Monday, January 19, 2015

Defining & Avoiding Cultural Invisibility, Part 1

In your initial entry, use Zeni to explore how you can avoid issues of "invisibility." Then, after explaining what Miller means by "ethnographies of institutional discourse," show how his concepts can profit from Zeni's ideas.
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I'm trying to work this out for myself in terms of cultural visibility/invisibility, so I think I'm going to create two posts here, and relate them to each other. This is a response to Zeni's article. I'm struggling with cultural invisibility here mostly because the focus on Zeni's article - if I'm interpreting her work correctly - is racially related, whereas I see culture so much more broadly defined...especially since I came from teaching in a very diverse area (New York City) to one that's...not (Utah), at least comparatively speaking.

Nearly right away, Zeni et al. note that “cultural invisibility…is a key ethical problem in doing action research” (114). Yet one of the problems teachers may face is not one of physical culture, but rather culture that is not easy to define. A person of color or no color – and that, by the way, includes those of European extraction – is easy to categorize. (Whether that categorization is correct is another matter.) Yet limiting the profiling of students according to culture-as-it-pertains-to-skin-color is just as detrimental. Non-Hispanic White people have their own culture; due to geography and neighboring non-American cultures, Non-Hispanic White people in Maine and Non-Hispanic White people in Utah do in fact live in different cultures (Canada and Mexico respectively), even though the larger culture would be that of continental Americanism. Ignoring microculturalism that exist in larger countries – for example: the United States, China, Russia – is not something to overlook. To complicate matters, then, too, it is not politic to ignore countries that are empirically divided. (Here I’m thinking of the political disparity between self-governing Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Defining the Irish is done in multiple cultural, religious, and historic terms, many or all of which can be problematic for a slew of political and empirical reasons.) Invisibility does not need to refer to culture as it pertains to race; it can also pertain to religious culture. This distinguishing categorization is foremost in my mind as I live in a state that is 80% non-Hispanic White.

The distinguishing factor here is that multiculturalism is not necessarily racially related, something that I believe is often overlooked. Racial culture can be a relatively easy marker (although this does not necessarily make it easy to differentiate a person of color who might be, for example, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or a combination of two or more races). Zeni provided an example in which Cason described resolving several confrontations with an African-American student (114-5), yet the same type of confrontation is one I have with a Non-Hispanic White student – a polygamist Non-Hispanic White student. Here, the cultural difference is the widespread religious practices that a majority of Utah residents observe (with or without the polygamy, as part of the larger Latter-day saint/Mormon culture). Avoiding issues of invisibility is much more difficult when the culture is, in fact, racially invisible.

Avoiding racial invisibility is also troublesome if one assumes that the culture of an African-American student or a Hispanic student is automatically different than however mainstream culture is defined. (For that matter, this cultural invisibility is difficult if one has European exchange students, two of which I have this year, although perhaps their accents demarcate their invisibility.) Fundamentally, I believe that issues of any type of invisibility – cultural, racial, religious, sexual, whatever – can be avoided by stopping, by which I mean thinking of the perspective of he or she who has voiced an issue. Avoiding these issues requires viewing the students as individuals, understanding what one can about the culture, and not assuming that a reaction is necessarily culturally based. The invisibility of culture is that it is often actually invisible and unknown. As noted, there should be a determination to "look beyond...ingrained cultural reactions and assumptions to see what might be going on inside a 'difficult kid'" (117-8). Something I knew - or like to think I knew - but didn't acknowledge is that I absolutely need to be more aware of placing myself in the students' positions, to be more conscious of this.

Work Cited 
Zeni, Jane, and Myrtho Prothete, Nancy Cason, and Minnie Phillips. "The Ethics of Cultural Invisibility." Ethical Issues in Practitioner Research. New York: Teachers College, 2001. 113-22. Print.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Task 1: Ideas for Research Project - Establishing a High School Writing Center

This week, we're beginning to think about research topics. I've been fearing this class because I do not consider myself a natural researcher, but it's nice to have the opportunity to brainstorm a bit and get feedback from my classmates. The questions that were posed - meant to help us brainstorm - were quite extensive, but this was the start of it:

The object of this assignment is to write down your ideas for the research project that you want to work on. We often have many ideas, but we don't have much experience putting these ideas into writing and then actually completing an applications project. The readings that you are doing for Module 1 should prepare you to think critically about the research that you are interested in, and what methods you will use to approach your research project. Your project has to show that you understand specific theories within the general area of Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media Studies, and that you can apply these theories to your project.

When you post your ideas to the discussion forum, you need to consider the rhetorical situation explained by Bitzer (exigency, audience, constraints). You can use much of this information for the starting point of your proposal.

What would you like to work on (topic)? This is usually a broad idea that is of interest to you.
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My having wandered into a writing center at a large state university in New York is what inadvertently led me to a career in teaching, and I still maintain an interest in writing centers. Yet because I also have a background in secondary education, with a focus on English/Language Arts, I would like to find a way of combining research on writing centers with secondary schools. As such, my research interests for this project are focused on establishing a writing center in a secondary school, especially in the area in which I live. I don’t know if there are many – or any – writing centers that have been established in Utah.

