Author Archives: ssexton2

Less is More

This semester has been great and I have learned a great deal from Professor Sample and from all of my fantastic classmates.  The experience of the teaching Plan was great, but a bit stressful. I have been teaching for the past 15 years and I have always thought that the teaching plan was going to be a piece of cake. The part that I found to be challenging was that I had so many activities to choose from.  It wasn’t until I posted my teaching plan on the Blackboard that I realized I miscalculated the amount of time it would take me to cover the entire lesson. Instead of three class sessions, it would take me six or more.

Some aspects of my microteaching were surprising. For example, in the classes that I teach every semester at Nova, time does not seem to be an issue.  During my microteaching, time seemed to go by very slowly at the beginning. When the class was rewriting the point of view of their assigned paragraphs, I felt a bit uncomfortable with how slow time seemed to be going. I could hear the clock ticking closer towards the 15 minutes deadline. I wanted to rush the class to hurry up. Yet, in my regular college classes, I don’t have the need to rush the students. On the contrary, I want the students to take their time and truly get deeper into the text.  That said, I enjoyed the feedback and the responses I received from the microteaching activity.

I want to thank the class and Professor Sample for a wonderful course this semester. Now I have new found knowledge and a huge number excellent activities that I can utilize with my students.

Going Backward

This week’s readings brought back memories of my first year as a Reading Specialist at a middle school in Woodbridge, VA while I was completing my master’s project at Virginia Tech.  I met my new students (small group of 12 students sitting around a large oval table) with great excitement. I was ready to teach! I had my extensive and detailed lesson plans, activities, and selected texts ready to begin the semester. There was a small problem; I was ready to teach, but my students were not ready to learn.  No matter how hard I tried, they resisted by turning their backs to me and engaging in a conversation with each other. I went home that day sad until a great idea hit me. They were not having fun. I spent all night coming up with new activities that incorporated fun games to engage them in my lessons. I returned the next day to face even a greater opposition. This time I was crushed, because I had no more tricks up my sleeves. I found one of my students – let us call him Travis – sitting in my chair that had wheels. I asked him repeatedly to move out of my seat. He looked at me each time and turned his back to me. With each time I repeated myself, I became angrier and angrier. One of the other students stopped talking to Travis and asked me, “Why can’t Travis sit in your seat?” That was when I realized that there was a war between us and they were winning. I said, “You are absolutely correct. Travis has every right to sit in that comfortable chair.” I walked around the table and I sat in Travis’ uncomfortable chair. The room became extremely quiet. I had everyone’s attention as they stared at me. I pushed my lessons, activities, readings, and fun games away from me on the table. I said, “Okay, let us get to know each other!” For the rest of the class, we just talked. I became a part of the learning community. They took me in as they opened up about their lives, about their “hate” for reading, and about their distrust in authority.  I began to individually interview them, which served as part of my informal assessment. I unlocked the truth behind their defiance. My initial goal of developing strategic readers was side tracked. I had to go backwards in order to achieve my original goal. I had to reach them, their intrinsic motivation, before I could teach them.

Did I achieve my “enduring understanding”? I believe I did. Once I gained their trust by joining them in the community of learners, they were open to learning what I had to teach. By the end of the semester, they were all strategic readers. My “enduring understanding” was to help my students become life-long readers. To achieve that goal, they had to read strategically and critically for comprehension and engagement.  Without their consent to learn, I would not have been able to achieve the goal.

I couldn’t help but to think of the last two weeks of our course on Nat Turner when I read about the idea of uncoverage – “It’s depth over breath.” (Sample, page 2 of Teaching for Enduring Understanding) We dug down deep as we uncovered Nat Turner’s confession. Initially, I looked through the pictures in the Nat Turner and thought to myself, “This is easy!” Then, for the next two weeks, we used the five steps of Wiggins and McTighe to unearth, analyze, question, prove, and generalize Nat Turner. As Sample state, “It’s tempting to characterize uncoverage as ‘depth’ and coverage as ‘breadth’.” “…breadth is a key component of uncoverage, the weft to the warp of understanding. Breadth means connecting disparate ideas, finding new ways to represent what is uncovered, and extending one’s conceptual reach to the implication of the material. Taken together, depth and breadth mean moving away from the prepackaged observations and readily digestible interpretation that go hand-in-hand with coverage.” (Sample, page 1 and 2 of Teaching for Uncoverage rather than Coverage) We uncovered Nat Turner with depth and breadth!

