Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Do it, Billie!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Chapter III is away

[cross-posted at Wind Farm]

Just sent off Chapter Three. It's long. Forty-nine pages. It's bulky, too, it feels. I've read it three, four, five times now. For your reading pleasure, here are a couple excerpts:

From the introduction:
In Ways With Words Shirley Brice Heath issues one of the earliest, and most popular, definitions of Literacy Events. She says, “Those occasions in which talk revolves around a piece of writing have been termed literacy events” (386). Heath advanced and complicated the definition of literacy by including “talk around” literacy as an integral part (Heath’s definition of literacy events is used in later studies of literacy by such scholars as David Barton and Brian Street; they make few if any revisions to the definition of this term). She explains that “The child must know not only how to read but also how and when to talk about what he or someone else has read” (386). Literacy, since Heath, has become more inclusive. Though literacy is, technically, simply the production and comprehension of print, in practice literacy is more than just production and comprehension. This is what Heath in part argues in Ways with Words.

In this study Literacy Events is employed with the same denotation and connotations established by Heath. A literacy event is an event wherein a piece of writing is integral to peoples’ interactions. As a literacy scholar, it’s sometimes challenging for me to observe or even think of an interaction that isn’t at some point and in some way shaped by a piece of writing. I have limited my use of the term literacy event for occasions and interactions where a text or piece of writing is immediately present. As in the scene below, the script that Coach produces each day for orchestrating the team’s basketball practices – i.e. the practice schedule or practice plan – is an example of a literacy event. His hand-written notes dictate the types of drills and activities that will be performed along with the precise times at which they will be performed. Sometimes there are additional notations that further influence specific instructions and thus consequent activities.

This brings me to another term: Literacy Activities. Unlike Literacy Events and Literacy Practices (which I discuss momentarily), literacy activities doesn’t have a rich lineage. Literacy activities are generally understood to be – though rarely articulated as – the physical motor-movements required to produce or consume written words. This would include manipulating a pencil, typing on a keyboard, scanning a page with one’s eyes, flipping the page of a book, etc. Literacy activities also incorporate body postures and gestures. Literacy Activities is a term that helps focus attention on the particular. It is an extension of the “ecological approach” to the study of literacy espoused by David Barton (Barton 36 Literacy: An Introduction to the Ecology of Written Language). As Barton explains, “The point here is that in order to understand literacy it is important to examine particular events where reading and writing are used. Focusing on the particular is an integral part of an ecological approach; this is different from other approaches which place an emphasis on broad generalizations” (Barton 36). The ironic part of this passage is that though he claims a divergence from other more “broad generalizations” he himself does not explore a more specific vocabulary (other than “ecological approach”) for doing so. Barton proclaims the need to look at the particular, but he doesn’t offer a more particular term.

And the conclusion:
Zigzagging from surveillance to literacy activities to control to literacy practices to ethics of behavior to practice schedules makes for a complicated chapter. The complex realities and data that I experienced deserve a complex chapter. I think this chapter, with its four scenes and numerous interview excerpts, mirror well this reality. But in reflecting this reality back to you, the reader, I’ve tried to be clear and explicit about how this supports the argument that I think my data is trying to make. For the sake of further clarity, I want to repeat some of the highlights of this argument here.

First, as opposed to the top-down taxonomy implied by Street and Barton’s theories of situated and social literacies where social literacy practices determine literacy events and literacy activities of individuals, the literacy taxonomy that I have outlined is not linear and does not flow from top to bottom. That is, literacy practices do not always shape literacy events and literacy activities. In terms of a theory of practice, this same argument can be applied more generally as well: habitus does not always determine hexis. The structuring structures of a milieu (i.e. the habitus) can and is affected by individuals and activities. As we saw in the scenes above, small, commonplace acts accumulate and shape behaviors and determine practices, beliefs, values. Practices shape events just as habitus shapes hexis.

A second, much subtler argument is that literacy is habituated activity. In her April, 1986 College English article, “The Ecology of Writing,” Marilyn Cooper challenged the cognitive literacy paradigm and proposed that literacy is as much habituated activity as it is cognitive performance. Literacy, she argued, is a habit. Because literacy is a habit, how we discipline the behaviors and activities of students correlates to performance and success. The ubiquity of literacy events in daily activities – whether they are surveillance activities or otherwise – compels us to understand the relationship between activity-event-practice-ethics. Literacy is disciplined and habituated motor-activity. This is one of the understated arguments of this chapter that is further developed in the succeeding chapters.

