Archive for March, 2012

HALR- Tracking and Ability Grouping (ch. 15)

I took this chapter very personal. I know I was tracked as a student in K-12, I know, because as I think back to the classes I took, and my success or lack there of in a few of them, and realize much of this must have been the way in which teachers or administration viewed me as a student. I don’t mean to say that I didn’t have teachers that saw something else, because I know I did. However, remembering the experiences I had in some classes, I know my curriculum was tracked.

The authors state, “Scores were considered a predictor of students’ capacity to learn, and teachers were encouraged to adjust their instruction accordingly” (222). If instructors were encouraged to adjust, then what harm could it be, to adjust in the opposite direction. In other words, why wouldn’t teachers be encouraged to adjust in ways that advocates a heterogeneous classroom? I imagine, this was in part, due to the fact that these changes were taking place at the onset of the 20th century, and this approach was very novel. However, if we had the room to make wider decisions that were more student centered, working to omit tracking and create heterogeneous classrooms would have been accomplished by now. So, with that said, I’d like to move on to the reasons why I believe tracking and ability grouping have been a source of debate for so many years.

“Rationales for ability grouping: The most common justifications were that, (1) students would learn better and feel better about themselves when they were grouped with students of similar achievement levels, (2) tracking promoted equality by making it easier to individualize instruction based on students’ needs, and (3) teaching and managing students sorted by ability or achievement was easier than teaching students grouped heterogeneously” (223). I need to unpack here: looking at point one reminds me of the same type of rational used when schools were segregated according to race/color. Who comes up with this stuff? What professional has a clue what it feels like to be a student in an environment where some folks are much more advantaged than others, and this is considered some sort of special need for the disadvantaged student? I would think that professionals would understand that students who are disadvantaged in some way, regardless of the reason, can only benefit from being exposed to those who retain more resources. This is the very reason why we see peer reviewing work so well in our writing center. Another example that evinces my point is curriculum that utilizes higher grades to collaborate and mentor lower grades. In Southgate, 4th and 5th grade students are brought into the kindergarten and 1st grade classes to assist these students with assignments, homework, or just talk to them about school related subjects. It has worked wonders with the students ever since it was implemented, because the higher grade students develop a sense of mentor/guidance and the lower grade students have a resource for school that is closer to their perspective.

Looking at the second point, I see nothing equal about tracking in this statement, the only point I see, which raises an eye brow is the statement about “making teaching easier” Students needs are not necessarily met, just because the instructor’s job is easier. Instructors need to put the student at the center when designing curriculum and this statement makes it clear that in 1920, this was not the case.

Again, point three raises concerns, because instead of looking at the necessity of the student, culturally, socio-politically, and/or personally, the idea that codifying abilities among students makes instruction easier is bunk. No one said teaching was easy. No one said education is egalitarian in its effort to democratize society, and no one said teachers are infallible. However, to say that teaching students in a homogeneous classroom is easier than in a heterogeneous is like saying playing football at Ford field is better than playing football at the Silverdome, it’s redundant. We all know what makes teaching easy, but that doesn’t mean that we use the easy approach all the time. We must be conscious of what benefits the student, not what makes our jobs less of a hassle. What’s the point of putting off the characteristics students must retain for college, for when they arrive at college? Why not instill in them the type of collaborative thinking they will practice at that point, before they get to that point? Easy or not, students are the reason we educate, so students should be the reason why we work diligently to do it.

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The Database and The Essay: Johnson-Eilola

I have a few points I would like to discuss regarding this portion of the text. First, on page 205, the author mentions something called “deep” linking, which is foreign to me. I read the text, but I’m not certain if I have a grip on the term. Does she mean links that are more complex than the simple URL linkage? FOr example, this semester, after having set up our blogs, we were all asked to do the same for our blog roll, so is this an example of deep linking? I suppose my question is what makes it deep and/or what makes a typical URL link shallow? I think maybe I’m over analyzing this, but I need clarification.

