Dina entered into the 2014 summer institute challenged by a perennial concern for many educators: the drawing and seeming obsession of young boys with topics of war and violence. A major component of this unease was also tied to inquiry questions such as what the purpose of writing was as well as the teacher’s role in it. She wondered who has the right to decide what forms of expression are valuable and/or allowable in schools. Motivated by research into the use of identity texts, Dina set out to reflect critically on her own teacher decision making in the writer’s workshop, particularly in asking young males to reflect on who they are, including their interests in violent topics and to share their developing ideas through their own inquiry and writing process.
A popular action taken by some teachers in her situation often includes an outright ban on violent topics. This was rejected by Dina for a number of reasons. Perhaps one of the strongest was the fact that violent media, especially video games, were integral leisure and social activities for her male students who connected actively with each other, their friends, and their family members through this medium.
Recognizing that the themes of violence were inexorably linked to key aspects of their identities, she sought to integrate them with the learning of critical literacy practices and a consideration on the cause and costs of warfare. Wary of the marginalization of some students through their teacher’s acceptance of only a small number of subjects and ideas, Dina made it an imperative to “consider the voices not being heard”. Her pedagogy project aimed to suspend the “hard and fast guidelines” that constrain the creativity and engagement of male students when snap judgments are made about them.
This approach to student writing, which utilizes rather than rejects or judges student interests, has also led her to similar work reflecting on topics of popular culture and identity, as well as writing development of students with autism. She maintains that when we encourage and allow children to write for meaningful reasons which affirm and acknowledge their identities, they are eager to adopt practices which help them to communicate effectively. This eagerness creates the condition for learning to occur, in support of communication and exploration of the learner’s own power and agency in the world.
Dina has compiled this reading list as significant resources and theoretical underpinnings to her pedagogy project:
Ada, A. F. & Campoy, I. (2004). Authors in the Classroom: A transformative education process. Boston: Pearson Education.
Comber, B., Thomson, P. & Wells, M. (2003). Critical literacy finds a “place”: Writing and social action in a low-income Australian grade 2/3 classroom. The Elementary School Journal, 101(4), 451-464.
Cummins, J. & Early, M. (Eds.). (2011). Identity Texts: The collaborative creation of power in multilingual schools. London: Institute of Education Press.
Fletcher, R. (2006). Boy Writers: Reclaiming their voices. Markham, ON: Pembroke Publishers.
Leland, C., Lewison, M. & Harste, J. (2013). Teaching Children’s Literature. It’s critical! New York, NY: Routledge.