professornana (professornana) wrote,

Fighting against dismissiveness

I am heading back into the Ed Week article from yesterday's post: Yesterday, I explored the first point, the utter dismissal of YA literature as not worthy (why do I have an image of an SNL skit?). Today, I want to examine the attack on the workshop model. It, too, is dismissive. Moreover, it seems to be unsubstantiated by anything other than: 1) anecdotal observations (and not many of them), and 2) a lack of understanding about workshop and how it operates, and 3) an unfounded assertion that only whole class study of works selected by the teacher will ensure students are prepared for college. Here is that section:

"In order to promote a rich and stimulating classroom community, the entire class must read the same title. In doing so, students benefit from compelling conversations among peers, insightful debate, and concentrated reflection. Again, all this is led by an expert teacher who knows the classic content and how to engage students with difficult tasks.

This means leaving behind the workshop structure (where teacher gives a mini lesson, then confers with students who are reading different books) and activities such as poster projects and personal response logs. While these assignments may work well in the lower grades, for our purposes they lack rigor. It is our strong conviction that students will not be equipped to handle challenging texts and tasks if they are allowed to read random books of their choosing. Therefore, we aligned our classroom organization and coursework to better prepare kids for postsecondary demands."


1. I have spent 25 years teaching at the post secondary level. I have seen no evidence that students who have read classics only are any better prepared for undergraduate and graduate classes. NONE.

2. There is no research offered that reading a whole class novel is "better" than students reading some self-selected books, or reading from a handful of selections. Or even reading one whole class novel for instructional purposes and then permitting choice.

3. I wish I could allow you all to listen in on the conversations my friends and I have over Voxer and in person when we talk about the disparate books we are reading. But even more to the point is, once again, the fact that the teacher is the expert. Why should I be the expert when everyone is reading the same book? Is it not possible for others to be expert as well? I know I see experts across the grade levels when kids talk about THEIR books. If you are on Facebook, go see what Ed Spicer is doing in elementary grades. See what Katherine Sokolowski is doing in intermediate grades. Is question: how does the teacher get to be expert? I took 51 hours as an undergrad and more as a grad student. Does this make me expert? Doubtful. What "training" is needed to produce an expert, I wonder?

4. Workshop, the author asserts, is only for young kids, younger grades. And then seem to spend their time doing busy work that is not rigorous. I would suggest that, if this IS the case, it is because the teacher does not understand how to engage students in reading and in response. What projects are better, more rigorous? I would love to see them, see the rubrics, directions. I would also love to see the rehear h indicating that they better prepare students.

5. Random books? It seems as though anyone who uses workshop simply flings some books into the room and sets kids loose. Classroom libraries in the best classrooms are carefully curated. Thought is given to collection development, to weeding, to balance, etc.

Finally, there is no evidence that SAT is any sort of predictor of college readiness. As a matter of fact, if you look at the most recent research, it suggests SAT correlates more to household income and geographic location. Here is the report from August in the NY Times:

There is nothing about the workshop approach which conflicts with good instructional practices. There is nothing about workshop that demands inane assignments (read Nancie Attwell for more on this topic). There is nothing about workshop that forbids whole class instruction when necessary. There is nothing about workshop that suggests using "random" books or using "lesser" books. These labels come from those who do not value contemporary literature in all of its rigor and relevance.

When I see things such as this article, I cannot help but wish those who denigrate YA literature (and, I assume, children's books as well) would actually read YA beyond what they have either heard or seen adapted to the screen. If they were to be more well versed in the incredible wealth of YA, perhaps they might be a little less dismissive and a tad more inclusive.
Tags: classics and dismissiveness
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