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Literacy, Literature, Testing, Writing

Poetry, Power, and Political Precision

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Image credit: Steve Johnson

To wrap up #NationalPoetryMonth, I’m excited to share a piece I wrote with Audrey Friedman and Joelle Pedersen at Boston College called In Praise of Poetry: Toward Access and Powerpublished in the most recent issue of the Illinois English Bulletin.

We collected poems from 20 high-schoolers labeled as “failing” on state writing exams. As you’ll see in the piece, the poems were brilliant, so we had to ask:

“What accounts for this discrepancy in which such a powerful writer can be rendered powerless…. Is the issue truly the writer, or is the problem the very way we understand, value, and assess certain ways of writing and being?” (p. 8).

We discuss how standardized tests compel students to write, not in the forms that are most productive or relevant, but in the forms most easily measured. As we argue,

“The Common Core State Standards’ narrow focus on informational and argumentative writing widens the gap between the language of schooling and the language of life. These genres do not and cannot capture the full range of students’ experiences, identities, or language skills” (p. 15).
Continue reading “Poetry, Power, and Political Precision”

Dialect, Politics, Race, Uncategorized

Shh – Don’t Say ‘Speak American’ (Out Loud)

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Image credit: Christian V.

There was justified outcry this week when a New Jersey teacher reprimanded students for speaking Spanish in class. She demanded the students speak “American,” arguing that U.S. troops are “not fighting for your right to speak Spanish.”

The students staged a walk-out. There have been calls for the teacher to be censured and dismissed. These outcomes are necessary, but we must also recognize that the teacher’s rant accurately named aloud what most U.S. schools impose on students every day.

The vast majority of students in the U.S. are spoken to, taught, and assessed exclusively in English, regardless of whether English is the language through which they learn best. Whether these English-Only restrictions are actual policy, or simply monolingual inertia, students across the country are forced to “speak American” every day without anyone having to name it out loud. Continue reading “Shh – Don’t Say ‘Speak American’ (Out Loud)”

Critical Pedagogy, Education, ESL, Literacy, Research, Uncategorized

Who Gets to be “Critical?”

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Image: Burning the “Book of Sports,” 1643

This year continues to demonstrate the importance of reading the world through a critical lens. But who gets to be “critical?” Who gets access to critical approaches to literacy versus who gets timed reading tests?

Educators who use literacy to challenge the status quo often ground their work in critical literacies. This approach goes beyond reading and writing as mechanical skills, using literacy to critique power and inequity–what Paulo Freire called “reading the word and the world.”

But what does this mean when we ask students to read the word and the world in another language?

I took up this question in a recent article for the Journal of Literacy Research. In the journal’s latest issue, Literacy Research and the Radical ImaginationI wrote alongside a phenomenal group of authors working to “radically reimagine the ways in which research can reposition people and ideas to create new and more inviting spaces for literacy.” (JLR, p. 319).

No small task. Continue reading “Who Gets to be “Critical?””

Policy, Uncategorized, Vocabulary

Inventing Illegality

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Image Credit: May Day March

A new week, a new round of policies that endanger more than than they assist.

Through the debates that will rightly follow Trump’s latest round of immigration directives, notice who chooses to employ the term illegal vs. undocumented. And if that distinction doesn’t yet set your ears aflame, here’s one of the many reasons it should.

Earlier this fall, Emmy Award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa explained that you can identify an individual as having broken a law, but “what you cannot do is to label the person illegal.” Hinojosa continued,

“The reason why I say this, is not because I learned it from some radical Latino or Latina studies professor when I was a college student. I learned it from Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, who said, ‘You know what? The first thing they did was that they declared the Jews to be an illegal people.’ And that’s what we’re talking about at this point.” Continue reading “Inventing Illegality”

Critical Pedagogy, Pop Culture, Testing, Vocabulary

Word of the Year 2016: ‘Post-Truth’

 

Fittingly, and somewhat depressingly, Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016 is ‘post-truth.’

In a year of politics demonstrating that feelings count as facts, the Oxford Dictionary defined ‘post-truth’ as “denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

In the wake of Brexit, as well as the the recent U.S. presidential election, according to the Casper Grathwohl of Oxford Dictionaries:

“It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse… Fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”

Some argue the fault lies in the way we curate our own ‘bubbles’ of news and social media. But I’d add that the foothold gained by ‘post-truth’ is directly linked to the way we have come to teach ‘reading’ in today’s schools. A particular consequence of standardized testing is a renewed emphasis on close reading—which prioritizes evaluating a text based on its own internal logic rather than reading critically in terms of context, authorship, and counter narratives. Want to fight post-truth? Educate. Refuse to accept or promote single story narratives that say there is only one lens through which to understand the world, events, or groups of people. Read. Really Read. Continue reading “Word of the Year 2016: ‘Post-Truth’”

Conflict, International Education, Policy, Pop Culture

‘Refugee’ Revisited: Rio 2016

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Image Credit: Kirilos via Flickr

The Olympics aspire to inspire. This year, nothing has captured that spirit more than the standing ovation received by the first Refugee Olympic team at the opening ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

One team member in particular, 18-year-old swimmer Yusra Mardini, captured the world’s attention through her story of having pushed a sinking dinghy to shore, saving 20 lives as she and her family fled Syria.

Through all the (indisputably worthy) praise for Mardini and the rest of the team, less energy has been invested in exploring the conditions that engineered such a team into existence.

International policies are accountable for forcing these athletes, and countless others, into refugee status. These policies were enacted by many of the same countries whose athletes paraded alongside the refugee team. The same culpability resides with transnational bodies such as the International Olympic Committee: How do we, for example, reconcile the paradox of welcoming a refugee team during an event responsible for displacing 77,000 more?

