Monday, January 17, 2011

Pre-FOKI: A misplaced Victorian prepares to explore Second Life and YA literature


    Identifying a journey book from my youth was difficult.  I am dyslexic, although it was not identified until adulthood.  I dreaded reading in school and reading for school.  The pressure stemming from time constraints was tremendous.  Teachers thought I was willful or lazy when I did not complete reading assignments.  Eventually, I stopped trying.  Amazingly, I loved reading at home and continued to read picture books long past the age that was considered acceptable.  I still love them!  Much of my reading was done in secret.  Until my sophomore year in high school, I had a reading hide-away.  It was a little room off of my bedroom that served as an attic access.  While there, I didn’t have to risk anyone seeing how long it took me to read each page.
    Mr. Pollock was my freshman English teacher in high school.  He was a young Hemingway look-alike right down to the beard and fisherman-knit sweater.  The poster of Hemingway that hung directly above his head when he sat at his desk made the connection unavoidable.  Mr. Pollock was different from all the other teachers I’d ever had.  He savored words.  He allowed time for their meaning to sink-in and take hold.  Suddenly, my painfully slow reading ability was an asset.  While reading The Great Gatsby that year, I discovered how wonderful it was to uncover layers of meaning in a text.  Every word Fitzgerald wrote was saturated with rich, intricate meaning.  I have read the novel eight times since my freshman year in high school.  The symbolism and rich imagery never fail to captivate me.
    We spent a great deal of time analyzing books in Mr. Pollock’s class.  Looking back on that experience, I can see how all of his students benefited from this opportunity to reach the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  He treated his students with respect and placed a high value on our abilities to dissect literature and create meaning.  We discussed important, adult issues.  I remember feeling quite grown-up.  This was why everyone loved his class.  We were all completely intellectually engaged.  It was dynamic and exciting.

Professional Self:
     To this point, the majority of my very limited teaching experience has been with elementary students who are just beginning to read and English Language Learners (ELL).  Its no secret, as I learned from Mr. Pollock, that students who feel intellectually valued are more engaged in class.  While working with second grade students, I would facilitate large group discussions during “circle” story time.  Students would share their knowledge and personal experience as it related to the text.  The exercise gave students the opportunity to hear different perspectives and to increase understanding of the subject.  The discussions also helped students with limited subject knowledge connect to the text.  For instance, while reading Patricia Polacco’s Thunder Cake, students without access to grandparents could learn about those types of relationships from those students who did have access.  The children also learned that, while not all grandmothers bake cakes, they all have something to share.
     During my studies here at NCSU, I’ve become a big fan of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).  ZPD is a wonderful tool for capitalizing on students’ strengths and promoting student ownership of the learning process.  I like the notion that every student is the “more knowledgeable other” (MKO) in regard to something.  Each student has something of value to contribute to the success of the class.  I believe that my job is to provide a wide variety of relatable texts and facilitate opportunities for each student to experience being the MKO.

