FOKI-Post: The Final Blogtier

Original FOKI
FOKI-Mid
FOKI-Post

 

Professional Self

I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.  It was never important to me, either, the way that it was important to other people.  I never stopped to wonder why, really—how could I, when I didn’t really care?  I only wanted to wake up each day and do the things that interested me, so I did.  In high school, my teachers and guidance counselor were sure that I’d study sciences in college, and convinced me of it, too.  A couple of semesters in, though, I realized that I was reading a lot more literature than I was any of my science-based textbooks, and so I naturally started taking more English classes instead.  Forced to declare a major, I chose English Lit with a minor in creative writing–another interest that sparked in me somewhere in that time—and before I knew it, I had a BA in English Literature.  I started working—technical writer, online magazine editor, legal assistant, and on and on, usually changing jobs every couple of years because of the boredom that would quickly settle in.  I knew this whole time that I was most interested in teaching or counseling of some sort–but for the first time in my life, I didn’t follow my interest because of the societal stigma associated with teaching–those people were underpaid and underappreciated.  I didn’t want to be one of them.

So I floated on, stringing together meaningless jobs until I finally recognized my fallacious reasoning, and almost immediately applied and enrolled to earn my MAT and finally see if I’d be as happy a teacher as I’d suspected I would be.  I’d worked with words and continued reading heavily in my adult life, but I have to admit that I’m out of touch with the canon of high school literature, having opted primarily for non-fiction—historical and anthropological works—for the past ten years.  Additionally, as a pre-service teacher, I still feel rather unprepared, pedagogically speaking.  Well, of course I’m still unprepared.  I did just meet my cooperating teacher (no observations yet) and I found that I understood most of what was being spoken about in the English III PLT meeting, which was good.  Still in the kiddie pool, and will be until I’m in the fire.  I have a few more ideas about specific ways to run classes, but not specific ways to run specific classes.  The PLT made me realize that they have completely different activities for classes of differing abilities that they teach.  I think the school at which I am student teaching has pretty segregated classes.  You know, by “academic ability.”  Hmmm.  My favorite texts from the program thus far have been those that offer advice and examples on conducting lessons in the classroom.  When I read about them, I think “I can definitely do that,” but I feel like I have to read and compile a good many more in order to be more prepared.  I have more ideas for projects, but not necessarily for how to teach them up to the point where they are loosed to start/complete their projects.  Must feel more comfortable in the day-to-day.

I am feeling far more confident in my “teacherly” self at this time.  While I learned plenty and was moved to think by our activities throughout the course, I recognized the greatest difference in professional sensibility when making the Change Project CCI with my team.  I’d never even thought about how to go about making a CCI before, but when we got together with our subject matter, the ideas started flowing, both from the group and from myself.  I realized that I was thinking about teaching, thinking about learning, and making them meet for an imagined class.  Observing my CT had something to with my rise in confidence, too, to be fair—being around the school and talking to the students made me feel much more connected to the whole thing.  I’d have to say I feel more like a teacher now.  I went out yesterday and bought some teacher clothes and didn’t feel ironic about it.  How about that?

Literate Self

Though I’ve read precious little fiction in my recent history, I had a moment a few weeks ago that bolstered my confidence.  I was visiting my family, and took my 16-year-old nephew to the library, where I needed to grab something.  He’s never been much of a reader, so we don’t typically talk about literature, but while we were there, he asked what he should read, as he was getting bored at the end of his summer vacation.  I surprised myself by my lack of hesitation.  I began asking him what he’s read in the past that he liked, and answered his “I don’t know” with good questions of my own.  Fantasy, like Tolkien?  Detective stories?  Mysteries?  His lack of experience didn’t deter me, either.  We walked through the fiction stacks and I described the kinds of stories I saw.  After a few minutes of this, I realized he wasn’t going to have an opinion, so I thought about the right voice for him to read.  I took him straight to the Vonnegut section.  Writes like a grandfather spinning a yarn.  Master of satire and understated morality.  “Cat’s Cradle,” I said, handing him the book.  “Read the first ten pages and tell me what you think.”   A few minutes later, I looked over at him from across the library, and he glanced up.  I widened my eyes in question, and I got the double approval—a thumbs up with an enthusiastic head nod.

