Monday, December 8, 2008


Rachel Rolfsmeier
Ethnography Learning Paper
December 5, 2008


The results found throughout this study were based on the following research questions: What role does preparation play in the censorship process? What is the most effective way to protect a book or a teaching method before or when it is challenged? What does it take to be successful in defending oneself and one’s choice of texts in the classroom?
In doing this research, I was able to contact two teachers of English who have had a fair amount of experience with book (and pedagogy) challenges and censorship. The first is Dr. Pamela Coke, now a professor at Colorado State University, who taught for several years in a junior high school, and who also worked as a librarian/media specialist there. The second is Mrs. Rene Dill, a teacher of Theater and English at Northglenn High School, and also the director of the Theater program there.
I was presented by these two teachers with a plethora of data to analyze for this study. They seemed to agree and focus on the same three points. First, there are various ways and reasons to justify assigning/teaching a certain text in class. This justification differs from a rationale because it is the means by which a teacher actually decides which text is most worthy and will benefit his/her students most. Second, there are various techniques a teacher may use to prevent a book from being challenged in the first place. Most of these techniques revolve around parent involvement. If a parent/guardian knows exactly what will be taught in his/her child’s class (and how it will be taught) right from the start, they are less likely to present a challenge later on. Finally, rationales are essential for teachers in regards to defending a book, a teaching method, or one’s own teaching career.
What does all of this mean? It implies that teachers most definitely have their work cut out for them. As censorship issues arise more and more often, it becomes even more essential for teachers to be prepared, to have a clear understanding of why they are teaching what and how they are, because their careers may rely on this. This research has also led me to beg the question, how does a teacher decide which texts ought to be used in his/her classroom? What makes one book, one which may be found controversial, more preferable for the classroom? This, also, is an essential question to answer before I have a classroom of my own.
Here is a list of the secondary sources I consulted throughout my research for this study:
Brown, Jean E. “How to Write a Rationale.” NCTE. April 1994. 25 October 2008.
Donelson, Ken. “Censorship: Some Issues and Problems.” Theory into Practice. Vol. 14, No. 3. (1975): 186-194.
Greenbaum, Vicky. “Censorship and the Myth of Appropriateness: Reflections on Teaching Reading in High School.” The English Journal. Vol. 86, No. 2. (1997): 16-20.
Lent, ReLeah Cossett. “Facing the Issues: Challenges, Censorship, and Reflection through Dialogue.” The English Journal. Vol. 97, No 3. (2008): 61-66.
Samuels, Barbara G., Leila Christenbury, Arthea J. S. Reed, Hazel K. Davis, and David M. La Mar. “Selection or Censorship: Responses to Edwin Greenlee.” The English Journal. Vol. 81, No. 4. (1992): 25-30.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Have Your Say

They said that the most important and effective way to safeguard a book against a challenge is to be very prepared. Being prepared includes working with the principal, librarian, other teachers, and administrators in order to create effective rationales for various books. Also, knowing the challenge and censorship process very well will help a teacher to know their rights. They also discuss reasons why a book is most likely to be challenged, as well as giving reasons that some students themselves have issues with books. They discuss how to best choose adolescent literature for the classroom. The gap is in regard to the exact process for how to defend a book, beyond just writing a rationale. I will talk to a number of teachers who have experienced book challenges in order to find out what the process was like for them, what they felt they did right, and what they would change if another challenge came up.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Language Inquiry

What is a justifiable reason for assigning a particular book? What should be your rationale?

There are definitely many justifiable reasons for assigning certain books in your English classroom. For one, the book may meet certain standards that are set out by the state, the district, or by the school itself. It may be a required text at that grade level. For books that do not fall into this category, a book may be justified if it deals with a topic that is of particular interest to the students and is educational in some regard as well. It may deal with actions and decisions that may come up in our students' lives, or it could be about a topic that could help prepare our students for life after and outside of school. Books may be justifiable if they open our students up to new ideas or if they pertain to certain assignments our students may be doing throughout the school year. Overall, I think the two most justifiable reasons for assigning a particular book are that it is of some interest to our students and that it is educational or eye-opening in some manner.
A teacher's rationale for assigning a certain text ought to be rather detailed. It should include the parts of a book that do prove to be educational. It should include the assignments and lessons that will go along with the text. The rationale should include some sort of information that would help them if an argument over the book were to arise in regards to its validity within the classroom.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Gee vs. Delpit

