Shifting Phases's Reviews > The Right to Literacy in Secondary Schools: Creating a Culture of Thinking

The Right to Literacy in Secondary Schools by Suzanne Plaut
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This book is not about literacy as a civil right. There is some occasional language to that effect (mostly in the introduction and conclusion) but it never goes beyond some superficial statements that independent thinking is part of a robust democracy. True enough, but not exactly an analysis -- of rights, of democracy, or of the reasons why we don't have them.

What it is, is a decent anthology about reading comprehension. The quality of the essays is uneven, and the first few were so lightweight that I almost gave up, but later essays made me glad I stuck with it.

Overstated cliches:

Why "critical literacy"? (p. 5)

Students must "take apart, reformulate, examine, critique, retain and claim ideas. This type of literacy, often referred to as critical literacy, focuses on helping students name, demonstrate, and monitor their own progress as thinkers."

I would call that critical thinking. Why does it need a new name? Is there a difference between "take apart," "examine," and "critique"? Can you do any of them without "claiming"? The text occasionally breaks into this academic-style repetitive, overwrought prose.

Useful criticism:

Teaching Through the Text, Not Around It (p. 20)

"Many teachers dealing with students of especially low literacy levels are able to avoid the temptation to tell students what to think [by] using a variety of tools to achieve understanding, such as role-play, video, and art. These teachers are striving to bring their students to understanding, though they often deprive students of the independence that comes from engagement with discipline-specific texts."

If we always "tell our students what texts mean without first demonstrating how we came to make that meaning and later working with them to make it for themselves, then we encourage them to see meaning as magic."

Helpful ideas:

Give them the data (p. 111)

"I decided to give my students their data: trends in class assignments and quizzes, class averages on tests, and the most frequency comments I make on writing assignments. Armed with this information, they can make instructional decisions with me. ... The next day, I post the data displays around the room. I pose a big question, referring back to our sports discussions: 'If you were the coach of this team, what would you do to make sure you got a playoff spot?"

Call if a conference (p. 119)

"For students who scored 'unsatisfactory': Students create packing lists for two different destinations [writing for 2 audiences]. Then they sign up for a conference..."

Maybe I should call it a conference, and make it mandatory, instead of "extra help", which is optional. Maybe schedule it after a regular pass-in day for folders...

Big Ideas for 5 Subjects (p. 145)

Mine line up most closely with math:
- problem solving
- logic
- justification
- communication
- multiple representations
- analysis
- communication

What students actually need to do:

- predict what the inputs/outputs should be, could be
- measure what the inputs/outputs really area
- decide whether the discrepancy is the sign of a problem
- choose the likeliest cause (know the likely causes)
- test to see if they're right
- fix it

Increasing confidence in our inferences (p. 150)

- what are you thinking?
- are you sure? why?
- could you explain it another way?
- what might you need to double-check?
- what questions do you have?

Catch and Release (p. 167)

Tovani calls the class together, then sends them back out to their task. That never works for me -- students continue side convos, don't know whether they are supposed to move back to their original seats, are slow to transition activities. Why?

Result of not enough modelling:

- students off-task, doing nothing, saying "I'm confused"

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Reading Progress

May 25, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
May 26, 2011 – Finished Reading
June 8, 2011 – Shelved as: reading-comprehension

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