Black or White

Since I missed last week’s class, I decided to do a Tracing Project of Nat Turner. I happened to choose the top image on page 54 where the slave overthrows the infant overboard and the white man has a grip on the baby’s wrist. I contrasted this page with the image on the bottom of page 121 where the slave, Will, is holding an ax over the infant in the cradle. In both of these images, as the silent accomplice I gained my own closure by interpreting the actions taken place in those images. Based on my own prior knowledge, I interpreted the first image as the white man, holding the infant’s wrist on the slave ship as trying to hold on to power. I noticed, as I drew, the chains on the slave, which I had not noticed before. Even though the slave had chains around him he was still in power, because he had what the white men needed. What I found interested was the fact that when I was first tracing the face of the slave on the ship, it looked completely different than the face in the book. The face I drew looked at peace and somewhat relieved. Perhaps I viewed the scene as the slave being relieved by letting go of the baby and in doing so releasing the baby from a horrid future.  The second image, again as a silent accomplice, I saw the ax being drawn, but it was up to me as a reader to decide what happened next. I noticed the innocent fingers of both infants (from both of the images). Those tiny hands and tiny fingers moved me emotionally more after tracing them than just looking at the picture initially.  Here, the ax represented power and control to me. McCloud states that in learning to read comics we all learned to perceive time spatially, for in the world of comics time and space are one and the same (page 100). Since in comics, according to McCloud, there is no conversion chart, the sequence of these two images move us through many decades in time. The two panels I chose appear to be what McCloud calls the aspect-to-aspect transition, which “bypasses time for the most part and sets a wandering eye on different aspects of a place, idea or mood”. (Page 72) I found the Tracing Project very interesting, because I began to notice little details that became significant in my understanding and I began to have a deeper appreciation of Nat Turner.

I read Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner again after reading Thomas R. Gray’s The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831). I had to reread it, because I had more questions to be answered. There are many differences in the two texts: the authors’ point of views, tones, purpose, and their presentation of the text.  Baker approached Nat turner completely differently than Gray. Baker’s purpose was to portray Nat Turner from a slave’s perspective – Nat Turner’s own perspective. He gave much more detailed information about the history of slavery to set the stage for the day of the resurrection. His tone was neutral, but more biased towards Nat Turner. Baker’s notes on page 204 about the image on page 196 paints a completely different picture than Gray’s, “Onlookers were reportedly unsettled by the fact that Turner did not die kicking and suffering as hanged men usually do. He simply rose into the air, breathing his last, peacefully without twitching a muscle.” He portrayed Nat Turner as a man with conviction and strength of mind. This is more evident when Baker states, “How does a weaker minority dominate a physically superior majority? In my research I learned that this is accomplished by destroying the slaves mind. More effective than whips and guns was the simple act of outlawing the teaching of slaves to read or to write.” (Page 7) Baker’s audience is today’s readers that view slavery as inhumane and completely immoral.

Gray painted a different picture of Nat Turner – as a coward and a fanatic – on page 19, “As to his being a coward, his reason as given for not resisting Mr. Phipps, shews the decision of his character. When he saw Mr. Phipps present his gun, he said he knew it was impossible for him to escape as the woods were full of men; he therefore thought it was better to surrender, and trust to fortune for his escape. He is a complete fanatic, or plays his part most admirably.” Gray’s audience was the people in 1831. Gray never went into what happened to Nat Turner after he was hung, but Baker states that “Turner’s body was skinned and beheaded.” (Page 204) This goes to show that Baker was trying to portray the white men as savages as Gray tries to portray the slaves as savages. Never once did Gray made any remarks about the atrocities slaves, like Nat Turner, faced that could force them to such violence. Why? They did not view slavery as immoral or inhumane.