This past September, I started teaching English part time at a semi-local charter school. (The school is located in another county, about 20 miles south of where I live.) Having started a few weeks after the school year had begun, there was not much time to prepare or collaborate with my departmental colleagues. The student population is one that struggles; it’s an extremely conservative area, one in which traditional gender roles are promulgated, and one in which many parents don’t have advanced levels of education. (Many parents have graduated from high school; many have not. Some of attended college, and some have graduated, but many have not.) As such, the students aren’t taught to see the necessity of a post-secondary education. (Not necessarily college – any type of post-secondary education.)

Shortly after I started teaching, word came down from on high that we were to become a “writing school.” No one was quite sure what that meant, or how this was to be achieved, but it was desired that we would become known to be a “writing school.” There is no writing center; I do not believe there has ever been one. I am not sure that there would be funds for one.

Given that I do have a background in writing centers and rhetoric and that I teach first year composition at the local community college, I volunteered to run a writing lab two or three times a week for an hour after school, but nothing ever came of it, and the urgency in which we were to become a “writing school” has since been dropped. Yet I would like to know if there is a real need for a writing center at a school like the one in which I teach. I believe there is a connection between strong writing and post-academic success – not necessarily or specifically post-high school/college, but a connection between strong writing and clear thinking. I would like to establish a writing center at my high school because I think it could help the student population, and I would like to do some preliminary research to determine if this would be feasible financially.

There are many parts of this in which I would welcome feedback from as many people as who are willing to give it. I’m not sure how much more specific I should be or need to be when it comes to my research, or which specific aspects I should explore – if the research is too broad, or too narrow, or if there are points I’m missing (or some combination thereof, etc.). I believe that the audience that would benefit from my research are, of course, first and foremost the student population, because they would be the ones being helped. However, the administration of my school, as well as the school board, would also be a primary audience because they need to see the multiple ramifications of maintaining a writing center, the financial cost, and why a writing center would be extremely beneficial for the student community and the community at large.

I’m not sure which problems I might encounter, and I’m not sure which research methods I’m likely to use yet. I see the necessity for doing some database-driven research to determine how secondary writing centers are formed – I have a basic idea, but of course I am sure there are many issues I have not considered. I suspect I will need to create a survey to distribute, and if so, I would need to request assistance from my English department and Special Education department colleagues, as well as the school administrators. Focusing on these groups specifically could allow me to determine the problems my colleagues might see, and/or determine how a writing center would be helpful – or detrimental – to the student community.

I'm also not sure how of the medium or format of my research; this is something on which I would also welcome feedback. I’m not sure a website or blog would be helpful (unless the blog would allow me to document the research process). Prezi came to mind in terms of ways I could present my findings to the board, but that doesn’t strike me as the best, most professional way to do so – although perhaps it would be acceptable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Principles of Intercultural Communication

In your initial post, discuss the principles of intercultural communication outlined by Lustig and Koester, the need for intercultural communication, and how intercultural communication can help you with your research agenda, and can help your audience to understand why you are interested in the specific research agenda.
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Lusting and Koestig argue that intercultural communication is necessary to understanding the role of the developing multicultural, pluralistic society in which we live; they note that “[b]ecause of demographic, technological, economic, peace, and interpersonal concerns, intercultural competence is now more vital than ever” (3). This statement reflects the thinking that changing cultural demographics affect styles of communication, and the necessity to learn a wider range of skills when it comes to communicating effectively and clearly with a wider range of people, while acknowledging different cultural styles of communication. The mindset that culture affects communication styles reminded me of an Old English class I took as an undergrad. The professor had us translate old English texts, one of which was Beowulf. What I still remember as interesting was that the context of the word affected its translation. “Wif,” for example, didn’t necessarily mean “wife” – it could be translated as “woman.” Context matters. I understood the authors’ points that, among other things, we need to be able to translate, culturally speaking, when it comes to understanding communicative context.

Intercultural communication requires similar strategies of communication and understanding, yet there’s the need to appreciate that there are in fact cultural differences that affect communication; as Lusting and Koestig note, appreciating not only cultural differences but recognizing that there are cultural differences leads to understanding, which further leads to “competent interpersonal communication” (12). Their six characteristics of communication is an assertion that includes an examination in which effective communication relies on a shared understanding of meaning and an understanding of social contexts (12-18).

I can see how an awareness, if not an understanding, can lead to a stronger research model. For example, if I’m examining the challenges that might be faced in establishing writing centers at the secondary level, I might investigate the challenges that could be faced when establishing writing centers at the secondary level in other parts of the country, perhaps comparing seemingly disparate academic cultures. This might lead to a deeper understanding of some of the global and cultural issues facing secondary writing centers, especially when establishing secondary writing centers in schools that have a diverse student body population.

Work Cited 
Lustig, Myron W., and Jolene Koester. "Introduction to Intercultural Competence." Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures. 6th ed. Boston: Allyn & Beacon, 2010. Print.