Gee introduces us to the ideas of primary and secondary discourses, what Delpit essentially calls home and dominant discourses, respectively. However, Delpit takes these discourses a bit further. Gee says that a secondary discourse is any that is not your primary discourse (the one you use at home, that was acquired subconsciously). However, for Delpit, a dominant discourse is a secondary discourse that carries some sort of power or control with it. They are both generally attached to some sort of instituation. Gee also tells us that "acquisition" of a discourse is a subconscious process. There is no forward, official teaching of it. However, Delpit responds that acquisition of a discourse is indeed a conscious action. It is what Gee would call "learning". Delpit again takes Gee's argument to a new level. She says that discourses can be acquired and used to "cheat" the system, or, in other words, that we can use dominant discourses to benefit our own situation, to assist with our own purposes. Gee addresses this to some extent in his discussion of literacies, but I believe discourse is a more proper term for it. I feel that I side more with Delpit in this argument. I feel it is important for us as future teachers to understand varying home and dominant discourses, and that it is part of our responsibility to teach our students how to become successful within these various discourses. They may not have to fully adopt them, but knowing how to use them and work within them may be important for their futures. I also agree very much with Delpit's "not-learning" and "not-teaching" ideas. We must be aware of students who are resisting learning, and even more so, we must be aware of what within ourselves or our lessons or our language is cauing this resistance so that we may be able to change it. Not teaching, as Delpit discusses, is just not an option. We must provide our students with as many skills as we can that they may need for the "real world," not just the ones we feel are relevant in our own lives and beliefs.
This may raise questions regarding what extent we have to go to in order to keep students from decing to not learn. We also must ask how much of the superficial features we need to teach our students in order for them to have the tools they need to be successful without putting all the time into that subject and neglecting the other important parts of language classes.
I would definitely like to learn more about ELL's at some point. I have had a few classes that focus on how to help them, but it's always beneficial to know more. Multi-literacies can always be elaborated on as well for it seems that there are never ending possibilities within that subject.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Language Investigation #3

In primary schools I remember being asked to read a lot of the more "classic" adolescent literature. Night, Bridge to Terabithia, and The Giver are a few that stick out in my mind. They were shorter books that had some sort of moral we were to draw from it. There wasn't much of an expectation for us to read outside of class, but I did it anyway because I really loved reading. We were given plenty of time in class to read the books, and often times we read out loud as a group, discussing as we went. In regards to writing, most of what we did were worksheets and warm-up like exercises, such as Daily Written Language. We worked with verb tenses, finding the differences between adjectives and adverbs, and learning spelling (such as the difference between "there", "their", and "they're"). Any papers we had were very short and followed a very specific template that the teacher gave us. The papers always had to incoporate some sort of genre or part of speech that we were learning about. Was this useful? In some ways, I suppose. I've never messed up the different "to's" or "there's", that's for sure. However, I also didn't retain much of what we learned or read. It was all very surface level, very much rote memorization.
Once I hit secondary school, things changed immensely. I was thrown right into writing long essays (at least long for secondary school). There wasn't much instruction given. They threw us in with the lions and let us figure out how to survive on our own. I remember that essays were graded very harshly, as well. My writing did improve very quickly because I insisted on getting good grades, but I was forced to visit my teachers outside of class in order to learn what they expected from our writing so that I could get those grades. The templates were gone, the specific prompts were gone, and my creativity and imagination had certainly suffered due to the strict requirements I was given in primary school. The completely freaked when I received my first essay assignment that allowed for us to choose our own topic. Poetry was also a new genre that was introduced in secondary school. Rhyming was everything to my teachers, and looking back, I realize how ridiculous and forced that was. We never wrote argumentative or persuasive essays. They usually were research or summarizing papers. Boring. This is an important skill to have, I know, but I feel as though my teachers could have mixed it up a bit. Why did they teach just these methods? Maybe they were trying to keep things at a level that wasn't too challenging so that they didn't leave any of the students who were having difficulties behind. All the students suffered because of it, though. We still did the Daily Written Language, and a lot of it was simply repetition from primary school. In regards to reading, we still stuck with the classics. Contemporary literature was not of import. We read Shakespeare, Dante's Inferno, Of Mice and Men, and other such books. They were definitely more challenging and required a bit of reading outside of class, but they were still discussed in their entirety in class, so reading them wasn't really a requirement.
I know my teachers were trying to give us the best education they could, but English classes in both primary and secondary schools were kind of... well... lame. I don't feel as though anything new was really introduced. They needed for us to learn the basics, so they repeated the basics for years (probably so we could pass the tests). Grammar was a focus every year, as were parts of speech. They were always strict graders in regards to these aspects of English. Vocabulary was also important. We had to mix up our language if we wanted to get a good grade, whether or not the mixing up was really necessary. You couldn't use the word "I" in your writing. You couldn't say "said" more than twice in a dialogue. Bla bla bla. It was useful, sure, but it could have been so much more.
When I arrived in college, I was completely unprepared. I didn't take Composition until my sophomore year, and that was a huge mistake. When a teacher assigned a persuasive essay in one of my first classes, I was lost! I didn't want to raise my hand and tell her that I had no idea what that entailed because it seemed like everyone else was following her. I knew how to summarize. I knew how to explain. I knew how to describe. But how to argue in a paper? I needed help. I had to visit her outside of class and get her assistance. I struggled with that paper and many more to come until I finally got into College Comp. That class helped me so much. My high school teachers had tried to prepare us, but they failed in the worst of ways. If I hadn't gone to see nearly all of my professors outside of class my first semester, I probably would have flunked out. Fortunately, I was blessed with great professors that year who helped me to grow more as a writer in a matter of months that my secondary teachers had done in years.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Warm-up Rose 5&6

