The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher)

October 25, 2010

Literature Circles Reflection

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 9:58 pm

I began using literature circles during my very first year of teaching. I continued to use them for the next couple years, until I began working on my PhD full-time. Reading about literature circles without the pressure of doing literature circles in a classroom has given me the time to reflect on my past experiences, as well as to imagine how I would do it differently in the future. 

In some ways, I feel a little like Goldilocks when I reflect on my literature circles experience. During the first couple years I had too much structure, leaning heavily on roles, worksheets, and after-reading activities. In my last couple years of teaching, I neglected to put a strong enough structure in place to support my students during their literature circles experience. If I were to do it again, I am confident that I could create a structure that would be just right.

One of the biggest mistakes I made with literature circles was pacing. In my early years, I designated reading assignments for my students, and in the latter years I let my student groups select their own reading assignment, but without putting a firm end to the experience. The result was having students drag 200 page novels over the course of a month or more. As suggested in the literature circles text, I would limit a novel cycle to around 3 weeks.

In addition, I liked how literature circles were fit into an entire year’s curriculum. During my first year of teaching, I learned about literature circles and added it to my class organization (or lack thereof, I was a first year teacher after all!). Last year, literature circles were a regular part of my classroom organization, but in structure only. While literature circles are designed to be an efferent reading experience, I also think it can be used tactically to address teaching standards (for example exposing students to particular themes or genres). Using literature circles as a big-picture, balanced curriculum activity really made me want to jump back into the classroom.

Also, I would definitely restructure my literature circles training. I liked how real texts were used to demonstrate how to complete a literature circles. As stated above, with my first couple groups, I over-taught and over-controlled the format and teaching of literature circle structure, and in the latter years, I totally under-taught the structure.

What I really enjoy about this text is that Harvey Daniels emphasizes that teachers can make literature circle their own, adding or subtracting elements as they see fit. Reading examples of literature circles and comparing how they are implemented differently makes the task of creating them in the classroom much easier and less stressful.

My perfect literature circles situation would begin with the planning out of my curriculum the summer before the school year starts. It would be a regular part of the curriculum, with a break between cycles to put extra emphasis on independent reading (though independent reading would still be a vital part of the classroom during a literature circles cycle). I would select a bank of texts for the first couple cycles, based on thematic issues or genre. After the first couple cycles, I would present the next genre/thematic issue and ask students to research possible appropriate texts, to create a bank for proceeding cycles. Beginning my literature circles, I would spend a couple class periods working students into the literature circles frame of mind, which would include mini-lessons, examples, and practice. After the students have gotten the structure, we would go to meeting weekly for an entire class period.

This activity makes me yearn for the classroom….


Foreword to the Intergroup Relations Issue of the English Journal

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 8:16 pm

I don’t believe Rosenblatt’s chapter is more than 500 words, therefore I do not anticipate this post being anywhere near that (500 words is the expected length for blog posts as a class requirement). Chapter 4 was a reproduction of a foreword written by Roseblatt for a 1946 issue of English Journal. It was a pleasant surprise to read this short piece after blogging about the previous chapter, as Rosenblatt addresses some of the issues that I brought up in my previous post.

“The atomic bomb has shocked us into awareness of the life-and-death urgency of many long-present and basic moral problems of our age,” (Rosenblatt, 2005, p. 59). In the first paragraph of her foreword, Rosenblatt defines the connection between war, morality, and education through the tools of literature and an open and inclusive framework of education. I questioned the connection between a time just after WWII and Rosenblatt’s emphasis on international and multicultural literature in the classroom in my last post. This foreword, suggesting that an entire issue of an academic journal was dedicated to “intercultural education” just after the conclusion of WWII in 1946.

Perhaps the most interesting point made in this short piece was that a man named Horace Kallen questioned the metaphor of America being a “melting pot” 30 years prior to the publication of the journal publication ( 1946-30 = 1916). He instead argued for an image that highlighted the “orchestration of differences,” (Rosenblatt, 2005, p. 60). I was born in 1982, and I definitely recall watching “The Great American Melting Pot” on Schoolhouse Rock.

I’ve heard that we have transitioned to being called a “tossed salad” or “patchwork quilt.”

It only took 90 years or so.

Chapter 3: Toward a Cultural Approach to Literature

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 7:43 pm

Forgive me for my lack of blogging (and my upcoming future of over-blogging), life has been CRAZY for me lately. I read this chapter weeks ago, and it is still lingering in my brain. Before I break the chapter down for you, I feel it necessary to point out that the chapter was originally published in 1946. I was shocked. It is still relevant today, which is amazing because below are some images representing the 1940’s in the USA.




