Monday, February 21, 2011

Let's Connect: Response to Rice

In Jeffery Rice’s piece, Symposium:What should College English Be? Networks and New Media:  He calls for college English to become networked, he states: What I call the network are these spaces—literal and figurative—of connectivity. They are ideological as well as technological spaces generated by various forms of new media that allow information, people, places and other items to establish a variety of relationships that previous spaces or ideologies did not allow” (128).

Now I know that when he used the word “relationship” he is not necessarily referring to personal relationships—as he makes reference to it in his point about socializing, but I think there is something to be said about those personal relationships in networking that make the public media and networking so appealing and satiable.

In the beginning of his piece he talks briefly about some social networking sites such as FB, etc., but I think there really is an aspect of this available relationship making which makes online interaction and new media so appealing. Yes, we are seeing students write in new ways like never before; we are seeing literacy come into new terms of use; and we are seeing communication occur as never before. 

So what is really at the center of all this interaction? Is it writing? Literacy? Publishing? Audience? Feedback? Or is it really an accretion for every aspect of interpersonal relationships, of communication between two or more individuals, or simply collaboration in new forms?

Obviously not every student is inspired to write outside of their academic requirements, but we have seen such an insurmountable rush of students that freely write for any opportunity to reach out and be heard, to get a reaction, a comment, a like. So what is at the core of all that networking, in the true social sense?

It is the need to feel connected, to be connected, to build communication and relationships--some type of connectivity. Yes, college English should be networking, but we mustn’t forget the interpersonal push, pull, and impetus behind any person’s true purpose for networking. We need one another, and we desire the communication for each other; that is why the network has become such a vast empire of social rapport.   

So the question becomes... How do we translate and utilize that need into the English curriculum? 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Digital Media - New Learners Of The 21st Century

This a pretty interesting video about digital literacy. It implies that content knowledge and memorization are 20th century skills, whereas producing and creating are 21st century literacy skills... In it, it also quotes John Dewey as saying, "If we teach today’s kids the same way we did yesterday, then we rob them of tomorrow."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Think it Out...

After our discussion the other night in class about the impact that the Internet has had on students’ abilities to construct original thoughts, I began thinking about the common belief that writing is s tool for thinking (NCTE). I would have to argue that writing is not only a tool for thinking, but real writing is in fact thinking.

As mentioned, I think that many students have difficulty creating original ideas; they search through Internet sources, and try to gather other peoples’ ideas as a means of constructing their own. Very seldom do students initially search for meaning and structure of ideas inside themselves. It seems as though the students believe that someone else has already done the thinking, and all they really have to do is summarize the information and reword it enough so they don’t get a paper handed back to them with the big “P” word across the top.

From my experience, many students don’t like to try and generate ideas of their own; they like to search for someone else’s thoughts and answers. Ironically, in Phaedrus, Socrates predicted that the technology of writing would be the demise of human knowledge. He speculated that once we began to write things down, then there would be no more need for memory, and those who had no true knowledge of a subject would be able to participate in the topic’s discourse. So often we ask students to write about things of which they have no knowledge.

We ask them to go find the answer, but they don’t really have to think about answer; they just have to discover it. The growth and expansion of writing technologies have exploded since his time, and strangely his predictions have somewhat come to fruition.

Personally, I constantly look things up on my phone or computer as I search for dates, facts, or other information. There is such little knowledge that must be retained in our lives today since it is so easily accessible. I wonder if this diminishing knowledge has led to a decline in our students’ capabilities to construct original ideas. Without the foundational knowledge needed to initiate the thinking process, can thoughts really be built?

Writing is certainly a tool for thinking, but just because a student has written something doesn’t necessarily mean that there has been much thought put into the process. True writing is thinking, and it should be used as a tool for thinking, but oftentimes writing simply becomes a recording and regurgitating mechanism.

