Archive for the ‘Weekly Reflections’ Category

#8 Assessing Literacy

Pay particular attention to how the various organizations present assessment.  What measures do they use?  What measures do you think are most appropriate for your community project?  What can be assessed?  What should be?  Focus your thinking here on reflection informed by assessment (since the focus of your reflection essay will be on your learning).

ProLiteracy.org. Speaking broadly, they measure literacy with the following:

  • the ability to read, write, compute, and use technology at a level that enables an individual to reach his or her full potential as a parent, employee, and community member [website definition].
  • read[ing] well enough to understand a newspaper story written at the eighth grade level or fill out a job application.
  • (for people 16+) read[ing] better than the average elementary school child.

NCES: Since there were so many other websites on there, I just picked a few to read and think about. I went to the US Dept of Ed site (www.ed.gov), which of course is impossible to navigate without the help of Google. A Google search for “literacy site:ed.gov” led me to “nces.ed.gov,” which is the National Center for Education Statistics. (I thought that sounded official enough for getting definitions of literacy — officiality bearing one important perspective, anyway.) Anyway, they conduct a recurring National Assessment of Adult Literacy, which lists literacy at different tiers (naturally, being a government agency which wants to quantify and stratify things.) There’s Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate and Proficient. But even these are defined quite ethereally — an adult at “proficient” can perform complex and challenging literacy tasks, while an adult at “basic” can perform simple, everyday literacy tasks. “Below basic” does not mean purely illiterate, but rather that the person can only perform the most simple and concrete literacy tasks.

(For the record, they found that in 2003, about 30 million American adults — those with permanent residences or in jail and without significant communication limitations such as language or cognitive disabilities, anyway — were below basic.)

WELEARN: a women’s literacy network which works to connect adult learners, literacy workers, libraries and academics, etc., in order to promote women’s literacy. I’m less interested in their definition of literacy as in their vision of it and how it pertains to women. Their vision links back to what the ProLiteracy website was saying on their other pages about how literacy for women reduces gender inequality both directly (access to government and professions) and indirectly (social status, self-confidence and -reliance, and expanded ability to communicate).

The WELEARN vision of literacy is one of power for women: “WE LEARN is a community promoting women’s literacy as a tool that fosters empowerment and equity for women.” (Their mission statement.)

IN SPEAKOUT!

For SpeakOut!, assessing literacy is not an easy thing. I think this is partly because we are not the “Organization Promoting Locally-Oriented Writing Workshops for the Less Fortunate, Disenfranchised and/or Less Powerful.” Do you know what I mean? We’re not a government body with quotas and data and cold, unfeeling numbers — while our work is certainly and inextricably informed by those things to some degree, we are working in a much less easily defined zone. We are not saying, “68% of participants reported an overall average increase of 2 standard deviations in their blahblahblah.” We’re saying things like, “These people come to our workshops, and they become more literate and/or more self-confident in their literacy.”

I guess this is getting kind of long. To answer your question, while I did create a survey with a Likert scale and everything, that was a means to an end, which is having some quantifiable data for the people who ask for it and who think that way. I see assessment in our context more qualitatively — seeing who is willing to share right when they come in versus who takes time (or never does share), who is broadening or strengthening their work and themselves and how, etc.

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#7 Literacy and Incarceration

In aligning the interests of the CLC — being providing literacy support to underserved populations — with my own career interests (literacy education, particularly for those kids who don’t have good teachers), I found a research article which suited me exactly, entitled Preventing Youth Incarceration Through Reading Remediation: Issues and Solutions.

My work in the CLC has consistently brought me back to critical thoughts of our justice system. What’s the current estimated recidivism rate? 50%, at least? Doesn’t seem too effective to me. The article echoes this point, and then moves from the inadequacy of reactionary measures to the effectiveness of prevention:

“Decades of research suggest that prevention (i.e., teaching and helping youths to develop strategies that keep them positively connected to their families, communities, and schools) is an effective strategy available for reducing youth delinquent behavior (Dodge, 1999; Hawkins et al., 2000; Kashani, Jones, Bumby, & Thomas, 1999; Leone, Mayer, Malmgren, & Meisel, 2000)” (Christle & Yell, 149).

Not only is prevention, in broad terms, effective for helping to keep kids out of trouble, but literacy work specifically is effective, because it helps them develop an understanding of and an outlet for their thoughts and feelings. I’ve heard this before, I’ve come to believe it in my own experiences (both in CLC and while working in the middle schools), and it is also supported by Christle & Yell. “Interventions that target reading problems have been shown to be a type of preventive effort that can reduce youth incarceration” (149).

