Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What I have learned...

It is hard to believe that this semester is coming to a close. It seems like only yesterday, we were sitting in our first class listening to Dr. Kist review the syllabus and discuss the expectations of the course. Many students, including myself, were quite overwhelmed at the beginning of the class. However, like all dedicated, competent scholars and researchers, we persevered.

This class truly introduced me to the often neglected "R"-writing. As a literacy educator, I have focused much of my attention on reading, my true love and passion. However, I now truly value writing, as well. I see the need to devote more time to teaching about writing and how to teach writing with my undergraduate students. Reading and writing are so intertwined, yet often taught as two separate entities. It is time for the silenced "R" to be heard.

I would like to thank my peers for sharing their numerous lines of inquiry. I learned so much about inference in writing, new literacies, multigenre writing, reflective writing, writing circles, ELL students, African American identities and writing, a/r/tography, and writing as healing with LGBTQ students. Our interests are varied, yet connected by the art of writing and the desire to engage our learners in authentic, collaborative, and meaningful reading and writing assignments.

Dr. Kist, thank you for an informative, interactive, and resourceful semester. The knowledge and understanding I gained as a result of this class is invaluable.

Friday, April 30, 2010

"Literacy is luggage for life..."

The IRA conference featured several keynote speakers. I was happy to have attended the address given by Queen Rania of Jordan al Abdullah to the general assembly of IRA attendees on Monday, April 26, 2010. Queen Rania stressed in her remarks the importance of literacy throughout the world and the need to combat the illiteracy rate, especially the high percentage of females, who cannot read and write. She also expressed how our two countries, although vastly different, have many similarities as well. Her new book, The Sandwich Swap, is a positive way to expose children to the similarities between cultures, instead of focusing on the differences. Perhaps this book will inspire students to develop their own identity as readers and writers while maintaining their individuality and cultural ties. "Building on Gee's (2001) notions of discourse and affinity, cultural identity is viewed as a way of being, as a way of seeing oneself that is negotiated through communication and through one's participation in practices as a member of the group" (Ball & Ellis, 2008, p. 502).

A quote that resonated with me during the Queen's speech was, "Literacy is luggage for life; the kind of luggage you want to carry." Queen Rania stressed how the literacy skills that we possess enable us to be productive, contributing members of society. Without literacy in our lives, our world and opportunities would be vastly different and limited.

Although the majority of us work with literate children and adults, it is imperative to make reading and writing a part of their real world. "Involving learners of all ages in real, relevant opportunities to involve reading and writing in their lives can make the difference between learning that is superficial and shallow and learning that is deep and internalized" (Gambrell, 2010, IRA Conference).

This again ties into my work on middle school boys' reading motivation, which Linda Gambrell and Barbara Marinak addressed in their presentation at IRA on April 27, 2010 entitled "Motivation to Read: What Matters Most?". The presenters' main findings from research include the topics of choice, challenge, collaboration, and authenticity regarding reading motivation. However, I would argue that the same criteria can and should apply to writing motivation, as well. That is why strategies such as multigenre writing and writing circles should be increasingly used in the classroom. Both of these techniques enable the writer to choose topics and genres of interest, create the challenge of working with narrative, as well as expository text, collaborate with peers and writing instructors, and provide authentic writing experiences.

Although IRA is indeed a reading conference, I wish I could have seen more of a connection between reading and writing throughout the presentations. The two subjects are so connected, yet still viewed as miles apart by some educators. More cross curricular themes would also have been beneficial.

As I review my notes and handouts from various presentations which I attended, I will share further implications for us as literacy professionals.

International Reading Association

I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at my first IRA conference earlier this week in Chicago. I was amazed by how many teaching professionals attend this annual event. The attendees are all employed in various roles in education including classroom teachers, literacy coaches, reading specialists, administrators, and college/university faculty. Although the participants represent various disciplines, personal beliefs regarding literacy, and utilize a myriad of teaching materials and strategies, what connects them all is their love for reading and education.

