Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

A Teacher Educator Writes and Shares: Student Perceptions of a Publicly Literate Life

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

A Teacher Educator Writes and Shares: Student Perceptions of a Publicly Literate Life

Article excerpt

In graduate school, I took a course outside of my program that focused on writing and research. The professor, well-read in constructivist theory, carried into the classroom a full cache of buzzwords--words like student choice, empowerment, and ownership. On one particular day, the topic turned to "student-centered" classrooms. Taking a deep breath, he asked rhetorically, "So what is a student-centered classroom?" He then proceeded to tell us. For the next 3 hours he lectured, furiously scribbling diagrams and flowcharts on the chalkboard.

For many of my classmates around the table--who were enrolled in a doctoral program out of which had come some seminal work on literacy education that put students at the center of the curriculum (Graves, 1975, 1978, 1983; Hansen, 1981, 2001; Murray, 1982; Newkirk, 1992)--the irony was palpable. But that is not to say the incident was unique, or even unexpected. Although we felt that most professors in our own program were excellent models, our collective experiences had also shown us that many other instructors did not engage in the practices in which they claimed to believe.

In this article, I focus on one of those particular practices: A dearth of published research on the topic suggests that very few teachers of literacy education write or read in class with their students. There appears to be an element of hypocrisy here, given the field's general acceptance of the importance of primary, middle, and secondary teachers writing and reading with their own students (Calkins, 1994; Kaufman, 2002; Power & Ohanian, 1999; Shannon, 1995; Whyte et al., 2007). Here, I examine the effects of my own in-class writing and reading with students who were enrolled in teacher education programs as evidenced by their extensive written evaluations of my teaching. Their commentary indicates that my personal literacy practices produced both academic and affective benefits, which not only taught them how they might use their own literacy practices in their own classrooms but also helped move their personal learning forward.

Modeling and "Living a Literate Life" in the Classroom

A substantial body of research discusses the benefits of teacher modeling that entails the academic demonstration of writing skills, strategies, and convention usage, often within a direct instruction context. This type of modeling is consistently cited as a characteristic practice of literacy teachers defined as exemplary (Allington, Johnston, & Day, 2002; Haberman, 2004; Morrow, Tracey, Woo, & Pressley, 1999; Rankin-Erickson & Pressley, 2000; Wray, Medwell, Fox, & Poulson, 2000). Modeling in this context appears to help students learn specific writing skills, techniques, and strategies (Santa, 2006; Stein, Dixon, & Barnard, 2001; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 2002); improve their self-efficacy regarding writing (Guthrie, 2004; Schunk, 2003; Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 2002), and help them develop metacognitive awareness of their own writing processes (Corden, 2002). Wray et al. (2000) write, in their study of exemplary literacy teachers, that teacher modeling "offered children insights into how literacy tasks were achieved as well as what the aims of the task were" (pp. 81-82).

However, others have extended the definition of modeling beyond traditional notions of academic demonstration to include what Graves (1990) calls "living a literate life." In this extension, teachers write (and read) for their own purposes, composing pieces that are personally relevant outside the context of their instruction while sharing their practices and products publicly in the classroom so that students can experience the thinking and actions of an author engaged in craft.

This definition of modeling is supported by theories of language and discourse that challenge a narrow view of literacy as the ability to read and write, instead defining it as a set of social and cultural practices that are constructed and mediated by the inhabitants of a particular group, community, or culture (Gee, 1996; Heath, 1983; Luna, Solsken, & Kutz, 2000; Street, 1995). …

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