Next, she states., “The point is not all texts are completely fragmented and resist connection. Instead, texts are broken down in order to reconnect them, over and over again” (208). Well, is this not what we do with alphabetic text? Are we not researching others ideas or theories and breaking them down in such a way that we can use them, again and again if necessary. With that said, the database, based essay is really not all that different than the traditional word document, because we are using a similar process in creating them. So, how can one be more or less creative than another? I don’t see the threat that she goes on in the next paragraph about. What I do see is that institutions and professionals may construe this as a threat, because now the isolated skill that we are convinced is required for professionals writers in not so isolated anymore.

She refers to weblogs and how they are “fluid and shifting” yet, this lines up with my argument previously mentioned. So too is alphabetic text. As students we are taught that although our arguments needs to be cogent and persuasive, we must be creative and engage our audience in ways that will keep them enveloped in the text. Thus, in order to do this, we must remember to remain fluid and shifting ourselves, because what works with one field of study doesn’t always work with one audience. We have to be willing to change and try new things, in order to maintain an interest in our students, and if this means tweaking assignments so they include more web interface, then it isn’t all that much different than asking students to write a poem, or a play. They still must maintain an authentic interest in what they’re doing, feel that what they are producing is worthy of reading, and be confident in their argument. All of these attributes apply to web design as well.

The last quote I want to articulate is when the author states, “However, by ignoring them [database design] as forms of writing we make their influence invisible” I could not agree more here. When the onset of the word processor came about, the same discussion was under way regarding what constituted authentic writing and as we have seen through out the years, the only thing that threatens authentic writing is not writing. So, this, in my opinion, applies to web-based design as well. The only thing that threatens writing with regard to web-based design is not writing, or not designing. We need to throw out our traditional, institutional views of composition, so that we make room for more types of creativity. I say this because, if we realize that gripping the old-world view of writing, as the novel ways are being established, only hinders our ability to teach. Our students are making digital composition a part of their lives, even when they don’t realize it, so if we are not privy to this, how will they ever be?

College Readiness PDF (Google Docs)

We discussed this platform in class earlier this semester and worked with it a little bit, but I am thrilled to say that I was a part of a collaborative team of professionals which utilized Docs for an important presentation for ENGL 515’s College Readiness Textual Analysis. We worked in parts and examined the following texts:

Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards: Grades 9-12 – Sarah Brown Wessling

Supporting Students in a Time of Core Standards: Grades 6-8 – Sarah Brown Wessling

The Successful High School Writing Center – Dawn Fels and Jennifer Wells

Google Docs is a great way to collaborate online in a group setting, without having to be present. This is beneficial for most students, especially when we all work and have busy lives, in addition to our academic ones. These are the steps we followed

*Open up an account with Google
*Click on the drop down menu where it says “more”
*scroll until you find “documents”
*Open up Docs and determine which programs best suit your needs

The best way to become familiar with this platform is to play with it. Open things up, type text, use different formats, record what you can or change it. It’s truly that easy and I will be certain to use it again! The subsequent PDF is a copy of our work.

CollegeReadinessGroupPresentation

CCSS-Wessling Ch. 2

I wanted to articulate the value I place with regard to Wessling’s approach in “Thematic teaching” (23), because this way of teaching assists students in finding meaning in text. She states that thematic teaching is designing reading experiences that would allow texts to talk to each other…ie, gathering a variety of texts that extend on main idea in similar ways. I took a class at UM-Dearborn called “Monsters, Women, and the Gothic” which assigned the following texts (if my memory can serve me well, today)

Northanger Abbey-Austen
Zafloya or the Moor-Dacre
A Sicilian Romance-Radcliffe
The Yellow Wall Paper-Gilman
Dracula-Stoker
Frankenstein-Shelley
The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids-Melville
Carrie-King….a few more that I cannot remember as of yet.

