Chapters 4 & 5 HALR, Freire reading

Chapter 4

Contexts for Adolescent Literacy

Judith A. Langer

Management Contexts

“Thus, in more effective schools, there is room for students to be part of the community at the very time they may also be trying to move beyond.”

I think this is a critical and often overlooked aspect of being an adolescent. We can’t just treat adolescents like children until they’re 18 and graduate and then shove them out into the world. I can see how a transitional phase with processes like these would be amazingly beneficial, especially to adolescents struggling with identity or other power issues. It seems like such a piece of common sense to let adolescents be a part of the management of their school, after all they’ll have to manage their homes, jobs, and relationships without the school’s support network eventually. Coping with what “adult” problems look like before they happen is invaluable.

Groan. I hate the word semiotic.

Programmatic Contexts

This idea: that “students enjoy becoming engaged with ideas they can question, challenge, discuss, and use to form their own interpretations” is one that is less prevalent than it should be, I think. People don’t want to be spoon-fed or told what to think, and sometimes I think our current system is set up to produce little containers of information, often forgetting to supply the tools with which to utilize the information.

The theme of coherence and connectedness is interesting. I never thought about what she said, how students treat each school year as though it is an entirely new body of information when in reality it is layers building upon each other. I always felt like they taught me the same thing every year, as though I was too stupid to understand it the first time around. This is most likely from moving around a lot and the curricula changing, of course, though that never occurred to my young self, obviously.

“it is assumed that ideas change and grow over time as one reads, writes, hears, and thinks. Therefore, teachers try to help students engage in “meaning in motion,” questioning ideas, leaving them open to new refinements and connections as they are in the act of gaining fuller understandings.”

This is somewhat…surprising to me. It would help if teachers were more in the habit of letting you know that when they are prompting you to think critically and make connections and gain understanding, they are not just waiting for you to give them the right answer. I am thinking of silence, and how it is an effective tool for allowing time to think, but is easily misinterpreted as a waiting for a demonstration. In the same vein, is this: “in less effective classes, students do not ask questions; they keep them to themselves, shutting off a critical part of the learning process.” That’s just sad.

Later, I found this: “They wandered into class, worked separately or in pairs, figuring out the answers they thought their teacher wanted.”

“The focus is forward, to what the students are working toward, rather than behind, on what they didn’t get.” <–This! We all respond better to positive. Telling anyone what they can do is immensely more helpful/useful than telling them what they can’t.

“point of reference thinking – the type of thinking you do when you know the topic or point of the quest, but need to gain more information to understand it more fully or to reach the destination.” (critical thinking strategies)

“exploring horizons of possibilities – when neither the topic nor the point is wholly understood; thus students need to ask questions about understandings they have at the moment because these lead them to also consider possibilities about the whole.” (creative thinking strategies)

“The two are a function of how the mind works as it is creating meaning, based on the student’s purpose and available knowledge…Each is used when it is more facilitative to the thinker’s purpose.” Well, aren’t we just bastions of convenience.

Words I don’t know or their misuse bothers me:

envisionment – the process or result of seeing something in one’s mind.

semiotic – the study of signs and symbols and their use or interpretation (I can’t get this word to stick).

vector – a course to be taken directly to a desired point.

Chapter 5

Adolescents Who Struggle with Literacy

Larry R. Johannessen & Thomas M. McCann

“Literacy refers to the lifelong continuum of experiences with the processing, interpretation, and production of texts of all sorts.”

“an obvious source of the struggle for many adolescents is that their primary discourse does not match readily with the literacy activities sponsored by schools and inherent in many academic assessments.”

The three domains affecting struggling adolescent literacy learners:

1) the establishment of supportive and trusting relationships between teachers and learners

2) the cultivation of partnerships among families, their communities, and the schools

3) the refinement of teaching practices that connect with the lives of learners in a culturally responsive


Compensatory education has failed, approaches based on cognitive views of learning work better; instead of focusing on basic skills, the focus turns to problem-solving tasks.

The standard approach to at-risk students tends to: underestimate what students are capable of, postpone more challenging and interesting work for too long, and deprive students of a meaningful or motivating context for learning or for employing the skills that are taught, focus on the mechanics of language and low-level recall at the expense of the reading and discussion of literature (Applebee).

The Importance of Classroom Discourse

“what counts as knowledge and understanding in the classroom is largely shaped by the questions teachers ask, how they respond to their students, and how they structure small-groups and other instructional activities.”

The process of active, responsive understanding encouraged by discussion of texts and instructional conversation has a powerful effect on reading comprehension partly from the development of supportive and trusting relationships between teachers and learners.

