Tag Archives: literacy education

The Racial Achievement Gap in Literacy

When I was enrolled in Clare’s graduate course on literacy teaching, our class was assigned a reading from Alfred Tatum’s 2005 book Teaching reading to black adolescent males: Closing the achievement gap. It was one of my favorite readings and the class discussion was so engaging; many of my peers, myself included, were overcome with emotion. I will never forget reading the introduction, which felt like a Hollywood script until I realized that this is many people’s reality and that the incident he describes is representative of a large problem that needs to be addressed. Simply put, the role of literacy in the lives of young black men must be reconceptualized.

According to Alfred, the book is his attempt “to speak on behalf of all those young black males who yearn for understanding as they journey through rough terrain. Many of these young men want educators to respond to their needs and so help release them from a poverty-ridden paralysis that stiffens dreams” (p. 3).  Check out the introduction/the book here!

On a similar note, I came across this uplifting article a few days ago. An 11- year old boy started a book club, Book N Bros, that celebrates black books and African-American literature that shies away from the typically negative urban stories. With an emphasis on black protagonists, a new book every month, and meetings to discuss themes and complete worksheets, the aim is to improve the literacy rate among boys 8-10 years old. Some of the books that have already been read include Hidden Figures, The Supadupa Kid and A Song for Harlem: Scraps of Time.       Awesome!BlackProtagonistBook

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Literacy/English Teacher Educators — Goals for Their Courses

Along with my research team we have been studying literacy/English teacher educators. Through this work I became very fascinated with a notion of a pedagogy of literacy teacher education. In the second interview we asked  them to define the goals for their courses. We then categorized and tabulated the results. As the table below show not surprisingly building knowledge of literacy was their first goal.

Goals for course Number who identified this goal
Build knowledge of literacy 28
Build knowledge of pedagogical strategies 25
Student teachers adopt a professional role 18
Student teachers develop a critical stance 16
Build knowledge of government initiatives 13
Build knowledge of digital technology 11
Focus on student teacher growth 10

When the specific goals for their courses were analyzed using NVivo a more nuanced picture emerged. Their vision for literacy varied tremendously. Regarding literacy although learning about literacy and acquiring pedagogical strategies were common goals, interpretations of what student teachers need to know about literacy theory and teaching strategies varied.

Some like Melissa, Dominique, and Maya (pseudonyms used img_1030.jpgthroughout) focused on critical literacy while Amelia and Jessie had multiliteracies as the framework for their courses. Jane and Lance focused on children’s literature, while Sharon and Margie had the writing process as their priority. One LTE focused her course totally on phonics and phonological awareness.  Justin commented: “I see our work as being about the development of teachers as public intellectuals …  not simply to prepare beginning teachers for whatever the particular curricular or pedagogic demands of policy here now are but for a lifetime in teaching and this involves them being able to be both critical of initiatives that are thrust on them and creative in their approaches.”

It also became apparent the teacher educators’ broader goals for teacher education were quite different.  For example Justin believed that he should “prepare student teachers for a lifetime of teaching; prepare them to be public intellectuals; see schools as an emancipatory space. Caterina aims to have her student teachers “themselves as professionals not college students.” Emma has very specific goals: “understand current curriculum …  develop skills to plan and asses … be independent thinkers who are not just teaching for the schools we have.” Bob by contrast has broader goals “student teachers learn to focus on the students … to unpack their beliefs  [about schooling] … and to develop an identity as a professional.” While Martha Ann focuses on the individual’s development “develop a sense of self-efficacy … learn to take initiative … …. know children’s literature … empower students.” The lack of consistency in literacy methods courses (content and pedagogy) in teacher education is a concern because student teachers may graduate with markedly different understandings of literacy and may have been exposed to a particular set of literacy theories and pedagogies.

In my next blog post I will present the framework for a pedagogy of literacy teacher education.

Reblogged: The Becoming Radical: Beware Grade-Level Reading and the Cult of Proficiency

I (Clare) am surprised/shocked/unsettled by the trend of  using levelled readers in classrooms. This is such a mechanistic way to approach reading. Yes we wants pupils to have success with reading but levelled readers have become the “diet” for many children. I found this article by Thomas really interesting. Here is the link: http://nepc.colorado.edu/blog/beware-grade-level-reading

Few issues in education seem more important or more universally embraced (from so-called progressive educators to right-wing politicians such as Jeb Bush) than the need to have all children reading on grade level—specifically by that magical third grade:

Five years ago, communities across the country formed a network aimed at getting more of their students reading proficiently by the end of 3rd grade. States, cities, counties, nonprofit organizations, and foundations in 168 communities, spread across 41 states and the District of Columbia, are now a part of that initiative, the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading.

