Review: Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by Their Brains, 3rd ed., by LouAnne Johnson. Jossey-Bass, 2015. 320 pp.

Angela K Lenz, Hilbert School District, lenza @ hilbertk12.org

Johnson is no stranger to publication. Most famous for My Posse Don’t Do No Homework—the basis of the film Dangerous Minds—her numerous additional titles include Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by Their Brains, which offers both personal and practical ideas for success in the classroom. Now in its third edition, Johnson’s book asks the question, “Why do so many teacher candidates ace their education courses, read all the latest journals, carefully observe good teachers, shine like stars during their student teaching, and then crash and burn during their first year in the classroom?” (p. 17). By weaving this question throughout the book, she presents advice and ideas based on student success as a priority. In fact, she notes that the book is an “imaginary conversation” with teachers in an “attempt to share everything I have learned about effective teaching in one practical package” (p. xiv), a conversation asking all of us, regardless of teaching discipline, to look introspectively for what we want our students to know when they leave our classes and how we want to get them there.

At first glance, these eleven chapters seem geared toward future teachers, but Johnson makes sure that both beginning and experienced teachers can benefit from their contents. For example, before addressing specific pedagogies, she identifies three fluid categories of teachers–good, excellent, and super–categories dependent on “personal strengths, intimate relationships, professional goals, and individual priorities” (p. 7). This section speaks primarily to the introspective pre-service teachers who must “consider how much time and emotional energy you can afford to spend on your work outside the home” (p. 8). Frankly, Johnson suggests, it’s acceptable to choose to be a “good” teacher because “you will still be contributing to society, performing honorable and necessary work, and helping to shape the future of our country,” as long as you don’t fall into inexcusable mediocre or terrible teaching (p. 10). Pre-service teachers will benefit from considering the contents of this section before entering their own classrooms because, quite often, observed classroom experiences can be slightly skewed and, at times, predicted to be idealistic. Observing a seasoned teacher’s classroom management and organization may lead to believing that their own classrooms will run as smoothly.

Another valuable consideration is the teaching philosophy, which shapes every decision within the classroom. One might even argue that a teaching philosophy should be considered before setting foot into a classroom because it carries such weight. With that in mind, Johnson warns that “If you enter your classroom with a clear idea of why you are there and what you expect from yourself and your students, you stand a much better chance of being a successful teacher” (p. 15). This philosophy will likely include beliefs about how students learn, practices that influence learning, and specific, yet overarching, goals for student learning. This philosophy will also draw out the internal factors such as prejudices, personal agendas, and respect can influence a teacher as an individual. By having a clear understanding and plan for addressing or at least acknowledging these factors, teachers can focus on pedagogy and creating relationships with their students.

Once inside the physical space of the classroom, teachers of all levels can benefit from strategies to prepare the room, the paperwork, and themselves. Again, Johnson asks for introspection. While drawing attention to the importance of sensory details, seating arrangements, supply and paperwork organization, and personal appearance and attitude, Johnson avoids imposing a prescriptive agenda herself. In fact, she lists a number of questions for instructors to consider as they prepare their classrooms, such as “Which seating arrangements did you prefer as a child? Which do you prefer as a teacher?” or “What can new teachers do if they have mild personalities and want to develop an air of authority?” or even “What can teachers do to counteract the emotional and physical stress that accompanies teaching?” (p. 95). In other words, do what feels right for you and your students. Actually, one piece of prescriptive advice does emerge: new teachers will often be given the advice not to smile before Christmas to reduce and possibly eliminate discipline issues and classroom management problems. As someone who received this advice, it seemed counter-intuitive. I know the advice was well-meaning, but personally the idea of not smiling before Christmas would have meant presenting an inauthentic version of myself and that seemed like a greater risk than a student thinking I was too nice. However, Johnson challenges this idea and even encourages smiles. After all, “the opportunity to create a good impression, to connect with your students, will pass very quickly,” and when challenging moments happen, people are more likely to respond positively when faced with a smile (p. 98). Establishing a positive rapport can go a long way in establishing expectations and teaching procedures, leading to greater productivity throughout the remainder of the school year.