Young Adult literature was never on any of my reading lists, for some reason, but what I’ve read for this class thus far—Drowned Cities and half of The List—I can appreciate for the simplified themes and reflective natures of the works.  It’s just the kind of writing that would appeal to moderate readers and raging discoverers of self, and the themes would actually be pretty easy to discuss for these students, so I am fast becoming a fan.  I’ve been reading plenty since, and I am pleased at how my English brain is thinking about the things I’m reading, but I’ve still got some distance to go.  This is a lifelong pursuit, I know.  But my library still feels small at this point.  I certainly have a long way to go and a lot of titles to read, but this is my craft now, and I’m surprisingly grateful to be introduced to this genre at this late date.  New fear, after meeting my CT and her colleagues:  there is no money for books and the ones they do have are falling apart.  They seemed to be content to stick to the classics and what they had, though there was small trove of “reader’s choice” books, of which they had 2-5 copies of each.  Starting small is still starting.  But the teachers in the PLT didn’t talk at all about trying to expand from what they had from the canon.  I wasn’t ranking enough to discuss YA in the fast-paced meeting today.  Also, though I remembered very little from my high school reading of Their Eyes Were Watching God, it came quickly back to me as I read it this summer, which gives me confidence as well.  I am well-read, even if I don’t remember many of the details, and I have a decent enough knowledge of literature in general to be able, I hope, to guide my students, especially as I continue my refreshers.  Again, there’s a path in front of me, and there is much to remember and learn, but I feel ready.  Ish.  Ish indeed.  I’m just gonna keep on reading.  And listening to students.  Glad I know to enlist the help of teens like the Eva Perry club.

I have surprised myself this semester with how much “for pleasure” reading I did despite my courseload.  It’s helped me to realize that I have no reason to be afraid of my lack of overall knowledge of YA literature and my hazy memories of other literature.  I can read YA lit quickly, and my “teacher brain” actually works pretty well for picking up themes and the like.  It’s happening with everything I’m reading.  I’m becoming a “teacher-reader.”  I just see things that way now.  I still have a lot of knowledge to gain, but I’m unconcerned that I’ll fail to get there.  Everything in time.  What I’ve learned about listening to students is probably as valuable as any of the books I’ve read. 

Virtual Self

On the technological literacy front, I feel semi-prepared.  I’ve blogged and made videos for years, and I feel great about my ability to explain the use of the internet as a research tool.  I’ve taken one edu-tech course, and just started another, and I’m learning more about the Web 2.0 tools that are available to teachers for instruction and creative presentation. I how to use them much better than once I did, but I am still not fully comfortable.  I really believe this will change by the end of this semester, but at this point, if I were to ask students to Storybird for me, I’d have to sit right down next to them and approach any question they had as though I had it myself.  I’m getting there, but still, there are miles left for me to travel.  I need to be introduced to more clever uses of these technologies and vastly build my proficiency with them.  Miles to go still.  I’ve stepped beyond my comfort zone and feel good about the products I’ve made out there.  Still so much to learn.  BUT, I’m pretty confident in my ability to learn these things.  

With every project, my confidence and creativity swelled a bit, which is great.  I feel good about using a good many technologies—and about instructing them.  I am certainly aware that when I begin teaching, I am going to feel as though I’m in a time-vacuum, but I will always try to make time to learn new tools, consider their affordances, and how to use them.

In specific regard to my online identity, I am presently unprepared, I suppose.  I keep a blog, but it’s not one I want my students reading.  I am not really sure how to go about creating an appropriate online presence, either.  I know I need to change the name on my personal FaceBook account.  Should I build a webpage for my classes?  For myself the teacher?  I am ready to use technology for assignments, but how much of myself is reasonable to have out there on the web when I have students?  I want them to have my email address.  I want them to know I’m available.  A class Wiki could be really good for keeping everyone on the same page, and I’m fairly comfortable with the prospect of making and maintaining one of those.  I’m not sold on Twitter for class use… yet.  I definitely have a lot more questions than opinions on this front, obviously.  I have plenty to learn before I decide and more fully implement my online identity.  Don’t be mad, but I’m still not sold on Twitter.  I think that I’m far more comfortable online, but I’m obviously not interested in having my classes meet in SL–so many problems.  I see them lessening for us all as we get a few weeks under our belts, but I don’t see how that would do for high school.  I do feel that it’ll be important to have an online course page for my classes, but understand the importance of keeping it up to date and compact for sure. 

So.  I’m still not a Twitter fan.  I’m sorry!  I don’t mind the concept, but integrating its regular use into my life is unclean.  It’s clunky for me–it doesn’t fit into my organization very well.  I could spend 5 minutes reviewing it, or it could bloom into 2 hours if I find a handful of interesting posts, and that is difficult to fit into my attempt at becoming well-organized!  My blog has made me feel more established, and I am definitely going to do one of these for my classes, perhaps as part of a course website—it’ll be such a great way to keep parents apprised of what’s going on and will widen the community of our classroom. 

My Goals

Professional Self

More than anything else, I want to be better acquainted with the books that I will want to teach in my career.  This means wading deeper into the waters of young adult fiction, feeling more comfortable with the catalogue, and knowing what kinds of books will appeal to the varied demographics of my future classrooms so that I can be sure to include a little something for everyone.  Shy people, happy people, confused people, angry people, everyone.  I also want to know what’s out there to help me include as many different kinds of people’s points of view so that I can help my students to understand that one culture’s point of view is never the right one, and that every culture, no matter how dominant or dominated, has something to learn from every other culture in the world.  I feel relatively confident of my knowledge of literature in this regard, but knowing what’s available in YA fiction would be wonderful.

I know more, and I know more resources to find ideas for books for independent reading choices for my students, which is great.  Again, I am now thinking about class time and resources.  The teachers I met today were only talking about removing things from their courses.  They said the administrative decree was to do less, but more in depth.  I still want to expand my knowledge, and I will, and I will focus on including readings with many points of view for comparative/empathetic purposes, but I am worried afresh that the “shrinking time” that the teachers I met today were speaking about is going to cramp my professional style and the goals I have.  Still—it would do no good to gloss over things so much that the students don’t learn deeply enough from what we cover.  This calls for a fantastical balancing act of genius proportions.

I am feeling much more confident about my knowledge, and I think more importantly, about my ability to quickly find resources that contain the knowledge I do not have.  That has mostly been a by-product of my education, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to make a plug for it—teaching future teachers how to quickly find quality teaching stuff resources is a great idea!  Because I won’t have time to read every book that comes out.  But when I know how to find a trustworthy teacher or consortium of teachers who have reviewed it, I can have a good idea of the value of this book to me and my classroom.  This is why I want to remain subscribed to the Bookhenge Daily, in fact—lots of great resources within. 

Literate Self

Put simply, I would like to expand my knowledge and gain confidence in my use of the pedagogical and technological tools available to help me teach literature to high school students effectively.  What instructional methods and web tools are good for helping students compare points of view from disparate texts?  How can I help them see the differences?  I need to understand these technologies so I can be a more savvy and informed user and choose activities and technologies that are truly helpful, not just neat.  I might not have made much progress here, but I think it’s because I’m not yet teaching or designing instruction.  If I were to have a curriculum, I think I’d be okay at recognizing the Englishy prospects within each one, and could direct student reading with good questions and things to look for.  And I know at least 10 web tools now, and understand their benefits.  I can probably figure out how to use them for specific desired outcomes for students.   Will need practice.  Like designing a CCI.  Oh, that’s coming up,  you say?  Well, huzzah!

How many accounts do I have now?  How many projects have I created?  How many great ideas have I gathered from my community of learners here?  I am amazed at how much more knowledgeable I feel, and how much more I actually feel as though I’m becoming part of a community I have only seen from the outside previously.  I feel like I know how to teach—I am aware that it takes my mind far too long to cogitate the ins and the outs of the instruction still, and I’ll need to gain speed with my practice—but I understand so much better the process.  I am less bashful about delving into subject matter.  I am excited to find more nonfiction to teach, for one thing.  Why my brain never really thought that teaching Fast Food Nation was possible in high school English is beyond me.  I am far more confident in my ability to choose content and make lessons out of it.

