Post-FOKI #bookhenge

A reflection on my progress towards achieving my professional goals:

Professional Self:  Where I need to learn and push myself is to find ways in which that same kind of critical thinking and engaging with a text can happen in venues other than in a seminar format.  As I mentioned, I like projects, but I don’t want to be limited to the same kind of thing every time.  My goal is to find ways that will engage my students and allow for more freedom and creativity in my classroom in order to achieve the same kinds of learning outcomes currently held.  Also, I feel as if I need to find a way to achieve a balance in my class with what I want the students to understand about the way the world works while respecting their own opinions and ideas as well.  I realized that when I design a project, often it’s a product of my own viewpoint.  I’d like to find a way to allow my students to help design these projects so they feel as if their own ideas and viewpoints are also being heard.

I do feel as if I learned a great deal about opportunities which I can provide for the students to interact with literature.  I loved the book-cast idea and the concept of performing literature.  I needed a reminder about multiple intelligences and was struck with the many ways we can incorporate kinesthetic and musical learning in the classroom.  This class opened my mind to the many ways we can engage our students in critical thinking beyond a traditional seminar.  Likewise, engagement with the literature should not simply be evaluated in a literary analysis.  The knowledge I gained about participatory learning enabled me to envision a class in which we all contribute to a shared learning experience.  Some of that will come with time – I know I’m going to wrestle with giving up some of my perceived “control” of the classroom, but I am just as much a student here as they are and I have much to learn from my students, particularly with regards to technology.  This attitude, I believe, will also provide me with the chance to have the students work with me to create our own learning environment, projects, a class blog, etc.

Literate SelfMy goal for developing a more literate self is to expose myself to more Young Adult Literature.  I think some of why I am so inclined to put the book down is because I just don’t know enough about the genre.  For example, I read John Maberry’s Rot and Ruin, and I enjoyed myself.  I got sad for Nix when she lost her mom, and I got scared when Tom fell off the car into a pile of zoms, so I’m obviously resonating with the book on an emotional level.  I do get a little tired of the many conversations between characters about the comparison between zombies as the monsters or the monsters that are people.  When I’m finished, I’m glad I read the novel, but don’t know what sets this one apart as an award winner from so many others on the shelf.  My goal here is to learn what I can so I can make those kinds of judgments for myself, but also to bring that new knowledge into the classroom and into my discussions so my students can also come to their own informed decisions about the literature they are reading as well.

One of the items I was discussing with Will about multicultural literature is that, in some ways, I think more exposure is the key.  The more we are exposed to those “differences,” the less different they will seem.  I feel the same way about my literate self.  Although it was literally the tip of the YAL iceberg, my exposure to young adult literature and the CCI’s gave me enough information to begin to understand not just the complexity behind YAL, but the importance of the genre in the development of teen readers.  If any time was an important time in an adolescent’s life to be able to make a connection with others, even if those others are characters in a book, it’s the teen years.  I certainly have a greater appreciation for the niche that these books fill and feel more confident in my own experiences with YAL.  However, I also feel as if no matter how well I know a book or how strongly I feel about it, chances are the students I teach, at least some of them, will always feel differently.  But I look forward to having those discussions.

Virtual Self:  My goal for this is to begin to understand the ways in which developing  an effective online and inworld identity can help to make me a more effective teacher.  It’s all about baby steps for me, and right now, I need to familiarize myself with the technological tools that are available and understand the implications of these tools for the classroom.  And, I’d like to not break out into a cold sweat every time I have to tweet or blog.

As you are probably guessing, this was huge for me!  Not only am I much more comfortable with the idea of my own online presence, I’m just starting to have an inkling of how effective using social media in the classroom can be.  I’m already planning on creating a class blog, bookcasts, voicethreads, and although I don’t think I can handle it this year, I want to start researching the possibility of using Twitter in the classroom.  I no longer break into a cold sweat when I think about using technology tools, but rather, I’m looking forward to my break in the month of July to see what I can do with those tools.  In many ways, this aspect of the course was exactly the shot in the arm I mentioned needing with regards to my teaching.