I found The Confessions of Nat Turner to be more informative of the event due to the detailed account of the events in words.  Even though the images of Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner provoked many different emotions and conjured up my own interpretation of the events based on my own background knowledge and biases, the words of Thomas R. Gray took me back to the time November of 1831. I felt like I was present with them in the dungeon as Nat Turner confessed.  What confused me were the images in Nat Turner and the text split up within those images throughout the book. Another confusing part was the beginning of Nat Turner about slavery itself.  I had too many questions that could not be answered in Nat Turner due to lack of specifics and my own confusion.  I found those answers in Gray’s account, because there were no pictures. I could create and visualize my own pictures in my head as I read.  Gray gave more feedback on the aftermath of the insurrection. Gray listed the names of the slaves brought before the court of Southampton and their sentences. That was not listed in Baker’s. Gray also went into detail about the victims that survived with the help of other slaves and the little girl (Miss. Whitehead’s daughter) who was saved by her teacher. I was moved by Gray’s account of Miss. Whitehead’s little girl that survived, “She remained on her hiding place till just before the arrival of a party, who were in pursuit of the murderers, when she came down and fled to a swamp, where, a mere child as she was, with the horrors of the late scene before her, she lay concealed until the next day, when seeing a party go up to the house, she came up, and on being asked how she escaped, replied with the utmost simplicity, ‘ The Lord helped her’.” (Page 20) Here is a great contrast between what Nat Turner views as the Lord and what the little girl views as the Lord.  At the end, I still don’t think it’s all black and white – there has to be some shades of gray!

Storytelling Techniques in Nat Turner

I did not know much about Nat Turner prior to reading Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner.  I expected to see some of the obvious images of slavery since I knew about the history of slavery, but I did not expect the images to be this graphic.  I opened the book and followed the scenes until I saw the baby being overthrown on the slave ship (page 55). I stopped and put the book down for a few days, because I could not tolerate the painful images.  The graphics were very powerful.  The first time I studied the book I had many questions and some confusion about certain actions represented in some graphics or scenes. Studying the book again after I read McCloud’s chapter three and four, the image were much more clear and my confusion dissipated.

McCloud uses the term Gutter to represents the space between the panels, which takes two separate images and transforms them into a single idea (McCloud page 66) Examples of Gutter in Nat Turner are the images of the different phases of the moon on pages 29, 33, 95, and 183 to illustrate lapse in time in the story.

Another term McCloud refers to as Closure (a great picture of it on page 114 of Net Turner) indicates a phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole, which we depend on for survival on a daily basis.  Our past experiences, prior knowledge, assist us in achieving closure. When we look at the graphics of Nat Turner we commit closure – “Our eyes take in the fragmented, black-and-white image of the ‘half-tone’ patterns…. And transform it into the reality.” (McCloud, Page 64) The first image of two intense eyes, with two hands holding an open book in a complete black background is an example of Closure. We rely on our prior knowledge to conclude that the person is secretly reading the book in the dark. A similar eye appears on page 77. Another example of Closure is the third image in the book – an image of a firm grip of a sward juxtaposed against a bright full moon.  We can conclude that the image represents rebellion in the middle of the night.

McCloud refers to the silent contract between the creator, through art and craft, and the reader where the reader is the silent accomplice. “From the tossing of a baseball to the death of a planet, the reader’s deliberate, voluntary closure is comics’ primary means of stimulating time and motion.” (McCloud, page 69) The six types of the creator’s craft are the panel-to-panel categorizations below:

1-      Moment-to-moment requires very little closure.
2-      A single subject in distinct action-to-action progressions.
3-      Subject-to-subject while staying within the same scene or idea. Note the reader involvement necessary to render these transitions meaningful.
4-      Scene-to-scene transitions, transports us across significant distances of time and space.
5-      Aspect-to-aspect bypasses time for the most part and set a wandering eye on different aspects of a place, idea, and mood.
6-      Non-sequitur offers no logical relationship between the panels whatsoever!

These six categories I tried to apply to Nat Turner:

Categories Nat Turner pages
Moment-to-moment 21,38,42,43,48,71,79,80,92,157 – some show action in only two panels.
Action-to-action 21,26,27,34,35,37,38,42,43,50,52,54,60,64,67,71,74,78,79,80-85,90,92,96,98-99,107,114,118,126,134-135,144-145,154-156,157,158-159,182,188-189,200
Subject-to-subject 11,14-15,16-28,30-32,34-38,40,42-43-55,0-69,70-71,72-73,74-84,85-90,91-92,94-96,96-105,100-184,188-199.
Scene-to-scene 29,33,95,
Aspect-to-aspect 39,41,56-57,


In trying to categories Nat Turner, I became confused because many of the scenes could be a combination of the five out of six categories.

Some of the questions that came to my mind as I studied the book were:

What if I took some of the one panel images that stand alone and make even a shorter story, summarizing the book?

What if Nat Turner were a white male, a prominent figure in the church, would that have made a difference on how we would view him and his actions? Would history tell a different story?