In order to maintain this positive energy, teachers must remember that discipline is necessary, which requires them to consider their true purpose in disciplining students: punishing an action for punishment’s sake or guiding a student to make better choices. Johnson proposes approaching discipline with both logic and respect in mind: the consequence should be logical in connection to the student’s action, and the teaching must maintain a high degree of respect for the student. By defining a clear philosophy specific to discipline, teachers can consider how to move forward. Discipline, expectations, rules, and procedures are all a necessary part of a classroom in their own way, and when used effectively, these pieces allow students to be more successful in the classroom, and ultimately, outside the classroom as well.

When Johnson turns to pedagogy, she seems to focus with prejudice on English/Language Arts. Indeed, she speaks the truth when she argues that “Every teacher is a reading teacher, like it or not” (p. 177), and turns to attracting students to difficult texts, such as poetry and Shakespeare. Still, she acknowledges various reasons that students may not be so eager to read in class, including social awkwardness, lack of comprehension, and minimal interest in required reading. With each reason discussed, she offers suggestions, such as offering choice in reading, even with class texts, and the willingness to abandon a class text if students are not interested in the reading. This is certainly a new idea, but if pre-reading work is done well, the students may choose not to abandon the class text. While it makes sense that the chapter is geared toward ELA teachers since they are the individuals tasked with teaching reading, if every teacher is in fact a teacher of reading, more time and attention should be spent here. But with an ELA background, Johnson does not share what teaching reading looks like in other content areas, which is a definite shortcoming.

When turning to educational influences in later chapters, Johnson offers some interesting and unusual ideas. For example, she asks that we pay attention to natural and artificial lighting. After explaining scotopic sensitivity syndrome, a type of light sensitivity, Johnson shares common symptoms and the potential for colored overlays as a way of coping. She also shares how nutrition may support or impede success in the classroom. In many cases, common ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and aspartame harm the developing body and brain, but ultimately, it is up to parents to be informed about what to feed their children. Therefore, Johnson suggests helping students to educate their parents by working together to write shopping lists of nutritious snacks and drinks and by incorporating exercise into classroom activities. Both topics, lighting and diet, seem out of place in the text because some factors fall out of the control of teachers who recognize that students deal with varying degrees of challenges. Some of these challenges we can work to alleviate in our interactions and practices, but others, like diet, we have very little influence on. Teachers must recognize that they cannot control whether or not students are putting processed snacks and meals into their bodies or choosing better options.

Johnson also discusses the potential and value of project-based learning, that is, a teaching method in which students acquire knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. Within this discussion, she includes ideas for groups and project difficulty. Ultimately, offering students more control in their learning does have a positive impact on their learning and productivity in the classroom.

Johnson wraps up her final chapter with a healthy dose of positive stories from readers and updates on students who were the focus in My Posse Don’t Do No Homework. Though ending on a positive note, these chapters don’t add to the practicality of the book, and if readers are not familiar with Johnson’s original story, these chapters fall short.

At first glance, it might be easy for a prospective reader to brush aside Teaching Outside the Box as just another “teacher book” because Johnson covers common topics. In fact, nearly all the topics covered are relevant to teachers regardless of grade level or content area, but it is the angle at which she approaches these common topics that makes this book valuable. Even when discussing topics like preparation and paperwork, the rationale behind her ideas always focuses on helping students succeed, and that is why teachers choose this profession. This is different from many other “teacher books” that focus on being student centered in regards to lessons and convenience for teachers when it comes to preparation and paperwork. This unique focus makes Johnson’s Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by Their Brains a worthwhile read for educators.

Review: Reading Students’ Lives: Literacy Learning Across Time by Catherine Compton-Lilly. Routledge, 2017. 140 pp.

Jieun Kim, doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison, jieun.kim @ wisc.edu

Corinne Ehrfurth, doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison, cehrfurth @ wisc.edu

“We construct meaning of our lives…across multiple timescales of action and activity, from the blink of an eye to the work of a lifetime” (Lemke, 2005, p. 110).