Reflection:  In the past few years I’ve felt as if I needed a shot in the arm and realizing I’m heading into my 17th year of teaching, I now know why.  I think in some ways the fact that I do have quite a bit of classroom experience is both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that the day-to-day on my feet teaching that occurs is something I have a grasp on.  But with today’s students that’s going to only get me so far, and I’ve been relying too long on that experience.  I need to push myself and strive to learn what I can to connect to my students which means learning about as many technological tools as I can.  For the first time in years I am unsure of myself as an educator and uncomfortable with much of the information I am trying to process.  After stepping away from my blog for a bit and then coming back to it, I feel as if I’m giving myself a pep-talk.  I realize how often I try to push my students outside of their comfort level and encourage them to meet the challenge head on.  I guess it’s time for me to do the same and live the words I speak.

In my initial reflection I spoke about being unsure and uncomfortable for the first time in years.  Although five weeks ago I would have said I hated feeling that way, in the end it was one of the best things to happen to me.  I’ve pushed myself (with a great deal of help from this course) in a direction I’ve been interested in taking for a while, but haven’t had the time, nor the opportunity to really explore.  And that’s what this has been for me, an exploration.  I’ve been challenged to stretch my own ideas about teaching literature and realize all the many other opportunities that are out there for me and my students rather than the methods I’ve been relying on the past few years.  I’ve learned a great deal about literature and myself and I look forward to the challenges ahead.  I have a feeling those feelings of insecurity and uncomfortableness will be back, but this time I’m going to revel in them because I know at the end I’ll have been pushed to be a better teacher.

Bookcasting – A wonderful way to “perform” literature #bookhenge

It makes sense that if we are going to encourage our students to experience literature then we need to find ways to allow them to interact with reading and meaning that go beyond simply reading the text.  Certainly, when thinking about multiple intelligences we need to try to create opportunities in which our students can learn with literature that incorporate linguistic intelligences, but also appeal to our visual, or kinesthetic/spatial, or musical learners with meaningful learning experiences.  The idea of “performing” literature taps into these types of opportunities.  Bookcasting is a wonderful way to “perform” literature.  I enjoyed the creative aspects of bookcasting and feel as if it is a way for readers to respond to literature that takes them beyond the traditional reader-response that is most often found in our classrooms.

The difficulty for me did not lie in the creating of the bookcast, but in my response to the novel Nothing, by Janne Teller.  The author provokes the reader by delving into the existential discussion of the meaning of life.  In an attempt to prove that life has meaning, the characters, a group of seventh graders, each are forced to give up that which is most meaningful to them.  The book ends in death, yet through this death the meaning in life is found for our main character.  It’s a dark book, but that wasn’t the problem for me.  The problem was, I didn’t have much of a reaction to the book.  I found myself engaging in one way existential debates as I was reading, but in the end it did not leave me with much of an emotional impact.  There were many ways I could take my bookcast, and the difficulty for me was choosing which way I wanted to go with my video.  Overall, the process was fun and it is certainly something I will continue to do with my students.

Here it is . . .

Back to the Beginning: What is Literary Quality in YAL? #bookhenge

So, our class began while I was still teaching.  I was in the middle of reviewing for my exam, grading, attending graduation, etc.; consequently, I pretty much missed almost all of our first session of this course.  Now that we’re at then end, I’m going back to the beginning to try to come up with some answers to the questions that began my journey in this class.  It began with the idea of literary quality.  What exactly, does literary quality look like particularly with regard to YA literature?

I began this course believing that the truly best books for young adults spoke to them in some way, and I still feel that way.  The question then becomes, what are the criteria for the way in which that book speaks to the reader?  I’ve found throughout this course and our original readings that this is something that is at the heart of almost every conversation about young adult literature.  As Marc Aronson states in his article, “Calling All Ye Printz and Printzesses,” there is a distinction between popularity and quality.  If we judge a book solely on its teen appeal, then who exactly are we speaking of?  Are we talking about a standard group of “average” teens who enjoy the book?   What about all the other teenager who don’t fall into that category?  Yes, teenagers often self-select when their lives begin to revolve around the group of friends they spend time with, but that does not mean that every person within that group is the same, therefore, they will all enjoy the same book.  When you think about it, the fact that there is so much diversity within the teenage population is truly wonderful, especially because so much of that time is spent for teens trying to be like everybody else.  So this brings us back to the idea of creating a criteria or definition for the best in Young Adult literature for such a diverse population.

