August 2008 Archives

The Knowledge Gap

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I just read an article in Reading Research Quarterly about a research project in the Philadelphia Public Libraries.  In an effort to "level the playing field," the city had updated the technology and resources in many of the Free Library of Philadelphia's branches, focusing especially on those in low-income neighborhoods.  When researchers observed library use, though, they found that the gap between the reading activities of low and middle income kids actually grew.  The problem was that the higher-income kids were mentored from preschool age on by parents in how to select age-appropriate books, use computers, and acquire information, while the lower-income kids had little adult support.  They ended up reading books (and later, visiting web sites) far below their reading level. 

The gap increases exponentially as the years go by.  It's almost biblical:  to all those who have, more will be given.  Once you have a little knowledge, it's easier to gain more.  But when you have a hard time finding out what you need to know, then you get less practice, and grow even slower that your peers at acquiring information.  I guess our information-rich age augments this problem. 

So I'm thinking on the one hand--by the time kids are in college, is it too late to close the gap?  On the other hand, if it's not, we ought to be loading down our most challenged kids with more and more reading, in order to help them succeed?  This is the principle used in a lot of at-risk K-12 schools, with their extended school years, long school days, and elimination of recess. 

I would like to USE technology, specifically online summer reading courses, to help close the knowledge gap.  Any ideas about how to make this work?

I'm teaching composition again this year and am on the lookout for fun class activities;  this   Stephen Colbert video clip mocking Wikipedia, posted by Jason on Community College English.   Jason is actually using this clip to talk about positive uses of wikis in the composition classroom.  Interesting stuff!

Back to School

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My university had its official opening workshop today, so even though classes don't start for another week, we are back to school.  During the workshop, we did a strategic planning process, one of those groan-inducing participatory exercises that actually work pretty well.  Mixed groups of students, faculty, and staff met and generated ideas related to mission and direction. 

I brought up my concern, underprepared students and how we help them, and one of my breakout groups got into a good discussion about it.  However, my perception was that this is not the most exciting of topics for my colleagues.  People get more excited about making our shuttles hybrids so our campus can be a model of green-ness, or expanding our footprint into the downtown of our small city and thus helping to revitalize it, or winning a big grant for campus technology.   

I wonder if there's a way to make developmental education as exciting as a hybrid shuttle or a student's avatar? 

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