Virtual Self

As I mentioned earlier, I would like to more fully form my understanding of the aspects of a virtual self that would be helpful to me and my students and their parents.  I want to have a presence for communication and collaboration purposes at least.  Are there more uses I should consider?  I want to be judicious in my choices so that I am an efficient and helpful online presence, and so that I know where to be to help and be helped by other teachers.  I’m ready for instruction in this area so I can begin to form my opinions on the matter.  My thoughts and abilities are starting to gel, here, I think.  I spoke about keeping a web presence for my courses, and needing to keep them very up to date and clear.  I want to do a monthly (or so) email to all parents if it’s appropriate for the kind of classroom I’m running.  It made more sense to me before I met real teachers today, and I thought:  How would I put these things into an email?  Not that everything of which they spoke needed to be communicated to parents.  But even just the class updates.  Not sure yet.  It’s an idea in my mind, and will come to be reexamined as I begin student teaching.   

Monthly email?  My brain is an idiot!  I feel like I’ve had the idea of having a course blog for years now, but I suppose it just came up in the last couple of months.  I have projects up at a dozen different Web 2.0 tool sites or more.  I can throw a Weebly together in ten minutes.  I can create my course on Edmodo and keep my students and parents up to date simultaneously–plus have room for announcements.  How strange, this knowledge and confidence and presence came on so sneakily.  Even as of my FOKI-Mid, I was putzing around about my presence in web-worlds, but now I feel like I’m quite a part of it. 

I am a changed man as a result of this course, my fellow learners, and my work within it and with them.  The support here has been amazing—I hope that we can all maintain some semblance of it as we move forward.  I’m not really interested in jumping out of the nest yet.  Or at least, I would like to return to it after each day for a while, okay?  Okay fine, we can just keep together via the thing that brought us together though we be apart. And I’m going to stop now before I start calling Dr. Crissman “mama bird.”  Ooops.  Too late.

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Thoughts on Online Interviewing and Other Incomprehensible Ramblings

I was thinking, on Thursday while we were trying to grill Marc Aronson, about how an interview is  a really interesting set of dynamics, particularly when it’s being conducted in a crazy venue like Second Life.  In a real life interview, body language helps people know when to start and stop talking, and when they’re getting off topic.  Eye contact makes a big impact.  I was noticing that Marc was giving great answers to the initial question, but when he came to his natural stopping point, there was a space in between his finishing, people feeling certain that he had finished, and anyone else jumping in.  And when that space got to be more than a couple of seconds, Marc felt compelled to elaborate, which was fine, but I think must have been exhausting for him.  An interview is a conversation, but it is definitely difficult to have a conversation like that in a virtual world at this point.

Besides the interview component of the class, where I wanted to jump in several times but didn’t want to cut in or interrupt our guest (again, this is where eye contact and body language helps to signal such desires in real life), it wasn’t terribly different from my hesitance to jump in during our regular live classes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked the “Speak” button to chime in—only to click again and scramble to put a thought in the back channel or leave it be entirely since the speaker had moved far enough beyond my comment to render it disruptive and awkward were I to give it voice.  It happens.  It’s not a perfect world!

Marc was great though, and a real trooper.  I think I would have liked to have spent the whole class talking about the future of the publishing world, which we only spent a few minutes on, because several of us have interesting ideas about that, and so did Marc.  I really appreciated his feelings on the writing process, though—particularly his thoughts on coming to terms with a finding he didn’t expect through his research or which might be unpopular with other people… or entire populations.  That’s the most interesting thing about writing nonfiction, I think.  You are either printing something people already basically know or you are showing the world something for which there is no canned response, and you might stir up more controversy than intended.  I think controversy is great for societal growth, though, and I have to admit that I am now keeping my eyes open for a story I might want to tell in the world as I navigate it.  Nonfiction writing is suddenly appealing to me in a way it’s never before been.  Since I’ve taken this CR post in an unintended personal direction (writing is an exploration, after all), I would like to admit that I’m jealous of Marc and anyone else who seems to really know what makes them go and don’t think twice about doing it—just doing it—because that’s where their heart leads them.  I’m improving in that realm, and it’s good to have role models to prove the feasibility and beauty of such a personal constitution.

I may be too old to be figuring out what I want to do with my life, but you’re never too old to be finding things you want to do in your life.  The thing that most people don’t know is that there is actually no difference between the two beyond societal perception.

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Development Teams and Owl Things: A CR Post for All of Us

Darnit—for the second time, wordpress is not displaying my post title.  Don’t worry, I’ve figured a way around it.  Post title within the body!

Development Teams and Owl Things:  A CR Post for All of Us

Hello, loyal readers.  Some of you may have been disappointed to find that I neglected to post my critical reflection last week.  I wasn’t testing your ability to survive without the sage words of a scrambling monkey—I would never do that to you.  I know how important I’ve become to you, and if you don’t know by now, let me promise you that my love is not contingent upon your loyalty.  If you’ve found another self-involved blogger to follow during our break, I won’t be upset, and I will still always care deeply about you and what we’ve had.  If you care to read on, however, I’m back for more e-talkin’, and our codependent what-have-you can continue as before.

Let’s talk CCI-making.  Let’s talk nonfiction.  Let’s talk…  real world.  You know, I’ve always loved reading because of its ability to take a person simultaneously out of their sphere of knowledge and deeper into themselves; no matter how foreign the topic or unlikely the story, a reader cannot help but relate what they apprehend to themselves, their experience, their personal story.  Like all art, it’s a window out and a mirror in.  I have read a book on fictionalized Hobbits and an article on establishing a victory garden, and both helped me to shape my feelings about the world around me and to understand better the soul within me.

So as my class (and classy) group and I worked to form our findings on Marc Aronson’s Witch Hunt (2005), it struck me that not only did I take something personal from this work of nonfiction, but that as we worked to create a CCI out of the themes we found important, we were forming new ideas together—a CCI within our CCI creation.  In other words, group work can really work!  We extended our personal takeaways from the text to think about it in new ways.  This isn’t new, exactly—all of our CCIs have done this—but the allowance of creativity in taking these findings and going where we felt would be most fertile grounds for student discovery and inquiry added a teacherly dimension to our personal reflections.  It was good to be on the other side of that coin.  I must give props (that’s a word kids still use, right?  I mean, I do) to this assignment and its placement within the curriculum (which must mean giving additional “props” to our guide—props to CC!).  After participating in several CCIs throughout the semester, we were ready to build a lesson out of it that would challenge students and bring the ideas within the book to an opportunity for discovery into their world.   We didn’t just have historical connections—we created contemporary connections.  And I believe that providing the opportunity to see a subject, an idea, a theme, in multiple contexts is a fantastic way to appeal to a greater number of students.

My group was incredible—we took the themes of Witch Hunt and took them to places I wouldn’t have found on my own.  Why don’t teachers teach in teams?  PLTs are great, but it’s such a limited time in which to grow these kinds of professional ideas.  I found myself thinking this week that I’m feeling pretty confident in my class delivery skills (or at least in my ability to figure them out quickly, on the fly) but I’m still concerned about my curriculum building.  If I could spend all of my time planning the curriculum, I’d be okay, and if I took well-conceived curriculum that I believed in and delivered it, I’d be okay.  Doing it all is really intimidating to me.  Late-night talk show hosts get writers.  For all but our most amazing teachers, our curriculums could be so great if there were a dedicated curriculum-writing team of teachers feeding great activities to actively participating delivering teachers.  It’s a whole new paradigm!  Think-tank and public relations teamwork!  Or am I just showing my fear of being overwhelmed?  I think both!  Team-written curriculum could be so much more complete than a single teacher’s thoughts.

I hope this blessing of knowledge helps to assuage the wounds of last week’s missing post, readers.  We’re back together again, and I promise that if I must disappear for a few days again, I’ll let you know about it ahead of time.  And I’ll return bearing chocolates and flowers and possibly some really cool owl-themed jewelry.  I’m going to spend the rest of my week being thankful you’ve returned to me, and hopeful that you’ll stick with me until the very end.

This isn’t my style. But do you like it?

