1


   Intense interrogation of my beliefs and assumptions as well as close

examination of the intersection of my teachin...
2


like a piece of clay. In early September I noted these observations about Dewey

and Rosenblatt:

       On p. 39, Dew...
3


result of the transactions that occur between ourselves and the text, amongst

ourselves and others, and between ourse...
4


“But the easy and simple are not identical. To discover what is really simple and

to act upon the discovery is an exc...
5


them to thoughtfully examine the fabric of our society. Inquiry is at the center

of our curriculum” (Rogovin, p. 21, ...
6


classroom uses their questions and answers as the springboard for instruction in

other subject areas; thus, the curri...
7


is defined depending on what side of the oppressed/oppressor binary in which

one falls. But it is all worthless witho...
8


do not say or teach; Commeyras points out that “We tend to think that we are

being political only when we do somethin...
9


“Culturally established norms become so deeply ingrained in consciousness that

they come to seems as substantial and ...
10


her own practices and to challenge the status quo through action research and

purposeful, thoughtful reflection; in ...
11


                                   References


Bakhtin, M. (1981). Discourse in the novel. In The Dialogic Imaginati...
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Buffy hamilton project 1 read 8100

  1. 1. 1 Intense interrogation of my beliefs and assumptions as well as close examination of the intersection of my teaching practices with the theories we have studied the last eight weeks have been the hallmarks of my journey into acting and reflecting on what it means to take an inquiry stance on a literacy classroom. Until this past summer, I had never considered how theory might inform my practice and how practice could inform my views and interpretations of theories. I have engaged in both reflection and action over the last five years of my teaching career, but until recently, I have not reflected with a critical consciousness or critical lens. Our ideologies and theories of education are the prism through which we should view our classroom practices; we must scrutinize our practices, even our most valued and cherished beliefs about teaching, to grow as teachers and create a space for learning that values all voices. At the beginning of the semester, Dewey’s discussion about forming a sound philosophy of education struck me hard like a bucket of cold water; after reading Dewey, I reflected that “Thus, it is important to have a well-developed philosophy of education as this is your “north star” while you are chartering new territories in teaching and learning with more progressive or newer methods.” The question, “Why am I doing this?” must be at the center of my thinking when I am thinking about my teaching practices. My immersion into our culture of inquiry, our readings, and the dialogue among class members are shaping what was once an amorphous and nebulous idea about inquiry into something with shape and form
  2. 2. 2 like a piece of clay. In early September I noted these observations about Dewey and Rosenblatt: On p. 39, Dewey states that “Experience does not go on simply inside a person.” In this paragraph, I am reminded of Rosenblatt’s idea that meaning is not resident in the reader or the text, but that instead, meaning is created in the transaction between the two. Dewey believes that the meaning of the experience is created between the transaction that occurs between a person and the external conditions or objective conditions in which the experience takes place. This idea is reinforced on p. 43 when Dewey says, “An experience is always what it is because of a transaction taking place between an individual and what, at the time, constitutes his environment…”(Dewey, pp. 39-43, 1938). Through transactions with texts, class dialogue, and class activities, my meaning making of what an inquiry stance would look like in a literacy classroom has been created in a transactive manner, and this meaning making will continue to evolve over time as my “linguistic reservoir”, experiences, and transactions with “dialogic threads” shape my learning. My primary questions this semester are: • What does it mean to take an inquiry stance on a literacy classroom? • What does inquiry look like in a K-6 classroom (or any Language Arts classroom?) • How does an inquiry stance intersect with a critical literacy practices in a Language Arts classroom? Freire, Rosenblatt, Bakhtin, Dewey, and hooks seem to be affecting my working definitions of inquiry so far; I am intrigued by Vygotsky, but I honestly think I need to read more about his ideas and theories before I can decide how his ideas play into my working definition of inquiry. Taking an inquiry stance in a literacy classroom means creating an environment that is learning centered. Our meaning making is the cumulative
