Category Archives: Week 7

Kogon 6 Blogging: Yes; Boring: No

Admittedly, someone of my generation is by habit, reluctant to expose their deficits of knowledge and their inadequacies of skill to their peers and the public. Seeing my name in the formal tapestry of the samplereality blog almost gave me a nervous breakdown when I realized what I wrote was up there forever.

The torture has served its purpose, however, and continues to demonstrate that, after I read the other posts, I am not so different after all. I admit to vicariously enjoying and tremendously benefiting from my classmates insights and references; I could never begin to discern all that is collectively known in this class, yet, I can now add it to my own accomplishments.

I have noticed that

1. In Magic of Teaching – I am honest about what I do know and hungry for what I do not.

2. In Risk Taking Made Easy – I wished very much to have had more hands-on experience of a             video/techno/graphic nature, and should have seen it coming when I bought a comic       book about Pope John Paul in the 1990’s.

3.  In The Obvious is the Most Difficult – I found out that there is an instruction book on how to    do the unknowable:  read.

4.  In Baldwin Redeems His Characters -I was able to use Biblegateway (a double whammy of     public education filtered through religion).

5.  In Williams and the Struggle of Paradox -I bravely brought out dark meaning in one of my      favorite poets, and managed to respect myself in the morning.

As for rookie mistakes, I had lots of them. The most obvious is my misspelling of “obvious” in the title of Blog #3 and, my favorite, using my age in my username when I signed up for Twitter, not realizing it was visible to everyone. I am not nervous about that anymore, either.

Unreliable Narrators

I wanted to pass on the classic description of an “unreliable narrator,” which Sarah had dug up. This comes from a foundational work in literary studies, Wayne Booth’s The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961):

Our terminology for this kind of distance in narrators is almost hopelessly inadequate. For lack of better terms, I have called a narrator reliable when he speaks for or acts in accordance with the norms of the work (which is to say, the implied author’s norms), unreliable when he does not. . . [when]the narrator is mistaken, or believes himself to have qualities which the author denies him. …

Unreliable narrators thus differ markedly depending on how far and in what direction they depart from their author’s norms…

…At one extreme we find narrators whose every judgment is suspect. At the other are narrators scarcely distinguishable from the omniscient author. In between lies a confused variety of more-or-less reliable narrators, many of them puzzling mixtures of sound and unsound.

Writing to Learn and My Love of Blogging

I love blogging. I have my own personal blog where I keep stories about mostly my kids. I write my personal blog posts to remember what happened, and I do the same thing in my blog posts for class. I really write to remember what I read. I typically write about specific techniques that I liked and would want to use in my own classroom. By writing about the techniques I hope that I can remember the specifics about the lesson or idea so that I can repeat it.

I noticed in my posts that I do pull out specific pieces of information. I am not really a big picture type of person. I like to look at the details. This might be an issue but I think by looking at the piece I can pull together my own big picture. I really do write to learn. By writing these blog posts I can sift through the information and piece everything together the way I need to to process the information. When I write my posts I have my first opportunity to process all that I have read. Writing helps bring new ideas to the front and helps me draw new conclusions.

I do have some specific things that I have noticed. Most of these are reading strategies that I can use in my classroom. I like to pull from readings what is practical for me. I don’t think the nature of my posts has changed. They pretty much stay the same—noticing what I can pull to use in my class. I think it will be important for me to keep these blogs so I have a set of ideas right at my fingertips.
I also really enjoy blogging because through the blog we are not processing this information alone. We have the opportunity to read and see what others pull from the readings as important. I like being able to comment on other people and start a conversation. It has made the class very interactive and the learning continues outside of the classroom. I really enjoy the interaction.

The Critical Blogger

As much as I like the idea of blogs, I’ve always struggled with my own blogging. I stress over my blog post entirely too much, and I struggle with narrowing my focus. In a way I feel that I should be thinking of a blog like a paper, but papers and blogs are also two different formats. (These are some of the observations I’m making while reflecting on my blogging that won’t necessarily show up in my actual posts.)

This week’s task of analyzing our own blogs has been insightful. Here is what I’ve discovered about my blogs:

