Blog #8: Jeopardy Contestants vs. English Students

I think the most annoying phrase I can pull out of my childhood is:  “You don’t know everything, Samantha.”  Yes, I can admit this (and I could back then too)–I don’t know everything.  However, I knew growing up that there were a few things I DID know, and when I asserted my knowledge, I was normally met with the above answer.  Granted, sometimes I would spout out my knowledge at the wrong times, say, when my mother and I were arguing or I was in trouble at school, but the point is I wasn’t always being a facetious child.  A lot of the time, I was relating to what was being said to me in the only way I knew how; I was showing what I knew personally about the subject we were discussing.  Johnston’s chapter in Choice Words definitely gave me a few flashbacks to my adolescence, in good and bad ways.

When Johnston mentions the IRE method in classrooms, a few of my old teachers admittedly come to mind.  The intense Q&A was always off-putting to me, and to my friends.  Johnston says about it, “This sequence is very controlling for a couple of reasons.  First, the underlying premise is that the teacher already knows what needs to be known and therefore takes the role of judging the quality of the student’s response…” (54).  I can’t express how accurately Johnston describes this scenario, as I’m sure anyone who went through elementary school can attest.  In a sense, when we fire off those rounds of what I call “check up” questions (because all we’re doing is making sure they know what we taught them before so they can pass a test or some other form of assessment on it) we essentially are putting students in a Jeopardy contestant seat.  Now if we think about this rationally, contestants for Jeopardy study and prepare for months, if not YEARS, to excel on that show.  Why do we expect students, especially children, to behave in the same manner?

Some of the ways that Johnston says we can break out of IRE I agree with.  There are a few that give me pause, however.  Johnston’s phrase, “Would you agree with that?” (57) scares me a little.  Just going off my own childhood, the word “agree” almost feels as if it carries negative connotation.  I think it comes from calling the little fits children sometimes have with their parents “disagreements.”  I get the idea Johnston is trying to convey, but I think a more appropriate way to get the same response would be to ask, “What do you guys think about that?”  Thinking is always a good thing to promote in the classroom, and it opens the doorway for a child to disagree with the opinion already given, while taking away the gravity of the situation.

One phrase that I absolutely adore is Johnston’s, “Thanks for straightening me out” (57).  I can’t deny that a part of me loves it due to a personal anecdote.  In the first grade, I had a teacher that used to snack a lot during our class.  This was the age I was beginning to learn the “dinner table etiquette,” and one day at the end of our class, as my teacher was talking, I realized she was chewing with her mouth open.  I remember exactly what I was thinking, and it was no less innocent than this–I always got in trouble for chewing with my mouth open, and if my teacher didn’t know it was bad, how much trouble was she going to be in since she was an adult?  So I raised my hand and informed her of her plight.  My teacher’s response was to inform me that she was an adult and she could do what she wanted.

I’m sure you can see why, after that personal story, I love the idea of a teacher acknowledging that they have faults and can be wrong sometimes too.  Johnston says, “The comment implies that a student has done what in most classes would be unthinkable:  evaluated the teacher’s comments.  This teacher’s response, however, tells the child that not only is it acceptable in this classroom,  but that helping others correct misconceptions is something to be encouraged” (57).  I think it is very important for students in the classroom to feel as if their opinions and observations matter.  Yes, there needs to be some authority for the teacher to run the classroom, but I think students would be more open to learning if they realized it was a joint effort and not just a personal obstacle to overcome.

Johnston says, “…nobody has a corner on truth and that authority should always be questioned, checked, and warrants sought” (60).  If I try and think about it, I’m sure I could come up with a great follow up comment for that.  But really, how much more plainly, or truthfully, can someone really state it after that?

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Blog #7: Turning Ducks into Dancers

In terms of physicality, I’ve always been flexible.  I’m a dancer.  Granted, I’m not a die-hard dancer, but I’ve loved dancing since I can remember.  In all my classes growing up, I easily did the stretches that others found difficult.  My instructors told me I had perfect turn-out, a wonder among wonders in ballet.  The thing is, I’d always been like that–I would watch TV growing up in odd positions (like with my feet behind my head or my knees flat on their sides behind me, or sitting in a bucket–don’t ask about that one).  Without my instructors informing me of just how lucky I was, I would have never understood that my flexibility was something that translated into dancing.  Reading Johnston’s fifth chapter made me think about this, and about how for children it’s not as easy to take the things they are inherently good at and apply them to foreign concepts.

