Archive for December, 2005

Adult Literacy Study

This study, by the National Center for Education Statistics has published the results of a study on adult literacy. Here’s the link to the actual study
This link is to a press release by the American Library Association on the study. College graduates are doing less pleasure-reading, according to the study results. Literacy is defined as “prose literacy”, “document literacy”, and “quantitative literacy”.


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Have a great vacation, everyone! I’ll be writing on my memory blog during the vacation. For a look, click here.

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This is my dog, Max. He likes to bury himself between the pillows in the big chair in my condo.


Max as a puppy!

Max Puppy

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I just love that we were frozen in today. Finally I get a little time to read something beyond what is required.

I read: The Role of Social and Cultural Resources in Literacy and Schooling: Three contrasting case studies by Colleen Fairbanks and Mari Ariail.

They mentioned that students are sometimes left out of the conversation in educational research. This article, however, made room for the voices of three young adolescents girls.

I wanted to know a little more about what Lesko was getting at when he said that middle schools suspended adolescents “in time as neither children and nor adults”. Maybe it was a flaw in my own cultural upbringing, but it seems that most young people reach a place in their lives where they are traversing between childhood and adulthood. It’s not necessarily an act of positioning by the system of middle schooling. The authors (and myself–see above) call the participants in this study “adolescent girls”, but I questioned whether I should rephrase that to “adolescent young women” or “adolescent females”. It really seems like it would depend on the day that you spoke with them. I’m speaking from my own memories of adolescence. One day I might feel old, bordering on ancient, and on other days I was more like an out of place elementary student. That’s one thing I loved about working with 6th and 7th grade for 5 years–they always kept me on my toes. They could act like completely different people from one day to the next. Like Peggy said in her earlier post: One year she was “good student Peggy” and the next she was “punk and flunking Peggy” (however hard that is to imagine!).

I guess I’m wrestling with how much adult-child “suspension” the school system was responsible for in the case studies…and what my role was in this as a teacher. Is everything we do as a teacher an act of positioning? Or is there ever a space where students freely position themselves as learners shaping their own identities? I think the book For a Better World (Bomer and Bomer) described how teachers might create an engaging curriculum that makes room for students to position themselves, question how they are being positioned by others, and reposition themselves.

The fact that these girls still believed in the importance of school was pretty remarkable to me because it sounded like their experiences lacked any relevance to their lives. I thought they showed resilience in their determination, especially Jessica. It’s sad that she might lose her valued friendships if she chooses to continue school, but it shows a definite courage that she would even consider moving on alone.

I wondered how she felt about being placed in a remedial class and how it changed her perception of herself over time. Did she remain in the remedial classes? How would it effect her chances at entering the “college track” later in high school?

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Communities of Practice

This is the website of Etienne Wenger. There are some great downloadable documents. Its so socio-constructivist. It’s all about what he calls social learning theory. He writes about the “learning story for the planet” in the document: Learning for a Small Planet (posted online on his web site, May, 2005). He writes about “horizontalization”, which is like, person-to-person file sharing, for example. We share across peer networks. I love it! This means learning never really stops. To put it simply, I think it means appreciating what we can learn from others, or as Wenger puts it, we are all knowledge citizens. Is this like distributed cognition?
What is an “economy of meaning”, that he refers to? I think this means the way that one particular community of practice interprets an object of learning, maybe? Is this like Bordieu’s theories of social and symbolic capital or is that different?
This connects with what he writes about the “shorter half-life of knowledge”. He writes too, about meaningful learning and connecting learning with students’ lives outside of school. This ties in wtih the suggestions made in Colleen’s mansucript!

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Colleen’s manuscript gives good insight into a longitudinal case-study of adolescent girls. It follows the lives of three girls as they navigate and negotiate middle school. It builds on Bourdieu’s theories of social and cultural capital and how it is acquired and used in institutions such as school, for example.The girl I could relate to, or identify with, the most was Isabel who represented herself as a “good” girl and a good student. This is an intersting concept that the author’s wrote about: “bicultural network orientation”(Stanton-Salazar, 1997). This means students need the support of both the school and their home.This paper also builds upon positioning theory and looks at how students are positioned in different ways depending on their social captial and their networks and resources in and out of school.
This is a fascinating study because it brings Bordieu “down to earth” (for me) and it gives a lot of quotes and concrete examples to support ideas of social and symbolic captial, especially as it relates to language arts learning.
What was interesting about Melanie, the girl in the second case study, is how she reduced her use of African-American Vernacular English.
I’m thinking about my own early adolescence and how I gained social capital at school. In ninth grade my teachers saw me as a punked-out “bad girl” who made straight D’s. But over the course of the summer, I “got back on track” and turned into an A-student. Fairbanks and her co-author suggest that the lack or presence of social and symbolic capital impact the student’s trajectories in school.
These students in the case studies are eager to be actively engaged in their learning in school, but often the materials and fragmented, skills-focused assignments are perhaps designed to control and are not necessarily engaging. I know that was the case in my ninth grade year. My English teacher had quizzes to see who was reading “A Tale of Two Cities”. I made straight F’s on those quizzes and was sent to a rememdial English class. I begged my way back into honors English the following year. If I hadn’t taken that initiative to “beg” my way back and “repent” who knows where I would be now…
This manuscript has me thinking about what literacies are presently being valued in schools…
The authors make two suggestions to educators/administrators in the end which I’ve paraphrased below:

1) Recognize student’s strenghts and abilities and not just their limitations; see them in their whole social context.

2) Make space for students to increase their capital. Prepare students to be life-long learners and help them be prepared for the literacy demands of school and of the world.

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Supposedly, Seattle is the most literate city in America. I wonder if their definition of literacy is a good one? What about unsanctioned literacy practices? Those don’t count? P.S. Just say no to Starbucks!

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