Literacy learning is a complex endeavor; it is faced by numerous challenges that range from the materials used to methods of teaching/learning applied to teachers’ personalities to peer influence among the students and the deluge in technological stimulus among other factors. My interview with Edith A.
Diaz, PHD, CSC, and teacher ‘B’, both language art teachers and plying their trade at Tom Browne Middle School revolved around four core areas of their work as literacy instructors. The interview required the teachers describe their roles as literacy instructors, more specifically citing things such as the percentages of total time devoted to educational tasks e. g. paper work, attending and conducting workshops, discussions with other school personnel, and parents meetings, etc.
; describing materials and methods that have been recommended by school or the school district as the most appropriate in literacy learning; to quote materials and teaching/learning methods that they as teachers have found to be un-useful or ineffective in literacy learning, and to describe materials and methods that they find most appealing relative to the philosophical and theoretical schools of thought they belong as experienced teachers; to describe their greatest concerns insofar as literacy learning is concerned especially at the wake of the deluge of technological stimulus, and; to describe what they are doing to combat any negatively impacting stimulus on students literacy learning.
The teachers were also required to add other comments, concerns, and personal stances relating to their roles as language art teachers. Edith’s Reflections Edith bases her convictions on the role of a teacher/educator on various philosophical and theoretical arguments as put forth by great thinkers such as Socrates, Plato, Einstein, Erickson, Steinbeck, and Roger. Her perception of the role of an educator/teacher is that of an all-round professional whose duties are many and not practically definable. She portrays this through a balanced conclusion of the role of a teacher, a conclusion that comprises of both philosophical and theoretical perspectives.
For instance, from a philosophical perspective a teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops, while from a theoretical perspective, a teacher’s influence is timeless, and it assumes both negative and positive influences. However, she clarifies that her core role as a grade seven language arts teacher is to teach the standards as set forth by the state of Texas (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills – TEKS). In one sentence her role revolves around imparting the appropriate knowledge and skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing, and presenting) that will enable the students to become competitive members of the global society. In order to achieve this seemingly tall order-task, Edith apportions her time professionally depending on the level of workload of the various sub-tasks that forms her role in a seven day-week.
For instance, she dedicates 45% of her time in drawing lesson plans for the whole week, 15% on paper work (record keeping, grading and register, etc), 15% conducting research i. e. teaching strategies, pedagogy, etc. 15% on discussion with fellow teachers and other school personnel, 5% attending or conducting workshops (reviewing current research articles in preparation to conducting educational workshops), and another 5% on parent meetings. Edith seems to belong to a unique breed of teaching professionals in terms of her convictions on the choice of the best materials and methods that should be applied in classrooms situations. She prefers infusing the Socratic Method and Rogerian student-centered approach in her daily class activities.
This enables her to utilize the best aspects of both pedagogical approaches, for instance, the Socratic Method tends to intimidate students but when it is infused with the Rogerian student-centered method it goes down well in empowering the students. Her advices are that, a teacher’s role should not be authoritative; rather it should be an egalitarian role that assumes the Roger’s (1957) core conditions of unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence. She anchors her arguments on the eight developmental stages as put forth by Eric Eriksson’s, specifically on stage five that covers “Ego Identity vs. Role Confusion”, which holds that adolescents tends to seek relativity within a global context. She therefore asserts that the establishment of an appreciation of holistic child is core to the educational process.
Edith warns that some pedagogical methods such as teacher directed instruction are rewarding but their excessive use may impede or even stifle the natural creative learning process in students. To support her convictions she invokes Plato’s reasoning that sought to discourage the habit of teaching students by force and harshness, but rather directing them to learning through what amuses their minds. Again, she advocate for the Paideia model of instruction giving that seeks to balance teacher directed method by inducing Socratic method and intellectual coaching to make it more student involving. She perceives the deluge of stimulus, especially technological stimulus as a threat to literacy instruction. According to her, technology is a worthwhile tool in literacy instruction; however, too much of it may kill natural creativity.
