Thursday, December 10, 2015

Literacy's Place: Social Studies Literacy

                 Though literacy has traditionally been defined as the ability to read and write, the circumstances and realities of the 21st century necessitate an expansion upon this view! In the 21st century, literacy might best be defined as the ability to create, understand, and interpret written information across multiple platforms (i.e. digital in addition to traditional texts) in order to express one’s self and communicate. The exact criteria of 21st century literacy has an element of fluidity, and thus, may vary according to time, geographic location, and cultural environment. This expanded definition of literacy has special meaning in social studies, and as a teacher, I must learn to embrace the multiplicity of mediums through which my students will obtain information about society and history.

             One literacy skill that is essential to social studies the ability to contextualize sources. When engaging with historical sources, students need the ability to determine the perspective from which a document is presented including how to differently interpret primary and secondary sources. With primary sources, this means that I can help my students by scaffolding the presentation of contemporary sources as well as front-loading units which seem separate from their understanding of society due to the passing of time. 

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                    Another essential literacy skill in social studies is synthesis and in relation to this, the corroboration of sources. In order to interpret information disciplinarily, students need to feel confident in comparing sources and drawing their own arguments and conclusions based upon them. As a teacher, I can help my students to gain these skills by making collaboration and group work a central part of my classroom. When students must interpret information together, they begin to gain the skill of synthesis and are more likely to transfer these skills into their own writing when they must engage with the views of others as presented in texts. Perhaps the overarching literacy skills which is essential to social studies is the ability to understand conceptually. Because social studies content is often rife with detailed facts and specific events, it is not always obvious to our students that we are discussing “big ideas.” As a teacher, this part of the learning is our task to communicate and we must consciously and continually address concepts as opposed to facts.

                Currently, there is a great need for disciplinary literacy instruction because these skills are foundational to higher level education and the critical thinking skills out students will need to be successful in their future education and in their personal lives as citizens. Disciplinary literacy instruction expands what are traditionally thought of as simply reading and writing skills and gives literacy the special attention it deserves as the key factor in a student’s ability to communicate. This is important to me because in my personal experience I have seen that when these skills are not conscientiously developed and nurtured, students absolutely will not gain competence as readers and writers. Further, gaining disciplinary literacy skills will help students to become successful communicators in life outside of their formal education as they will be able to advocate for themselves and others more confidently.

              Academic knowledge gaps can be the pivotal factor in whether a student is able to thoroughly interpret a disciplinary text or not. I think this is especially pertinent in social studies, in history especially, where students may have no frame of reference for the topic at hand and thus, may have no method to internalize the new information. In social studies, meanings of terms often change throughout time or when discussing from a different perspective (eg. the meaning of “conservative” in politics versus economics). I can help my students to become better readers despite knowledge gaps by differentiating texts and/or reinterpreting texts which use language students have to build up to. Also, this has to do with beginning my planning with the end in mind, and organizing my instruction around the conceptual understandings students must gain and be able to illustrate.
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                Generic literacy practices are useful to teachers, but must be modified to meet the needs of the discipline. The teacher must understand the goal they are attempting to accomplish by introducing the literacy strategy and organize the activity around this goal. Generic practices can also be modified by altering the types of texts the activity or strategy calls for in order to orient them to social studies standards. In adolescent literacy, the generic practices teachers work with must be tailored to the needs of the particular class and particular students.

                Prior to the course, literacy connoted basic reading skills and had little to do with courses other than social studies and ELA in my mind. Since taking this course, I have a new understanding of disciplinary literacy that has much to do with my expanded definition. This is important as a understand the central role I will play as a social studies educator in helping students to gain specific skills to guide them in the social and academic worlds. I also have a more thorough understanding of why literacy instruction is the job of all teachers who must approach literacy as a skill in diverse disciplines.
Since the beginning of the semester, my seflies exemplify my expanded understanding of literacy. At the beginning, I was trying to capture more traditional skills of reading and writing yet, towards the end I tried to embrace an understanding of literacy that was based on the various times in life when we must interpret and communicate information. This is impactful to me as I have come to understand that literacy is a multifaceted skill that, when nurtured, provides our students with the ability to be leaders in their own lives.

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              What I have learned about adolescent literacy meaningfully connects to me as a teacher because I understand the multiplicity of ways through which I can help my students become better readers, writers, and overall communicators. I feel that specifically, writing skills, are essential to helping out students become successful adults in various fields and the skills I have learned will help me to nurture their writing. As a teacher, I hope to help my students become critical thinkers and the ability to compare, analyze, critique, and argue are central to gaining this pursuit. As a learner, I feel that what I have learned has better prepared me to teach students the literacy skills that I use whenever I come into contact with a text. I have a much better understanding of the skills and strategies I am using and how I am interpreting information and this will directly impact how I present information to my students and how I encourage them to engage.
         To successfully support adolescent literacy development, we as educators need a wide range of strategies and skills which we can draw from to support our students. Likewise, we need professional networks through which we can communicate and exchange with our peers. All groups of students are diverse learners with different skill and prior knowledge levels and thus, we must diversify how we teach. We also need sources which our students connect to and when these sources are not as apparent, we must learn to present texts in a way which is approachable and relevant to our students and their personal interests. When students feel connected to our content, they will be more likely to engage themselves, and internalize the information they are presented with. We also need to provide multiple ways for students to illustrate their learning even with this must be in conjunction with traditional assessments.