Third, the role of surveillance is problematic, but has been found to be an effective method of training student-athletes in the domains of both athletics and academics. In his 2003 Education & Anthropology Quarterly article, “Panopticonics: The Control and Surveillance of Black Female Athletes in a Collegiate Athletic Program,” Kevin Foster argues that not only is the control and surveillance of the department and coaches a positive instrument for instilling “in black female athletes a model of womanhood whereby the come to expect and achieve academic and athletic success” (300). He goes on to propose that this model be applied throughout the athletic department and across the university to non-athletes. The article has some alarming revelations about the white, patriarchical system being imposed on this group of women. However, as Foster argues, the disciplining, control and surveillance have positive educational and psychological effects on these women: they “come to expect and achieve academic and athletic success.” The argument made by my data and articulated in this chapter is in the same vein as Foster’s proposal. In a nutshell, curriculum designers should consider incorporating some form of compulsory and surveilling study halls into the academic infrastructure of institutions.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

End of Day #6: Racing to the (metaphoric) Finish Line

Hey, folks--  No one is logging in and saying much.  (That includes me.)  What's everyone up to?  How are you doing?  Now that school is about to begin for most of us, how is that impacting your writing?

For me?  Well, I'm getting there.  Today has been day #6 to my countdown.  I have two chapters and the appendices complete and approved (methodology and case studies).  The appendices get to "count" because there is so much in them.  :-)   I have strong drafts of the introduction and the literature review.  I have a weak draft of my "findings" chapter, and I have a few notes on a conclusion, but the conclusion is not going to be long at all (I may just wait on that).  Tomorrow I plan to finish my edits to the intro and lit review, then I'll spend the rest of the week on the findings chapter.  I'm not sure I'll make a Friday deadline to give the whole mess to my adviser, but I am sure going to try.  If I can't do Friday, I can do Monday . . . giving myself the weekend.

I will continue, though, to strive to complete the vast majority of work before classes start on the 25th.

But you know, overall, this has been a really good experience.  Of course I can moan and whine about how hard it's been, how my committee has all but disappeared on me, how no one has been there to hold my hand through the horror and trauma, but I'm not going to.  Writing a dissertation isn't supposed to be easy; it's not supposed to be done via committee or group consensus (in that others tell you what to write and you write it).  It is a solo effort, and it's hard work.

Because I have spent the past several weeks doing nothing but writing and thinking about my subject (pedagogy that supports underprepared student-athletes), I can tell you just about anything about student-athletes and their programs at Division I-A institutions.  I can also tell you how exhausting it's been to write all day long.  That surprises me.  There are days that my entire body hurts after I've been writing all day . . . like it might hurt after running a marathon (I've never done that so I can only guess at the comparison); there are nights that I can barely read (see), my eyes are so tired.  But I keep on.  One word in front of the next.  I will get finished.

OK, in the morning starts Day #5.    Even though I'm not logging in here to write each day, I do peek in from time to time.  I could use some "last push" vibes if you have any to spare.

Everyone else?  Log in and tell us what's up with you.  I miss hearing from everyone.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sense of futility

So this is my first official contributor post and what a way to begin (sorry). I was gone for half of July and it has completely screwed up the flow & schedule I had for myself. I hoped to jump back on the wagon today and now that the day is over I don't know where it all went. I miss being in an academic environment and the focus that it allows me to have on my project. I feel my brain has turned to mush and I feel unmotivated and unfocused. I'm four hours away from school and with finances the way they are, I wasn't able to keep the small room I was renting near school for the days that I spent there. Our public libraries leave lots to be desired, the closest university is an hour away, and generally I don't do well in coffee shops. I miss university libraries, I miss conversations with other university folks (other academics?) because even if we're not speaking the same language, the conversation gets my intellectual juices flowing. I need to figure out how to re-create my writing, thinking, and focus space here in my house. This is a house that needs desperate cleaning and major yard work. I need some time at the gym. Sometimes I wish I didn't work, sometimes I wish I worked more so that our financial situation would be more secure. I hope tomorrow will be a better day and I hope I will finally return to the draft of chapter 2. What do you all do to get yourself back on track and motivated when you're heart just can't get into it?