Now with SpeakOut! we are primarily (but not solely) focused on writing as opposed to reading. However, first of all, it is accepted in language acquisition research that writing skills support reading skills and vice versa. Also, when we teach reading, we teach students to think like writers (e.g., “What is the author’s purpose?”) — and when we teach writing, we teach students to think like readers (e.g., “Who is your audience? Why should this interest them?).

I have come to believe, over my years of working with youth, literacy and education, and in my few semesters of studying, that all of these things are true. It makes sense that prevention solves a cause (rather than patching a problem) and that reading and writing skills are interrelated.

Now how does this specifically attach to my experiences at Turning Point? For an example, one boy (I’ll call him Joe) obviously experiences racism and other prejudices from some of the boys. But when he reads his writing, everyone quiets down to listen, and they often give him some kind of compliment after (even if it’s just an enthusiastic “Yeah”). He’s able to use his writing skills to get past those barriers and make his experience relate to their experiences.

Article info:

Title: Preventing Youth Incarceration Through Reading Remediation: Issues and Solutions

Authors: Christine A. Christle & Mitchell L. Yell

DOI: 10.1080/10573560701808437

Found in EBSCO. Link: http://0-search.ebscohost.com.catalog.library.colostate.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url,cpid&custid=s4640792&db=aph&AN=30105992&site=ehost-live

Narratives

In affirming Jerome Bruner’s work, Emily Nye writes, “Indeed, every narrative told constructs a world of its own.”  She goes onto sdiscuss narratives and the emergence of themes and the ways that “narrative linkages connect people and help explain our experiences.  They help us to reconstitute ourselves as part of the larger humanity and restore us to ‘health,’ which can best be defined as both a personal and a collective or communal wholeness” (391).

What do you make of this?  Can the narratives we tell do this?

I have to admit that my initial thoughts were skeptical in nature. I was reading that page and thinking, “Ok, but how?” It actually made me start thinking about Gee and Plato, and I wanted to be able to ask the page some questions, but it didn’t talk back to me, nor did it clarify itself or go into further detail. The thing is, I feel like I could flip that statement upside down…

“Narratives are told and heard in the imagination, in the person’s own mind. They allow that person to stay within their own mind and consider their experiences through the same, tired filters they’ve used their entire lives. Thus we remain separated from humanity as a whole — each man an island, as it were.”

Mind you, these were my initial skeptical speculations. I slowly became more open to what Nye was saying, although I’m still not sure that I buy it. I think it would be better if it was modified with a “can,” e.g. “Narratives can work to reconstitute our human connections.” The thing is, I don’t think you can say that something is powerful and therefore a good thing — something is simply powerful, and it can yield positive or negative (or mixed) results. This is important to realize in our work.

Might the publications you anticipate emerging from your projects do this?  Speculate a bit.

This question can, I think, be also answered by William Germano’s article, “What Are Books Good For?” He postulates that books (which he calls “bound by narrative structure”) have a reason to exist, which is us: humans. They help us to tell our story. They “make the case for us, for the identity of the individual as an embodiment of thinking in the world.” It’s interesting to take these two articles, which have perhaps opposing stances on whom the narrative serves, and set them against each other. I don’t think one is necessarily right or wrong, but again, I think we can qualify the statements with “can.” This brings us to a synthesis of their ideas: the narrative can unite us, and it can set us apart as individuals.

So with our publication, it could frankly go either way. (More likely, a combination thereof.) Really, it depends on readership. If people are reading the publication, then we are probably “reconstituting” our humanity. If no one is reading it, it is serving the individuals as a means of self-justification. Again, it’s probably not an either/or scenario but a combination.

My second article:

What Are Books Good For? By: Germano, William, Chronicle of Higher Education, 00095982, 10/1/2010, Vol. 57, Issue 6
Academic Search Premier

Self-Directed Kinetic Resistance Against Fluid Motion Yields Inefficiently-Earned Results, Thus Proving the Reverse Theorem of Convergent Forces Resulting in a Gestalt Energy Scenario (Or, Go with the Flow)

Going with the flow. This guy isn't doing it right.

Here are the things I started thinking about (with Turning Point as the practical context) as I considered the readings. (The Rigg piece really began to interest me once she got to “Problems II.”)

“I did not examine my own stereotypes of women, or of illiterates, or of Mexican migrants” (Rigg 137). This is something I deal with each time I go to Turning Point, each time I think about the boys. Sometimes I get past it and sometimes it keeps me down, oblivious to its presence. (Of course, we never fully “get past” our schemata — the process is hardwired into our brains.)

