Tag Archives: students

More Book Love

Still thinking about book love.

Came across this review-meets-thoughts-on-ebooks on Chronicle of Higher Ed today.

Scott McLemee tells of the arduous process of re”organizing” his bookshelves, a process I know well (but as I noted in this post, my organizational scheme has eschewed such organizational measures in favor of chaos). He also makes me want to read Piper’s Book was There: Reading in Electronic TimesWill perhaps order on Amazon. Kindle edition? Hmmm…

What McLemee says that really resonates:

Given the limits of space, my acquisition of hardbacks and paperbacks must slow down; at this point, the ones on hand are saturated enough with significance to last the rest of my days. But the e-texts filling my coffee cup can accumulate as rapidly as ever. No shelf bends under the weight, and their imprint on my memory is like footprints in the snow.

He describes how each book, with its material there-ness, makes him remember from whence it came as he reorganizes his shelves. Inscribed with the names and notes of long-gone friends and family members, the books mean more than the words on the page. Unlike the argument Coxon makes, that I noted in my earlier post, the books aren’t made magical by the words on the page, but by the memories they evoke when you hold them, when you “feel your way” to what you’re looking for — a quote, a citation, a favorite passage.

I have a tutoring student who, every time I give her a new book, she buries her face in it and breathes.

More on Stories

Gotta keep this one short, but I wanted to post an update on my resolve to reintegrate the creative into my work with high school kids… see previous post.

A few of my tutoring students, in particular my 10th graders (and a couple ninth graders, and one eighth grader) have been grappling with texts that contain ambiguity. In particular, we’ve been reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Additionally, my eighth grader and I just started The Life of Pi (I had to justify the hours I poured into it over break, after all) and my tenth graders read it in school. I brought Toni Morrison’s “Recitatif” to the table this week. Each of these texts contains some form of ambiguity, but each in a different way. In Handmaid’s, we’re left wondering about the fate of our main character and the role of her lover, Nick, in that fate. In Pi, we’re left to grapple with the role of the “real” in storytelling, and we’re left wondering (sort of) which is the “real” story of Pi’s survival. In “Recitatif,” Morrison messes with the mind of her reader by leaving the two main characters’ races ambiguous, forcing the reader to examine his or her own racial prejudices in the process.

My students have blogged about their love, or hatred, of ambiguity. See Christy’s thoughts on her blog. This post too.

We have discussed the role of ambiguity in our sessions.

And now, they will do their own creative writing and incorporate an ambiguous element that allows them to communicate a theme of their choice.

Never done this before. We’ll see how it goes. Will keep you all posted.

I Knew It! Or, Why Stories are Awesome

Did you know that our brains are wired to listen to stories and get all lit up and excited like those MRI scans you see of people listening to some concerto? Well, I did. But here’s an awesome article that discusses this phenomenon far more articulately: “What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains.”

This comes to me via The Paper Graders who got it via a Penny Kittle Tweet. The Internet is almost as awesome as stories.

I’m going to veer off now, but I swear I’ll come back. I love my partner-in-crime, spouse-extraordinaire, and fellow amateur chef to death, but there is one area in which we differ drastically: he does not read novels. I do. I love novels. I read novels regularly and tell myself it’s because I have to do it for work, but that’s a total lie. I’m currently catching up with the rest of the universe and reading Life of Pi, which is amazing. He, on the other hand, is perfectly capable of reading a good novel (he did over vacation, as a matter of fact), but when it comes right down to it, his storytelling, storyreading, and storylistening preferences are simply different from mine.

All of that said, our relationship revolves around stories. We spend our evenings telling each other stories. Stories about our day. Stories about our lives. Stories we’ve really told each other over and over again but that don’t ever get old, because we love them so much. Stories about who we are. Stories about who we want to be. Stories about who we will someday be, and who all the people in our lives will someday be with us.

Ever met a 5 year old kid? (if your answer is no, crawl out from under your rock.) They’re the same way — only they’re obsessed with that one picture book you swear you never want to see again or that one story about Uncle Joe that you swear isn’t funny but they swear really, really is.

In other words, just because my husband doesn’t read stories in novel form doesn’t mean he doesn’t love stories. He talks all the time about whether or not he can “tell a story” with his science. I don’t really understand his science, so I don’t really know what that means, but I’m pretty sure if he “had no story,” none of the other scientists in scientistland would care at all about his science. The story gives it life, gives it a purpose. Right down to the most “objective” thinkers, we all love stories.

I do the research I do because I love listening to people’s stories and then weaving them together to tell another story, incorporating them into my own stories, and reimagining my work around their stories.

Allow me to quote Mr. S over at TPG:

Humans are fundamentally narrative creating machines. It is how we grapple with the world around us, our experiences, that which we generally call reality, pretty much everything. We process the world in the form of stories. Stories that we make up to make sense of our own lives, stories we make up to make sense of other’s lives, stories we make up to share our ideas. To the extent that a particular human gets good at the skill of constructing narrative he or she gets good at operating in community with other humans. And becomes good at dealing with him or herself.

So why is the story-ness being sucked out of education? David Coleman and other CCSS advocates argue that we need to take all those useless stories out of our classrooms and replace them with good, hard, expository texts. That writing narratives gets kids nowhere. That reading them gets them even more nowhere (or something like that).

