Tag Archive for education

Why I Chose a Bible as My Literacy Artifact

Last week I wrote about the process I went through to choose a literacy artifact. I was to share this object with my colleagues at the professional development workshop I was attending at Michigan State. It wasHoly Bible Pink Cover to represent some story of my literacy and educational journey. In that post I explained the various objects I considered and then ultimately revealed the artifact I chose: a Bible.

In today’s post, I explain why I chose the Bible as the artifact that best represents my story about literacy and education. Some people may not think that the Bible would have much of a role on education, learning, or literacy. It’s a book, and we know books can teach, but the Bible is not connected to schooling (at least not public schooling) and it doesn’t explicitly teach about learning to read or write. However, the Bible did impact my development as a learner, as a student.

What follows is not a straightforward, linear narrative about the Bible’s impact on me as a learner. I provide a mere glimpse into its impact on me, a few stories that contribute to some part of the story. The story is not a complete (or completely accurate) history. I do not want to share every story and experience; some things I still like to keep to myself. And I honestly can’t pinpoint all of the ways the Bible has impacted my education (or my life). Plus, this is my perspective; my parents might have a different story to tell.

The Bible is the first book I remember. I carried one to church with me. My parents read it to us as kids. My siblings and I put on drama skits for my parents and others who would watch in which we acted out stories from the Bible. We used the Bible to plan and study and learn the stories. We used the Bible as part of our weekly family devotionals. When I learned to read, I began reading the book by myself. I continued to read it growing up. It was the center of our church services, at least metaphorically. Preaching, teaching, singing, and fellowshipping were centered on this object and its meaning. The Bible was the lens through which I looked at life. It is a part of my literacy story like no other object is.

When I was around eight years old, my dad decided that it was time for me and my older sister Kim to start reading the Bible every day. He bought both of us a new Bible, one of those “Read through the Bible in a Year” ones. We were excited to get new Bibles. I remember the first one he got us: it was red and each day included a passage from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms. This Bible would allow us to read through the Bible in a year. Each day, we read the passages and then signed our name when we were finished. We couldn’t play outside or watch TV until we had completed our daily Bible reading. On some nights, my parents would quiz me over what I read for that day. Other times my dad would ask me questions about the story to see what I knew or what I had learned. These conversations often developed into longer discussions about what the passage meant or how I could apply it to my life. The Bible became relevant to me.

For at least ten years of my life, I read through the Bible in one year (I did skim some days and did not always read even when I said I did; I was a kid.). I knew the Bible. I could tell you story after story after story and where that story was found and what it might even mean. I could name random people in the Bible. I knew the generations of the Hebrew people. I knew parables and miracles and the men and women God used to tell the story. I could quote long passages from the Bible. I knew a lot of memory verses. I was proud of what I knew about the Bible. I gained confidence in myself because of my knowledge of the Bible.

The Bible became a part of me, my identity. (Of course, I didn’t know what everything meant and didn’t know how to conduct exegesis over a passage. But I don’t think that was the point—to figure it all out. I still haven’t figured it all out!)

This practice of daily Bible reading also coincided with another practice my dad instituted for me and my sister Kim (and eventually my brother, too). My father decided that we needed to take notes during church. As a kid (and maybe as an adult, too), the sermon is the longest part of church. You had to sit there, quietly (this was of utmost importance), “listening” (to words, names, and ideas you didn’t understand), and doing nothing (there was no Children’s Church or iPads or iPhones). It was the longest, most dreadful time of the entire church service. I tried my best not to be loud, not to fidget, and not to get taken out to get a spanking (this did happen more times than I want to admit). I always became excited when I could tell a preacher was wrapping up the sermon. Whew. I made it!

My dad didn’t want it to be like this for us, so he came up with a plan. He had an idea for something we could do during this time, something useful and practical. He bought us spiral notebooks, which we were supposed to bring with us to church each time, and required us to take notes over the preacher’s sermons.

This began in the third grade for me. I had to sit there each Sunday morning and Sunday night with my pen and paper in hand and take notes over what the preacher was saying. I could not sit with my friends in the youth section; instead, I had to sit with my parents and listen and take notes. What’s even crazier is that as soon as we got home from church, my dad checked over the notes (yes, checked them) and either approved them or not. He gave us constructive tips to improve our notetaking skills and helped us to better understand what the preacher was saying that we didn’t quite get. I am going to write another post in which I give more details on this practice of sermon notetaking, but suffice it to say that I believe one of the reasons I was such a good student in high school and college (and graduate school, too) was my ability to take notes.