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Anything Can Lead to Truth: A Critical Reflection on the Classroom Use of Nonfiction

I’m going to start incredibly uncritically and remark about the state of my brain at this point.  It is alarmingly dull.  It may be that I’ve been sick for a week, but I think I noticed it rapidly blunting a couple of weeks ago.  Here’s the proof:  usually, when I sit to write my critical reflection, I spend a few minutes thinking about all of the conversations and revelations I gathered through the week with my classmates, decide on a couple that work thematically well together or that particularly interested/surprised me, and set to composing.  Tonight, my thoughts are sputtering.  I can remember of which we spoke but in only vague terms this week, and I don’t know how about I’m about to get critical.  Oy, this semester.

So forgive me if this isn’t the hard-hitting incisive self-journalism it usually (occasionally) is this time around; I’m getting a bit fried.

I’m not sure if it’s the simple fact that I’ll soon be in front of a living, breathing class, but this week’s discussions put me into a similar frame of mind to other recent weeks—which is to say that I’ve been nervously considering the information we review and build in light of how it’s going to affect me as a teaching professional.  Do the Common Core Standards mean to tell me that I’ll be teaching non-fiction 50% of the time in my classroom, or are they hinting that other subject areas will need to incorporate nonfiction to the point that the students will be reading this much?  Sonya hit me with the statistic that has been rattling in my head all week—that if English classes start teaching 50% non-fiction, students will be getting something like 12.5% fiction/poetry/other literature in their educations, which bothers her on account of the fact that fiction literature can teach a person so much about themselves, their feelings, and their world, and these are points with which I agree whole-heartedly.

But I also think that nonfiction can serve this purpose when well-chosen and well-taught.  I do believe that the artful language one finds in some fiction is really worth the effort, though, and let’s face it, there are so many works out there worthy of student attention.  Of human attention.  See, I’ve moved from worrying I’d not have enough time to show students all of the amazing literature that can change their worlds because of standardized testing and other secret classroom stuff about which I do not yet know to worrying about how much of it I’ll lose to nonfiction time—and I believe in nonfiction time!  I think that somewhere in my heart I’m resigned to the idea that it will work out, that worrying about these things is silly.  Because I know that what I love about nonfiction is valid as well, and one of the primary purposes of the ELA classroom is to teach students true literacy.  Where I believe that nonfiction can be so much more topically relevant to every student than most fiction can be, I know that teaching more nonfiction is a great thing.  I think my fear, and perhaps this is Sonya’s as well, is that you find your love for literature in strange places, and erasing a large handful of those places we would have explored together is erasing a large handful of opportunities to help students find something that they can love in a personal way.

To wit:  nonfiction is probably better at connecting you with your world as it is.  Fiction holds great promise for connecting you with your true self.  There are many ways to find your true self.  Fiction is just one of those that English teachers tend to believe in as an express ticket.  But that’s a narrow view.  I think the humanist in me tells me that I’ll do my best and it will be good enough in any event, and each of the young people who spends time with me will have equal opportunity to find their way whether or not I’m excessively worrying myself about what I’m teaching them.

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Boyz and Stepchildren

“It is cool when you know what the Gadsen Purchase was (Aronson, 2004, p. 111).”

He’s absolutely right, you know.  Well, not about the spelling of “Gadsden,” but about the cool factor of it.  I once took the head cheerleader off of the arm of Johnny Football Hero with the mere mention of it, and earned a lovely kiss goodnight when I upped the ante with “and at only 33 cents per acre, it was an absolute boondoggle!”  Because chicks love cool guys, and the Gadsden Purchase and using words like “boondoggle” are super cool.

Okay, I’m done busting Marc’s chops for the night.  I really wish he and I were friends so I could throw this friendly ribbing his way constantly, since he has a penchant for throwing things I think are funny into the ether.  This week, I have a difficult time disagreeing with him, really, but I’m sure that’s mainly because I have searched in vain for an informed view on the matter.

I mean, I’m a boy—well, I’m old now, so I’m going to go with the euphemism “dude”—so I should have some insight into what he’s saying when he discusses how boys don’t have literature that speaks to their true experience of learning physically as well as intellectually, particularly through the teenage years.  I found myself wondering about this approach, which he seemed to base on a couple of observations, and I wouldn’t discount it.  Then I started wondering how I’d write a young person’s book about how a car works—I’ve spent a good deal of my life maintaining and repairing my own cars—and I decided that it could be interesting.  I might have enjoyed reading something like that before I was big enough to pop open a hood.