One thing I like about the Printz award is the idea that there is a direct line between the Printz committee and teen readers.  I believe this speaks to what Aronson meant when he said, “if the best readers believe in a book, they will become its advocates to the second best, and so on”(114).  Listening to the group of teens speak about the 2011 Printz Award winners, there were some definite trends among the top contenders that many of the students noted as they supported their books.  For the most part, those books the students enjoyed the best were books that had a unique or different setting, such as the wasteland of Jon Maberry’s Rot and Ruin.  Often the narrative structure was different, using flashbacks instead of moving in chronological order.  There was an unpredictability to the book that the students found engaging.  Often, there was a moral dilemma, but this was not presented in a way that the students felt they were being preached to.  There was room for the student to engage with the text in an interesting way.  Sitting back, one has to wonder if these standards are so different from adult literature.  To me, the main difference between the two is the extent to which the teen can relate to the work.  There are certain things that, due to the nature of the time and experience, are unique to the growth we all experience in our teen years.  Great young adult literature, it seems, speaks to that time in such a way that those who are living it find in the novel a kind of kindred spirit.

With this in mind, I can certainly see the appeal of Jon Maberry’s Rot and Ruin.  Although I feel as if there’s much out there right now about a post-apocalyptic future, so the setting wasn’t terribly unique, the spin on the zombies was one that was intriguing and refreshing.  I agreed with one teen reader who during the video of the Melinda awards (http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/12780506#utm_campaign=synclickback&source=http://bookhenge2011.wikispaces.com/Session+1%2C+Topic+2+Activities&medium=12780506),  mentioned the new perspective given to us by Maberry.  I was also impressed by the perception of the romance between the protagonist, Benny, and his friend, Nix as one that is more mature and aids in the character’s growth.  In the work, it wasn’t the zombies who we should be afraid of.  In fact, through the novel they were the ones who we pitied, for they couldn’t help who they were.  Rather, the real understanding came through our knowledge about people,  about human nature and the capacity within people to be truly evil.  This was the real terror found in the novel.  Likewise, I could also see the appeal of a work such as Nothing by Janne Teller.  Somewhat darker in nature to me, where this book distinguished itself from others was in its unique narrative structure, the unpredictability of its story line, and, as one teen reviewer mentioned, it makes you think.  Of an existential philosophy, the search for meaning in life by a group of rising 8th graders is one that I feel as if most teenagers can relate to.  I also appreciate the fact that it was read in translation, a good translation from what I can tell, and it is a sample of world literature from a Danish author.

In closing, what I like about the idea of an award for YA literature is that it puts a focus on teenagers and reading.  Just as we can do a quick search for a Newberry or Caldecott, or CSK award, we can do the same search for the Printz award which gives credibility to the importance of nurturing the interests of our teen readers.

Sources:

Aronson, Marc.  “Calling All Ye Printz and Printzesses.” The Exploding Myths. Lanham:  Maryland.  2001.  pp. 109-122.

 

My ALP Project Video – Teaching Empathy with Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun – #bookhenge

Can Empathy Be Taught?

For the multimedia part of my ALP I created an introductory video to show my students what they would be doing for the next few weeks.  I used Imovie to create the video and found it was relatively easy.  I had thought initially to include some videos from Youtube but had way too much fun creating the movie myself, so I included some links at the end.  Originally, I had a voice-over of myself listing some of the information that I wanted the kids to have but they found it distracting.  They said it was more powerful without me so I took my voice-over out and let the movie speak for itself.  I previewed the movie with a few of my former students.  They had all read Zeitoun but the unit was much less developed than my ALP, so I figured they would have some nice insights.  The overall reaction to the video was positive.  One of my students said he thought the music went well with the presentation.  A few students said they weren’t fast enough readers for the slides that had a lot of information but others said it was just fine.  All of the Multi-media project specifications will also be on our Moodle class website so this was not the only opportunity to have that information.  That made them feel better.  The other concern I had from one student was about the project itself.  She student said she loved the idea and was excited about seeing how she could help others, but it seemed unfair if some students were better than others with the technology.  So, when groups are formed that will certainly be something I will take into consideration.  Overall, it was a great reception from my students, although I did get the comment that it looked like a lot of work (as was expected).  I’m excited to try it out in my classroom this year!  I’ll let you know how it goes.