“[We] never asked Petra what changes she anticipated as a result of learning to read.” (Rigg 137). Rigg goes on to talk about how she feels she failed Petra by focusing on her own goals and philosophy rather than seizing Petra’s (contradictory) goals and philosophy. (That is, she didn’t go with the flow — she fought it.)

The biggest thought, application-wise, that I have after reading that is that we should ask the same question of the guys. Sometimes it can be hard to get them to be serious, but I think they would really benefit from thinking (and writing?) about what they hope to get from the workshop and how they think it will change them. Not only could it help them to realize what they could learn/gain/improve/strengthen from the workshop, but also, such a conversation would help Elliott and me when we’re designing the plans.

“[We] speak an orphan tongue” (Anzaldua 80). It has been interesting to read these two Spanish-related articles in the context of my own education as a future English teacher both of native speakers and of second-language speakers. As I speak (and read and write and think and listen), in my daily life, what amounts to the language of power (barring the exceptions when a little Appalachia comes out), it’s very easy for me to forget that other languages exist, and that there is a stratification among them.

For instance, my working unconscious model of language (that is, when I’m not thinking about it — when I’m in my day-to-day life, habits and occupations) looks something like this:

My language

English — American Standard with academic fluency included

Other languages

AAVE, American “street,” Spanish

“My language” is on top because it just so happens (in my daily life) to be the most powerful language that I come across — that is, I can use it to send email, to joke with the bank teller about forgetting my ID and get away with it just this once, to tell the police officer (prosecutor, judge) why I think a rolling stop on a bicycle at a reasonably quiet intersection is within the spirit of the law, to interview for a job or to ask a professor for an extension. The point is that I don’t have to “code-switch” to use the language that my authorities use and thus to have an edge.

But it’s important for me to realize, way over here in my privileged language that won’t be threatened for some time, that all those other languages do go through unwarranted stratification.

Jim Gee

(Another title from Gee. Recommended for anyone at least mildly familiar with video games and interested in education. If you do read it, I recommend saving some time by skipping right to the end — the final chapter is an excellent summary of all of the chapters.)

Stacey and I spent some time this afternoon talking about the Gee reading. As I’d expect from him, it’s very interesting and  accessible. What good can literacy do?

I clung to his paraphrasing of Freire: “Freire believes that literacy only empowers people when it renders them active questioners of the social reality around them” (37). Active thinking is the only time we’re really doing anything useful anyway — the way that Descartes struggled with his “evil demon” (aside from the deus ex cop-out) was to realize cogito, ergo sum — and in his argument, he really isn’t just saying “I think, therefore I am”, but rather “I am thinking, therefore I am.” It’s that present act of thinking that proves existence, and it’s that present act of thinking that is the only hope for reading in light of Plato’s dilemma.

It’s something I’ve recently talked with my wife about, actually. I’ve come to be a rather liberally-minded person, but have realized that I don’t question ideas, politics, policies, etc., as much as I did when I described myself as a “moderate.” I was thinking, and so I was not (in Gee’s world) controlled by the political machina or by society to think a certain way about the information input. But now, I have to ask myself: Am I thinking, or no?

What this means for my work is that I have to make sure that the guys are thinking about what we’re doing (and perhaps more importantly — or at least more directly — I have to make sure that I’m thinking about the work I’m doing). This presents some challenges — I think we might have to be sneaky about how we get them to be thinking about it. Definitely incorporating news articles and/or editorials seems to be a good way to do it — to get them to be actively thinking about their reading and writing.

They might also find the Plato discussion interesting — I mean, it’s ultimately about social power and the man, right? That’s a language that these guys speak, understand and care about.

I’m also interested in how Gee’s statement about education/literacy as a social norming tool works here. “[Education] has stressed behaviors and attitudes appropriate to good citizenship and moral behavior, largely as these are perceived by the elites of the society” (34). This puts us into a tricky situation, I think. For the most part, the boys are in Turning Point because they’ve engaged in what we generally believe is self-destructive (or even socially destructive) behavior, and I don’t think we can easily dispute that or say that it’s only the elite who say so. However, what is their road out? That, I think, we can say is determined by an elite.

These are questions that such minds as Gee and even Plato have struggled with… and I’m not sure I’ve done any better at coming up with an answer! But it all makes for very interesting food for thought.

