Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finding Possibilities in Standards

I find it interesting that there is not a lot of research exploring the connection of oral to written language (Shanahan, 2006). By secondary school it becomes perfectly clear in my experiences and observations as an English teacher, that a major problem found in today’s student writing is the re-creation of the spoken word to the written page. Students write like they speak. Double negatives, extraneous language, and slang infiltrate the short response to the multi-page essay. However, written language allows revision based in vocabulary choice, structure, and sequential organization (Shanahan, 2006).

So, why is what is written among adolescence so often a mimicking of oral communication? School teaches literacy as that which is read, written and spoken. Standards mandate the drilling and assessment of specific word recognition, reading fluency, and lexile driven comprehension skills that compose “a third area of investigation” of reading and writing relationships (Shanahan, 2006, pp. 175 – 176). I have taught to this research in preparation for the Standards Based Assessment of New Mexico that measures some level of adequacy among 11th graders.

I have taught to the “research” and taught to the “test” as writing was used as an assessment for reading comprehension. I find it somewhat problematic that the short cycle assessment given three times during the school year both separates the two so that a connection to validity and reliability is disconnected in the process. I do perceive one commonality of both assessments. As Scott (2008) posited “the potentially divergent pedagogies of teachers and the divergent interests and potential creative and intellectual endeavors of students are rationalized through the assessment” (p. 154).  I am left to reflect on the loss of “experiences, ideas and genres” (p. 158) that went unexplored in my classroom.

Through his research, Sumara (2002) argues that reading is most effective when it informs thought. He reflects that “ engagement with literary fiction is not merely a practice where one identifies with characters, learns moral lessons, and broadens perceptions” (p. 23) by experimenting with a more indepth reading based in the relationship of personal experience to cultural, historical events. Using the Commonplace Book concept, the goal of literary engagement “is to use features of the novel to create conditions where reader responses can become developed, collected, and interpreted” (p. 29). Relationships to what is read are created instead of based in lexile driven comprehension. However, I do perceive that through these relationships, comprehension reaches heights of critical thinking that will encourage the attainment of heightened skills.

When did individuality, diversity, and creativity cease to exist in the art of teaching? What is so wrong with personally relating  standards to “visions of a rich curriculum that will enable young people to examineways in which a diverse country has struggled to live up to its own ideals of justice, freedom, and equality” (Sleeter, 2005, p. 11)?

 I recently experienced the “turning off” of the wiki spaces site that allowed students to explore online writing possibilities and communicate in ways that superseded the boundaries of the classroom. Witte’s “Talkback Project “(2007) reached a similar roadblock. It is somewhat refreshing to find the “Talkback Project” alive and active as a teacher’s site allowing today’s educators to experience the ability to vent through a blog. Perhaps 21st century instructional strategies can be explored and shared as a process that diminishes the hidden agenda-driven boundaries that separate teaching from learning.

Instead of succumbing to roadblocksand agendas, there is so much that can come together through discussion, researching, experiencing, and expressing. Stories are allowed to connect, contradict, enhance, ignite, suppress, and deny. The possibilities become unlimited when learning is allowed the excitement of exploration. There is so much depth to so many stories that are taught to meet standardized requirements. Explain to Wiesel why the reading of Night should become a victim of mandated standards. Since when is Orwell’s Animal Farm a neatly ordered fable illustrating analogy, symbolism, and point of view? The enjoyment, frustration, and confusion provoked by Lowry’s The Giver can too easily be confined to discussions and short responses based in plot, characterization, and author intent. “When everyone in a classroom, including the teachers, shares personal experiences, the uniqueness of each voice is heard” (hooks, 2010, p. 57). Each class has its own uniqueness, its own energy, and its own funds of knowledge. No class should be lost in an oppressive pedagogy too easily accepted by simply meeting the requirements of standards and benchmarks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Art is not a statistic.

Art cannot be quantified;

Isn’t that the argument?

“Among teachers reporting a decrease in instruction time for arts

education, our study identified a more likely reduction in time spent on

arts education at schools identified as needing improvement and those

with higher percentages of minority students”

(GAO Report to Congressional Requester, February, 2009 p. 30).

Art does not define students;

It allows individuality




And so much more.

“One of the unintended consequences of NCLB was the shrinkage of time available to teach anything other than reading and math. Other subjects, including history, science, the arts, geography, even recess, were curtailed in many schools” (Ravitch, 2010, p. 107).

When did the possibilities of art end?

Isn’t art a part of what is read, and

What math can create?

“When the teacher’s perspective is one that might be called emergent rather than prescriptive, the stakes for pedagogical innovation are higher and the demands greater” (Eisner, 2002, p. 152).

What is a student’s future?

Why is education limiting what they can be?

Who they are

Their dreams

What they perceive as their success…

Whose lens of responsibility is broken?