The Theoretically Critical Necessity

My graduate research class began yesterday; not so surprisingly, there's a lot of writing. I'm including some of the forum posts here.
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In your initial post, explore the need for conducting educational and workplace research. Use specific examples from Suter and Bouma to explain:
  1. why research is necessary
  2. what we gain if scientific research is paired with personal experience
  3. how research can produce knowledge
  4. why we should do research
Bring in your current or past research ideas, specifically focusing on how your research fits (or does not fit) the principles explained by Suter and Bouma.
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According to Suter and Bouma, research is necessary for a number of reasons: It leads to an enhanced ability "to understand published educational research" and leads to effective communication with other “educational practitioners.” Furthermore, sharing ideas about research findings – and the research findings themselves, presumably – leads to the development of critical reflection and the understanding thereof (Suter 3). Suter argues that education is enhanced by research at least in part of the assumed collaborative nature of the sharing of educational research; Suter argues that teachers, and others involved in education, “become most effective when their skills and classroom wisdom are combined with their knowledge of educational research” (Suter 4). In other words, the educational practitioners to whom Suter refers – and he means to include “those ultimately responsible for improving learning in the classrooms” – benefit from educational research because this research can then be applied to the classroom, making the theoretical practically applicable.

Bouma introduces the practical meaning of the definition of science, noting that scientific research is done “to test ideas about the nature and operation of some aspect of the universe” (Bouma 6). This could be directly related to educational research that is tied directly to that done in the classroom, especially if classroom teaching is the basis for educational research. Research, in this vein examines the “nature and operation” of pedagogical practices that occur in the classroom, which leads to an examination and awareness of effective teaching strategies, which in turn might lead to further research of pedagogical practices. Bouma’s list of the research process could be helpful while trying to establish valuable research strategies, especially in terms of focusing on patterns of learning and instruction (Bouma 7). This reminded me of one of the concepts taught in one of my undergraduate teaching methods classes, in which we analyzed effective scaffolding strategies that could be implemented in the classroom. Both research and teaching practices need to be structured in such a way that demonstrates causality: Research needs to be outlined in such a manner that establishes the question; steps are necessary in order “to learn the necessary skills involved in research and to avoid many of the major pitfalls” (Bouma 7). Similarly, scaffolding builds upon previously taught knowledge and allows teachers to introduce and teach more complex skills.

I'm still trying to develop my own research topic ideas, so I'm finding it difficult to apply my nonexistent ideas to those of Suter's and Bouma's. I’m interested in writing centers and their development, as well as the related pedagogical practices between writing center tutoring and first year composition classes. Similarly, I’m interested in the relationship between secondary English pedagogy and first year composition, as well as the possibility of establishing more writing centers at the secondary level, and the problems that come with that. Perhaps that’s something to focus on – the problems in establishing writing centers at the secondary level. Bouma’s “Selecting a Problem” made me think that perhaps the only way to do research is to be able to identify the problem, but something with which I struggle is what happens when one can’t identify a problem. I’m uncertain as to how one goes about identifying a problem; it seems to come easy to some, but the problems in establishing secondary writing centers was the only one I could think of. Nevertheless, it was helpful to read Bouma’s suggestions in how to narrow and clarify a problem, and some of his questions provided a basis for potential future research.

Works Cited 
Bouma, Gary D. "Research as a Way of Knowing." The Research Process. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. Print. 
Suter, W. Newton. "Educators as Critical Thinkers." Introduction to Educational Research: A Critical Thinking Approach. Thousand Oaks: Sage, 2006. Print.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Feeling Out of Place

It was during our first week in Rome last week that I was able to pinpoint what it is about living in Utah that makes me uncomfortable: I feel out of place. It's not all the time, and it's generally overwhelming, but that's how I tend to feel; sometimes I'm just more aware of it than other times.

There are so many assumptions that the people here make about others' religious beliefs; comments are made - including one made one of my schools - in reference to an LDS practice that I don't understand, for example, at a staff meeting one colleague likened something to testimony meetings - I don't know what that is. Another colleague joked about "telling his [someone else's] bishop." I've heard of testimony meetings, and I understand that LDS bishops are different that or bishops of other religious denominations, but it's these types of assumptions that everyone understands the intricacies of Mormonism, because of the assumptions that everyone is part of one particular group, that make me continually feel like an outsider.

I realized last week that I feel more at home here in Rome than I do in Salt Lake. This was the first time I was able to verbalize, at least internally, the cause of my discomfort, and I'm beginning to have some (very small) inkling what it's like to be in a (sexual, religious, social, gendered, racial, etc.) minority. Unacknowledged assumptions are made and it's frustrating, especially when nothing unkind is meant.

Now, that said, I realize I'm still part of the majority. I'm a white middle class heterosexual married woman who belongs to the world's largest religious sect (or one of the very top sects) in the largest religious denomination so in that case I have little to complain about. I just realized how much more comfortable it is to be part of the majority, or of a more equally distributed minority. There's nothing to do about it; we won't be leaving Salt Lake or even Utah anytime soon.