Concept paper for dissertation
“What happens is of little significance compared with the stories we tell ourselves about what happens. Events matter little, only stories of events affect us.”
“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
The importance of story is something so great that it is hard to put into words. “Neuroscience says we think in stories. That our brain is, in fact, not just hardwired to think in story, but that our neural circuitry is designed to crave story” (Cron, 2). Not only do we think in story and seek out stories but stories also shape our reality. Stories are transformative, physically and mentally. Listening to or reading stories activates and restructures the brain. Bibliotherapy, the practice of “prescribing books” for therapy, acknowledges the power of story by using it “as the ultimate cure because it gives readers a transformational experience” (Dovey). The stories we encounter become a part of who we are and effect our future interactions not only with texts but also each other. “Even though fiction is fabricated, it can communicate truths about human psychology and relationships” (Mar).
The stories we tell ourselves become our reality and shape our future. Our personal narrative, the way we view our own story, is especially powerful in shaping the future. By learning to control the personal narrative, a person can also learn to take control of their present and future. Changing a personal narrative is not an easy task; it often requires shifting attitudes and perspectives, but this dissertation asserts that one way to change a personal narrative is through soulful reading of meaningful text.
Improving a person’s reading skills improves their quality of life but improving their reading skills and incorporating story can touch their soul. The benefits of reading have been observable for centuries but with the advancement of the field of neuroscience, those benefits are now also including the way reading activates and structures the brain. “Reading great literature, it has long been averred, enlarges and improves us as human beings. Brain science shows this claim is truer than we imagined” (Paul). Studies show that readers of fiction have more empathy, make more money, have better problem solving skills, and are generally happier. Combining the benefits of story with the benefits of reading has a profound effect on the reader and is a powerful tool for creating social change.
I work at a community college teaching adults how to understand, remember, and apply what they read. Before working with adults, I taught English and reading to Native American adolescents. I have had the opportunity to form meaningful, long-lasting relationships with students. I have seen great success and felt deep heartache. As a reading teacher and scholar of mythological studies and depth psychology, I recognize parallels of how a person approaches reading and the way they approach life. I have witnessed how crippling a personal narrative can be but also how changing that story made profound life-changing transformations. This dissertation includes a curriculum for soulful reading to teach active reading for comprehension but also includes elements of bibliotherapy and depth psychology to inspire success.
The inspiration for creating this curriculum was a casual conversation with a coworker that led me to learn the statistics of success for our students. When I first heard the numbers, I experienced disbelief, so I looked at the raw data and discovered the information was accurate. I became disheartened because it made me question my purpose as an educator, but finally I saw the numbers as a challenge to overcome.
Before students can enroll in community college, they are required to take placement exams. The exams focus on reading, math, and English and determine a student’s readiness for college level classes. Surprisingly high amounts of students entering community colleges are not prepared for college classes. For San Bernardino Valley College, 98% of students are required to take at least one remedial course before they can take entry-level classes. They enroll in remedial classes just like any other class; they get credit for the units but the units are not transferrable to four-year colleges.
Completion rate counts students completing a certificate program, associate’s degree, or transfers to a four-year college within six years of starting classes. This is the statistic used to measure student success. The completion rate for students who have successfully completed the remedial reading program is only .06%. That means less than 1% of students who are successful in completing the remedial reading courses are successful in college. This statistic does not even include the students who drop out or lack the ability to pass the classes. These students sorely need a different approach. A less than 1% success rate is unacceptable.
Taking these classes correlates with low levels of success for two important reasons, time and money. Sometimes, passing through the reading program is as easy as passing one class. However, some students are required to take multiple classes or need to retake classes. For these students, taking remedial courses significantly extends the time it will take to reach their goals, which can also put their financial aid in jeopardy. Financial aid has strict regulations and one of those regulations concerns the total acquired units. Remedial classes add to the units a student has acquired without adding to the progress toward successfully completing a goal.
