The Course and Service Learning
Taking Honors English 2089 with Professor Rebecca Borah was an interesting experience. The course integrated reading, class discussion, writing, and community service to strengthen the foundation of the 2089 college-wide curriculum requirements.
At the start of the semester we were tasked with delving into a memoir by John Elder Robison, Look Me in the Eye, which details his life as he grew up with undiagnosed Asperger's. It was a phenomenal book, the perspective the story was told from was so honest, unique, and funny but without extreme effort. As Robison told his story of growing up, and how education played a part in that, the class discussed our early childhood experiences with education, leading us to our Literacy Narratives . The Literacy Narrative was just one of the projects assigned to the class during the term; we wrote about discourse communities, performed service learning activities, and wrote reflective journals on this service learning as well as our final capstone paper.
The most beneficial part of this course was the service learning component. Per the request of Dr. Borah, the service learning needed to deal with literacy in some way and so I chose to tutor twice a week at Parker Woods Montessori. I had already had tutoring experience, but never at a Montessori school, and so not only was this experience one where I got to interact with such witty little children but I also got to experience how a Montessori school functions. In my journals and capstone essay I reflected and came to various conclusions about my service learning experience, but it was extremely vital to the success of the course.
Englishes classes are not always the most exciting courses, in my opinion, and really this one was no different. But having the added component to the course and being able to engage in the community was really beneficial. It really made me think about different teaching/learning methods and how they can effect students. I was able to compare my time at Parker Woods with the experiences I was having at Roll Hill Elementary with Bearcat Buddies and I really developed some understanding about the functioning of the inner-city school system. English 2089 required critical thinking both inside the classroom with various assignments and outside the classroom with the children I met, and that is definitely an important take-away from this course.
REFLECTION JOURNALS from Parker Woods Montessori
CAPSTONE ESSAY: Concerns about a Montessori Classroom
I fulfilled my service-learning project at Parker Woods Montessori, in Northside, working with two classes of first through third graders. I say “first through third graders” because this is how the Montessori system works: multiple grades inhabit one room, receiving little instruction with the hopes that this will “support the individual’s emerging ‘self-regulation,’” pushing students to have the initiative to complete assignments and reach the necessary level of education by their own will. It also allows “students [to be] active participants in deciding what their focus of learning will be”. They find things that interest them and spend a little more time with those content areas. The American Montessori Society says that this type of education “recognizes that children learn in different ways, and accommodates all learning styles,” creating individualized plans for each student’s learning (Benefits of Montessori).
This was a new and different environment for me; my experiences in elementary schools—before Parker Woods—had always been at traditionally structured elementary schools—first at suburban school in Columbus, then at a Cincinnati Public School, Roll Hill Elementary. Initially I was intrigued by the idea of an inner-city Montessori school. These types of schools thrive with parental support; children go home and their parents make sure they do their homework, make sure they are learning what they need to learn, and push the children to take command of their learning. There is a stigma that comes with inner-city—which is associated with low-income areas—that parents aren’t involved in their children’s education due to an array of reasons. According to the Ohio School Report Cards, Cincinnati City School District is failing to meet standardize testing indicators with only a 45.8% success rate. Graduation rates are at 66% and the district is failing to close the gap between the average student and those facing racial, economic, cultural and disability disadvantages (2012-2013 Report Card). This is typical of inner city districts; both Cleveland and Columbus have statistics that mirror those of Cincinnati. So, here I am, at an inner city, Montessori school, where there is low-parental involvement, and children that really need individual attention to keep their education on the right track.
There are many tutors that come in an out of Parker Woods Montessori’s doors—one could assume this is because there is quite a bit of help needed. I was assigned to come in on Mondays and spend time working in a number of areas with two to five students focusing on many subects: reading, math, phonics, vocabulary, geography, etc. My tutoring classroom was a very welcoming environment. The teacher, known to me as Miss Alex, had the kids introduce themselves to me and tell me what grade they were in on my first day in the classroom. Everyday I came in, she would tell me exactly who I would be working with and what exactly I was expected to do. It was nice to have that instructional reference so that I didn’t have to ask the kids what the assignment was. I also spent some time working on contract work with any of the children that bombarded me with requests for help. Contract work is a list of assignments that the students are expected to complete on their own during the course of the week. I would hop from student to student guiding them through the answers to questions they had.
