While I do not enjoy doing end-of-the-term reflections, but I at least know that they are an important learning tool. That being said, I will say that this semester’s work has certainly opened my mind up to the varied ways in which literacy permeates every facet of society. As I prepare to reenter the education profession, I feel that my experiences in this course will give me a new insight into what my students need in order to succeed in the wider world.
One particular study that still intrigues me, and whose title and author escape me at the moment, is the one concerning whether or not students become better readers and writers if their own teachers are identified as strong in those respects. Thinking back to my own experiences in the classroom, I could tell that those teachers I did have who at least appeared to be good readers and writers certainly gave me more motivation to perform at a higher standard than I would teachers who did not appear as such. Even amongst teaching colleagues I could see the same results. With experiences such as these, it’s no wonder that I find myself at the end of this term more in the social camp of literacy development.
I will be honest, but prior to coming into graduate school I had little knowledge, or desire to learn, about work place literacies. As the standards I was drilled with during my undergraduate were so focused on preparing students for college, I felt that the same approach would be good enough for those students entering the work place. With what I know now, I can see just how wrong I was, and especially how damaging my approach may have been to my students. During my student-teaching term I had the opportunity to teach in a “Fiction & Novels” course, which was the second-semester of the “non-college bound/non-college prep” track—which I lovingly compared to the Sweat Hogs from Welcome Back, Kotter. If I had known more about workplaces literacies, I would have done more to validate their identities as readers and writers instead of simply writing them off as the “slack course.” If put into a similar situation in the future, I would do more to integrate skills that could be useful in the workplace, but not at the expense of helping my students become well-rounded people through reading literature.
I guess that is the reading & writing connection—that they permeate every aspect of our society to the point where they go for granted.
In a recent class we spent time discussing the many ways each of us had acquired literacy, and I had mentioned one of the biggest factors for myself…namely Sesame Street. While the bulk of my literacy acquisition still can be attributed to my parents—especially my mother who read to me and always encouraged me to attempt reading—looking back I can say that Jim Henson and Joan Ganz Cooney’s gift to children was also instrumental. With that in mind I thought I would expound on that a bit.
By the time I was born, Sesame Street had been on the air thirteen years and established itself as a powerful force for children’s pre-school learning. The colorful Muppets—another factor that helped the show cement a place in my life due to my lifelong love of Henson’s work—along with the “commercial style” vignettes illustrating letters and numbers captivated my developing mind and imagination. As a child when you see Guy Smiley hosting a beauty pageant for letters or Kermit getting frustrated by a little girl’s inability to focus on the alphabet, there was something that inside me just clicked. Instead of the dry board books with “See Spot run” plastered amongst colorful illustrations, I actually saw reading come to life and to see the power behind it. There was even repetition and a chance for practice as some times I would see the same episode or the same “commercials” during the week.
As I grew, it seemed that the show did as well. By the time I was able to read a little bit, the concepts on Sesame Street seemed to grow more challenging as well. I would not learn until the 20th anniversary special that the show had a curriculum—which was honestly the first time I had ever heard the word that would go on to become a major part of my life as an educator—that would gradually improve. So while I had advanced past knowing the alphabet—which, it turned out, was not a single word—to learning how to read in the contexts of science, history, and even some Spanish.
My placement with Sesame Street and my acquiring literacy was a perfect storm that, looking back, I’m certain could not have been replicated or even purposefully started. The show had gained enough national—and in some countries, international—attention that it shifted its focus away from simply preparing inner-city children for preschool with its original penchant for the local vernacular—that it had to appeal to all children. At this same time my father was deployed to South Korea and my mother had to work two jobs—one of which was at J.C. Penny’s, a store that had a licensing deal with the Children’s Television Workshop, so subconsciously I must have made a connection between my mother’s job and the show, as I remember a few times visiting her at work and seeing the statue of Big Bird surrounded by clothes racks. So in this case the reinforcement of the show must have added to my literacy development as it showed—at least to a toddler’s eyes—that reading was important because the show was “real,” therefore I had to learn to read if I ever went there. Of course as I grew I learned it was only as real as the places inside of the books I would cling to, but the impact it had certainly was real.