  • I’m very critical. I seem to read the texts with a “prove it to me” approach, as if the author needs to “sell” me on their points and theories. I don’t think that this is a bad approach, though. The points and issues I bring up in my blog posts are supported, either with examples from my classroom or passages from the texts. Don’t we teach our students to prove (support) their thoughts and ideas?
  • I think I’m also defensive in my responses. (Here’s where my critical, “prove it to me” approach can be bad.) Several times throughout my posts I give teachers more credit than I feel that the author(s) are giving us in their books. For instance, when discussing Salvatori and Donahue’s ideas, I pointed out that I would like to think that most English teachers are already implementing the approaches and strategies presented in the text. I mention this again when discussing Gee and his lack of specific references/examples for an English classroom.
  • In addition to pointing out that most teachers are probably already implementing some of the approaches presented, I point out that we may just be using different jargon. For instance, I have several activities that are quite similar to Salvatori and Donahue’s  formal “Difficulty Paper.”
  • I make connections to my own teaching experiences, and I often use some of my own class activities as examples. I share activities that I think are successful, as well as learning experiences and areas in which I need to grow and improve.
  • I also make connections between the texts that we are reading. In particular, I make a lot of connections to Scholes and the expert/novice learner article we read for the first class.
  • Although I am critical, I think that I try to stay positive in my posts. (I really do love the class and the texts we are reading!) I do find that I end each post with my “issue” with (or question about) the text. For instance, “Although I understand and agree with Gee’s principles, I am concerned about…” Or, Along with the praise for Blau’s work […] I do have some questions.” I seem to structure my responses by first discussing what I agree with, and then discussing the issues/questions.

Finally, my blogs are very lengthy. I’m almost always well beyond the suggested word count. I worked on it—here’s 501! 🙂

Noticing what I Notice

In reviewing my blog posts, I notice that I tend to write critically of the text, citing specific portions of the readings to discuss, to make intertextual connections or connections between the reading and what we’ve discussed in class, to relate the readings to personal experiences, and to make decisions on which teaching strategies I would employ in my own classroom.

In my first blog post “Difficulty Paper-like Exercise,” I related the contents of the book The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty to the real-life situation I had of a class where we participated in an exercise similar to a difficulty paper. I noticed that in describing the situation, I recognized certain learning strategies by students, like using formal knowledge, identifying limits/questioning parts of text, and cultural literacy in the context of Linkon. I also identified the New Criticism approach to literature, which would later be a discussion in class.

In my second blog post “Breaking Expectations,” I revisited difficulty as a subject. I also related what we discussed in class regarding teacher’s expectations to the reading, and related my own personal experiences to this as well. I was able to recognize the role of the teacher and student, and critically think of issues relating to this like having false expectations or assumptions. I quoted specific parts of the reading to back up my opinions or to argue against the reading. At the end of the blog post, I was able to decide which strategies learned from the reading that I would choose to apply to my own classroom, as well as the philosophies I liked but thought might not be as practical.

In my third blog “Transference,” I connected the Gee reading to other learning strategies in prior readings, noticing some shared pedagogical philosophies, such as combating “boring” or difficult texts, the need for modeling/demonstration, etc. I brought in someone else’s previous blog post in order to connect it to what I read and learned. I approached Gee critically, questioning the text and bringing in quotes from the text as well. In the end, I couldn’t escape writing about personal experience, which I brought in with a PS note on the publishing industry and educational technology.

Blog 4 “Background Info” contained these same elements of connecting the reading to class discussions and activities, and relating the reading to previous blogs and personal experience. I brought back the idea of New Criticism I had from my first blog and that we discussed in class. I addressed the role of background knowledge in interpreting texts, and related this to the “think aloud” activity in class.

My most recent blog post “Blau Ch. 8” involved referencing a specific part of the reading, the Interpretation Project. Again, I related this to other strategies like the difficulty paper (seems to be my favorite strategy or most blogged about), and I cited other readings like the Linkon article. I noticed different levels of learning and adaptability for students, similar to recognizing learning strategies in my first blog. I again related this to personal experience, and I decided what I would like to try in the classroom.

Blogging about my blog posts has helped me realize that I approach these blogs critically and through interconnection of what I have learned. I think being able to connect the different readings we have is important, but it also makes me realize that this should not be the only strategy for learning.

It’s All About Me

My blogs are about me; my teaching problems and questions. Because this is what I do for a living and because thinking about teaching occupies most of my waking moments, it would make sense that everything I read (including for this class) I try to relate to me (the teacher) and my issues or concerns. It is why I took this course – I want to learn ways to be a more effective teacher.
I’ve written 6 blog posts so far and the majority of each has been related to how I teach. In three I wrote in detail about specific issues/benefits I saw in Blau or Scholes and how I could apply them to my issues. In others I recognized a general framework for the pedagogy of teaching which I had never given a lot of thought to.

Writing blogs helps me to organize my thoughts on a question I might have, or about an idea that developed because of our readings. Putting into words my thoughts on a reading frequently make me view a problem or concept in a way that just thinking about it does not. Maybe it is the concreteness of seeing my ideas in “print” or the tactile exercise of keyboarding. Maybe it’s knowing that somebody else will read these words, so they had better make sense. I’m forced to analyze the details of my thoughts because I am presenting them to a reader.