During our institute on Sunday, Julie and I presented our findings from the forty-two teacher interviews that we conducted with K-8 reading teachers. This definitely appealed to the practitioners in the audience who listened intently to the voice of the classroom teacher. Petra and I then shared the results of our study on state standardized reading assessments and state standards. We looked intently at four states which represent different geographic locations across the United States, have large populations, and often are relied on by textbook publishing companies when revisions to editions are needed. Since high stakes testing continues to be a "hot topic" in schools, the audience was very interested to learn which states explicitly contain the word "inference" in their reading standards, and how often inferential questions are asked on the state reading assessments. We were fortunate to have representatives from the states we researched (Ohio, Florida, Texas, and California) in our audience who shared their thoughts and frustrations with the testing process.

On Tuesday morning, Liz, Julie, and I presented at a Special Interest Group (SIG). The format differed a bit from a session by highlighting the research from three studies based on the theme "Teacher as Researcher". Although we presented to a small audience, the experience was truly beneficial. Tuesday afternoon brought us to our final presentation, a one-hour session on the pedagogical implications for teaching inference. Petra, Liz, Julie, and I shared further findings from our research and focused more on practical classroom applications, such as finding books with text potential to teach inference. We were ecstatic with the attendance, approximately 75 individuals, who each expressed a desire to learn more about inference and how to teach it in their classrooms.

Our trip provided a wonderful professional opportunity to disseminate data that we have been collecting and analyzing for over a year and a half. Although we were exhausted by the end of our journey, each of us was so grateful for what the "Inference Project" has provided. Who knows, the four of us may just decide to write our dissertation on different aspects of the study!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

OCTEO Conference

I have just returned from the Ohio Confederation of Teacher Education Organizations (OCTEO) conference in Dublin, Ohio. This conference is attended by representatives from the fifty-one colleges and universities in Ohio that have teacher education programs. The attendees are usually deans and chairs of the education departments, as well as professors, field coordinators, and licensure specialists/officers. The conference includes keynote speakers, breakout sessions, and organizational meetings.

Since the conference discusses current and future laws and policies regarding educational programs, it often becomes quite heated and political. There are many changes on the horizon for teacher education in the near future, however, the Ohio Board of Regents and the Ohio Department of Education do not seem to have any clear answers to the myriad of questions that were asked regarding the new Residency Program which will be in effect during the 2011-2012 academic year, or the Transition Residency Year Program, effective 2010-2011, that replaces the previous entry year Praxis III requirement.

Tom Bordenkircher, Associate Vice Chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents, was in attendance and addressed during many of the meetings which I attended. He was quite bombarded by questions, but as previously stated, could not provide definitive answers to issues involving the future of teacher education in Ohio. Since many doctoral students are pursuing positions in higher education, I would encourage them to get involved in these issues. Being on the faculty encompasses so much more than just teaching, researching, and advising students. Professors must keep current with the numerous changes that are part of academia and our state department of education.

On a more positive note, I had the pleasure of presenting research that I conducted during the fall 2009 semester with a fellow colleague. Our presentation was entitled "Faculty to Faculty Collaborations and Student to Student Mentoring: Preservice and Inservice Teachers Using Electronic Journals to Dialogue about the Foundations of Literacy Instruction". The presentation described a collaborative project developed by myself and a full professor and completed by undergraduate preservice teachers and graduate inservice teachers enrolled in their respective literacy courses at Baldwin-Wallace College in the fall 2009 semester. My co researcher and I established critical colleague pairings between the preservice and inservice teachers. The critical colleagues were expected to read and respond/react to professional journals on the topics of literacy instruction. They were then required to dialogue via electronic journal with their critical colleague. We shared our findings of the study which included analysis of the dialogue and the mentoring relationships established between the participants.

The presentation went very well, with a lively interactive audience, and again stressed the importance of writing in teacher education programs. It is amazing how topics do overlap when they are truly your passion. Several audience members recommended that we submit our research for publication, so we will be sending a manuscript to The OHIO Journal of Teacher Education. Another audience member from southern Ohio also told me yesterday at breakfast that she will try to replicate our study in her institution. That positive feedback seems to make all the hard work and hours spent coding data and preparing for a presentation worthwhile.

