Official Portraits and Unofficial Counterportraits of At Risk Students: Writing Spaces in Hard Times / Edition 1

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Helping children find their voices and the power of their writing is crucial for their success as writers, particularly in the current repressive educational setting in which many economically poor children attend school. This book chronicles 5th and 6th grade writers-children of gang members, drug users, poor people, and non-documented and documented immigrants-in a rural school in the southwest US coming into their voices, cultivating those voices, and using those voices in variety of venues, beginning with the classroom community and spreading outward. Such children are showing up in schools and in research more and more. In their writing, they make sense of who they are as writers and human beings and ultimately learn that their voices carry presence and power.

At the heart of this book is the cultivation of tension between official and unofficial portraits of these students. Official portraits are composed of demographic data, socioeconomic data, and test results. Students tend to appropriate the language of failure about themselves, their school, and the community that is found in their official portrait. Unofficial counterportraits offer different views of children, schools, and communities. The big ideas of official and unofficial portraits are presented, then each chapter offers data (the children's and teachers' processes and products) and facets of the theoretical construct of counterportraits, as a response to official portraits. The counterportraits are built slowly in order to base them in evidence and to articulate their complexity.

Many teachers and soon to be teachers facing the dilemmas and complexities of teaching in diverse classrooms have serious questionsabout how to honor students' lives outside of school, making school more relevant. This book addresses these critical (for student success) issues and presents teaching as the political activity that it is. It offers evidence to present to the public, legislators, and the press as a way of talking back to official portraits, demonstrating that officially failing schools are not really failing-evidence that is crucial for the survival of public schools.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780415871242
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 10/30/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard J. Meyer is Professor in the Department of Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the College of Education, University of New Mexico.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xvii

Prologue 1

Writing Spaces and Hard Times 1

1 An Introduction to Searching for Our Truths 3

Before the Work Began 3

Portraits and Counterportraits 10

Mesa Vista Elementary School (MVE): The Official Portrait 14

Finding the School 17

Homelessness 19

2 Writers Reveal Themselves 21

Becoming More than an Observer 21

First Pieces of Writing 26

Initiating Data Analysis 29

Teacher as Screamer 30

Strictness, Power, and Microaggressions 32

Strict Schools and the Search for Joy 34

The Counterportrait Up to This Point 36

3 Claiming Spaces to Write 38

The Sixth Graders' Space 39

Finding the Space to Write 48

The Fifth Graders' Space 50

The Biography Assignment Begins to Evolve 52

Writing Spaces and the View of the Child 55

Counterportraits So Far 56

4 Rewriting Self and Writing About Others 58

Sixth Graders' Non-Biography Biography Work 58

Moving Towards Increased Sharing 64

Fifth Graders Begin Biography Writing 71

Composing Classmates' Biographies 73

Counterportraits (so far), Context, and the Presentation of Self 80

5 Expanding Writing Spaces as Communities of Practice 84

Fifth Graders Interview, Transcribe, and Write 85

Some Fifth Graders' Transcriptions (Excerpts) 87

And in the Sixth Grade ... 99

Communities, Borders, and Counterportraits 104

Legitimizing a Context for Counterportraiture 106

6 Writing Changes Writers: The Impact of Inertia 109

Good News 110

Sixth Graders Consider Expository Biography 111

Featured Fifth Grade Writer 115

Working for Hours 124

Counterportraiture, Working in the Plural Form, and Inertia 126

7 Heroes, Dark Secrets, Otter Pops, and Struggles130

In the Fifth Grade 130

Featured Fifth Grade Authors 133

Chuck, The Humorist 133

Estevan's Hero 135

Sixth Grade Poets' Dark Poetry 137

Sixth Graders' Brief Biographies 142

Things Fall Apart 144

The Classroom as a "Site of Struggle" 149

Struggle and the Use of Time 150

Writing as Carnival 151

Carnivals breed Struggle 152

Counterportraits, Struggles, Legitimacy, and Possibilities 153

8 Writing Places as Hybrid Spaces 156

Sixth Graders Get Serious 157

Poetry in the Biography Genre 167

Hybridized Texts and Contexts 172

Hybridized Spaces and Counterportraits 175

9 Products, Presentations, and Power 177

Our First Public Venue 178

Reading Their Work in Small Groups 179

Slam Poetry 191

For Families 193

Counterportraits and Spheres of Influence 194

When Small Spheres Align ... 197

10 Suffering, Struggles, and the Community 199

Home Visits 200

Bringing the Community to Sixth Grade 205

Writers' Reflections on the Year 207

Reflections on Self-as-Writer and Counterportraits 208

Reflections on Writing and Counterportraits 210

What Else, What Next, and Counterportraits 213

Thank You Notes, Relationships, and Counterportraits 215

Critical Literacy, Hope, and Counterportraits 218

11 Writing Spaces for Better Times 223

The Purposes of School, the Search for Joy, and the Spirit of the Child 224

Inner Struggles 226

Language and Identity Struggles 228

School as a Site of Struggle 229

Knowledge/Power Struggle 230

Agency: Responding to Struggles 231

Agency and Responsibilities in Composing Counterportraits 234

Agency and Responsibility: The Bigger Picture 235

Agency and Responsibility in Schools 239

Agency and Responsibility in Partnerships 242

Changing the Course of History 243

Epilogue: Microeducational Economies 246

Appendix 1 Counterportraiture as Method/Method as Political Work 248

Appendix 2 Full Text of Some Biographies 253

Appendix 3 The Storyboard Protocol 267

Appendix 4 Editorial Checklist: Biography Project Spring 2007 269

References 271

Index of Children's Work 283

Index 285

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