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Current and Recent Research: Mary M. Juzwik
Some believe that the teaching of English is value-neutral, grounded simply in the teaching and learning of basic skills called “the language arts.” Recently on full display in the U.S. Common Core State Standards, this idea has captivated English educators for well over a century. Some scholars have critiqued this skills orientation by arguing for a personal growth model of English; others for the ideological nature of English; and yet others for English education as a site for reproduction and, potentially, disruption of enduring societal inequities. My work adds to this last line of work by calling attention to the ethical dimensions of English, showing how even scenes of the most “basic” language arts skill development and instruction turn out to be occasions of profound moral complexity. I have shown, furthermore, how those moral complexities are discursively mediated and interrelated with issues of identity. I have, as a consequence, challenged English teachers to be ethically responsive both to the local roots of students in particular classrooms and communities and to a society which urgently needs global citizens with a capacity to reasonably and compassionately dialogue with others who are different from them. Moving across a) inquiries into the teaching of writing, reading, and literature, b) critical examinations of the discursive, historical, cultural, and narrative nature of what happens in English classrooms, and c) projects and collaborations on secondary English teacher preparation, my professional trajectory coheres around four key themes: narrative, dialogue, writing, and religion.
My scholarship on narrative vivifies the discursively mediated moral complexities at the scenes of English teaching and learning. A narrative is different from a recount or chronicle (i.e., lists of happenings), because it includes a speakers’ or writers’ point of view on what happened - whether it was frightening, abhorrent, funny, or wonderful, for example. Narrative as a form of discourse, then, imbues events and happenings with a moral valence - what some linguists have called narrative evaluation. In this sense, narrative language is morally loaded. Because narrative and many other forms of language are polysemous, taking on new meanings with each new interpretation or re-mediation, meanings often escape the control of writer or speaker (or teacher!) intentions in the ever-unfolding life of language. If teachers and students have less-than-total conscious control over the language, it follows to ask: What does this insight mean for English teaching and teacher education? How, if at all, can people gain greater awareness about their classroom discourse practices? How can teachers and students use narrative and other forms of language to engage in dialogues across differences? I take up these themes in terms of dialogue, writing, and religion.
A second strand of my work devotes itself to improving the quality of dialogue in English classrooms through changes in English teacher preparation. If language is a powerful and morally loaded medium for learning and global citizenship, then teachers should be equipped to inspire dialogue in their classrooms in ways that are ethically responsible and responsive to students. I conceive dialogue broadly here to include not only classroom talk and writing, but a more general openness to learning from, about, and with others - what colleagues and I call a “dialogic stance” in the recent book, Inspiring Dialogue: Talking to Learn in the English Classroom (Teachers College Press, 2013). The book,its supporting grants, and its accompanying papers were all part of the Video-Based Response and Revision Project (VBBR), located in the secondary English teacher preparation program at MSU and funded by the Bates-Byers Curriculum and Technology Award and the Spencer Foundation. Four key components drove the collaborative project: a) stimulating awareness of language patterns in classrooms and their implications, b) engaging teacher candidates in planning lessons that aimed for dialogically organized instruction; c) using video-recordings of teaching to engage interns in self and peer response, reflection, and instructional revision, and d) designing online learning communities engaged in collaboratively supporting colleagues’ developing dialogic teaching practices.
I also understand writing as dialogic in nature, a form of discourse functionally akin to talk. I believe that taking this theory of writing seriously can help students see the significance of writing, even writing done in school, beyond the walls of the classroom. I am passionate about teaching writing, about teaching present and future teachers to teach writing, and about building capacity in the field of English Education to improve the quality of scholarly writing and its impact on practice -- a mission I've been pursuing through my editorship, with Ellen Cushman, of
Research in the Teaching of English
. I'm currently doing some writing, with Jen Van Der Heide and Mandie Dunn, about argument writing instruction in secondary English classrooms.
A newer line of work carries my abiding interest in English education as a scene of moral action into exploration of how religious faith shapes reading and writing in public school English classrooms. This new line of work has focused on evangelical Christianity, the religious heritage of American Midwestern public schools. A recent paper, “Evangelical Biblicism as Literate Practice” argues that assumptions about evangelicals’ Biblical literalism - while pervasive -- are not only empirically unfounded, but also do damage because of their deficit orientation. The paper illuminates evangelical Biblicism as a richly literate cultural practice, embedded in a centuries-old interpretive tradition, and populated by complex and often conflicting textual ideologies which evangelicals themselves struggle to negotiate. Understanding Biblicism in this way suggests new ways of understanding and expanding the practices of evangelical readers and writers in secondary and post-secondary classrooms, without hurling accusations of moral or cultural deficiency their way. The significance of the work extends beyond my field of English, for example to questions in history education about how interpretive practices and traditions surrounding the Bible and other sacred texts shape different people’s construal of history and culture. This line of work also pushes theorizing about cosmopolitanism and English education, an area of interest to me: If, as I believe, English education should aim to prepare individuals and communities with the dialogic capacities needed to fuse reflective response to the new with rootedness and loyalty to the knows, then surely religious faith needs to be understood, for many people, as part of this fusion process. And in some cases (e.g., for those who, on religious grounds, reject dialogue across pluralism as a social good), such a vision of English may prove impossible. These and other problems of religion, literate practice, and dialogue fascinate me and I expect that I'll spend the remainder of my career meditating on them.
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