I hope that some members of our class will consider attending the OCTEO conference in the future. It is held each October and April and is also a great opportunity to network. I was able to chat with Dr. Tricia Niesz at breakfast, caught up with Sandra Pech, a former doctoral student from Kent State, and saw Dr. Joanne Arhar leading many meetings. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend Tricia and Joanne's presentation since it was at the same time as mine. However, I hope to hear more about their study between Kent State University and St. Joseph Academy in Cleveland, as well as keep informed in decisions that will affect teacher education in the state of Ohio.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Inference and Reader Response Theory

I have been involved in researching the topic of inference with Dr. Bintz, Petra, Julie, and Liz for the past year. Our studies have enlightened me to the various definitions of inference and perspectives on this reading topic. Through our interviews with forty-two K-8 reading teachers, we have concluded that several teachers feel that "inference is life" and therefore, spend a considerable amount of time implementing the concept into their daily literacy and content area classes. However, we have also interviewed teachers who were uncomfortable with the topic, or chose not to teach inferential thinking due to limited time and concentration on standardized testing.

Petra's inquiry paper and presentation for our class, takes our research one step further, to an area that has been unexplored so far in our research group. Her research on inference and implications for writing is an area that warrants further discussion and research. Perhaps, this will even become Petra's dissertation topic!

One of the components that I found the most interesting in Petra's presentation was her linkage of inference and reader response theory. As you know, this theory was my assigned topic for the Wiki and continues to be of great interest to me. I do believe that when a student infers from a text, he/she is making a connection and creating a personal response based on the written word. It is truly an interaction between the reader and the text. As Rosenblatt (1978) stated, reader response does not prescribe to an "anything goes attitude". Although there is not a traditional right or wrong answer, the responses and inferences generated are based on the material being read and the background knowledge or "suitcase" that is carried by the reader. "Reader response theorists share two beliefs: (1) that the role of the reader cannot be omitted from our understanding of literature and (2) that readers do not passively consume the meaning presented to them by an objective literary text; rather they actively make the meaning they find in literature" (Tyson, 2006, p. 170).

I had the opportunity to interview Lois, a reading teacher and media specialist, for the inference project and gained further perspective into her literacy work with first grade students. Lois takes the time to allow her students to make predictions, use picture cues to support inferences, and discusses books in detail. Through the dedication of teachers and staff members, students are given the opportunity to identify their voice and make connections with a text.

As I continue to research my topic for the inquiry paper, I am becoming more and more convinced by the need for preservice teachers to bridge theory and pedagogy in order to become effective reading and writing teachers. Only by strong role models will students begin to move beyond literal, contrived responses and structured writing assignments to explore their world with greater depth and inquiry.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Teaching of Writing Teachers

My inquiry paper connects my passion for teacher education and literacy instruction in preservice teacher education programs. As I began to learn more about the history of writing throughout our course this semester, I have found that writing instruction has received less attention and devotion than reading instruction in the classroom. This is not just the case in K-12 classrooms. It seems this dichotomy carries through to teacher education programs, as well. The majority of courses taken in teacher education literacy programs focus their attention on the theory and practice needed to successfully teach reading. However, very few courses are solely devoted to teaching students how to become effective writers. My preliminary research has found that this lack of preparation creates a feeling of apprehension and lack of confidence in preservice teachers, with many reverting to teaching writing as they were taught, or relying heavily on professionals in the K-12 classrooms to compensate for their lack of writing instruction at the college level.

Various studies have determined that many instructional practices during literacy methods courses have had a positive impact on creating more effective writing teachers. I will explore the areas of literacy histories, increased collaborations with K-12 students, writing circles, book clubs, and multigenre writing as opportunities for preservice teachers to bridge theory and practice in literacy instruction and become more confident, effective teachers of writing.

I will be drawing background knowledge from Chapter 22: Teaching of Writing and Writing Teachers Throughout the Ages in the Handbook of Research on Writing. Roen, Goggin, and Clary-Lemon (2008) provide an overview of writing instruction from the classical period through the twentieth century. My main area of interest focuses on the latter sections of the chapter that are devoted to the writing instruction of elementary, secondary education, and post secondary instructors.

