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[Xmca-l] Re: Winn's Exploring the Literate Trajectories of Youth across Time and Space

Mike, I'll offer an answer. I do think you've captured the essence of Winn's MCA piece, and raise a good question about those teachers who both teach the school curriculum and also work with kids in other contexts, or at the very least, participate on communities of practice that are quite different from schools with respect to literacy expectations.

I'm guessing that most teachers primarily teach. I taught HS English for 14 years and it's a killer in terms of the amount of work required, especially when it comes to grading student writing. I coached sports for 4 of those years, and interacting with kids on the track and on the basketball court helped me get to know kids in very different ways--they are much more "themselves" when engaged in practices and games than during the formal hour of class we'd share once a day.

So, I wouldn't quite call it a "failure" to engage, because one reason I had to get out of coaching was that it left me with no life whatsoever outside school and coaching. That became emotionally unhealthy for me after 4 years.

I do know of others who've taken up work-related interests that map onto their formal public school teaching roles. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYgxCHtArmA provides a video of a teacher in Georgia who, after the school day is over, is active in community literacy in the spoken word tradition. (Paul Ayo is a stage name; I forget his teacherly name.) His involvement in this C.O.P. in turns informs his efforts to teach his kids.

But it’s a very difficult task to manage, because teaching is so demanding. If I would offer a generalizable lesson for educators, it’s that it takes considerable passion to take on extra duties beyond the classroom (and my experience is as an English teacher, where we grade a lot of student writing and often have 150 students a day). Sometimes, these passions do not necessarily involve kids, at least not directly. I know of teachers, for instance, who live in a different city from the one in which they teach and are on their local school boards. http://www.steppenwolf.org/Plays-Events/productions/bio.aspx?id=463&crewId=1345 links to a guy I used to teach with at the same high school he still works at; his passion is theater, and I don’t know how he manages to do both. Other teachers assume roles in professional organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English, eating up all available time; others are in teacher-research groups or other professional development initiatives.

So, the exemplary teachers that Winn describes are unusual in that they carve out time to take on additional passions, and do so directly with kids. I suppose my coaching fell into that category, and I could not have gone to graduate school or met my significant others in life without giving up the coaching.

Hope that’s what you had in mind. p

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of mike cole
Sent: Sunday, March 29, 2015 1:57 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Winn's Exploring the Literate Trajectories of Youth across Time and Space

Peter--- Thanks to Greg McV's mediation  :-))  I wanted to ask you the question I have been asking on the list in general but not getting much help with ( or not understanding much of the help I was getting!).

You write at the end of your summary of Maisha's narrative,

*And so she explores trajectories that are robust and highly energized, yet that depart from those taught and assessed formally in education.*

So here is my question in a nutshell. The big lesson i took from Maisha's trajectory of work was not only that there is a vibrant, literate, cultural thriving alongside of school failure, there are teachers with lives in both worlds who appear to be able to bridge those worlds for the kids so that schooling makes sense, has its uses and interpretations,  in two worlds. (This is always true of teaching/learning in my view, but it is very marked here in many socially significant ways).

Others have failed where several of the people who play a central role in Maish'a narrative succeed. What are the generalizable lessons we can take from these examples. I did not see this so much a question of trajectories, at least in this narrative. That is probably my lack of expertise in this line of current literacy work.


On Fri, Mar 27, 2015 at 12:56 PM, Peter Smagorinsky <smago@uga.edu<mailto:smago@uga.edu>> wrote:

> Winn's 2015 MCA article was voted as this issue's discussion paper,

> and in the absence of an opening opining post thus far, I'll try to

> start the conversation.


> Maisha is a mid-career African American researcher with a strong

> dedication to investigating the literacy activities of Black youth.

> Her paper traces themes that she has explored in 4 projects, each of

> which yielded a book, from her career stops at Berkeley, New York,

> Atlanta, and now Madison, Wisconsin (all in the USA). If I can extract

> one major theme from this work, it's that AA youth who are often

> characterized as having low literacy are in fact highly interested in

> language usage and linguistic performance, and immensely skilled and

> productive in their linguistic lives. Without using a Vygotskian

> vocabulary, she asserts (and here I provide the Vygotskian terms) that

> through their use of speech, they elevate their thinking to higher

> mental processes, although not such that schools can recognize them.

> And so she explores trajectories that are robust and highly energized,

> yet that depart from those taught and assessed formally in education.


