Headlights in the fog

sectional_workshop_struggling_readersA few days ago I was worrying about the literacy across the curriculum’ course’ I’ll be teaching later in the year. In one of the many wonderful responses I got to that post, J. D. Wilson Jnr (quoting E. L. Doctorow) suggested that I was experiencing something akin to “driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

So I’ve turned on the headlights and can see a little way ahead. In this post I want to describe what I’m seeing.

I think I can see a focus question, a rough structure, and a couple of assessment items for the ‘reading’ component of the course. (It’s the reading component that I feel less comfortable with, so it’s where I want to start here.)

Firstly, and for reasons outlined in my earlier post, the focus question looks like being: “But I’m not an English teacher: is literacy really my business?

Secondly, the rough structure (dictated in the main by the university) is that I’ll have one 2-hour weekly tutorial over four weeks with my 90 students on the reading aspect of literacy, and the same later in the semester for the writing aspect. [This seems like a very rushed and concentrated timeframe, but I don’t think there’s any alternative.]

And thirdly, I’ve drafted two assessment items for the initial four weeks of the course, the part which looks as reading. The first is the keeping of an online journal which will be read regularly by me and available to other students. The second (and this is the one that I’m especially inviting comments on) is an oral presentation.

With grateful acknowledgements to Angela Stockman, Jim Burke, Teresa Bunner, Joan Porter, Amanda Goss, Dan Sharkovitz, J.D.Wilson Jnr, Mardie and Elfarran over at the English Companion Ning, here is how I’ve worded it in the current draft:

The oral presentation:

Find a student who struggles/struggled with his/her reading at school. This could be a family member, a student you remember from your own schooldays, a student currently at school, or even yourself.

Get to know this struggling reader. Investigate his/her reading experience in a single school subject (the one you teach). Explore the nature of his/her particular difficulties, challenges and strengths. Study and assess (formatively) his/her needs. Find out what has worked and hasn’t worked to help this student in the past. Speculate on whether there’s a significant disjunction between what the student values and/or knows and what the subject assumes he/she should value and/or know. Or perhaps the student’s difficulties are linked to identifiable but currently unused strategies which could make a significant difference? [If the student has already left school, reconstruct these needs from your research.]

Align Professor Lowe’s lecture, the textbook [which will probably be Cris Tovani’s Do I really have to teach reading?] and/or one item from our reading list with the particular needs of this student.

Then imagine that you have been asked to present your conclusions to the relevant school faculty staff. In particular you’re being asked to give advice to the faculty (which is likely to contain this student’s teachers in this subject for the next few years) on how to help the student with the necessary reading.

Then think about how you might go about presenting your thoughts to the staff? In a short film? In a podcast? As a digital narrative? With a talk supplemented by various media? In some other way?

Create your presentation and present it to our tutorial group in Week 4.

This assignment can be done individually or in groups of up to four. Your oral presentation should take no longer than 5 minutes/person. [This way, we’ll have time to see them all in the tutorial session.]

There are many different ways a group might approach this task: one way would be for one person to find the student and assess his/her needs, another couple would do the theoretical research, and a fourth would create the presentation. There would, of course, need to be regular and fruitful collaborations between all group members.

In addition to the oral presentation, each of you needs to submit a short written reflection from each of you [maximum one typed A4 page] on what you have learned from this task. [Perhaps this could be culled from a longer reflection written in your journal.]

Your written reflection might include why you chose this particular medium, what you have learned about assessment tasks such as this one, what you have learned about your own literacy skills, what you have learned about the relevance of reading in your discipline, and/or what you now see are some implications for your personal professional development.

So that’s my draft.

Does it work? Is it clear? Does it describe a stimulating and relevant culmination to a short course on reading across the secondary curriculum? Is it as good as it could be?

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3 Responses to Headlights in the fog

  1. This is practical and so much more authentic than some of the work that many ed students are asked to take on in any given course. Asking them to identify a real subject and to flexibly apply what they are discovering about literacy as a means of tailored intervention is going to serve them well in terms of developing a process for helping kids. I’m wondering if they ever have the chance to do that within their program at all? I know many participate in practical experiences with real kids (their own or those they meet through student teaching)–wondering if they could combine this approach with that experience?

    • steveshann says:

      Good thought Angela. Yes, the pre-service teachers will do a block of about 5 weeks out in a school, but it happens after the reading unit I’ve described. But then after the block they come back for classes and while we’ll be then concentrating on the writing side of the ‘literacy across the secondary classroom’ course, they’ll be continuing to write a journal. I’ll encourage them to reflect again on their initial conclusions in the light of what they experience in their block teaching.

  2. Marie says:

    Some thoughts to offer you…

    Will you specify the type of “formal” assessment? That is probably the most important part of the task your students are being asked to do. Without a valid assessment and accurate analysis the conclusions and recommendations your students present will be meaningless.

    Also…Is a presentation to an entire faculty about the results of a single student a realistic situation for a classroom teacher? A possible situation may be a “child study” group where teachers along with specialists and parents collaborate on interventions for a particular student. The presentation your students make could be as an advocate for the student at a child study meeting. Another avenue of presentation could be a voicethread illustrating the problem-solving process through the dialogue in the voicethread.

    —From an 8th grade Reading Teacher

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