As I was writing my blog for Week 5, for example, I remember jotting down a few variations on a couple of exercises that Blau discussed. These ideas came to me as I was writing because the writing process forces me to think critically, which frequently triggers other thoughts and creates “new knowledge.”

In rereading my blogs, I also noticed that while the earlier ones are more general in nature, my newer writings are becoming more specific. This is partially do to the course readings, which have moved from the general to the specific, but I also think it is a result of the cumulative effect of the course work – I am starting to see how the concepts we are discussing provide a framework for my teaching and as we progress, I am starting to see how to actually apply them in the classroom.

While this is not part of this assignment, I would like to make a quick note on reading my classmate’s blogs. I usually don’t read what others have posted until after I have posted my blog – I do this so I am not influences by what others have to say. Writing my blogs, as I mentioned, has been a big help in synthesizing information, but reading what others post on the same readings has given me perspectives I don’t think I would have gained otherwise.

Seeing how my classmates respond to the course work makes me to realize that it is not all about me. We are all teachers and seeing how another teacher views a concept is a learning experience. Sometimes others post reactions that are similar to mine, which gives me reinforcement and affirmation for my ideas, but many times I am struck by the variety of insights into the different ways we all teach.

Is there still time to break these blog habits?

I am already embarrassed. First, I super regret noting my interest in “reflective/reflexive writing” assignments in last week’s blog. I meant assignments to assign not to perform. This leads to one of the underlying currents in my blog: my issues interacting with this material as student and teacher. I always relate our class material to how it compares to my own education. Sometimes I am successfully able to focus on how to teach with/through/for, but too often I get stuck in a compare/contrast to how I did or did not experience these new pedagogies of critical, reflexive reading. My status as not-yet-teacher forces doubt to every “How would this work?” moment because I end up overwhelming myself with a “How would anything work?” Most of the time I am blinded or stymied by my naivety: in my imaginary classroom everything I would have liked as a student will work. (My over-enthusiasm and gullible acceptance of most presented approaches in probably more harmful to my developing pedagogical methods, in the long run.) I repeatedly return to my experience as a student, which honestly can only get me so far while wrestling with the material.

Each week I pour over everyone’s writing to primarily digest what everyone thought about the reading and, due to a terrible comparison compulsion, to secretly reconfirm my own blog’s lack of belonging in this smart collaborative website. Already I dread this self-reflexive exploration dragging down the academic excellence of sample reality. I struggled with how write at least 300 words of profound self-analysis when only one descriptive adjective comes to mind: lame. Starting in week four I decided to keep my blogs as close to 300 words as possible because I realized how quickly these readings add up and I didn’t want anyone to waste their time with mine. Unfortunately, that comment is not actually based on analysis, but mere memory of intention during composition. I have already guiltily broken this self-imposed limit, but maybe its okay if I can accomplish the deep engagement with material I desire.

I was also hoping that limiting my word count would force me to leave out lame personal anecdotes. Wrong. I tell dumb stories. Not just in this blog. I consistently catch myself in the middle of boring stories which only mildly relate to the present topic and this sentence is a perfect example. Instead I should encourage the deeper connections of material I found myself missing: when I discussed projective identities I did not even mention Salvatori and Donahue’s treatment of repertoire and identify. My focus on identities of learners and their responsibility as learners is a theme I should be proud of and develop. I have got to cut all the superficial doo-doo just because I am self-conscious of the lack of authority in my teacher-voice. This is also why I stopped commenting on others’ blogs, but now I’ll just ask a little forgiveness when I say something stupid and really take advantage of this awesome collaboration of authorship. Or at least try to. Why does this blog throw me for such a writing loop?

I will be honest, when engaging Blau and Gee’s material I didn’t know what else to add to the conversation. My need to try for either some originality or to build on previous conversations hindered my engaged handling the material in composition. Writing is thinking, so why do I refuse to treat writing as such just because I am intimidated by my audience? I already feel the need to apologize for what a bummer post this will be, even though I have gained a tremendous amount of self-understanding. I try to be positive in my posts, but realize this cheerful tone is not always helpful and sometimes blatantly forced in opposition to what I really mean to communicate. My post on Gee was probably the most ‘critical’ and it honestly sounds like I was just jumping on the anti-Gee train to not single my post out.

My attempts to direct my blogs and wrap them in a tidy “title says it all” bow also limit my interaction with the readings. I want so badly to stick to a ‘thesis’ I only allow myself one or two off-topic interjections. Lame! Blogs are low-stakes writing and, as I have written on my love of these assignments twice, I need to take advantage of all the opportunities presented by low-stakes writing and not get caught up in the idea of academic writing, like I always do. I should be as inclusive in these posts as I wish, instead of constraining myself to the most interesting subject of a full book.

