Building Adolescent Literacy

First of all, I greatly appreciate the attention and constant reattention to the fact that the purpose of school is to foster habits of critical thinking and inquiry that students will use in their daily lives. I feel like so many teaching texts and handbooks say this ad nauseum until it becomes meaningless.

As Dr. Bomer states frequently, most often learners need to recognize difference in order to move forward with their learning, and that is what I needed. “We come to know ourselves in part by thinking about how we are similar to and different from others” (p. 35). Not only was it useful to see some of my own reading practices and teaching strategies explicitly described, I also needed to wince at his descriptions of teacher-driven or closed assignments that sometimes reminded me of things I did. This makes it more clear how even “clever” projects can restrict students’ thinking and lead to habits of “learned helplessness” (p. 128) or mere parrotting of the teacher to fulfill expectations. The clear, quick moments of student talk or behavior that showed struggle or deliberate reading helped clarify in my mind what this really means in classrooms. I often find myself frustrated looking for a way to describe what we mean when we say we want to have ‘literate’ students in our classes, and this text seems to be a solid start in articulating this idea, not only in naming what practices and behaviors students should be working towards, but also naming those practices and behaviors which  do NOT lead to the “independent literacypractices” (p. 10) we want to continue beyond the classroom.

There are so many “important” ideas, contradictions, balances, strategies and reminders here that it almost feels overwhelming. But I like that he acknowledges this–it is the work of teaching and practice; he “knows [he] makes a lot of arguments in this book that this or this is very important” (p. 151) and the trouble is I think I agree with most of those arguments. I find myself lost in the Continent of Literacy Purposes (p. 7) without a map, in need of direction in order to fulfill the “necessary obligation to focus” the curriculum. I am hopeful some of this confusion will be clarified in the second half of the book (the chapter headings look promising), but right now I’m a little overwhelmed by all of the very important work of the English teacher.

P.S. I also laughed out loud more than once reading this. Two questions: 1. Was I the only one? 2. Why doesn’t that happen more often?

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2 thoughts on “Building Adolescent Literacy

  1. Yay for laughter! I agree with you about the often cliche parroting of inquiry and critical thinking, and I also think one of the strengths of this book is how Bomer, err…Randy, errr, Dr. Bromer, err…ties the specifics of the classroom structures he describes the the “why”–he fights against “doing English” and “doing school” by rooting his suggestions in a particular “vision of literate life.” This is really important.

  2. I felt the same way in that I found myself underlining and putting stars on too many pages. How do I keep all of these ideas in my head and put them into practice? I looked forward int he book and saw that he includes a “plan for the year” chapter, which I think will be helpful in putting all of these important ideas together.

    I also liked the voice and tone of the book and found it refreshing to read a scholarly text that included real world frustrations with teaching and classroom, realistic successes, and also humor.

    I found myself thinking about his treatment of difference. He mentioned several times that we come to know our own reading identities through examining our differences with other. I did not ever explore differences among my students in such a way in my classroom, but I am interested in this idea and how students respond to it.

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