RM Winter 2016 FLIP

knowledge of women’s suffrage, having given little or no thought to what it would be like for women not to have the right to vote. This prompted one girl to suggest Reading Lolita in Tehran as a good book for girls in America. These students continued to surprise me. This was a remedial reading class, readying failing students to try again to pass the state required reading test. As days and weeks passed, it was clear that the students in this class were motivated and engaged in reading and writing about Titanic . They created their journals in creative ways. One girl, whose character was a third class Lebanese mother with two children, wrote her entire journal on paper napkins. She reasoned that a third class passenger would probably not have the money to invest in a personal journal. Her entries were letters to her husband, whom she and the children were joining soon in America. Two girls in the class had been assigned the passengers, Edith Corse Evans and Caroline Brown. Ms. Evans was a single woman in her mid-thirties. Ms. Brown had children, so Ms. Evans gave up her seat in a lifeboat to Ms. Brown, who was the last passenger to board a lifeboat before the sinking. Ms. Evans perished in the sinking. When the two students discovered this connection, they hugged each other and cried. At the end of our time together, the teacher was able to get school funding to take the students via school bus to a Titanic exhibit that was being held in a city a couple of hours away. The exhibit docents told the teacher that they had never encountered a group of students who knew so much about the sinking of the great ship. I recalled Joshua’s intimation that he could not remember things he read and that his interest in a real-world event had prompted the study that ensued. Discussion Adolescent Literacy Adolescent literacy is about complicated relationships between emotionally- and socially-driven adolescents and their visual and verbal-rich environments. The beliefs that adolescents hold about themselves are powerful influences over their behaviors and vital forces in their success or failure, particularly in school (Pajares & Schunk, 2001). Research on efficacy perceptions links effort and persistence with perceptions of capability, i.e. students who have low self-efficacy beliefs easily give up on reading tasks even before they start, particularly if they believe the only motivation is to complete an assignment (Vacca, 2006). Struggling adolescent readers fuse their beliefs of academic incompetence with their own identity, making it difficult to separate self from belief. For this reason, it may be that students’ beliefs about academic capabilities affect more general beliefs about themselves as individuals. In response to such personal assault, the strategy of such students becomes avoidance (Wachholz & Etheridge, 1996). Moreover, unmotivated readers may be the most difficult to connect to reading because they do not value reading or people who enjoy reading (Beers, 2003). Beers suggests that we must work from student interests to foster motivation. From this perspective, our work as teachers of adolescent literacy requires that we must negotiate the territory where adolescents live and

made significant connections with complex texts outside of the school curriculum. Joshua had come across an article about a Qantas airliner that had suffered what was called an “uncontained engine failure.” Although no passengers or crew were injured, several media sources had referred to the airliner as the “Titanic of the Sky.” Struck by the disparity between Joshua’s literacies and his schooled literacy performance, I wondered what would happen if literacy learning was structured around not standardized test preparation but instead one “disinterested” student’s interests. So, for the next six weeks, we focused our attention back to 1912 and raised questions about man’s relationship to advances in technology. Titanic of the Sky Joshua’s teacher and I discussed what a study of the Titanic disaster would look like and began to connect our ideas to the state standards that she needed to cover in her class. We purchased 20 copies of Robert Ballard’s book Exploring the Titanic, no longer in publication but available from Amazon used books. We also sent notes home to parents, asking them to purchase a paperback copy of Walter Lord’s account, A Night to Remember . Some students came to class without the book, but I had purchased a set of 10 (the books in mass market sold for around two dollars). So, each student had a take-home copy. We launched t he unit by handing each student a “boarding pass”when he or she entered the classroom. We had done our homework (yes, preparation for this kind of study is demanding, the first time, for the teacher) and had chosen interesting passengers about whom there is information online. Each student was given a “valise” (a vocabulary word) made from plain white construction paper. Over the next several weeks, they would decorate and “pack” their valises with their Internet-researched journals and their own creative writing, reflecting their roles as passengers who shared the experience as the tragic events unfolded. Our first day’s discussion surrounded the Qantas A380 incident that had interested Joshua and the parallels we could draw between Titanic and other technological disasters (Challenger explosion, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl nuclear disasters). We wanted to find out what students already knew about Titanic (much of it, it turns out, came from the James Cameron film). So, we lined the walls with KWL charts on large 3M chart paper, intentionally leaving several “L” sheets blank, for students to add new information that they learned from their reading and Internet research. Students created character journals reflecting the life on board the ship from the vantage points of their passengers. We also had daily discussions of the cultural context in which these people lived. For example, women’s suffrage was an important political and social issue of the time, and in fact, some of the commentary subsequent to the sinking of the ship questioned “votes for women”when “boats for women”was reflected in the final hours of Titanic. Indeed, Ida Strauss, wife of Macy’s co-owner Isador Strauss, was lauded in several editorial presentations as an ideal of wifely virtue (Mrs. Strauss refused a lifeboat seat, choosing to remain aboard the ship and perishing with her spouse at sea).

Reading Matters Teaching Matters

Students in this class did not have good background

Reading Matters | Volume 16 • Winter 2016 | scira.org | 45 |


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