For instance, students find it hard to imagine a scene from a variety of written text, which makes the skill of inferring a challenging task. She warns that too much of reliance on technological devices may stifle and/or nullify a students creativity and imagination. To her, imagination and creativity are the key pillars to literacy instruction, just as Albert Einstein cleverly asserted, that imagination is more important than knowledge. In a her parting shot, she equates a teacher/educator’s role with that of a great artist, and refers the teaching process to as a great form of art that uses human mind and spirit as its medium. Teacher B’s, Reflections
I also interviewed another language arts teacher from Tom Browne Middle School who teaches eighth graders mostly, he preferred to call himself a classroom teacher. Unlike my first interviewee (Edith), Teacher B did not use big and fancy words to describe his role or what is expected of a teacher/educator. He plainly indicated that he spends between 8 and 10 hours at school in any given school day, he spends the greatest part of this time instructing students in classroom, he spends a bit of this time grading papers, running copies, and recording scores. He also spends an hour a week writing down lesson plans for the week. However, being the chairman of the language arts department, teacher B is in charge of making the department as vibrant as it is practically possible.
He contends that the choice and implementation of pedagogical approach to adopt in the school is part of his core duties together with other teachers in the department. For instance, despite the school district purporting that (Texas Assessment Knowledge and Skills – TAKS) is the best measure for learning he contends that this is not the best method. He points out that the best thing is for a school to invest in numerous programs that will benefit the students, the Kamico and Gourmet are examples of such programs that they are currently using in the school. Nevertheless, his advices are that, the most effective methods and materials for learning are the reading of texts (novels, picture books, magazines, and newspapers) as it will enable the students to become good readers.
Further, according to him the use of literacy circles among other methods plays a core role in enhancing comprehension of the materials read. Though he was too brief in giving out some methods and materials that to him are less effective in learning, he clearly indicated that as a departmental head he involves other members of the department in reviewing methods and materials in order to improve them and make them more custom fit to the students. However, there are some materials and methods that cannot be improved and therefore are done away with (placed on the back burner). Teacher B contended that the impact of the teacher in literacy instruction is compromised by a number of factors.
For instance, he pointed out time as the greatest of all the factors; there is no enough time for students to read on their own, and teachers usually assume they are doing so at their free time but mostly it is not that way. This in turn affects their reading prowess. Again, he quoted the lack of sufficient funds to procure quality literature materials for the students as another stumbling block to literacy learning. Students are also known for vandalizing some of the reading materials they are given. Further, he contended that there is a chronic shortage of role models to emulate in the implementation of the teaching methods, for example, he indicated that he had heard about literature circles for along time but never tried to apply them in a class situation, he only came to understand and conceptualize them when he went to college.
Just like Edith indicated, teacher B contended that the deluge of computer literacy has greatly affected the interests of students to read books. He tries to compare the traditional sense of reading books and working on projects that deal with novel units with how students are currently doing with themselves in the wake of computer literacy. Though the students are now more skilled in verbally deciphering information from the short internet sources, they are faced with great difficulty when it comes to putting down in written format what hey have learned and the conclusion that their prowess in literacy has virtually declined. Again, he associates the tendency of students to read graphic novels and shorter books as a factor to their declining literacy levels.
He regrettably asserted that the role of the teacher in literacy learning is affected greatly by peer influence among the students; much as they would try to be different from others, students tend to think collectively as a group, this hugely affects their reading prowess as they are more concerned about how their friends perceive them and therefore fail to stand up for their beliefs if they think they are different from their friends. The role of the teacher therefore at such situations should be to facilitate intervention practices that will enable the students to reverse to the traditional methods of reading. For instance, he believes and tries to be a good role model, he always tell his students the amount of reading he gets done through out the school year. He spends a lot of his time in a week reading novels rather than watching television. Just like Edith asserted, he always emphasizes on building self-imagination rather than having other people thinking for him.
To compensate for the fact that students do not read own their own he tries to give his students a steady stream of novel reading in class, he reads picture books, poems, short book chapters to his students for enjoyment and thought provoking. In his parting shot he contended that teachers should give their students enough space to choose what they want to read as a way of creating avenues to escape from the realities that they face in their daily school and home life. References: • Edith A. Diaz, PHD, CSC, (Grade Seven Teacher): Tom Browne Middle School (interview), conducted on February 11, 2009 • Teacher B, (Grade Eight Teacher): Tom Browne Middle School (interview), conducted on January 20, 2009