Best insight: I am a vocabulary hound. I especially love the new terms presented in Gee and Salvatori and Donahue, but I really hang on new phrases and the smart ways to express these bigger teaching ideas. My expanded vocabulary helps me internalize these difficult ideas and intangible approaches. I’m going to start my own little vocab-notebook to keep this terms and ideas close at hand and improve my interconnectivity of material. It’s a small step, but maybe I’ll get the hang of education one of these days.

In one word: practicality.

Retracing my blog entries resulted in the sketch of a teacher who is preoccupied with practicality. My focus on practicality takes several forms—I worry about my own adequacy as a teacher, about what can realistically be done with 9th and 10th grade high school students, and about institutional constraints. Each reading is filtered through one of these varieties of the same concern—is it practical for me?

My concerns about my adequacy as a teacher come up when discussing the difficulty paper—I’m unsure that I would be able to teach my students how to notice when they are struggling, or should be struggling. I see myself wrestling with self doubt again when discussing a culturally critical approach to literature. I worry aloud in that post if I am doing my students a disservice if I have ideas about how to change our culture in my heart, even if I don’t tell students what to think. Reflecting on this—and having jumped through hoops on this issue many more times since I wrote that sentence—I think I’ll always wonder about that, and that it’s a good thing. If I am wary of impressing my own ideas rather than letting my students watch their own take shape, I will be more likely to maintain the type of classroom environment that I seek.

I notice that I don’t say “but what about the sort of kids I have?” in any of my blog posts, but as anyone who has heard me talk in class could see, it very clearly guides my thoughts. When I ask if an activity is practical, I’m really asking a lot of things: can I get away with this at my high school? Can I maintain discipline while we do this? Do I have the time or materials to do this with my growing student population? These concerns tie very closely into my concerns about what I can do given my particular institution. Institutional concerns in my posts range from concerns of content to more practical ones, like the amount of time considered acceptable to borrow a novel from the communal book room. I wrote about these concerns several weeks ago, and naturally I’m no more resolved or comfortable with them than I was then. It seems to me though that resolving institutional concerns is largely a matter of doing what a veteran teacher, now 45 years in, told me after a recent meeting on the fresh SOL scores: “We go, we nod and say we’ll do it. Then we go back to our rooms, wait a few weeks for them to forget, and we go back to doing what we know works.”

There has been a shift in my most recent post away from feeling frustrated or disheartened by issues of practicality to cheered by things I found in Blau that I found readily applicable. I felt that I had an answer to what has long been the question of smart but lazy students—“hey, doesn’t it mean whatever I think it means?” I also felt I could use Blau’s habits of successful readers with my students, as well as the general reminder that I need to let my students sink a little if they’re going to learn to swim. I mentioned in my writing that I felt I had some practices down, but that I needed to change some habits of mind, and I’ve seen this change in my teaching. I’m less afraid to stop teaching and to let the students puzzle things out for themselves with the help of my questions instead of my answers.

Somewhat amusingly, another theme is that I comment on my need for practicality several times in my blog entires as I go—I know it’s a topic I bring up a lot. What I had not noticed before is that I’m almost apologetic that I bring up this issue so often. After giving it some thought, I think I feel too similar to the “Well, what do they need to read a novel for if they can’t use it in their future job?” crowd when I ask for practicality. I realize consciously that these are very dissimilar approaches, but it’s a hard feeling to shake even now that I’ve brought it to the surface.

Blogging On Blogging

I really liked being able to go back and take a critical look at what I’ve been thinking and writing about in this class so far. Here are some things that I noticed myself noticing quite a bit in my responses: 

