Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reluctant readers…Recalcitrant Teachers?

Kellie Coughlin
Reluctant readers…Recalcitrant Teachers?
 
          The readings for this week present ideas that are common to those studying and working with literature. We are cognizant that the ways in which students are reading is changing, and yet we seem to be placing blame rather than working to change the problem. As the Kajder readings discuss, literacy must be interpreted as our ability to communicate. How we are able to communicate is our way of participating effectively in our world. As teachers, we seem to have numerous anxieties about the new manner in which our students are reading. To clarify: this new manner appears to be far more digital, graphic, and, well, busy. Students appear comfortable multi-tasking, even as the act appears to slow and diminish their work. How we read is changing, and therefore how we approach teaching literacy must continue to develop. Kajder describes the futilities faced by students who categorize themselves as poor readers, who are not focusing on what they believe is real reading. It is this exact problem we need to clarify as educators, especially in the early grades. Our students must be comfortable with the platforms we teach from so that they can develop those connections that make text ever more important. The classics are by default classic pieces of literature. We can fear their meaning and importance being lost amongst the push for graphic novels. However, we can also ensure that students are given the skills to read and therefore to be comfortable at a later age with mature, classical novels.
            Literacy has a huge role outside of society and it is here that we may very well have our best chance at removing anxieties. Encouraging group reads, promoting “good reads”, and working to model behaviors of readers can help lessen the strain in attitude felt by many students. In examining the articles about Google, and its frightening hold on our society, Google serves to communicate to us ideas. Whilst we may not interpret all of this data, we are aware that it is present for us. We have instant access to numerous answers, and yet we may not have the tools to know what is accurate. By recognizing Google as a tool and not the engine itself, we can see that it has the capacities to help us. Kajder notes that tools are important resources for educators. Google may be making it more difficult to teach the art of writing a research paper, but it remains a valuable tool for the promotion of exploratory means.
            The idea that we are “how we read” is concerning to me. It seems to base our level of literacy on generally accepted frameworks. There are too many students who struggle every day with reading and processing disabilities and who work extremely hard to communicate ideas. To make the statement that “we are how we read” seems to make a huge generalization about a huge population. We cannot be “how we read”, but we can be how we use our resources to communicate our ideas. By accepting that the way we read is changing, we then may focus on ways to bring literature to future generations. There are new values that we can place on learning. As the readings mention, these new values have to have an appreciation for the developing nature of the brain. Cascio’s article notes that “the amount of data we’ll have at our fingertips will be staggering, but we’ll finally have gotten over the notion that accumulated information alone is a hallmark of intelligence”. It will still be our ability to use this information, to argue with this information, to defend, dispute, and discuss this information in our lives that will matter. In the end, it will be our reluctance to change that will keep our students reluctant. Kajder’s approach to literacy is refreshing, as she reminds us of the need to use multiple methods of text to ensure our students’ needs are met.

7 comments:

  1. Kellie, you make a good point about how limiting the idea of "we are how we read" can be. Sometimes I think we use hyperbolic and apocalyptic language to degrade how "kids are these days."

    I do, however, want to push back a bit on your suggestion that "Google may be making it more difficult to teach the art of writing a research paper, but it remains a valuable tool for the promotion of exploratory means." In my opinion, Google actually enhances the possibilities of the research paper beyond the exploratory stage. I think that a lazy use of Google can lead to plagiarism and superficial investigations, but I feel strongly that if we teach students how to use online search engines well, they can access and synthesize material at a speed and with a depth that are not possible within the traditional print library research process. Google Scholar and Google Books are two databases I use on a regular basis in my research and they have made fact-checking and immersion in critical traditions much more accessible and comprehensive for me.

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  2. Kellie, I completely agree that it will be our reluctance to change that will keep our students reluctant. The more we push against it and try so hard to keep from happening what IS happening the more harm we are doing for our students. If we are reluctant about changing, why shouldn't they?

    Alex, I agree with you about the use of Google. I student taught last semester and I did a unit on the research paper. We were lucky enough to have a Smart Board in the classroom throughout this unit, so I would navigate how to actually use Google to find credible, reliable sources. The kids loved it. They could hear me speak and see it with their own eyes as I was explaining it. I showed them "good" websites and "bad" websites and what types of phrases to search for. I had them come up to the smart board and try it themselves. We did this before they were in the computer lab researching for the paper. It really paid off because when it was time for researching they would call me over and say, "Ms. Weaver, this source isn't reliable, see!" their enthusiasm really struck me as I was not expecting it.

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  3. As educators we need to be aware of our students' reading and writing habits, and how they're forming them. Kellie makes a good point: "How we read is changing, and therefore how we approach teaching literacy must continue to develop." This is important if we want to succeed in helping our students. Last week we discussed Plato/Socrates fear of the shift from memorization to the written word, and now, centuries later, we are afraid of the shift from paper to the computer screen. As Nicole mentions at the end of her post, "new technology" is beneficial when "used in moderation." We need to help our students navigate/improve their literacy through texts, whether online or in print.