How does time add up in students’ literate lives? How do students construct meanings “not only at particular points in time, but also across time” (Compton-Lilly, 2017, p. 122) as they move through school? If students spend more time in school, will they be better readers and writers? Some students may feel that schools control the ways they use time. Some notions of time take into account students’ literacy practices situated within and across time. Every second, minute, day, week, and year, students use their experiences to make sense of their worlds. Compton-Lilly’s Reading Students’ Lives (2017) is an invaluable book for exploring how students become literate and make sense of their worlds over time.

Reading Students’ Lives is Compton-Lilly’s fourth book in a series published over the two last decades; the first three books invite researchers and practitioners to rethink students’ literacy development and their literate lives as they move through school. In the first, Reading Families (2003), Compton-Lilly interviewed her first-grade students and their parents and grandparents in order to learn how reading fits into their lives and their families, ultimately challenging the widespread misconception that urban parents rarely care about their children’s literacy skills and education. In her second book, Re-Reading Families (2007), Compton-Lilly returned to the same students (then fourth and fifth graders) and their families in order to analyze various forms of capital (Bourdieu, 1986) and explore the literacy learning of those living in a high-poverty community. In her third book, Reading Time (2012), Compton-Lilly explicitly highlights time as a theoretical construct and practical consideration to explore how students make meaning of their literate lives within and beyond the classroom.

The most recent addition to this longitudinal qualitative series, Reading Students’ Lives (2017), offers a richer and more nuanced understanding of the school trajectories and literate lives of eight students and their families over a ten-year period: Marvin, David, Bradford, Alicia, Peter, Jermaine, Angela, and Christy. Compton-Lilly revisits her longitudinal data to further challenge pervasive misconceptions about the reading practices and assumptions about urban and high-poverty families. By providing a stunning backdrop for teachers, practitioners, and literacy and language researchers, she focuses on students’ experiences of schooling, gender, immigration, high-stakes testing, and technology. Furthermore, she provides thoughtful insights into the literate lives of children and young people by drawing on three theoretical lenses that recognize temporality (Bakhtin, 1981; Bourdieu, 1990; Lemke, 2000; Lemke, 2005) and by applying temporal discourse analysis techniques (Compton-Lilly, 2015; Compton-Lilly & Halverson, 2014).

The book is divided into eight chapters that guide the readers through the children’s lives and their literacy learning. In each chapter, Compton-Lilly invites researchers, teachers, and practitioners to reason in innovative ways about case studies in order to make sense of literacy learning over time by providing an in-depth analysis of qualitative data and supports the plea for more qualitative longitudinal studies. Temporal discourse analysis and longitudinal qualitative research offer productive possibilities for understanding how students live out long-term situations in high-poverty communities and poorly funded schools. Her book’s consistent attentiveness to the longitudinal literate lives of children, their older siblings, and family members models a research approach that probes students’ literacy learning experiences.

Chapter 1 serves as a comprehensive introduction to the concept of time. Here, Compton-Lilly takes a deeper dive into her personal and professional experiences to explore how time has generally been recognized in educational research and practice. While educational scholars typically treat time as duration, ages, intervals, length, and amount in their studies, Compton-Lilly proposes “a vision of time” (p. 5) that recognizes history (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) and is informed by life story research (McAdams, 2001; Wortham, 2006) to show how people make sense of selves and their worlds.