There are many reasons for such low completion rates. This dissertation asserts the heart of the issue is not about lack of skills, motivation, funding, or instruction; it is due to a lack of meaningful interactions with story. Meaningful interaction with the text is the goal of both active reading and soulful reading, but the definition of meaning is not the same. Active reading focuses on comprehension but soulful reading adds the emphasis of importance to the reader; it includes the soul. Most research on reading focuses primarily on K-12 education. Specifically, within the literature available for teaching adolescents, the focus is on reading comprehension and motivation. The assertion for this dissertation is that these models, while moderately successful approaches for adults, do not effect great change for a variety of reasons.
College remedial reading students are primarily from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Often, these students have not had many positive experiences with reading or school in general. They approach reading as a chore. Even when assigned meaningful texts, they do not know how to engage those texts in a soulful way and are therefore unable to reap the benefits of reading. For many of these students, the ultimate goal of going to college is not the completion of a certificate or degree; it is to get a better job. They are paying to be trained and not studying to learn. Since they do not see the value of education beyond a job, they do not have the attitude to push through when obstacles arise.
Some students will succeed no matter what life throws at them and others will let the slightest obstacle stop their progress. Students that fail often define themselves by what has happened in their lives. They have victim mentality. The stories they share are of victimization, and they look at the future with a mixture of hope and fear. They do not realize that they have the power to create their own stories and since they do not see the potential for change, they become apathetic. Apathy is one of the worst kinds of mental illnesses to overcome. It makes a person passive both in reading and in life. “By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them” (Mariboli, 37). Hopelessness and apathy are causes for passive living but active participation leads to caring and action. Reading texts with meaning leads to more reading and added ease of comprehension. This is why attitude towards self and reading will both have an impact on the students’ chances of success.
With this dissertation, I create a curriculum that does more than instruct how to read: the goal is to touch the soul and change the way my students see themselves. When I taught middle and high school students, it was appropriate to focus on motivation, but for college, that model no longer works. The curriculum portion of this dissertation teaches the skills necessary for active reading but with a different focus. The focus of soulful reading is to inspire active reading, thinking, and living. College is a place where transformation can occur, and the stories should mirror the students’ transformative growth and inspire success. Motivational literature focuses on the past by sharing stories of overcoming adversity. This dissertation argues that this text can be more damaging than inspiring. By putting the focus on the past, these stories reinforce the victim mindset. Instead of helping students remain victims, the curriculum replaces these texts with soulful texts that challenge students to relate in a meaningful way.
Soulful curriculum is not as easy to teach as the motivational literature, but the rewards are far greater. Motivational literature is usually rather simple, but meaningful literature is complex. Instead of reading more texts with less meaning, the curriculum suggests taking the time to read fewer but more complex texts with varying levels of relationship. Studies prove that reading more quickly correlates with diminished comprehension. This can be frustrating for students that want to get through reading quickly since soulful reading is slower reading. In addition, dealing with a soul in transformation requires extreme care; it is an art. The student is taking the risk to put themselves into the class, so the teacher needs to respond by teaching with soul. This means caring, caring about the students as whole people, not just scores and skills. This takes time and patience. No matter how much teachers try, with success they will also see many students that do not make it. It is hard to care and watch people struggle. This is why it is easier to use superficial texts with superficial instruction, but the goal of this dissertation is not superficial. The goal is not to instruct how to read; it is to teach how to have a relationship with the stories and how to apply the stories in life.
Brief Literature Review
Community and education – San Bernardino, a case study
Education is beneficial for a community. Research clearly shows the correlation between education and improved living conditions and quality of life. Especially in lower socio-economic areas, education is sorely needed but not easily attained. Many students slip through the cracks of the education system and end up unprepared for the job market, unprepared for college, and unprepared for life. My school is located in San Bernardino, California. This city has the notorious distinction of most dangerous city in California. The city itself has had financial difficulties both before and after it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012. Statistics show that the residents of this city experience low quality of life including homelessness, poor education, and unemployment. I use statistics from a variety of sources to demonstrate the extreme need for educational intervention within this community.
Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change by Ira Shor is one book this dissertation cites to argue that education can shape society. “While a participatory classroom cannot transform society by itself, it can offer students a critical education of high quality, an experience of democratic learning, and positive feelings toward intellectual life” (29). He goes on to say that with the right kind of education in enough classes, educators can improve society profoundly.
Science of stories
I chose to include two books and two articles in this review for this section: Lisa Cron’s Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence and Jenny Nabben’s Influence: What it Really Means and How to Make it Work for You have useful information on how stories effect the brain.
“Mind, Brain, and Literacy: Biomarkers as Usable Knowledge for Education” by Usha Goswami and “Neuroscience and Reading: A Review for Reading Education Researchers” by George Hruby focus on the brain and reading.
Theory of Mind – Art and Soul
Often when talking of the soul, one does not quickly think of science. However, science has been essential in changing the way we think of soul and education. A recent study by David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano on reading literature and theory of mind has spurred a number of experts to write about the correlations of the study, specifically empathy. Empathy is the ability to live through and understand the experiences of others like one does with the characters in literature. “Understanding others’ mental states is a crucial skill that enables the complex social relationships that characterize human societies. Yet little research has investigated what fosters this skill, which is known as Theory of Mind (ToM), in adults” (Kidd and Castano). Their study shows measurable improvements in Theory of Mind for subjects that read literary fiction. This study was not the first of its kind but the awareness and attempt to reform the education system and literacy instruction specifically make this study very fruitful in terms of commentary. The study is interdisciplinary; it incorporates psychology, reading, education, and social reform – all areas addressed in this dissertation, so it becomes an important component for this section. In addition to all of these benefits, this study also includes the connection of art, reading, and soul.
Reading instruction for adolescents
The fact that so many students need remedial reading is a reflection on K-12 education. For this reason, it is important to look at reading education in K-12, especially adolescent literacy, where comprehension skills are the focus. There is a wealth of research and writing in this area. I am including two very different books that try to address these literacy issues for adolescents in this literature review.
In Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, Kelly Gallagher argues the current practices in reading education are making students hate to read. The focus on skills has made reading something that is not only not fun but also hated. Since they do not like to read, they do not read and this makes future reading even more difficult and more hated. “That lack of reading has created a gaping hole in students’ prior knowledge and background, which is very, very important to bring to the page. A lot of times my kids can read the words on the page, but they can’t comprehend the text because they don’t have requisite prior knowledge and background information” (Gallagher). This book provides a glimpse into the educational system that produced students who enter college unable to comprehend text beyond a fourth grade reading level. In addition, since the focus is on comprehension, the techniques are often directly applicable for adult learners.
Another perspective is Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy Instruction that addresses how to teach reading with common core but has been criticized as being too prescriptive. While I do not agree with a one-size-fits-all approach, this book is valuable because it situates K-12 instruction within the modern federal standards for reading education and has been adopted as required reading for many educators.
Adult literacy and psychology
Teaching adult learners is different from teaching adolescents. “The adult is educable, and can respond gratefully to the art of individual education; but naturally his education cannot be conducted along the lines suitable to the child” (Jung, CW 17, 57). Teaching adults requires a different approach from child or adolescent education for developmental reasons but for this study, there is also the issue of remediation to consider. There is a stigma for adults needing remedial education and often students in these classes have not had many positive experiences in school. This has a severe impact on how students see themselves. Changing a personal story is a powerful transformation. In order to understand the psychology involved in this transformative task, I turn to Carl Jung, James Hillman, and Steve Mariboli.
Carl Jung’s writings have been indispensable to my understanding of transformation and for giving me the ability to explain the importance of education for the individual and community. His work is continued and expanded through James Hillman, Ginette Paris, and Susan Rowland – all were also influential for my understanding in this field.