The above text were all a part of the thematic fluidity of the class I mention above, but they were also very much relational to the fact that I am a woman. I did quite well in this class. I thoroughly enjoyed ALL of the texts that the instructor assigned, as well as the secondary readings that were included that were meant to supplement our readings. Even though this can be taken as a biased way of approaching the viewpoint discussed here, my instructor served us well, men and women. We all left this class with the ability to understand how texts relate intertextually, and were able to apply this by organizing and writing literature reviews that demanded a metacognitive awareness that we may not have had prior to this experience. The texts were designed to supplement the class’ theme, but more significantly, to allow us as readers and writers to engage in the themes over a period of time in different ways, and with various tools. After completing this class, I understood the value of Gothic literature and the social ambiguities it raises, politically and personally. This is what I believe Wessling is arguing.

HALR Ch. 22

The authors mention a vital point that I believe relates to my own experience with higher education, “Although members of these oppressed and marginalized groups [African American and Latino] may be skillful readers of social relations and sophisticated problem solvers in community-based contexts, too often they do not experience success at navigating the processes of problem solving in school” (351). I know I experienced this problem, myself. Now that I have the capacity to recognize a literacy event, myself, I see where the system lost me. I was a skillful readers of social relations, I solved sophisticated problems (within my cultural relativity) and even though I maintained these this level of social reading, it did nothing for me academically.

I believe the reason for this is because no matter how much skill I had obtained, the skills I had obtained were ones that I enacted within my social ethos. In other words, they were designed by users who were as oppressed as I was, which means, even though I had a set of tools to socialize and communicate within a certain social circle, those tools would never allow me to gain access within the academic world, because the tools designed for that social group was available to me, because the assessors of my position assumed that I hadn’t the skill to utilize and integrate both.

Majors, Kim, and Ansari go on to say, “When their linguistic, social, and cultural tool kits are recognized, they are too often viewed as localized, impermeable, and harnessable only within context rather than across them” (351), which is to say that the sophisticated skills I learned to socially read my space was only valuable in that space, and these authors are arguing not so. Many instructors, administrators, and/or staff didn’t see my tools/skills as marketable for the space that the status quo had designed for me, so the skills I did have didn’t apply to the ways in which my skills were assessed.

When I took my placement exams for college, I was devastated to learn that even though I had fulfilled the curriculum guidelines and graduated with a sketchy 2.85, I was still unable to be placed in first year college level classes. Even though I felt that I did everything according to the books, on paper, I didn’t measure up. Even though I had maintained social networks that were complex and I did this across contexts, because the rules set in place for those who did live and breathe the “middle class” lifestyle were rules that those particular designers felt left me outside the norm, I was marginalized accordingly. So, in essence, we have been assessing skill sets in a way that only allows us to use a certain amount of them, but ideally promote the acquisition of many. This is a conflict that raises tension among many theorists and scholars, and in my opinion, rightfully so!

Writing New Media-Wysocki et al.

So, as this semester has progressed, I’ve determined that there is a delicate balance with regard to alphabetic (Wysocki) composition and digital composing. However, as delicate as this balance seems to be, I am finding it very difficult to discern this, because there’s been so much text stating that it’s the responsibility of the instructor, or the student, or SES, or gender, or culturally-responsive academics…this list could go on, as it has in some of our readings. Yet, I can’t help asking, how in the world do we recognize the proper need in order to balance it?

For example, on page 57, the Selfe states, “The specific strategies for proceeding with this project, however, depend on individual teachers: on their willingness to experiment with new media compositions, to take personal and intellectual risks as they learn to value the kinds of texts, to integrate attention to such texts into curriculum, to engage in composing such works themselves, and on the computer resources, technical support, and professional development that they have available at their specific institutions. These resources, of course, are unevenly distributed, as David’s case suggests, along the related axes of race and class”.