But seeing as how he’s an expert in the publishing field, I believe wholeheartedly that he is not wrong when he says that market perceptions and an unproven interest in these sorts of books have relegated forward-looking ideas such as these to the Imaginarium (my word, don’t steal it) in favor of proven-seller genres.  Sort of like how there are exactly 47 crime drama shows on television now, 22 long-term reality gameshows, and zero shows about what would be my favorite genre, time-traveling cats who try to help the dinosaurs out.  Because business is afraid of straying from the formulaic.  It’s frustrating to be an artist confined by conservative market knowledge.  I hate it too.  So now that I’ve read three of his books, I’m ready to ask him:  what are you publishing that caters to this boy-physical-learning-reading theory?  I’m ready to work with you on a how-cars-work title.  Seriously!  I’m a cheap writer at this point in my career, so he might want to take me up on this offer.  We can test this theory on the cheap behind his publishing clout and our shared belief that there are unexplored authentic-learner markets.  I don’t know that it will blow up, but I’d be interested to see what boy nonreaders would think.  Could have done this for my ALP too…  all of the best ideas came to me too late.

Ancillary to the idea that boys learn physically as well as intellectually through their teenage years, do we assume that girls learn emotionally as well as intellectually through theirs?  Presumably, girls weren’t talked about because there are books out there that speak to emotional issues and resolutions, yes?  I’m asking, and I’m glad I have so many ladies in class with me to clue me in.  Is Aronson’s unspoken belief that girls are taken care of on their “reading needs” front where boys are not?  If so, this might help to explain the general gender gap in reading interest, too.  I’m young in this thought, so show me the way if I am errant.  Just spitballin’ here.

So, I mentioned earlier that I’m without knowledge or opinion as to whether nonfiction truly is the “neglected stepchild” of the literary world.  I tried to imagine what nonfiction I read as a youngster, and I have to admit that I could remember very little.  What this means for the nonfiction-heavy Common Core Standards interests me, because if there really isn’t much of great interest written for younger audiences, I could be in trouble—although I suspect I’ll be able to find interesting nonfiction literature besides.  The thing is, while my scholastic career seldom put me in touch with nonfiction materials, I found my way to them on my own, and they’ve been the jam in my doughnut for the past 15 years.  I would think that students would find much of what I’ve read quite interesting simply because it’s been written by people who are out there right now trying to unravel the mysteries of our time.  One of my favorite books of my last few years is Tales of a Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Mark J. Plotkin, a fancypants Ivy League ethnobotanist who writes of his time researching plants in the Amazon.  He does such an excellent job of coverage—he discusses the shamans who have revealed plant information to him, the drug companies who pay for his trips of discovery and their interests, the ravages of the western world in the small villages he visits, and on and on.  He’s a heck of an anthropologist in his own right and his insights on the peoples he visits are absolutely brilliant.  And though this would certainly not be considered “YA Nonfiction,” it’s written in very accessible and even friendly language, and I think it would be wonderful for students to read.  I’ve got to buy an extra copy and find a teenager with some free time.

I suppose that what I’m wondering isn’t unlike what I wondered when I questioned how the genre of “YA Fiction” got its start.  Just because it’s a newly designated genre, does that mean that there isn’t anything yet published that fits the description?  I feel like most of what interests Aronson is history, and that’s great—it certainly has its place and is an important field.  But there’s more to the non-fiction world, and is it decided that everything available is boring or “too adult” already?  I’d bet we could find some winners.  Perhaps they’ve remained hidden because schools haven’t traditionally valued them enough.  This is one arena where I hope the Common Core Standards are worth their salt and I hope that educators won’t shy away from the challenge.

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A Big, Bad, Bold Critical Reflection

Dear reader,

I’ve misled you and I am instantly remorseful.  I wouldn’t say I regret my actions, but I both rue and lament them.  The fact of the matter is that this will be a rather run-of-the-mill critical reflection, and while there is nothing wrong with this decision, it is decidedly un-bold.  I accept any comment backlash you feel I deserve.

