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.


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