Johnston says, “The stories they[the students] tell in these different life spaces are different–different genres, settings, characters, and goals.  These are problems of transfer–the failure to generalize learning from one situation or problem to another” (43).  In this quote, and this whole chapter, Johnston talks about a subject that I’ve always noticed and wondered about:  there is a discrepancy with how children view their regular lives, and how they view life at school.  Incorporating flexibility into a student’s life would definitely help them to merge the two environments, and I think Johnston gives us examples that really help with this.  I particularly grasped the concept when he told the anecdote about the high school students and the shopkeepers performing the same math problems and how their approaches differed from each other.  It’s important as a teacher to try to unify strategic thinking for your students, so they may take problem-solving techniques wherever they go in life.

The example that I thought best supported Johnston’s goal was the “That’s like…” (46) scenario.  It makes sense to me that in order to support flexibility and growth in a student that you must verbally draw parallels between the things going on in other areas of their studies or lives.  To apply the lessons to what the student is comfortable with and already has a small handle on is to further build a strategic weapon for them to wield whenever they come across challenging situations.

I was also very taken by Johnston’s suggestion of the “What if…” (47) tactic for teachers.  Johnston says, “These hypotheticals can be used to explore worlds, behaviors, and choices without real consequence…it opens the imaginative possibility, and accomplishes the necessary instruction without risk” (48).  I think this is a brilliant suggestion for teachers, because it allows them to teach without the consequence of putting down or admonishing a student for their wrong or weak choices.  If I were to come across a student that I knew to be bright, and saw they were struggling with a certain area and failing despite their efforts, I would definitely use the “What if…” to free the student’s mind of his/her shortcomings and allow for them to take a step back and view the problem without fear or shame.  A lot of pressure gets put on students’ shoulders, unintentionally for the most part, and when they feel as if they aren’t succeeding they can fall into that crack of “problem child” by adhering to the identity of a “dumb” kid.  Johnston’s suggestion, to me, gives us a way to rescue that student.

This chapter from Johnston was very intriguing for me–the problem of encouraging flexibility is one that I’ve always thought was important.  I was pleased that someone else shared the same point of view.  Johnston says, “The more we help children build a sense of themselves as inquirers and problem-solvers, and the less they see boundaries between domains of inquiry, the more they are likely to transfer their learning into the world beyond school” (52).  In other words, teachers need to help their students break down the walls between “real” life and “school” life, and support their excursions into the unknown with words that imply possibility and success.  After all, if none of my instructors helped me see that my (physical) flexibility was an asset in dance, I probably would have considered myself a balance-less, graceless duck among the swan dancers.  But by taking my inherent trait and translating it to the field I wanted to tackle, they helped me see that a ballerina comes in many shapes and sizes.

FYI, so do students.

Collage Blog

 

I apologize for the horrible picture quality.  I know I shared my collage today in class, so I’ll try to be as brief as possible and not repeat myself too much.  In terms of my writing process, this collage is missing about everything else in the universe.  I could take a picture of anything and put it on there, and I’m sure it’s crossed my mind at some point in life.  My mind is constantly whirring.  That’s probably why I get so many headaches.

The socks are an obsession of mine, and I’m not really sure why.  I’ve always loved socks.  And I love ones that are quirky, that have ridiculous designs and images on them.  You would be amazed at how many socks I have.  Trust me, I should stop here, because I could go on for days, but let’s just say that I love socks and I have absolutely no idea why except they make me exceptionally happy.

Growing up in Merced, I was subjected to a lot of farmland and country, especially living on the McKee side of town (native Merceders, you know what I mean).  Also, my sister lived for most of my life on an orchard.  I’ve always been fascinated with trees, with walking through forests and woods, the sunlight leaking through the leaves and the quiet snapping of nature, the rustling of wind.  It’s always inspired my mind.  I made up countless stories centered around forests growing up.  My father and I even had a little game (an actual store bought one) that came with cassettes, and you were supposed to make the whole house a part of the enchanted forest, put signs up to signify which room was the river and which one was the dark forest, etc.  Suffice to say I lived more in my fantasy life growing up than in reality.