However, advocating that all students must read at grade level—often defined as reading proficiency—rarely acknowledges the foundational problems with those goals: identifying text by a formula claiming “grade level” and then identifying children as readers by association with those readability formulas.

This text, some claim, is a fifth-grade text, and thus children who can “read” that text independently are at the fifth-grade reading level.

While all this seems quite scientific and manageable, I must call hokum—the sort of technocratic hokum that daily ruins children as readers, under-prepares children as literate and autonomous humans, and further erodes literacy as mostly testable literacy.

So who does this grade-level reading and proficiency benefit?

First, lets consider what anyone means by “reading.” For the sake of discussion, this is oversimplified, but I think, not distorting to the point of misleading. Reading may be essentially decoding, pronouncing words, phrases, and clauses with enough fluency to give the impression of understanding. Reading may be comprehension, strategies and then behaviors or artifacts by a reader that mostly represent (usually in different and fewer words) an accurate or mostly accurate, but unqualified, restating of the original text.

But reading may also (I would add should) be critical literacy, the investigating of text that moves beyond comprehension and places both text and “meaning” in the dynamic of reader, writer, and text (Rosenblatt) as well as how that text is bound by issues of power while also working against the boundaries of power, history, and the limitations of language.

In that framing, then, grade-level reading and proficiency are trapped mostly at decoding and comprehension, promoting the argument that all meaning is in the text only (a shared but anemic claim of New Criticism).

This narrow and inadequate view of text and reading (and readers) serves authoritarian approaches to teaching and mechanistic structures of testing, and more broadly, reducing text and reading to mere technical matters serves mostly goals of surveillance and control.

Consider first the allure of formula that masks the arbitrary nature of formula. Plug “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams into a readability calculator—first in its poetic format of lines and stanzas, and then as a grammatical sentence.

As a poem, apparently, the text is about 4th grade, but as a sentence, nearly 9th grade.

The problem is that readability formulas and claims of “grade level” are entirely the function of the limitations of math (the necessity to quantify and then the byproduct of honoring only that which can be quantified)—counting word syllables, number of words in sentences.

Reducing text to numbers, reducing students to numbers—both perpetuate a static and thus false view of text and reading. “Meaning” is not static, but temporal, shifting, and more discourse or debate than pronouncement.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” is really “easy” to read, both aloud and to comprehend. But readability formulas address nothing about genre or form, nothing about the rich intent of the writer (for example, poetry often presents only a small fraction of the larger context), nothing about all that that various readers bring to the text.

And to the last point, when we confront reading on grade level or reading proficiency, we must begin to unpack how and why any reader is investigating a text.

As I have detailed, we can take a children’s picture book—which by all technical matters is at primary or elementary grade levels—and add complex lenses of analysis, rendering the same text extremely complex—with a meaning that is expanding instead of static and singular.

Text complexity, readers’ grade level, and concurrent hokum such as months or years of learning are the grand distractions of technocrats: “it is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing” (The Tragedy of Macbeth, 5, 5).

Grand pronouncements about grade-level reading and proficiency, then, benefit politicians, textbook companies, and the exploding testing industry. But not children, not literacy, and not democracy.

Leveled books, labeled children, and warped education policy (grade retention based on high-stakes testing) destroy reading and the children advocates claim to be serving.

Thus, alas, there is simply no reading crisis and no urgency to have students on grade level, by third or any grade.

The cult of proficiency and grade-level reading is simply the lingering “cult of efficiency” that plagues formal education in the U.S.—quantification for quantification’s sake, children and literacy be damned.

A call to adopt Balanced Literacy

An article in the New York Times caught my eye, it highlights New York schools chancellor Carmen Fariña’s proposal to adopt a balanced literacy approach in more New York City classrooms (link to article provided below). The article reports that, “during her almost six months as chancellor, Ms. Fariña, a veteran of the school system, has reduced the role of standardized tests, increased collaboration among schools and shepherded through a new contract for teachers that includes more training and more communication with parents. But her push for a revival of balanced literacy may have some of the most far-reaching implications in the classroom.” Proponents of the Common Core academic standards have however, voiced resistance to implementation of a balanced literacy approach, arguing that it is at odds with the learning goals emphasized in the core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states. What do you think are the pros and cons of a balanced literacy approach?

