Friday, December 5, 2008

Ethnography One-Pager

This investigation was sparked by my interest in alternative schools. I was interested to find out what the needs of these particular students were and how alternative schools set out to meet these needs. The only exposure I have had to alternative schools is through my brother who attended Jeffco Open School for three years. More specifically, I set out to find out what English teachers at alternative schools were having their students read and why. I was interested to see the difference in books chosen in traditional high schools as opposed to alternative schools.
I began by researching alternative schools and their purposes in the education system. I found that alternative schools were designed to help marginal students stay in school and to ultimately decrease the drop out rate in high school students. All of these secondary sources described the curriculum in alternative schools as more open and with more one-on-one attention and guidance from teachers. The open atmosphere allows more room for students to do individual projects and have more choice in what they study for school. This helps empower students and allows them to take more control over their education. Parent involvement is also said to be greater with students who attend alternative schools.
For the next part of my investigation, I conducted a number of interviews. I interviewed two alternative English teachers from two different schools. I then interviewed my brother to gain more insight into alternative schools from a student’s perspective. I also interviewed a parent of two children: one who attended a traditional school and one who attended an alternative school. From these interviews I gathered that books students read for alternative schools deal with more controversial issues than ones that would be acceptable in traditional schools. Much of the subject matter brought up in these books deal with sex, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and/or teen pregnancy. The teachers I interviewed however acknowledged that they try to teach some classics in their classes, but teach them in an engaging and interesting way.
In my interview with a parent I was interested to find out that this particular parent felt that controversial issues bought up in literature are good for healthy discussions in classrooms. This mom felt that the teacher’s choice in books should be respected and trusted by students and parents. The results from this interview correlated with one of my teacher interviews dealing with parent approval in teaching racier texts to alternative students.
After I had all of the information from my interviews, I sat down and highlighted reoccurring themes through all the interviews. I then pieced together how they fit in relevance to each other and the secondary sources I had researched. I was surprised at how the puzzle fit from there and was able to come to a few conclusions about literature taught in alternative schools.
I found that teachers taught more controversial books to their alternative students because they addressed issues that many of their students faced on a daily basis. Books also needed to be accessible for students, many of them being struggling readers. Oftentimes, students are allowed to choose their own books for individual projects, research, or for free reading. This gives students an opportunity to learn how to be readers and to navigate through texts on an individual level. The goal of allowing students to choose their own books is to spark their interest in reading and to help students find the value in texts.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Having Your Say

1. What did they say in regard to your RQ?
All of my secondary sources take into consideration the constantly changing rules of English grammar. They also agreed that teaching grammar to students speaking a different home discourse than the dominant discourse is challenging and brings up a lot of questions: How exactly do we do this as teachers? Sipe says it best when she asks, "How do we respect and honor students' own language?"

2. What gap still exists?
The question that remains after reading all of these articles is:
How do we introduce adolescents into genres and discourse communities that differ from their own while simultaneously respecting their own languages?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Question on Censorship and Code-Switching

What is a justifiable reason for assigning a particular book? What should be your rationale?

This is an interesting question and one that I find particularly difficult. With this question arises many more questions, "What happens when your rationale differs from parents' rationales?" "What kind of subjects are definitely taboo in books?" "When does value of a text outweigh its 'inappropriateness'?" Aside from questions though, I believe that all books taught in the classroom should most definitely have some sort of rationale. You, your students, parents, principle, etc. should have a reason for reading the text taught in class, it's just a matter of finding value in texts. Books concerning cultural values, important human experiences, and thought provoking questions are all books that should be taught in school. While each book will probably have a more specific rationale, books in general should cover some (or all) of these topics in some way.