It's A Wonderful Life


In the aftermath of World War II, Louise Rosenblatt was writing things like, “In the field of literature the need to acquaint American youth with the literary achievements of foreign peoples has been urged as an important means of eliminating provincialism and fostering sound international understanding,” (Rosenblatt, 2005, p. 51). The fact that this was written well over 60 years ago amazes me, but the fact that this was written directly after WWII blows my mind. It has been my experience that during times of war (albeit limited experience) an increased sense of xenophobia emerges.

Rosenblatt addresses the importance of exposing youth to a variety of cultures, ways of thinking, and styles through the use of global texts. In addition, she argues that international texts help to combat racism and discrimination (perhaps she was writing in response to Americans’ attitudes following WWII). In addition she connects the positive effect of using global literature in the classroom with using American multicultural literature in the classroom.

One thing that impresses me about Rosenblatt is that she goes beyond reading for the sake of reading and literacy. She contends that reading international literature fosters understanding and sympathy for other cultures. Essentially, she is speaking of the humanity in reading. We don’t just read to read. Sometimes we don’t even read to learn. Reading efferently is also the humanity of reading.

“Unity need not mean uniformity,” (Rosenblatt, 2005, p. 56). Here Rosenblatt is arguing that the benefits of reading international texts go beyond culture. Certainly reading international texts can teach us about a different culture, but it can also show us how much the world is the same. Roseblatt shares the example of a contemporary American poet finding his or herself aligning more closely with a French poet than with another American poet. Styles, schools of thought, and niches in literature emerge in all cultures, and it would be more remarkable if there wasn’t intersection and commonality.

Rosenblatt makes a compelling argument for the integration of international and multicultural texts in the classroom. However, she leaves readers with a warning, “Only by turning a critically appreciative eye upon our own and other cultures, our own and other literatures, shall we avoid either excessive smugness or excessive humanity.”

October 3, 2010

“Viewpoints: Transaction Versus Interaction– A Terminology Rescue Operation”

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 6:43 pm

This week, I read the second chapter in Louise Roseblatt’s Making Meaning with Text: Selected Essays. This chapter was a reprint of a piece originally published in the Research on the Teaching of English journal back in 1985. Roseblatt was compelled to write this piece in response to people incorrectly comparing her transactional theory of reading with other reading theories. Within this piece, she discusses the use of the terms “transaction” and “interaction,” delves into the differences “information processing” and transactional theories, and identifies how transactional theory of reading and other new paradigms will force changes in educational and literature research.

Rosenblatt uses the metaphor of a machine to describe information processing, that is machines of the post-industrial revolution days–machines with interchangeable parts!

Cotton Gin-- a machine with interchangeable parts!

In contrast, Rosenblatt see transaction as a living, growing organism, with all elements being seen as necessary for the overall development of the organism. Rosenblatt looks back to the work of John Dewey to support this notion. Dewey argues that stimuli (in the case of Roseblatt’s research, a text of some sort) has varying effects on the person involved, which is entirely dependent on the person. For example, if someone is engrossed in a book, a crash of thunder is not going to sound like much more than background noise. In contrast, someone fearful of storms might amplify the impact of a crash of thunder.

The individual is a vital part of the relationship between the person and thunder. In the case of reading, individual sensitivities impact how the text will be interpreted. For example,a reader who has experience with social awkwardness may identify that as being a factor in Bella’s friendship with Edward in Twilight, whereas the individual in the midst of a blossoming relationship may identify the notion of love at first sight being central to the understanding of Bella and Edward’s relationship.

All of this goes back to Roseblatt’s efferent and aesthetic reading stances, and a reader’s “selective attention.” Unlike information processing, which sees the personal “top” and textual “bottom” elements intersecting, Roseblatt sees the reader and the text of being unable to be separated. How the reader interprets the text is determined by their selective attention, and their selective attention is dependent on individual experiences.

Like interaction and transaction, Roseblatt addresses the use of the words “participant” and “spectator” being used synonymously with “efferent” and “aesthetic,” since they are in fact quite different ideas of reading stance. The first thing that I noticed about these terms is that “participant” and “spectator” designate a role for the reading. In contrast, “efferent” and “aesthetic” suggest a way that the text is approach, without designating a job for the reader. “Participant” and “spectator” could be more accurately used to describe a lens through which a reader looks at the text, but again, this differs from Rosenblatt’s “efferent” and “aesthetic” stances.

After a couple reading experiences with text by Rosenblatt, I am left with one lingering question, “What about people who do not like reading?” I wonder if Rosenblatt’s theory of reading is applicable for those who identify as non-readers or those who voice that they do not enjoy reading. Those readers are reading because they have to, for a decent grade, or because someone is forcing the to read. I feel it’s a stretch to say these reading experiences of an efferent nature, though the reader might be reading for information (to not flunk a test, to prove to their teacher that they did read, etc.). Does this type of reading fall under Rosenblatt’s theory?