  • Practicality of the reading: In almost every blog post, my comments tended to drift to what I found most useful or practical about the readings—in other words, I commented on the assignments, arguments, and tips that I thought I could translate easily to a classroom. In my post about Elements, I talked about the practical assignments like the Difficulty Papers and the Reading Logs. In my responses to Blau, I commented on the usability of the workshops, specifically by focusing on techniques he uses like the jump-in reading, pointing, and “most important line” writing assignment that I found really helpful. In last week’s post, I talked about both that I admired Blau’s assignment descriptions and how adaptable they seemed to be to a classroom. On the flip side, my main critique of Gee was on his inability to translate the learning principles of video games to the classroom. I wrote, “Where Gee loses me is when he gives little to no tangible examples of how to actually employ these learning principles in the classroom (the only practical example he gives that I’ve seen so far is about the computer game that asks students to elaborate on Galileo’s principles of motion on page 86).” Even as I’m disagreeing with Gee, I am still using this idea of practicality as the overarching ideal that determines how I value the readings.
  • “I am a new teacher”: I’m somewhat surprised and maybe slightly embarrassed to see how many times I’ve used some version of the phrase “as a new teacher” in my responses. Going back through my posts, I see that I’ve used this phrase in 3 out of the 5 posts. I think using this phrase goes back to the practicality aspect of my posts. In constantly writing “I’m a new teacher” in my posts, I think I’m justifying (to myself, perhaps?) using the “practicality” filter in my readings and responses.
  • Starting with something I liked/was surprised by: In most of my posts, I focused the bulk of my comments on something I liked in the reading. In Elements, I commented on how Salvatori and Donahue “clearly promote the act of writing as a critical thinking tool in the study of literature.” In response to Linkon’s article, I commented on how I was drawn to the kind of classroom where the students are apprentices and the teachers guide their students to becoming expert readers themselves. For Gee, I commented on his strength of describing with incredible detail the examples from the games that demonstrate the corresponding learning principle. In response to Blau, I talked about practicality. Starting with something I liked, for most of these responses, shows me that I’ve been really excited about what we’ve been reading in class. This kind of response technique highlights my tendency towards picking out the elements that I find most relevant to me while reading for class. Perhaps, it also shows that I’m not as critical as I should be when I read for class.
  • Applying readings to my experiences in the classroom: In two of my posts (Linkon and Blau), I connected some aspect of the reading to my own experiences as a student of English in high school and college. For both posts, the connection I made was how my experience did not really compare to what the writer was advocating. For Linkon, I commented that I didn’t experience an “apprentice-like” classroom until my graduate school studies. For Blau, I commented that while I have had assignments like Blau’s before, they were never as detailed or contextualized as what Blau advocates. Both of these comments suggest my tendency to both agree with and get excited by the readings for this class, particularly when the writer advocates a pedagogy that I see a need for, from my own experience.

Again with the Bullet Points!

Looking back over my blogs so far, I see several tendencies in my response to our class readings:

  1. Mostly, I find myself sounding (and feeling) really enthusiastic about what we have been reading. I know I am less inclined to criticize the books we read in class, and instead I try really hard to find the positives. The only blog that leans toward being negative is my response to Gee’s book, and that list of “points of contention” likely stemmed from my own concern over perpetuating the often-harmful lifestyle that goes with video game addiction (or any addiction for that matter). At the same time, I found merit in the book and made a point to say so at the end of the blog, as if I felt it necessary to end on a positive note. (Pretty typical for me.) Still, I see that I sometimes ignore the aspects that I don’t find particularly helpful or engaging in the books we read, in favor of those that are more helpful and engaging. I suppose this is, in part, my own distaste for students ignoring the positive in the things we read, as well as my own desire to get something out of everything I take the time to read. At the same time, I find myself wishing I leaned toward the more skeptical because the whole positive shmositive thing gets a little old. And here I go again, ending on a positive note (which I just can’t help): I have enjoyed the reading because, for once, the educational gurus whose books we are reading actually seem to propose relevant and useful methodology.
  2. As other bloggers have said before me in this week’s blog, I have also consistently provided anecdotal evidence to explain my take on a particular text and its ideas for the classroom. For example, in week two I discussed the eye-opening observation I had earlier this year that reminded me how important it is to provide students with context prior to handing them a college-level novel to read at home. Likewise, in week three, I shared some of the conversations I had been having with my AP students about the background and experiences each of them brings to a text, as well as the idea that there is no one right way to read Hamlet’s behavior. In week four, I talked about reviewing with students Jeopardy-style and how that kind of engaging lesson “tricks them into learning.” In week five, I went into a long diatribe about my students missing the important use of irony in “The War Works Hard” and my own struggle to defend taking points off missing that sarcasm. Lastly, in week 6, I did not go into any particular anecdote (for once!), but I did comment on how Blau’s ideas coincided with some of my own teaching philosophy. Interestingly, I often use anecdotes to aid my teaching as well as to liven up the learning environment, especially when I am not the only one sharing my relevant anecdotes. Often, anecdotes lead students to make important connections, both with the literature and the teacher as a human being.
  3. I also see myself connecting scattered thoughts with the bullet points or numbering you see in today’s entry. I can’t help it—I like bullet points/numbering way too much. Much like the agenda I put on the board for each class or the way my mind creates its own bulleted lists for everyday life, my blogs so far have reflected my desire to cover a lot of ground all in one blog (or in one class or in one day). The type-A planner, combined with the talker in me, makes a blog a perfect place for me to demonstrate my ability to multi-task (or my inability NOT to multi-task) as well as to jump from one point to the next with the ease of adding yet another bullet point. Who doesn’t love the inherent organization a once-very-jumbled set of notes suddenly takes on when it is suddenly put to bullet points?
  4. Lastly, I always go over the suggested word limit. Here I go again.