Throughout the semester, I was hung up on how behind the Parker Woods kids seemed to be in their reading and the lack of classroom structure. In my opinion, it seems like children living in inner-city settings often lack structure in the home, so to come to school where the is little structure as well, contributes to the chaos. This unstructured environment could be detrimental to a child’s learning capabilities. With experience at Roll Hill, a typical elementary school, I was able to compare the children I was meeting at both and guage where they were in their academic progress. I was surprised that the children I interacted with at Roll Hill seemed to have a far better grasp on their literacy skills. In a discussion board post on March 28, 2014, a classmate, Kyle Lamb commented on the reading skills of a child at Parker Woods saying, “It took us over 45 minutes to complete the 19-page book and we had to sound out almost every word, but we did complete it and he was proud (and relieved) that he had completed the book.” This statement is on par with everything I have experienced at the school, and given that Parker Woods is a charter school and children have to apply to go there, this is unsettling.
We read literacy narratives for Intermediate Composition, some of which detailed the effects that illiteracy can have in adulthood, like the narrative by Jonathan Kozol, The Cost of an Illiterate Society. “Illiterates cannot read the letters that their children bring home from their teachers. They cannot study school circulars that tell them of the courses their children must be taking…”(Kozol, 258). Kozol details the way that this lack of ability to read can affect adults, but it got prompted me to consider how illiteracy manifests in childhood. I proceeded to use my experience at Parker Woods Montessori and my other tutoring experiences to write my literacy narrative. I focused on how reading skills developed in the early years of elementary school are the most important to a child’s level of literacy—and their success in life—in the future.
I saw so many places for improvement at Parker Woods, so many children that needed more attention. At the rate that these students were going, they were going to “[develop] further into a mediocre student and a somewhat somnambulant problem solver and it [would] affected the subjects [they] did have the wherewithal to handle,” (Rose, 168) like Mike Rose said he felt as he went through school in his essay, I Just Wanna Be Average. The idea that this would happen to the students I was helping and creating relationships with was disheartening. The idea to apply to be a part of Teach for America post graduation had begun festering in my mind long ago, but the disadvantages I could see at Parker Woods convinced me even further that Teach for America would allow me the opportunity to provide the quality education that inner city school kids deserve. I would be able address and find solutions to the failings in the classrooms I have observed through this service learning.
Looking past the qualms I have with the Montessori teaching system and its impact on the Parker Woods students, I had a really great experience with the service. Interacting with these young minds, giving them the individual attention they need to succeed, and watching them develop over the course of the semester was a really lovely experience. Parker Woods is a really nice institution and I would return to be a part of the students’ learning in the years to come, if I could. This was a growing experience for me. I was dealing with children in an unstructured setting, and still managed to achieve the goals I set for myself at the beginning of the semester by utilizing critical thinking skills to produce an environment in which the students I was helping could and wanted to learn. The experience really made me about early childhood education—how it works best and what part I would like to play in it. It is hard to know how much of a difference I was able to make at Parker Woods, only being there for about three hours every week, but I would like to think that I contributed to the schools goals somehow by acting as a academic guide for these students.
“Benefits of Montessori.” American Montessori Society. American Montessori Society, 2013. Web. 8 April 2014. https://amshq.org/.
Kozol, Jonathan. “The Human Cost of an Illiterate Society.” In Reading Critically, Writing Well. 6th ed. Rise B. Axelrod, Charles R. Cooper, and Alison M. Warriner, eds. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2002. 257-64. Print.
Rose, Mike. "I Just Wanna Be Average." In Writing for Change. Ann Watters and Marjorie Ford, eds. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996. 165-75. Print.
“2012-2013 Report Card for the Cincinnati City School District.” Ohio School Report Cards. Ohio Department of Education, n.d. Web. 8 April 2014. http://reportcard.education.ohio.gov/
LITERACY NARRATIVE: Reading Young
The cornerstone of all education is the ability to read and write; that is how we transfer and communicate all information across the human race. Possessing the most basic abilities to read and write necessary to function normally in society—being literate—is essential to our success. Starting out on a journey to obtain literacy at an early age is a “critically important window of opportunity to develop a child’s full potential and shape key academic, social, and cognitive skills that determine a child’s success in school and in life.” (whitehouse.gov) Attaining a quality level of literacy can often be an effect of learning experiences, home situations, and academic approach and opportunities.
