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
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.
HOW THIS CONTINUES TO BE IMPORTANT/WHAT I WANT TO KNOW NOW
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].
I STILL NEED TO ADD:
5. Suggested Resources (Annotated Bibliography)
6. Contact and Blog Information
7. Personal Information = WHAT DO WE MEAN BY THIS? BIO. INFO?