In Chapter 2, Compton-Lilly highlights three theoretical frameworks related to time to explore the evolving and complex nature of being a student. Applying Lemke’s timescales, Compton-Lilly explores how meanings are simultaneously grounded in past experiences of family members, personal histories, ongoing experiences, and possible futures. For example, Marvin and his family drew on past and ongoing experiences concerning the “library” as an icon of possibility and hope for Marvin’s future. To be specific, Marvin’s accounts of the library reference his enthusiasm to get his life “back on track” after dropping out of high school. His grandfather, Mr. Sherwood, also marked the library as a resource for literacy learning as he drew upon his own childhood experiences. To explore how Marvin makes sense of his experiences, acts in his everyday life, and contemplates his future, Compton-Lilly illuminates chronotopic motifs (Bakhtin, 1981; Bakhtin, 1986) that operate in schools: failing standards-based English Language Arts examinations, promotion/retention, meeting grade-level standards, and experiencing special education. Each chronotopic motif is associated with meanings that closely interweave and contradict in complex interrelationships. For example, Marvin drew upon the meanings that disrupted his intention to graduate from high school. Bakhtin’s chronotope plays a critical role in understanding how Marvin and other students operate within institutions including schools that impose temporal expectations.

Chapter 3 draws on temporal discourse analysis (Compton-Lilly, 2014, 2015) to highlight time “as a constructive dimension of experience that people use to conceptualize their encounters with literacy, schooling, and identity” (p. 28). The focus of this chapter is how three children–David, Bradford, and Angela–and their families attend to time by using now/then discourses to compare intergenerational experiences of growing up. For example, David’s mother related to recent social changes and the dangers of gun violence by referencing “in the day and age,” “nowadays,” and “that’s the day and age.” Ironically, David made sense of a dangerous present with the hope of entering the military and making money after finishing school. Bradford’s experiences of time were affected by the official time frames of school and incarceration. Once away from his special education placement, Bradford eventually felt confident and made academic progress during his incarceration. Angela highlighted a favorite teacher, Ms. Foster, for making sense of her own experiences with reading and writing. Repetitive accounts about this first grade teacher cement her concepts related texts and reading. Among other lessons, attention to the markers of time with these three focal students provides spaces for teachers and school leadership to reflect on how schools can make time for students to learn.

Lemke’s three timescales–historical timescales, familial timescales, and ongoing timescales–provide Compton-Lilly with constructs to capture how languages circulate and operate within families. In Chapter 4, she revisits Alicia’s case to examine a set of repetitive discourses regarding schooling and Alicia’s identities as a student. Compton-Lilly found that Alicia’s family drew upon their past experiences and traditional discourses which affected the way Alicia made sense of school and teachers. Most importantly, Alicia’s discourses and her literacy practices across time reveal that she fully engaged in familial reading practices with a diverse range of books featuring African-American characters and teen girls. Historical accounts of people and events were intermingled with Alicia’s familial timescales, which contributed to how Alicia voices resistance not to be positioned as a gang member and assigned to long-term suspension.

Chapter 5 explores the complex interactions that contribute to Peter’s desire to become a writer and his process toward achieving this goal. As understood through Bourdieu’s notion of fields (Bourdieu, 1990; Bourdieu & Passeron, 1990), spaces are connected to social, economic, and other types of capital that privilege certain students more than others. Peter’s story emphasizes the knowledge and power required to negotiate successfully through the fields that students face throughout their educational experiences. Compton-Lilly’s analysis of what changed in the fields that Peter encountered during the ten years of her study illuminates the challenges faced by students living in egregious poverty, especially in terms of college preparation. She concludes that Peter’s severely limited access to the rules of the field of higher education, not his lack of writing abilities, contributed to his failing to meet his goals of attending a top-tier undergraduate journalism program.

Compton-Lilly’s obvious commitment to the focal students and their families is conveyed through the rich details about students’ lives, attentive research questions, and intentional avoidance of generalizing data and analysis other than to assert statements of exigency. When such researchers generalize findings as connected to a system–for example, “[u]nderstanding literate trajectories is particularly pertinent in communities that historically have been poorly served by schools” (p. 87)–readers are motivated to reason more broadly about how societal inequities impact individual students. Throughout Jermaine’s case study in Chapter 6, attentive readers notice a systemic analysis. Jermaine’s difficulties in keeping up with classroom pacing, such as when he states that students in his fourth grade class were “only give[n] five minutes to do something” (p. 93), were addressed when he was enrolled in a computerized, individualized canned-curriculum that the company purported would remediate and strengthen particular skills. However, the longitudinal scope of this study reveals the opposite to be true: Jermaine fell further behind his mainstream peers. Compton-Lilly’s application of chronotopic analysis considers how “school events become trajectories” (p. 95). Jermaine’s case offers educators opportunities to understand the long-term effects of interventions and policies that, while well intended, impact students in unintended ways.

