Another week has passed! March is over! Here I will discuss visiting my student, reviewing the book Excellent Sheep, and thinking about reading comprehension and critical thinking.
I appreciate your patience as I have been away much longer than planned.
I got sick again and did some traveling.
Those are not excuses.
Overcoming circumstances has been a major goal for me this year.
I want to be able to get things done regardless of the unexpected occurrences that come up.
Thomas Frank mentioned even putting money on the line to force yourself, but I am not ready to do that yet (link).
Visiting a Student
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a student of mine!
A long time ago, I actually did in-person tutoring, but since then I have remained physically distant from the lovely students I get to teach.
The experience was wonderful!
It is such a privilege to be welcomed into someone’s home.
All teachers see their students in their lessons, but to cross that threshold into the home is not to be taken for granted.
My student’s personality shined in many settings and scenarios within the comfort of her own day-to-day life.
Those moments that either reminded me of a lesson or taught me something new about her were so enlightening and enjoyable.
We went to several places.
Those experiences were educational because I found all these little teachable moments.
However, I also learned more about her and how my teachings were fitting into her thinking and life.
Some can say that a big disadvantage to working online is the lack of human contact and “living behind a screen.”
I won’t debate that here.
I can say that connecting with my student was a joy, and I came home refreshed and more passionate than I have been in a long while.
Thank you to her and her family for that!
During my visit, I was introduced to a few new books.
The book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life by William Deresiewicz stood out to me.
I want to share some of my thoughts and findings about it.
Now, at face value, this not a book for an English tutor of Middle and High School students.
However, I am always thinking about the future for my students and how they can prepare now.
a. The Role of the University
I agree with his thesis that Ivy league schools are not serving us today and are not the answer to success.
He correctly asserts that it is more beneficial to learn how to learn than to gain a diploma.
He lays out the role of the university in the process of learning and growing as a person:
“To put it in the language of computers, you can download all the data you want, but it won’t be any good to you unless you have the software to make use of it. That software, the ability to operate on information—to understand it, to synthesize it into new combinations, to discover and create with it—is what college is meant to ‘install.'”(p. 174)
b. Student burnout
I found his description of student burnout and overwhelm to be particularly moving.
He painted this picture of the student who does everything asked of him but has no inner voice or life path.
Students were encouraged to rise above the white noise of “what you must do” to find what your own voice is saying to you.
“To find yourself, you first must free yourself. You won’t be able to recognize the things you really care about until you have released your grip on all the things that you’ve been taught to care about. And we already know, in the case of today’s young high achievers, what those are.”(p. 90)
On the other hand, he had the difficult job of telling the reader that not every student is equally worthy to be in college.
More importantly, their perceived worth does not equate with reality.
In a marvelous anecdote about the old days at Yale, he quotes a man who mapped the change in the welcome speeches given to the freshmen.
In 1957, the speech encouraged the student to try because he was chosen among a very few:
“It was the duty of each of us over the next four years to prove that Yale had made the right choice by picking us instead of giving our place to someone else.”(p. 213)
By 1969, the speech turned into a laudation of each student before they had even done anything.
Wouldn’t we be the wiser for humbling our students before they set out so they can feel a sense of deserving their achievements?
c. Teachers Transform
Lastly, he answers what is the difference between colleges and just on your own book-learning: the teacher.
Teachers need to be truly present — adding in their own experiences and stories into the content (p. 179).
A real teacher is a real person. We can read, but a teacher transforms.
This was a poignant reminder for me.
Crossroads Between Comprehension and Critical Thinking
I have been thinking about the crossroads between reading comprehension and critical thinking.
Now, let me say, I am writing to you at the beginning of my search to articulate this and not at the end.
Stay tuned for something more concrete; in the meantime, just enjoy the ride.
As adults, we take so much of reading comprehension for granted.
Holding all the details in our mind and picking up on subtleties is second nature.
For young students, though, this can often be so hard.
Reading is the cornerstone of writing so this is very important to me.
I want to get to the bottom of it.
I found, when I read with my students, the questions would be part of the problem.
“Who?” or “what?” was a no brainer, but taking it a step further resulted in confusion or shallow answers.
Thinking and reading go hand and hand.
Not just any kind of thinking, but critical thinking.
When I was in college, we did a lot of analyzing of texts.
We found patterns and arguments like prizes inside cereal boxes.
It was the hunt and we were equipped with the tools.
Now I am bringing this into all my lessons.
Temporarily, I have stopped just reading and writing with my students.
We are learning how to think better.
It is going well.
More on this topic to come.
Here are some books I have been consulting or planning to read.
- Thinking Toolbox by Nathaniel Bluedorn, Hans Bluedorn
- The Theory Toolbox: Critical Concepts for the New Humanities by Jeffrey T. Nealon, Susan Searls Giroux
- Raising Reading Achievement in Middle and High Schools: Five Simple-To-Follow Strategies by Elaine K. McEwan
Thank you for reading! Until next week!
I have a passion for helping students, young and old, improve their writing and study skills. I am a tutor and proofreader.