           I have come to understand that literacy skills are likely what helped me to become a successful student and these skills are often what guide my actions in the social world. When we identify these skills and consciously help our students to develop them, they too can find success in multiple areas of life. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Final Post

Since the beginning of the semester, I feel I have gained a more concrete understanding of how literacy is central to all of the teaching that we do in the educational system. As one who focuses on social studies, the importance of literacy in my content area has long been apparent to me, yet, I know understand adolescent literacy education as a much broader effort incorporated across content areas that must be addressed from diverse angles, perspectives, and approaches. In the social studies field, I feel that teachers had ought to embrace social studies as the umbrella term that it is, and help out students to build disciplinary literacy through diversifying the range of sources which we ask our students to engage with. Specifically, I think social studies educators will benefit their students by making an effort to emphasize the importance of sources outside of the historical discipline. If we want our students to internalize and illustrate their mastery of sourcing, comparing, contextualizing, corroborating etc., we must allow them to work with the range of sources which historians and social theorists use.

I feel that one of the greatest challenges regarding literacy in social studies education is the variable of prior knowledge and student preconceptions when dealing with social studies content specifically. The way in which social studies textbooks and typical courses are organized often seems to advantage those with personal experiences and extensive understandings of history and society. For teachers, this is always a relevant issue to work with and at times, work around. Something that I have learned that addresses this issue is the importance of planning instruction "backward" and working toward building conceptual understandings around specific topics.

In social studies, disciplinary writing skills are generally the way in which student understanding is most thoroughly assessed. I think there needs to be a much more concerted effort in helping students to be competent writers within the discipline. Personally, I think this is a perfect opportunity for educators to make social studies content relevant to students' lives and to emphasize the real world implications of much of our content. We need to build literacy strategies that encourage students to put themselves and their communities at the center of their learning and to build conceptual understandings of their experiences which directly relate to the past. This means including a diverse set of voices in our content but also teaching students to think critically and practice skills of argumentation which require analysis, comparison, and synthesis.

This blogging experience has helped me to develop ways to professionally collaborate with other educators. In my current field experience, my SBTE is collaborating with other teachers through a similar format and I see the way blogging allows educators to collaborate on theoretical and methodological issues which they often cannot find time to discuss during their team meetings. As a future educator, I feel I can incorporate a similar activity. Further, the comment and response process on the blogs can also be adapted as a student project given that students have access to adequate technological resources. This is the aspect that I enjoyed most about the blog assignment. Educators thrive on sharing with their peers, and through such interactions, we can surely benefit of students and the pursuit of literacy education.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

LGBT Inclusion- Classrooms and Curriculum

           When we discuss literacy and culture, we often bring up the idea that students need to feel that their lives and experiences are reflected in the content they are asked to read. I think this is especially crucial to teachers of Social Studies and Language Arts as the social condition of groups and individuals in societies is at the core of what these disciplines explore. Though educators have increasingly made concerted efforts to include the voices of some ethnic minority groups, the rapidly expanding ethnic and cultural composition of our nation’s population calls for a deeper analysis on the extent to which content reflects diverse social groups as well as a more conscious effort to expand the types of voices we feature in our instruction. In particular, I have been thinking of how the voices and experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender individuals and communities may become a central part of the history and literature we teach and conversely, how the relative silencing of these voices in education at large works to damage the experiences of many students in classrooms.
            I minored in Womens’ and Gender Studies during my undergraduate education, and from this experience I gained not only a wealth of knowledge which I felt had been kept from me during high school, but also, a sense of passion and personal connection with my academic pursuits which I had never realized prior to entering college. Because Queer and Gay and Lesbian studies are mostly academically based on Women’s Studies and Feminist academics, the connections and explorations which these field encouraged me to realize changed the way I view society and my place in it concretely. I have spoken with many of my peers who also feel this way about their academic pursuits in college in diverse fields and I think this has much to do with the feeling that comes when one feels that their identity is a crucial component of what they are studying and that their personal experiences have culture relevance. I do not know why this is so much harder to achieve in the grade school levels yet, I do not think that it has to be. 
           For instance, when we (however briefly) teach about the social movements of the mid to late twentieth century (Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Movement, Black Power, etc.) why do we leave out ACT UP New York City, the social activist group made up of primarily Gays and Lesbians of many ethnicities who are largely responsible for forcing the federal government to acknowledge the AIDS crisis? Leaving out this and other groups does a disservice to the historical narrative and erases world altering events from memory due to the political treatment of LGBT groups and individuals. With the way society is progressing in terms of how LBGT individuals are received and treated at large, I feel that our generation of teachers must be the one that abandons the qualms of past generations and embraces the diversity of groups and individuals whose stories enrich out content and our lives.

        I found this video of the CU Boulder School of Education and I thought it may help generate some thoughts for those reading this who have not considered LBGT inclusion in curriculum or perhaps for those who do not feel they understand this matter because of a lack of information. While you do not need to watch the video to understand the questions I am attempting to generate with this post, it may be beneficial to expanding one’s thinking on the topic.

Thanks for reading!