In Chapter 7, Compton-Lilly’s review of her field notes as Christy’s teacher unfolds the compounding impact of lack of neighborhood resources such as grocery stores and libraries in inner city neighborhoods with standards-based emphasis on schools, represented by condescending in-service leaders, unsupportive administration, and competition between colleagues for test score improvement. Christy especially reinforces the prominent yet often unrecognized role of diverse relationships in the trajectory of students’ literacy learning. When Compton-Lilly concludes that her field notes were filled with “impositions placed on me as a teacher” (p. 108), readers realize that physical objects and spaces influence students’ reading skills just much as teachers, other adults, and the students themselves.  

Reading Students’ Lives provides a valuable opportunity for fellow educators to look into how one researcher’s awareness of time shapes her interpretation of the literacy lives of low-income students and their families. As a ground-breaking longitudinal study of ten years, Reading Students’ Lives promotes a rethinking of time as Compton-Lilly provides critical insights on how to consider students as beings who bring rich sets of temporally valued experiences and knowledge to classrooms and other spaces. The generalizations are not geared toward convincing educators and researchers to adopt a best-practices strategies or to teach according to research-based pedagogies. Instead, Compton-Lilly helps readers understand how systemic issues significantly impact students’ lives. Throughout the book, recognition of the complex tensions that students experience while developing their literacy skills and identities culminates into a conclusion, which ties together Compton-Lilly’s temporal notions, critiques of systemic inequities that impact individuals, and students’ literacy learning to provide insights into students’ long-term trajectories.

Reading Students’ Lives advocates for social justice through a wake-up call that allows for silent students’ voices to be heard across the trajectory of their educational careers. Throughout her longitudinal works, Compton-Lilly listens closely to the voices of her students and their families, which allows her to reveal complexities that previously published works often ignore. Her compelling narratives of the lively voices of students and their families inspire us to read our students’ lives and their literacy learning across time in order to mitigate and decrease further academic debt (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Researchers, teachers, and other individuals working with schools and families can read Compton-Lilly’s books to garner a “collective hope and possibility and a critical social imagination” (Gutiérrez, 2008, p. 154) for social justice and equity in American schools.
References
Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans., M. Holquist, Ed.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (V. W. McGee, Trans., C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds.). Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital (R. Nice, Trans.). In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice (R. Nice, Trans.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Bourdieu, P., & Passeron, J.-C. (1990). Reproduction in education, society and culture (R. Nice, Trans.). London: Sage.

Compton-Lilly, C. (2003). Reading families: The literate lives of urban children. New York: Teachers College Press.

Compton-Lilly, C. (2007). Re-reading families: The literate lives of urban children, four years later. New York: Teachers College Press.

Compton-Lilly, C. (2012). Reading time: The literate lives of urban secondary students and their families. New York: Teachers College Press.

Compton-Lilly, C. (2015). Revisiting children and families: Temporal discourse analysis and the longitudinal construction of meaning. In J. Sefton-Green & J. Rowsell (Eds.), Learning and literacy over time: Longitudinal perspectives (pp. 61-78). New York: Routledge.

Compton-Lilly, C. (2017). Reading Students’ Lives: Literacy Learning across Time. New York: Routledge.

Compton-Lilly, C., & Halverson, E. (Eds.). (2014). Time and space in literacy research. New York: Routledge.

Gutiérrez, K. D. (2008). Developing a sociocritical literacy in the third space. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(2), 148-164.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). From the achievement gap to the education debt: Understanding achievement in U. S. schools. Educational Researcher, 35(7), 3-12.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. F. (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education. Teachers College Record, 97(1), 47-68.

Lemke, J. L. (2000). Across the scales of time: Artifacts, activities, and meanings in ecosocial systems. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 7(4), 273-290.

Lemke, J. L. (2005). Place, pace and meaning: Multimedia chronotopes. In S. Norris & R. H. Jones (Eds.), Discourse in action: Introducing mediated discourse analysis (pp. 110-122). London: Routledge.

McAdams, D. P. (2001). The psychology of life stories. Review of General Psychology, 5(2), 100-122.

Wortham, S. (2006). Learning identity: The joint emergence of social identification and academic learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Review: Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center by Tiffany Rousculp (NCTE, 2014. 185 pp.)

Review written by Yuan Sang, doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

A writing center is an institution for people to discuss and improve their writing with tutors who work there, thus it is often seen in various levels of schools where it provides services to the school’s students. Compared with that kind of commonly seen writing center, one devoted to the community is rare and very different.

Tiffany Rousculp’s recent publication, Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center, revealed how the Community Writing Center (CWC) sponsored by the Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) survived and kept going forward in its 12 years of service to more than 5000 community members. It also had relationships with more than 130 various communities, especially those socially underrepresented groups such as homeless people, prisoners, and veterans. The book is not only a theoretical reflection on the operation of the institution, but also a thoughtful and practical reference on how to make a college writing center meet the needs of the community at large. Therefore, this book is bound to attract readers from a wide range of areas—those who have experience with a writing center, and those interested in community work, education, writing, or communication.

The Community Writing Center was founded in 2001 as the community college tried to reach out for its name’s sake. Over the years, it went through all kinds of struggles to survive—change of locale, construction of the rationale, constant flow of the staff, and clarification of their orientations and principles. Eventually, the people at the center worked toward a place where people in the communities gathered, enjoyed, and expressed their voices. It was not an easy process. Through all the confusions, uncertainties, dilemmas, stresses, and pains, the writing center explored its role in the community and negotiated its relationship with the college. The faculty and students working there also found their own position in the tutoring and serving of the community.

Using Marilyn Cooper’s ecological model of writing, Rousculp conceptualizes her reflections and rethinking on her work with CWC. Trying to maintain a healthy environment for each other, every element involved with the center—the time, the space, the individuals, the organizations—in the ecological cycle had been sending and sharing positive energy. Rousculp attributed that to the rhetoric of respect. It was this respect as well as trust among people of all different groups—staff, the working students, and the community—that led to the sustainability of the center. The staff and students exhibited their flexibility and self-awareness in their work with the CWC, for there were never strict boundaries dividing them. To name a few, the students came up with the ideas that connected the center with the communities, and the community writers defined their relationships with the center and with writing itself. Only with respect could all this happen, which determined the attainment of the ultimate purpose of the institution—serving the community.

The respect came with the challenges of conventional assumptions about writing, publication, education, community, and their relationships with each other. Are the tutors trained to be better in writing than the community writers? Does publication validate a piece of writing? Can students perform as workshop teachers? Does the writing center exist to tell people what they should write about and how? In asking these questions, Rousculp, the writing assistants, the faculty, and the staff, together with the community writers, were all learning.

Rhetoric of Respect was written in five parts. The first part, “Recognizing the SLCC Community Writing Center,” described the foundation and function of each element of the writing center. The second part, “Evolving a Discursive Ecology: A Rhetoric of Respect,” framed the author’s ideological and metaphorical reflection on the development of the center. The third part, “Transforming Energy in Pursuit of Uncertainty,” analyzed how elements in the ecology tried to make the energy flow positive and allowed uncertainty to be the center’s normality. The next part, “Shifting Relations, Transforming Expectations,” showed how people in the center accommodated what the community needed and transformed their own expectations into the respect of the direction and performance of the writers. The last part, “Engaging Place: Acclimation and Disruption,” concluded and prospected the road ahead in providing a better service to the community.

Rhetoric of Respect is a reflective story about 12 years of functioning of a writing center. The experience was not a planned or expected journey, as the staff and the assistant students had thought it would be. The survival and success were achieved through failures and struggles. What allowed them to succeed was respect in a sustainable ecological cycle. The writing center would encounter more unexpected challenges, Rousculp was sure, but the people in the center would not be afraid. The CWC would bravely face every challenge as long as they kept their gradually developed concept—respect—in mind. Therefore, this book would be a great guide for a writing center as well as a thoughtful perspective for anyone interested in the challenges and benefits of collaboration.