1. The writing Rose assigned to the students he worked with was rather basic because these were the kids the school decided were having difficulty with English. The first few assignments he gave them were simply to write about a picture. He brought in three pictures the first time and allowed the students to write about any of them that they chose. They could describe the picture, tell how it made them feel, anything. The second time, he brought in magazines and allowed the students to find a picture themselves to write about. Then, he took a few days to walk around the school and take pictures of his students while they were doing regular activities like playing on the playground, reading, etc. He then showed these in a slideshow and asked the students to write abuot themselves. He got mixed results with this assignment. Some took it deeper and wrote more abstractly while others kept their writing descriptive. I think he chose these assignments because it gave the students enough structure so that they were able to have ideas on what to write about, but it also gave them a bit of variety so they were able to have some free choice. It also started as very descriptive and simply got the students to put pen to paper and to realize that writing doesn't have to be scary. He didn't grade any of the work so as not to intimidate any of the students and discourage them from writing any more than their time in school already had done.
3. The language the schools used to refer to these students was not necessarily positive. Kids are not stupid. Whether or not a term sounds derogatory, they know if it means that they aren't as advanced as the other students. This can be discouraging. It can also lead to a sort of tracking. Even if it isn't official tracking, these students may be treated differently by the teachers, and not in a positive way. It can make it easy for the teachers not to expect as much of these students, and therefore the students may not achieve up to their full potential. If they're never given a chance or the support and faith to "catch up", they won't. Also, it can be discouraging to the students in general. They may realize that they are outsiders and become afraid to even attempt to achieve (or write, or read) due to their fear of failing again. And if these students are afraid to write, they'll never improve.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Language Investigation #2

I am fairly sure that every group of friends, or even acquaintances, has their own sort of language that is distinct from others, whether that distinction is faint or, well, loud.  It may be somewhat ignorant to say, as I am not part of other "friend groups", but I must admit that I believe the language my friends use to be extremely unique.  In some cases they may use saying which are somewhat typical slang, but the meaning behind these phrases is often different from the standard slang definition.  These people are very eccentric, to say the least, so sometimes words or phrases are made up completely out of the blue, generally just to get a laugh, but somehow they end up sticking around.  They may later be used again simply as jokes, or they may actually catch on as something used in a normal conversation.  Let us begin.
Ask him a question and he is bound to have the answer.  You want that answer in Chinese?  You got it, mister.  He helps you stay in touch with friends, manage your finances, even find a date!  That wonderful www... the "Al Gore".  Why?  Because Al Gore invented the internet, you didn't know that?
Now, the phrases and language uses I'm about to mention are more often used by my friends than by myself because, as we all know, I'm an English major.  It can be somewhat painful to "misuse" this language, and for quite some time it was difficult to hear my friends misuse it.  However, they are intelligent people, and these phrases are used as intentional debauching of English.  Perhaps they find it funny.  Perhaps they enjoy watching people's reaction to it.  Whatever the case, they do it.  "So much".  This is the one phrase I will admit has found its way into my conversations.  We all know what "so much" means.  We also all know that it is used with mass nouns as opposed to count nouns (so much information as opposed to so many purple people eaters).  My friends, however, enjoy using "so much" with count nouns while highly exaggerating the "so much" ("I have SO MUCH points in my hand," for example).  Another misuse of English is when it comes to nouns vs. verbs.  Instead of saying, "Let's go eat", a number of my friends will replace the verb with a noun and say, "Let's food."  "Book" for study, "pillow" for sleep, and "toilet" for... well... using the toilet, are other common replacements.
When speaking of other people, "toaster" is a term many of my friends use to describe people they don't like.  I think it started out as a term some of my more "special" friends used to describe people they thought were fake because apparently its a term used for the robots on a show called Battlestar Galactica which they watch.  One way or another, though, it caught on with a lot of my other friends, myself included. 
I have heard a plethora of ways to say "yeah right" in my life.  "Whatever", "no way", and "uh-uh" are just a few.  In my "friend group", though, it's "toi".  Again I will blame this one on some of my more eccentric friends because it really popped up out of nowhere.
Many of my friends are also coworkers.  We work at a restaurant, Sushi Jeju, so some terms we use go along with the job.  For example, 86 is called out when an item runs out.  There are also a number of Japanese terms used, such as the names of some fishes, styles of cutting, ways of preparing, etc.  Kaibashira (scallops), sashimi (large cuts without rice), and bincho (seared) are just a few examples.
I could go on and on with these special uses of language unique to my friends and me, but I will simply say that you'd have to hang around us for a day if you wanted to hear them all.  Often times we don't make sense, even to ourselves.  There is a common understanding between us, though, and sometimes our communication is more focused on the non-verbal aspects as opposed to anything we actually say aloud.  Most of the time the odd things we come up with just come out to get a laugh, and nearly all the time it works.  We're a group of inside jokes, of never forgotten experiences, of separate uniqueness, and that, my friend, is that.