Rationale should be logical and written down prior to assigning texts. That way students and/or parents will have an explanation for why they are reading certain books and what they are supposed to get out of text. It might even be useful to send out a parent/teacher letter prior to reading controversial novels in class to avoid angry parents.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Responding to Gee and Delpit

Quickwrite #1

According to Gee, primary discourse is the discourse an individual first uses to make sense of the world. This can be from your parents or a language that was spoken in your household. Secondary discourse, on the other hand is all of the discourses spoken out side of the family setting. These are the languages primarily spoken in society or social institutions (such as school). Gee's argument is that once you are a part of a discourse, there is no way that an outsider to that discourse can fit into it. For example, if a student speaking language A as their primary discourse is tossed into a society speaking language B (secondary discourse), the student speaking language A would be considered an outsider to society's discourse. Further, the student speaking language A has no power or pull in the larger culture because they speak a non-dominant literacy in a world where dominant literacy and the people who are familiar with that dominant literacy have all of the power and control (specifically over those who are a part of non-dominant literacy). As far as teaching goes, this is relevant because a lot of students will be speaking a non-dominant language and will be outsiders to the secondary discourse used in schools. This would mean a student who grew up in a Spanish-speaking household will be an outsider to an English speaking school. As teachers, we need to make sure we are finding ways to include "outsiders" and finding ways to help them understand.

Quickwrite #2

Delpit argues that students who have different home discourse than the dominant discourse can learn to "cheat" and can fit into the dominant discourse. Teachers can show their students how to cheat around the system, letting them keep their home discourse while learning the superficial features such as grammar, mechanics, and other conventions of the dominant discourse. When students participate in not-learning they are choosing to stick to their home discourse, keeping their own identity and discourse. When teachers participate in not-teaching they do not teach superficial features of middle class discourse, which, according to Delpit is not empowering for the students.

Gee and Delpit are trying to say that they approach discourse and its accessibility in different ways. Both speakers (Delpit and Gee) seem to be reliable and credible sources. Gee is obviously a well-learned linguist while Delpit carries more experience as a teacher. If Gee and Delpit were having a formal face-to-face debate on discourse, Gee would argue that outsiders to a particular discourse are always outsiders while Delpit would say that people can learn to operate within a discourse, improving their status. Personally, I feel that Delpit has a more comprehensive grasp on the reality of discourse. I can see both sides to the argument on discourse, but I find myself identifying more with what Delpit is saying. Nothing can ever be just black or white. An outsider to a particular discourse does not always have to be considered an outsider. There is always room for learning and finding ways around discourse. I do agree with Gee and Delpit in that society's discourse (secondary or dominant discourse) holds the most power. Those who can find their way in society's discourse will have access to more privileges (and ultimately more power and status).
As English teachers, we should keep discourse in perspective and remember the power it can hold over students (especially those that speak a different home or primary discourse). We must remember to help guide students so that they can benefit the most from education and language. The questions here would be: How exactly can we do this? I would guess that through time and experience we will have more insight and wisdom on how to help students.
In regards to language and literacy, I would like to explore more about how students coming from a different home discourse learn secondary discourse. What strategies are there for teachers here?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Language Investigation 3

In primary school I don't remember having to read a lot of "required" material. I remember reading books like A Christmas Carol, Number the Stars, and others. I mostly remember reading books of my choice or short stories found in large "reading" books. These stories were always incredibly boring and the books always had a weird smell. For writing, I was taught grammatical "rules" that were easy to rhyme such as: "I before E, except after C" or the vowels, "A,E,I,O,U and sometimes Y." There are others I can't recall at the moment. There were always rules though when you were spelling words or putting them together in a sentence. I remember doing worksheet after worksheet of noun/verb/adjective practice. I also remember doing a lot of vocabulary from vocab books. In retrospect, these vocab books were very helpful and I still remember words from them that I didn't think I would ever use. The elementary school I went to was very strict about homework, directions, and most importantly, rules. So all of the teachers taught rules and didn't allow you to question them. It wasn't until later, in my secondary (and further) years of schooling that I realized that rules weren't necessary for a lot of my English studies.

In my secondary years of school, I remember learning that there were exceptions to the rules. For example, in elementary school I was taught to never start a sentence with the word "Because." In middle school, my English teacher taught me ways that you could start a sentence with the word "Because" that still worked and were acceptable in the English community. This is the same class I learned what clauses, conjunctions, and other fancy terms for sentences were called. I also recall getting my pick of books to read (at least in seventh grade.) Required reading for eighth grade included books such as: Oliver Twist, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and others. As I progressed into High School, I began to learn about Greek Mythology, How to Kill a Mockingbird, American Literature, and most importantly, how to write a thesis statement. There were strict rules on how to write a thesis statement correctly during this time. Thesis statements were only one sentence that told your reader what your entire paper/opinion was. This was tricky to learn, but I can look back now and see that strict rules were required for thesis statements because otherwise it would have been too confusing to learn. These rules were taught to help beginner students get an idea of the patterns in the English language. At the time however, these rules were hard to completely understand, but helped me develop basic skills that could be elaborated in college.