Review: Gathering Fireflies by Mai Chao Duddeck (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. 215 pp.)

I need to be a voice for the Hmong people,

to make sure they are

not forgotten

in the American history books,

to give them the proper credit they deserve

as they make America

their new home.

–Kashia (in Duddeck, p. 195)

In her inaugural novel for young readers, teacher and artist Mai Chao Duddeck (2015) provides readers with a symphony of voices that will challenge, educate, and engage all ages and backgrounds. In the above excerpt, the book’s central character, Kashia, gives voice to a significant lesson learned through a school project facilitated by teachers committed to empowering their students to “research a topic that is meaningful and worthwhile” (p. 2). In response to his teachers’ challenges to grapple with the theme of “Conflict and Compromise” in a meaningful way, Kashia delves into the stories of his family’s perilous journey to the United States following the Vietnam War.

Gathering Fireflies, a novel-in-verse, is a remarkably powerful assemblage of voices which, taken together, tell a rich and complex story of the Hmong people’s journey from Laos, Thailand, and, eventually, the United States. The youngest voice in the book is Kashia, a 6-foot-tall and nearly 13-years-old middle school student who loves basketball. In part, the book chronicles his quest to learn more about himself and his family. Prompted by an interdisciplinary assignment (National History Day), he collects stories from his grandparents, Ginu and Mai Lia, about their experiences as refugees who eventually ended up in the United States.

Learning about the conflicts suffered and endured by his family members, including his mother (Pa Ying), as they cross boundaries of all sorts (e.g., geography, language, tradition), Kashia gains new understandings about his history and his dualized cultural identity. As Kashia explains, he is part of “a new generation of Hmong / a hybrid of Hmong and American” (1; 215). More specifically, Kashia’s mother, the daughter of Ginu and Mai Lia, is Hmong, while his father, Josh, is European American. Like other great young adult books addressing the theme of “hybrid” or bifurcated identities (e.g., Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and Yang’s American Born Chinese ), this book will not disappoint teachers and learners seeking opportunities to discuss and deliberate on the complex questions raised:

“How many Americans stop to / think about what the Hmong have been through?” (pp. 64-65)

“Do you know that even today, in 2014, / there are still thousands of Hmong people / unable to get out of the dense jungles of Laos?” (p. 83)

“How can she love a man who looks nothing like her?” (p. 165)

“What do these children in America know about / hard life and suffering? … How dare they challenge and disobey their elders!” (pp. 140-141)

“I am sad that / our children are changing, / becoming Americans in their minds, / their needs, / their wants, / their dreams. / Individual, separate, single. / What about family? / What about us?” (p. 200)

The book also raises additional questions related to the following timeless themes:

Identity: Do you create an identity or are you born with one? In what ways to identities intersect to inform experience?

Conflict and Compromise: Why do we fight wars? How might it feel to live through a conflict that disrupts your way of life?

Culture and Tradition: Does culture isolate people or bring them together? What is the role of an “agent of change”?

Individual vs. Collective: Should responsibility to family take precedence over individual goals? When should an individual take a stand in opposition to an individual or a larger group?

The ideas encountered in this book, in other words, will challenge readers and teachers alike to go beyond the sound bites offered vis-à-vis today’s 24-hour cycle of fast-paced “news,” information, and entertainment in order to stand and give witness to the ambiguity, shifting contexts, and multiple perspectives that exist in history/ies and literature(s).

At a time of increasing political polarization between and within the ideological extremes of this country, this book will have immediate appeal to educators dedicated to improving the quality of classroom deliberations and preparing today’s learners for a lifetime of civic engagement, political thinking, and working toward the promise of democracy. As Hess and McAvoy (2015) detail in The Political Classroom, a question which lies at the heart of a robust democracy is “How should we live together?” Duddeck’s Gathering Fireflies offers plenty of opportunities for deliberating on this overarching and essential question.

