AISA Presentation .pdf

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Public Education Curriculum
and Sherman Alexie’s Flight:
Changing the English Classroom

Michelle Nicole Boyer-Kelly
American Indian Studies Ph.D. Program
University of Arizona
4 February 2016
mnboyer@email.arizona.edu

Fundamental Questions
—  What

are universal/overarching literacy
problems faced in public school
classrooms?
—  How can the English classroom be
tailored to better suit students—
especially Urban Indian populations?
—  Does Sherman Alexie’s Flight have unique
benefits for a classroom setting?

Understanding Literacy Issues
—  While

race-based literary statistics have
their place in research, it is important not to
focus on dismal AI-specific statistics
—  “Eight million fourth through twelfth graders
struggle to read” at their respective grade
levels (Kelley, Wilson, & Koss, 79)
—  2/3rds of transitional students have
deficiencies in reading/writing/composition
—  There are both “aliterate” and “disengaged”
reading groups—and they rely upon one
another

Disengaged Readers
—  Many

disengaged readers receive their
negative perceptions from classroom
settings where they are not asked for
their emotional responses to what they
read (Lesesne 11)
—  They lack an “authentic response” to the
core texts they are often required to read
(Lesesne 11)
—  There is often the interpretation of a
novel (Lesesne 11)

Aliterate Readers
—  Aliteracy

is “best defined as a condition in
which one can read but chooses not
to” (Sullivan 1)
—  Often, students find the reading
unpleasurable, for many different reasons
(Sullivan 33)
—  In our contemporary setting, students can
often find internet sources that allow them
to skip readings but still be adequately
prepared for class (ex. SparkNotes,
CliffNotes, paper-writing-for-hire sites)

Concerns for “students of color”
—  Tokenism: the

selection of a single text to
represent an entire body of literature (or
ethnic/racial group)
—  Often found in survey courses in college
(Goebel 1)
—  However, this happens frequently in the
public school setting due to
standardization (Stover and Tway 135)

Phoenix Unified School District
—  We

know that there is a large, urban Indian
population that is being served by the
Phoenix Unified School District
—  We know that Common Core Standards
help to standardize (and dictate) which
novels are taught in the classroom
—  We know that the “classical canon” does not
include AI writings (Elliott-Johns 47)
—  We know that many urban Indian students
are disengaged, at best, with what they are
being forced to read

Common Core Standards
—  English

students must be able to “actively
seek to understand and communicate clearly
with people of varied backgrounds”
◦  Enhance the discussion in the English classroom
—get varied opinions and ideas, including varied
realities

—  Also, work

with (or read) “from widely
divergent cultures who represent diverse
experiences and perspectives”

◦  For AI students, they always read a different
culture—but non-Native students could benefit
from learning about an AI culture(s) through
literature

Lessons from Flight – Or, “Why
teach this instead of Moby Dick?”
—  The

protagonist is a character that all
students can somehow identify with
◦  Identity crisis
◦  Drugs/alcohol issues
◦  Loss of a parent
◦  Orphan
◦  Sexual abuse
◦  Violence


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