover to cover.
Was my experience all that different from one faced by scores of other students around the country? Absolutely not, and all too often cases are much worse that being locked in a bathroom. Even still, the damage of bullying would stay with me, as I am sure it does for a lot of people. In the new age of high standards testing, and the desire to make our children “proficient” on paper, my question becomes:
How can we make reading in the classroom an all-inclusive event, catering it as an exercise in tolerance? Is there a way that we as educators can return words to their position of power as a learning tool, rather than a weapon of degradation?
In the interest of transparency, I am not sure that a text exists to perform that function. I will remain hopeful that as educators we can take up curricular and pedagogic approaches that will provide students with experiences to increase tolerance, directing them down a path that will promote unity with literacy education. I will dream that one day, experiences like my own will be stomped out by the students themselves, never to affect comprehension again. Someday soon, perhaps even through my teaching, students will leave their classrooms armed with knowledge founded in tolerance, and before standing by and watching bullying happen, they will jump into action saying:
I remember their words.Turner, J. & Paris S. (1995). How literacy tasks influence children’s motivation for literacy. The Reading Teacher, 48(8), 662-673.
Among linguists, Arabic is commonly classified as a diglossic language*. In other words, written Arabic, the language of novels and newspapers, is distinct from the dialects spoken on the streets. The formalized, proper Arabic that constitutes the official language of print throughout the Arabic-speaking world is only spoken aloud in certain contexts: by news anchors like the hosts of Al Jazeera; by politicians giving formal speeches; by lecturers in university; and in other formal contexts.
This formal Arabic, called Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or fuṣḥā, is rooted in the grammar and vocabulary of the Qur’an, and, like many written languages, is standardized through orthographic and grammatical conventions. MSA is taught in schools and requires a certain amount of training since it is spoken so little and differs so much from the language of everyday conversation. In fact, MSA is so distinct from Arabic dialects that some researchers have even suggested Arabic speakers process it in the brain as a second language.
To put this into perspective, a rough analogy would be if American English speakers only read books and heard the news in a Chaucerian-style Middle English, while still speaking current American English in our homes and day-to-day interactions. Imagine this as your nightly news:
Arabic dialects—of which Egyptian Arabic or Masry is the most widely spoken–are quite different from MSA as languages. They are fluid and changing, and have lacked orthographic, lexical, and grammatical standardization because they are quite literally never written down. That is, with the exception of a handful of avant-garde novels published at the end of the twentieth century, they have not been written down with any degree of consistency until now with the rise of social media platforms.
As Facebook, text messages, IMing and blogs have proliferated throughout the Arabic-speaking world, colloquial Arabic has begun a rapid transition to a written language. In 2008, a new Wikipedia was launched in Masry. The 2011 Egyptian uprisings, called in some corners the “Facebook Revolution” were facilitated through the use of social media and written and organized in Egyptian Arabic, as much as in MSA.
And, as more and more people gain access to the Internet, social media platforms are shifting communication across political and social barriers. Many Palestinian families, who have been unable to visit ancestral homes or see relatives because of the political imbroglio with Israel, are finally able to communicate regularly. Unmarried young men and women who previously would not be able to communicate outside of properly chaperoned outings are chatting online, leading to new questions about the parameters and extent of religious and cultural sanction for various uses of social media.
These types of political and social democratization receive a lot of press. Rarely, though, do we have such stark, clear examples of social media as democratizing mechanism at the level of language. And it is the language democratization that is further collapsing class-based barriers to communication that come part and parcel with diglossic languages*.
Janine is happy to entertain your questions or comments below. And as always, I’d love to have you join us in this conversation.* Diglossic languages like Arabic are typically maintained through social hierarchies; usually there’s a “high” language (in this case MSA) that is culturally prestigious, and a “low” language of the common people. In Arabic, MSA is held in high esteem specifically because it is held to be modeled on Qur’anic grammar, though it is worth noting here that MSA is grammatically simpler than the language of the Qur’an, called Classical Arabic. Since Muslims believe that the Qur’an contains the literal words of God—that He actually spoke the Arabic language—there are many cultural and religious reasons to wish to keep the language static. But, of course, as any linguist would tell you, languages do change by nature. Still, there is nothing like L’Académie française or the Real Academía Española for Arabic. It’s the limited, educated, and upper crust nature of MSA, and its relationship to religious textual tradition, that keeps its progression relatively stagnant.
Guest Post from Lucia Brockway, a preservice English teacher working toward her Master’s of Education at New York University. Lucia is part of the #teachread project within which her work with The Perks of Being a Wallflower can be found.