On The Fence

I have always been on the fence about video games. I personally never ventured off further than an occasional game of Pacman with friends in the 90’s. I watched others in my family discuss the dangers of kids losing themselves in video games and their parents losing their wallets over purchasing those games.  The topic of video games was never a big issue to me until I had my children.  I tried my best to veer my son, Dylan, away from the world of video games.  I only chose the games that were “educational” and “healthy”, like the Smart Bike. I warned Dylan about becoming like his cousins, my sisters’ sons, who locked themselves in their bedrooms for hours playing their Xbox 360 and PlayStation.  I was doing very well until Dylan was hospitalized. He had to have an open-spine surgery, which rendered him in the hospital bed, flat on his back, for days. My family and I did not know the seriousness of his medical condition, which left us all in a panic mode. My sister ran off and bought him a Wii system. I went to BestBuy to him purchase a 3DS and an Ipad. My nephew drove up from Charlottesville to deliver his Xbox 360 for Dylan.  Thank goodness, Dylan’s surgery went well, but now I was faced with a recovering kid at home who was glued to these games.  I wish I had read James Paul Gee’s book, “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy”, earlier.  I would have had many restful nights considering video games from an academic viewpoint. Clearly, Gee takes a positive view on computer games and tries to explore contribution of games by listing 36 learning principles found in games. He outlines the different chapters, which all draw on theories on learning and education.

Like Gee, I tried to share my son’s world by watching him play his video games.  Over time, Dylan slowly learned to improve his gaming skills.  Learning was not easy for him since he failed a great deal.  Unlike his school homework, Dylan did not give up on achieving the next level of the game. He started over again and again immediately after failing. He was relentless in his efforts to complete each game.  During his breaks he insisted that I played in his place.  Like Gee, I was not prepared to “learn and think in ways at which I was not then adept.” (Page. 4) Unlike Gee, I gave up! I shared the frustration experience with Gee, but I did not feel the “life-enhancing experience” that Gee underwent.  Maybe if I did not give up, if I spent hours playing the game, I too would refer to the game as “pleasantly frustrating”. That said, I do find Gee’s statement to be true, “The key is finding ways to make hard things life enhancing so that people keep going and don’t fall back on learning only what is simple and easy.” (Page 3)  Why is it that I gave up on transforming a difficult game into a life enhancing experience when Dylan does not stop to even question his option to quit the game or to buckle down and win the game?  Is it due to our age or generational difference? Is it due to our different social environment (Most of Dylan’s friends are engrossed in video games whereas none of my friends even think of playing games.)? Or, is it due to our different levels of interest and purpose?

In the chapter on Semiotic Domains, Gee argues that like other activities in life, computer games are a semiotic domain that you slowly learn over time. Gee believes that video games offer better opportunities for critical learning and problem solving and that computer games are definitely not a waste of time, because they are a germane domain.  Since Dylan began playing video games about a year ago, I notice an improvement in his reading skills (he is forced to read the instructions during the game and the communication between the characters in the games), in his thinking skills, and in his ability to sit still and focus on an assignment.

In the chapter on Learning and identity, Gee explains how computer games give new opportunities for learning experience and student engagement with the material. Computer games spark critical thinking and learning that matters. Since Dylan identifies with his environment in the game, he is that much more engaged in the learning experience. In the games, there are not real consequences for failure; if Dylan fails a level, he is encouraged to continue trying.  How can we create a learning experience for students keep them engaged in learning without the fear of failure?

Gee asserts in Situated Meaning and Learning chapter that video games are encouraging new forms of learning. Dylan interacts with the game world through exploring different ways to learn and to perceive things in a context. He builds on his prior knowledge (other games he played, reflecting on his successes and failures) with each new game he encounters. Learning cannot be complete without touching up on the Social Mind. Dylan is becoming a better gamer because he networks with better game players – his friends. This rich social environment around computer games, as Gee points out, is a form of peer learning that would be very beneficial in schools.

Gee attempts to analyze the learning structure of computer games, but he builds on theories from his field and does not dive deeper into real connection to existing research. For example, Gee is overly optimistic in his views of video games in relation to the violence in our society. I understand that the book was written in 2007 and is perhaps a bit outdated on some new research, but I am still on the fence about video games and violence. I believe that video games, such as the Grand Theft Auto, does impact our youth – they can become desensitized to violence if they are engaged in these types of games on a regular basis.