15 more days of dissertation hell to go

When I took my comprehensive exams, I wrote almost 70 pages (double-spaced) in three days over my subject areas: critical pedagogy, literacy, and service-learning. (In my program, we took three five-hour exams, MWF, no notes, no prior knowledge of questions, no knowledge of the types of questions, and our reading lists contained about 100 items per subject.) At the end of each exam, I wasn't tired. I was excited, actually. I felt that I was able to produce very nice essays in a short amount of time. I felt smart. However, as the afternoon turned to evening, I felt so very tired. Drained, actually. Mentally exhausted.

I'm feeling that way again with the dissertation. In between tutorials and fire drills (no kidding), I'm writing. I've stopped reading, and I'm only writing. I don't think the writing is all that great, though. It's choppy and fragmented. But this is a draft, and I know I'll still have revisions to do when I'm finished with this draft. When. Yes, when I'm finished. I can see the light, as they say. I know that I'm coming in on being done with this dissertation, but this last push, this last hard push before school starts? It's wearing me down.

You know how you can have a word on the "tip of your tongue"? My dissertation rests there, on the tip of my tongue. I know what I want to write-- I know it in my body, I know it-- it's right on the tip of my . . . of my what? consciousness, abilities, finger tips, something? I see the end of this process because I see the entire scope of this work. I feel smart. Tired, but smart.

Cross-posted at Parts-n-Pieces.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Diss Data TagCrowd

[Cross-posted at Wind Farm]

I've been playing around with TagCrowd quite a bit as I review and analyze my data. It's a fantastic tool that's helping me "hover above the data" (a [sage] recommendation of Eli's). Notice the happily coincidental part of the hovering advice and the tag cloud: "hover", "cloud." The idea is to step back from the data, depersonalize it. And so I employ the cloud (via TagCrowd). I've been playing with it all along, but now it feels like a legitimized research tool. Beautiful. I love it!

The tag cloud below is the visualization of all of the data that I currently have in Word Document format. Still I am missing about 200 or so pages of interview transcripts. As well, all of the photos and other cultural documents don't really transfer into TagCrowd.

There are a few potential, um, sticking points about employing TagCrowd as an analytic tool. First, I'm not entire certain of how it determines word frequency. For example, is "guy" and "guys" considered the same word? Either way it affects the frequency count. I assume that this is not the case. But I don't know for sure. Second, I'm struggling to determine which words to exclude from the visualization (there is a feature that allows you to make a list of words to exclude - nice!). So, for example, do I exclude "really" from the list? If so, why? Potentially, "really" or "pretty" signify something about the discourse of the guys as well as my fieldnoting. I'm not doing a discourse analysis, but still such decisions matter.

There are some major positives to using TagCrowd. First, it is a really cool way of presenting data in an alternative format. It's definitely non-traditional. Second, it offers a level of transparency to the analysis. It shows the word frequency and provides insight into the raw data. E.g. if I'm arguing that "Coach" played a major role in the literacy practices of the student-athletes you can look and see that "Coach" was one of the most frequently used terms (it doesn't come through in the cloud below b/c of some edits I made to the word list, but Coach was actually the most frequently appearing term throughout all of the data).

There are other positives and negatives. The positives, however, far outweigh the negatives. As a result, there will be a version of the below tag cloud appearing in my dissertation.

created at

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Day 19: Writing Writing Writing

Hi, all-- I said I would check in everyday and stay accountable with my progress. I haven't done that . . . I'm sorry . . . I know how much you all looked forward to my daily whine. :-) Seriously, though, I've been writing. And writing. And writing some more. I'm exhausted. My brain is refusing to think of new words, so I'm using the same old ones over and over. I might have been a tad ambitious about my deadline. I still have 19 days to go, and I need to finish the lit review, write the findings chapter, and edit the intro/conclusion. (Remember, this is a draft going to the committee, not the final project.) It's possible I could get it done. I'm still striving and pushing for the 8/22 deadline.

How's everyone else doing? The school year begins soon. How will this impact your writing?