Gathering Fireflies is more than an important contribution to a growing population of exceptional verse novels; it also offers very important perspectives. Duddeck’s 215-page, nine-chapter, free-verse book of poems (accompanied with beautiful black-and-white illustrations of people and landscapes), based on the lives of real people, offers unique interdisciplinary opportunities (particularly between English Language Arts and History/Social Studies). The book will appeal to students and teachers in grades 6-9.

According to Kashia’s grandfather, Ginu, “Teachers plant seeds in your minds / that take you to many roads of opportunity / where you can become somebody” (124). Who does Kashia become as a result of seeds planted by teachers and as a result of gathering his own fireflies? In part, he does become a voice for his people, and readers will be uplifted through his coming-of-age story.

Note: Teaching materials for Duddeck’s Gathering Fireflies, created by the authors of this review, may be accessed at https://teachingbooks.net

References

Alexie, S. (2009). The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian. New York: Little, Brown Books.

Hess, D. E., & McAvoy, P. (2015). The political classroom: Evidence and ethics in democratic education. New York: Routledge.

Yang, G. (2008). American born Chinese. New York: Square Fish.

Jim Carlson is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.

 Garrett Carlson, Krystle Thomas, and Zoe Simon are undergraduate teacher candidates at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Copyright © 2016 by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English.

Review: Cultivating Racial and Linguistic Diversity in Literacy Teacher Education: Teachers Like Me

Aaliyah Baker and Nina F. Weisling
Review: Cultivating Racial and Linguistic Diversity in Literacy Teacher Education: Teachers Like Me by Marcelle M. Haddix. New York: Routledge, 2016. 138 pp.
[PDF Version Here: Review: Cultivating Racial and Linguistic Diversity in Literacy Teacher Education: Teachers Like Me]
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Cultivating Racial and Linguistic Diversity in Literacy Teacher Education: Teachers Like Me was written by Marcelle M. Haddix, a Dean’s Associate Professor and Chair of the Reading and Language Arts Center in the School of Education at Syracuse University in New York. Haddix is an award-winning educator whose research interests focus on the educational experiences of students of color, specifically those pursuing their teaching degree in literacy and/or English. She has a bachelor’s degree in English education from Drake University, a master’s degree in education from Cardinal Stritch University, and a doctorate from Boston College.

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Review: Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center

Yuan Sang
Review: Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center
by Tiffany Rousculp. Urbana: NCTE, 2014. 185 pp.
[PDF Version Here: Review: Rhetoric of Respect: Recognizing Change at a Community Writing Center]
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A writing center is an institution for people to discuss and improve their writing with tutors who work there, thus it is often seen in various levels of schools where it provides services to the school’s students. Compared with that kind of commonly seen writing center, one devoted to the community is rare and very different. Continue reading

Review: Language, Society & Power: An Introduction (4th edition)

Jason A. Kemp
Language, Society & Power: An Introduction (4th edition) by Annabelle Mooney and Betsy Evans. New York: Routledge, 2015. 262 pp.
[PDF Version Here: Review: Language, Society & Power: An Introduction (4th edition)]
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In this text, the authors ask, “Where is language?” (p. 86). The answer, of course, is everywhere. The fourth edition of Language, Society and Power: An Introduction is an exploration of the ubiquity of language and the ways in which it shapes our world and, in turn, is shaped by the world. Continue reading

Review: Literacy and Education

Jieun Kim
Literacy and Education by James Paul Gee. New York: Routledge, 2015. 148 pp.
[PDF Version Here: Review: Literacy in Education]
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Gee’s recent scholarly work, Literacy and Education, elucidates how the concept of literacy, starting in the early 1980s, came to be seen not merely as a mental exercise but as a social and cultural practice. In a relatively concise format, Gee presents a good overview of his subject and an in-depth look at how perceptions of literacy have changed—from seeing it simply as the cognitive ability to read and write to a vital socio-cultural discourse. Continue reading