Welcome to my teacher candidate blog

All of the blog posts here were created over the 2014-2015 academic year as a part of my EDUC 311 and EDUC 314 courses. They will give you a deeper understanding of my educational philosophy and evolving identity as an educator.

 

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Response to “What Is Aboriginal English, and What Do Teachers Need to Know about Students Who Speak Aboriginal English?” by Lynne Wiltse

When Lynne Wiltse began her first teaching job in a British Columbian Aboriginal community, she made a mistake that, to people, including me, who have grown up knowing only Standard English, would seem completely understandable. Unaware even of the existence of an Aboriginal English dialect and, therefore, of the differences between the Standard English that she spoke and Aboriginal English, Wiltse mistakenly believed when her students referred to her as he and him that their language skills were somewhat deficient. The truth is that her students were correctly speaking Aboriginal English, which classifies things as either “inanimate” or “animate,” unlike Standard English which refers to things and people as “masculine” or “feminine.”

Wiltse makes it clear early in her article that, despite the fact that she was a teacher and had what she believed to be a thorough understanding of the English language, it was in fact her own knowledge that was lacking rather than that of her students’. Although there are hundreds of non-standard English dialects, including Aboriginal English, spoken in the world, many of us–including me prior to reading this article–only know the Standard English that is taught in schools. Despite the fact that all Englishes are valid and that no one dialect is superior, many people, like Wiltse, mistakenly assess a person’s language skills according to the rules of Standard English. Schools give little to no consideration for the dialect that a student has grown up with and speaks at home and, therefore, a student who grows up speaking a dialect that is not Standard English, has a disadvantage that Standard English speakers do not have, and may have a more difficult time in schools because of this.

Although Wiltse points out the importance of learning Standard English as it “is considered to be the language of the workplace, the dialect usually taught in schools, and the variety of English considered essential to social mobility,” (40) she also brings up an important point which makes a case for educators being conscious of other dialects of English. As I am sure all of us know after taking courses in Native Studies, one of the greatest threats to Aboriginal culture in the present is the loss of Aboriginal languages. I think I would feel like a hypocrite to empathize with a person feeling disconnected from their language and culture but then teaching and assessing them only according my the dialect of English I grew up with. After reading this article I wonder how many current student and how many of my future students will be, not only be at a disadvantage because of their language, but also feel lesser because I cannot connect with them through language as easily as I can with other students? After reading the article, I am interested in learning if any schools in Saskatoon currently practicing a “bi-dialectal” approach to English and how effective it is for students who are more familiar with an English dialect that is not the standard.

Response #2 to “What Does It Mean to Problematize Language as We Teach “English”?” by Susan Walsh

In this article, Susan Walsh discusses the ways in which, while teaching English in schools, it is possible to problematize language in general. She presents three ideas that tie into our problematization of language. First, she points out that “language is integral to identity and culture”(49). Second, she connects her article the one I read last week, by noting that languages (including English) have many forms, but not all are considered equal or valuable. Third, she points out that language is tied to race, ethnicity, gender and power.

Although English is still the dominant language in Canada, it is by no means the language. Therefore, treating it as such and letting language diversity go unacknowledged is irresponsible. Walsh notes that the immigration rates in Canada are at the highest they have been in 75 years and, therefore, it is problematic to assume that a student speaks English at home and can perform as well in an English-speaking school.

Although it could be viewed as a difficulty to have so many different language speakers for whom English is an additional language, Walsh points out that it also has benefits. She says that “the situation affords a rich opportunity to explore issues of difference and equity, and also to practise respect” (50). I’ll admit that prior to reading this article I had not considered the benefits of having multiple language speakers in a classroom–I thought of the situation as something that would cause mostly anxiety or stress for a teacher. But Walsh points out that that way of thinking is a part of the problem. After all, if children and adolescents spend their entire youth knowing only of the existence of one dominant culture or language, it is possible that they will take their culture for granted and perhaps be unable or unwilling to understand or learn about other cultures when given the chance. If, however, they are surrounded by diversity at a young age and we encourage them to embrace and understand new ways of life, it is possible that they will be more respectful of differences.

