Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Literacy and Hair Gel

“Reading does not consist merely of decoding the written word or language; rather, it is preceded by and intertwined with knowledge of the world. Language and reality are dynamically interconnected;” Paulo Freire wrote this in a 1998 article entitled, Literacy: Reading the Word and World. In this eloquent piece Freire goes onto tell the story of how he gained a sense of literacy while growing up in rural Brazil. He led me to believe that the connection between the real world and the world of words must come naturally. Only through this enlightening experience does one truly appreciate literature or become literate. Reading divorced from content or what he calls the "real world" seems a meaningless task.

The problem that Carol Santa proposes in her paper, Adolescent literacy: A position paper (1999) , is that high schools tend to departmentalize reading to a select few people. They tear the responsibility of facilitating reading skills away from the content teacher and anoint reading teachers with the sole care of literacy for our HS youth. The teacher according to Friere has a higher calling though, ‘…teaching adults to read and write as a political act, an act of knowledge, and therefore a creative act.” We are all teachers of reading regardless of content area.

Dan O’Brien adds yet another aspect of literacy that most H.S. teachers and all standardized tests seem to devalue. Published on the website http://www.readingonline.org/, O’Brien gives us concrete examples of how, when given an opportunity to express their literacy in the forms of media relevant to their surroundings, even “at risk” students can flourish. Students produced documentaries and multimedia presentations are undeniably a high form of literacy that needs to be valued as a legitimate way to internalize and rationalize the world around them.

We do not even have to go that far to see how students become inspired and flourish when we offer them their media outlet to do so. At the Queens High School of Teaching, Brian Eddelson's mass media class demonstrated an outstanding level of literacy when they "pitched" their movie ideas to the group of gathered judges in the distance learning room. Through photos, song, humor (at one point hair gel was used by one group) and brief one page summaries students were able to express their ideas to a group of QHST judges.

Carol Santa makes some real suggestions as to how to inject a more traditional "print rich" literacy into the HS curriculum. She makes suggestions to everything from dedicating time each day for reading and allowing for student choice through classroom libraries. NYC public schools seem to be ahead of the bell curve when it comes to her suggestions for reform.

I am looking forward to PD Day on Thursday. I want to hear about the new ways we can infuse the sense of reading into our craft. I also would love for us to open the conversation up around literacy. I do believe that most of the reluctant readers are simply people whom do not have the real world connect to what is be put in front of them. Possibly having students read other student’s work off the QHST Literary Magazine Blog might be an more effective way to engage the disconnected reader.

As reluctant as some students may be they are all readers.

When I look at our DEAR program and our classroom libraries and read the article by Carol Santa I am once again impressed by our school.


Ms. Mayo said...

Great post, Brown.

Reminds me of an excerpt from NCTE's Council Chronicle that I sent to Nigel for the PIS regarding our kids' literacy (blogs, webpages, etc.). It may not be what we're comfortable with yet, but it's the way to go if we want to grab them.

Brody gave me an article from this month's Educational Leadership on this topic. We'll share it at the PD. I think we're naive if we ignore the world in favor of the word.


W Brown said...

As I am reading your comment I can see how this is going to be a tough idea to sell. It sounds alot like "Authentic" literacy. I really do not envy Mayo and Brody presenting this concept to the more traditional teachers on PD day.

W Brown said...

Here's the abstract of the article Brody suggested from Educational Leadership.

The Old Way of Reading and the New

Valerie Ruth Kirschenbaum

Recent research indicates that Americans are reading less than they have in the past, as black-and-white text competes with more visually exciting media, such as the Internet, movies, and television. As a solution to this problem, the author proposes that books and instructional materials engage readers visually through the use of color and design. As a high school English teacher, she has used technology to design instructional materials with colored words, various font sizes, and eye-catching imagery. Such materials, she asserts, greatly improve student engagement and achievement. Kirschenbaum calls for a paradigm shift in the visual experience of reading. Her article is a demonstration of the “multi-sensory” writing that she advocates; she designed the layout and illustrations to support her theme.

goddess said...

I really like the descriptions and definitions of reading and literacy. Through my experiences that is why learning music is like learning another language. It's decoding symbols into sound, but also an overall understanding of what the sound is communicating, the styles it is emulating and the motivations behind it.

I also agreed with the comment "They tear the responsibility of facilitating reading skills away from the content teacher and anoint reading teachers with the sole care of literacy for our HS youth." I'm just out of college and don't for one minute pretend to know it all. But where I went to college, they taught us to teach our content and reinforce others such as reading. In my music classes students have to read and write everyday, there's also a math question using music notes. I try to show them that what they are learning is used not just in the classroom where they learned it but in all things.

I teach in a title 1 district. For a lot of the students the only way to get through to them or get them to do work is to educe what they already know. Let them teach you about things. I think the multi-media forum is a great way to do that.