Literate Self:
     My experience with young adult (YA) literature  is mostly through my children.  The first time I became aware of the YA genre was when my daughter began perusing that section at the library during the summer before the seventh grade.  I actually Googled it to find out what it was!  There wasn’t a YA section at the library when I was a teen, and none of my teachers used that term.  However, after reading several on-line explanations, I realized that most of what I read in high school fell into the YA category.  The difference between YA literature then and now is that the subject matter is far more explicit today.  With the target age being between 12 and 18, many of the gritty themes in this genre concern me.  An ocean could fill the maturity gap that exists between the ages of 12 and 18.  Before encouraging students to read graphic tales of incest, rape, sexuality, and suicide, it is important to know they are emotionally ready.  I also want to be confident that the details are necessary to the telling of the story and not simply used  for shock-effect.
     One of the first series my daughter delved into was The Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfield.  I believe the school librarian recommended them to her.  I have skimmed parts of the books but have not done a thorough reading; however, I did appreciate the conversations these books sparked with my daughter.  We discussed the value society places on appearance and who gets to define beauty.  This launched her into an investigation of how the media packages beauty for our consumption.  These books facilitated an important part of her development at a critical time in her life.  A couple of years later, she connected these themes to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  Her experience is an example of the positive growth that can result from reading YA literature that is developmentally appropriate for the student.
     While I see a need for caution, the potential for YA literature to bridge the gap between modern teens and literary canon is too great to ignore.  The same themes exist in canon literature; however, the subjects are usually handled with a delicacy that makes them perhaps too subtle for the modern palette.  Literature helps us to explore critical issues, form opinions, and take positive action to make a better future.  But, it can have this impact only if we read.  For years I have had the practice of reading a classic work followed by a modern novel.  I don’t specifically seek to link themes, but, inevitably there are connections that illustrate the basic desires and conflicts experienced by human beings have changed little over the years.  Last week I finished Summer by Edith Wharton and now I am reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Both deal with women’s issues.  The perspective offered by both novels helps the reader to see how far women have come in terms of freedom and equality and how far we have yet to go.  I want to be well versed in YA literature so that I can help my students make these types of pairings to gain greater perspective.  We can’t make a better future until we understand the past.

Virtual Self:
     I have an affinity for classics and by-gone eras.  My husband is a computer engineer, who for years has attempted to usher me into the 21st century.  I resisted.  Prior to returning to school, I rarely touched our home computer.  I sent handwritten letters, read books printed on paper, and paid bills with checks delivered via the U.S. Postal Service.  My husband has occasionally referred to me as his “misplaced Victorian”.  That has dramatically changed over the past two years.  Every morning, after putting the tea kettle on the stove, I boot-up my laptop and log-in to Moodle, Facebook, a variety of wikis, and several email accounts.  I am an experienced user of several Web 2.0 tools.  I even have had a little experience with Second Life prior to this class.  Last Spring, I created an avatar to explore Second Life for a blog and podcast I created for ECI512 Emerging Technologies.  My in-world SL experience was fascinating, but I wish I’d had a guide. I am looking forward to learning more about SL and its potential applications for education.  While in-world last April, I stumbled across an interactive classroom developed by high school teachers in Indiana.  The main feature of the room was based on Dante’s Inferno.  I would love to have the ability to put together an experience like it for my future students!

   1.  Professional Self:  I want to be able to create bridges between the past,  present, and future using literature that will encourage students to think critically and talk about the challenges they face today, the lessons of yesterday, and the solutions for tomorrow.  
   2.  Literate Self:  My goal is to become more knowledgeable about the YA genre, to increase my comfort level with the themes addressed, and to develop the ability to pair YA novels with literature from canon.
   3.  Virtual Self:  During my first experience in SL, I did not interact with other people in-world.  I want to learn how to interact with others as well as how to connect to environments in-world that may be professional resources.  I want to be able to incorporate 3D technology in my classroom in substantive ways.  On a more superficial level, I would also like to learn how to customize my avatar in order to incorporate more of my personality.
In a nut-shell, I seek to use 21st century technologies along with Young Adult and canon literature to engage the minds of my students and to empower them to think critically and to express themselves creatively and effectively.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo! You hit your high note and carried throughout your performance, Jen. Really impressed that you see literature as a bridge to connect the past, present, and future and how pairing classics and contemporary YA titles as well as creating storyworlds in Second Life can support that.

    Don’t look now but the “misplaced Victorian” has become a Renaissance woman!

    Here are a few resources for you. I can see an Action Learning Project already in the works.

    Complements to the Classics by Joan Kaywell. Here’s the latest in a long, respected series that includes units pairing classics and YA titles.

    The Storyworld in Second Life created by Ramapo Middle School students -- Wait until you see these responses inspired by Robert Frost’s A Road Less Traveled --

    Looking forward to seeing all of this comes together for you!