Performative Literacy

Many years ago, I managed to successfully complete my developmental English course at Northern Virginia Community College as I embarked on my journey through higher education.  Up until that point, I had never read a book on my own and I did not recall being engaged in literature throughout high school. Having read an entire book called “Kindred”, on my own in the developmental English class, sent exciting energy through my spine. I felt victorious, because I knew I was on my way to climb the ladder of academic success.  That is until I barely passed my English 111 course with an average grade of “C”.  I was bummed; I agreed with my teacher that I read and wrote like a “foreigner”. I spent the next year returning to my old ways of viewing the literacy problem; it was my fault for failing to do well in my ability to derive meaning from text.

It was not until I found myself completely engrossed in literature in my American Lit class, that I realized the significance of constructing meaningful interpretations and engaging in critical thinking/reading with the text.  My American Lit professor asked us to “deep dive” into the text. At first, I was completely lost. I viewed him as someone who did not understand difficulty. I thought learning (reading, writing, and thinking) came easily for him and he was completely removed from “people like me”. To my surprise, he never gave up on me. He believed in me and he believed in what he was teaching. He approached various methods to assist me to deep dive in the meaning behind Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and heart of the child.” I had a very difficult time looking past the printed words on the page to see the implied message. I was fearful of failing or admitting that I did not understand the text, so I avoided talking in class. I regarded Emerson’s words so highly that I did not feel that I could question and/or challenge the author’s viewpoint. I wanted my professor to end my misery by simply revealing the meaning to me, but he did not tell me what he thought the line meant, which would have been viewed by Blau as a mistake. Blau states, “…such instruction encourages students in two mistaken beliefs. First, it encourages them to believe that they are incapable, without more advanced and specialized training, of reading the difficult texts I have ‘tough’ them. Second it encourages in them the equally mistaken belief (especially counterproductive for those who will become teachers) that they have acquired something that can be called worthwhile literary knowledge by possessing notes on my readings.”

The hidden subtle message behind Emerson’s words did not emerged to me until I released my dependence on authority’s interpretation (my professor) and I learned to believe in myself as a sufficient reader in approaching difficult texts, which is labeled as “performative literacy”.  I am now able to see the lack of the seven traits Blau describes as constitutive of performative literacy that distinguished me as a reader in my early educational years.

Capacity for sustained, focused attention I did not give careful and sustained attention to text, because I did not think I was capable of understanding the text. “…when simple lack of appropriate effort is treated – as it often is – as a symptom of cultural illiteracy or insufficient mastery of some subskill of reading, students are likely to be offered forms of instructional assistance that support inattention and confirm the students’ own mistaken notion that they lack some specialized body of knowledge or reading skills that distinguish them from their teachers.” (Page 211)
Willingness to suspend closure I avoided difficult text. Therefore, I did not engage in literary analysis in fear of being wrong. It was easier to be lazy and give up by formulating weak explanations.  “Expert readers…are more willing to endure and even to embrace the disorientation of not seeing clearly, of being temporarily lost.” (Page 211)
Willingness to take risks I did not value my responses to texts in order to “talk back” to text. I did not know that I was allowed to interact with text or question it.  Willingness to take risks is, “…to offer interpretive hypotheses, to respond honestly, to challenge texts, to challenge normative readings. This characteristic is closely related to a willingness to entertain problems, and both of them are functions of what we might more globally identify as intellectual courage.” (Page 212)
Tolerance for failure I viewed my failure to comprehend the text the first, second, or even the third time as my own insufficiency, which prevented me to sustain my efforts until the confusion became lucid. “…one of the principal differences between expert readers and those who appear less skilled is that the more accomplished have a greater capacity for failure…framing their failure but as part of the difficulty that comes with the territory of reading difficult texts.” (Page 213)
Tolerance for ambiguity, paradox, and uncertainty As a reader I looked for security, certainty, and the path of least resistance. “The least competent readers tend to confuse intellectual sufficiency with certainty and completed knowledge, and are inclined to equate uncertainty with ignorance, and ambiguity or paradox with confusion.”
Intellectual generosity and fallibilism I did not remain open to new and alternative perspectives and meanings – one of barriers of critical thinking. “The strongest readers will generally argue persuasively for their own readings of texts and be able to demonstrate the deficiencies of arguments for alternative readings…In this process they also show themselves to be fallibilists, persons capable of changing their minds, capable of learning from their encounters with other readings to look in a new way and therefore to adopt a perspective that is more comprehensive than their own former vision.” (Page 214).
Metacognitive awareness I lacked metacognition – I was not aware of my own thinking, my own comprehension, or how to strategically correct my confusion of text. “…a major difference between strong and weak readers has to do with the way that strong readers monitor the progress of their understanding as they move through a text, self-correcting as necessary and recognizing when they need to reread or refocus their attention or take some other step to assist themselves in understanding what they are reading…they are less likely to feel defeated by difficult text.” (Page 214)