Although the Bible has been an important object in my life, my relationship to it has changed. The object itself remains the same, but my relationship to it has changed. I look at it differently. I read and understand passages differently. I no longer “read it like a child”; instead, I read it understanding that I am reading it through a certain lens, coming to the text with my own assumptions, biases, and perspectives. Instead of learning the “right answer” (or how to find it), I have learned, instead, the importance of asking questions. Of pondering the text, responding to it, questioning it, just like I do with other texts I read. When I struggled with doubt or faith, I went back to the Bible and interpreted it differently. When I went through graduate school, I began to notice much more about social justice, women’s rights, and compassion. I begin to see how my own perspective and beliefs impacts what I find in the Bible.

The Bible has impacted my educational journeys in profound ways, and it continues to do so today. These are just a few stories how. What I didn’t know back then is that one day I would marry a preacher and become a preacher’s wife. I wonder if my preacher husband is going to make our preacher’s kids take notes over his sermon. If he does, I will be the one to check them.

This is my story. Do with it what you will.

The closing line of this post comes from the beautifully eloquent (and unconventional) CCCC talk given by Malea Powell from MSU. This line was stated at least 10 different times by the various participants who spoke, and it had a profound impact on me in terms of thinking about story, both telling my own story and listening to the stories of others. Isn’t that statement brilliantly provocative?


Storying Your Education through an Artifact

“What object would you use to tell the story of your education?”

This question was posed to me by Jenn Fishman, an Assistant Professor at Marquette University, who is today’s speaker at the Summer Seminar in Rhetoric and Composition that I am attending. Jenn asked us beforehand to bring with us an artifact that would help us tell the story of our education.

I thought about this prompt for at least a few weeks before coming to the conference (Isn’t it such a provocative thing to consider?). I even posed this question to my friends on Facebook, who responded with creative and interesting artifacts, including a flute, library, teachers, a spreadsheet, a human skull, and a laptop. Notice that these items were not limited to schooling; instead, these (smart) people looked at education from many different vantage points, including schooling, of course, but also extracurricular activities, hobbies, places, people, and extraordinary objects.

When I began thinking about how I would answer Jenn’s question, the object that first popped to my mind was a Bible. But this was not the story I wanted to tell about myself. I didn’t want to be one of those people who, at least in academia, are often viewed as narrow-minded, predictable, ignorant, judgmental, and hateful. I didn’t want to be characterized, stereotyped, or judged because of this artifact that I might bring.

So I began to ponder other artifacts.

I looked around my office. I noticed the three diplomas hanging on the wall. I considered bringing one of those. I even took a picture of my Ph.D. diploma–just in case I chose to use it. This diploma holds great meaning to me, and not just in ways you might think (but that’s another story).

I considered telling the story about how I overcame a speech impediment when I was young. I couldn’t pronounce my els, rs, or esses. I couldn’t even say my own name correctly. This story has defined me in ways that I cannot fully articulate, that no one else quite understands even when I try to explain. It is connected to why I try so hard at things, why being a valedictorian and getting a Ph.D. mean so much to me. But I couldn’t think of an object to bring. I thought of My Fair Lady but decided against it. I thought of bringing a picture of my speech teacher whose name I can’t remember but who, in the second grade, showed me how, though six months pregnant, maternity pants worked. I couldn’t find a picture.

I also thought about bringing a basketball. Basketball was not the first sport I ever played or the first sport I was good at, but it was the sport to teach me about discipline, teamwork, dedication, and hard work. It was also the sport I loved the most, the sport I excelled at most, a sport I now play today with my own children. I learned about my strengths, my weaknesses. I noticed that some of my strengths and weaknesses were innate (I had a logical mind and could predict where a player would throw the ball and intercept it; I was short and could not block a shot); others were developed in life (I could nail three pointers from all over the arc; I could throw a ball poorly to a teammate and get it intercepted).

I learned so much about myself through playing basketball.

I learned about life and people and love.
I learned about good teaching through both good and bad coaches.
I learned about passion and practice and performance.
I learned how to have a good attitude, not be selfish, how to lose, how to win, how to be a good teammate, how to be a leader, how to forgive other’s mistakes.
Basketball taught me how to experience and live life.

I also thought about bringing one of my all-time favorite novels, The Grapes of Wrath (To Kill a Mockingbird is another favorite of mine.). I read this book my senior year of college. It was in “The American Novel,” the first upper-level English course I took after switching majors my junior year. This book changed me. It changed how I viewed the world. It changed the way I approached people and story. It expanded my understanding of listening, emphathizing, understanding. I identified with the Joads and Tom and the pain and suffering and loss this family experienced. The stories within this book broke my heart. I quickly bought and read as many John Steinbeck books as I could, including Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and Travels with Charley.

John Steinbeck, I might argue, made me more socially aware.

