Monday, February 17, 2014

Researchers as Writers - for whom and how?

Right now there is a major debate going on through multiple academic listservs.  It revolves around a recent article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times entitled "Professors, We Need You". He begins the piece with a provocative opening, "Some of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates."  He continues to point out the "the anti-intellectualism in American life" and how, at times, professors themselves are to blame for this - as generally, they are not (or are prevented from) engaging in public debates of importance.  As researchers/professors, publication is a crucial part of tenure, but the audience and purpose is not necessarily to impact local, state or national policies or programs.  Instead, too often, academic research is written for academic researchers.  And, to be part of that great conclave, one must learn and use the academic jargon (or Academic Jibberish as Stephen Krashen calls it), required for admission.  Instead of writing for the masses, professors are writing for the select few. free clip art
In my own dissertation, I selected to use the "three article option" rather than the traditional five chapter format.  In addition, I deliberately selected practitioner-read journals as my target journals, rather than academic elite journals.  My research focused on researching with and learning from teachers, and it was my goal that other teachers would be interested in and enjoy learning from them too.  To bridge the worlds of the researcher and the practitioner, I took Duke and Beck's advise to write the dissertation as a series of articles in a “genre authentic to the field” (1999, p. 34).

However, Kristof is not only critiquing academic report writing, but he continues that "Professors today have a growing number of tools available to educate the public, from online courses to blogs to social media. Yet academics have been slow to cast pearls through Twitter and Facebook."  This is not surprising to me, as many academics don't receive "credit" for non-official writing such as social media or local opinion pieces.  If the process of tenure rewarded public engagement, then I'm sure more professors would involve themselves in this.  An organization that has been trying to influence this policy is Imagining America Organization and it recognizes that public scholarship needs to be supported.

Allen Berger, in his article "Writing about Reading for the Public" (The Reading Teacher, Sep. 1997), suggests that as literacy professionals, we need to learn how to write for publications that the public reads - which means understanding the style, format, length and audience for various publications.  In addition, according to Berger, we need to be reading the publications that influence public opinion and, rather than just responding to criticism, we need to be opening the doors to dialogue on issues and topics that we want to debate publicly.

As an early career scholar, I've grown up academically with digital spaces supplementing my traditional training.  I read blogs from graduate students, international teachers, writers and professors to gain insight on the intellectual work they are doing and sharing through their "slice of life" blog entries.  I actively participate in Twitter chats as a teacher, teacher-educator, adjunct faculty, and writer.  These conversations, with other engaged and excited people continue to inspire me to question further, read more, and consider other viewpoints.  One of the best things that I've learned on the web is to follow people with opinions very different from my own and not only "like" those who share my opinions.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Getting to Know the Characteristics of Good Teachers

For most pre-service teachers, they have had 13+ years of "apprenticeship of observation" (Lortie, 1975) - that is, they  have been students in schools for thousands of hours and seem to know what teachers do everyday.  However, as any classroom teacher will tell you - there is a lot of time, thought and effort that goes on behind the scenes that students never see.  As a teacher-educator, I hope to help my pre-service teachers become more aware of how their previous experiences as students influences their understanding of teaching and learning and their own development as teachers.

 One of the first activities I ask my pre-service teachers to complete is a quick review of the "characteristics of effective teachers".  To accomplish this, I ask the students to search for and view four YouTube videos using search terms like - characteristics/qualities/traits and good/effective/excellent and teachers.  The students take notes on the author and purpose of the video and what characteristics were discussed.  Then, in small groups, the students combine their observations for a group list - which is then compared against the other groups.  It is not surprising, but the results are fairly consistent - passionate, enthusiastic, knowledgeable, fair, organized, supportive, patient, caring, friendly, respectful and creative.

I then introduce the book "Thank You, Mr. Falker" by  Patricia Polacco, which is a memoir of her struggles with dyslexia in school and the teacher who made a difference for her.  Jane Kaczmarek reads the story in this Screen Actors Guild video.  Using a Quick Write, students reflect on the teachers who have influenced them the most and share their responses with a partner.

Finally, in small groups, students draft a job description for a teacher.  This would include the objective, summary statement, qualifications, duties/responsibilities, required skills, and desired skills.  It could also include the salary range and hours. 

For many students, this was the first time they have broken down the actual job of a teacher into the smaller parts to consider the daily tasks of not just lesson planning and teaching, but communicating with staff and parents, assessment paperwork, additional duties like lunch and recess, after school activities, and assorted professional meetings.  I chuckled when one student commented, "Hmmm... I guess I should really look into actual job descriptions, considering this is what I want to do."