Confronting Resistance: Sonny’s Blues – and Mine

Confronting Resistance: Sonny’s Blues – and Mine

Today, as an overview of the midterm to my developmental English class, I explained to the class that the format will be a summary and response to an essay.  One of my students anxiously raised her hand to ask a question. She asked, “Can you tell us what the article will be about?” I said, I know what the article is about, but I cannot share that information beforehand.  She disappointingly replied, “I hope it is a good essay, because I will not read a boring essay!” I advised her to spark an interest when the text that is unfamiliar or “boring” – To activate her prior knowledge and connect that knowledge to the new text. That is much easier said than done!

I couldn’t help to reflect on what Arliene Wilner pointed out in Confronting Resistance: Sonny’s Blues – and Mind, “…students naturally rely on habitual patterns of reaction, often shaped by unexamined emotions that encourage them to convert nuanced, complex relationships (among characters or ideas) into simplistic, distorted ones. In extreme cases, as in the rebellion in my class, students may simply refuse to do the reading if they do not like what it is “about.” (Page 2) Clearly, this student has not yet learned how to cope with an interpretive assignment.  In the past five weeks of this semester, students have read several essays and completed a triple-entry journal for these essays. Based on her responses, I have noticed that she is an underprepared student who has a difficult time making meaning of text. Is it that she doesn’t have the comprehension strategies to derive meaning out of text or is it an emotional factor? According to the article, “…emotional factors, usually tied to values, are implicated in one’ resistance to new ideas, which are then either rejected or transformed into a more comfortable version that can be assimilated to one’s existing ethos.” (Page 2) My student’s rejection of the “boring” text also has to do with engagement. If she is not emotionally connected to the text, then she might not be engaged as the article points out, “…a reader’s primary emotional connection with a text should not be underestimated, as it easily can be in an academic setting…students must be ‘taken in’ by a text – engaged by it on the level of story – before they can achieve fruitful critical distance from it.” (Page 4)

One of the barriers to critical thinking is our own personal judgment and belief system.  Students engage in critical thinking with a response and interpretation assignment. If the text is viewed by the students as sacred, they might not open up their minds, by letting go of their own strict personal beliefs, to engage in a meaningful manner with the text in order to draw meaning from the text.   In the case of my student, she might be resistant to new text if her own personal values do not align with the author’s views or the subject matter.  If she perceives texts as sacred, she will not be open to manipulate the text, analyze the information, and open her own mind to new information. “…we cannot transfer our appreciation of a work of art to anyone, especially not to student who feel so threatened by the subject matter that they cannot enter the author’s imagined world or who automatically assimilate apparently familiar elements to a stock story line, a reduced, distorted shadow of the text that fails to account for the richness and subtlety…’Sonny Blues’ moves toward an emotional climax, but it is a climax that student will not reach if they remain safely outside the text, resisting assimilation into its disturbing world.” (Page 13)  In order for students to meaningfully engage in a text, they need to be emotionally connected with the text. They need to let go of their strongly held moral judgments and deep-dive into the text!


The Reader’s Apprentice: Making Critical Cultural Reading Visible

With the Developmental English Redesign in full effect this semester, I have been faced with transforming the entire curricula I have become accustomed to for the past seven years. The new Student Learning Outcomes (SLO) associated with the redesign combines and streamlines the implementation of reading and writing skills to improve students’ success. In the past, the reading courses were taught separately from the writing courses (I personally believe that reading and writing are intertwined). In restructuring my courses, I have been reflecting on my own practice and my own thinking process as well as questioning the course content and student learning. What stood out the most from reading The Reader’s Apprentice was our role and responsibility as teachers of reading and making our thinking process visible to our students.