More aware of injustice.
More aware of the terrible ways people treat each other.
More aware that the idea of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps is a myth.
More aware of systemic poverty, racism, classism, and sexism.
More aware of privilege.
More aware of my own subject position.

The Grapes of Wrath gave me reason to be angry. To be raving mad. But it also allowed me to understand the dignity of wrath. It led me to want to fight injustice. It changed me.

Eventually this book led me back to the first book I considered as my artifact: the Bible. And, in the end, the Bible is the artifact I chose. I thought the risk was worth it.

Holy Bible Pink Cover


My Favorite Children’s Books

One of our favorite things to do during the long summer days at home is to read. We like to read throughout the year, but we designate more time during the summer for reading because we are home almost every day, we like it, and it’s a good skill to practice and learn. It also fosters bonding, confidence, and independence.

One thing we did for the first time last year was participate in a couple of summer reading programs. Our local library always has a summer reading program. They participate in the State of Texas’ Library Association’s reading program. This year, the theme is “Get a Clue…at the Library.” Last year the theme was “Dig Up a Good Book.” Both Peyton and Elizabeth, with my help, read 100 books during the month of July. I don’t know about you, but that is A LOT of books to read for one month (25 per week), and since I was helping both of them read, that was double for me! But, we all persevered, (somewhat begrudgingly by the end), and the kids felt so much pride in having read so many books and completed the program. They especially liked the celebration at the end where they earned certificates and prizes. They were successful consumers of literacy, or “literacy winners” as I call it in a recent article published by CCC.

Other companies like Barnes and Noble and Scholastic also have summer reading programs that often offer free books or incentives for kids who participate. All in all, these programs can motivate kids to read, encourage parents to read with their kids and older siblings to read to younger siblings, and get you through the “I’m bored” talk of the long summer days.

For today’s 12 series, I am going to list my favorite children’s books. Children’s books are both visual and verbal, beautiful in words and in art, and I really, really like them, especially as a teacher of writing and multimodal composition (using words and images and other modes together to make meaning). I have a lot of favorites, but these are the ones that top my list right now.

1. How Do Dinosaurs Say I Love You by Jane Yolen. This book is silly and fun to read. It’s also poetic and clever, especially for rambunctious children. My son Peyton had it memorized after the 4th or 5th reading and loves reading it as we go to bed. (Also, check out How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night? and other titles int he series)

2. There Is a Bird on Your Head by Mo Willems. I discovered Mo Willems last summer during our reading extravaganza, and I enjoy many of his books. My kids laughed out loud at this book and most of the others we read. This specific title is part of the Elephant and Piggie series about two friends experiencing life together. He has another series about a pigeon, and the kids liked those, too. I highly recommend this witty author. Both the words and pictures will crack you up.

3. The Pencil by Allan Ahlberg. Creative, suspenseful, and fun to read. It will keep your kids attention and keep them guessing throughout the entire book about what would happen next.

4. The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room by Stan and Jan Berenstain. We like so many of the Berenstain Bears books, but I listed this one because of our recent emphasis on simplifying and de-cluttering and “less is more”. Last summer, Elizabeth only wanted to check out these books.

5. Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall. I had the joy of hearing Donald Hall give a wonderful presentation a few years ago when he came to Baylor as part of the Beall Poetry Festival, which the English Department here puts on every Spring. My children love this book. It’s a sweet story about a hard-working family who lives on a farm and makes their living by working with their hands. It’s simplicity at its best. The images are evocative and the message is simple, yet profound. It’s an oldie, but a goodie.

6. The Runaway Garden: A Delicious Story That’s Good for You, Too! by Jeffrey Schatzer. This book is about a garden that runs away and what happens to the individual vegetables as a result. This book contains a lot of literary devices, including homonyms and puns, which make it fun for older children as well as adults. And I always like books about food.

7. Sir Cumference and the First Round Table by Cindy Neuschwander. What a fascinating, original book. The author has several books in the series and I recommend them all. This book teaches math terms (radius, pi, circumference, diameter) in a very creative way. You definitely should check it out (my daughter didn’t like it as much as my son because “it’s a boy book”, but I disagree with her!).

8. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Classic book about imagination and dreaming. I didn’t read this book as a child (probably because I was almost a teenager), but I highly recommend it. Beautiful pictures.

9. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. My sweet mother-in-law gave this book to Peyton recently, and it’s a wonderful book about taking care of the planet and being good stewards with our resources. Big change starts small, and this book emphasizes this throughout. The artwork is amazing.

10. Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Marjorie Priceman. When I give someone a book, this is the book I give them, especially younger children because it emphasizes counting and music. But older kids like it, too. You must read this at least once. Great story about an opera.