  3. 3. 3 result of the transactions that occur between ourselves and the text, amongst ourselves and others, and between ourselves and our “dialogic threads”; this belief is supported by Bakhtin’s assertion that “Understanding and response are dialectically merged and mutually condition each other; one is impossible without the other” (Bakhtin, p. 282, 1981). Taking an inquiry stance means focusing on student questions and generating curriculum from those questions rather than following a dead and rigid curriculum that values a “banking system of education” as described by Freire in Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. When we focus classroom learning around students’ needs and questions, we can create educational experiences that value all voices and build a sense of community. By taking a problem-posing approach to teaching and learning, we can use inquiry to disrupt the discourses that oppress certain groups and privilege particular ways of knowing. Anyone who takes an inquiry stance on literacy must realize that the endeavor is not a quick fix or easy path to follow; quite often, the dominant discourses valued by administrators conflict with an inquiry stance. Dewey warns us that “It is easier to walk in the paths that have been beaten than it is, after taking a new point of view, to work out what is practically involved in the new point of view” (Dewey, p.30, 1938). On the surface, taking an inquiry stance might seem easy, but in reality, it requires the teacher to be acutely present to the dynamics of her classroom and to be flexible to follow the lead of where students’ questions and learning may take the class rather than following a preconceived, neatly packaged lesson; Dewey tells us,
  4. 4. 4 “But the easy and simple are not identical. To discover what is really simple and to act upon the discovery is an exceedingly difficult task” (pg. 30). Unfortunately, many teachers find it easy to follow the worn paths and never engage in praxis or critical thinking about their philosophy and pedagogies. Even worse, this acquiescence and unwillingness to engage in critical consciousness is often valued by administrators who want to maintain the power structure. Karen Cadiero-Kaplan sees the oppressive nature of a school environment and curriculum that value functional and cultural literacies; schools that value the ideologies inherent in functional and cultural models of literacy “…prepare students for positions of power and reject individual experiences while discrediting or ignoring the influences of popular cultures, ethnic cultures, and racially diverse cultures. This elitist ideology deems alternative cultural and linguistic discourse communities with a society as illiterate because literacy is based solely on the basis of knowing and being able to converse, read, and write about those topics that make one literate” (p.376, 2002). So what might inquiry look like in K-6 Language Arts/Reading classroom? Paula Rogovin, a first grade teacher at the New Manhattan School in New York City, creates her curriculum around student questions and interviews that students conduct with community members as part of the inquiry process. Questions are the foundation of Rogovin’s inquiry stance in her classroom; she believes, “…it is that spirit of questioning that is the essence of inquiry and research. I want my students to ask questions and more questions. I want
  5. 5. 5 them to thoughtfully examine the fabric of our society. Inquiry is at the center of our curriculum” (Rogovin, p. 21, 1998). Through this inquiry approach to literacy, she challenges assumptions and stereotypes while engaging students in dialogue about issues and concepts important to them; at the same time, she values the prior knowledge each child brings to the learning community. Rogovin understands the importance of Rosenblatt’s concept of the linguistic reservoir; she maintains, “ …when the children know I will ask about their prior knowledge, they think more actively. Children are then empowered to teach each other and their teacher”(Rogovin, p. 73, 1998). In her inquiry based classroom, “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach”(Freire, p. 80, 2000). Students thinking for themselves is valued in this kind of classroom; Freire maintains, “Producing and acting upon their own ideas---not consuming those of others---must constitute that process” (Freire, p. 108, 2000). In this literacy classroom, the students and teachers are both authorities of knowledge and the work of the class/learning community. Rosenblatt’s transactional theory of reading and learning supports an inquiry stance on literacy; in such a classroom, she asserts, “The teacher in such a classroom is no longer simply a conveyor of ready-made teaching materials and recorder of results of ready-made tests or a dispenser of ready-made interpretations. Teaching becomes constructive, facilitating interchange…”(Rosenblatt, p. 1034, 1994). In addition, this inquiry based
