The importance of process

I’m working with a writing coach right now, she is amazing. Something that rang eerily true for me while we were working this weekend was the fact that my past experiences with writing – and other types of creating as well – were largely about having a product outwardly validated. A final draft, a Bach Suite, a photograph, a test result.

I’m now working on my dissertation, which needs to be all about process. There will be a product, yes. But the focus of that product, the reason for it’s existence is a for me to communicate my process. Which, as it turns out, I don’t trust and hasn’t actually helped me to move my thinking forward. I’m working on these things but in the meantime, my realization got me thinking about the things that are publicly valued in our society – so SO many of those things are about product.

  • Olympic Medals – or the more timely Final Four Basketball Championship
  • the number of albums sold.
  • Length of time on the best seller list.
  • Test scores.
  • Did I mention test scores?

I worry that with so much rhetoric and pressure on schools (translate: teachers & students) to put out strong test scores, everyone will lose sight of the process of learning. Do we need to know what we are teaching and if students are learning? Yes. Can process be included in testing? Sometimes. But I hope that we don’t lose sight of helping students develop and understand their own processes, including:

  • Process of learning
  • Process of creating
  • Process of teaching
  • Process of engaging
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The power of language

While talking with my new children’s literature students last night, I was telling them about some of the goals of our course – specifically about learning and using the language of literary, design and illustrative elements.

I used the analogy of listening to music. Often someone will say that they love X type of music or Y performer. When asked why, the response is commonly, “I don’t know, I just like the way they sound.” Ok – that may be true, but that explanation does not help me (or anyone else) understand what it is that specifically draws that listener to that specific style of music or performer. I was a music major as an undergraduate student. I distinctly remember that the more that I learned about music theory and music history – the better able I was to convey both what I did and did not like in music.

The same can be said of reading and literature. I don’t expect the students in my class to like everything that they read, but I do expect them to read. I do expect them to be able to articulate what it is they notice, respond to, revolt against, or get sucked into while they are reading. I expect them to use language like genre, point of view, and style; hue, medium, and layout. Not in a way that shows they only regurgitates a definition – but in a way that shows they have a deeper understanding of those elements and the ways they can impact a reader.

Many of them come in with negative memories of needing to interpret a story in a particular way or of being judged by an AR (Accelerated Reader) score. They have forgotten how to read for pleasure, or perhaps never learned. While I sincerely hope that at some point during the semester, I will put the “right book” in each of my students hands – I realize that may not happen. But I can give each of them language to help them better convey what they do and don’t enjoy about the books that they read. Language that can help better equip them to ask for specific qualities they find pleasurable.

Next week we start with picture books. I can’t wait.

A new semester…

Today I’ve been thinking about the role that children’s literature plays in elementary classrooms. More specifically, the role that it does play, and the potential role that it could play. This is not to say that it is the same in every classroom – I know that it is not based only on the experiences of my own two children. But I am fascinated with how it is that literature comes to be considered and utilized so differently by so many teachers and school children. In particular, I’m interested in the ways that teachers think about it.

My goal in thinking about all of this is not to come to an answer – I don’t think that one, singular answer exists. But I do want to consider the factors that contribute to teacher thinking about literature. I know that the common core standards are currently a factor – as curriculum can be. But there are other factors as well, such as that teacher’s own experiences with books and literature. And my primary area of interest: how were they prepared to think about the role of children’s literature in their own classrooms?

I realize that these are big questions – with many possible scenarios and contributing factors, some more evident than others. But as I begin teaching a new class of preservice teachers to think about, read, and interact with children’s literature – I can’t help but wonder what they will do in their own future classrooms with the experiences we have together this semester with each other and books.

Slice of Life #5: Visiting Mr.Sharp and his readers

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This gallery contains 11 photos.

Last fall, I watched a video called “Mr. Sharp Loves Reading.” I loved it and shared it with my children’s literature class immediately. I decided I needed to find out more about this teacher who would jump on desks to … Continue reading

“Then, he smiled a froggy smile…”

The first week of the semester is almost over. I survived my first two stats classes (a ph.d. student’s rite-of-passage and the last class of my own ph.d. career), and taught my own first class meetings. My first blog post asked what you would read, and I thought it only appropriate that I follow up with what I actually read in one of my classes.

Crafting Teaching Practice: Elementary Language Arts – this is the first time I’m teaching the course and I was actually a bit nervous. In class on Tuesday, we talked about who we are as learners and the ways that can impact the decisions we make in a classroom (both as teachers and students). We also talked about how the similarities and differences that we share as learners all contribute to creating a unique learning community, and that we all contribute to each other’s learning. I am very consciously and purposefully using “we” here, because I am always learning from my students (one of the things I love most about teaching). So, what to read with them? I had a number of choices depicting different types of teachers and/or students and/or relationships. Ultimately, I didn’t go with any of them. I ended up reading City Dog, Country Frog (Willems/Muth).

I have loved this book since it first came out – the illustrations are beautiful and the way that they work together with the text are sublime. I read it in the closing minutes of class and asked students to put every thing away and just listen. The listening silence that I hope for was there after a few pages. The bittersweet ending seemed to surprise some of them. But then I told them why I shared this particular book. City Dog carries Country Frog’s friendship  with him. We see it in the illustration of his “froggy smile”.

I think that teaching and learning communities are similar; we carry learning experiences (both formal and informal) with us as we move through our lives. I asked my students to think about the fact that not only are they bringing their experiences as students with them to our classroom, but that they also will be creating experiences for their own students in their internship placements and future classrooms.