Collected Works 17 – The Development of Personality is full of valuable information pertaining to education and the transformation process. While the collection was originally published in 1954, the issues are still extremely relevant today. For example, in this quote, “At present we educate people only up to the point where they can earn a living and marry; then education ceases altogether, as though a complete mental outfit had been acquired. The solution of all the remaining complicated problems of life is left to the discretion – and ignorance – of the individual. Innumerable ill-advised and unhappy marriages, innumerable professional disappointments, are due solely to the lack of adult education” (17), Jung gets to the heart of this dissertation that education is the key to transformation and a necessary element of adult life.
Steve Mariboli’s books Unapologetically You and Life, the Truth, & Being Free are both helpful for this section because he writes a lot about the victim mindset and why people need to break free from passive thinking and living. The reason for choosing to include this perspective in this section is that I believe that victim mentality is the main cause for student failure and changing that mindset is a crucial aspect to the curriculum.
Necessary elements for teaching reading comprehension
For this section, I use Townsend Press college reading comprehension program, specifically John Langan’s Ten Steps Reading Series. These books have four different levels that help the student revisit the material through the courses, each time at a more challenging level. Ten Steps reading textbooks teach the following skills: dictionary use, vocabulary in context, main ideas, supporting details, location of main ideas, relationships in text, inferences, implied main ideas, argument evaluation, and critical thinking. I like the Langan books for their ease of use and low cost to students. Another benefit for these textbooks is that they are part of a larger program for Townsend Press. The books include online exercises and assessments for students, PowerPoints for instruction, and an abundance of printable material.
To teach academic vocabulary, I use the Townsend Press materials and textbooks by Sherrie Nist. These textbooks are available in corresponding levels to the Ten Steps books: Groundwork, Building, Improving, Advancing, and Advanced Vocabulary Skills. Like the skills books, the vocabulary books include a wealth of technological and printable support materials.
Empowerment through bibliotherapy
The first place that I learned about using texts in order to heal the soul was in the folk lore and fairytale class. Jack Zipes’ Creative Storytelling: Building Community, Changing Lives, Bruno Bettleheim’s The Uses of Enchantment, and Marie Von Franz’s The Interpretation of Fairy Tales show how to use stories to heal and educate. The focus for most of the literature on using stories psychologically is toward children and children’s literature. However, this dissertation applies the same concepts toward adults with soulful literature.
I also include Reimagining Education: Essays on Reviving the Soul of Learning edited by Dennis Patrick Slattery and Jennifer Leigh Selig. This book is a collection of essays from experts in myth and education. It is useful as it provides a variety of voices in the field and widens the conversation of learning and soul.
Organization of Study
Chapter 2 – Community and education – San Bernardino, a case study
More than an educational system in crisis, San Bernardino County and especially San Bernardino city is in crisis. Students face hunger and homelessness, shooting and drug use, and general violence on an all too familiar basis. In San Bernardino County, 9% of public school students experience homelessness, which is almost double the state average, 4.8%. With widespread poverty, high levels of crime, struggling schools and infrastructure, San Bernardino is a place suffering from depression.
This section focuses on the current situation of the surrounding area of the school as a way to show the problems that face many community college remedial readers. While the case of San Bernardino is extreme, it is not unlike many cities and neighborhoods where lower socio-economic reading students grow up and live. The motivation to escape this life is there, but the story of how to do it still needs writing. They know they need education but they often do not know why or how they should pursue it, because the instruction they received was passive, and they are living in a world that is active and requires active thought and engagement.
I do not make this statement as an outside observer but as a member of the community and former sufferer of a victim mentality. I am a native of San Bernardino County. I have had some tough times, but had a loving family and I had books. Even with these benefits, like most students in my classes, I lived like a victim. It took a long time for me to learn how to break the victim mentality and rewrite my own personal narrative. Teaching active reading and taking classes in mythological studies helped me to transform and continue to grow. The benefits of active reading, active thinking, and active living multiplied when enriched with the soulfulness of mythological studies and the study of Carl Jung and other depth psychologists.