  6. 6. 6 classroom uses their questions and answers as the springboard for instruction in other subject areas; thus, the curriculum is seamless and interdisciplinary rather than fragmented. Students see the relevance of their inquiry in all disciplines. How does an inquiry stance intersect with a critical literacy practices in a Language Arts classroom? Lewison, Flint, and Van Sluys define four dimensions of critical literacy: disrupting the commonplace, interrogating multiple viewpoints, focusing on sociopolitical issues, and taking action and promoting social justice (p. 382, 2002). Karen Cadiero-Kaplan asserts that when defining the concept of what it means to be “literate”, we must examine the ideologies and theories that inform our definition of “literate” and how that translates into our practices because “…what it means to be a ‘literate’ person is based on an ideological construct that is inherently political” (p.373, 2002). Until this year, I must sadly admit that I was not looking at my teaching practices through a lens of critical literacy. Now, as I struggle to engage in this kind of praxis, I find myself challenging my own assumptions and biases about teaching and learning as well as those of my students. Although my school climate is not conducive to a challenging of the “status quo”, I am attempting to nudge my students in critical dialogue through an inquiry stance in my classroom. Last week, Jill Hermann-Wilmarth’s group remarked in their critical literacy group summary that “…my praxis is leading me into some "dangerous" thinking and in another class political activism is a part of the syllabus. Praxis in critical theory has the ability to be dangerous. Now the definition and severity of danger
  7. 7. 7 is defined depending on what side of the oppressed/oppressor binary in which one falls. But it is all worthless without praxis. Am I willing to devote myself to living a dangerous life?” (October 11, 2002). The works of bell hooks and Freire address these very questions as we look at the intersection of inquiry and critical literacy. On pp. 48-49, I was struck by the idea that the value of being revolutionary lies in the daily work (praxis)---action and reflection---not an abstract idea of being revolutionary. This idea is repeated on p. 54 when she says that “…our lives, our work, must be an example” (hooks, p. 48-54, 1994). Freire champions the concept of praxis and continual critical reflection and action when he asserts, “For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other”(Freire, p. 72, 2000). I am trying to be political and revolutionary in my work, but many times, I feel as though I am fumbling along as I strive to stay true to my principles, but at other times, feel guilty for acquiescing to school mandated practices that do not teach anything of value and are geared toward a test that privileges certain groups who have the “cultural capital.” Dr. Michelle Commeyras echoes this need to be political and self-interrogative by viewing ourselves as political and to consider if society is making us something we no longer want to be (Commeyras, pp. 130-131, 2002). However, it is not just what we do in our classrooms that we should examine, but what we
  8. 8. 8 do not say or teach; Commeyras points out that “We tend to think that we are being political only when we do something controversial. But what we do not say and do not teach also represents a political stance. If we want to be viewed as intellectuals, then we must be aware of the politics of our teaching practices”(Commeyras, p. 130, 2002). These views reflect many of the issues raised in our last two class discussions about Freire, what a Freireian classroom would like, and the issues we might encounter as we attempt to engage in our praxis. Many times it does challenge the accepted hierarchy and privileged values, and we have to be willing to ask the hard questions not just of others, but also of our ourselves. At first this critical self-interrogation can be difficult; no one wants to believe that they could be the oppressor of someone else, but if we are to grow and move forward along the continuum of learning, we must engage in this reflection and action. How does this intersection of inquiry and critical inquiry translate into practice for me? As someone beginning to embark on viewing her classroom and teaching practices with a critical literacy lens, I need to examine if my reading and writing workshop activities as well as efforts at teaching from an inquiry stance are reflective of the four domains of critical literacy. Am I choosing critical texts and connecting literature discussions with the issues that may develop from students’ transactions with those texts? Are we disrupting the norm? Are students’ questions the focal point of our inquiry? Am I oppressing or privileging certain groups? How do I know? As Dr. Robert Probst points out,
