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

October 25, 2010

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?

September 27, 2010

Reading Rosenblatt

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 12:15 am

As part of my class obligations for a course titled Studies in Literature for Teachers (or something like that), I am responsible for blogging about a text I am reading. It works out great for students, we get to select the text we are reading and we get to deviate from the traditional reflection paper! Student choice = happy students. It’s funny how the basics of teaching stay the same, whether it be middle school, pre-school, or graduate school.

For my independent reading text this semester, I chose Making Meaning with Texts: Selected Essays by Louise Rosenblatt (2005). Before this summer, I had never heard of Louise Rosenblatt, let alone read any of her work. It’s actually quite sad, because she has been publishing since the late 1930’s, which is no small feat for a woman at that time (which may explain why I had not heard of her prior to this summer). Rosenblatt was part of the Reader-Response school of thought.

Rosenblatt went to school at Barnard College, which was the women’s college of Columbia University. At Barnard, Roseblatt roomed with Margaret Mead, who later became an important American anthropologist.

Margaret Mead

She was also influenced by John Dewey, who was a professor in the philosophy department at Columbia, when Rosenblatt returned to Barnard to teach.

John Dewey

The first chapter of Making Meaning with Texts: Selected Essays gives readers an overview of Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory of reading. This theory, which is not to be mistaken with a method or reading, states that there are two stances when one reads, efferent and aesthetic. Efferent reading is when the reader is looking to take away information from a text. In contrast, aesthetic reading is close to what teachers may describe as “reading for pleasure.” In aesthetic reading, the reader creates meaning within themselves. Rosenblatt contented that the majority of reading done in schools focused on the efferent stance, and assessments reflected that.

We live in a world of extremes, it’s A or it’s Z, you are on my side or you are on his size, Team Edward or Team Jacob. It seems that we have to pick one side or the other. However, Rosenblatt did not see reading as an experience of extremes. In fact, she points out that a reading experience is hardly ever completely efferent or completely aesthetic. Most often, a reader has both experiences within a single text. Twilight would most certainly NOT be described as high-brow literature or comparable to the beloved canons, but it is not impossible for a reader to have an efferent experience when reading Twilight. The same can be said with reading the newspaper. News writing is, at most, at the 8th grade reading level. It’s style is meant to give readers the main point quickly. The purpose of a newspaper is to read for information, to read efferently. However, it is not impossible for a reader to have an aesthetic reading experience while reading the newspaper. Perhaps it is the tactile interaction that one’s hands has with the dependable newsprint. It may be the reading of a particularly moving obituary, or perhaps it’s a notable image.

Monk Setting Self On Fire- Vietnam War

The most important thing to keep in mind when reading Rosenblatt is that the reader plays a vital role in the reading experience. The reader’s response and interpretation of a text is as important as the text itself.

September 26, 2010

BLOGGING ABOUT BLOGGING or reintroducing rachael’s blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 11:10 pm

I am resurrecting my blog, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Doctoral Student (and Full-Time Teacher), as part of a class assignment. I created my blog just after reading Sherman Alexie’s book The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian (which, by the way, is on several banned books lists….crazy), and I just loved the title. I am debating changing the title of my blog, since it’s no longer a true description of me (I am now a full-time doctoral student). What do you think, readers?

I’ve taken a stab at blogging on several occasions, including this blog. I first began using this blog about a year ago, with the intention of sharing my experiences as a teacher, an education PhD student, and also a person who went the non-traditional route to become a certified teacher. I posted weekly for a while, but as time went on I stopped prioritizing it. Soon after, I created a blog that chronicled my cooking experiences. That blog is linked to this one, if you look at the menu on the right, it’s the link “My OTHER blog.” I had quite a bit of fun with that one. I love to cook and I am a big fan of the visual element of food. My husband gave me some tips with using lighting when photographing food. I got pretty good at photographing my food. However, then came mid-April and May, when papers were do, and I fell off the cooking, photographing, and posting wagon. Plus, I got pretty tired of having lighting equipment in my kitchen.

