Saturday, September 24, 2016

Strategic readers  (URI EDU532/Fall 2016)
In the last two weeks, the cognitive measure of strategic reader’s acquired target skills have stood out most in my mind.   I know this is starting backwards to consider what it means to be a  strategic reader.  But those targets from the NAEP Reading Framework have helped me to examine assumptions I’ve never had the courage to consider before.   In my current context I would say that we gear up students to be strategic test takers.   PSAT, SAT and other standardized test preparation is discussed and given some reasonable amount of time in order for our students to succeed.   It is the final exams, however, that are the perennial benchmarks of student recall skill and teacher accountability.   I have really yet to see a theology final exam that ever mirrors the Grade 8 or  the Grade 12 Cognitive Targets (p 9, NAEP) in its form and layout.  Ultimately, locating and recall, the lowest or most simple target is one that takes over an exam and does not mirror the 20% recommended expectation of that competency.    In our Moral Theology course this changes somewhat and moreso for our highest performing students, but I can only speculate that English final exams work their way toward more integrating, interpreting, evaluating and critiquing.   I don’t think cramming would be such an issue for high school students I see working now and the way college students still do the same.   A quantifiable number (a raw score) seems to take on it’s own mystical power as a measurement of “something” which must have been legitimate because it mirrored the content of the course (without considering what cognitive capacities we should have considered in the first place.)
I have found that identifying strategic readers and I guess this must mean strategic listeners also, is that they have this wonderful capacity Buehl lists in the comprehension process of proficient readers: making connections to prior knowledge.   I teach two grade levels normally, sophomores and juniors.  Yet the sophomore class is an honors class while the junior class is designated accelerated (unmentionably, the lower level).   It is with the proficient readers and/or listeners I find that I will have students throughout the year who effortlessly refer back to the very first week of class or the very first historical unit and verbalize a direct correction to prior knowledge.    On the accelerated level we teach foundational moral theology for about a half a school year and then applied issues (social justice, sexuality, life issues, war, crime, etc.).   For many in that level the first half of the year becomes a distant and unrelated set of propositions even though it was intended to serve as the common vocabulary and language for all of those succeeding issues.   And trust me, in light of it being a Morality course at a Catholic high school, there is really no other way to roll it out in terms of the institutional responsibilities we theology teachers have.    But returning to the theme of prior knowledge again, I find that with that same theme I can activate connections for students by modelling that behavior in real time (the first part of the reciprocal teaching process) by connecting our just war unit criteria to insights about the Vietnam War.   Faces look like flicked on light bulbs when that happens in class; it’s literal shock and awe to them that a teacher knows something “outside” of his or her discipline.
I find the the readings for the past two weeks have done much good on laying out the capacities for readers but also the social, cognitive and, pedagogical pitfalls associated with a changing landscape of literacy or an unchanging set of approaches in the classroom by teachers or unchecked assumptions by students about what the new technology landscape means for them as learners, whether actively engaged or actively resistant to the process.
When teaching literacies is time our friend or our enemy?   Duke and Pearson state that one of the key strengths of strategic readers is that spend  a great deal of time spent actually reading (p. 207).  I work in a high school that does not have an SSR portion of the day.  So it makes me wonder how to have students gain a passion or interest in reading (even online) when literature is already selected without options.    The five Common Core standards listed in Buehl’s article (p.9) certainly assume a great exposure to literature with cognitive expansion and mastery happening in a very ambitious set of outcomes.  One specifically states the question of a higher volume of informational expository texts is one of the desired learning outcomes.   If an agricultural system cannot be both resilient and efficient, it seems to me that these admirable objectives are both attempted, either the volume or the complexity or depth needed to get all of the skills necessary to be a strategic reader.
Of course, I understand that my perspective may be warped in this manner, in that I am thinking of my single year curriculum and not necessarily the whole of a system wide K-12 approach.  But I believe the authors, especially Buehl, Duke and Pearson, state that there is trade off in embedding literacy strategies into the curriculum because for most people those seem to be at cross purposes with the highly regimented and content rich curriculum scope and sequence we face for a new run through each September.
Despite those reservations and jumble of semi-cynical emotions, the CORI videos give me hope that the embedding of literacy strategies described in Duke and Pearsons work are attainable, but is that only the case for elementary grades?   High school students normally switch classrooms and the very setup of the curriculum segments and compartmentalizes the work to be done.   The Summer Institute’s book Schools 2.0 spoke of having year level questions and themes at the high school level.  Such a practice to me seems to increase the efficiency and the use of time when individual teachers are not side by side of each other reinventing the wheel (whether it be a projects or practices).  My experience with librarians at the high school level in two schools has been very positive, so when I consider access to materials as shown in the CORI videos I know some of those encounters and procedures are replicable in a high school setting but certainly not to the degree in which the teacher has fifty or sixty books available for a teacher to have on standby for what seems to be by the videos’ implication at least a few weeks.   To take another approach, I have attempted a number of webquests in my career which certainly contain the capacity for inquiry and give rise to a certain degree of creativity in product creation.
All of these readings have challenged me in terms of modifying the specific methodologies I employ in class, especially my moral theology course, because it is on one level already a media literacy course.   But it is not about the scope and sequence of the course but my consciousness has been raised so as to focus back on student needs.   If I give a cursory review in class of a text I assign for reading I now know that I’ve really not given my best to a student who struggles and cannot make connections and may not have the desire to point out his own confusion or frustration.  What then will I have accomplished if I don’t change my ways now?  Taking this course during the school year is such a double edged sword in terms of the effort needed to succeed at this and my job demands but the payout of integrating in real time and sharing new insights with my receptive department chair is a wonderful benefit.
The challenges of non-reading culture of boys is not sufficiently addressed in these readings. As a generally liberal citizen I still take much stock in the ideas presented by Christina Hoff Sommers  War On Boys  Prager University video (a Youtube channel I otherwise largely avoid) Teaching in an all boys school and being the father of three sons I have a two-tiered experience of how many boys actively resist leisure or other types of reading.   Sommers also address that our cognitive and behavior labels now tend to skew toward rewarding the behavior of girls as more ideal readers and writers.  Again, as a liberal, I just want equal opportunity in this case.