    I agree with Alex and Nicole about the merits of online researching. Citing online sources have been easier ever since software/applications like Zotero were developed to help you track your bibliography.

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  4. I completely agree with Nicole's sentiments, and it circles back to the point I attempted to make during discussion last week. Technology is not a bad entity; it makes our lives easier in more ways than we care to admit. (Perhaps this makes us uncomfortable, but who cares as long as I can access my email account from my smart phone?) Maybe I am being too dismissive (I'm honest with myself enough to know it's a habit of mine), but from personal experience, the very people who seem to be denigrating technology with respect to "kids these days" are the same ones who begrudgingly signed up for email.

    We, as the future educators in the U.S. (maybe just the future parents or aunts and uncles), need to stop with the apocalyptic language and embrace the face that distractions like social media are here to stay and useful tools like Smartboards, laptops, netbooks, eReaders, and iPads disseminate information and further educate students. The time has come to stop complaining and start acting, which I hope is what we'll learn in this seminar.

    And just for kicks and giggles, I've been addicted to the Internet since I was 15 years old and I do not consider myself illiterate by any stretch of the imagination.

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  5. A few people mentioned it already and I will say it again, google is extrenely helpful when used right to do research, especilly since they have came up with google scholar. I use it make list of sources I want to look into. Especially when it is on a UMS computer and they have links to J-store or EBSCO with the full textx of a lot of the search ressults.

    Google can sometimes be a quicker way of getting texts that our library does not have access too. It can lead to the website of a certain professor who has his own articles online or some other way that is quicker than interlibrary loan...

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  6. Alex, I really like your point that as educators we “need to stop with the apocalyptic language and embrace the fact that distractions like social media are here to stay and useful tools like Smartboards, laptops, netbooks, eReaders, and iPads disseminate information and further educate students.” I know the way I read has changed drastically since I got my own personal computer, and since my iPhone became an extension of my hand. The changes in some ways are scary to me; I notice that I cannot concentrate on one subject for as long as I could before, but I also notice that I am making connections rapidly to other works and because of my iPhone, or computer, I am able to instantly access other sources and material that years ago would have required numerous hours and extensive research to find. Change is always scary, but I think as educators we have a responsibility to identify useful ways to use new technology and then disseminate that information to our students. Not long ago my boss, who is in his sixties, told me that the fact that I was not on Twitter was equivalent to being afraid of the printing press. This comment has stuck with me, (I’m still not on Twitter, but that’s another story) and it made me realize that I need to be more open to new technology.

    Kajder says, “students don’t just read; they read in a specific time and place, and for a specific purpose” (10), and I think this idea is really important. Students are not illiterate; they are simply reading to achieve a goal, rather than delving into classic literature for their own enjoyment. Kajder writes, “students who don’t know how to deploy strategies to work through texts when they become ‘stuck’…are usually students who read without questions or a purpose in mind…However, [the students] know how to do this kind of work when reading an image or writing a Web log entry” (7). So we know that students that are “non-traditional readers” are very often capable of active reading when it is for a purpose that they are interested in, so it becomes a matter of translating that behavior to more academically based material. Once the student knows that the reading he or she is doing outside of the classroom is valuable then making that transition becomes easier. I also think that finding ways to incorporate academically based material with popular culture and technologies is a way for teachers to engage students with material that the students might normally be reluctant to read. Rather than being resistant to things like graphic novels, video games, and web sites, teachers should try to use these mediums in the classroom. I peer mentored as an undergrad for a class called Literature and the Visual Arts, and students really responded to the visual representations within the text. To say that graphic novels are not literature is to be very behind the times. I read King Lear in graphic novel form for my Shakespeare class, and it was excellent and it also lent a whole new level of discussion because of the visual choices the author made. This is true also for graphic novels that are not based on classic literature. So I guess I’m really saying that I agree with your point Kellie, that “In the end, it will be our reluctance to change that will keep our students reluctant.”

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  7. Kellie,

    Your treatment of Kadjer gave me an ah-ha! moment. You are so right when you say,

    "Kajder describes the futilities faced by students who categorize themselves as poor readers, who are not focusing on what they believe is real reading.It is this exact problem we need to clarify as educators, especially in the early grades. Our students must be comfortable with the platforms we teach from so that they can develop those connections that make text ever more important."

    This reminds me of what Paulo Freire says about us as readers of the "world," not just the "word." We are already reading, and it doesn't necessarily mean words--we "read" new experiences.

    We do need to demystify for our students that how we make sense of the world is a form of "reading." And the earlier we start this work the better. I feel that lack of academic self-esteem is a burden for students. To feel as if they are bad readers just gets in the way of things: instead of just doing work, they are worrying about if they are doing the work right.
    Because the world is subjective, as long as we use reason, there is no right and wrong. It's more important to put work into construing, to spend time finding "connections," rather than worrying if the connections they do make are right.

    I also appreciate your focus on literacy. This is what's at the heart of it all.

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