Strategies that are effective:

Modeling scaffolds the strategy for students as they learn how to use it.

Reciprocal teaching helps students think deeply about what they read through small-group teaching of these strategies: summarizing, asking a question, clarifying, and predicting. “A key element of reciprocal teaching is dialogue.”

Stern says that instruction for struggling students must treat the students’ realities as a positive source for planning instruction rather than a liability to overcome. This goes farther in that the curriculum should reflect their experiences; larger goals and topics should fit academically and socially and be something they have a part in determining.

Alvermann believes effective instruction involves self-efficacy and engagement in reading, helping students perform their academic tasks; he calls for culturally responsive reading instruction for struggling adolescents, and also instruction that teaches students to read critically; lastly instruction should use participatory approaches to reading as opposed to teacher-led.

Students should be able to “question and problematize the authority of text”, this is facilitated with the use of culturally appropriate texts and class discussion.

Ultimately, the main things that need to happen are for students to become engaged, and build confidence by engaging in dialogue, exploring texts in different ways, and working within solid relationships. It is also critical to include culturally and personally relevant texts (out of school experiences).

Presentational instruction features teacher lecture and large-group discussion led by the teacher. (“frontal” style)

Environmental instruction engages students in problem-centered activities that allow for high levels of student interaction.

The other modes are individualized and natural.

Six foci of instruction:



-sentence combining



-free writing

Another theme I am noticing here is that the students engaging with one another to develop strategies, are doing an effective form of pre-writing that helps them work out more complex scenarios, which in turn makes the actual writing less intimidating. So, they do oral before written. Hmmm.

“For learners who struggle with literacy learning, inserting detailed elaboration within a boilerplate organizational model makes less sense than helping them to develop a repertoire of composing strategies to use with the substantive knowledge relevant to each task.”

Effective strategies for teaching language-minority learners have these features:

-rely on cooperative learning structures

-are culturally responsive

-engage students in extended instructional conversations

-are cognitively guided

-provide a technologically enriched environment

Kaplan: a “contrastive analysis of rhetoric” can offer teachers clues as to whether learners approach problems in a sequential, circular, zigzag, or other pattern.

“Cognitively guided instruction also means that there is a meta-cognitive component to teaching and learning, in that the learner can monitor understanding and make adjustments to self-correct.”

“The idea is to engage students in purposeful conversations or authentic discussions about issues and concepts that are essential to a discipline but connects with students’ lives.”

Another key theme is that of connecting the out-of-school experiences, significantly the parents and broader communities.

The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom


So, wow. If ever there was a writer to emulate, Freire is it. I’m exaggerating a little, but he’s a fantastic writer.

Moving on to the material, this article does a fabulous job of outlining the socio-economic factors that contribute to illiteracy.

“In accepting the illiterate as a person who exists on the fringe of society, we are led to envision him as a sort of “sick man,” for whom literacy would be the “medicine” to cure him, enabling him to “return” to the “healthy” structure from which he has become separated.”

“They are not “beings outside of”; they are “beings for another.” “in reality, they are not marginal to the structure, but oppressed men within it”

“For this very reason, it is a courageous endeavor to demythologize reality, a process through which men who had previously been submerged in reality begin to emerge in order to re-insert themselves into it with critical awareness.”

Freire is discussing the relationship of the literate to the illiterate in terms of the power structures at work and the effects those have on the people involved. I think his analysis is spot on, but not limited to this situation alone. Those that have not acquired true “critical awareness” are as ignorant in many ways as those who can’t read or write. There’s no advantage to having more information than another if you haven’t a clue how to use it.

“Literacy [is] an attitude of creation and re-creation, a self-transformation producing a stance of intervention in one’s context.”

My favorite quote (political creature that I am–what year was this written, I wonder?):

“One subverts democracy…by making it irrational; by making it rigid in order “to defend it against totalitarian rigidity”; by making it hateful, when it can only develop in a context of love and respect for persons; by closing it, when it only lives in openness; by nourishing it with fear, when it must be courageous; by making it an instrument of the powerful in the oppression of the weak; by militarizing it against the people; by alienating a nation in the name of democracy.”


Week 4 English 516

Manifesto for Teaching Online:

While these quotes are fairly self-explanatory, I found something to say about a few of them…

“By redefining connection we find we can make eye contact online.”