Reading and writing (not so much arithmetic)

In looking back through my blog posts so far this semester, I see that I’ve talked a lot about working through difficulty by writing, and about the connections between reading and writing in general. In Week 2, I talked about Difficulty Papers; in Week 3, I talked about the Oxford system and how I studied a work of literature by researching and writing a paper about it; in Week 4, I talked mostly about embracing difficulty and confusion in texts; in Week 5, I talked about understanding what you read by writing about it in reading logs or more casual writing assignments; and last week, I talked about Blau’s inventive ideas for student writing in a literature course, including non-thesis-based writing assignments and collections of thoughts or “noticings.”

I’m not very surprised by this since I just took 615 (the composition proseminar) last semester — student writing is fresh on my mind. I will admit, though, that my own writing is also on my mind. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed to mention that I have learned a lot about my own reading and writing techniques and strategies in the first six weeks of this course. And I have learned ways to improve them. I may be learning how to teach others, but I am also definitely, definitely learning to improve my own interpretation skills.

I think I’ve also focused on learning through writing because I like what so many of the authors that we’ve read have had to say about working through difficulty this way. As a student who admits being intimidated in some undergraduate literature courses by the silence of the classroom after the professor says, “So, what did you think about Kafka?”, I was excited by many of the exploratory writing assignments discussed in some of the readings. “No-stakes” or “low-stakes” writing is very appealing to me, and I can see how it would be appealing to students of literature, especially high schoolers or undergraduates not specializing in English fields.

In general, I like the idea of writing as a process not only in and of itself (a writing process), but also as part of a process of learning about something else — literature. Personally, I love to read, and I love to write (I guess no big surprise since I’m in this classroom!), so I love seeing the two cross-pollinate and work together.

Learning Something New…About Myself

Wow. When reviewing my posts for the past 6 weeks, I have definitely noticed some recurring themes I had not been expecting. I was expecting that I would talk about all of the readings. I was also expecting that I would have mentioned some ideas I found useful. What I was not expecting were two things that I mentioned each time that I did not really realize I kept repeating:

1. I told a story about myself, or at least mentioned something personal, in every post. This struck me as unusual, since I usually shy away from writing about myself, particularly when I know other people are going to read it. Perhaps this means I’m growing more self-confident in my own ability to express personal feelings in writing, which has always been a goal of mine, and something I had not realized I am now better able to do than I was when I was 13 and cringed because my teacher made us write a personal essay, and I was embarrassed to have anyone read it. Haha. There went another personal story!

2. I have spoken a lot about ideas I have found practical to apply to my classroom, and for ideas that were too advanced for my class, I tried to work out ways I could adapt them for my class. This was interesting because I can really see myself learning and trying to implement things I read about each week. As a second year teacher (and one who has no teaching degree), I am trying very hard to learn everything I can about this profession. While many things I do in the classroom work for my students, I have seen a great many things I can improve on to give them more of an edge and a love of literature. Using the Blog as a way to work through myown “difficulty” of adapting ideas for the middle-school classroom has been most helpful.

This has, by far, been the most practical class I’ve ever taken. It’s exciting for me, as I was rather thrown into the world of teaching, without a very good lifejacket. I have loved every minute of it, and the people with whom I work have been more than helpful; so thus far, it has been a very positive experience. But until now, the only things I have relied on for lesson plans have been reading books on my own about teaching, thinking back to my own middle school and high school experience, and using my own creativity. It’s refreshing to be in a classroom with people both in my position and people of experience. It’s fun to listen to other people’s ideas on teaching, as well as reading what the professionals have to say. I must admit, I feel far more confident in my own teaching ability now than I did six months ago. Part of that is experience, but part of that is also the excitement of learning and implementing new ideas. So I look forward to learning more and growing in my chosen profession!

Sorry it is so long, but it is about my favorite topic……

Me, me, me, me, me.  Going back and looking over the posts, what I have noticed is that they are all for the most part about me.  Other than the Week 1 reading where I connected blindness to novice reading, pretty much every post has been about my experiences, and what I saw in my classroom, and my opinions on the usefulness of the various readings throughout the semester.

However, I do not think that this is necessarily self-indulgent or egotistical (though some of you may disagree).  I think that it stems from what is possibly the most important development for me in regards to English 610 this semester.  That would be reflection.  Specifically, that would be reflection about my teaching experiences, my teaching philosophy, and my teaching practices.  When I first started teaching oh so many years ago in that long forgotten year 2006 I had a head full of the newest pedagogical practices and the idealism to believe that I was going to adopt all of them and be some sort of super teacher.  When I actually started teaching, it did not take me too long to settle for maintaining control of 32 hormonal teenagers for an hour and fifteen minutes at a time.  Not that I completely abandoned everything I had learned or did not want to be super teacher (I still do), but I realized early on that there were any number of obstacles in the way.