I look back a lot now in this particular time of my writing life.  Many years have gone by where I refused to remember a lot of things about my past, but now I’m constantly craning my neck around to view them again.  The roots and the old time picture, the little old rusty clock, represents that aspect of my writing process.  I used to hate the idea of memoir (probably cause I didn’t like to think of the past) but I find myself writing more and more about my early experiences.  I look at my pictures a lot, especially the ones of me as a baby or toddler.  I remember a lot more about my childhood than is normal, I think.  Moments from when I was too young to really be able to remember.  But there you go.

The smell of candles…well, just smells in general, have always influenced my life.  I love good smells.  A good smell can put me in a very happy mood instantaneously.  Consequently, a horrible smell can easily destroy my whole day.  My boyfriend has had to limit the amount of times I’m allowed in Bath and Body Works because the smells are like a drug to me–they call to me and pull me in.  I could spend hours in that store, the different scents making me euphoric, a sure sign I’m an addict.  This is another one of those facts about myself that I don’t know how to explain, I just know it’s very important to me.  Smells can take me back.  Tastes too.

The rest of the images I think I explained pretty thoroughly in class.  I know this blog was supposed to be brief, so I bow down and beg for your mercy at making this so long.  So there’s a few details about the images in my collage and what they mean to me.

Blog #6: Student as an Alter Ego to Hero

So I’ve always thought this was a weird thing, but when I was growing up, all the female protagonists I read about in books looked, when I pictured them, like me.  The supporting characters were other people I knew, but the main girl always resembled me in some fashion (usually with longer hair because I’ve always coveted long, gorgeous hair; also I was usually skinnier).  I always thought that this was a product of my ridiculously active Pretend play.  I constantly played Pretend as a child, and so I acted out the book in my imagination like I would a game of Pretend.  Never would I have thought that putting myself in the active, agentive role in reading and learning was a positive thing if I hadn’t read Johnston’s fourth chapter in Choice Words.

Johnston talks about how encouraging students to think strategically and develop a sense of agency (or of confidence that their assertions will yield results from the environment) is a positive way to inspire learning.  His writing really speaks to me–as I read the examples I thought of the situations I was put in during school, and wondered what other passions I would hold today if my agency and strategic thinking had been molded more in grade school.  Johnston says, “Teachers’ conversations with children help the children build the bridges between actions and consequences that develop their sense of agency.  They show children how, by acting strategically, they accomplish things, and at the same time, that they are the kind of person who accomplishes things” (30).  I am lucky in the sense that I have always felt I am the kind of person who accomplishes things, most of the time despite what others were telling me.  However, not all children inherently have such confidence.

I think Johnston makes a valid argument that if we help create scenarios that force the student to place his/herself in an active, agentive role, they will be able to achieve more goals and work even better in the future.  Children naturally make themselves protagonists in their lives, but I think children often shove that universe away during school, as if school is the place where they, the hero, can’t win.  This is a sad concept to me, but one I think Johnston addresses and resolves nicely.  Johnston states that when teachers generate situations that promote strategic thinking in the student, and then force them to retell the experience of their assertions, “…they[the students] are in control of the problem-solving process and are asked to consciously recognize that control in an agentive narrative” (31).  It is so critical that children feel some form of control when they are tackling problems in the classroom, and Johnston draws attention to just how critical.

What I found particularly insightful was Johnston’s exploration of “revealing” versus “telling.”  Johnston says, “I suspect that revealing is more difficult than telling because it requires taking into account the child’s current understanding” (32).  In other words, teachers revert to telling a student information when their expectations of the child’s understanding doesn’t match up with what they actually know.  This type of situation is rampant in schools, or at least they were when I was there, and it saddens me.  I think now of all the opportunities that my teachers had to really make a difference for their “problem” students, and how those opportunities were squandered because the teacher took the easy way out by telling them what to do.  Obviously, there needs to be some form of telling in the classroom in order for authority and stability to function, but overall the learning process is just that–a process.  A process is something that moves between two separate objects.  A process is active, not verbal.

Johnston tells us, “…human beings are natural storytellers” (30).  I couldn’t agree more.  I think that it is this human trait that allows us to take in the world, to shape it into something understandable.  Storytelling, even in a classroom setting, helps us make sense of our thoughts and the thoughts of others.  And in the end, isn’t that what learning is all about?  Teaching us to be able to interact with our environments, to meet problems and solve them, to mold us into productive and accomplished individuals.