Friday, May 14, 2010

Well, my first year of graduate school is over. It's been a long, stressful road...this semester particularly was rough. I went from not working to working 2 jobs; not full time but a lot to deal with especially with the difficult courses I had to take. It's been nice having classes that aren't dual-level and have graduate students exclusively; the level of maturity and dedication is so much higher. It's a welcome change from early 20-something kids who are taking a class because they're forced or just taking it to cross a requirement off their list.

This semester is also unusual because I've been put in the position of having to defend my academic rigor--my standards. I've been told frequently this semester that I'm "anal" and "ostentatious" because I have high standards and don't think it's acceptable to half-ass something. I'm an English student. I read a lot of books--fiction primarily, but also nonfiction, poetry, and memoirs. I read adult, children's, and young adult literature. If that makes me ostentatious, so be it. It's also upsetting that the people making these comments are attempting themselves to be graduate students. Why is laziness acceptable? Why are low standards acceptable? This is work. It requires dedication and immense amounts of time. It means reading assignments not just once but twice or three times. It means researching above and beyond what's asked so one is ready for class. It means broadening one's scope and looking at things objectively and with an open mind. It means thinking critically about what is being said (at times, what ISN'T said). That, in a nutshell, is graduate school.

I also had an interesting conversation with a friend about the role of professors. He feels that it's okay to not be diligent or have high expectations for students of English if they're not going to actually be English majors. This thinking is as erroneous as possible. First of all, a professor must be diligent in their expectations. They must be able to show students where mistakes have been made. Writing and thinking skills are necessary for all areas of life and all disciplines. Professors do students no favors by being lax because students "aren't English majors." Furthermore, this friend himself, despite attempts at graduate school himself, shows major deficiencies himself in his writing--in terms of content, grammar, usage, but also organization. It's fine that he is content to dismiss those deficiencies by claiming to be a creative writer (and therefore creative writers don't need proper English conventions, apparently), but by desiring to teach students and have these relaxed standards he will only be perpetrating the false idea that it's okay for students to not understand how to properly write and structure an essay.

I never studied much in high school or as an undergraduate. Actually, in high school, I never studied. I probably could have been a 4.0 had I actually applied myself and took things seriously. I wasn't a straight-A college student and my study habits were a joke. I coasted and bulled my way through most classes. But education is also a divider--anyone who thinks otherwise need only look at Sarah Palin and the Tea Party crazies to see my point is proven. It separates those who can think for themselves from those who cannot.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

However, it is generally agreed that Young Adult Literature is literature written for adolescent readers, and in some cases published by adolescent writers. The Young Adult Library Services (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as "someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen". Young adult novels have also been defined as texts written for the ages of twelve and up. Authors and readers of young adult (YA) novels often define the genre as "literature written for ages ranging from ten years up to the age of twenty" (Cole).

Kids are reading less and less. There are dozens and dozens of reasons why--I have many theories, beginning with the fact that adults, with every growing year, become less and less attuned to the needs of teens. In some ways, teen issues don't change--all teens struggle with identity, finding their place in the world, and determining what to do with their lives. But pressures placed on kids are greater than ever, and many parents and teachers are at a loss as to how to handle this. What can be done? One answer is simple: give them books.

Young adult literature has many fallacies surrounding it. People (especially adults) believe it is "dumbed down," lacking in literary value, or limited only to teens. This thinking is erroneous and uneducated, promoted by those who vaguely remember reading assigned texts from high school or are unfamiliar with contemporary YAL. Teachers, under pressure from administrators, prinicpals, and test scores, are, by and large, unaware of the wealth of literature available to them and their students, and feel compelled to teach the "classics." Furthermore, English departments require, at most, one YAL course, so teachers-to-be are ignorant of what's available.

So there's a disconnect between universities, teacher training programs, libraries, and YAL. Thinking needs to change. Solely teaching "the classics" and "adult" literature is ineffective for many reasons: struggling readers/learners have difficulty grasping the content. Often, even for proficient or excellent readers, classics fail to relate to the lives of teens. Handing a student a book that they relate to, can understand, and characters they empathize with, whether in a library, home, or classroom, is a guaranteed way to get students to ENJOY reading and not view it as a chore. How do I know this? Experience. Student teaching 8th graders was challenging, but I created literature circles using the books Walk Two Moons and Tangerine. The students couldn't wait for English class to share and discuss the books. After my 9 week placement was up, the unit was wrapped up as well. I later found out that the students switched books and continued reading, even though the unit was over. They liked the books that much. Teaching last year, the same thing happened: by choosing YA books that students liked and could relate to, students were receptive to reading and enjoyed the text.

An English teacher needs to be aware of contemporary literature. A book can be analyzed and discussed, and literary techniques studied using YA as well as adult literature. A rigorous discussion and critical analysis is possible using "non classics."

The publishing industry has reported that YA is the only area that is increasing its numbers. More and more "adult" writers are writing YA: Sherman Alexie, Louise Erdrich, James Patterson, and Joyce Carol Oates are only some who have achieved crossover success in both areas. Young adult literature isn't a "fad" or "trend" or something going away--it is a phenomenon that is growing and educators need to be on board with it.

There are 2 arguments I'm trying to make here: first is the value of YAL in the classroom. Secondly, teachers need to be aware of what's happening in the literary world and stay abreast of trends. Declining reading among teens is frightening, because of all the other areas that suffer as a result: writing skills, vocabulary, spelling/grammar/usage, the ability to think critically and discuss ideas, an understanding how other cultures, groups, etc. function and live.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Bully for Books

What do people have against books? Time and again techno-philes and proponents of wiki-whatevers claim the computer to be superior in all ways to books: it's free, fast, and, unless one has a laptop, doesn't need to be transported. Those arguments are fine if we users could trust all content posted online. The fact of the matter is this: Internet information is usually unreliable and written by people who are not experts on their selected topic. Students of any age should not be learning, as a primary source, something that any Joe or Jane Schmoe could have written--which often happens with Wikis or internet publications. It's great that students create web pages, wikis, whatever, and share them--but other students should not be relying on those pages for information.

Part of the problem is students want information right away. Why should I read a book when I can go to Google and find information--and a lot of it--in a matter of seconds? Why should I go to a library when I can look for information from home? Why should I page through journals, magazines, newspapers, when I can see graphics of my search or click through pages online? And there are times when I would love nothing more than to sit in front of Google to find information. But the reality is this: the soon-to-be teachers who believe, or are lead to believe, that the Internet is the best way to find information, are misguided. Regardless of where this thought originates, here are some of the dangers of relying too heavily on the Internet:
1. Students, and hell, many adults, do not know how to discern information and/or find credible sources.
2. Students, by not reading, by and large have smaller vocabularies, worse grammar, usage, and spelling, and poor oral skills.

There are many theories about why and when kids stop reading. I love reading; I always have. My parents and sisters are readers; my best friends are readers; and when asked what my hobbies are, reading is always listed first. I don't know if the 24 and younger set think it's dorky or uncool, or takes too much time, or lack the reading skills necessary to read a book, but it's a frightening trend because as teachers and parents, we need to be modeling what we want. Teachers cannot encourage reading and stress its importance if they themselves are not readers.

More to come on this...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Miscellany about Morgan

I clearly love alliteration...perhaps it elevates me into from geeky-cool into just geeky, but what can I say? I'm getting my Master's in English, so all things literary are fascinating to me. This is my second semester as a graduate student; I am hoping to be finished next May so I get a real, full-time job and have money again. I graduated in January 2005 from UW-O, and while some think it's strange that I returned here for my Master's, the real reason is this: when I applied for grad school, I lived and worked in Appleton, which would have made it very easy for me to take a night class here and there. Then I got hired as a teacher and moved, putting grad school on the back burner. After I got laid off last spring, I re-activated my student status and voila! Here I am.

This is my first semester as a grad assistant, and I am enjoying the 'behind the scenes' part of a college classroom. It's great experience, as I'd like to teach at the post-secondary level when my degree is complete.

Here's the Cliff Notes version: I think Cliff Notes enable laziness and it should be illegal to publish them...censorship of any kind riles me up...I love to read...have 2 younger sisters (see pictures)...went to Fiji for two weeks in January (and didn't want to leave!)...grew up in classic rock, "Lost," "General Hospital," and "Glee" emphasizing my degree on African American literature...and am an otherwise fascinating mix of caffeine, pop culture, and sarcasm.

