Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Diary Project Continues - An Archivist in the Classroom and Close Reading

Me in my emptied office before new carpeting.
New carpeting went in last week!
As I slowly slip into the world of a high school librarian / information specialist, I have been spending many summer days getting ready for September. Today I had a really fantastic experience that may interest the readers of this blog. This week, I am taking classes in "Common Core" and "Close Reading" strategy. (Stay with me non- school people. I promise this will connect to my common archives and cultural heritage writing subjects.)

Common Core is a new standard that aims to prepare students for the future. I won't belabor this. You may choose to check out the web page about it, but suffice it to say that the goal of this initiative is to set clear expectations for student achievement.

Close Reading is a way to analyze text that helps students to be better observers and to gain more confidence in "unpacking" information. The end goal is to make readers into better interpreters and to allow them to draw better conclusions based on facts.

The teachers who presented the class on close reading repeated a few times that the ideas behind this strategy are very different from the methods with which most teachers in the room were comfortable. To me, though, this idea is very familiar. Close Reading relies on noting very basic things about the text - punctuation, word repetition, capitalization, verbs, strong words, mention of colors or feelings, etc.etc. When one reads a text in this way, one begins by leaving behind any context one may have. The reader looks for the straight up, plain, facts, observing what is on the page rather than one's feelings about it or interpretations. That comes later.

I felt myself fluttering inside as I heard about this "strategy" because I realized that this is what archivists often do when working with documents. We often do not know the context of materials in our care and we must work to understand it. We do not assume that what is in front of us is something that we have seen before in some other form. Each collection brings something new that waits for discovery and we must start from this idea of observing the text and pieces before we continue.

My 1882 diary is the most straightforward example I can use of this idea. I had a diary in front of me. It had a date. It had some names. It mentioned the state of Maine over and over. It mentioned a train crash. It talked about the weather. It talked about a shop....I did not know what any of this meant at first. I just picked out the clues (my observations) and then used those very basic observations to tease the text for meaning. 

There was a lot that I didn't understand, at first. For example, I didn't know if the author was a man or a woman. The person mentioned someone named Nell an awful lot. (Nell turned out to be the diarist's wife...see my older posts for more on that.) The writer mentioned a marriage, but I realized that perhaps "marriage" wasn't being used in the way that I understood it, since it was just mentioned in passing in one sentence and wasn't given the weight that I would expect such an event to be given. (I eventually learned that "marriage" was indeed a wedding, but I had to be willing to just observe that word and not attach my own understanding of meaning at first. In the 19th century, many terms were used differently.) It is only by relying on my observation that I could eventually determine what was important and what would lead me to a proper conclusion. In the end, as I've shared before on this blog, I did indeed learn the identity of the writer based on these clues.

At a break in class today, I told our instructor (one of our high school AP English teachers) that this strategy is very familiar to me. I explained about the diary and about my work as an archivist. He asked me to stand in front of the group and give a testimonial - to tell the others about my diary. I will be sending its transcript to our English department

So, here I am at the beginning of my journey as a high school librarian. Before today, I was excited about a whole range of possibilities related to what I MIGHT be able to offer to my school. I now have something very specific on the table. I am indeed excited to connect my outside experience to a public school need in a very direct way. I am also excited to give my diary an even bigger role than I originally planned for it. This diary is on a great journey and it's taking me along for the ride. 

1 comment:

  1. "Fluttering" inside - isn't it amazing when you can see or feel how your experience all comes together? A wonderful stage of life for you! Big smiles.