Monday, June 23, 2008

Read'em Good

A lively discussion is underway at Teacher Magazine's online discussion forum. The topic du jour is about whether or not reading aloud to high schoolers is good for them. Apparently a high school teacher's administrator doesn't think so. When I sat stopped in on the forum today, it looked like the "good"s were in the lead. And I'm among them.

I often read to my high schoolers--especially key passages, poetry, parts of dialogue. Although I'm no great orator from the late 1800s, but with a degree or two in communication arts, I do all right. I figure, it's not often my students get to hear a professional reader of literature. That's my first volley.

Here are my top 10 reasons for reading aloud to teens, or at least all I can think of on this beautiful summer's eve.

  1. They love it.

  2. They'll hear the words spoken in an effective (not definitive) way.

  3. I know they are reading the text and not just the Sparknotes. Who knows they might even notice the incredible difference and stick to reading the texts in toto.

  4. I can model how reading inspires one to pause and muse and question, or reflect and elaborate on a moment in a text.

  5. We can discuss an important point, or debrief on difficult part.

  6. Some students are auditory learners; it helps all students to digest a text not to be decoding the letters on the page.

  7. It works in the mind's eye and on the imagination just as well, if not better.

  8. Students can take notes or make art related to the reading while I read aloud.

  9. Spoken vocabulary meets written text.

  10. Research says students (even at the college level) who are read to read more.

As I noted above, I do not lay claim to reading texts "the right way." A pitfall of reading aloud is interpreting the text in a particular way. So, I also encourage (read: give extra credit) for students who agree to read the night before (and complete a chart of verbs of how each page is to be read and dictionary checks on vocabulary) and read in class. This way there is not the stumbling, staccato, flat and mispronounced, tortured reading, yet a student voice interprets the work.

On last point, I remember reading Great Expectations aloud as a 9th Grade. My 14-year-old voice cracked and the class laughed. I also remember my teacher Mr. Allison's mellifluous tones when he read Romeo and Juliet with us. Ah, youth.
Image credit: "Reading Along with Mr. Youngs" by Victoria Lecci

Friday, June 20, 2008

Grading Blog Posts

A bit of a blogevangelist for education, whether speaking to colleagues down the hall or at conferences, I'm often asked "how do you grade a blog, do you have a rubric?" The short answer is "Yes."

Academic blogging is different from MySpace or Facebook. There are rules. Insert groan. I keep it simple for my sake as well as for that of my students. Students earn points under the categories of courtesy, communication, focus, scholarship, and thinking. You can take a look at the rubric I use for my students--click here.

In a recent articlein Campus Technology, Learning in the Webiverse: How Do You Grade a Conversation?, MIT's Trent Batson offers these tips that fit with most things we look for in good writing, conversational and academic:

  • coehesion of elements

  • awareness of audience

  • purpose

  • diction
It's clear from Baston's explanations of these components, there is a powerful difference from writing in a blog and writing a traditional essay. The stakes are higher when students are writing for authentic audience of peers in a public space. Purpose is torqued, too. To write for a class blog, students are called to not merely demonstrate knowledge but to share it meaningfully. Diction and coherency come into play as essential skills to accomplish the message.

I'd say this all adds up to much more engagement, thinking, and motivation to write well.

Image credit: "Conversations Silhouette" by b d solis, Creative Commons Copyright -- Attribution

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Think or Swim

In his introduction to How to See Yourself as You Really Are by the Dalai Lama, His Holiness notes "the most serious problems emanate from industrially advanced societies, where unprecedented literacy only seems to have fostered restlessness and discontent."

I see this in my students (and teachers, and just about everyone) as they obsessively check their mobile phones for texts, missed calls. I hear it in sound bytes from the latest news cycle that are taken without anything but superficial consideration and repeated as deep truths of what's happening today. Common sense, refection, and reverence are replaced by these sound bytes repeated as if mantras for a news cycle, and then replaced by the next gossip in the next moment.
Literacy, and here I am thinking of media literacy, must be stressed with our students to mean more than merely how to read a text or how to blog or make a video. Literacy is more than mere expression and understanding of a message.

Being teachers of English and across the disciplines, we teach our students how to read and write in a variety of media. It seems such a struggle to teach students to wade through myriad messages and identify propaganda and selected framing of ideas, let alone to dive into rhetoric and logic, then swim among questions and rise above to see things in larger contexts.

Of course, the total glut of media works against all of this. One might sit next to a lake and consider it for a long time without knowing its contents, yet today we seem awash in a tsunami. Ironically, survival in the latter is proportionally more crucial than in the former. One must not only be taught what water is, but also how to swim in it.

As we develop our students' abilities to digest media, some great emphasis must be given not only to forms but also to content. Knowledge isn't enough, thinking about the knowledge or lack thereof must be the focus. Perhaps if we ask our students to consider the messenger first, the message second, and then media third, we will be better equipping our students to find peace and contentment.

Image credit: "Grace Bay Beach Pier" 2007 by WisDoc used with permission of Creative Commons Copyright