Monday, April 25, 2011

Shared Inquiry as Cognitive Repair by Mark Gillingham

James Paul Gee is a Professor of Literacy Studies at Arizona State University and has studied how and what children learn from video games. Gee cleverly overlays his work on video games to learning to read and teaching reading in classrooms. All video games are not good, Gee admits, but good ones have similar features. One of those features is the Vygotskian notion of a zone of proximal development–a mysterious concept that Gee explains well in the gaming context where each player can find a level that engages and gives satisfaction leading to intrinsic motivation. Another feature of video games, according to Gee, is a commitment to a virtual identity. "Such a commitment requires that they are willing to see themselves in terms of a new identity, that is, to see themselves as the kind of person who can learn, use, and value the new semiotic domain. In turn, they need to believe that, if they are successful learners in the domain, they will be valued and accepted by others committed to that domain–that is, by people in the affinity group associated with the domain" (p. 54).

What if the domain were reading instead of Arcanum or War of Witchcraft? Do readers commit to an identity of good reader? All learners have a multitude of identities in the real world, for instance, "middle-class, male, African American, a Pokémon fanatic, adept at rap music" and so forth. But what if a child has a damaged sense of school learner or reading learner. How is that child to cope? Gee contends that a damaged learner must be repaired "before any active, critical learning can occur." One way to repair is to form a bridge between a robust identity (I'm good at skiing, my whole family is) and a broken identity (reading learner). In many cases, children build their own bridges between robust and broken identities, but what if they cannot?

Gee describes good teaching as good repair work–helping students build bridges between robust and broken identities. Such teaching is a matter of three things, according to Gee:
  1. The learner must be enticed to try, even if he or she already has good grounds to be afraid to try.
  2. The learner must be enticed to put in lots of effort even if he or she begins with little motivation to do so.
  3. The learner must achieve some meaningful success when he or she has expended this effort. 
How does Shared Inquiry™ help students build bridges and help teachers to help their students? Learners are well enticed to try because there are multiple ways to get started, teachers and classmates provide examples and clues, rules prevent grand standing and abuse, and discussion is fun. Because the stories are engaging and discussion is fun, students are willing to put in lots of effort to join the discussion. A student can succeed in discussion at a variety of levels and within one's own ability so no matter whether the student is a skilled or less-skilled reader, gregarious or shy, loud- or soft-spoken, an individual can achieve meaningful success.

    Gee, J.P. (2007). What Video Games have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (revised and expanded ed.). New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011

    What's the Big Idea?

    Michael J. Elsey

         A while back, I was watching the Grammy Awards, and Lady Gaga was transported onstage via egg, and when the egg hatched there was Madonna. Later Mick Jagger came to the stage. He jumpin' jacked around the stage rocking out to “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.” I turned to my wife and said, "Now that is a real rock star."

         So what do I mean when I say “real”?
         I am confident I can distinguish real from reality—I mean a reality show. A reality show pretends to be real. Reality shows have writers, and I never fail to see the small type in the credits that states that decisions were made by the judges in conjunction with the producers. So you know Michelle is going to stay on The Bachelor for a while because she creates drama.
         I was conducting a Shared Inquiry™ discussion of The Velveteen Rabbit with third graders and we were discussing this focus question: Why does the Velveteen Rabbit become real? During the course of discussion one of the young students said, "The Velveteen Rabbit isn't real, the boy only believes he's real."
         My head was spinning with the various implications. What is really real? Does believing make something real? Is my belief that something is real different than what is really real? I asked the student, “What does it mean to believe something is real?” She responded, “You know it in your heart.”

      Is reality subjective or objective?
         Magritte's painting The Treachery of Images illustrates the dichotomy between an object and a representation of an object. The painting is not a pipe, but rather an image of a pipe. I can't smoke it or smell the aroma of tobacco. Function seems to play a part in what makes something real. 

         Real also has the sense that it is true, that it reflects the essence of a thing. Coke: It's the real thing.

         Mathematically a line already exists and the drawing of the line only makes it visible. Perhaps our   third grader is on to something. Do we make things real by our belief or does our belief make them visible?

         My son is playing in the background as I write this. He is playing with his favorite stuffed dog he calls Dog. Dog has many functions—an evil villain, a superhero, a farmer, a secret agent. I can hear my son and Dog battling Ruffo (another stuffed dog of lesser importance). There is the thump thump of battle. It is quiet. My son has saved the world again. For real.

    Monday, April 11, 2011

    What We're Reading

    This is the first installment of our "What We're Reading" posts, where employees and friends of the Great Books Foundation comment on books they've read recently. Our first post is by Sharon Crowley. Sharon works in the K­12 marketing department at the Foundation.

    The Savage Detectives reviewed by Sharon Crowley
    I can’t recall the last time I was asked, “What is that book about?” and I didn’t have a satisfactory response I felt gave the author adequate justice. But while reading The Savage Detectives, a meandering, massive, lyrical novel by the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, I not only didn’t have an adequate reply, I was struck by how answering an often-asked question can diminish a masterful work.

     Part diary, part oral history, The Savage Detectives tells the story of two rebellious, roving young poets, Arturo Belano (Bolaño’s alter ego) and Ulises Lima, who start a literary movement (they call themselves the visceral realists) in Mexico City in the early 1970s. We first meet the protagonists through journal entries of a third poet, the impressionable, deadpan seventeen-year-old Juan García Madero, who chronicles the entertaining, and often painful, idealistic, intense, and self-inflicted drama of the poets’ lives.
    After 120 pages, the book changes form, and the next 400 pages contain the recollections of more than 35 narrators who encounter Belano and Lima during their years traveling to Spain, Israel, France, the United States, Guatemala, and Liberia. From a less gifted writer, so many voices would produce a cacophony that would send readers reaching for another book. But with Bolaño’s imaginative mastery, so many perspectives, so many tones and cadences of speech, not only engage the reader, they create a momentum that sustains—whilerecollections shift from hilarious to heartbreaking, from adventurous to banal.

    The Savage Detectives is fragmentary and often difficult to read. The novel goes on longer than perhaps necessary, but in that it imitates situations we wish would pass already: onlyin hindsight do we realize the slower passing impacted us in more meaningful ways. The novel contains many references to Latin American literature and politics that are foreign to me, but my unfamiliarity didn’t feel like a burden, as it can when reading other authors. Instead I felt like a student learning about subjects that were made interesting by the characters teaching them. How Bolaño manages this is lost on me.

    So besides the story of wandering poets, what exactly is The Savage Detectives about? I still can’t answer that question in a way that satisfies me. Some people might think not being able to answer the question means a book is not worth reading, but I think the opposite. Reading The Savage Detectives tangled my mind (in a good way!) with a plethora of words, images, and voices, and trying to untangle them feels antithetical to the elegant lyricism of Roberto Bolaño.