Fish Tacos

For me, the biggest problem I have with being a blogger is the commitment. I am dedicated, obsessed really, for a while, and then something else happens to distract me. I think I am a great winter-time blogger, when it’s cold I am more likely to cook (and I am a champion of the soup) and stay in in the evenings.

I love blogs that are truly an interactive experience, when the blogger responds to comments or shares ideas or comments made by dedicated readers. I loved the blog Jen Loves Kev, which is a hodgepodge of blogging topics. The blogger, Jen, is a former art teacher, who just had a baby. Her blog has a great structure to it, and I feel it represents the life of half of a young, married couple. Before having the baby, she did daily “Teacher Style Files” which highlights what she wore to school. I loved that element when I first began reading, because Jen buys most of her clothes second-hand, and I had just decided to try buying only secondhand clothing. In addition to the style, she shares recipes and puts together outfits for readers looking for suggestions. Overall, it’s a fun blog.

The best blogs also integrate media. Pictures, video, sound bites….all of it makes for a fun reading experience. Below, I am sharing a video that a friend from college made with her friends. She’s also a teacher. As an Ohio girl, I have big love for this video!

Hope you enjoy this blog!

January 11, 2010

How To Be An Effective Teacher

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 5:53 pm

Recently in the Atlantic magazine, the question was asked, what makes a great teacher? In answering this question, the magazine turned to Teach for America, an organization near and dear to my heart, and asked what they found makes a great teacher. Teach for America is an organization that recruits top college graduates and places them in urban and rural schools in some of the most struggling districts. I joined Teach for America in 2006 and found myself teaching in Memphis, Tennessee. As a “seasoned’ teacher of 4 years, I can say that TFA’s framework for training teachers and supporting teachers is a recipe for incredible teaching. It’s a model that public districts, as well as private schools, would benefit by implementing.

Steven Farr of Teach for America identified several factors that makes a teacher great, the most successful of the TFA teachers have most or all of these qualities. As a teacher, I find embodying all the qualities to be a goal for myself, and other teachers working to be better for their students should do the same.

1.Setting big goals-

The best TFA teachers set goals for themselves and their students. Goals help to keep students (and teachers) inspired and focused. In addition, it begins your school year with the end of year in mind– effective for goal setting, planning, and teaching.

2. Constantly searching for ways to improve effectiveness

Once you’ve taught for a year, planned for a year, and learned for a year, it does not mean that you (as a teacher) are done with the planning part of teaching. We have to constantly teach, evaluate, and alter in order ensure that we are being the best teacher we can be. Daily assessments test how well a lesson went. Student feedback lets us know how enjoyable a lesson or unit was.

3. Involving students (and family) in the learning process

Student investment is the key to learning. And it makes teaching easier! Encourage students to participate in the classroom, allow them to help create classroom rules, give them the opportunity to take ownership of the classroom. The magic of teaching happens when students are invested.

4. Maintain focus

Staying focused is hard for students and it’s hard for teachers. Setting goals, as mentioned above, is imperative to be an effective teacher in the classroom. These goals help a teacher to maintain focus in the classroom. Planning, which will be discussed below, helps a teacher to maintain focus. We have to remained focused on the students. Forget school politics, forget about your personal life (for at least the 7 hours you are in school), and forget anything that’s not related to student achievement. Having a solid plan makes maintaining focus much easier.

5. Ensure everything done contributes to student learning

Students need to be at the forefront of what we are doing as teachers. We need to ask ourselves–How will this help the students? Teaching can be very easy– hand out a textbook, assign a page number, and kick back and relax. However, this type of “teaching” does not benefit the students. All we do in the classroom needs to be for the students. It’s our job.

6. Purposeful and complete planning

The best teachers are those who plan every minute in the classroom, even if they’ve been teaching for 10, 20, or 30 years. Planning isn’t just daily planning–mapping out the year, breaking it down into units, and planning for the day-by-day is vital to be as effective as a teacher can possibly be. Great teachers start with the end in mind. I can attest to the fact that I am at my best in the classroom only when I have wholly planned my lessons.

