Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Tuesday Morning -- Teaching for Social Responsibility

Books + Inquiry: Teaching for Social Responsibility with Young Adult Literature
Presented by Steven Wolk

He started with homework: Read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie. And for the next hour not only did he share some must read titles and how they could be used in the classroom he explored the WHYs of teaching.

Why read?
When we ask students this the response is sometimes what they think we want to hear. Some actually answer "to improve my vocabulary or my fluency." Seriously. I have many answers to that question... to escape, to explore, to relate to others, to understand people who are not like me, to be entertained, to learn about something I didn't know before, to have a shared experience with other readers... there are so many more reasons.

Wolk said too many kids fail to see a valid reason for reading and Cris Tovani, author of I Read it But I Don't Get It reminds us that purpose is everything.

Some purposes for reading our presenter suggested:
  • to nurture the civic mission of our schools
  • to grow and improve democracy
  • to question the status quo
  • as a form of debate with self and society
  • to think and to nurture independent thinking
  • as counter socialization
  • to take an active role in making a better world
  • to become better people

"The heart and final guarantee of democracy is in free gatherings of neighbors on the street corner to discuss back and forth what is read in uncensored news of the day, and in gatherings of friends in the living rooms of houses and apartments to converse freely with one another." --John Dewey (1939)

Wolk claims that schools are failing kids because kids don't vote.

So,why go to School?
Ask kids... "to get a good job."

Wolk believes we need to stop viewing schools as job preparation and as a job factory. And begin to really examine "what it means to be educated?" Where does social responsibility come in?

Sheldon Berman (1997) defines social responsibility as "a personal investment in people and the planet."

Teaching for social responsibility might mean addressing and developing these: caring, global awareness, common good, intellectual curiosity, multicultural, media literacy, multiple perspectives, war, peace, nonviolence

Wolk challenged us: Look up the term "peace" in a social studies textbook. You're likely to find a column or a short blurb about it. Look up "war" and you'll find pages and pages and pages. If we want to achieve peace we need to start teaching more about that.

"We must remember that the purpose of education is not mastery of knowledge but mastery of self through knowledge." -- David Orr

This is where "inquiry" needs to play a role. School, by and large, is an artificial environment.

Teaching with an inquiry model requires...
asking questions, authentic, investigating, collaboration, ownership of the process, constructivist thinking, project based, social progress, creating new knowledge.

Then Wolk provided us with a list of books that might aid in the process. Fresh books, not the same tired classics or even overdone YA books, ones that aren't necessarily on the "bestseller lists."

He guided us through how he might create a literature unit.
Begin with a theme or question
Begin with a genre
Begin with a specific curricular topic
Begin with a specific book

He used Paul Volponi's Black and White as an example:

1. He develops an inquiry question:
  • How are race and class factors in America's criminal justice system.
  • How far does responsibility and loyalty go in friendship?

2. He creates subquestions around the "big ideas"

3. Then he seeks out connected short texts (some examples)
  • excerpts from True Notebooks by Mark Salzman
  • article from NY Times "How Race is Lived in America: Growing Up, Growing Apart."
  • short stories by Don Gallo
  • poetry from You Hear Me

4. He uses a graphic organizer to plan his unit which includes before reading, drama role play, themes, mini lessons, small activities, journal discussion questions, writing prompts, and reading strategies. He does these WHILE he reads a book, when he's first thinking the ideas because he knows he won't remember after the book is done.

Wolk winds things up by telling us about his new love for the book Fahrenheit 451 and how stunned he is to realize it was written in 1953. He ends with this quote:

"Maybe books can get us half out of the cave." -- Ray Bradbury

I sure hope so. His presentation is not yet up on the IRA site, but his email is s-wolk@neiu.edu if you have questions or would like a copy of the book lists he provided.

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