> I'll take a detour here to refer to a talk that our mutual friend

> David Kirkland gave at the National Council of Teachers of English

> convention last November, in recognition of receiving NCTE's highest

> research award, the David Russell Award. What follows is taken from a

> book chapter I've drafted for a collection on adolescent literacy, in

> which I describe Kirkland's findings. I'll let this stand as my

> opening conversational turn, in hopes that others will find avenues

> through which to enter the discussion. I think that what follows is

> relevant to what Maisha talks about in her article-hardly

> comprehensively, but I see these issues as undergirding her general

> perspective on students from (mostly) African American communities who

> lead rich literacy lives while being assessed in school as being deficient.


> scores of scholars, many of them from an African American heritage,

> have expanded on Heath's (1983) findings, investigating African

> American literacy development in a variety of regions and settings.

> These scholars (e.g., Kirkland, 2012) have found that although Black

> students are continually measured to have low and declining literacy

> rates in school, they live rich lives with print, spoken, and

> multimodal texts in their teeming literacy lives once outside the tolling of the school bells.

> Kirkland (2014) makes a key distinction in considering how such

> opposing conclusions could be found on the same population. School

> achievement tends to be measured in single-sitting examinations that

> are based on problems posed by test-makers, with scores computed for statistical manipulation.

> Ethnographies tend to be conducted outside school over time, with

> detailed documentation of social and cognitive processes through which

> self-chosen literacy goals are pursued, often with feedback,

> affirmation, critique, and other forms of response helping to shape

> literacy products, including readings. Such studies of urban Black

> students' literacy activities focus on what the youth consider to be

> authentic, meaningful processes and products, and typically find that

> literacy achievement is high, sustained, and of great social value.

> These literacy practices are characterized by their highly social

> qualities as youth perform for one another and use texts to position

> themselves amidst youth culture and others in their environments-a

> stark contrast to the solitary, detached manner in which their literacy is measured in school assessments.

> Kirkland (2014) finds a set of related problems associated with

> relying on conventional school assessment to stand as definitive

> measures of literacy attainment. First, the literacy problems on which

> they are tested are not posed by the students. Rather, they are

> designed by adults paid to generate test problems that meet some

> psychometric standard for reliability across the whole testing

> population, often one dominated by middle class students whose

> practices are more congenial to such testing. This approach of norming

> answers according to one dominant demographic produces feelings of

> alienation from the examinations and consequently from school on the

> part of those from other cultural groups, given that school becomes

> associated with punitive testing that is indifferent to what the kids find important in their literacy lives.

> Second, the exams assume that their test items are isomorphic across

> test-takers; that is, they are premised on the idea that the learning

> tasks they present to students are understood in the same manner by

> all within the test-taking population. In particular, the test

> designers tend to assume that the task as they envision and intend it

> is in turn taken up by all students in the same fashion in which they

> offer it. Newman, Griffin, and Cole (1989; cf. Smagorinsky, 2011)

> refer to this phenomenon as the problem of assuming a task or problem

> isomorph in which a learning problem is presented to people of

> different backgrounds in different settings under the assumptions that

> this standardized procedure will be interpreted identically by all who

> encounter it, because that is how the designers believe it should

> work. The likelihood that the tests are constructed in relation to

> autonomous texts-texts with an inherent meaning that is not subject to

> reconstruction and instantiation of additional meanings by readers-is

> highly unlikely, given the dubious nature of the assumption in light

> of virtually any social or constructivist perspective on textual

> composition and interpretation (see Nystrand, 1986 for a general critique; and Smagorinsky, 2001, for an elaboration of a cultural theory of reading).

> Such attention to contexts is not only not available in the

> standardized world of assessment, it obliterates such matters as

> "exogenous" or outside factors, particularly poverty, from the

> calculations, reifying the assumption that the tasks are isomorphic

> (Berliner, 2014). The ethnographic work assembled by Kirkland (2014),

> however, demonstrates that literacy practices and tasks are situated

> and constructed and not amenable to standardized treatment.

> Finally, school-based definitions of literacy are securely grounded in

> print, ignoring the vast compositional means available to youth elsewhere.

> Kirkland (2014) concludes that "As they age, Black males learn

> literacy less in school and more outside it. This literacy learning is

> defined less by print et al. and more by a variety of social and

> cultural assets/flows necessary for achieving meaning and message

> making important to their lives" (n. p.). As many have noted (e.g.,

> Kajder, 2010), the Black population is one of many social groups in

> which print literacy serves as but one compositional tool among many

> in the digital world of the 21st century. What is starkly evident from

> Kirkland's comparison is the fact that young African Americans who are

> consistently measured as having low literacy in school assessments are

> reading and composing texts of great social value once school's out.




"Each new level of development is a new relevant context." C.H. Waddington