Of passion and literacy

Recently, the Texas State Board of Education passed a new Language Arts curriculum, but substituted their own version for one that had been labored on for 3 years by a group of teachers and consultants.  We don’t know much about what is in it yet, but word has it that there’s an increased focus on the basics(meaning ‘skills’ like grammar) and less on other things.   Which means this curriculum will drive the tests that are written to assess it.

This morning, while reading comments to a post Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach wrote about teachers shifting gears, I ran across this comment by Jenny Luca, an Australian educator:

“Laura is Skyping into my Yr 7 classroom tomorrow. while I think this is an amazing learning opportunity that will extend my students beyond any set writing task, I have a parent complaining about too much blogging and an administrator telling me that maybe I should concentrate on the curriculum and not do this for awhile. I’m struggling with this reaction and hope that tomorrow’s experience will open some eyes as to the power of this as a learning opportunity for our students.I need to stay focused and not let the lack of understanding move me away from what I passionately believe is the future of learning. “

In his book, The Passionate Learner, Robert Fried decries the drudgery with which literacy is often taught, and suggesting that rather than overemphasize the “tactical aspects” of literacy, we see it as something much more:

“Literacy is fundamentally about intellectual power–the power of the child to reach out into the world to gain useful information, the power to express to the world valued thoughts and feelings.  From such power comes freedom, responsible citizenship, and social change.  We see on the face of every child as she or he first learns to speak the radiance of that power projected into the world.” (p.139)

He goes on to say (this point supporting Jenny’s efforts with her students) that:

 “How we teach literacy is more important than how much we teach it.  Our goals should focus on children reflecting and building upon–in class–the reading and writing they do outside of class, on their own initiative. . . .” (p. 146)

This is the piece that I think is such an important component of how technologies can enhance, support, and extend our classrooms outside the school day.   How are we whetting students’ appetites for literacy–both reading and writing?  How are we whetting their appetites to continue to build on their own learning outside of the classroom?   How are we whetting their appetites to become writers and informed readers?

It’s not just about using technologies, but think about how Jenny’s skyping and blogging experiences will extend the learning and interest for her students far beyond the classroom.    And if every child is important, which they are, then having a variety of ways to whet their interest is so important to their embracing their own passions and interests long after they’ve left our classrooms.

Sometimes it takes courage for a teacher to take the stand and say, this is the right thing to do, and to work with their colleagues and administrators and parents to come to a common understanding.   And I do think the common understanding(which Fried talks about in his book) is really an important piece, so that everyone is moving forward together.

So here’s a shout-out to Jenny.   I hope the assignment went well today.   And a shout-out to all teachers who stand up for the kind of teaching they know is important to our students’ literacy and love of learning.

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