Chapter 3 – Science of stories: Neurological Studies
Scientific studies on the brain have given us incredible insight into how the brain works. From these studies, there is conclusive evidence of what we already knew to be true through observation, that reading and stories are beneficial for the brain, even necessary. In this section, I explore what some of the research says about the neuroscience and discuss how that relates to reading and reading instruction.
Theory of Mind – Art and Soul
This section looks at studies that show the connection between art, soul, and literature. This is the basis for choosing meaningful texts. This dissertation argues that in order to touch the soul, a text must require input from the interpreter. It must have complexity and be engaged relationally for depth. This is where I include the specifications for meaningful texts and what forms of texts are appropriate for teaching specific reading comprehension skills.
Chapter 4 – Reading instruction for adolescents
Students graduating high school without the necessary skills to take basic college level classes are a sign of failure for the K-12 educational system. The fact that so many students enter the world so unprepared shows a crisis for the education system in America. The education system in America has been in struggling for a long time. In 2002, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act passed into legislation. With an emphasis on testing and performance, the NCLB act put schools in a frenzy to improve scores in order to continue to receive funding. Annual Yearly Progress (AYP), student English, reading, and math scores had to continue to grow in order for schools to appear successful. Many teachers complained that they were “teaching to the test” and not teaching how to think.
I taught K-12 during this period and was heavily involved with the accreditation process of my school. I saw first-hand the importance of these scores for funding and accreditation. Critics of NCLB argue that the focus on testing and performance created students who passively memorized facts and did not actively learn material. It created a generation unprepared to enter the world. As a high school teacher in this period and a community college instructor now, I agree with this assessment of NCLB.
Many students reach community college without the ability to read a text and make a conclusion from that text. They can find facts but they do not relate to the text in a meaningful way. The text just does not make sense and when dealing with complex situations in life, it can become just as difficult to make sense. The focus on multiple-choice tests created robot-like processors of data instead of soulful, complex thinkers. In order to resolve the problems created by No Child Left Behind, most states implemented a new form of instruction called common core. It is attempting to bring the art and soul back in to teaching and learning. Instead of looking for a correct answer, students and teachers engage more complex topics with answers too large to be contained in a multiple choice assessment. Common core curriculum is still too new to see definitive results but feedback from educators and students is, for the most part, positive. The issue for now is how to teach the students who are a product of NCLB how to be active thinkers. A curriculum that focuses on soulful reading and soulful thinking can empower students to become more active in their reading, thinking, and life.
Chapter 5 – Adult literacy and depth psychology
I chose college for this curriculum not simply because I currently teach college but because this is where I believe the curriculum is relevant both to help correct the problems created by NCLB and because it is a critical time for personality development. Not all people develop individual personalities, distinctive of the traditional roles of society. Those that have individual personality tent to be more fulfilled and productive members of society, these are the change-makers. A person with a developed individual personality is aware of who they are and they are okay with it. They have discovered their soul’s code and they are in charge of their narratives. They are more soulful. Jung states, “personality is a seed that can only develop by slow stages throughout life. There is no personality without definiteness, wholeness, and ripeness. These three qualities cannot and should not be expected of the child, as they would rob it of childhood” (194-5). This means that the personality training of Jung’s time was also a mistake that needed correction. He realized that the proper time for personality development was later, when the individual was more defined, whole, and ready. College is a time for “finding yourself.” College can place a person on the path to better quality of life, but to find oneself the soul must be active and engaged.
A good understanding of how to read and write academically is a foundational tool for college students but so is personality development. Reading is a series of relationships. Understanding these relationships, or as I like to call them, readlationships, can help students see connections outside of reading. Readlationships looks at approaching reading as one approaches relationships in life. Learning how to recognize levels of relationship and rules for those relationships can help increase a person’s emotional intelligence and ability to function successfully in society.