This post is response to Mark Lewis and Robert Petrone‘s article “Although Adolescence Need Not Be Violent,” published in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. In this article, the authors talk about the “invented adolescent,” or the image of the teen teachers have in our minds as a product of the assumptions often made of adolescent students. These students are unfairly categorized as being in a tumultuous, hormone-fired transitional stage, one that is accompanied by poor decisions, angst, and a pervasive exposure to dangerous influences.
School curricula is often designed to reflect this imposed state of being; books rife with risky adolescent behavior are assigned and students are urged to construct parallels between “unruly” characters and their own selves. It is also assumed that adolescents are unfinished adults, searching desperately for their own identities. By homogenizing adolescents in this way, teachers are denying students of their own varied personal histories.
This is a Guest Post from class members of Language Acquisition and Literacy Education in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts, who are all content area pre-service teachers in math, social studies, music, Chinese language, and sociology at New York University.
This week we discussed the characteristics of communicating in the digital age and how shifts in online communication impact teaching and learning, as well as what it means to knowledge creation and sharing in our content areas.
Guest Post from Richard Andrews, Dean of Faculty and Professor of English at the Institute of Education, University of London. Richard Andrews is also co-author of our newly released Developing Writers: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age.
In Developing Writers, we use Richard Andrews’ concept of framing from his book Re-framing Literacy: Teaching and Learning in English and in the Language Arts to characterize aspects of writing in the digital age. In celebration of the release of our co-authored book, I asked Richard to introduce us to the concept of framing as applied to writing.
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I’ve long been interested not only in the verbal arts, but also in the visual arts and how the two interrelate. So book illustration, art with words (the work of Kurt Schwitters, Roy Lichtenstein, Barbara Kruger and others), and the complementarity and tension between word and image have all been areas of intellectual interest as well as enjoyment.
A step back from immersion in those two modes suggests that framing is a concept that is worth exploring in terms of communication. Continue reading From Frames to Framing
Guest Post from Matthew Hall, teacher, teacher educator, and educational researcher at New York University.
As a teacher, what do you see when you look at student writing? We all have our inclinations, things our eyes are immediately drawn to when looking at student work. Early in my teaching career, I relied on my own school experience to shape what I see. As a result, my first inclination when looking at student writing was to see grammar and spelling. More specifically, my first inclination was to see grammar and spelling errors. That’s what my teachers did for me. That’s what I did for my students. With years of practice under my belt it’s almost as if these errors light up on the page while everything else darkens and my hand instinctively moves toward the light as if it were holding a pen.
What is it for you?
What do you see when you look at student writing?
Like a trusty sidekick, my eyes are singling out misspelled words and punctuation errors. It came as a surprise to me when I found out that Abraham was in Kindergarten when he wrote this. Kindergarten! That changed things for me. Now I’m kind of impressed with the way he spelled ‘frisbee’ and ‘played’. I might push him to add another sentence. My thoughts rush to a recopied version of this piece–free of error–that can be hung up in the classroom or on the bulletin board in the hallway. Look at what a good writer this student is! He’s in Kindergarten!
But look what I did. I spoke only about the writing and I ignored the writer. What was it about this experience that motivated Abraham to write about it? What kind of choices did he make when he drew the picture? How was he conforming or pushing back against what he’s been taught about writing? What does he think of what he wrote? What does his writing look like in other spaces?
Often, there’s an unspoken story about writing that runs in schools, that the end result of all writing should be error free compositions. It makes sense. That is what we see in the publishing world, error free publications. As teachers we don’t want to send work home that still contains errors because “the parents will think we’re not doing our job,” implying that catching errors is what teachers do when it comes to writing. All this is a symptom of what Anna Smith wrote about in her post “The Two-Faced Coin”:
Chronological time is the ultimate determiner of development in writing. Our benchmarks on this linear scale of time have been based on studies and curricula that are not based on how youth actually develop as writers, but rather how we can logically organize the products, practices and participation across a similar linear scale.
When I examine the surface “errors” of Abraham’s writing, I’m essentially making him invisible in his own education. By focusing solely on how his writing lines up with temporally clustered products and practices, I ignore HIS development and focus on the development of his PRODUCT. What would it look like if teachers felt they had the flexibility to see the writer? Well, I’m giving you permission to try it. Think beyond what your teacher eyes have been trained to see, take some of your students’ writing and see the writer. Then post a comment below and tell us all about your writers.