I find this to be a rather outlandish claim. Metaphorical or not, the idea that direct contact with a room full of people can be duplicated in an online setting is fairly ridiculous. The only way I could see that working, would be if there were some way to do group video chat (which I’m sure there is…but then you might as well meet face to face as you are asking everyone to coordinate their lives in a very similar fashion to a face to face class…thus defeating one of the benefits of a class being fully online). That aside, I find that there’s a fair bit of misunderstanding that goes on in online discussions, due to all the physical cues we normally use to interpret meaning….not being there. Certainly, there are some ways to overcome this, and it’s less of an issue in an academic setting in some ways…but…yeah. I don’t think we can ‘redefine’ connection. Our brains have not evolved in thousands of years, and we aren’t about to change our deeply rooted perceptions of what the nature of connection is. Some will probably argue we already have, but deep down nobody is satisfied with a instant message when what they wanted was a hug and a coffee with a friend.

Every course design is philosophy and belief in action.”

I like this statement. It reminds me of a Freire piece we are reading in another class (The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom and Education), in which he discusses pedagogy and states about treating literacy as a technical skill: “[s]uch a naive approach would be incapable of perceiving that technique itself as an instrument of men in their orientation in the world is not neutral” (617).

In other words, what I get when I combine these quotes is the notion that each teacher brings a set of assumptions about how to teach ‘correctly’ with them to the classroom, and therefore the design of the class shows what the teacher believes, and what philosophy they either think will work, or has worked for them in the past.

“New forms of writing make assessors work harder: they remind us that assessment is an act of interpretation.”

“Course processes are held in a tension between randomness and intentionality.”

Taken together, these quotes bring up what I see as one of the main obstacles for online courses (and probably all courses, to be fair), that of how to grade responsibly. I would imagine this is especially stressful when trying out new pedagogies, despite the balance provided from the experience of trying something new. Assessment has always been interpretation, but it is a fairly recent phenomena for the class to be an interpretation as well. Technology sort of demands it, though, and I think teachers are flexible about it and getting along okay. You can’t ignore it.

MOOC pedagogy: the challenges of developing for Coursera

As many great points as this article makes, I can’t help but think about more positive things than negative when it comes to learning online. Don’t get me wrong, I’m skeptical of it for a lot of disciplines and for many reasons. That said, what struck me is the amazing opportunity these courses provide not only for self-direction, but for the possibility of hearing from students about the experience and being able to use feedback from people actually taking the course to be able to make the courses better. Student voices are largely ignored on a number of subjects, online learning is a great opportunity to make up a bit for that deficit. Even surveys are faster and less irritating online, making them likely to be useful as a measurement instrument.
Certainly there are vastly more opportunities for engaging with other professionals in a field when courses and discussions are open to the web. v The richness of the discussion can be aided by having more voices participating, though I do see both “sides” of the economics in this issue. It does bring in students, who will contribute to the school eventually. It also could make current students somewhat resentful…though I can imagine this would be more likely when they have to pay for a class that is free to anyone not attending the university.

The question of how to assess the involvement of thousands of students seems like a huge one, that will have a simple solution before long.

It seems at present that sustained and personal engagement on the part of tutors with course participants is impossible in such a context, and Coursera themselves recommend an approach that borders on course automation.”

It’s interesting to contemplate this idea of ‘automation’. What exactly does that entail? As evinced in multiple articles, one size does not fit all in the world of education.
Overall, I think increasing access to higher education is a great idea for a number of reasons. The main one being I would like to see (in the U.S.-they do it elsewhere already) a trend towards completely public funding of education from preschool to Ph.D. I think this is just the sort of catalyst a move like that requires. Whether or not MOOCs will be a catalyst for that sort of change…remains to be seen. Another point in its favor is that the opportunities for valuable discourse increase by an astronomical amount. Further, it’s a great way for universities to advertise their services (as noted in the article). Lastly, I should note that the issues surrounding the differences in interactions between students and teachers in the two environments have a number of possible solutions that can mostly be resolved. I mean, if you are able to access the technology necessary to take courses online, you can also probably access a service like Skype or Google Chat (with video function). This could take the edge off what would otherwise be a rather impersonal experience.

All About MOOCs

by Rosanna Tamburri

This article really seems to sum up the teachers’ reactions to the use of online courses, and some of the general pros and cons. And overall, I think that reaction is pretty positive and fits in with what we think of academic philosophy being. I don’t know about you, but most teachers I know don’t teach for the paycheck. I feel sorry for them if they do. Teachers want to teach engaged students. They want to both satisfy curiosity and engage people in being active members of both their disciplines and their communities. It would seem that the type of students you would get, after you get rid of the extraneous 90% or so that drop, would mostly fit that criteria. They are taking the class because they want to learn the subject. Presumably, this will lead to more discussion centered around what classes students actually want to take, or will be useful to them in their careers.

