Like many children, I grew up with the admonishment, “…just because I say so.” And grew up with the concept that I should believe everything that I read at face value. But like many growing kids, I began to question authority. The earliest I remember questioning was the adage: Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning. As a child who was almost always outside playing, and as one who could not hear thunder off in the distance, I was observant to the sky, clouds, wind, and other meteorological clues. And in Michigan, one only seems to need to wait five minutes…and the weather would change. I noticed that a red sky at night didn’t always bring delightful mornings, and red skies in the morning often blew over with no storms.
And I noticed that skies that turn green are really scary.
How do we reconcile our observations to those with expertise, or facts, on the topic? After all, we know the earth revolves around the sun even as we see sunrises and sunsets.
How do we find out what is puzzling our children the most? What are some of the most pressing questions do they have about our climate, habitat, or society?
How can children be encouraged to delve into a topic that piques them? Instead of reading a variety of books of their “levels,” they could read, scan, or listen to a wide variety of levels on their query.
And what kind of action do our children want to pursue? Do they want to explore more? Or do they want to take up justice work? And how do we follow their lead?
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This was a text message sent to me at 9:03 a.m. I didn’t see it until 10:30 a.m. as I went running, showered, and ate a leisurely breakfast in that time frame.
Would you do me a favor?
Again, another text message sent at 10:38 a.m. and I was driving. My phone was in my tote in the back seat. By the time I completed my errands, got home, and unloaded the car, I found the message at 1:04 p.m.
Deb, can you help me?
This was text message sent to me after I had gone to bed and I found it the next morning. Imagine my frantic worry that this person needed my help and I had slept through the whole night.
Now it is known that it is rude to answer a question with another question, right? Answering a question with another question often steer conversations into different direction, avoiding the discomfort of having to answer the first question or intentionally diverting and creating a circle of nonsensical confusion.
But in the case of the above text messages, these questions beg to be answered with another question!
What is your question? What is the favor? What do you need help with?
Or, Are you okay?
It seems that text messages as a form of literacies can be transacted in a “oral” or “print” manner. These questions appeared to be tentatively inviting an “oral” conversation that happened to be in the format of print, but since I did not respond in an immediate “oral” way, the texts inherently became a matter of print exchanges over time. And print exchanges that begin with questions like these, to me, become a waste of time. And certainly, a source of stress and worry.
Thus, my one literacies pet peeve. Instead of asking a question for a question, favor, or help, the text messages could begin with the actual requests themselves, like the following:
Hey! I have books to drop off. I will do it on my way home and hope to catch you. If you’re not home, I’ll see you another time!
Next time you go to the bulk food store, will you pick up more chocolate chips for me?
Would you scan my documents for the job application? Let me know when I can swing by to use your printer.
While I am not a stickler for grammar, spelling, and other rules of composition in spontaneous pieces, wouldn’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t (my pet peeve!) writing in print that transcends over time call for us to be mindful of our audience—our readers—who so love and care very much for us?
Not only that school board members and administrators must contend with thinking about returning students to school buildings in the face of the COVID variants this fall, but also that dyslexia laws and critical race theory are on the forefront. There were many theories, instructional methods, and commercial programs for teaching reading and writing over the decades, beginning with Look-Say, Phonics (bottom-up), Language Approach (top-down), Simple View of Reading (phonics first + language = reading), Balanced Literacy (phonics, language, & comprehension), and Complexity of Reading (multiple identities, languages, linguistics, and literacies). And not only that politicians, community members, parents, and educators argue over “the best” way to teach reading and writing along with the need to screen for dyslexia, there is much controversy over the “appropriateness” of critical race theory and culturally responsive/sustaining teaching. Not to mention that “learning loss” is also being seen with a deficit mindset as a result from the pandemic. Things are getting quite messy because these issues from both sides of the political aisle have intricate and interrelated overlaps that will deeply impact many of our students, particularly those who are already on the margins of our school community.
When we staunchly advocate or push a side that intensifies a binary, we actually create a demeanor or dogma that will push out another group of our population. Some “woke” people may try to declare that it is about educationalequity, but advocating for equality of an instructional method, program, or mandate is not equity in our diverse society.
How are we showing up as supporters of literacies?
If we are “woke,” in what ways are we still falling back on old patterns of systems and structures in schools and curriculum? How do we start to make change for flexibility toward equity?
How do we foster listening and courage over ignorance and comfort?
How did we learn to read and write as children? (That is, if you can remember!) How do we read and write now? How does our experience impact how you teach or read with children?
How do we objectively observe a child learning to read and write?
How can we discuss with children on strategies for when we are stuck on words or word meanings in ways that children have ownership to grow?
What about a child who can read per se, but doesn’t catch meaning? Struggles to comprehend?
What about the interaction between interest, motivation, and engagement?
How can we delight in joy and exuberance against the face of assessments and skills?
If we are told to teach just “skills,” how do we do that? Teaching 1+1=2 and c-a-t spells cat is easy, but what about narrative arcs? Metaphors? Point of views? Critical analysis?
What about background knowledge and vocabulary impacting fluency and comprehension?
Do we really need to count the number of accurate words? Reading speed? The number of “correct” responses to comprehension questions?
What about feelings? Identities as readers? What does a happy reader look like?
How do we move from compliance to engagement? Exploring and experiencing rather than rubrics, checklists, points, grades, and building resumes?
And how are we sharing how books shaped our thinking and lives over the years?
In other words, how do we trust our children to grow in the delights, messy and joyful, of exploring all things literacies?
Craft in the Real Worldby Matthew Salesses challenges accepted models of writing craft and workshop.
“What we call craft is in fact nothing more or less than a set of expectations. Those expectations are shaped by workshop, by reading, by awards, and gatekeepers, by biases about whose stories matter and how they should be told” (p. xv).
Salesses made a call to rethink craft, whose stories are important, and what makes a story beautiful, moving, or good. And broke down what we know in order to liberate writers with diverse backgrounds and diverse ways of telling stories.
The chapter questioning and redefining terminology used in craft such as tone, plot, conflict, arc, characterization, relatability, believability, vulnerability, setting, and pacing resonated with me as I attempt to structure my next book on a search for stories. I had struggled to fit my writing into various “acceptable” forms of structure so that people who are unlike me—people who hear—will gain deeper insight on the nature of stories, the stories we tell, stories that other people tell about us, and the stories we actually are. However, Salesses made me think beyond craft. What is my theme and who is my audience? How does my theme and audience shape my purpose?
Take only pictures, leave only footprints. Yet, people are leaving messages too. My mom, strolling along a great lake beach, delightfully discovered poetry in the form of chalk and rocks.
Like opening up a fortune cookie, reading just a few words, and deciding how the phrase defines, or will define, your life. And in this particular find on an isolated stamp sand beach, perhaps that the individual words were first written on rocks and rearranged to make a phrase, like the tiny magnetic words we find on some of our refrigerators or finding poetry in the pages of a newspaper.
Being careful to use only natural material, such as rocks and chalk but also twigs and sand, so as not to harm our habitat, environment, and animals, what forms of literacies can we leave behind for other people to spot and relish in?
(As an aside, keep in mind that many national and state parks are not allowing painted rocks, fairy doors and trinkets, and rock cairns.)