Backlash.  Every teacher can expect backlash, because teachers make decisions all day, every day.  What to read, what to assign, how much to penalize, and on and on.  The authority provided a teacher has always called to me, not because I’d feel powerful if I had it, but because I consider myself fair, thoughtful, and kind, and I’ve seen people, kids included, respond so well to that kind of authority that I can hardly wait to exercise it and experience the kind of classroom environment that should create.

Being a busy benevolent decision-maker, though, and due to the law of large numbers, it is inevitable that I will make some decisions that are unpopular and some that are openly challenged.  I’ve certainly never thought that I’d really bristle at the prospect—I know that I make decisions after carefully considering the benefits and know that I’d never be afraid of defending them and/or tossing them aside if a perspective is shown me that refutes what I initially believed.  I think that observing my cooperating teacher has added a new dimension to this concept, though.  She does not have the time to fight every challenge she faces head-on, and I don’t think it’s because she’s disorganized.  I think teachers are just that busy.  Now I realize that if I’ve made what I think is a good decision and come under personal attack from a parent, I’m going to be annoyed at the time thievery at the very least.  As I’ve learned in life, the last thing you can do is be openly annoyed at an inquisition.  Others take your annoyance personally and the possibility for a communication trainwreck grows large immediately.  One must stay cool, as they say, and deal with the issue openly with a smile on your face.  Which is how it should be.  Everyone deserves their say and their part in a discussion, especially in a public school.

I am pleased as can be to have learned that there is a reasonable process aimed at justice in book choice disputes—and as I mentioned somewhere in our wanderings this week, I really love that at least a student is on the book review committee, as well as other teachers and a principal.  I think that a diverse group of points of view is always important to hopefully reach a fair conclusion in this and any other matter in a diverse society.  Generally speaking, I don’t think I would be upset if a book I chose was rejected by the wisdom of such a diverse group.  I’d feel sheepish and apologetic (and I forgot to ask during class Thursday, but how likely/severe are repercussions against a teacher whose choice is deemed inappropriate for students?  I’m sure it depends on the reasons it was deemed inappropriate and how “obviously” inappropriate the content was) .  But I would accept the wisdom of the group and try to learn from it.

Less enthused was I, I must admit, at the idea of pre-defending a reading choice.  I do get the parents’ rights to know what their children are reading and learning in school, but besides English books and evolution, what do parents ever bother challenging?  I don’t like what a legacy book-burning has in our country, and I’m a little insulted that certain subjects seem to always grab the attention of those whom I swear to never call small-minded.  Swear words and sex scenes.  Let me tell you, I was a teenager, and when I was, I knew a lot of other teenagers, and we all knew swear words—usually from our parents—and we all knew what sex was.  Some of us even tried it!  Not me—I’m not married yet.  Oh, drugs too I suppose.  In any event, I believe strongly in the message of the book rather than the content of certain passages, and after this week’s discussion, I feel prepared to make defenses of probably anything I’d hope to teach based on that distinction.  I still bristle at the idea of preparing defenses to send home before reading books, but I get the reasoning and it’s not bad.  Parents do have that right to know and I appreciate that wonderful western idea of headin’ ’em off at the pass.  Still, I think history teachers I had in high school should have sent home defenses of the very particular perspectives from which they presented their capital h HISTORY.  Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky can cure our preferred point of view problem and promote a wonderful infection social justice thought–and their books aren’t even very expensive!  I’ve digressed, but to finish with only one line more, I think teaching multiple-perspective history may be the single most effective change our schools could possibly make to improve the real education of our populace and promote the brother-(and sister!)-hood that dirty hippies like myself would like to see.

To make a long story short (CHORUS:  Too late!), I think I’m much better prepared now to deal with the eventuality of being challenged in my classroom whether on book choices or other teaching practices, and I do believe that’s fair in a properly democratic society.  Let’s decide what’s best together—a practice which has only gone wrong in Salem and in the Confederacy and in Washington in the 1950’s and in…  oh, but that’s assuming my preferred point of view!  I’m gonna practice what I preach and accept that killing a bunch of people coerced to admit they were witches may not have been a bad thing and is open for debate.  Yes yes, let us decide what is best together.  I’m ready for my part!

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