So far, it has yet to be determined how the MOOCs can translate into credit, or even what obtaining the certificate really entails. As noted, it’s not an event in a business model…yet. I think that’s a good thing. Making education a business that is providing a service to individuals is not really in the interests of anyone…outside those making a profit in the enterprise. Education is to the benefit of the entire country, and serves not only those receiving it, but everyone in connection with them. Ignorance is a blight that only education can erase. I don’t mean to wax philosophical, but I see this as a possible opportunity for a political conversation about the way we treat education, higher and otherwise, in this country. It’s long overdue. I don’t see why this can’t be an experience much like Wikipedia. It goes back to the idea of the commons; if we don’t share information and the tools for acquiring knowledge, we are doomed.

Week 3 English 516

On Cynthia Selfe’s “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing”:

Of particular interest to me are these quotes:

“For graduate students, oral questioning and disputation has persisted in candidacy exams, as well as in more public defenses of theses and dissertations. To pass such exams, graduate students are expected to succeed both in producing a written text and defending their ideas in disputational aural exchanges, forms rooted historically in verbal argument and display”

“Interestingly, however, none of these authors mentioned some of the more basic affordances of aural feedback—that speech conveys a great deal of meaning through pace, volume, rhythm, emphasis, and tone of voice as well as through words themselves”

“Indeed, the enactment of authority, power, and status in composition classes is expressed, in part, through aurality: how much one is allowed to talk and under what conditions.”

I can’t help but notice some underlying themes in this piece.

First of all, the history of composition she outlines seems overtly designed to keep out anyone not rich, white, or probably male. After all, written literacy has historically been a privilege of the rich. And like it or not, that has meant the rich white men in America. That changed somewhat when we needed to accommodate the growing demands of industrialization with a more educated workforce. I’m sure I’ll get accused of cynicism and overreach, but this isn’t an unexplored or non-evidentiary phenomenon. At any rate, certainly one can trace in Selfe’s article the transition in higher education from mostly oral/aural to mostly written a form of socioeconomic exclusion. This is seen in the exposition Selfe does of how academia increasingly drew a hard and fast line between speech and writing. In counterbalance, the cultures typically excluded from these written forms developed a more extensive oral/aural tradition that seems to have served to preserve some aspects of their culture and to provide them with expression that goes beyond that traditionally found in exclusively written forms. Every cloud has a silver lining?

Secondly, I see the theme of the treatment of aurality/orality in written communication as a metaphorical artifact. This could be viewed as admitting, even if somewhat superficially (for a considerable length of time), that aural forms are not to be completely ignored. This subsuming of oral/aural forms coincides with my personal experience with oral delivery in the classroom. Outside the context of occasional class discussion or speeches, little emphasis is given to oral expression up through the end of high school, which contrasts with what is expected at the university level, especially as you get to the upper level courses and on to graduate school.

Lastly, on pages 637 and 638, she explores the relationship between growing forms of aural expression and how our culture increasingly turns to them for many types of information. I wonder if this has anything to do with human inclination to perceive themselves better at judging sincerity in these forms of expression, not to mention how much richer they are in terms of stimulation, and expression of inflection.

On “Interchanges: Response to Cynthia L. Selfe’s “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing” by Doug Hesse

Hesse makes a compelling argument for the practicality of what Selfe seems to be advocating. There are lines that exist between communication (speech) and writing (print) that serve practical purposes within our institutions. Of course, rhetoric really spans both fields and now includes media studies (besides all the other overlapping disciplines), and the actual lines between them are increasingly blurry.

Beyond these practical considerations, is another. What is important for the students? Does this involve larger considerations of what’s practical for the nation, or something related more to personal forms of meaning-making? Is it something in between, where we look at what is going to serve both the student in their career and global interests?  Just because it is what is best for the business interests of a community, does not mean it is ideal.  Aren’t we supposed to be engaged in the production of valuable social discourse? He makes a good point about how traditional writing of essays has not effected change in the world…so perhaps even though the practical concerns are nothing to be sneezed at, it’s time to consider the “true” purpose of rhetoric in the expanding compositions environments.

On Selfe’s “Response to Doug Hesse”:

Selfe makes a thoughtful response to Hesse’s response. It makes sense that one would only be touching the surface of teaching all forms of rhetorical expression in this day and age. This does not strike me as being any different from any other introductory course, in that their are always disciplinary overlaps and teachers are always forced to choose what material (out of a seemingly endless set of options) to use in their curriculum.