Response #3 to “What’s the Connection Between Gender and Literacy?” by Roberta F. Hammett

In “What’s the Connection Between Gender and Literacy?” by Roberta F. Hammett, she discusses the fairly recent aim for gender-inclusivity in academics, as well as the idea that this has somehow caused boys to suffer in the area of literacy. The topic addressed in this article article, and the discussion surrounding gender in general, is something that I have become fairly privy to in my post-secondary education thus far. I have taken several classes in Women and Gender Studies and have come to see it as an issue that needs to be addressed more in children at younger ages, particularly in high school-aged students who are searching for an identity and often revert to the gender roles that they have grown up accustomed to rather than challenging the status quo. Before I go any further, please don’t worry guys in the group–I’m not a male-basher!! That being said, I think one of the most disappointing outcomes of modern feminism is that women’s search for equality has often been viewed as a desire to somehow take things away from men. Hammett addresses a similar problem in her article when she notes the “moral panic” that has occurred following the revelation that boys tend to score lower on literacy tests than girls do and apparently the desire to make school more female-friendly is viewed as part of the problem. The thought that the aim for gender-inclusivity in language could somehow be a negative thing is completely mind-boggling to me. After all, there is a large difference between teaching students that “police officer” is more appropriate than “policeman” and excluding male students.

Hammett notes that many people have considered things like having more male teachers or male role models in schools, buying books with more male themes and creating boys-only classrooms, but that these methods have never been validated by any evidence or research. As Hammett points out, there is a problem with asking why boys are scoring lower in literacy when a better question would be which boys. This takes into account the intersectionality of gender with race, class, ethnicity and sexuality. I think that all too often, we are quick to make issues into a boy vs. girl debate when that is completely unnecessary. I think the key for us as teachers is to ensure that we are incorporating materials with authors and characters of all genders, races and sexualities rather than either reading things that are considered “masculine” or “feminine” and that we allow for discussions of gender to be welcome in classrooms.

Response #4 to “How Must Our Approach to Teaching Adolescent Literature Change in Order to Engage the Complex Needs of At-Risk Students?” by Kathy Hibbert

Hibbert’s article discusses the need for teachers to take risks in regards to the ways they teach literature, text, reading and writing in order to make at-risk students feel more safe and fulfilled by ELA classes. She argues that it is a teacher’s job to bridge the gap between a student’s life in school and out of school and that using a multiliteracy approach which incorporates new technologies is an effective way to do so.  By “[bridging] the gap between how students live and how they learn,” Hibbert suggests that students will be more engaged in what they are learning, and this must include allowing them to use the technologies they are using in their daily life. The question that Hibbert encourages us to consider is, “If teachers took more risks, might that temper the ‘at-risk’ behaviours we see in our students?”

Hibbert tells the stories of Tim. a high school student and Danika, a high school ELA teacher, to demonstrate the importance of multiliteracy in schools. Danika provides her students with many options for reading materials, depending on their individual reading levels and effectively uses social networks and other technologies to engage the interests of her students, both of which I think are very good ideas. I particularly think that offering different material is beneficial considering that not every student is at the same reading level or has the same interests as others. At the same time, I wonder how Danika approaches the teaching of these materials to her students. If every student is reading something different, how does she discuss the works with her class? Do they only use social networking to discuss their reading? The article does not go into detail about this.

The biggest problem I have with the article involves her story of Tim and what Hibbert often refers to as at-risk students. Her description of Tim is that he is “every teacher’s nightmare” because he dislikes the classrooms in which he feels imprisoned. Although Tim is intelligent and actually enjoys reading and discussing literature to which he can relate to in some way, he does not do well in school. My question at the end of reading about Tim, and after finishing the article, is “what is an at-risk student?” Considering the fact that this article was meant to address at-risk students, I find it strange that Hibbert did not provide any details as to who at-risk students are, how teachers can identify at-risk students or how we can help them in ways other than by letting them use computers. After all, Tim struggled in school because he didn’t like sitting still, but I assume that there is more to an at-risk student than this one detail. Therefore, I leave this article somewhat puzzled as to what it was trying to achieve. It made a case for allowing more technology into classrooms, but as for the challenge of teaching at-risk students, I wish Hibbert had given more detail.

