Ethnic voices in secondary English : developing student and teacher understanding through journal writing
The ways that students read, interpret, and write about books they study are connected to notions of self. I aim to shed light on processes of ethnic and racial identification in students' responses to literature and in their interactions with their teacher. In particular, I seek to provide insight into how a group of young women grew to understand themselves in relation to literature, their peers, and their teacher by focusing on teacher-student journals. Over a period of fifteen weeks, students composed journal entries, and I responded at regular intervals. This process created an opportunity to reflect on our exchanges over time. The story of the class's reading together cannot be told adequately without also looking at the teacher's (my own) development. Studies that look at teacher-student journals have tended to focus on literacy and reading comprehension rather than on identity. Moreover, there has been little discussion of the role of teacher development in such processes. My research examines how our understanding of both our own and others' ethnic identity was produced through our dialogic exchanges. My questions are these: What can we learn from student written testimony, and what can we learn, too, from teacher responses about the ways in which ethnicity, race, racism, and privilege are experienced? By concentrating on a reading course, Ethnic Voices, in an all-girls secondary school in California, I show how literature was the starting point for sustained dialogues about identity. Ethnic Voices is a course meant to explore how historical, cultural, and social experiences shape identities and understandings through the shared reading of fiction. In addition to studying entries, I also reflect on the difficulty of looking retrospectively at my responses for, in reality, both teachers and students are involved in parallel processes of development as they write and share responses to literature that connect with their own lives.