In order for a student to develop strong thinking skills, they must be able to develop, compose, create, decide, criticize, and defend things from their own perspectives and thoughts.

 Although I am a huge digital and technology advocate, I still believe that sometimes our greatest tools and strengths can also be our greatest weaknesses. Teachers need to create a balance in the classroom by not allowing digital technologies to become the basis of instruction and resource; there must a space created where students do not have access to other people’s ideas, and therefore must create their own.

Sometimes we need to let the writing process and students’ ideas act as the tools for perpetuating thinking in the classroom. If we always let them search for the answers, then they’ll never have to come up with their own.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Writing and Numbers

I’ve just finished writing and submitting 246 pages of Algebra 2 content, (the first of 6 submissions), and the feeling of accomplishment and utter exhaustion is completely overwhelming.

 I love math, I love numbers, and I always have. Those around me have always referred me to as a human calculator. Although I would not give myself that high esteem in regards to my computation abilities, I’m able to do things with numbers in my head that I find peculiar in most situations.

 I’ve often wondered why my mind works so fast with numbers, and I’m curious if it was something that I was taught, if so I don’t remember, or rather if it’s just the way that my mind works. If it is something that I was taught, then I wish I could hone in on the specific skills and strategies that were employed to me, so that I might pass them on to my daughter.

 I’m very curious about how she’ll feel about math when she’s older. My parents weren’t particularly math whizzes, so I don’t think I can simply give them the credit for my love of numbers. I do, however, hope that I’m able to pass my love of numbers on to my daughter.

I studied math in college for quite some time as an undergrad, but I decided to teach English instead. I’m not sure that my love for writing can be translated as easily. Writing is so different than math, and the teaching of writing is immensely different. I teach math to many of the students at my school, and I always find the experience very rewarding.

I often wonder why I feel so much more accomplished after I teach math skills than I do teaching writing strategies. It’s interesting because many students seem to value good lessons in math much more than writing; although they fear it much more. Why is that? I know that they see math as a much more difficult subject to approach, so is that why it seems that they value those lessons more?

What about the notion that everyone can write? I mean, most literate people write in some form on a daily basis. Do people feel more connected to writing, so they don’t see it as an equally difficult task? Is it that they see their writing as something that they could improve upon if they put in the time and effort, and they view math as some obscure entity?

Whenever students come in from ACT prep, they automatically assume that the writing and English portions will be easy; they’re mostly concerned with getting help for the math portion. I wonder why? Most of my students generally score pretty poorly on the English section initially, but they still view it as easier.

Personally, I think I enjoy teaching math more because it’s so concrete, and writing is so abstract. I can teach my students very specific steps and processes when it comes to math, but it takes so much more for me to impose strategies to improve voice in their writing. Effective writing skills are very hard to teach, but on the bright side, it seems that most students would rather write than do math, so at least we’ve got that going for us…

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Something They Need...

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about he students that I work with. Many of them would be termed as “at-risk” or “disadvantaged”. And there are some correlations to both those references of which I cannot deny. But despite their disadvantages in life, they still deserve the same respect as any individual.  I think at  WCHS (Westwood Cyber High School) we try to offer them a different environment than they’ve ever been exposed to in any other previous educational setting. The kids walk into our computer lab much differently now than they did on their first day.

Many of my students must be so tough in the outside world. They are ready to fight, yell, defend themselves, or do whatever it takes just to get by or even high. The kids are judged everywhere they go: by each other for their toughness and exterior; by their parents for their poor life choices; by society for their tainted language or immature demeanor; by store owners for their potential and assumed kleptomania; by religious sectors for becoming teenage mothers; from previous teachers who felt that they were not worth the extra time to be listened to; but when they walk into WCHS we strive not to judge them. We try to create such an open and approachable environment.