A little bit about my teaching experience: my job was at a (now-defunct) charter school in Sheboygan. I worked with 28-35 students labeled with everything: at-risk, ADHD, ELL, ED, LD, and probably more I wasn't aware of. These were the naughtiest of the naughty students--they were withdrawn from their home school, usually for gang violence/fighting or drug/alcohol reasons, and sent to my school. While only having that many students may seem like a breeze, the reality is that I taught grades 6-12 and both English and history. Basically, every student had their own learning plan, which involved credit recovery. So, for each student, I created English and history lessons, often times multiples in each area because they were at risk of not graduating on time. My demographic was almost all male--I had 5 female students; almost all my students were Hispanic or black; and the issues I had are nothing than can be taught in a methods or behavior management class. After months of frustrating and bizarre behavior from one student, he was finally diagnosed as schizophrenic, which involved massive amounts of time, meetings, reports, and attempts before figuring it out. It was an untraditional and unconventional experience, but I was pretty devastated when Sheboygan cut my program (as well as myself and 45 other teachers!) However, it lead me to grad school, so in the long run it was all a blessing in disguise.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Wikipedia? Devilpedia!!

I hate wikis. Wiki books, wiki pedia, whatever. The very term alone equates laziness and inaccuracy, and it is not a little disconcerting that teachers are relying so much on wikis in their classrooms.

People go to college to learn--they get their Master's and PhD's and become experts in their discipline. THEY should be the ones who are putting the information out into cyberspace--not someone with limited knowledge. Furthermore, teachers are so reliant on wikis that they are neglecting critical skills along the way: research, disseminating information, finding credible sources. This is such a disservice to their students, and creates a cycle of laziness. When the teacher relies heavily on wiki-whatevers as the source of information, they are being lazy in their job. The students in turn are lazy because they don't know how to properly research or find information.

Finally, the idea that students should type instead of writing because it's easier for the teachers--what a slippery slope. Why teach writing at all? and with that, why teach spelling, since a computer will "catch" it for us? Computers are not the be-all and know-all; they know what the user knows. Spell check will not catch the difference between "Its a cold day" and "It's a cold day" because both spelling of its/it's is correct. The USAGE is what is wrong. Computers breed laziness.

Maybe I am more of a Luddite than I realize.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The digital age...

It's not often that I watch PBS, but yesterday I watched the "Frontline" program "Growing Up Digital" and it scared the hell out of me. Two journalists researched the effect of digitalization on kids, and the results were shocking--and also slightly amusing. The youth (included were MIT students in their 20s down to 8th graders) were wholly confident in their abilities to multitask--look at Facebook while texting and IMing and doing homework. A number of researchers tested the students on their retention abilities, and, not surprisingly, the students failed at this. The students were so arrogant and nonchalant about all the technology they were using that is was shocking how badly they failed the number of tests researchers asked them to complete.

Another aspect of the program discussed how people make "friends" on the Internet, and how "connected" they feel to people they've never met. This is sad.

Finally, the most upsetting part of the 90 minute episode was how staunchly techno-philes defend the use (overuse, IMO) of digital gadgets. They claim it is "progress" and cite how upset people were when the phone lead to a decrease in letter writing, and how people couldn't believe a train would be faster than a horse. But where is the progress in having our youth spending their lives online? There are skills that can never be taught by using a computer--skills such as public speaking. Personal interactions. Human contact. The ability to carry on an actual conversation--one that isn't peppered with abbreviations, emoticons, slang, or text-speak. No one will ever convince me that these skills are outdated or old fashioned. Now, the program highlighted some innovative and cutting-edge companies who employ virtual reality as a substitute for meeting in person; the participants in these experiments tout money-saving as a benefit of using VR; another alleged benefit of VR is the ability to work from home. These people are fooling themselves. How business can be conducted via a computer is beyond me--where is the facial expressions? the non-verbal communications that convey emotions and feelings? the hand shake? when we as a society lose the capability to defend our arguments, discuss topics face-to-face, cannot meet people in the eye, is this really progress?

I am not a Luddite by any means. If it were not for email and Facebook I would be unable to communicate with my sister halfway around the world, or my German "sister," or my best friend when he taught in Korea. I love that I can send an email to a professor or friend or my parents and get a response within minutes. And I love being able to share my life (aspects, anyway!) with my closest friends and family via Facebook. But gaming and IMing and texting will never replace the sound of my loved ones' laughter, or the feel of their arms in a friendly hug, or the clinking sound of beer glasses at my bar. Those are things you cannot get from a computer, iPod, iPhone, Blackberry, or any other piece of technology.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hi to anyone reading this...I am testing this out so I am prepared for Thursday's instructional technology class, where they are supposed to be doing this. More will come...