Buffy hamilton response to fecho and christensen october 19 2002
October 19, 2002
Response to Christensen and Fecho Readings
1. How are these classrooms (Fecho and Christensen) alike or different?
2. How are these teachers alike or different?
3. What is significant here?
My Responses to these Readings and What Seemed Significant to Me
I thoroughly enjoyed both of these articles; the authors articulated many of the
concerns/issues/questions that we have raised this semester in class and in our
responses about taking an inquiry stance on literacy. The essence of both readings was
the focus on the struggles both teachers and students experienced. Although I have
not taught in an urban school setting or even one that is culturally diverse, I can relate
to some of the frustrations and concerns that troubled both Christensen and Fecho; I
think we all worry about how can engage and foster meaning making for all of our
students, especially those who are marginalized (I loved how Fecho related this to bell
hooks!). The students whom I see as marginalized where I teach are our Hispanic
students, the very few African-American students we have, and white students who are
of a lower end socioeconomic class. No one wants to address how their voices are
silenced or how the current school structures do not work for them; no one wants to
address issues such as gangs and why students join them.
Just this past Friday, I met with my 4th period “Level 1” American Literature students;
this is a class that has 28 students, a ¼ of whom are labeled as special education
students, and another ¼ who are on the SST list, or “at-risk.” Because we have had so
many problems trying to meet the needs of all 28, we have split our class into rotating
groups that work with the team teacher and half that work with me; the students have
conveyed they like meeting in smaller groups. Half were in the media center working on
a research project, and the other half were meeting with me as we discussed a slave
narrative we had read from our literature book. These students are similar to those
Christensen taught---many openly expressed a hatred of school, many openly joked
about being on the “five year plan”, and in general, resisted the culture of school. This
resistance has nagged at me all semester as has their racist attitudes (our school is the
only high school in our district that has not banned the “Dixie Outfitters” shirts, and
several students are now wearing these shirts in addition to a necklace made of beads
that have the confederate flag on them). Through our dialogue about this slave
narrative, we began talking about how groups of humans are devalued and exploited
even today in our country as well as other places in the world; we also got onto the
subject of gangs---what they were, who joined them, and why people might a gang.
This text and dialogue were the gateway to opening up discussions about stereotypes.
The students raised some interesting and challenging questions, and the content of their
questions reflected many of stereotypes they had picked up through television and
movies. While some students seemed to respond positively to our challenging of these
assumptions, I could see others, particularly one girl who was wearing a “rebel flag”
shirt, resisting---their body language alone said it all. Still, other students who had not
appeared very interested all semester suddenly had quite a lot to say and seemed
sincere in their efforts to make a meaningful contribution to the discussion. We ran out
of time and will delve back into this discussion next week. I felt glad that we had
cracked open some controversial topics that I see seething in the hallways and even
undercurrents of it within this particular class but are being denied or “swept under the
rug” by other teachers and administrators. At the same time, I worried I was going
somewhere that probably would not be approved by my administration, but I felt it was
important we open the conversation. I felt proud that I had the courage and integrity
to go to these places with the students, but at the same time, I wondered if I was
facilitating the discussion appropriately (thinking about Dewey as Dr. Fecho did in his
article). I think some my fears and worries are very similar to those Dr. Fecho and his
student teacher shared in the article.
These articles helped me to understand more about how Bakhtin and Vygotsky transact
with classroom practice (I feel I understand Rosenblatt, Dewey, hooks, and Freire much
more clearly), and I especially see more now the value of having theory to anchor your
practices and stances after reading Dr. Fecho’s article. This article also seemed to
validate my assertion in our first project that teacher action research can help inform our
understanding and exploration of theory as well as an inquiry stance on literacy; I am
more determined than ever now to make action research a seamless part of my daily
Dr. Fecho addresses this in his article, especially on pp. 31--34, but I am wondering how
can I really take an inquiry stance to literacy to the degree like he and Christensen did?