Our students are required to come into the computer lab at least twice a week for at least an hour each time in order to get extra help in subjects that they may struggle with at home, but many students come for hours at times, and some even all day everyday. Our lab is a truly supportive environment—which I find to be the most beneficial piece of our program.
Young mothers bring their babies and the mentors (teachers) joyfully play with them, we do not look at these teen mothers as failures, but rather we look at them and let them know that we care about their lives—no matter what choices they have made. Special Education students come in, and they are given one-on-one individual attention. Troubled teens walk in with an attitude, but we listen to stories about past troubles, and we offer them words of advice. Self-motivated students come in, and we help them make a plan to graduate as soon as possible. Students who were once terrorized at their previous schools come in, and we give them their space, but we let them know that we are there if they need us. We get all different types of students, and despite the reasons that they decided to enroll in a cyberschool, they all have one main thing in common: they don’t want to be judged.

Throughout my years teaching English in a traditional high school, I saw endless displays of disrespect and disregard toward the students. So many teachers seemed as though they were against the students; that the students just made their lives harder, gave them more work, and induced massive headaches.

Some of the students that come into our computer lab are really shy at first. I often try to provoke some type of conversation, but for some that are shy, this can sometimes be a challenging task. There is always one question though, no matter whom I’ve asked, it always elicits a passionate response, “So what brought you to WCHS?” I always get an array of responses that include reasons why they didn’t care for their previous school (typical teenager, right?), but upon further inquiry, I always end up hearing a string of similar stories that include the topic of disrespectful teachers. I can’t argue with them in regard to the blatant disrespect because it’s something that I’ve seen firsthand multiple times; although, I always give an unbiased, professional response. I don’t encourage their ranting, but rather I just listen. I’ve heard endless stories from students about how they felt like their teachers thought that they were better than them or above them in some way—teachers that showed no respect.

As teachers, I think we need to begin to listen to our students. We need to respect what they say and think, whether we believe that they are right or wrong. And although they may be dramatic and often immature, they still deserve our respect. We can’t get anything out of our students if we don’t put anything into them. Knowledge, and dates, and processes, and facts are not all we need to put into them. Sometimes all they need is our ear, our trust, and our acceptance. Teenagers are already self-conscious enough—the last thing they need is one more adult telling them that they’re music, clothes, habits, or speech is bad. How can we expect them to be successful when we look at so many aspects of their lives as failures? Sometimes I think some teachers need to be less concerned with what they are teaching their students, and more concerned with how they are teaching them. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

It is what it is...

What Does Technology Want? What is the Question and Answer Concerning Technology? In technium, sorted, evolutionary ways, this force, enframing, decongestion, ultimate regression, overpowering obsession, leaves me too with more questions. How can technology want or ask a question or not? It merely just haunts us each in our own ways. Ineffable, inscrutable, ambiguous, referable:  technology is our essence; it’s our presence. It’s our everyday, whatever we wish to make, whatever we want to make it. Technology is indefinable, it’s livable, breathable, unconceivable, and undeniable. It goes beyond limits, in our hearts, our cars, our phones, and in the stars. It over joys us, annoys us, entertains us and refrains us. We have the power to choose, the technology won’t loose, but we cannot be over-mused. What then should we really ask? What things should we look past? What parts of technology do we not openly accept, but yet we all secretly wish were adept—the epistemology of the tech. Why is technology only digital? It’s not. It’s ubiquitous, all around us, it is us, it is society, it is culture, it is our language, it is our freedom, our enframing, our reframing, our playing, our penetrating. It is us, all around us, so why do we act like it’s something so mysterious? We are technology, and it is us. It is what is it, and we are what we are. It is something different to each individual; the technological philosophical rhetoric is inevitable, but we should just accept it, love it, let it be. It is whatever it is, and that’s about it from me concerning technology. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Doing Real Stuff

I was recently chatting with another English professor from a different university who is also reading Kelly’s book, and he said, “The idea of technology and people as an almost symbiotic evolutionary force is quite engaging, and I wonder what the implications of that argument are for us in education... what do you think?”