  9. 9. 9 “Culturally established norms become so deeply ingrained in consciousness that they come to seems as substantial and immutable as physical reality itself”(Probst, p. 67, 1988). For me, a significant way to engage in praxis and to engage in a critical examination of my teaching practices is to conduct teacher action research throughout the year; it needs to become a seamless part of my instruction and teaching practices. Through teacher action research, I can reflect on notes on what I observe in my classroom, examine student work, reflect on classroom dialogue, and look at patterns in the classroom dynamics with a critical lens. Like Dr. Betty Bisplinghoff, I can use action research to resist banking-model curriculum and mandates and justify an inquiry, critical literacy stance. Right now, I am feeling what Bisplinghoff felt when she began teaching in a new school district that did not value problem-posing, inquiry based learning. In her first year in this new district, she shares the struggles, fears, and uncertainties she felt as she attempted to stay true to her transactive view of language and learning in a school climate that valued shallow pre-packaged programs that emphasized fundamental and cultural literacy rather than a progressive or critical literacy; I identify with Bisplinghoff's memories of feeling isolated and overwhelmed when she asks, “How could I someday enter into their dialogues as one who understood their perceived pressures and discuss alternative stances that stood a sincere chance of being considered rather than discounted as simply just too far afield” (Bisplinghoff, p. 120, 2002)? Bisplinghoff chose to examine
  10. 10. 10 her own practices and to challenge the status quo through action research and purposeful, thoughtful reflection; in a sense, her own praxis was an act of inquiry. I see action research as both an integral part of my own praxis as well as a form of resistance to the oppressive practices that seem so prevalent in my current teaching environment. In addition, action research allows me to be political by critically examining my own classroom practices. Action research will be an ongoing stance of inquiry for me as I know more questions will arise out of my praxis. As Bisplinghoff notes, her action research allowed her to disrupt Dewey’s notion of “inertia of habit”(p. 127, 2002). In conclusion, an inquiry stance on literacy means asking critical questions of ourselves, our students, and the practices of our schools. By engaging in action research, I can critically examine how theory and practice intersect in my classroom. I hope this inquiry of my own teaching practices will mirror an inquiry stance in my classroom where my students and I can engage in critical dialogue through questioning and the creation of a learning community that values all voices. Our study of the various theorists has caused me to take a hard look at what I am doing and ask myself, “Why am I doing this?”, an essential question that we should constantly ask ourselves.
  11. 11. 11 References Bakhtin, M. (1981). Discourse in the novel. In The Dialogic Imagination: Four essays by M.M. Bakhtin (pp. 259-422). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Bisplinghoff, B. (2002). Teacher planning as responsible resistance. Language Arts, 80, 119-128. Commeyras, M. (2002). Provocative questions that animate my thinking about teaching. Language Arts, 80, 129-133. Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Collier/Macmillan. Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum. Hermann-Wilmarth, J. (Personal e-mail, October 11, 2002). hooks, b. (1994). Paulo Freire. In Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom, (pp. 45-58). New York: Routledge. Kaplan-Cadiero, K. (2002). Literacy ideologies: Critically engaging the language arts curriculum. Language Arts, 79, 372-381. Retrieved September 12, 2002 from http://www.ncte.org/la/LA0795TOC.shtml . Lewison, M., Flint, A., and Van Sluys, K. (2002). Taking on critical literacy: The journey of newcomers and novices. Language Arts, 79, 382-392. Retrieved September 12, 2002 from http://www.ncte.org/la/LA0795TOC.shtml . Probst, R. (1988). Response and analysis: Teaching literature in junior and senior high school. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Rogovin, P. (1998). Classroom interviews: A world of learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Rosenblatt, L. (1994). The transactional theory of reading and writing. In R. Ruddell, M. Ruddell, and H. Singers (Eds.). Theoretical models and processes of reading 4th edition (pp. 1057-1092). Newark, DE: IRA.

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