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Teaching Readers in Post-Truth America

Carillo, Ellen C.
University Press of Colorado, 2018

Book Review

Tags: student learning   |   teaching reading   |   writing
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Reviewed by: Joanne Robinson
Date Reviewed: March 21, 2019
Many teachers have had cause in the last few years to ponder questions around teaching in a “post-truth” culture. How do reading, writing, and thinking change in a world in which groups cannot or will not agree on essential facts and rules of evidence? How can we teach meaningful reading in an overwhelmingly information-rich landscape? How can we heal the divisiveness that pervades so much of our culture, and how ...

Many teachers have had cause in the last few years to ponder questions around teaching in a “post-truth” culture. How do reading, writing, and thinking change in a world in which groups cannot or will not agree on essential facts and rules of evidence? How can we teach meaningful reading in an overwhelmingly information-rich landscape? How can we heal the divisiveness that pervades so much of our culture, and how can we help students discern true from false? This book is written primarily for instructors in first-year college writing courses, but much of it will prove useful to frustrated teachers in any discipline. It does not give many specific recommendations for classroom strategies, but it does set out thoughtful ideas about how to think about teaching reading.

The book begins with a chapter on “theoretical first principles.” Chapter 2 considers the ways in which standardized tests (and teachers in turn) encourage an unthinking reverence for text by dismissing the role of the reader. Carillo provides convincing evidence of negative outcomes from this approach. These two chapters set the stage for an argument in Chapter 3 about reading and writing as embodied, affective acts, as this writer is firmly against the devaluing of emotion and engagement so common in a world that prizes objectivity. In Chapter 4, Carillo argues that modeling and imitation have been given short shrift in reading instruction. She gives several useful tips for developing imitative exercises that help students see good reading and writing practices, and she especially trumpets the power of annotation, illustrated with a case study from her own teaching. The problems highlighted in Chapter 5, specifically targeting writing and composition instruction, are common to other fields as well: focus on reason over emotion; focus on traditional essay forms; and lack of focus on psychological studies that can enhance both teaching and learning.

This book’s title promises more than it delivers, although it delivers a lot. Carillo’s insistence on redirecting students away from claims and argumentation and “toward stylistic elements that contribute to a text’s meaning” (41) will strike many teachers  trained in other modes as difficult to attain. “Reading for argument” is, for Carillo, a problem: students only read for a relatively simplistic argument and miss so much that could make them stronger readers, such as inquiring about the how and why, not just the what. Yet many teachers find that students can’t even read for argument, a fact this book glosses over.

That said, a call to encouraging more affective and empathetic reading is timely and needed. The use of Peter Elbow’s doubting and believing game (47-50) will be familiar to many in religious studies, as will the call to look outside one’s own discipline for expertise. This book helps teachers think about ways to mitigate aspects of culture that revere text and steer students “away from the language of negotiation and compromise” (114).

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Reviewed by: Christina Sebastian, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
Date Reviewed: January 23, 2019
Control is Not a Four Letter Word provides an abundance of helpful information for everyone from the first-time teacher to the veteran teacher. After forty years of classroom experience, Sarah Clancy-Ballard bridges the gap between learning how to teach and establishing classroom authority. She believes a teacher sets the tone for the entire year in the first five days of a new school year (xii). The resonating theme of the ...

Control is Not a Four Letter Word provides an abundance of helpful information for everyone from the first-time teacher to the veteran teacher. After forty years of classroom experience, Sarah Clancy-Ballard bridges the gap between learning how to teach and establishing classroom authority. She believes a teacher sets the tone for the entire year in the first five days of a new school year (xii). The resonating theme of the text is that classroom control emerges from preparation and “the depth of commitment the teacher has to control the class” (xiii). The author examines the importance of first impressions, organizing and utilizing the written word, time management, and behavior management.

Clancy-Ballard’s classroom teaching experience leads her to believe the secret to classroom management is a teacher’s ability to control their classroom when students feel that the teacher cares for them on a personal level (6). The author notes facial expression and remembering student names are the most important things a teacher can to do to set the tone and communicate interest in students as individual people. She values relationship building both inside and outside of the classroom as a vital part of a teacher’s educational philosophy. Clancy-Ballard stresses that teachers need to form relationships with janitorial staff, fellow teachers, and administrative staff, and encourages new teachers to watch “veteran teachers: what works and does not, and how it changes with each principal” (33). She provides a detailed look at how to organize the classroom space, utilize textbooks, handouts, and instructional boards, and create a daily classroom routine. The book covers dozens of examples of routine-driven agendas, inspiring readers to “establish a routine for the beginning of class” (46).

Clancy-Ballard equips the reader with clear guidelines for implementing evaluation methods and time management within the classroom. She associates teacher time management and student assessment to classroom behavior management, pointing once again to the importance of preparation. The author emphasizes that “the student’s attitude about himself or herself and you is directly related to how he or she perceives they are doing in class,” thus connecting the teacher’s behavior to the student’s achievements (55). She encourages teachers to take inventory of their strengths and weaknesses, understanding how their “behavior in class will directly impact the behavior” of their students (66). Clancy-Ballard proposes a benevolent dictatorship approach in the classroom – treating students as intelligent individuals who have ownership of classroom management. By beginning the school year with clear expectations and explaining why the guidelines are instrumental to the class’s success, the teacher can establish control through preparation characterized by benevolent dictatorship (71).

Control is Not a Four Letter Word is primarily written for first-time elementary school teachers; however, it can be a useful reference guide for teachers from elementary through high school. This book is a useful asset for school principals to utilize with teachers for discussion about the numerous reflection questions. This could help ensure appropriate application rises from knowledge.

Professors at the undergraduate level, will find Control is Not a Four Letter Word a helpful tool to assist senior-level students as they leave the classroom and begin student teaching. During the first half of the school year, student teachers would benefit by using the text’s key concepts to observe and evaluate the lead teacher and their level of classroom control. By the second half of the year, student teachers would be well versed in the key concepts, and thus prepared to apply Sarah Clancy-Ballard’s methods in the classroom.

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