Friday, November 16, 2007

1 down, 2 to go

I'm writing from NYC, where yesterday, Rebecca, Cam, and I did our first presentation on book clubs at the NWP conference. Our segment was part of a larger session on "hard talk." It went very well (especially considering that we were operating on very little sleep, and Rebecca was operating on none at all thanks to a delayed flight), and we had a good response from others who thought the work was interesting and important. Our solo session at NCTE is Sunday.

Even though I thought I would NEVER finish putting the Keynote presentation together, doing so was worth it. I discovered that we weren't just making this up--there's a lot of substantial, significant work here. Below, I'm pasting in one of our handouts that's just a list of the questions, topics, and issues that kids in both Cam and Rebecca's classes have raised in the last semester. As you look at their comments, please remember that the comment from one group (reading Wringers, I believe) was written by an ELL kid who Cam says came a very long way in the course of the year in terms of his phonetic awareness, so you'll see some inventive spelling there.

When I get back to the Fort, I want to write more about how the search for a "civil discourse" definition has become even more interesting as I've enlisted the help of multiple reference librarians who've run into the same challenges I have--lots of invocations, few--if any--definitions. There have been some significant surprises along the way, though, and I think I've arrived at a cool solution to the problem.

Gotta get off here now. Nothing's free in NYC, including wireless! Here's the handout:


• Is peace possible?
• Why don’t teachers talk about “real things” in school [in re students’ feelings of isolation from current politics, esp. the Iraq war]?
• Is the Bible “true” [in a literal sense]?
• If a friend is hurting herself, what should you do? What would we do?
• What would it be like to be disliked?
• Can love overcome fear [in re interracial relationships]?
• Is punishment necessary? Is revenge inevitable? What role does human nature play in the ability to forgive [in re circumstances of war]?
• What does it mean to “make a difference”? If you can’t change everything, do small changes matter [in re non-violent resistance]?
• What’s the relationship between fate, foreknowledge, and free will? Would foreknowledge result in the ability/responsibility to change the future?
• What’s the line between parental responsibility and a child’s independence?
• How do parents influence/attempt to control their children’s identities?
• Is there such a thing as civic silence?
• What’s the difference between arguing and disagreeing?
• What role should art [and literature, in particular] play in our culture? (“Art should shock you.” – 10th-grade student)
• How has my religion influenced my views on sexuality [and homosexuality in particular]?

trust, betrayal, death, euthanasia, “grey areas” (good/evil, right/wrong), disabilities, divorce, infidelity, parental abandonment, friendship, technology, racism, war, cutting, censorship, sexuality and identity, the emotional and physical effects of violence, power of organized religion, idea of “original sin,” semantics, technology, personal connections, historical connections (e.g., genocide, Ghandi, Hitler, etc.), multiple allusions (e.g., quantum physics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Icarus myth, thematically-related movies, literary and biblical texts, etc.)

dealing with people’s feelings vs. ignoring them – “One of the tough topics that we talked about was people’s feelings…My book club dealt with this problem by talking about it and not just egnoring it. We talked about how people have felt like that and what they have done because we didn’t want to hide from that topic for the rest of our lives.” (excerpted from Book Club Discussion record, 6th-grade group reading Wringers by Jerry Spinelli)

religion – “The cherectors talked about the bibl and what it said. Riligin is controversial and people biliv in what thay biliv. We talked about what we bilived.” (excerpted from Book Club Discussion record, 6th-grade group reading Bridge from Terabithia)

influence of one’s background on one’s empathy for characters and capacity to connect to texts – “We can’t relate personally to their experiences, but we can understand.” (from “Mapping the Terrain” project, 10th-grade group reading In the Time of the Butterflies)

sexual identity – “We spent some time talking about if he [Jacob, the narrator] is beginning to think that he may be gay or if he could have been born that way. We felt this was really relavent to his lack of self confidence around Daan & in general. He might be wrestling with himself trying to re-define who he is.” (excerpted from “What My Group Thinks” column of Dailies, 10th-grade boy reading Postcards from No Man’s Land)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

draft of deadline draft

The CSUWP Advanced Institute crew is meeting today to work deadline drafts of our current research. What follows is a *very* rough draft of my deadline draft, posted only for ease of sharing with my inquiry group. (This is not a disclaimer--which is against CSUWP rules :)--, just a warning; seriously, I haven't even edited it yet.)

How do we use edgy literature to help students engage in
civil discourse (i.e., productive conversations
about culturally sensitive issues) during book clubs?