January 8, 2010

How To Become a Teacher Without an Education Major

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 12:06 pm

I did not major in education when I was in college. Heck, I didn’t even want to be a teacher in college, or so I thought. I went to graduate school for International Affairs, not to be a teacher. However, after graduate school I somehow found myself becoming a teacher. How? It wasn’t that difficult, sure it required hard work, but it’s not as difficult as you think. Today, I am licensed to teach in 3 different states and I have a track record of success teaching English.

I came into teaching with a program called Teach for America. TFA is essentially the Peacecorps for people who want to stay in the United States, but better. You get paid a living wage. You are supported in the process of getting licensed. You are helping to close the achievement gap in education. TFA was created with the goal of putting top college graduates in some of the most challenging school settings in the country, with the goal of helping economically and socially disadvantaged students succeed in school. The program is amazing, because it helps people without an education background get into the classroom and they get a regular teaching salary. The TFA commitment is 2 years, but you are an employee of the district in which you work, so if you want to stay another year, 10, or 30, you can! The only downfall is that TFA is only in certain cities and you are not guaranteed to be played in your top choice– perhaps not ideal for some people.

TFA is not the only method of getting into the classroom. Cities all over the country have mini-TFA programs, like Denver Teaching Fellows, that are sometimes easier and more convenient to get involved with. Private schools do not require teachers to be licensed (though some want their teachers to be licensed).

Thousands of colleges have graduate programs for people who want to become teachers, but do not have an education degree. These are called alternative certification programs. At the end of these programs, which typically take between a year or two years to complete, you are able to become licensed in that state to teach. In some states, especially those with teacher shortages, and in some subject areas (with shortages, like HS science), people are able to teach with an alternative teaching license, or a temporary license, while also working on course work concurrently. This is how I became licensed.

The classes, at least in my experience, are pretty easy. I was working full-time as a teacher, and I took classes in the evenings. In my opinion, taking classes while teaching was the most beneficial. I was able to practice what I was learning (and truly internalize it) in my classroom. In addition, questions that popped up while I was teaching could be asked in my graduate classes.

I only had to take 3 or 4 additional classes to get my master’s degree in teaching after taking the classes to become certified. Many schools have this set-up, it’s a Master’s of Arts in Teaching degree. A master’s degree will get you more pay! Once you have your license in one state, it’s pretty easy to get a license in another state. However, you NEED TO GET THE LICENSE IN THE STATE IN WHICH YOU TOOK CERTIFYING CLASSES!!!! Even if you never plan to teach in that state, it will make the process of applying for a license in another state a million times easier. Reciprocity across states only works if you have a license from the state in which you took your certifying classes.

December 9, 2009

Merit Based Pay– What a Novel Idea!

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 4:44 pm

According to this Washington Post article, the 2nd largest school district in Maryland, Prince George, is going to begin merit-based pay. I feel like I am in the minority, I am completely supportive of merit-based pay. I am especially supportive of the system of merit-based pay that PG will be implementing.

Most teacher that I have met are anti-merit-based pay. One argument is that it’s not fair for teachers to be held accountable for student success, because some students just don’t want to learn. Or some students have disabilities that keep them from learning at the same pace as other students. Or some teachers get the “challenging” classes. Frankly, I think this is an excuse. As a teacher, it is our job to teacher students, regardless of the challenges. Selling cars in this economy cannot be an easy task, yet a car salesman has to do it to earn his check.

I will agree with the anti-merit-based pay teachers on one account. I do not believe it is fair to base student success on a “Proficient,” “Advanced,” or “Not Proficient” rating. Instead, students’ success should be a measure of student growth. Using value-added data, we should measure the student growth from year-to-year. With a score of 0.0 equaling exactly one year of growth from one school year to the next. A year of growth is good, at minimum we should expect this. However, scores higher than 0 should be acknowledged (and rewarded). With a teacher’s guidance, a child was able to learn beyond a year’s knowledge in a single year. Now, this idea is assuming that value-added data (projected growth from year-to-year based on a student’s previous growth) is fair and accurate. In a perfect world…