11. If I Ran the Zoo (and many more…) by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is, by far, the most often read author in our house. Between The Lorax, Oh, The Places You’ll Go, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Cat in the Hat, we feel like Dr. Seuss is a member of our family. What an amazing talent he was. His legacy lives on in kids and adults all over the world.

12. Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman. I tend to be a little bit of a prude (I was raised that way), but having sons has changed me. Boys like to talk about pee and poop and underwear and penises and all other sorts of things that used to make me very uncomfortable (the fact that I even wrote the word penis shows how far I’ve come!). This book is wonderfully hilarious and great fun for boys (at least for my son) who like to talk about these things at the dinner table.

Well, there’s twelve of my faves. But I do have one more, so here it is, just because…

13. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This book is a classic. I always liked it, but as an adult and a parent, I like it even more. I understand the story differently, and I think it teaches a lot of good lessons for children.

What children’s books would you add to this list? What were your favorites as a kid? What are your favorites as an adult? A parent? Will your kids be participating in a summer reading program? I look forward to seeing what you come up with.


Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In academia, talk abounds about graduate education, tenure, getting a job, low wages and poor working conditions, and balancing personal and professional lives. One recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Berkeley Professor Mary Ann Mason is particularly sobering. Mason’s article, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses several interesting points about the overabundance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how difficult it is to have a family and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provocative (if you are interested, you should also read through the comments section of her article; so many heartfelt, revealing and personal responses that provide their own form of mentoring):

“In a survey we conducted of all doctoral students at the University of California, more than 70 percent of women and over half of all men said they considered a career at a research university to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to family life.

“A male Ph.D. student in the survey characterized the common sentiment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of supposedly intelligent people who are largely workaholic and expect others to be so as well‘.”

“A female student wrote, ‘Since beginning my doctoral work, I have become convinced that very few, if any, female professors are able to have stable, fulfilling family lives of the sort that I wish for (a stable marriage and children)’.”

Female graduate students who do become mothers during their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few universities are paying attention to the needs of graduate-student parents, or providing mentoring on how to balance family and career in a stressful profession in which, arguably, the most serious stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs during the years when women will have children.”

These findings do not come as a shock to me as a professor. I have now experienced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is difficult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stressful job.

But as a graduate student working on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so difficult to “have it all” and find balance between work and home.  I even had wonderful mentors throughout graduate school, but we never really talked about marriage and children or what it would be like to have a family and work in academia.

With results and outcomes like these–where women are leaving the profession because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (mothers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of graduate students are women, if we do not deal with the intersection of a woman’s personal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in academia. We might still have unmarried women or women without children, but we may lose a large percentage of women who can teach and mentor others about what it means to have a family and a career in academia.

In short, we need mentors. We need mothers who are willing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sacrifices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in academia might still be worth it. We need mothers who talk frankly about having children in graduate school, about having children on the tenure-track, about not having children at all. We need mothers to share their stories, for it is their stories–our stories–that will educate others and better inform female graduate students about the realities of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.


Why I Like the End of the Semester

The last week of the semester is upon us at Baylor and at many colleges all over the country. Next week is finals week, and then comes graduation. And, then, the semester is over.

This time of year is one of my favorites. Yes, summer is coming and students and teachers alike will soon get a much needed break. We don’t have to come back until August. But what I like just as much as anticipating the summer hiatus is getting to see what my students have learned. This is the time of the semester when students submit their work, work that highlights what they have learned, accomplished, and achieved through my course. I enjoy looking through student  projects and reflecting on what we have done over the course of 16 weeks and all that we have accomplished together.

What is really exciting for me this semester is that I designed and taught a new course, “Writing in the Digital Age.” This course has exceeded my expectations, and I have really enjoyed the content and the students who enrolled in it. We have had a great semester together. Students created a professional blog and composed weekly blog posts on issues related to digital writing. They marketed themselves and their work through Facebook and Twitter. They researched a topic related to digital writing, such as podcasts in the classroom,e-books, digital marketing, and the SmartPen.

Students also created an audio or video Public Service Announcement. Alison created a video PSA on Lupus, and Ariadne composed a provocative PSA on body image.Other PSAs examined childhood literacy, hunger, and binge drinking.

The last project of the semester, which we are currently working on, asked students to locate a local small business and work with them to develop an  online presence–to market themselves digitally to their audience. Students built a Web site for their client and then created or updated their client’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Next week, we will have a celebration party where we will view the final web sites and celebrate with the clients. I have really enjoyed this project and plan to expand it as a semester-long project next time.

The end of the semester is exciting for students and teachers. Education, in all its embodiments, becomes evident.