Freire and Ladson-Billings have strong thoughts on what teaching is and should be so I've written a teaching philosophy, one of many to come, that will at least get me started as I figure out what teaching is to me and how I want to go about doing it.
My educational philosophy is based on the foundation that all students can learn, and that learning is best done through inquiry. People are naturally curious. Everyone naturally seeks out knowledge whether that be a baby experimenting, a toddler trying new foods, a primary student performing a baking soda experiment, and on up to cutting-edge researchers. Teachers need to encourage their student’s natural curiosity, so they become self-motivated learners. Effective education encourages curiosity and inquiry while pushing students forward; however, poor education makes individuals avoid learning.
Effective education takes advantage of humanities inherent curiosity. Lessons and curriculum should be tailored to consider student interest and prior knowledge while focusing on guiding students to develop critical literacy so they can become increasingly independent learners. Since an effective English Language Arts classroom should help develop student’s own discovery of knowledge, instruction needs to focus on giving students tools. We want to teach them to fish not give them a fish. Teaching literary theory is one aspect of this approach. Literary lenses are a “tool box” students can use when looking for themes and ideas in novels to help them process what they read. Another aspect of the “toolbox” approach is giving students reading strategies they can use that scaffolds them through more difficult texts. Some example strategies are re-reading, summarizing, note-taking, and more. Filling students’ “toolboxes” teaches them ways to understand and approach texts so they can work progressively more independently using the methods that they have learned.
To compliment this toolbox approach, the method of instruction should put focus on the student. Most of the classroom time should be spent on students tackling discussions, texts, and ideas themselves so they can practice utilizing the tools they have been taught. As the year progresses the teacher should do progressively less scaffolding and instead moderate as students produce ideas, create research projects, and discuss topics. Less is more when it comes to the teacher talking. A student focused classroom can be worked towards throughout the year by teaching students the tools and strategies they need so they can work with progressively less direct support from the teacher.
Keeping expectations high, guiding students to consistent modest improvements, and using materials and topics relevant to the student body keeps motivation and curiosity high. Since my philosophy rests on the natural inclination of everyone’s curiosity it means that every student wants to learn. While ability, speed, and areas of interests will vary it still should come as a relief to educators everywhere that what we want our students to do is a natural part of life. Every student can and should be taught up to their potential because they both deserve the wonders of literature and critical thinking and every person deserves to embrace their love of learning. In order to have students take intellectual risks, failure may happen when students push themselves, classrooms need to be a safe and welcoming place. Open communication free of abuse and ridicule should be at the forefront of any classroom’s norms.
My classroom will be a welcoming place that pushes students to take risks in order to learn and develop their skills and knowledge. Working together my class and I will make learning an active and ongoing process throughout the year with a focus on developing critical literacy so that students can continue to educate themselves even when they leave my class.
The Hate U Give serves as an excellent high school level trauma text and as a way to discuss social equity in a classroom. It compares favorably with the likes of Slaughter House Five and The Things They Carried as a trauma novel while also approaching it from a new direction, racial violence rather than war trauma.
The focus on Starr’s community and the spaces she lives in connects with Michelle Balaev’s account of trends in trauma novels. The effect of the traumatic killing of Kahlil has a great effect on the community space and Starr. Starr oscillates between being silent and later her desire to speak out. Balaey says that silence is used to a variety of rhetorical effects. In The Hate U Give Starr uses silence to protect herself and try to understand the murder of her friend. The Hate U Give can be a way to approach not only social inequity and racism but also the messiness of trauma and how people understand and try to recover from trauma.
With The Hate U Give and other works that focus on racism against people of color inevitably it comes up about how should the n-word be addressed in a classroom. Grinage’s “Combating Huck Finn’s censorship” provides an excellent frame-work on how to tackle this discussion in a classroom. The biggest takeaway from the article is the purposeful build up to the addressing and tackling of the n-word and other emotional charged words. Building up classroom practices that support effective classroom discussion and building background on the subject are done purposefully over a period of time. This approach seems to be an effective way to discuss any traumatic or heavy subject. Discussions on important social ideas cannot be done lightly or off the cuff. The lessons need to be planned, scaffolded, and designed usefully well in advance in order to best serve the students and generate beneficial discussion and ideas and not repeat previous trauma.
The importance of visuals in texts of all kinds is an important point to reinforce in order to avoid the privileging of traditional novel reading. While analysis of ads and social media has become more common in education it still seems the literacy is still overly focused on traditional novels.
The emergence of graphic novels and comics as “legitimate” forms of text and their use in classrooms is a positive change however. Graphic novels and comics allow for ample space to discuss the effects of visuals, space, time, and blocking. At the same time, there are many different comics to choose from depending on what literary idea a teacher wants to focus from with topics anywhere from immigration and refugees to the power of dreams. Comics provide a inherently strong starting point to discuss imagery, blocking, representation, and more due to the combined visual and literary nature of the medium.
Expanding beyond advertising and marketing to incorporate more comprehensive interpretations of critical literacy is important so students have a greater variety of practice and so they do no get bored. Bludgeoning students with the constant message that advertising has bad messages. Showing them how everything represents and shows different aspects of power and cultural dynamics is necessary. Even educational documentaries have hidden meanings despite their outwardly innocent appearance.
However, learning to recognize power dynamics and infer unstated ideas but also what they can do. Without giving students tools to actively engage with critical literacy they will likely become defeatist or apathetic. How can a student fight against media conglomerations? Teaching them about culture jamming, successful boycotts and other tools will give them actionable ideas so not only will they become critical readers, but they will also be activists.
Pop culture, along with comics, also needs to be taken more seriously. Music, fashion, popular brands, movies and more can all have a large impact on students, and they need this brought to their attention and given opportunities to practice. Focusing only on marketing analysis does students a disservice. Movies, good and bad, allow another way for students to engage in critical readership and since film analysis is not a commonly offered course it seems English Language Arts will need to fill in the gaps.
Critical Literacy encompasses a broad range of materials and ideas so teachers need to be prepared to give students the opportunity to practice it in a variety of ways and within a variety of contexts.
An excellent resource on the starting point for comic analysis is Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud.