Teaching Literacy

Since it’s the last week and any topic is up for grabs, I wanted to ask about something related to my final essay.

What kind of reading teaches the best writing?

Our Fish reading from last week made the point that reading doesn’t necessarily make someone a better writer, that working with what we’ve read will improve our writing. He even advocates practices attempting to recreate those styles, although I personally have always found those practices awfully tedious.

There are a lot of angles to this question. Does entertaining writing like stories or novels teach us better than articles or texts? Do older novels work better than recent one? Why?

Are they equally helpful if the method is right, or do they each teach us something different? What can we only learn from particular types of reading? Or is it possible to learn anything from anywhere?

Rethinking Teaching

In the Hayles article for this week, there’s a discussion of the difference between deep attention and hyper attention, and the noticeable change in younger generations. Most media (video games, movies, music) seems to pull towards hyper attention, which calls for quick reflexes, but requires heavy stimulation. Studies also found feelings of freedom and achievement motivated a majority of video game players to focus for long periods of time on their games.

From the standpoint of a high school teacher, how might these gradual changes impact the classroom? Should teachers try to enforce methods of deep attention, try to combine the two, or teach in a hyper mode that most closely reflects the students’ typical environment? Given the broad needs and variable resources available for high school students, many of the higher education solutions may offer a helpful direction, but may not be directly applicable.

Also, to tie in with previous readings, how might these shifts impact standardized tests, which are notorious for being time consuming and almost completely lacking any sort of meaningful stimulation?

Restructuring Literacy

In the Cornelius article, as well as the Lu article, those looking to attain a certain level of literacy are met with breakthroughs that change their view of literacy. For slaves, this was marked by the transition that comes with attaining literacy. Sella Martin described it as a “click of comprehension” the first time he was able to both read and comprehend written words (Cornelius 71). In the Lu article, she described a similar feeling upon realizing “social class” and the adjective “classy” are actually similar concepts. The distance between the two had been accentuated by the separation of “home” and “school” ideals, as well as English being a second language for her.

In both scenarios, reaching a new understanding involves restructuring the way they see and use literacy. For Lu, it was steeped in connotations and the ideology behind words. For many of the slaves in Cornelius’s work, it was about consolidating and expanding a new skill.

In both of these instances, however, these revelations are coming at what would be, to most of us, elementary-high school levels of achievement. How does restructuring come into play at higher levels? What sort of learning has caused you to restructure your literacy, or how you view it? How do these instances of restructuring change the way we pursue certain literacies?

Literacy Ambassadors

In class Thursday, we discussed different communities, and whether it was right to impose different views of literacy upon them, even in attempts to educate. In our reading by Vieira for this week, the relationship between immigration and literacy was discussed. In many of the cases, literacy and bureaucratic measures made it difficult for immigrants to become citizens and help their families immigrate with them. In a few unfortunate circumstances, their misfortunes were abused by others who took advantage of their expired visas or imperfect English.

While outside resources to improve their English and navigate the government bureaucracy would be helpful, there are some potential conflicts. As we discussed Thursday, even good intentions might have negative results on a community’s identity, self-esteem, and culture.

Would it be appropriate to interfere in this situation? Would a hypothetical literacy ambassador be well-received, or would they be seen as an agent of colonization? Does the identity of the ambassador impact the situation, and who would be likely to be well-received, and who might be rejected by the community?

Substituting Literacies

Both of our readings this week featured multiple instances of somewhat unorthodox methods to replace traditional literacy. In the reading on developmental literacy, stepping-stones such as the ‘elemeno’ to replace L, M, N, and O and the use of letters as stand-ins for letters (R=Are, U=You) allow children to communicate without a complete understanding. In the case study featuring Jenny, she used colors and shapes to bypass the need to read signs or labels. All of these cases use patterns recognition and memorization to transcribe and translate messages, in the same way the literate typically read letters or numbers.

My questions, then, are based around the legitimacy of these types of literacy. Can a shortcut to literacy still be considered literacy? If someone is able to perform basic functions by using tricks such as these to bypass the need to read, is there an absolute need for complete literacy? How might the culture of Jenny and her family change if all of them were to become literate?

In many of our readings, literacy has been associated with a change in status and thinking. In a culture that is predominately literate, would an adult becoming literate later in life experience any sort of change, or would these patterns of behavior and culture be too ingrained?

Question: How do individual circumstances change our views?

In the Rose and Akinnaso readings for Tuesday, it is made clear they are ‘different’ from those around them. For Akinnaso, this is explicit. He is one of the most educated people in his entire village–his literacy achievements alone carry enough weight to immediately delegate foreign affairs to his handling. As for Mike Rose, he is the child of semi-literate parents (both have had some schooling, but not past what would generally be a middle school education). Among his classmates, he is at different times a high-track student placed with low-track students, and a student with a partial low-track education placed in the higher track, giving him an outsider’s view of both tracks.

Additionally, both take it upon themselves to continue their education on their own time. Akinnaso orders catalogs from London and goes out of town to find more Shakespeare and atlases. Rose carefully experiments with chemistry sets and other potentially explosive substances out of curiosity, and later joins Mr. MacFarland’s ‘salon’ to further explore avant-garde literature outside of the classroom. Mike Rose is an extremely special case, having been kept on the low-track due to a clerical error, then promoted upon its discovery.

Their education, while opening up further opportunities, both elevates them in society (literacy as a state of grace) and alienates Akinnaso, who begins to question his ancestral customs and is monitored closely by his father.

Because of these collective experiences, these two are somewhat outsiders to their own culture. Their experiences and upbringing similar, but with occasional diverging points. Additionally, all of the research and reports we’ve read in class have come from those elevated and given extreme status due to their education. Because of these achievements, we trust them to accurately represent these dilemmas.¬†None of these reports were directly written by the illiterate.

How does the literacy of these writers effect their ability to evaluate literacy? Are they more likely to stress or down-play the importance of literacy because of this? Also, in the cases of Rose and Akinnaso, do their positions as ‘outsiders’ change the way they view those around them? Do they inadvertently incorporate the myth of literacy into their analyses?

Akinnaso remarks towards the end of his reading that individualism is seemingly a result of read and writing (153). Do you agree with this? How might his unique position in his culture influence this view? Is it consistent with our previous readings?

Literacy Memory

One particularly early memory I have of literacy is from my third¬†year of preschool (I started early and stuck around for a while–the joke my father always made was that the preschool ‘red shirted’ me because I was such a good kid), when we had just started to learn the alphabet. It was easy enough once you got the hang of the song and all of that, but I had a weird quirk of always separating the letters by what I perceived their genders to be, and would always color them pink/purple or blue/green accordingly. To me, the girl letters were A, B, E, I, K, P, S, V, X, Y, and Z. If I think about it, I can still see some indescribable, but inherently male/female aspect to letters, although I still can’t really explain how or why. I later had the same experience with numbers, strangely. My pet theory is that it came from seeing those little anthropomorphic pictures of letters we would color when we learned about them one at a time, but I think this might even predate that.

I try to avoid unnecessarily giving genders to letters and numbers now, but I still support bringing coloring back into the classroom from time to time.