According to the article, “Most of the time, we teach these skills (“craft of reading”) and ways of thinking through demonstration.” Modeling might be engaging and exciting, but they can leave our students believing that the process of analyzing cultural texts is effortless, because teachers/experts can perform these tasks easily. When these same students are asked to emulate the modeling that was taught to them, both the teacher and the students end up disappointed. This is in part because, “Students may succeed on the level of explication, but they encounter difficulty when asked to position texts in their cultural and critical context, to apply theory or use critical sources to deepen or complicate their own readings, or to generate their own inquires.” Students need to be taught skills of interpretation. Students also need to be taught “ … (The) multiple habits and practices – inquiry, considering multiple positions, self-awareness, examining the cultural context, revising the text and one’s own ideas (slow and recursive), and making connections (connective) – together constitute the practice of critical cultural reading.”

I saw many of my developmental English students in this reading assignment. My students appear to have engaged in little thinking of their own in their final papers and research assignments. According to The Reader’s Apprentice, some of the problems stem from how we teach, but some are rooted in students’ prior learning and students’ preconceptions. Other problems have to deal with timing, “The problem stems from lack of understand about what it means to write about cultural texts.” Another problem, which I also observe in my students is, “We tell students to ‘do research’, but they may not know what to look for, or even why reading critical articles or related primary materials would be valuable.” Even though it is easy to place the blame on the students, we as teachers need to learn and transform. “We need to provide alternative models of reading and writing, in part b making our own cognitive processes more visible to students, but as my discussion of students’ assumptions and habits suggests, we also need to guide students through the reading and research process more carefully.“

The Problem of Expertise section goes back to our earlier reading of How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Due to teachers’ expertise, their thinking process remains invisible. If we are not aware of our own thinking process, then how can we make it visible to our students? It suggests, “The processes of thinking are often invisible to both the students and the teacher,” yet “cognitive strategies are central to integrating skills and knowledge in order to accomplish meaningful tasks. They are the organizing principles of expertise.” I can relate to this personally. I am currently teaching the same developmental English courses that set in motion my own college education. As a developmental English student, I perceived my teachers as experts who never experienced any challenges in reading and writing. In my view, my teachers were not able to empathize with my struggles, because they never had to struggle themselves. I now observe the same mentality with my developmental English students. Most of them hold the same views about me until I share with them my own experiences as a struggling reader/writer. This common understanding and my ability to empathize with them help us work as a unit to ensure their success. It is crucial to be able to understand how we think and then make our cognitive processes visible to our students. According to this essay, visibility is not sufficient without allowing our students the opportunity to practice. “We developed our facility with critical cultural reading through years of practice, with some direct coaching from our teachers…” Now, we need to provide our students with the same opportunities. I strongly agree with “transferable cognitive skills” mentioned in the section Apprentices in the Library. We need to teach our students not just the important content of the course, but the transferable cognitive skills that go along with it that they can apply to future courses in their college education. This is what my primary goal in teaching developmental English courses; to teach my students transferable cognitive skills, which they can apply to other college courses to help them become successful.

How Experts Differ from Novices – Metacognition

                As I embarked on my graduate project, “Developing Strategic Readers”, at Virginia Tech, I thought that I could teach my students several reading strategies to enhance their reading comprehension and they will automatically become strategic readers.  I was very naïve about the process of learning and developing metacognition.

                I found the chapter, “How Experts Differ from Novices” of “How People Learn…” very insightful and interesting.  I grew up viewing the term “expert” as someone who knew everything possible in their own field.  This chapter opened up my eyes to a different way to looking at not just the term “expert”, but at learning in general.  As educators we understand that one of the most important tasks of education is to teach our students how to learn on their own throughout their lifetimes, beyond the classroom. First we need to acknowledge the question of how do we learn? How do we know what we’ve learned and how to direct our own future learning? This is where the concept of metacognition comes to focus.  According to this chapter, “…students need to develop the ability to teach themselves.” (page 50) This chapter encourages us to assist our students to “…become metacognitive about their learning so they can assess their own progress and continually identify and pursue new learning goals.” (page 50) Our students will become problem-solvers when they develop metacognition.  They will know how to recognize errors or breaks in their own thinking, analyze, process, and articulate their thought processes, and review their efforts.  As this chapter points out, “knowledge cannot be reduced to sets of isolated facts or propositions…” (page 31)  “Experts have acquired extensive knowledge that affects what they notice and how they organize, represent, and interpret information in their environment.  This in turn, affects their abilities to remember, reason, and solve problems.” (page 31) Metacognition and self-regulation play a major role in our students’ learning and the process is much more complex than just remembering and utilizing a set of reading strategies.