A partial answer comes in recognizing that “refugee” is not a nationality, a flag by which to march under, but a status we as a global community have forced upon these individuals. Continue reading “‘Refugee’ Revisited: Rio 2016”

Uncategorized

Analyzing the Inexplicable

 

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A Columbine reference eerily appears in today’s class reading.

We’re discussing how to teach analytical writing—going beyond recounting, adding original, evidence-based conclusions that inform, uncover, and expand our own thinking, and hopefully public discourse.

The book’s author, Kelly Gallagher, uses Dave Cullen’s 2009 account of the Columbine massacre as an exemplar for his students, illustrating how the author “moved past simply telling what happened by delving into why the tragedy unfolded the way it did.”

He goes on to note how the shock-jock reporting and lack of rigorous analysis that followed the shooting has led to years of misconceptions about the tragedy, its perpetrators, and its causes.

The next few days will do the same. Teachers, writers—this is why we exist. How could any of us teach about anything else today?

Please see the following resources on addressing the Orlando tragedy at your school.

– A National Tragedy: Helping Children Cope

– How to Discuss National Tragedies with Kids

– Addressing the Orlando Shooting at Your School

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Dialect, Language, Politics

Political Correctness and the “War on Free Speech”

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Image Credit: Rebecca Barray, via Flickr

Political Diatribe. Trigger warnings. Microaggressions. Victimhood culture.

Being politically correct, or “PC,” has been all over the media this year. Some say this is the mark of a more conscientious and inclusive society, while others say we’ve gotten “too sensitive.” According to one recent presidential candidate, political correctness is literally “killing people.”

But what does being PC even mean? Merriam-Webster will tell you it’s about avoiding language “perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against,” which all sounds well and good. So why the dramatic outcry over a basic politeness virtue we teach kindergarteners every day?

The backlash usually arises when someone is called out for not being PC. In general, no one likes to have their language corrected. If someone points out a mistake in grammar or pronunciation (cue Chris discovering there’s no “x” in espresso), we’re briefly embarrassed, but we move past it. But if someone gets called out for being “un-PC,” prepare for words to fly.

So what is it that makes this correction strike so much deeper? Clearly, it’s something that goes beyond the words or “corrections” themselves to tap into dynamics of language and power. Continue reading “Political Correctness and the “War on Free Speech””

Critical Pedagogy

No-Nonsense Teaching and Narratives of Enslavement

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Image Credit: Niño Natividad

Just. Say. Sit Down—his voice buzzed into my earpiece—Stop saying ‘Please.’

No, I was never in the secret service. This was a teacher training program. From the back of my classroom, my “real-time coach” whispered into a microphone, a notebook covering his face so students couldn’t hear. If it sounds like a bizarre setup, it was. While it’s always helpful to have another set of eyes on the room, this coaching was directed at reforming my language. Yes, I suffered from a particular linguistic afflictionone that was ostensibly leading to noncompliance in my classroom: my propensity for “permission seeking language.” I asked too many questions, made requests instead of commands, and had the gall to say “please” and “thank you” to the students in my classroom.

No-Nonsense Teaching

A recent NPR article outlined the increasingly popular “No-Nonsense” teaching method. In this approach, teachers manage their classrooms through explicit directives, minimal praise, and 100% compliance. To. The. Letter.

“Your pencil is in your hand. Your voice is on zero. If you got the problem correct, you’re following along and checking off the answer. If you got the problem incorrect, you are erasing it and correcting it on your paper.”

The piece calls the approach a “unique teaching method [that] empowers teachers to stop behavior problems before they begin.”

But last week, the NYTimes released footage of a teacher at Success Academy, a No-Nonsense charter network, berating a 1st grade classroom for struggling with math. Continue reading “No-Nonsense Teaching and Narratives of Enslavement”

Academic Advice, Writing

Why Grad Students (or Anyone) Should Blog

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This blog started out as an experiment. As I said in the beginning, I wasn’t sure what it would become. A conversation starter? A forum for advice I never got? A way to carry on the blog-honored tradition of public ranting?

The truth is, it has turned into something else entirely. I started the blog the same month I started grad school. Some—including myself—wondered if blogging was the best use of a grad student’s minimal spare time. However, I can now say it has absolutely been worth it.

So here are 7 reasons why grad students (or anyone) should blog:

1. It’s the foundation of a writing habit.

Every book of writing advice I’ve read repeats the same refrain: The key to writing is to make a schedule, stick to it, and protect it like gold. Writing is less about being struck by moments of grand inspiration or “binge writing” when deadlines come near; it’s sitting down and plugging away, day after day. Whether it’s a certain number of minutes, words, or pages, productive writers set schedules. And. Just. Write.

Blogging is an experiment in finding a writing habit that works for you. Keep track of your writing in a simple notebook or Excel file. What times of the day are you at your best? What helps you stick to a schedule? What gets you off track? Do you prefer to write in short, 25 minute bursts or longer blocks of time?  If it’s the latter, is that an excuse to procrastinate until you have a mythical block of uninterrupted time (I know because it’s me). If so, can you train yourself to write in shorter blocks?

So rather than thinking “I don’t have time to start a blog,” the truth is you don’t have time not to get yourself on a writing schedule. The consistency of a blog can help with that. Once you’re on a writing schedule, you will actually get all of your academic and professional writing done much faster. Seriously, you’ll meet deadlines. You’ll even run out of projects to work on (hence the blog to keep you going). Continue reading “Why Grad Students (or Anyone) Should Blog”