We Have a Responsibility to Be Bold in Education #bookhenge

I just completed a voicethread for our course regarding ideas of censorship, and I spent the majority of the time talking about my firm belief that schools should be a place where information about the world we live in can be discussed in a safe, intellectual way with the pursuit of knowledge as our primary goal.  I’ll put that voicethread at the end of this blog.  Likewise, I believe firmly that if something is happening in our world that we don’t like or we wish to change we have a responsibility as citizens to take action to make those changes.  The parents in Waukesha County, Wisconsin were well within their rights to challenge the inclusion of Stephen Chomsky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower in the curriculum of an 11th and 12th grade elective literature course.  They saw something happening that they didn’t like and they decided to take action.  It’s a perfect example of the type of experience I promote in my classroom.  There was an exchange of information that took place, although I would argue the school board meetings were not the “safe environment” I think is necessary for this kind of discussion, and in the end the best possible decision was made based on the information presented.  And to me that’s the key – “based on the information presented.”  How can we expect our students to make the best possible decisions if we restrict the kinds of information necessary to those decisions?  Children have a right to read.  As stated in the NCTE’s Guidelines on the Student’s Right to Read, “This right is based on an assumption that the educated possess judgment and understanding and can be trusted with the determination of their own actions.” It is our job to help educate them so that they can increase their understanding of the world.  Limiting access to information in no way furthers this education and will hinder the opportunity for growth and trust.  And to me, that’s the real danger of censorship.

And in case you’re interested, here’s the transcript to my voicethread:

If ever there was a time for educators to be bold, I think it’s now.  As a teacher I think that one of my top responsibilities is to aid my students in gleaning as much information as they can from the world and then giving them the skills they need to make the best possible decisions they can make to become happy and productive global citizens.  If I limit the information because it might be “too real” then I feel as if I’m doing them a grave disservice and not fulfilling my job as an educator.  The classroom needs to be a safe place for the exchange of information and ideas.  I believe strongly in what Justice Douglas stated in the Adler v. Board of Education case in 1951:  Where suspicion fills the air and holds scholars in line for fear of their jobs, there can be no exercise of the free intellect. . . . A problem can no longer be pursued with impunity to its edges. Fear stalks the classroom. The teacher is no longer a stimulant to adventurous thinking; she becomes instead a pipe line for safe and sound information. A deadening dogma takes the place of free inquiry. Instruction tends to become sterile; pursuit of knowledge is discouraged; discussion often leaves off where it should begin.  We need to be allowed to have the tough discussions with our students.  And I know it’s scary for parents.  It’s scary for me.  I worry about my two children every day – will they have a good day, will they be safe, will they be happy, will anybody be mean to them? I can’t imagine what those concerns will be once they hit middle school.  But I do them no favors by trying to shelter them from the reality of the world.  To me, literature is a perfect vehicle because it offers us a way to deal with reality through an indirect experience.  In my mind, I would much rather have the opportunity to process “life” with my students and my own children through a work of literature before they encounter those similar experiences on their own.  As a parent, I feel very much the same way as I do about teaching – I provide my children with a safe place to talk about whatever is on their mind.  I try to be honest and forthright, not sugar-coat things, but to try to allow them to see the world from as many different perspectives as a six and nine year old can.  My philosophy is similar with regards to my classroom.  I try to allow my students to see an issue from as many different viewpoints as possible and let them come to their own informed conclusions.  For there will be a day when our children will have to live their lives on their own, and I’d like to think that my students and my children will be ready for the challenges of life because they will have been taught to think critically about the world they live in and be confident in their knowledge and abilities.

Are we Post-Multicultural? The Value of Book Awards #bookhenge

I’ve always felt that there is a need for such awards as the Coretta Scott King and the Pura Belpre.  It seems to me that although the world is rapidly changing, there are certain institutions that move as slow as molasses.  Sometimes we need to give a bit of a push, and if progress means we need to take an indirect route, then so be it. Were we not to have awards such as these, how much longer would it take to recognize minority authors with our more mainstream awards?  My guess is it would take much longer than it needs to be.  I do feel as if having a place where minorities can look to find people of their own culture being recognized for their talent is an empowering opportunity, and hopefully an inspiration for future writers.  As a white female, it’s easy to find award-winners who are of my same ethnic background.  It shouldn’t be so difficult for others of African descent, or Asian, or Hispanic, or Middle-Eastern ethnicities, but it is.