As a college reader and writer, these conventions were an excellent base for what I now know I can take creative liberty with. In college, I feel that professors are less concerned with a correct following of grammatical rules, and more concerned with the content and critical analysis a paper demonstrates about a reading. As you get older, less people will correct you for having "poor grammar" or not wording a sentence correctly. While it is important, in college you learn that if it makes sense and it does a good job of critically analyzing a text, then that is satisfactory enough for a good paper.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ch 5,6 Warm Up

1. What kinds of reading and writing did you see students doing in school? Why do you think Rose chose these assignments?
Students seemed to enjoy and participate in Rose’s writing activities. They wrote about stories, pictures, and personal experiences. Rose chose these assignments to get students thinking about how they can create their own voice in writing. By prompting students to write about what inspires, disturbs, or motivates them in writing, Rose gathered some quality writings from students.

2. What “rules and regulations” did students appear to be following as they read and wrote? In light of the students’ overall schooling experiences, did these seem useful or not? Speculate about how they might have influenced students’ literacy development.
Students seemed to be worried about spelling and other prescriptive grammar issues while they were writing. Other students had a hard time reading their writing aloud. Still others had trouble overcoming labels that had been placed on them by schools when they were young. These are labels such as “slow” or even “mentally disabled.” These labels stuck with students for the rest of their academic career and affected their confidence and sense of identity in the classroom.

3. What did you notice about the language schools used to refer to the students Rose featured in this chapter? How did this language mark students as “insiders” or “outsiders” to school? How do you think these labels might have influenced students’ literacy development later on?
I wrote the same sort of response in question #2, but I got the feeling that the labels placed on kids by the school really affected their own perceived academic capabilities. Many students were considered outsiders because of their lack of confidence in their reading and writing because they were behind in school.

4. What larger generalizations/questions do these patterns raise? Make a list of 2-3 of these generalizations/questions. Beside each item, also note the writerly moves Rose took to arrive at these generalizations and/or to prompt these questions in you as a reader. List page numbers of passages you want to refer to when you share your findings with the rest of the class.
Generalizations: Many of the students were labeled “retarded.”

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Language Investigation 2

Over the summer I received my yoga teacher's certification and through this process realized how unique and specific the language is in the yogic tradition. For starters, the native language of yoga is an ancient Indian language known as Sanskrit. All of the words, phrases, and techniques for yoga are said in Sanskrit. Over the summer I became well acquainted with these terms and memorized quite a few terms describing postures, breathing techniques, and states of mind. Here are a few of the translations for yoga positions that you may encounter if you are ever in a yoga class:
bhujangasana: cobra pose
adho mukha svinasana: downward facing dog
vhirabadrasana: warrior pose
In any of these poses, the word "asana" is used at the end of the word. "Asana" means position. So, for example, " Ardha Matsyandrasana" breaks down to "ardha"= Half, "matsy"= Fish, "yan"=lord and "asana"=Pose. So Matsyandrasana translates to "Half Lord of the Fishes Pose." We use Asanas to help students get into positions during yoga class, and also to help keep the Indian tradition in mind during class. Similarly, Sanskrit is used to convey various types of breathing exercises used in class. These cannot fully be translated, but do have special meanings of their own. Here are a few:
Puraka: Breath that extends the inhale so it is longer than the exhale.
Recaka: Breath that extends the exhale so it is longer than the inhale,
Nadi Shadoni: Alternating nostril breath
Ujayi: Victorious Breath, or breath that is audible.
These are just a few examples of the complex and intricate language of Sanskrit used in the yoga community. It is a sacred and traditional language, often said to be the "natural" language of humans because its vibrations mirror those that are closest to the natural rhythm of the breath and psyche. During meditation, the Sanskrit words "Hom" and "Sah" are used during each inhale and exhale because they reflect the natural sound of the breath. "Hom" is used for the inhale and "Sah" for the exhale. These words also translate to English as "I am that."
This is only a surface level analysis of Sanskrit and its meanings in yoga, but it is still insight into the yogic tradition nonethless.