How I Became Interested in This Topic
I have been working with students in book clubs for over a decade in my and other classrooms. When I moved to the university level, however, the books changed because the contexts have changed. As I’ve continued to work with secondary-aged students outside my own classroom, I and the teachers I’ve worked with have been able to move beyond the bookroom and the typically canonical texts housed there to select more contemporary books. Although the subject matter of canonical books is also often quite edgy (think about Shakespeare’s fascination with power, Hawthorne’s preoccupation with sex, Steinbeck’s journeys into the nature of good and evil), the language is less accessible to students. Not so with more contemporary books.
As a result of this transparency, the nature of students’ book club discussions changed as well. Especially in recent years in Rebecca Garrett’s 10th-grade pre-Advanced Placement class (see also her article in this volume), we noted that students dealt with difficult topics in less than productive ways: they often giggled and moved on when characters were conflicted about their sexuality, for instance, or they argued, or they ignored such subjects altogether. As we observed this pattern over multiple semesters, we decided to investigate why in more intentional ways.

What My Research Looks Like
Multiple contexts
Data Collected
Analysis Processes – Open to focused coding, inquiry group

What I’m Learning through My Research
1. First and foremost, in answer to my overall research question, “Yes, kids can really do this!” as my friend Louann Reid recently put it when I was talking with her about this work. Furthermore, unlike more conventional dialectic models familiar in our culture (e.g., debate, op-ed columns, etc.), the book club approach is dialogic. In other words, it is geared toward connection as opposed to argument, conversation as opposed to debate, empathy for others’ perspectives rather than conquest.
2. Book clubs allow students to use literacy practices for civic consequences—that is, to surf, read, write, talk, listen, draw—in order to engage in civil discourse about culturally sensitive issues. This work is rooted in social justice principles, but unlike much of the other work done in this area, it takes place within the classroom and is thus immediately consequential.
3. Collaborative conversation is central to this process because “all of us know more than any one of us.” The literacy tools students use in book clubs, like Dailies, discussion records, maps make this collaboration visible and function as springboards into new understanding. (QUESTION: Is this the place to make a list of the big questions and issues they brought up during this process?)
4. Perpetual scaffolding by both teachers and students is essential for this kind of work to take place. We were explicit with this initially (e.g., introduction of the project, no-book BCs, norming, early meta-talk) then gradually embedded more implicit scaffolding throughout the process (sticky note bookmark prompts, discussion record prompts, Dailies, drop-ins during BCs & map-making, our and peers’ questions during presentations).
5. Multimodal tools enable an elegant intertextuality among responses that students can synthesize into their final projects. Furthermore, as Rebecca and I discovered when creating our own map to report our findings to the students, projects requiring multimodal responses challenge one to think in different ways.

1. What about the primacy of the social and the performative aspect of Book Clubs? Something happens from the time students make individual, private responses to texts in their Dailies to the time that make more public responses in the hybrid context of book clubs to their corporate responses in the public context of the whole class? What gets glossed and what gets exaggerated as a result of social posturing, gender, prior classroom roles, and so forth? We know that something happens; we’re just not sure why that is. Typically, though, students gloss the complexity of their responses when they move to the whole class setting (e.g., saying whether they connect to their book or not in the Golden Compass group).
2. How does this overall approach push reader response theory? The tools we’ve asked students to use do prompt students to transact with the text, but there’s something about book clubs that makes the private borders of their independent responses more permeable. As a result, an “intertransactionality” (intertransactiveness?) occurs as their responses transact with one another. [I obviously don’t know how to talk about this yet. Cf. the sources I found yesterday that referred to borders.]
3. How much teacher scaffolding is optimal during this process, and how much is intrusive? Tentatively, I think the amount varies with context.
4. What’s the potential for transfer of these skills into other contexts? More specifically, beyond mere back-patting, how do we make students aware of the significance of what they’ve accomplished? This is especially challenging given the ephemeral nature of literacy processes. Is enlisting students as inquiry partners and sharing these findings one way to do this [NOTE: This seemed to have little, if any, impact in Rebecca’s class. Students appeared to be ready to “just move on already” when we presented our findings via the map project]? How does meta-talk function in this regard?
5. I share this question with Rebecca: Is it okay for readers when there aren’t one-to-one connections between their books and their lives [Note: see my blog entry on provincial reading and also cf my conversation with the How I Live Now book club].


5. Suggested Resources (Annotated Bibliography)

6. Contact and Blog Information

7. Personal Information = WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THIS? BIO. INFO?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

seeking your input

In meeting with my inquiry group and talking with other teachers and some thoughtful non-academics over the past couple of months, I'm about to decide that this project is 2 books instead of one. One audience would be secondary teachers, and the other would be the more general public. So here's where I could use your input.

1. As a teacher, what are some questions you would hope to explore in a book that focused on using book clubs as a means to help students engage in civil discourse on provocative cultural issues? What would you want to know about this project?

2. Now think of someone outside of academics that is nonetheless interested in issues of schooling, literacy, and how both might be used as vehicles to help kids engage productively in civil discourse (i.e., difficult conversations about the often polarizing topics in our culture). What are some questions that person would have? What would they need to know about this project?

(One thing to keep in mind: Although the first book would definitely include resources for teachers, it won't focus primarily on the nuts and bolts of book clubs since that was the focus of my last book.)

Thanks for your input!