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/06/27/nyregion/new-york-schools-chancellor-carmen-farina-advocates-more-balanced-literacy.html

 

Focus on Teaching the Student

As I continue to read the news about states exiting the Common Core standards to reclaim standard-setting autonomy, I am reminded of a quote from a participant from our SSHRC study on literacy teacher educators:

“You’re teaching the student. You’re not teaching the curriculum. The student should be in the middle and to try to stretch the curriculum to fit around that.” (Melissa)

 The Common Core Standards are national U.S. standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics grades K-12. The implementation of these standards began in 2011. However, in the past few months three states have formally withdrawn from the Common Core Standards (Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina). Recently, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana made public that he was also looking to formally withdraw from the Common Core Standards.

This turbulent time in the implementation of national standards reminds me of the stance several of our literacy teacher educators had on teaching directly to national mandates.  Several had lived through many curricula, and so tended to veer away from explicitly teaching the curriculum. Rather, they emphasized with their student teachers that the focus should always be on the student.

Below is a chart summarizing U.S. resisting the implementation of the Common Core:

commoncoreparticipation

Source:

http://dailysignal.com/2014/06/19/want-bobby-jindal-pulls-louisiana-common-core/

Maya Angelou’s Influence on Hip-Hop

Each year, Clare and I (Lydia) invite student teachers in the P/J and J/I literacy methods courses to explore the rich pedagogical possibilities available when poetry is included as an integral part of a literacy program. We consciously include the work of a variety of poets in an effort to provide student teachers with multiple entry points into the teaching of poetry. The recent passing of celebrated poet Maya Angelou brought to light once again the dynamic and influential nature of poetry. Angelou’s powerful poetry inspired a generation of Hip Hop artists who appreciated the beauty and complexity of her work. Upon hearing the news of her death, rapper-producer Q-Tip acknowledged the deep impact Angelou’s poetry had on him. In a twitter post he recalled trying to copy her voice during his early days with A Tribe Called Quest. He noted, “I tried to copy Maya’s fluid voice early on but failed miserably. But because of her I found my own… RIP Maya Angelou and thank u.”

Maya Angelou’s Legacy in Hip-Hop: www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/05/28/maya_angelou_s_legacy_in_hip_hop_poet_leaves_behind_a_history_of_appearances.html

album-A-Tribe-Called-Quest-Midnight-Marauders

Literacy from Day 1

The New York Times reinforces the importance of reading to babies from the day they are born:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/24/us/pediatrics-group-to-recommend-reading-aloud-to-children-from-birth.html?smid=fb-nytimes&WT.z_sma=US_PGT_20140624&bicmp=AD&bicmlukp=WT.mc_id&bicmst=1388552400000&bicmet=1420088400000&_r=2

I value the point in the article – read to your babies –  but dismay set in as I read the end.  The suggestions it makes about low income families and radicalized families was unsettling, perhaps an even small analysis as to WHY the statistic are what they are would be helpful.

Low-income children are often exposed little to reading before entering formal child care settings. “We have had families who do not read to their children and where there are no books in the home,”

The undertone of the above statement does not sit well with me. While implicit, the message I read is that parents with low-income do not care to read to their children or do not know the value of doing so…  is it just me that reads the tone in this way?  It would be helpful to read about why that is: parents with low-income struggle to find the time to read to their children because they are working shift work, or 2-3 jobs to make ends meet, or have such intense stresses in their lives, or have difficulty affording books and are unable to get to libraries with ease… Is it a choice to read or not read to children? Or is the suggestion an imposition of wealthy class values? The realities of low-income versus wealthy families go beyond simple statements of what they do or not do.

 

A multitude of communication resources

cartoon_newliteracies

When I saw this comic it made me chuckle.  I enjoyed the comic’s gentle reminder that children/youth routinely engage with and expertly navigate a variety of communication tools. Clare and I (Lydia) conducted a two-year collaborative self-study of our efforts to incorporate various technological resources (e.g. a wiki) into our pre-service literacy methods courses. This research helped us identify both the challenges and successes we encountered along the way.  Our research efforts also made us more mindful of why we chose to incorporate certain technological resources into our pedagogical practice — questioning for what purpose and to what end.   Through the analysis of our efforts we realized that we had initially seen technology as an end in itself, not as a tool to support learning. In the second year of the study, we focused much more on student learning and became more systematic in our efforts. Over the two years of the study, our identities as teacher educators shifted as our pedagogies became richer, our use of technology more fully integrated into our literacy courses, and we received validation from others and from each other.

A Foot In Many Camps

The first publication from Clare’s research on literacy teacher educators has just been published. With her co-authors Lydia Menna, Pooja Dharmashi, Cathy Miyata, & Clive Beck “A foot in many camps: Literacy teacher educators acquiring knowledge across many realms and juggling multiple identities” has just been published in the Journal of Education for Teaching 39(5), 534-540.

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