Although I lean very much toward the sentiments professed by Andrea Davis Pinkney, in her essay, “Awards that Stand on Solid Ground,” I do think Marc Aronson has a point as well.  He speaks in his essay, “Slippery Slopes and Proliferating Prizes” of the criteria for the CSK and Belpre awards.  The problem, as he sees it, is that “if the award is from the community to the community, then it is up to the surrounding communities to decide if those experiences – which they are inherently excluded from completely understanding – are vitally important to them.  If the award celebrates, instead, individuals who delve deeply into aspects of human experience, no literate, aware reader can afford not to read the books”(6).  In some ways, Aronson speaks to the effort that a reader must make to consciously decide to delve into the lives and experiences of others in an attempt for understanding.  However, if a book speaks to the human condition, this is one that all can relate to; thus, the decision to read might be a bit more effortless.  Aronson goes on to assert that “Expanding the knowledge base of librarians and reviewers is where I think ALA should be turning its efforts”(7).  Maybe I’m just more cynical than Aronson, but I think the reality of the situation is that many people simply aren’t going to put in that effort.  Likewise, the focus on expanding knowledge, with the many other priorities in education that are out there, simply isn’t going to happen.  I think when Aronson makes the point, “Let those committees – who should have a deep knowledge of the cultures and literatures (as well as a knowledge of culture and literature) encompassed by the awards they are judging – struggle with judging a work strictly on its own merits, not its author bio”(10) he is, in my opinion, dismissing the craftsmanship and the quality with which any award winner is credited.  The CSK and Belpre do have criteria for the author, yet the work itself is also held up to the highest standards and should not be diminished by the ethnicity of its creator.   The fact remains, even in publishing we have yet to overcome the history of prejudice found in most of our capitalist institutions.  As Pinkney asserts, “These awards are a gateway to progress.  They provide a door for authors and illustrators into the world of children’s literature, a world that, despite its increasing diversity, still too often maintains a quiet indifference that is racism in its most subtle form”(12).  Therefore, if the CSK provides a “tool that works . . . an instrument, a vehicle, which makes things a bit better”(21) then there is something to be said for that.  I did like Aronson’s response and in principle I agree with him.  He talks of “history, where these categories have defined human lives, I think of principle, where the categories must be challenged”(21).  What he speaks to is a time when such issues as race, gender, etc. no longer factor in the world and the art speaks for itself.  The optimist in me agrees with the principle; however, the cynic in me would say that we are still a long way off from that day, and until that day comes we need to do what we can to promote multicultural literature in our stores and on our shelves.

My final thought regarding definitions of “the best” ends with the fact that there are no Best Books for Teens on the ALA site for Multicultural Literature.  In my opinion, this is a huge oversight.  As I mentioned earlier, we want to make finding a good piece of literature as effortless as we can and Best Book lists can do that.  Although the connection seems thin, while I was thinking about ideas for best books, I was struck by the article written by Bonnie Ericson for The Alan Review.  In her article she talks about the idea of the home and its importance within all cultures.  As she states, “Promoting the reading of books that look at homes in the lives of teenagers from many cultures can, therefore, be an important beginning in the exploration by young adult readers of what they have in common and how they differ.”  What Ericson is driving at, which is also an idea very dear to my heart is one way in which we can encourage empathy in the classroom.  Allowing students to see the similarities and differences between themselves and others in something that is profoundly important around the globe, and is a building block to teaching empathy to our readers.  Best Books classifications, particularly ones for Multicultural Literature can do a lot to promote that connection between reader and culture, and any time we allow our students to walk in a pair of very different shoes, we are doing what we can to promote that shared human experience that Aronson speaks to in his initial essay about awards based on ethnic criteria.

Sources:

Aronson, Marc.  Beyond the Pale:  New Essays for a New Era.  Oxford:  Scarecrow             Press.  Print.  2003

Ericson, Bonnie.  “At Home with Multicultural Adolescent Literature,”  The Alan             Review,  Vol. 23, Number 1, Fall 2005