Reading for escape…

“As my concentration on the story in my hands took hold, all sounds faded away. My ears closed. I didn’t imagine the process of the cutoff like a shutter dropping, or as a narrowing of the pink canals leading inside, each waxy cartilaginaous passage irising tight like some deft alien doorway in Start Trek. It seemed more hydraulic than that. Deep in the mysterious ductwork an adjustment had taken place with the last possible actual movement, an adjustment chiefly of pressure. There was an airlock in there. It sealed to the outside so that it could open to the inside. The silence that feel on the noises of people and traffic and dogs allowed an inner door to open to the book’s data, its script of sound. There was a brief stage of transition in between, when I’d hear the texts’s soundtrack poking through the fabric of the house’s real murmur, like the moment of passage on the edge of sleep where your legs jerk as your mind switches over from instructing solid limbs to governing the phantom body that runs and dances in dream. Then, flat on my front with my chin on my hands or curled in a chair like a prawn, I’d be gone.” -Francis Spufford, The Child That Books Built, pgs 1-2 

My last post asked “why do we read”…. one reason I read is to experience complete and total escape. I shared Francis Spufford’s quote above because his description is the closest I have read to what I experience in this typis of reading. Spufford also refers to it as “reading catatonically” and something that just happened to him. I remember experiencing reading like that as a child. Sometimes it would happen when I wasn’t expecting it to, and other times I would seek it out. 

I’ve been seeking out this experience but have been in what my nerdybookclub friends refer to as a reading slump. It was awful. I had been looking forward to escaping into books after defending my dissertation as a way to recenter and recalibrate myself. I went to the library armed with my Goodreads list and came home with at least ten different titles. I couldn’t get past page five of any of them. My restlesslessness had spilled into my reading self. AGGGGHHHHHHH. I tried to be patient. I read some informational books that were interesting and engaging. But I wanted the void of reading. The need to do nothing else all day except escape into the pages of a different world. 

My patience paid off. I started a book Sunday evening and finished it last night. It was glorious. I was swept into the world of Prythian with it’s faerie and mortal kingdoms created by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve never read any of her books before, but this was recommended for fans of Graceling, a favorite of mine. 

Something that I realized as I read about Feyre and Tamiln was that the other books I had tried reading had almost all been realistic fiction. I think I needed fantasy. I needed a completely diffferent world in order to fully escape into a reading zone this time. I don’t think that I always need fantasy, but that it was was I needed this time. Something I’m working on articulating more clearly in my dissertation revisions is that knowing why we read is one element that can help us as readers and teachers of readers. But it isn’t the only element, what we read is another. More on that in the next post….

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Why do we read? 

in my previous post I committed to sharing my work. 

I’m going to be honest, that is a bit terrifying for me. 

This surprises some people, especially those who have met me or seen me present at a conference. 

I love sharing my work in person. Sharing it only in writing is a whole different experience for me. 

But I’m working on it. I’m doing it anyways. I’m working to embrace “not yet” and “in process”. 
Here is a Sketchnote from  part of my dissertation work. I appreciate any feedback or your own responses to the question, “WHY do we read?” 

Forward motion 

Two weeks ago, I presented my dissertation to my committee members. My husband, daughters, and some friends were there as well. I was more nervous than I expected, but I survived. I have revisions to work on over the summer, which is typical for a dissertation in my college. My advisor told me to put it away for a few weeks and not work on it. This feels both strange and liberating. 

 

Dissertation Defense “action” shot

 
Two days after that, I participated in the College of Education doctoral hooding ceremony. Again, my husband and daughters were there. My best friend of more than 20 years was there with her husband. My parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece & nephew completed the cheering section. It was emotional. It was hot. I felt anxious. The whole thing felt surreal. 

 

Looking Doctoral

 
This post is titled forward motion, although I did not move forward after these two events. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, unsure, shell-shocked, and a bit numb. Close friends who have gone through this process assured me that it wasn’t unusual to feel the way that I felt. My husband and daughters have continued to be oh-so-patient with me as I navigate my way through this fog. I’m beginning to feel human again. I’m beginning to feel like it’s ok to move forward. 