Somewhere along the way I developed my own personal style of teaching, and I think that is normal.  It worked for me, I think my students learned some stuff and seemed to more or less enjoy my classes.  However, once I had settled on that style I stopped thinking about how to improve on my teaching.  Lesson planning became mechanical for me, everything fit into what

I had decided would be my practice.  Again, I don’t think they were bad lesson plans, but there was a certain rigidness to how I planned units.  At some point I just stopped reflective practice (even though it had been one of the biggest stressors in PSU’s teaching program).  When I started grad school for literature, teaching got pushed back even farther in my brain.  I was constantly reflecting on literature, and literary theory, and even how I could use some of the stuff I learned about literature in my classroom, but I was not actually thinking about teaching practices or philosophy, just content matter.

Other teachers never really talked about these types of things.  From what I can tell of faculty lunch rooms, teachers mainly talk about their own children and American Idol.  All of the seminars and professional development meetings I had to go to did not really spark my interest either.  They always seemed poorly run and taught by people who had not seen the inside of a classroom in over a decade.  They were something to get through so I could get back to grading.

However, now as I look back over these blogs, I realize that thinking about teaching, reflecting on my practices is now actively part of my consciousness again.  The readings, and even more so the writing about the readings has made me form an opinion on a wide range of pedagogical issues.  Honestly, at times, it made me wonder if I have been a bad teacher over the years because I was on auto-pilot (though usually only for a second, I feel pretty good about what I have done).  Also, as I begin to try to incorporate some of these ideas into my teaching, I notice that my style of teaching, which had been set, is slowly changing.  It is adapting and hopefully getting better.  It makes me think of something else that I learned my first year that I have forgotten: we never actually are finished learning about teaching.  It is a process and skill that you continue to hone over your career.  However, to hone it, you need to constantly be reflecting on it, a lesson I forgot.  Looking over the blogs, and now writing this one, I have remembered it and will try not to forget it again.


Metacognition is a difficult thing to achieve.   Taking yourself out of your head to analyze your own thought processes does not come naturally.  I like that this week we were required to look back over our writing because it revealed to me patterns of which I had not been aware.  While writing my blog posts, I was able to notice a few things about my writing process.  I found that very often I began my blog with one idea in mind, or perhaps a handful of ideas that were loosely related, and more often than not, ended up focusing my post on something different.  Writing was a means for me to sort through my thoughts and arrive at a somewhat cohesive, formulated idea.  I think this has been the most valuable thing about blogging in this class – I come to a clearer understanding of a text through the process of writing about it.  Go figure.

While reading over my blog posts from this semester, I discovered some patterns that I had not been aware of while I was actually writing them.  I noticed that I tended to incorporate three things in nearly every one of my posts.  The first was that I often made reference to either topics from our class discussions or from other articles we had read for the class.  Making these connections is obviously a way for me to create meaning.  Anther thing I noticed was that I asked a lot of questions.  I did not ask many questions in my posts about Blau (possibly because I found this book easy to read because of its practical application), but in some of the other posts I did.  For example, in my post about Gee there are six question marks, and in the one over Sherry Linkon’s article there are eight.  I guess I really took Salvatori and Donahue’s suggestion seriously about generating questions to find meaning.  Finally, I noticed that each of my posts ended in the same way – with an attempt to relate the ideas and questions put forth in the blog post to the challenge of teaching.   This class has obviously been making me think, and I am happy that the blogging assignment serves as a tracking device of sorts, allowing me to follow the development of my thoughts about the teaching practices and theories that we are exploring.


The first thing I notice when revisiting my old blog posts is that my attitude toward my students seems to have shifted slightly.  I haven’t done a 180 as a teacher, but my perspective has changed a bit such that I’m willing to give my students the benefit of the doubt more.  In my first blog entry, I focused on my students’ weak reading comprehension skill s, but through assigned readings, class discussions, others’ comments, etc. I’ve started to see my students as able readers (though perhaps unpracticed in the “traditional” methods of literary analysis).  I hope I can maintain an open mind as I continue teaching—especially as I expect there will be many times when I’m frustrating and/or overwhelmed.

Another common characteristic of my blog entries is that I’m always searching for practical applications:  How can I use this concept or approach in my classroom?  (Hence my appreciation of Linkon and Blau and my frustration with Gee.)  On several occasions I go on tangential explanations of how I might incorporate the ideas I’ve read about into my own classroom lessons (with Krik? Krak!, Things Fall Apart, All Quiet on the Western Front, etc.).  I’m always on the lookout for new and better ways of presenting/discussing the literature I teach.  Part of the reason for my “practical application radar” is that I like to simplify complex concepts/texts, summarizing the main idea or reducing many ideas into the essence of the argument.  For example, in Blau’s TLW, I had to keep a list of the best ideas I came across, and then I had to reduce the list even more when writing my blog.  (A second and perhaps equally valid reason for my quest to find practical applications is that I’m in grad school to become a better teacher, and when I write those painful tuition checks every semester, I like knowing I have at least a handful of new ideas to bring into the classroom.  Maybe not the most selfless motivation, but it helps alleviate the financial pain.)