She also touches on a subject dear to my heart, which is scientific communication, so I appreciate her expounding on all the fields that benefit from multimodal representations. It is important to consider what each form of rhetoric might bring to the sharing of all kinds of discourse. There is no one-size-fits-all. The attempt to attach that to writing has become problematic, to say the least. Most importantly, Selfe’s argument about avoiding the hierarchies imposed with the privileging of writing are extremely compelling, of utmost importance, in my opinion. We are culturally inclined to privilege writing, often to the extent we discount valuable points of view expressed in different modalities. If nothing else, I hope this starts, and continues, to change (despite my personal aversion to making videos).

Chapter 3 HALR (English 515)

Okay, so my original plans to have less of my notes and more of my comments didn’t pan out so well…as it became difficult to separate the two.  Sorry again for the length of this post.

Chapter 3

Who are Adolescents Today?

Youth Voices and What They Tell Us

Sam M. Intrator

Robert Kunzman

The focus is on “how youth narrate and describe their own experiences of adolescence”.

“The orientation of these studies is grounded in a belief that youth are self-conscious, observant, critical consumers of educational experience. They have sophisticated capacities of discernment and a unique perspective on what happens in school and classrooms.”

“Researchers have found that youth are largely excluded from the discourse around schooling: adolescents possess a consumerist orientation toward engagement; literacy emerges from an ecology of relationships; youth yearn for opportunities to explore and express their distinctive voices; opportunities to refine and develop these voices should be a central goal of education; and this education, this potential transformation, is not limited to formal school settings.”

Psychosocial tasks are being accomplished: psychological-sense of self, social-influencing relationships.

Some research suggests adolescents deal with the blurring of racial/ethnic boundaries of the population better than adults but can still deal with social injustice in single-race terms.

“The etymology of adolescence is derived from the Latin adolescere, which suggests a growing toward adulthood. Adolescence is a series of transitions that involve the emergence of cognitive capacities for more abstract and advanced thought, and the transition into new institutions and social structures results in dramatic and fundamental change for the individual.”

There’s something to be said for a parallel to the “shadow world” experienced in many situations (I’m thinking of Native Americans forced to assimilate in boarding schools), with the experience of adolescents that are not quite children, and not yet adults. Certainly not a “picnic” by any stretch of the imagination.

“Gladwell’s (1997) exploration of the “coolhunters” employed by market researchers to anticipate the next big trend seems as much about figuring out how to tell teens what should be important to them as about genuinely listening.”

“the relationships between teachers and their adolescent students must be dialogical in nature, a cultivation of listening and learning by both adults and teens.”

“Becoming literate in technology means teachers and students must approach the task with a willingness to explore together, recognizing the skills and insights each one brings to the interaction.”

Learning and success depend on active engagement (the degree students are emotionally and psychologically invested), but data shows adolescents are largely bored and disengaged, with commitment at an all-time low.

Labeling causes stratification which leads to kids thinking they are not special, and consistency in perspectives and behaviors is not only different among adolescents, but at times also differs within a single adolescent. Another consequence is that when a low-resource student becomes disengaged, the consequences are often far more severe than when a high-resource student does, the latter having more opportunities for second chances to re-engage.

“Teens are desperate for adults who are about them and for them.” Relationships with adults are critical in the transitional phase, identity-forming phase, and yet they are often neglected or absent.

Youth Voice and the Experienced Curriculum

Typically, adolescents are seen as “passive beneficiaries” of schooling, and are rarely consulted about their experiences or critiques, let alone are their views acted on.

“Cathran and Kulinna (2006) characterize this absence as a critical oversight because current conceptualizations of student learning focus of the influential, constructivist nature of student cognition and the meaning that students assign to their experiences. Adolescents are accustomed to making choices or adopting a consumerist orientation toward experiences.”

“In sum, researchers know relatively little about the social, emotional, and cognitive experiences students have in the classroom setting.”

They are calling the dynamic of “how adolescents make sense of their in-the-classroom literacy experiences” the “operationalized or experienced curriculum because its focus is on the unique events that unfold in a classroom and places the adolescents subjective interpretation of those experiences at the center of study”.

“We are concerned with the stories that youth tell themselves about the character of education they experience within the activities experienced in the classroom.”

Conceptual Roots of Youth Voice Research

Dewey on traditional vs. progressive education: There is one permanent frame of reference, which is the organic connection between education and personal experience. All depends upon the quality of the experiences students have. His conception of experience allows educators to try to make sense of “the transaction between the student and the environing conditions”.