One thing I decided to do is to try something new. Something I’ve wanted to do but haven’t. Something that pushes me outside my comfort zone. I’ve decided to try Sketchnoting. I’ve done some versions of this in the past, but not necesarily with any sort of planning or intention. I’ve read about it in the past and decided read The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking by Mike Rohde. Not only am I going to practice it, but I’m also going to share my sketchnotes here. 

Sharing my sketchnotes, along with writing on my blog again regularly, is inpsired by Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work. I love his premise that being an artist, writer, creator, etc. is about so much more than any final product. That the work that we do needs to be made visible – even when it is work in progress. So I’m going to share more of my in progress work. Along with writing about teaching, reviewing books, and who knows what else. 

So here is my first sketchnote based on Carol Dweck’s TED talk The Power of Believing That You Can Improve about the concept of a growth mindset. And so I come out of the fog reminding myself of the importance and possibility of “not yet” and forward motion…

Sketchnote #1: 5.20.15 (created on an ipad with the app PAPER)

Theory matters…

Theory is part of my life as a doctoral student. It was part of my life as an undergrad but in a very different way – it was music theory and it was a tough class for me. I had to learn, understand, and apply the underpinnings of how music was constructed – scales, modes, tempo, motifs, etc.  I also had to take music history classes to understand the historical contexts that composers wrote and musicians performed. All of this helped me to become a better musician – both performing and consuming. Theory mattered a lot, even though I did my share of complaining about it.

Students in undergraduate teacher education programs across the U.S. take courses that often include theory, and often complain that it has nothing to do with practice. There is a perception that theory won’t actually help a teacher teach – that classroom management is more important. Does theory matter? How can it help someone learn to teach?

I am currently rereading Teaching Children’s Fiction edited by Charles Butler, in particular the chapter by Roderick McGillis titled Looking in the Mirror: Pedagogy, Theory, and Children’s Literature. One quote that has stuck with me is:

The resistance to theory we sometimes meet in the classroom stems from an ingrained notion that literary activity ought to be natural, fun, and self-evident. p. 89

While McGillis is referring to literature classrooms, I have heard this repeatedly in various courses I teach and the undergraduate and graduate level in a college of education. I see this imagined notion regularly in both my children’s literature and literacy methods courses. It’s interesting because it serves two purposes: it means that the students shouldn’t have to “work this hard” to engage with course materials, and also that they don’t really need to understand any theory to become an elementary school teacher. Before I continue I want to be clear that I realize not ALL preservice teachers think this way, but this way of thinking has been prevalent across my own 5 1/2 years of teaching at a large midwest University.

Faculty at colleges and universities are currently teaching THE MOST TESTED generation of students ever to come through our doors. Our students were starting elementary school when NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was passed. They have been tested, practice-tested, re-tested, taught to the test, and tested again. Many come in wanting “absolute” answers and rubrics for everything. This isn’t always possible, nor is it always best pedagogical practice. But what strikes me is that this generation of tested students is now in our College of Education, learning to be teachers. Given the fact that new teachers are likely to teach in the same ways that they were taught (Kennedy, 1999), this makes me exceedingly concerned in this time of CCSS and NCTQ.

Learning about theory and how to apply it is hard intellectual work, particularly if approaching it with notions of “natural, self-evident, and fun”. It’s also particularly difficult if you’ve never ever done it before (because you were busy taking multiple choice tests).  I think one of the things that makes it most challenging is that it means we must consider ourselves, the contexts we live in, and the choices that we make. Theory forces us to become self-reflective, and sometimes that can be uncomfortable. It can make us feel vulnerable and as if we don’t know anything. But that is not bad, it is how we grow. And I believe that students in classrooms today deserve teachers who think deeply, who understand theories behind their pedagogical decisions, and who question if the CCSS are really what is best for their students. I know we have many teachers like this, but they need support. More people need to question the wisdom of non-educators making decisions about education, the created testing “panic”, and ultimately to support that teachers are professional educators who can make decisions about how best to teach their students.

