Archive for October, 2005

I love this quote on p. 45: “To involve children in critical conversations about the books they read or about the world they live in, the teacher has to be a critical observer of the word and the world as well…She has to want to weave political ideas into an already overflowing literacy agenda and believe these are important issues to discuss.” This is followed by Katherine’s account of the child who believed women can’t be president. I love the idea that Daniel possibly changed his mind and that the conversation made a visible impact on the minds and actions of the students–they noticed acts of sexism in everyday life. I wish I knew more about this fine art of getting students to converse about critical topics like this. The ideas that follow in this chapter are so practical. The critical questions on p. 52 are wonderful and they are something I would like to try sometime.
I also like the idea that books can talk about difference even if they don’t mention race, class, or gender explicitly. The example of “Charlotte’s Web” is a great example of this.
As I continue reading, I’m looking forward to the parts of the book that talk about including the voices of struggling readers. As a reading specialist, I have a special place in my heart for working with students who struggle with reading. I want to them to feel successful and to participate in the classroom literacies without feeling anxious.


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Reflection on:
Bomer, R., & Bomer, K. (2001). For a better world: Reading and writing for social action. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

I’m a little jealous after reading Deb’s posting on For a Better World. When I read things like this it makes me want to get back into the classroom so that I can try it out. When I look back I can see times when I had critical conversations with my students about themes of social justice, but most of them occured naturally from questions students raised or from our reading. I didn’t set out to create this way of thinking, “habits of mind and activity”, as part of what I wanted students to walk away with.

When I started teaching one of my primary objectives was to keep it real for my students. In the introduction it described this as making the classrooms “permeable”, “inviting students to bring their lives into their official schoolwork…”. I think that over the nine years I taught my classrooms “permeability” became polluted by the testing environment. I still invited students to bring their lives into the classroom, but there was less and less space for them. That has to be my biggest regret about teaching.

On p. 45 Katherine shares a story about a boy in her classroom that believed women couldn’t be presidents. She took the opportunity to listen and discuss this with her students. The boy had based his understanding on who could / could not be president on what he saw on television. Through the class discussion students were given a different possibility. It’s a little scary to think that students might be basing their visions of what they can or can’t become on what they see on television. Even after reading an article on how television might be making us smarter because of more complex plot structures, I think television is primarily a product of capitalism. In other words, children (and adults) who shape their identities based on television ideologies may become culturally bankrupt puppets for a financially driven economy.

I wish I’d read this book before I started teaching, and that I’d set out purposefully to “build critical conversations”.

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This is Deb — I’m a new grad student in Language and Literacy this semester. I teach 9th graders and wanted to blog about a “critical lens” I used in class last week . We were reading an excerpt from “House on Mango Street,” and to preface our reading, I asked kids to talk about money. (Page 34 of the book helped me a lot.) We talked for about 15 minutes. Is money important? Is money distributed fairly? Are people judged because of their money? Is it hard to escape poverty? Why? Why not? I tried to keep it as open as possible, hoping all kids could feel safe about expressing opinions. The kids did great. One student spoke about how the US would be a better place if Bush could be poor for a few weeks. “Then he would know how we live, Miss,” my student said. “He would understand.”

A great conversation. All kids engaged. Even kids who don’t usually participate. Then we read the text. We did the Say Something strategy to help with comprehension. The kids were totally into the piece — making all kinds of connections to the story. “They’re poorer than we are!” I heard. We came back to the big group and talked about how money played out in the text. (We read the first chapter of the book — if you know the book, it’s the chapter where a nun says to Esperanza “You live there???” Very judgemental and mean….) Anyway, kids understood the story so much better because of the conversation we had previously. I always talk about text before we read, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about text this way. It made a huge difference, even though it was really a small change in my teaching.

The icing on the cake — I asked the kids to do a short answer practice question afterwards. “What does the house symbolize to the girl?” Test practice, really. And they got it!! One kid said “Well, which house do you mean? The house of her dreams or the house that she lives in now, the bad house???” Usually I have to guide kids toward these nuances. But I know the discussion of money and power completely transformed their understanding of the text.

Anyway, I’m still reading the book, but I couldn’t wait to try this out. Next week we are reading a bell hooks story. I think I’ll preface it with the images of family we see on tv. The perfect Cleaver families that have no relation to our lives. How does this make us feel? Why don’t tv shows portray our real lives?? Still thinking on this one.

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Las Vegas SUN
October 20, 2005

Writing Helping Young Katrina Survivors

A high school senior, displaced by Hurricane Katrina, sits down to write about the journey that brought her from the chaotic shelter at the New Orleans Superdome to Tulsa, Okla., where she still feels lost and alone.

A college freshman whose family fled safely from Katrina recounts how she ended up on a New Orleans causeway overpass, helping evacuees with medical problems.

And, watching the disaster and rebuilding efforts from afar, middle schoolers in southern Illinois send handwritten letters to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin in hopes that he will pass them on to others their age.

“I just learned something from this, after seeing all of this,” Allie Dean, a sixth-grader in Mount Carmel, Ill., wrote. “I really need to count my blessings and stop asking for stuff. I need to care more about other people and not just myself. Everybody here, including me, cares about you and your families.”

In the weeks since hurricanes ravaged the Gulf Coast, sitting down with pen and paper or fingers on keyboard has helped many young people digest what’s happened. For some, it’s been a way to vent or express sympathy and support for disaster victims.

Those too young to write have been encouraged to draw pictures or take part in “play therapy,” allowing them to act out what they’re feeling.

Click here to read more!

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Janelle Hedstrom
Education Librarian
University of Texas Libraries
512) 495-4448

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The Arizona Republic ( October 12, 2005) reports on how with changing demographics , schools are facing a widening achievement gap between English language learners and those who “come to school speaking English”. Also, the article indicates that many ELL’s are attending schools that are under-performing and under-funded.

An excerpt from the article

Language gap grows
Studies: Schools face increased challenges
Daniel González
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 12, 2005 12:00 AM

Fueled by record immigration, children who have trouble speaking English are among the fastest-growing segments of the school population in Arizona, creating additional challenges for schools here and across the country, two new studies have found.

The vast majority of schoolchildren who can’t speak English well enough to pass proficiency tests are mostly segregated in a relatively small number of schools.

Limited-English students also tend to be poor and live in households where little, if any, English is spoken, compounding the challenges for schools at a time when many of them are struggling to meet new federal academic standards, according to the studies by researchers at the Migration Policy Institute and the Urban Institute, two nopartisan research groups in Washington, D.C.

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Book Club Schedule

We thought it might be easier if we all responded to the book during the same week. We are set to read For a Better World: Reading and Writing for Social Action by Randy and Katherine Bomer. The best time to respond would be between Fri. October 28th through Fri. Nov. 4th. This way we know when to check the blog for others comments and reflections. For those in Language and Literacy doctoral seminar, we plan to do this monthly and respond during the week of seminar–an easy way to track the date.

Anyone is welcome to join…even if you’re not focused in language and literacy, but are interested in reading some of the professors in this field at UT.

Contact Peggy Semingson to get signed up on the group blog.

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