Response #5 to “What Is ‘Participatory Consciousness’ and Why Should It Matter to English Teachers?” by Dennis Sumara

In the past, consciousness, as Sumara describes in his article, has been viewed as something that concerns an individual. He notes that most of us believe that a person’s consciousness belongs solely to that person and does not involve others. This, as his article aims to explain, is not, in fact, true; rather, the idea that a person’s consciousness in unaffected by the people and the world around them is something that contemporary theorists are finding to be completely untrue. He states that “although most of us experience consciousness as unified and coherent, consciousness is not, in fact, physically ‘centred’ anywhere in the body.” He goes on to say that “a theory of consciousness for English language arts teachers must challenge those metaphorical associations” and that we must shift our views of consciousness from seeing it as “personal” to seeing it as “participatory.”

He uses the metaphor of an iceberg to explain the relationship between “consciousness” and the “cognitive unconscious.” The “cognitive unconscious,” or the knowledge we gain without being aware of it which allows us to recognize patterns, is the largest part of the iceberg, hidden below the water’s surface. “Consciousness,” though we often believe it to be completely unconnected from the unconscious, is really more like the small tip of the iceberg. Even though the piece below the surface is not visible, it is always there, and it “shapes and structures all conscious thought.” Our consciousness is directly affected by our experiences and our interactions with other people and our environment.

As Sumara explains, the ELA curriculum is shifting its emphasis from notions of consciousness as “individual” toward a recognition of consciousness as “participatory” and is, therefore, changing “the focus of learning from ‘me’ to ‘we’.” There is now more encouragement to “remove barriers between creative expression and civic engagement” as well as “a strong support for representing and sharing the products of social engagement,…social commitment between participants, and a belief that individual contributions are valued by the community.” I am very excited by this new emphasis on encouraging students to develop empathy and concern for other people, and feel that this ties in with both an argument to extend our teaching of literature beyond a reader response method, which can be quite self-indulgent. It also fits in perfectly with what we are learning in our Pedagogies of Place class, as this recognizes the need for involvement in community in developing our concern for it.

Because of this newly addressed “collision between cognition and culture,” Sumara suggests that “perhaps the best [ELA teachers] can do is provide our students with meaningful opportunities to both experience and articulate empathetic identifications through…engagements with both conventional and popular literary forms in both formal and new participatory cultures.”

Response #6 to “Why Is Telling Historical Tales in Schools Important?” by Linda MacKinley-Hay and Bill Hay

If anyone is looking for a resource concerning why or how to incorporate place-based teaching in ELA classes, I recommend reading this article. I remember my in ELA A30, the overarching question from our teacher was “What does it mean to be Canadian?” Unfortunately, the discussion ended with the class basically spitting out a bunch of Canadian stereotypes and leaving it at that. I think that we missed the opportunity to consider what being a Canadian means on a deeper level. This article, however, stresses the importance of asking our students, whether they were born and raised in Canada or are new to the country, to take their understanding of the Canada to a deep level and to consider how the country we live in at present was affected by events in its past. MacKinley-Hay and Hay note a comparison made by Canadian poet Shane Koyczan that Canada is an “unfinished ‘story told to your friends'” (159). Because of the changes our country is experiencing and the numerous cultures present, Canada’s identity, as well as our personal identities as Canadians, are constantly being created and recreated. By exposing our students to stories about Canada’s past, told from many different perspectives, they can gain a better understanding for what it means to be a Canadian, and for ho they fit into a country without a fixed identity. This kind of practice can allow for students to be more comfortable with diversity and, as MacKinley-Hay and Hay point out, “through interactive discussion, students become aware of others’ stories and the inherent unfairness of stereotyping as well as distrusting difference” (161).

One of the best elements of this article is the suggested unit plan that the authors lay out beginning on page 161. Not only are a great list of Canadian historical novels provided, but the authors make some great suggestions for the teaching of historical novels about Canada. Some of their ideas include beginning a study with students freewriting their own stories, encouraging students to keep journals for observations during their reading, having small group discussions about the multicultural aspects of certain novels (e.g. Which cultures, differences, similarities, conflicts and prejudices are in the novel?) and examining multiple novels for ideas about what it means to be Canadian. I really hope I get the opportunity to teach English A30 and I think that the unit plan and the suggested resources are all things that I would consider using in future classes.