Prince George School District’s merit-based pay is a bonus pay system. All teachers have an initial salary, guaranteed no matter what, with the opportunity to earn up to $10,000 in bonus money. That’s right, 10K!!!!! PG’s system is doing it right, the merit bonus is not based solely on test scores, 25% is for student test scores, with another 25% for teaching high needs areas, a third 25% for classroom evaluations/performance, and the last 25% for professional development initiatives. Teachers who piloted this program averaged bonuses of about $5,000 (an extra 5k, who’s going to turn their nose up at that?!?!). It reminds me of performance bonuses in the corporate world.

I may ruffle some feathers, but I think that if you are a rockstar teacher you should be compensated for it. In education, we have too many people reaping the benefits of tenure and a scheduled pay scale, without much accountability. It’s not fair to the kids, our clients, so to speak. PG’s merit-pay system allows for scheduled raises, but also gives the opportunity for rockstars to be appreciated and acknowledged. Everyone wins.

October 7, 2009

“Challenged” Books

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 2:21 pm

One of my higher groups of readers was looking for a new book to read during their literature circles time. I suggested a book I loved, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. There is mature content in the story, but these girls are in 8th grade and are reading well above their reading level. As a good teacher should, I send home a letter to the parents asking if this would be an okay book for the kids to read and outlined some of the adult issues. Initially, the parents said it would be okay, but today I received an email from a parent changing her mind — she CC’d all the other parents in the group. As the day progressed, a couple more parents emailed me. One was nice, saying she thought it was okay, but understood other parental concern. The next wanted to call a parent meeting, attached a link to commonly challenged books, and then subtly accused me of being the cause of her daughter’s decreased reading level (taken in the first weeks of school). This parent linked a list of “challenged” books. I decided to search these “challenged” books further. Titles such as Catcher in the Rye, The Outsiders, BLUBBER (?), and tons of other books I’ve read have made this list. Here is the list of the 100 most commonly challenged books from 1990-2000.

September 30, 2009

Enter me in the hall of fame books!

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachaelski @ 10:45 pm

I don’t think non-teachers realize how much good teachers actually work. Sure, the typical teacher gets out of school at 3pm and has summers off. However, what people don’t realize is how much work teachers do during their “off” time. Grading, for example, is impossible to get done within the perimeters of a traditional planning period. Lesson planning, especially in the beginning years, takes quite a bit of time. Most teachers do not walk into the classroom, open the textbook and teach. We plan out our lessons.

Last year, I was working at an extended-day charter school. The school hours were from 7:30-5. I typically arrived at school around 6:30 and left around 5:30. That’s 11 hours. A day. That does not even take into account the grading I had to do once I arrived home. Add on another hour or two there. I averaged around 12-13 hours a day of work. In addition, the majority of my Sunday was consumed with lesson planning and creating materials (I was teaching Social Studies without a textbook). Add about 5 hours there. All in all, I worked around 60 hours a week. Wait! Saturday school! Every other week we had a 4 hour Saturday School session- every other week 65 hours. Whew.

For the sake of my sanity, and academic aspirations, I moved to a more traditional education setting. Our school day is from 8-3. That’s 7 hours. I typically get to school around 7:30 and leave (when I am not coaching) around 3:30. That’s 8 hours! However, with the wonderful community and professional support I get at my current school, I have been blessed with 2 planning periods a day, 3 days a week (1 planning period on Monday and no planning on Tuesdays, which are Mass days). With that time during the school day and my weekday evenings (planted in front of the tube), I am actually able to get my next week’s planning, grade 100 essays, 100 vocabulary projects, and 100 reading logs done before the weekend. That’s right teachers, this weekend I will not have any work from school to take home. Non-teachers, this is HUGE!

A professor told me that in the USA, teachers spend significantly more time in front of full classrooms than our cohorts from other countries. In other countries, teachers spend less time in front of a classroom and more time working with small groups and individuals. The average American teacher stays in education around 10 years, I believe. We are destined for burn-out. I think I have discovered my key to avoiding burnout!

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