Teaching Reading and Writing Today (Response to Chapter 1)
Having spent the last five years in the classroom, I feel and see many of the issues that Dana Wilber discusses in Chapter 1 of I-Write. As she described her students in the Freshman reading class at the university, I couldn’t help but to picture some of my students from the past five years. She is definitely correct when she says that the students are not “anomalies.” She also describes that these students “are angry and ashamed that they have to take a reading class at all.” This is how my students in the lower level classes feel. They often times would ask, “Why did they put me in the dumb class?” It breaks my heart when they say these things because they are clearly not dumb by any stretch of the means. And, I explain to them that the class is the same as the other classes, and that each of them has their own gifts to bring to the class, just as the students in what they feel is the “smart class.” When Wilber also says that “these students graduated high school unable to meet college literacy demands,” she makes me question what I do in my own classroom to help these students to achieve their goals in reaching literacy skills which will help them to be successful at the college level. It definitely makes me take a step back and question why I’m teaching Romeo and Juliet and/or The Odyssey, and whether or not students are understanding these texts as efficient readers. Even in the “regular CP” classes, the majority of my students “could think of a hundred things they would rather do than read a book, write a letter, or discuss literature.” And even though I feel that a workshop model would work in most cases, I feel skeptical that any model will reach all of my students.
I guess what I am trying to grapple with at this point is how do I reach that student on the verge of dropping out, meaning failing every class, not interested in reading anything, not interested in technology or digital literacy, not interested in giving anything a try, just completely unmotivated… I just can’t get this one particular student out of my head… I taught him in 9th grade: he failed both semesters because he was unmotivated and would not give anything a try, and I had him again for another semester as a 10th grader. I just don’t know if I did everything I could do to try to reach him. I tried to come up with assignments that would allow him to choose his topics of interest: cars, mechanics, etc. But, he just still had no motivation to write. I was able to get him to read magazines about what he liked, but he would never try to respond to what he read or explored any questions that he may have had with it. Even when I showed my students my own writing and the various things that I myself as a writer struggled with and how I worked through them, he still had no interest. I know that other veteran teachers have told me, “You can’t save them all.” But I don’t buy that… I’m not trying to save them; I am trying to get them to understand that everyone struggles and gets confused when they read and write; It’s a process for everyone!
I know many students do not trust their own voice and that want a right answer or they want to ensure that they do what the teacher wants or is looking for, and when teachers do this and just give them the answers, the students are no longer thinking for themselves… It’s hard for me not to even get into this mentality of asking the teacher what he or she wants or is looking for because of course it is always easier to find out what the teacher wants and give it to him or her. This will ensure a “decent” grade. However, it is not helping me or the students to become better readers and writers of texts.
On a final note, students are always asking what does this have to do with real life? Or, how is this going to help me later in life? I believe that by using the digital literacy texts that Wilber discusses in the book we can reach students where they are now with technology. However, as of right now, my main concern is what about those students who simply do not care and want nothing to do with blogging, wikis, or digital stories? Or even writing responses to their readings through digital means. I always have students every year when we do research who would rather do everything on paper. They want to take notes on paper, they want to write out their outlines by hand, etc.