Chapter 6 – Necessary elements for teaching reading comprehension
Reading comprehension requires certain basic skills. This section reviews the skills students need to master in order to become readers that can comprehend, later access, and apply the text. The fundamentals for reading instruction include academic vocabulary, main ideas, supporting details, key words, relationships, inferences, argument, and critical thinking. Instead of focusing on rules and skills in the reading process – the curriculum addresses the skills by exposing larger connections. Teaching reading as a series of relationships helps engage the students on an emotional, soulful level.
Chapter 7 – Empowerment through bibliotherapy
In this chapter, I discuss the texts. The dissertation uses examples of how to use specific meaningful texts to teach skills soulfully and gives guidelines for textual selections to allow flexibility when assigning texts. A specific lesson of skill taught through meaningful text to add soul is reading images using two panels of the Amduat, an Egyptian book of the dead. It shows Re, the sun god, as he journeys from sunset to sunrise. Students learn the importance of images for comprehension, but they remember it because it also incorporates a text that touches the soul and gives an even more meaningful lesson about life.
The sixth and seventh hours of the Amduat contain crucial knowledge for college students. Presenting this information through images gives it more significance for the students, models how to read text for meaning, and shows the importance of images to understanding text. Seeing their experiences represented – actually “seeing” them through hieroglyphs that have been around for thousands of years – not only serves to give guidance, it gives hope. I agree with Abt and Hornung that the ability to see the battle with Apopis as an archetypal situation is a profound insight. It can be a transformative insight. The realization that transformative growth is difficult for everyone and that no one is able to do it alone can make difference between quitting and graduating. This knowledge was important enough to carve with painstaking detail into stone so long ago and is important enough to share today. This is just one example of a way to add depth to lessons on reading skills to create meaning.
This dissertation includes a production piece and the final element is the curriculum for readlationships and soulful reading and includes examples like the lesson of reading text with the Amduat.
Abt, Theodor, and Hornung, Erik. Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality. Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2003. Print.
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Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976. Print.
Cron, Lisa. Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence. New York: Ten Speed, 2012. Print.
Fisher, Margaret Barrow, and Jeanne L. Noble. College Education as Personal Development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1960. Print.
Franz, Marie-Luise Von. The Interpretation of Fairy Tales. Boston: Shambhala, 1996. Print.
Gallagher, Kelly, and Richard L. Allington. Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do about It. Portland, Me.: Stenhouse, 2009. Print.
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Kidd, David Comer, and Emanuele Castano. “Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind.” Science (2013): 1239918. science.sciencemag.org. Web.
Langan, John. Ten Steps to Improving College Reading Skills. West Berlin, NJ: Townsend, 2008. Print.
Lemov, Doug, Colleen Driggs, and Erica Woolway. Reading Reconsidered: A Practical Guide to Rigorous Literacy Instruction. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016. Print.
Mar, Raymond, “Fiction and its relation to real-world empathy, cognition, and behavior.”
Thursday, August 7, 1:00-1:50 am ET. American Psychological Association’s 122nd Annual Convention. Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Pl., NW, Washington, D.C.
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Maraboli, Steve. Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience. Port Washington, NY: Better Today, 2013. Print.
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Nabben, Jenny. Influence: What It Really Means and How to Make It Work for You. Harlow, England: Pearson, 2014.
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Rowland, Susan. Psyche and the Arts: Jungian Approaches to Music, Architecture, Literature, Film and Painting. London: Routledge, 2008. Print.
Shor, Ira. Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992. Print.
Slattery, Dennis Patrick, and Jennifer Leigh. Selig. Reimagining Education: Essays on Reviving the Soul of Learning. New Orleans, LA: Sping Journal, 2009. Print.
Zipes, Jack. Creative Storytelling: Building Community, Changing Lives. New York: Routledge, 1995. Print.