I’ll attempt unpacking this in small portions. First, I think it’s a little much to say that this “project” is dependent on individual teachers. Obviously, our willingness to experiment with novel programs and updated media is the best way for educators to maintain their connection with the multi-media world, but teachers alone cannot take on such a task without the support of administrations. The political implications associated with such a feat are far beyond any one educator, no matter how passionate and innovative they are. I believe that instructors are engaging in the incorporation of new media and are taking risks simply by struggling in doing so. Why do I make this claim? Because (which addresses the latter part of my quote) we are doing these things in environments where we don’t have the kind of professional development that Selfe claims we need, in order to maintain new media integration. We are literally putting the cart before the horse, because the horse is not available to us. This isn’t the case for all instructors, but the majority that I speak to continually stress that they are doing more with less, and trying to keep up with the demands of new media in composition, and at times, it’s frustrating and tedious.

So, if this is how we feel then how do our students feel? I mean, we are an extension of what they learn, so they have to be as frustrated as we are. I find this paragraph frustrating, because it says we need a, b, and c, yet “these resources, of course, are unevenly distributed”. If Selfe can end the paragraph with that statement, then the beginning of it, seems a lot less impacting. It’s like someone came up and blew the wind into my sales, and just when I get moving along the waves at a rapid rate, that same someone comes along and slices my sail right open. I don’t mean to imply that Selfe’s point isn’t right on, because it is. The problem I wish to raise is, what do we do? If we know that colleagues are limited, then we need to find a way to make certain that other students don’t end up with the same problem of flunking out of school. He clearly had the experience and knowledge we want our students to have, but he wasn’t exposed to the traditional curriculum, as well. He didn’t have anyone to see to it that the balance I mentioned in the beginning was addressed. I disagree with the text where David is concerned. He didn’t fail out of the university, the university failed him.

CCSS-Wessling

Okay, so right away I have issues with something, not that I think Wessling is inaccurate, but that “standards can lead to investments and curricular changes that will improve schools”, which is one of the proponents that she mentions regarding the expectations of professionals and I say this sounds illogical (5). My reasoning for this claim directly relates to assessment of the MEAP: even if a district determines where and how investments and changes will benefit, how are they supposed to do this when the district loses resources for low scores? If a district is aware that their community is performing at a lower level than they ought, punitively removing what is left of their funding isn’t going to help, it will do the exact opposite, so please explain to me like I’m a five year old, where is there hope of improvement in this situation?

She also talks about what the term “rigor” means (10), with relation to instructors and the organization of their classrooms and curriculum. I tend to agree with this, because I believe that in order for students to learn to write, they must be voracious readers. What they read makes no difference, but they must read. So, with that said, and taking into account what is “relevant to their lives” how does an instructor make these choices for their classroom as a whole? It seems to me that if my classroom is relegated by cultural and social implications, how does an instructor choose a text that is able to represent the class as a whole??? Can instructors do this for each student? In other words, wouldn’t it be easier to allow the students to choose a text out of a list of texts, that relates to the theme at hand? I would think would definitely allow the student to discover what relates to themselves, as well. This is the point when students begin to develop an academic identity, and it’s difficult for them to do this, when we choose what relates to them, for them.

I really appreciate the discussion on formative assessment. I think we need to lean more towards this type of assessment, because it helps us determine what is happening within development for the student, while they are developing. In other words, as students learn to write, it is most helpful to assist them with their texts in ways that force them to be responsible for the words on the page, so they make adjustments to the way they learn. Assessment that includes positive reinforcement and guiding commentary is the most productive way to go. As an educator I’m well aware that students need to be aware of structural and mechanical issues regarding their writing, however, when we nurture students to be reflective, they will eventually learn to do this, automatically. When they are revising and drafting, they will come across textual inconsistencies that they will identify and either address it right away, or set time aside for a single grammar revision. This means, the old red pen can finally be retired, because we are instructing in a way that forces students to be their own, self-reflective writer.

On page 16, Wessling says, “To clarify, this expectation does not diminish the need to scaffold instruction at all grade levels; rather, the goal is to move students toward independent enactment of standards” and I think this is an example of what I explained above. If we as instructors can implement the necessary steps, an example of this being encouraging students to take responsibility for their work, we are savvy by showing our students how to identify their learning attributes for themselves, as opposed to “teaching” them. This way, they take the habits we help them identify with them, and success is more likely achieved. It’s the difference between being active educators and passive educators.