While learning music theory many years ago may not have been fun or seemed applicable, it made me a better musician, which at the time was my goal (I was a music major). I didn’t always understand that the two were connected, but the further progressed the more connections I could see. I still loved making music, it could still be fun (though not always), and ultimately I had to work at it. Like music, teaching may be fun sometimes, and there may be elements of it that are intuitive for some people – but it is tough, intellectual work as well that deserves respect and theoretical backing.

to be continued….

Stuck – a #nerdultion/slice of life post

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Click on the image above to head over to the blog “Two Writing Teachers” for more Slice of Life posts….

Today I feel stuck. This is dissertation work time, I have a meeting with my advisor in 2 hours and I feel stuck. So I’m going to try writing here.

One of things that I’m struggling with in this kind of writing is that I need to write to figure out what I’m thinking versus “showing what I know”. It’s something that I ask the students in my children’s literature course to do each semester. Some of them really struggle with it – they believe that if they have to write a “paper” and submit it to me (the teacher) that they need to show me what they know. I want for them to use their written responses as a way to figure out what they think and why they think it.

My dissertation needs to be a combination of both, with some stories and references in there for clarity and support. And it is oh-so-hard for me sometimes. I have this notion that I should be showing what I know, that this is in some way going to “prove” that I have earned the label of Ph.D..

I keep feeling this need to defend my work – to defend why I am doing the sort of dissertation that I am (theoretical/humanities) and to defend why it matters. But what I need to do is make the case and then DO the writing – and let that speak for itself. And not everyone will agree with me or even choose to engage with what I’m thinking. But that doesn’t matter. So I’m going to turn off my inner critic now – she needs a nap anyways – and go do some writing…

Philosophy of Childhood and Children’s Literature (nerdlution #2)

Dissertation progress update:

  • reread feedback on Chapter 2 so I’d know where to start with revisions
  • revised 2 paragraphs that needed help and added a new paragraph
  • wrote a story to integrate into chapter 2 (or another chapter, not sure yet)
  • had a conversation with a friend about part of my framework

About that last one, what exactly IS a theoretical framework anyways?!?! This has been one of the most complex aspects of academic writing for me to wrap my brain around. In the case of my dissertation, the way I’m thinking of it (thanks to my advisor) is as the “lenses” that I’m using to read, view, sift, and filter as I read and write.

One of the lenses is Gareth MatthewsPhilosophy of Childhood (not the same thing as philosophy for children). What I’ve been talking about and rewriting is the section that explains what exactly it is and why I’m using it in this study. This second part is tricky for me because it is perfectly clear in my head – but doesn’t always come out on paper the same way.

Ultimately Matthews is important for me because my study is focusing on the ways that children’s literature is thought about, studied, and conceptualized across the disciplines of education, library science and english. In my study I use the terms “literacy, libraries, and literature”. Specifically, I want to analyze interdisciplinary ways of thinking about children’s literature as a way to provide a broader way to prepare preservice teachers to think about children’s literature in elementary classrooms.

So why Matthews? He provides a lens that frames children not from a deficit or developmental perspective, but from a “show me what you can do” perspective. This is important because of the implied child reader of children’s literature, as well as because of the assumed (and explicitly taught) developmental perspectives of teacher education.

Dissertation plan for Monday:

  • finish revisions on Matthews section
  • make plan for revisions on Rancière section (the other half of my framework)

 

Jumping in to #nerdlution

Last week, the idea for #nerdlution was born out of a twitter conversation – as many fabulous ideas have been. If you want to know more, check out this post over on Christopher Lehman’s blog.

I’m joining in. I am going to write my dissertation. Every day. It’s important that I use the verb WRITE. Sometimes I think that I need to reread things – which I may need to do, or I may be using as a reason not to write. It is ok for me to reread things, but I also will WRITE.

I am going to use my blog to get myself in the mindset for the day. This is a version of something that author Linda Urban (@lindaurbanbooks) shared at an NCTE session about the writing process. So each day I will write a post about the following:

  • what I accomplished the day before as a word count
  • something that is inspiring for me
  • what I am going to write about on that day
  • Other ponderings that I want to keep track of, but can’t write about yet.

Once again, I am grateful to my @nerdybookclub tribe for their fabulous ideas and virtual cheering. Being part of this tribe means more than I can say.

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