On a related note, I noticed that I’ve made lists in some posts.  This doesn’t surprise me because I’m generally a list person, but what interests me is that the blog lists seem to be a way for me to wrestle with information overload.  As I just said, I like to have a handful of ideas to take away from each reading, but on the occasions when I feel I have fewer ideas (as in the case of Gee) or more than a handful (Blau), I need a way to process that information.  I recently asked my students to make a similar list after reading a play.  They were to list everything they had learned throughout the unit about themselves as readers and/or about how to read literature (not about the play’s plot).  Some students had long, unwieldy lists of rambling thoughts; others were short bulleted lists of single words or short phrases.  I’m even more fascinated by the idea of lists now.  I’ll have to keep my eye on this.

The last thing that really jumped out at me is actually very simple, but it took me a while to notice that I was noticing it.  When I write, I refer to the text—both general assertions made by the writers and specific quotations with page citations.  I read through my entries several times before realizing that this common thread ran throughout all of them.  When I first realized what I was seeing, I thought, Obviously I refer to the text.  That’s what good readers/writers do.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there’s a lot behind referencing the text—a lot of skills, values, and assumptions that my students do not necessarily have.  To me, going back to the text is a method of validating my own ideas (even when they are in disagreement with those presented in the text) because I have a point of reference, a passage I can point to as evidence when developing my thoughts.  I would write more about referencing the text, but the last thing I noticed is that I always go WAY over the word limit.  (Clearly I have no self-control when it comes to spouting off my own ideas!)

So to sum it up, I think I’ve learned a lot more about HOW I think/process/respond to texts than about WHAT I have to say.  I was worried that all I would do as I reviewed my posts was cringe at my stupid ideas, but the things that jumped out at me most were process-oriented tricks or tasks that I don’t really even think about as I’m writing.  In short, I can definitely see the benefit of having students perform this kind of writing audit (be it based on reading logs, essays, or any other type of writing).

Man in the Mirror (Starting with…)

Looking back over my six previous blog posts, there are two major themes that emerge under one umbrella, and that umbrella is really personal connection.

The personal connection plays out in two ways.  First, I continue to return to the importance of keeping my content relevant to my students.  This probably comes up for me a lot  because I taught in a school that was mainly composed of immigrant families, and for whom typical canon-type material was often difficult to for students to understand.  Years later, I still suffer from memories of the frustrations I encountered teaching standard texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird.  My largely Latino population just didn’t “get” these books at all.  I didn’t have much choice in which novels I taught, but my greater latitude in areas such as poems and short stories is a way in which I might have increased relevancy for my students.  I did try, at the time, but you can only do so much on the first and second and even third pass at this job.  If I were to teach these classes again, I would try to improve in that area.  This theme of relevancy probably resonates more strongly with me than with some other class members who have students more familiar with white culture and American pop culture, as well…and who speak English!

The idea of making a connection plays out for me, personally as well.  I consistently write a blog entry that draws upon something we read that week and then finds some personal connection to a key concept or idea.  In her book Talking From 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen explains that, unlike men,  women tend to show sympathy with another person’s problems by listening to them complain and then telling about a matching problem of their own (she calls this “Troubles Talk”).  If that’s true, then I definitely fit the model!  My way of connecting with the suggested classroom practices is by digging into my past as a teacher and finding an example where that practice came into play for me – either when I tried to use it (such as the attempt to get my students to re-read texts) OR when I might have had better insight and unsuccessfully did something else (such as my recurring issues with teaching Jane Eyre).  Some of my blog posts are a reflection upon past practices that I enacted as an inexperienced teacher who had very little formal training or support.  In the case of Sonny’s Blues, this craving for connection manifested itself in the form of my personal link to Sonny’s experience.   During Gee’s week, I drew upon my own experience of playing the September 12th game.  In all cases, I would rather think about how the readings relate to my own experience than talk about sticking with theories or ideas I haven’t yet tried out.

What do I think of this obsession with personal connection?  In many ways, I’m still trying to recover from three very tough years in a failing school, where I received little support and a lot of responsibility. I remember a few sweet victories, but I am still trying to find a way to once again believe that success is possible with most students.  I am trying, through my discussion of past failures and personal feelings, to find new ways to attack problems that still haunt me.  Hopefully, as the class continues, I can continue to envision new and positive ways to get back to the business of teaching.