The following are key components from Chapter 22:

  • Perceived literacy crisis in the United States resulted in more government funding and value on the teaching of English including writing.
  • The National Writing Project (NWP) was established in 1974 at the University of California-Berkely as a commitment to strengthening the writing instruction of K-16 teachers across the United States. "The NWP's mission is to improve the teaching of writing by developing and sustaining university-based writing projects" (Roen, et al., 2008, p, 353).
  • A shift in focus from product-oriented to process-oriented writing was seen in the 1970s and 1980s with the publication of a variety of articles devoted to composition in NCTE's journals.
  • The 1980s and 1990s, saw an emergence of writing workshops and instructional techniques from researchers and educators including Donald Graves, Lucy Calkins, Tom Romano, and Nancie Atwell. These names are still widely read and cited in writing research today.
  • There is still a predominance of writing instruction that workshop oriented compared to effective teaching of English.
  • There are vast discrepancies between writing instruction for K-12 teachers and instruction for college writing teachers. As previously stated, K-12 teachers are given less preparation for the teaching of writing.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

New Historical Criticism and Multi-Genre Writing

After Julie's Wiki presentation last week, I decided to read further about New Historical Critical Theory. As Tyson explains in Critical Theory Today, there is a distinct difference between what questions historians and new historians ask. "Traditional historians ask, 'What happened?' and 'What does the event tell us about history?' In contrast, new historicists ask, 'How has the event been interpreted' and "What do the interpretations tell us about the interpreters?'" (Tyson, 2006, p. 282).

Looking at this theory with a writing perspective in mind, led me to the topic of multigenre writing. I have recently been researching this topic as an concept for my Inquiry Paper, and I began making the connection between this topic and New Historical Critical Theory, after Katie made the suggestion in class. I was introduced to the topic of multigenre writing in the professional book club in which I am a member with Petra, Karen, and other former members of the National Writing Project. The group, which is comprised of a wide array of instructors, from a kindergarten teacher to a graduate school professor, meets periodically to discuss Calkin's The Art of Teaching Writing and share our own accomplishments and challenges with teaching writing in the classroom.

Based on the work of Romano (1995), "A multigenre research paper involves students in conducting research, and instead of writing in a traditional research paper format, they write in a range of genres. Each genre reveals one facet of the topic, and it can stand alone to make its own point" (Allen & Swistak, 2004, p. 224). This writing format, enables students to share their interpretations of an event using various forms including poetry, art, diary entries, journals, broadcasts, and newspaper articles. Allen & Swistak's (2004) research with multigenre writing is shared in Multigenre Research: The Power of Choice and Interpretation, which involved the collaboration between fifth grade students and preservice teachers. Both groups were responsible for writing a multi-genre paper. However, the preservice teachers also served as guides and writing role models for their middle school counterparts. View the Annotated Bibliography of Allen & Swistak and various others researchers of multigenre writing for further information.

During their research, the authors developed a new strategy referred to as FQI (Facts-Questions-Interpretations), which enabled students to chart facts on a topic, determine questions that need to be answered, and suggestions for interpretations through various genres. The article included an example based on the life of Eva Peron, otherwise known as "Evita". Through multigenre writing, Allen and Swistak's students were taught to interpret a historical event or an individual's life through various lenses and write about their research using genres that were appealing to them. This seems to relate to New Criticism and how specific interpretative questions form the foundation of an event or a person's life. "For new historians consider history a text that can be interpreted the same way literary critics interpret literary texts, and conversely, it considers literary texts cultural artifacts that can tell us something about the interplay of discourses, the web of social meanings, operating in the time and place in which those texts were written" (Tyson, 2006, p. 287). One of the key components that Tyson (2006) describes in New Historical Criticism is that the writing of history is not just facts, but on the interpretation. Therefore, students' multigenre research papers are just that-the interpretation of facts garnered through research, expressed and articulated in myriad ways that foster creativity and enable students to make instructional choices in their own assignments.

I am exploring the use of multigenre writing with preservice teachers, and I am hoping to use this strategy in future classrooms to advocate a greater sense of student choice and use of personal interpretations on pedagogical practices and theory in literacy methods classrooms.