It depresses me, but I see this shift happening in my own teaching and tutoring — one of my students came to me with a narrative assignment that got her so excited, we spent two sessions staring at it, revising it, and reimagining it together. I’ve never seen this kid revise like she did in those two sessions. I’ve never seen her so excited about writing. The experience made me realize how little creative energy students are getting at school — and, apparently, from me during tutoring. Shame on me. With this drive to be more able to “argue academically,” we’ve (I’ve) apparently forgotten that good argumentation relies on stories. I knew it… once. Did I really forget it? Forget what an integral part of education storytelling, storymaking, and storyreading is? That many stories, in fact, are making an argument. Carol Jago says on commoncore.org:

Across the nation, teachers say “I don’t have time to teach literature and literary nonfiction anymore” Why? Because the focus turns to the behaviors that students need to perform on assessments. What’s wrongheaded about this is that, with every fiber of my body, I know that the best prep for any kind of assessment in reading is to read and that students who read 20, 30, 40 books a year are probably going to have a pretty good vocabulary, understand complex syntax, and know what to do when they meet challenges in text.

The real heart breaking part of this though, is that the students who find themselves most often in the classes that are literature lite [and] reading lite, are those students who are most disengaged from school. So what are they experiencing? They experience a content-free curriculum. And the result is that instead of what we hope is a meaningful day in education, it’s meaning-less. And so it reaffirms these students’ belief that school is about nothing. English– that’s about commas and stuff– and that is the opposite of what those of us who love literature, love teaching students about literature, and love engendering those rich conversations about literature, would love to happen.

If we suck the stories out of classrooms — just like if my husband were to suck the stories out of one of his papers about proteins and stuff — nobody’s gonna care, least of all a roomful of teenagers. It’s time to make sure that we’re spending our time thinking about the stories we tell, where they take us, and where they come from. This doesn’t mean we need to read more novels. That decidedly would not have worked for my husband, who hated Beloved as a kid (but didn’t hate 1984, from what I can tell) and finds stories in other places. But it does mean we need to make sure that schooling doesn’t lose its creative edge. Even science tells a story.

I’m going to start with my own teaching, and go from there.

Alvarez’s Butterflies

I just finished reading In the Time of the Butterflies and I have that feeling when I finish a really good book where I’m sorta lost for a couple of days because I wish the book hadn’t ended.

I’m reading it with one of my tutoring students right now, and so needed to get through it pretty quickly, but that was not a problem. The story takes place in the Dominican Republic, of course, and chronicles the lives of the Mirabal sisters — not the real ones, but the fictitious ones of Alvarez’s imagination. The girls are legends in Dominican culture; they were the martyrs of Trujillo’s 31-year regime, murdered on their way home from visiting their husbands who were in prison for political activism. That much of the story is true. Alvarez includes a note at the end of the text saying that though the story is based in the reality of the Mirabal sisters, the girls in the story are creations of her imagination. She argues that only through fiction could the girls’ story come alive again — much of their past is unknowable except through the eyes of their only surviving sister, Dede, and the Mirabals of legend are too difficult to make whole because they are too deified, and thus unknowable.

If you’re looking for a book to read, read this one.

Questions We Should All Ask

I came across the following post from Web 2.0 Classroom, in which Anderson lists five questions that he argues are important questions for technology leaders to ask themselves every day. I think these are generally good questions for educators to think about period, but the post struck me because I’ve now visited many schools where technological innovations and initiatives are happening alongside other efforts — say, to improve test scores or reinvent reading instruction.  In these schools and in my own work as a teacher, I have often heard skeptics ask “why technology?” There are so many other things to worry about these days, sometimes technological innovation and the role of technology in schools isn’t critically examined. And I think this is at least in part because those of us who are the “tech geeks” at any given institution are relatively easy to shrug off.

Here are Anderson’s five questions for tech leaders to ask themselves:

1) Where are we, as an organization going?

2) What are we doing to carry out our mission?

3) What are we doing to make learning better for kids?

4) What connections can we make today?

5) What am I going to do to be better for kids?

I think one of the reasons well-conceived technological approaches sometimes get overshadowed in schools is because tech can often look like “tech for tech’s sake.” It’s easy to look at a teacher who is gung-ho about learning what digital storytelling and Google Apps can do for her classroom and assume that she’s been seduced by the sexy possibilities that new technologies offer. I’ve often had people look at me and say,

“Liz, just because it’s cool and techy doesn’t mean it’s best for students.”

I find this reminder frustrating, because I, and (almost) all of the technological leaders I’ve met in k-12 education, ask themselves these five questions at the start of every day, just as Anderson does. I also find it frustrating because it seems (to me) an excuse for some to refuse to learn more about the affordances of various technologies. If someone shrugs it off as an infatuation of few, then she absolves herself of the responsibility to learn more about something potentially difficult or even a little intimidating.

For many educational technology leaders (and by “leaders” I mean teachers and administrators), digital technologies sometimes offer a way to make better connections with teachers, parents, and students and a way to make learning a better experience for them. Sometimes — not always. And yes, sometimes a new technology, a new app, a new digital writing space, is pretty darn sexy. But if it doesn’t offer a way for me to “be better for kids,” then it isn’t worth my time. If it doesn’t help me meet the goals of my institution in a better way, then it isn’t worth my time.

My challenge?

If you’re a tech nerd like me, make sure you ask yourself these questions every day before walking into your classroom or school, in whatever capacity. Also, ask yourself if the technologies you think are sexy are really helping you be better for students. If they’re not, then they’re not worth your time. Find another way.

If you’re not a tech nerd like me, ask yourself these questions every day before walking into your classroom or school, in whatever capacity (sense a pattern?). Also, ask yourself if there are technologies out there that might help you be better for students. Learn about a new one. See if it fits your needs. If it doesn’t, don’t use it. If it does, make it your own. Be better for kids.