First principle: Experience happens as an unceasing “moving force”, occurring continuously and subsuming everything (both conscious and unconscious behaviors). Experience is both the what is experienced and how, and who is experiencing it; it is the process of experiencing. Dewey: “life goes on between and among things of which the organism is but one”. It is critical to note that the experience itself happens separately from the grasping of the experience. In general, experience denotes a “compelling episode”, or at least something worth describing to another.

Second principle: Experience is not an internal process, but a transaction. “Transaction is the process that encompasses all that passes between an organism and its surroundings.” Dewey: “An experience is a product, one might almost say a byproduct of continuous and cumulative interaction of an organic self with the world”, “it is within experience that learning about self and the world takes place”.

There exists a focus on the educators need to understand the student’s experiences of their relationship to the curriculum as part of their agenda; it is interesting…I wonder when exactly it was that we realized that what the students thought about and got out of the experience of learning really was an important part of the educational process. The shift has certainly been a gradual one, and I wonder if it coincides with the shift to understanding that children are not miniature adults that simply stop being children at the age of 6 or so, and therefore don’t start being smallish grown-ups at that juncture, either.

The Emergence of Student Voice Research

In 1992, Erikson and Shultz observe: “virtually no research has been done that places student experience at the center of attention”.

In another line of thought, how well researched are the teachers’ experiences of the curriculum and the teachers’ view of what the students both are and should be experiencing?

“It seems ironic that we require young people to attend high school, and yet we know relatively little about what they think of the place.” (Compared to research, a student of students could probably learn a lot more from the music kids listen to and the poetry they enjoy–seriously)

Youth Voice on School Organization, School Policies, and School Reform

Wilson and Corbett: “If substantial reforms to improve what and how much students learn actually occur in schools, then students’ descriptions of their classroom experiences should reflect those changes. Reform, in other words, should become noticeable in what students say about school”. This, to me, raises the issue that is of ultimate importance in the search for true reform: accountability.

Youth Voice on Participating in the Civic Process of Education

So, in keeping with my last sentence up there, there are studies that focus on what students learn through being a part of processes designed to take their voices into account. Yay!

Youth Voice on the Relationship among Community, Culture, and Schooling

Exploring the youth voice on other topics is done, with what students think about school being a part of the narrative when it organically happens.

Youth Voice on Teaching and Learning

Teachers obviously would love a glimpse inside their students’ heads, to find out what they think about their educational experience, and what they are feeling, in order to both accomplish curriculum goals and find out what strategies were working to achieve those goals.

What Do Youth Have To Say About Their Curricular Experiences?

Boring, Boring, Boring

“The pervasiveness of student testimony describing boredom and disengagement with school-related tasks is alarming, because learning depends on active engagement.”

This, to me, is probably the crux of the matter and speaks to what I have found endemic to the school system at large. While a grounding in the liberal arts is important and useful for many reasons; all “subjects” are connected and it is critical to see from differing perspectives, there is no reason (other than something lame and lazy like logistics) that I can understand for why students can’t choose to study that which interests and engages them the most, starting from a relatively young age. Let’s say towards the end of middle school, halfway through 7th grade maybe, students get to choose one of the main subjects (English, Math, Science) for a central focus, and maybe two or three “electives” they would like to study in depth. Now, I still think that English, Math, and Science would need to be taught for several more years…but how much value is gained from causing this problematic boredom, or from learning a bunch of stuff one is never going to use in one’s career? (I need statistics, but not advanced math for anything, really; and they don’t even teach statistics until late in college-depending on one’s major). In so many conversations I have bemoaned the loss of the apprenticeship. Whatever happened to learning how to do one thing you wanted to do really really well, and what is the harm in that, anyway? (Yes, I know, children didn’t often choose who their masters were…still!)

“although schooling is marked by grandiose, humane rhetoric and lofty aspirations, there is a huge gap between such promulgations and what is experienced by students in classrooms” <–this is a good summary, to summarize it: they mean well, but they aren’t listening at all.

Here’s a fantastic quote: “The villain is the organization that has shaped students’ experience by denying their involvement in basic educational processes and relegated them ‘to the position of watchers, waiters, order-followers, and passive-receptacles for the depositing of disconnected bits of information’.”

Hmmm…the idea of imagining the schools as shopping malls driven by consumer choice, with the theme of treaties in effect where while there are any number of goals, purposes, and expectations, the teachers and students accommodate one another to promote mutual goals and keep peace is an interesting one. Too much capitalism and individualism by far, to my way of thinking. Apparently the treaties are not explicit. “The impact of these treaties is that they legislate a mandate against intensity in the classroom experience”. Doesn’t that sort of defeat the concept of getting students actively engaged…what’s a little uproar in exchange for serious interest and application, anyway?