Zorro Writes a Grant

What are the primary elements of grant writing? [[[[preparation, self-reflection, bragging]]]]]

It has always seemed to me that “grant writing” is something of a misnomer (like football here in the States). Quid pro quo, Clarice: “What is the first and foremost quality of a successful grant request?” I’ll give you a hint — it’s not magnificent prose that the grant reader mulls over like a nice chianti.

It’s preparation. What are your figures? How can you quantify your success? How can you account for every dollar you’ve spent? How you can show that you’re meeting a need — and how can you show the existence of that need in the first place? So grant writing should probably be called grant request preparation, it being the primary element.

Other elements? Bragging! (I’m sure there’s a better word for it, one without negative connotations, but the coffee is failing my internal lexicon at the moment!) It’s just like what we’re told about resumes — don’t be afraid to talk  yourself up!

What questions are raised for you as you review these samples?

I’m answering the questions out of order (what a rebel!!) simply because I think the first question lends itself to these thoughts, and reading the information requested on the samples gave me these thoughts.

So, bragging is considering one’s strengths and talking them up. This means, of course, that one will have to be reflective about one’s strengths. Naturally, this will also force the consideration of weaknesses; thus, a question brought by the samples is “What [am I/is my organization] doing to show effectiveness? Are the results worth the effort?” When I tell someone what we’re doing — offering troubled/underserved individuals a chance to improve their own personal efficacy via increased literacy, specifically writing — it sounds incredibly worthwhile. But the issue is with aligning our mission with the funders’ missions, and many of these grants ask “What is the benefit to the community” (or some similar question). Well, frankly, as I see it the benefit to the community at large is indirect and secondary: we’re serving individuals, in the hopes of integrating them into the community, thus bettering the community. (I’d be happy to hear dissent on this.) Of course, these people are community members, so the counter-argument is that we are bettering the community by extension, and I can see things that way, too.

[This is of course in no way a belittling, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way. I’m trying to approach a difficult topic raised by the foundations in their grant applications — why, among so many projects, should this project be funded? I hope the honesty is appreciated.]

What formats/terminology seems unfamiliar?

Nothing sticks out, but this is because I have tangential experience with grant writing. (Tangential, mind you.)

What kinds of funding could help your own site? Spend some time thinking about the role that grant writing might play in supporting your community literacy work.

Resources, resources, resources. Resources in the form of materials and snacks for the guys. Resources in the form of media — computers with internet access, hardware/software for making raps (they have some access to this, depending on whether the machine works), audio equipment for listening to and comparing canonical works with modern hip hop. Resources in the form of special guests.

Sponsoring Literacies

Tobi asks:

Consider the issue of “sponsoring” discussed by Deborah Brandt in light of your upcoming community literacy work.  What might it mean to sponsor the literacy of a writer/learner at your site?  What implications can you anticipate?  How might your own literacy be sponsored by the writers/learners you’ll work with?

Elliott and I have talked about this (more broadly, anyway) the last two times we’ve discussed the goings-on at Turning Point. “What might it mean?” He has cultivated an open and honest atmosphere where the boys can come and express themselves freely. He works consciously to avoid being a “teacher” and instead to be a “facilitator.” This is precisely the kind of attitude I’m going to be taking in — I want to make it clear that I’m a resource for the boys to use if they want to get into form and into professional writing expectations and what not. But it’s more important for me to perpetuate that environment that Elliott has cultivated, to first and foremost let them know that this is a safe place for them to use their voices, and that I will be a support system for their work, and that ultimately they will have the choice to share this work with their friends, their family and with the world.

So getting more specifically to the first question, “what will it mean to sponsor a learner,” it will mean reaching out and ensuring that they each are adequately provided with the means and the external motivation for self-expression. Individuals, then, will find in me individual encouragement and acceptance for their work.

“What implications can you anticipate?” (Anticipation of a new environment has never been a strength of mine.) One thing that is certainly sitting with me is the idea that I’m there to help them with their writing, not to be their therapist. I’m neither trained nor authorized for that kind of thing. At best, by sponsoring their writing I’m acting as a proxy for their therapist in the sense that they are working with their ideas, they are challenging and exercising their minds, they are releasing tensions and most importantly they are using their voices.

“How might your own literacy be sponsored…?” In two ways, at least. First, this is one hour a week spent in a writing workshop (with boys whose language is significantly different from mine) that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise spent writing. (Not to mention the preparation time, in which I will at least be passively addressing the prompts in my head… or however much time it will take me to process their writing and give them supportive feedback.) The second way comes with a broader definition of literacy — I’ll have an understanding of these boys and in what it means to lead a workshop (which experience I hope, eventually, to take into my future classrooms).