Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cloudy with a Chance of Some Fog

It's been a crazy busy week for me!  On Monday, I had a professional development meeting until 4 followed by my son Zach's football game in Barrington. After that, I headed to trivia at Chelo's where our team scored pretty well until the last question and it was all downhill from there...but I digress... Yesterday, it was my daughter Gwen's birthday, so after my department meeting, we trekked up to Boston to celebrate.  Needless to say, we got lost and ended up stuck in tons of traffic. And today, I was trying to catch up on both my own school stuff (grades are due soon, etc) and making sure I was able to read and comment on everyone's blogs.  So, with all of that being mind is cloudy and my head seems to be in a fog.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Conversation, Connection and Anti-Teaching

Sherry Turkle in the New York Times article "The Flight From Conversation" makes a paradoxical yet strikingly true statement. "We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating.  And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection."  I couldn't agree more.  We think we are connecting with others when we put up our latest Facebook post or Instagram photo; however, what we are actually doing is nothing more than connecting on a very shallow and superbly-crafted level.  This level of irony can best be explained in my own personal social media experiences.  For example, when I see one of my Facebook friends out out in public, I hesitate to even acknowledge them, let alone think about striking up a conversation with them.  That'd just be absurd!  But...I ask myself...when and how did I become so phony and inauthentic??  I mean...I have a life...and I have real experiences and real relationships, but none of those have anything to do with my Facebook, Instagram or Twitter posts.
Turke alludes to Shakespeare in her attempt to describe how absolutely obsessed we are with social media and how fast-paced these interactions are.  "Shakespeare might have said, 'We are consum'd with that which we were nourish'd by.'"  In other words, we are completely consumed with being connected at all times.  We can't go ten minutes without insanely scrolling through all of our various news feeds. We ponder when the most opportune time is to post a picture to Instagram to ensure the highest possible number of likes.  We actually sometimes sleep with our phones in our hands lest we miss anything going on at 3 AM.  We are consumed with the lives of people we barely know and regurgitate our own Facebook worthy moments back to them.  We, according to Turkle, have lost the ability to reflect.  "These days, social media continually asks us what's 'on our mind,' but we have little motivation to say something truly self-reflective.  Self-reflection in conversation requires trust." It's as though we are scared to ever be alone.  The notions of solitude and introspection frighten us to the point where we can't sit alone at a restaurant or stand alone at a bus stop without taking out our phones within 30 seconds.  Thoreau would be completely horrified by us.  And rightfully so.

     This brings me to the Wesch and his notions of questioning and insight as integral parts of learning.  He stresses the importance of student...not necessarily teacher...questioning.  "Oftentimes the answer to a good question is irrelevant-the question is an insight in itself."  I am often dumbfounded when a student asks me a really insightful question.  It shows me that they are invested enough in the actual learning process to be able to think and come up with a real question.  Sadly, those types of questions are few and far between.  Wesch believes that we as teachers needs to focus on "inspiring good questions" and we need "to start by getting students to ask better questions."  I agree.  I have a couple of strategies in my classroom to guide students in their questioning, but ultimately it is only through solitude and self-reflection that students might be able to truly ask those insightful questions.  And I'm pretty sure having over 1,000 Twitter followers is not going to help them do that.  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Reflections on Facilitating...The Nature of Class is Unique

     Facilitating a graduate level college course is certainly something I've never had the experience of doing before.  I knew that I already had some ideas that I wanted to focus on in our discussion.  I was also intrigued by the notion of class and the differences in education based on one's socioeconomic class status.  As I was thinking about last night's discussion, I  kept coming back to Delpit's idea of rules.  "I tell them that their language and cultural style is unique and wonderful but that there is a political power game that is also being played, and if they want to be in on that game there are certain games that they too must play"(40).  Delpit suggests that we can't really change the game itself but we can at least learn how to play by those rules instituted by people people in positions of power.  Then I started thinking about Finn and what he would say in response to Delpit.  I think Finn would disagree.  "Roles and rules can be transformed so that there is greater justice and equity"(xi).  At this point I really started thinking about where I stand on the issue.  I've decided that I tend to side with Delpit.  I don't think the rules of the game or the status quo are changing at all.  I think we are still very much entrenched in a class system that feels somewhat out of our control.  I am pretty sure that I could never break into the "executive elite" class no matter how hard I tried.  It is just not an option.  The culture of the "elite" is not a culture that I understand how to be a part of.  And I'm pretty sure I don't want to be a part of that culture.  But should I want to be a part of their world?  What would an "executive elite" say in response to that question?  I don't know because I don't know any of them to ask.  Haha...maybe that's the point...maybe the rules are in place so that I'll never know. 

This is an intriguing link to a comprehensive report on class in the United States.{%222%22%3A%22RI%3A17%22}   

     I really enjoyed facilitating the discussion last night.  I think it went pretty well and I definitely appreciate the feedback from my classmates.  I'm looking forward to the rest of the discussions and how my ideas might be further challenged and transformed.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Education Is Politics

     Ira Shor in what looks to be the first chapter of Empowering Education argues that we need to "question the status quo" of educational practices and policies.  He speaks against lecture and rote learning and suggests that "the learning process is negotiated, requiring leadership by the teacher and mutual teacher-student authority"(16).  He also promotes student questioning as a fundamental component of good education.  "In a curriculum that encourages student questioning, the teacher avoids a unilateral transfer of knowledge.  She or he helps students develop their intellectual and emotional powers to examine their learning in school, their everyday experience, and the conditions in society"(12).  My response to Shor's proposal is...duh?!?!  Haven't we been teaching like this anyways?  Doesn't this idea go back to Socrates and his method of inquiry?  I agree wholeheartedly with Shor's philosophy, but I think most of what he says and strategies that he mentions we as modern educators do in our classrooms already.  For example, when he talks about "key interdisciplinary themes,"(22) I know exactly what this looks like in the classroom because I have worked with them before.  Also, his example of students defining "The American Dream"(28) as a starting point seems pretty standard in terms of best classroom practice.
     Also in terms of practice, I agree that Shor's questioning method is the absolute best way to foster real learning and meaningful dialogue between students in the classroom.  "The participatory classroom is a "free speech" classroom in the best sense, because it invites all expressions from all the students.  An empowering class thrives on a lively exchange of thoughts and feelings.  The way students speak, feel, and think about any subject is the starting point for a critical study of themselves, their society, and their academic subjects"(22).  I regularly use the Socratic Seminar/Accountable Talk method in my classroom.  I present students with a thematic focus question, a text, and ask them to prepare a double-sided journal with textual evidence and personal responses.  They are also asked to come to the discussion with five questions (different types) to pose to the group.  Students are then placed in an inner and outer circle and are given a set amount of time to work through the text.  In my experience, this type of discussion yields unbelievable results.  Students are able to work with each other and develop a type of internal understanding that I would never be able to lecture to them.  Questioning as a methodology WORKS...IT JUST DOES.  Thank you Socrates.


     On a side note, I don't agree with Shor's suggestions about Hirsch's Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.  He sees the volume as "material selected by those with the power to set standards"(32). Someone gave me this volume as a gift and I see it more as a helpful reference in the English classroom.  To truly understand literature, the reader has to be made aware of the references and allusions in the literature.  If a student can't look up the reference, much of the meaning behind the work can be lost on the student.  I think he is making this volume too important.  Shor is suggesting that the dictionary is "exclusionary rather then inclusive"(32).  I see it as just another tool in my literature toolbox, not the be all end all reference book for all time!  Who uses dictionaries now anyways??