We definitely do not have the structures in place in my school---we are horribly
entrenched in the banking system----standards, a dead/traditional curriculum, and
testing are driving our school (and district, for that matter). I have met only one other
teacher in my department who would be interested in this approach, and when she
made some proposals last year, they were immediately shot down. I teach five sections
of courses with pre-determined curriculum of tracked, homogenous grade level students
in 50-minute blocks, and my student load is nearly 150 daily. In addition, I do not know
if I will have the same students next semester, or if I even will teach the same courses!
I need ways of breaking out of my narrow thinking so that I can figure out how to
disrupt these structures. I would love to spend three months on an essential question
or teaching around broad, interdisciplinary themes, but right now, there is no room for
that at my school---everything is very prescribed, and I feel grateful that I have been
able to circumvent it as much as I have thus far. I know that I could not go with an
inquiry stance to the degree that Christensen and Fecho did, but I would like the
opportunity or space to do so. How do I get there??? In addition, I live in a very
provincial, conservative district. While I do not want the parents to dictate what I teach,
I feel (as did Fecho) that I need to explore those concerns and not simply discount
I really enjoyed seeing our theories transacting with these teachers’ classroom practices.
I especially enjoyed reading the student poem “To My People with Retinitis Pigmentosa”
as well as the Frederick Douglas poem/blurb about power and struggle---both were very
moving and thought-provoking for me.
How are these classrooms (Fecho and Christensen) alike or different?
• They are not confined by the traditional curriculum (or literature/readings) and
incorporate a problem posing, inquiry based stance that is concerned with
students’ questions and needs as learners as well as advancing issues of social
• Both ask students to explore and inquire to issues/questions that are normally
“taboo” or controversial in schools.
• Both focus on building a sense of community in the classroom.
• Both teach in urban classrooms.
• Both seem to be multidisciplinary and integrated in making connections with ideas,
subject areas, and issues.
• Both provide students extended time and means to explore issues and inquire.
• Both seem to have sufficient resources to conduct their inquiry.
• Both teach students who are not of the dominant culture.
• Christensen’s classroom seems to have more issues with lack of tolerance or
respect for other cultural groups than Fecho’s.
• Both struggle with tackling discord and “threat” in the classroom, but both take on
• Both attempt to forge a community of learners by valuing the struggle of inquiry.
• Christensen seems to focus more on the idea that classroom community is “not
always synonymous with warmth and harmony”(p.2). I had not thought of a
community of learners in this way before!
How are these teachers alike or different?
• Both value the struggle
• Both value students who are out on the “borderlands” and interested in helping
them cross those borders/boundaries as well as change those borders/boundaries.
• Dr. Fecho seems to have a broader and deeper awareness of issues involved with
an inquiry based stance---his article reflects how he sees theory and practice
transacting and intersecting, and these transactions allow him to ask deeper
questions and to consider other angles/possibilities/issues that Christensen did not
address or consider in this reading.
• Dr. Fecho seems to have more experience and a sense of how to go beyond the
dialogue students engage in and relate it back to the essential question and to get
students to think more deeply through a critical lens or poststructuralist lens.
• Both teachers worry/reflect on whether their methods are working and engaging
• Both teachers take risks and disrupt dominant discourses; they challenge students
to challenge their discourses and those of others.
• Fecho delves more deeply into the issues of “threat” with a critical inquiry stance
on literacy and how that threat can be transcended.
• Both try to look beyond surface issues in the classroom and to examine what is
going on behind those issues; however, Fecho is more systematic with his
reflection and action through teacher action research. At least, from what I can
tell, he has documented more carefully and thoroughly the transactions in his
• Fecho examines his classroom through the lenses of theory and openly states his
approach to teaching is an inquiry stance.
• Christensen focuses on a curriculum of “empathy” to help students live the lives of
others; Fecho does the same, but his focus seems to be less on empathy and
more of one that ask students to self-interrogate their values and beliefs.
• Both worry that their approaches might encourage and reinforce stereotypes
among some students.
• Both worry about the students who do not seem to change or grow in some way.
• Christensen addresses problems of discipline and how to deal with students who
do not want to engage in inquiry or who to seek to disrupt the learning
community. I too feel torn between removing them from the room and taking
time to explore the source of the resistance and how to channel it more
• Fecho includes a much more detailed “story of the question” in his reflections.
• Fecho is much more grounded in theory when thinking about his inquiry stance.