(This weeks entry is by my partner, Dr William Kerns)
A Call to Action by Dr William Kerns
Those of us in dialogue on this blog site tend to share a common vision for literacy and education. We seek to promote wide reading and learning experiences that are constructive, engaging, even playful while academically and cognitively vigorous. Learning is social. When Tim Rasinski speaks of an approach to fluency that draws on stories, music, dialogue, and that is intended to promote a lifelong love of reading, we love it. When Mary Howard speaks of the urgency of addressing approaches to reading interventions that take the joy out of reading, we agree.
There is a crisis in the literacy field. It’s a crisis of engagement. A crisis of vision over how literacy is understood. A crisis for the very “soul” of what it means to promote strong literacy. In this blog entry, I intend to depart a bit from describing strategies for reading instruction. This blog entry is a call to action.
I love seeing the way that literacy bloggers are linking with and promoting one another. It’s also heartening to see various organizations including International Literacy Association and National Council of Teachers of English promote partnerships as well as dialogue. By no means do I intend to discount good work already being done. I’d urge us to bring out minds together to think of how to link our resources, imaginations, and strategies together to address the crisis that is occurring in the literacy field.
There are two key steps I’d like to urge in this blog. One is to view ourselves as part of a community of learners. The next is to be the change that we wish to see in the literacy field. It is only by working together and by becoming energized that we will impact the crisis within the literacy field.
Be a Community of Learners
We can start by acknowledging that we are all continuing to learn. Our learning is a lifelong, constructive and evolving process. So, let’s establish a makeshift professional learning community together. It is vital for us to provide supportive experiences in diverse contexts for one another. We are each still growing in our own areas of expertise. The premise for my call for a community of learners is that as each of us explores concepts of literacy and literacy instructional methods through dialogue online and in different contexts, we construct a richer understanding as we participate in what Barbara Rogoff would call a community of learners.
We learn from experience and dialogue with one another in a community of learners as we move between roles of the more experienced expert and the less experienced novice. Each person reading this blog entry is at a varied stage in the process of gaining skill in the use of tools within the profession while also gaining a sense of agency in the way that we understand the rules of how we can perform our roles. Collaboration can lead to increased confidence to take a stand for what we believe. Let’s help one another to maintain a passion for our role in the literacy field.
We can help one another in key areas including: the planning of activities as well as the construction of objectives and assessments; planning for in-depth learning and critical thinking. Important strategies in planning that are essential for social-constructivist teachers include sequenced instructional design. I advocate the design, implement and evaluation of meaningful classroom activities, with each activity preparing a student for the next activity, providing guidance and assistance to students as the students explore increasingly complex concepts and tasks. Teachers should learn how to assess the current knowledge and skills of students and how to provide skilled instruction to diverse learners, adapting instruction based on an ongoing assessment of progress.
Be The Change We Wish to See
We can help one another to take increased responsibility for our own roles in shaping our careers and contributing to the field. Helping one another and helping colleagues can become a way of living as we operate in our own individual schools, universities, and professional organizations. We can in the process encourage colleagues (and ourselves) to continuously re-examine fundamental assumptions about literacy and teaching as new evidence arises based on reflection and inquiry. This means being honest with one another if we are to encourage colleagues to be open to new ideas and understandings based on an examination of evidence. We too need to wholeheartedly be committed to the pursuit of inquiry, and take responsibly to be committed to a careful consideration of the consequences of possible actions. That’s why we need to work together. We can’t address the crisis in the literacy field in silos.
Be a Reflective Practitioner
I view a reflective approach to education as tied in with choices of morality. We can choose to act or not to act. I believe that reflection on practice is at the heart of professional growth. I also believe that reflective practice is not an act to be best engaged in within a silo. We need one another if we are going to be at our best. There are ways we can help each other on research project ideas, design ideas, and teaching ideas. Sometimes an intelligent conversation itself can be energizing. A sure way to avoid becoming “stuck in a bad habit” is through what John Dewey would call a reflective habit, by being committed to re-examining assumptions on the basis of new evidence. I urge that we together foster among one another the skills to critically examine language, stereotypes, and educational practices various contexts. Those whose lives we touch as educators are impacted by life-conditions that often include the denial of equitable opportunities in education. Let’s together build the capacity to respond in a way that can help students reach their fullest possible potential in life.