A few related quotes: “More than anything else voiced by students throughout the research, boredom in the classroom infects the experienced curriculum. Only by listening carefully to the qualities and causes of this disengagement can educators consider how the intended curriculum–and more important, its dialogical implementation–needs to change”.

“Smagorinsky’s studies on classroom literacy practices emphasize that teachers face great challenges in constructing classroom environments conducive to engaging diverse students in meaningful transactions with text.” And on the flip side…, “even the most conducive context can be resisted by students whose goals do not include having rich transactions with texts or becoming engaged with school”. This of course brings up a point already made in this chapter about considering the students’ experiences (and expectations) outside of school. If one is thinking all day about how they plan to get their little brother from school and avoid negative situations, and make dinner, for instance, it can be hard to focus on math formulas (to say the least).

Relationships Matter

It has been determined that students value teachers based on how caring they perceive the teacher to be. “They define caring as “acting in the best interests of others” and suggest that students intuitively understand which teachers demonstrate their caring by holding students to high standards and by “refusing to allow them to fail”.”

It is noted that there is a positive relationship between a positive student-teacher dynamic and feelings of school-belonging, and increased academic motivation and achievement. More research points to “the often critical need for nonparental adults to take a sustained interest in teenagers’ lives; as adolescents undergo transitions of social definition (including and emerging sense of autonomy and changes in interpersonal, political, economic, and legal status), they simultaneously undergo significant transformations in family relationships. These transformations are complex, but studies do suggest that many adolescent-parent relationships experience an increase in conflict and a decrease in closeness.”

“the connection to a caring adult proved to be the most important developmental influence for students”.

Cushman’s research revealed that the students found their relationships with the teachers to be the most important in making learning possible, with little focus on curriculum or assessment.

What Can Student Voice Contribute To Literacy Efforts?

So far, they are bored in class, and they need significant relationships.

Emerging themes: “Focus more on classroom dialogue and focus on connectedness.”

Pupil consultation: “defined as “the action of taking counsel together; deliberation or conference” …which suggests that the parties involved in the consultation process have been invited to contribute because they have relevant and important views and information to share” In other words: use collaboration instead of dictatorial methods as those experiencing a method are arguably the best fit in many ways to analyze its effects.

Focus More on Classroom Dialogue

Students favor a teacher that facilitates conversation, thereby enhancing connectedness. “Other youth explain that not only do they want more dialogue, but they yearn for classroom conversation that explores questions of central purpose and meaning in their lives.” I have often maintained (though it depends on the age group at times-of course), that kids do better if you treat them as though capable of understanding deeper contexts and concepts than you thought they could. They aren’t fully critical-thinking, complexly-abstracting adults, per se, but they have valuable contributions that should not be ignored. Otherwise how are they going to come to full understanding, whereupon they start asking the right questions and pondering some reasonable solutions? How do you expect them to be ethical, responsible members of society as adults if you don’t teach them how? Here’s a case for lead by example. I love the idea of more dialogue. Honestly, how awesome is the lesson that we each have a viewpoint and that while not all ideas are necessarily equal in practicality, nor thought all the way through necessarily, we should all listen to one another and consider differing perspectives? Fairly amazing, if you ask me. And yet, “although moral and existential issues arise frequently, they are most often shut down immediately”. Argh!

Focus on Connectedness

“They experience the school day as a series of disconnected classes with little coherence or overarching narrative and describe feeling almost no pleasure in their learning.” This is accomplished in two ways, according to the students: they feel a general sense that the curriculum doesn’t relate to who they are, and they claim that the grind of school renders them unable to derive any intrinsic interest in classroom learning. Obviously, there’s a lot at play in these situations. Teachers are not well compensated and stuck in the system just as the students are in many respects; students have issues beyond the classroom setting affecting their school experience, most of which are ignored despite their obvious contribution to the educational processes. This brings me back to my idea of restructuring courses around students interests, but I am also back to the big picture of what is wrong with society’s treatment of children. It isn’t easy to get to school and be actively engaged when you are hungry, tired, abused, or even homeless. Many things experienced by adolescents are symptomatic of larger issues society as a whole experiences. But I digress. Sigh.

In another personal (sort of) aside, I find on further reflection (more on this in my memoir, I’m sure) that I could be characterized as a student that learned to “do school”. I was rarely asked for my opinion on anything and disengaged in the sense that I saw school as a means to an end. What that end entailed, I have no recollection…but I have always genuinely enjoyed learning (its intrinsic in my personality and in the sense that it’s its own reward). I don’t recall very many “passionate” discussions. Now, I can see where a teacher would want to keep things in the classroom calm…but that is impossible if you are discussing real problems and the students are actually engaged. Seems like misguided practice, to me.

Focus on Higher-Order Thinking

What’s this?! Students like to be forced to think, and like a challenge? Inconceivable! Okay, sorry. I fully respect science and research (more than most, probably), but sometimes I wish there was more common sense in the world. Would an adult be pleased with a puzzle (of any sort) they could solve immediately with little to no effort? Of course not. So what makes us think students want to be spoon-fed information and concepts? It’s a model for disaster, ultimately. (Though it has its uses when you want a uniform body of information imparted to a large number of people…)

Give Us Choices and Build in Flexibility

“Students need opportunity to create their own meaningful connections to school, a process that can be cultivated by giving choices so that students can create bridges between their personal interests and situations and the curriculum.” When there are “deep engagement and engrossment”, “[t]he work the student did in designing her project is described by the researchers as flexible, open-ended within the parameters of a general design task, collaborative, and informed by continual feedback from peers and audiences”.

Promote Opportunities for Students to Go Public with Their Work in Meaningful Ways

Capitalizing on pride, at least in part, I am thinking. How many students write what they think the teacher wants to hear, at a level designed to get them the lowest acceptable grade (to them) on the assignment? Much as I hate it, peer review is another tactic to make connections to one’s work beyond the teacher’s desk. More importantly students are describing that they’re “doing work that brings them into contact with the outside community [and it] makes the academic work feel more real”.

Weaving Together Student Voice and Teacher Wisdom

“What students seek–and what they need to grow as learners and people–is a dialogical encounter with adults.” This involves not only dialogue, “but also drawing upon their own professional wisdom and experience to connect what students already care about with the important growth and learning they need”.

“In order to understand adolescents today or in any era, adults must be willing to provide time and space to listen to what kids have to tell them.”

Words I don’t know or their misuse bothers me:

congener – a whole (a thing or person) of the same kind or category as another

dialogicalof, pertaining to, or characterized by dialogue.

iterative – relating to or involving a single execution of a set of instructions that are to be repeated

A great (brief) study of profit.

“Most of us take a dim view of breaking even. We are taught that making a profit is the only way to get ahead. But to get ahead of what? And of whom?

Why should we get ahead of others? Can we meet our needs for health and happiness only by leaving others behind?

If indeed breaking even is a bad thing, the only alternative is to break uneven. And a transaction cannot break uneven to the advantage of both parties. Someone must be left holding the bag.

Is this what we should expect of a humane and just society?

When two parties break even in an exchange, each gets comparable value. Neither is shortchanged. Both emerge from the transaction with dignity. But when we seek to make a profit, we effectively oppose this arrangement of equity, and our transactions break uneven to the disadvantage of another person or party.

Is it moral, as you transact in daily life, to take more value from people than you give to them? If you are adept at getting the better end of the bargain, is it cause for pride? Do you feel good at the prospect of teaching children how to leave other parties with the raw end of the deal?

To be sure, we are taught to see profit in a positive light. We are taught to esteem the profit makers. We are taught to look upon profit as fair and honorable. But do we really believe that?

Do we believe our childhood indoctrinations that to extract from society more than we contribute is fair and honorable? Do we really believe that wealth is a measure of good character?

For all our veneration of the profit makers, most of us will never make a profit ourselves. Most of us will only work for a wage, and in so doing enrich an employer with the surplus value of our labor. But even if this were not so, we cannot ALL extract more from society than we contribute. For all the transactions that take place in the world, at least half of us must be left the poorer for it. It’s basic mathematics.

The injustice and insanity of profit doesn’t stop here. The goal of corporations is not merely to be profitable. The goal is ever to increase profitability. The goal is ever to increase the value they take from society and conversely to reduce the value they give in return.

After successive years of this, corporations are emboldened to take still more. Their goal is still more increases. Increases without end. Economic growth without end.

Yes, all on our modest, overcrowded planet.

So now we have, across the globe, all these legal entities, each seeking not only to extract more value than what they contribute, but yearly to increase the margin by which they do so. And before we give our applause and approbation, let’s stop to reconsider. Let’s open our eyes to the ugly truth of profit, that it is immoral, unjust, destructive, and unsustainable.”

– Jeff Mincey –