Having a positive experience with reading and writing as a child is imperative to a person’s level of literacy for years to come. Thinking back to my childhood, reading has always been a part of my life. Children’s books like The Giving Tree, Odd Velvet, The Story of Ferdinand, The Paper Bag Princess, and Alexander and the Horrible, Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Day were bookshelf staples; memories of my dad assigning strange and comical voices to various characters are endless. After my spell with picture books had played out, my dad experimented with Harry Potter. Still employing those silly voices and mispronouncing Hermione every time it appeared, together we made it through the first four books. By book five I was old enough to conquer the fantastical novels by myself and have done so—with the whole series—three times since.
My experience with reading in my younger years was not that it was a chore—some tedious form of work. Instead, reading was a source of entertainment and so quite enjoyable; however, not everyone has this same experience. I was fortunate enough to have lovely parents who saw the value in, and had or made the time for, reading to me every day. Children who do not have this introduction to literacy provided to them in their homes have to rely solely on the education that is delivered to them in schools. The trouble with leaving this task completely in the hands of schools, though, is there are so many students that trying to facilitate literacy results in some kids falling through the cracks. Government initiatives like No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and more specific programs like Early Reading First that supported “early language, literacy, and pre-reading development of preschool aged children, particularly those of low-income families” (“No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” 311) recognize the necessity of literate American youths and are trying to promote the literacy upkeep.
I have spent a bit of time in Cincinnati Public Schools since entering college, both at the high school and elementary school levels. This network of inner-city schools is a primary example of the aimed target for these governmental programs and understandably so. As a tutor at Taft High School, I came across a number of students that were suppose to be ready for the Ohio Graduation Test and yet they could not read sections of texts books or understand passages to obtain the correct answers. Being in tenth grade and reading at an elementary level—while still performing the basic skills—reading and writing is far from pleasant. Being a literate person is not a permanent thing; these teenagers with exceedingly low reading levels will never read or write for fun, they will never practices, and they will never get better. That sounds insanely cynical and depressing, but I am trying to be realistic. Without a positive learning experience and a drive to want to be a literate person, these abilities will flounder and maybe even disappear.
Literacy is so important in elementary years. By the time a child reaches third grade they are in a “critical transition point in [their] learning: It is the time when children shift from learning how to read…to reading to learn.” (American Prospect) So when students leave third grade not having all the equipment of a literate individual, they are at a disadvantage for their rest of school career, and for the rest of their life as well; “according to the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 38 percent of all youth in juvenile detention read below the fourth-grade level” (Prospect), and not only that but children who do not read at grade level by the end of third grade are at a “higher risk for later school failure and behavioral problems, for dropping out of high school”. (prospect) From my experiences with aiding in literacy at Roll Hill Elementary, children are barely grasping basic phonics by the end of first grade. It is hard to believe that many of them will obtain the necessary reading level to be fit for the rest of their schooling, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on them.
Literacy is necessary for so many facets of life, not just for schooling, but also for of tasks that we are faced with daily. With literacy comes opportunity, and so that is why it matters; that is why the government is willing to pump millions of dollars into primary education systems, because literacy begins with children. Maybe the “political popularity of “testing” solutions” (Orfield, Wald 319) and standardized testing that the government promotes isn’t exactly the way that literacy should be achieved, the tests may “exacerbate the problems that [they] sought to alleviate.” (Orfield, Wald 319) But I am not trying to offer a solution. From my encounters with literacy, whether it be my own or those of the Cincinnati Public School children I have encountered, I believe experiences and presentation of literacy can make all of the difference, and literacy can make all of the difference in a life as well—a securing success at every turn.
"Early Learning." The White House. The White House, n.d. Web. 06 Feb. 2014.
"Executive Summary of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001." Considering Literacy. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner. Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 311. Print.
Mead, Sara. "Reading for Life." The American Prospect. N.p., 13 June 2010. Web. 09 Feb. 2014
Orfield, Gary and Johanna Wald. "Testing, Testing." Considering Literacy. Ed. Linda Adler-Kassner. Pearson Education, Inc., 2006. 319. Print