“I believe that all students should have the opportunity to experience the arts in deep

and meaningful ways. The opportunity to learn about the arts and to perform as artists is an

essential part of a well-rounded curriculum and complete education” (Duncan, 2011, p. 2) 

The power of “should”

Education is broken



Children suffer

As “essential” never reaches reality

At the expense of….


 “Our contribution to reform may be a suggestion for catching more frequent glimpses of the half-moon, more frequent movements with flamenco dancers, more heart-stopping dialogue with those who find themselves on stage. It is immeasurable, but it may signify a necessary professional development; it may be named ‘possibility’” (Greene, 2001, p. 132).

Where are the educators?

What happened to the art of teaching?

The benefits of learning?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dear Art: The essence of all stories, please come back because,

You are, “the extension of the power of rites and ceremonies to unite men, through a shared celebration, to all incidents and scenes of life” (Dewey, 1958, p. 271). It is through you that narratives unfold as symbolic voice, unmasking the truths of existence. Why then does education deny you as a part of the learning process? For, you give the voice of the teacher the means to share experiences with precision, articulation and imagination (Greene, 2001, p. 25). You empower as connections are made that ignite inquiry.

“Democracy is a story, or a set of stories, we tell ourselves. Stories of democracy have moral, aesthetic, and psychological as well as political resolution” (Beyer & Pagano, 1998, p. 391). A democratic classroom is one in which all voices are heard, stories are shared and an individual’s experience is expanded. Diversity is realized through the diverse community interaction of the educational environment. “Democratic stories require a new vocabulary that provides us with metaphors for our self-creation. And self-creation is not just moral and psychological; it is political, and it is an aesthetic act” (Beyer & Pagano, 1998, p. 393).

Art, you are oblivious to race, gender, wealth, social status, learning ability and handicap. You do not victimize students through a blame-the-family, stock story, mentality. Your defining power is stronger than the statistical standard of accountability that manifests as a number without human value, without a soul. You give the stories of students’ respected significance, empowering inquiry and insight that become Eisner’s “cognitive event” (Eisner, 2002).

All students must be given the ability to learn through experiencing a variety of ways to both think and express thoughts. Through you, students become problem solvers as they are given a heightened cognitive awareness that is expressed in “flights of the imagination” (Eisner, 2002, p. 9). Because of you, students unite in interpretive expression, instead of becoming victims of penciled-in bubbles. Differences identify the unique, not the adequate. For, who has the right to place judgment on either?

Teachers should not be afraid to take risks, explore, and discover the unknown. You provide a way to expand consciousness through new perceptions, reaching realities that are different and present discomfort rather than the safety and convenience of NCLB’s standards and benchmarks. To ignore your significance is to limit possibilities by both student and teacher.

As the essence of all stories, you have always provided the path to progressive thought. Through the visual arts, drama, dance, and music, oppressions are communicated as you reveal truths, expose contradictions, and propose transformation (Boal, 1985). The thicknesses of conformity, complexity, compliance and cowardice (West, 2001) are illustrated, symbolized, and characterized. Encounters are provoked and awareness is motivated “not in extrinsic demands, but in human freedom” (Greene, 1995, p. 39).

You are not a privilege, but a benefit that should not be reserved as an elite, educational gift. You are a part of life, an intrinsic part of the human experience that is acknowledged in universal stories. To banish you from the educational community results in learning that is fragmented and incomplete. Dewey (1958) recognized the need for you to be “the incomparable organ of instruction” but also realized that too often “we are repelled by any suggestion of teaching and learning in connection with art” ( p. 347).

My journey has just begun as I uncover the importance of your integration with the established NCLB core curriculum. You are necessary as a part of all education and your beauty in and of itself must have its place. Beyond being an artist, I am an art educator and art integration is my passion as a teacher, curricularist and theorist. Courage will come from the students, teachers, administrators and parents who share in the possibilities of transformative, magical experiences heightened consciousness. The entirety of a culture can connect, understand, and take ownership of a classroom that by its essence is democratic. Cultural stories become transformed as an entire educational community perceives, experiences, and reflects through enlightened inquiry.

Hannah Arendt, as quoted by Greene (2001), perceives education as the point “at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.” (p. 75) Greene (1968) expands this perception when she states that teaching is “where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new” (p. 196).

Art, you cannot be extinguished. Though you have disappeared from education, your absence of power has evidenced itself through that which is imprisoned within the statistical. In May of 2011, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities published the report Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. In its forward, Arne Duncan posits “experiences in the arts are valuable on their own, but they also enliven learning of other subjects, making them indispensable for a complete education in the 21st Century” ( p. 2). Without you, Art, education cannot be whole. I will work for your return.

With Much Love and Respect,

Jill Lynn Hare Drama teacher, art integrator