He presented a very curious question, but I only saw a few references in the text that approach the subject. Ultimately, I think Kelly’s overall message is that we shouldn’t shun technology because of its potential risks, but rather we should embrace new technologies in order to learn about them, and assess harmful possibilities—in order to make solid evaluations of their use and effectiveness. Perhaps this concept could impact education by demonstrating the value of at least testing new technologies, while negating the holistic approach of rejection. 

On page 230, Kelly does speak about education in a brief reference to his interactions with Leon, the Amish man, where he asked about the goodness of Amish life. He mentions the fact that Amish schooling only goes up until 8th grade, as he inquires about the value in such limited education. Leon replies, “hormones kick in around the ninth grade, and boys, and even some girls, don’t just want to sit at desks and do paperwork. They need to use their hands as well as their heads, and they ache to be useful. Kids learn more doing real things at that age.” Kelly goes on to note that, “When I was a teen I wish I had been ‘doing real stuff’ instead of being holed up in a stuffy high school classroom.”

I sort of liken that to the notion of online and multimedia composition in learning. The educational process is taken into the students’ hands, and we, as teachers, need to be allowing and teaching them how to “do real stuff”. For me that includes utilizing multiple modalities with every opportunity possible, in order to appeal to multiple senses, and therefore engage multiple types of learners. In reference to digital literacies,  we as English teachers can and should encourage our students to "do real stuff" in order to optimize the experience of the writing process.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

$$$ It's all about the Benjamins $$$

It seems obvious that many of the same difficulties with the integration of high school English curriculum still occur in today's curriculum as when the notions of such were first brought forth by the "Committee of Ten" . Some of the founding notions discussed in the original development of English curriculum that are still prevalent in educational theory about the teaching of English in high schools today include the following: 

1. It is essential for high school English teachers to create a diverse curriculum, for a diverse audience of students, in order to meet the needs of all students.
2. High school English curriculum must be geared toward students who are and are not headed for higher education.
3. High School English curriculum must prepare students for college English courses. 

Okay, so these are great thoughts and ideas, and I certainly agree with the founders, but after almost 100 years, I would argue that now we have even more dilemmas to rectify. First of all, how do we make those original ideas actually come to fruition? And why the heck has it taken us so freaking long to figure all this stuff out?

Some might argue that there needs to be some sort of tracking, vocational track vs. college track. Others might say that grade-levels by age do a disservice to the students by ignoring their reading and writing levels.
Although I cannot say what the problem may have been during the majority of 20th Century, across the United States, I personally would argue that currently the major problem in Michigan is state mandated testing. And the impending doom of poor ACT scores from students statewide has really got me thinking a lot about this lately. 

Do I think testing is bad? No. I think testing can actually be helpful for assessing the needs and growth of students, but I think the way that it is implemented in our state, and perhaps others (I am just not privy to the knowledge of such) is inherently antithetical to the founding beliefs about the teaching of English. If we look at the ACT test, three of the five sections are related to English: Reading, Writing, and English. 

What once was ignored in academic curriculum has become the primary focus of education. Schools are required to follow state standards and benchmarks, the established English curriculum, but yet those three sections of the ACT test, which determine AYP and school funding, are completely unrelated to and unaligned with the state's standards and benchmarks. 

So now we have English teachers who are taught in their college classes that they should teach based on the founding theories of Education (the right way to teach in my opinion); given a list by the state that regulates the ways that they implement those beliefs; required to test their students on content and material that has nothing to do with the curriculum they’ve been given to teach; and then their teaching capabilities are often judged on the scores of those tests. 

What should really determine the quality of a writing teacher? You might think it would be their abilities to implement those founding notions about how English should be taught, but unfortunately a majority of their merit, when often other elements are thought of as irrelevant, can be evaluated based on the scores of those tests. 

Basically, these mandates have taught teachers that their values has nothing to do with educational theory, leave that in the university; it's just about the money honey.