Book Review: Pose, Wobble, Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literacy Instruction by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen
Written by Katie O’Neill, Kimberly DiBiasi and Michelle Ruiz
In Pose, Wobble Flow: A Culturally Proactive Approach to Literary Instruction by Antero Garcia and Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, readers gain strategies for incorporating literacy into their diverse classrooms. Acting as professors to pre-service teachers in Colorado, the authors of this text emphasize that teachers should strongly consider what they hear from their students, as well as the contextual factors impacting their students’ lives, not just the standards laid out in the curriculum. They argue that these factors should shape and guide a teacher’s instruction, rather than simply following a one size fits all, curriculum-based approach to teaching literacy. To accomplish this goal, the authors suggest that readers must do three things: pose, wobble, and flow.
Posing entails teachers taking a stance on particular topic or idea, both within their classrooms and beyond. In order to establish a pose, however, the authors suggest that you must first wobble. By wobble, the authors intend for you to struggle and be open to different perspectives and stances, often going outside of your comfort zone. As the authors state, “It (wobble) causes us to stare and consider. Wobble taps us on the shoulder and induces us to ask why. It nudges us towards action” (Garcia & O’Donnell-Allen, 6). Flow is the ultimate goal that one accomplishes after a period of wobbling; “This harmonious and effortless state occurs when we feel immersed in achieving a worthwhile goal that is precisely appropriate for our level of ability” (7). The authors intertwine this framework throughout the text and use it to organize each of their six poses that they present in the text, making it an easy and enjoyable read.
Garcia and O’Donnell-Allen’s first chapter leads teachers through the development and maintenance of their first pose, culturally proactive teaching, which they claim ties together all of the other poses in the text and helps teachers to achieve the ultimate goal, “praxis.” The authors define praxis as “that inextricable union between critical reflection on oppressive conditions and the social action necessary to transform the world into a more just and equitable place” (17). They admit the difficulty, awkwardness and discomfort that culturally proactive teaching entails, as it involves dealing with issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality, but they also emphasize the powerful end result. The authors’ use of bullet points and sidebars summarize this pose well, helping teachers to understand the key features of culturally proactive teaching: questioning existing inequalities in your school and society, anticipating students’ needs, adapting teaching to students’ interests, forming your own cultural personality, reflecting on how it impacts your teaching, incorporating your students’ backgrounds into your teaching, and teaching literacy skills with the purpose of using them for social change. The authors suggest that teachers must reflect deeply and “recognizing that you possess privilege is the first step in using your unearned power for good” in order to achieve this pose (20). This message may be difficult for some readers to hear, but it adds to the overarching theme of wobbling in order to achieve flow. The authors end with a call for readers to disrupt the status quo and work with other teachers to enact change and bring about a greater sense of culturally proactive teaching. In the final lines of the chapter, the authors reiterate Bob Fecho’s powerful message; “The idea is not to achieve perfection, but to incline toward perfection” (30) This ideology of making change one step and one day at a time is one that all teachers can apply to their own classrooms and lives.
While the first chapter focused on a shift in teaching ideology and general teaching practices, the second chapter’s focus was more language arts specific. In this section the authors introduce the pose of “hacking,” one they claim will lead to culturally proactive teaching. As put simply in the opening lines of the chapter, hacking means we as teachers must “figure out how to fiddle with it in order to improve it” (33). While the authors acknowledge that this may be a difficult pose for new teachers, they challenge all teachers to wobble in this area. They align the traditional classroom to a “banking model,” suggesting that teachers actively deposit knowledge into students and then later withdraw it for the purpose of assessment. In this relatable and accurate model, the authors emphasize the passive and meaningless role that many students have in their own learning. In contrast, the authors suggest that teachers enact changes to create an environment that supports vulnerable learning, views learning as production oriented, and positions and views students as makers. Furthermore the authors encourage teachers to wobble by pushing back against systemic constraints that could limit student learning. Rather than the traditional banking model, the authors present scenarios and examples of vulnerable and inquiry driven learning where students learn that not knowing something is an essential part of creativity and of learning. This pushes students towards their “learning edge” where they can “take risks to consider new perspectives and ideas…to consciously take risks to learn something new” (37). The authors reiterate the importance of creating a safe and nurturing environment with clearly established norms in order for students to allow themselves to be vulnerable and engage in this new style of learning. As always, it must start with the teacher; “By taking on the pose of Teacher as Hacker, you can be a powerful model for your students that learning involves vulnerability, uncertainty and change” (34). The authors conclude with concrete and adaptable examples and activities to support teachers in establishing this flow in their own classrooms.
In the third chapter, a call to teaching social change through civic engagement is prominent. Antero and O’Donnell-Allen suggest that teaching reading and writing civically is our duty as educators and should be done using specific audiences and with tangible results our students can see. Some ways they suggest accomplishing this is through the use of technology, which students connect to more today than they ever have. “Henry Jenkins, et al. write, ‘Participatory culture is emerging as the culture that absorbs, and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for the average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways’” (63). The access to digital information expands the platform for civic education and allows it to transcend from the classroom into the real world much easier than in the past. It also allows for more accessible topics to be discussed. Although examples in the text include using events such as Ferguson and the slaying of Michael Brown, which are much heavier than our fourth graders can handle, they can still become involved civically through events happening in Springfield or even in Philadelphia via newsfeeds, blog posts or local news sites. Teaching them to have a voice and a stance young can also give them confidence in their writing that can grow and evolve throughout the years so that they are ready to handle the more weighty topics Antero and O’Donnell-Allen described.
Following chapter three’s focus on civic education, chapter four discusses the pose, wobble and flow of turning the teacher into a writer, which was quite an abrupt shift in topics. To establish ourselves as writers, the authors suggest creating a routine for ourselves. “To write requires doing what writers do. Writers must create routines and habits that help them embody their writing identities” (79). By creating this routine for ourselves, we are able to reflect upon our preferences as a writer and apply those ideas in our classroom, which can sometimes feel like it’s easier said than done when so much starts to pile up. What Antero and O’Donnell-Allen do well here, though, is remind us that we need to experience the role of writer if we’re going to teach children how to be writers, which means making the time to write. “To adopt a Teacher as Writer pose means to commit fully to being a writer.” Our students need to see us struggle, they need to see us enjoy ourselves and they need to see us in our writing identity if they are to be writers themselves. This is a great reminder to educators that it’s acceptable to make mistakes and struggle in front of our students.
Chapter five focuses on rethinking reading in the classroom. It expands the idea of “text” and “reading” to explain the wobble teachers face in repositioning themselves as curators in their classrooms, schools and districts. Wobbling with curation means becoming an attentive reader. Teachers are the ones who help create a love of reading to their students. We need to be thinking about the types of books that are chosen for students. We cannot think of just creating a list of “right” books, but instead pick books that promote culturally proactive teaching. We have to think of the students who sit in front of us each day. As educators, it is our job to teach the classics, but not only the classics. We can not forget that our students want to read about issues that happen in their lives. It is our job to blend these types of books for our students and give them a choice. “A guiding principle to remember is that the texts that count in your classroom and in your teaching practice are the texts that you curate as valuable” (93). Our students will value what we value. We need to show our students that we read and not only one genre. They learn from us, so it is important for them to see us read a variety of books and struggle through some of them. “To see themselves as readers, students must also have opportunities to make decisions about what they will read” (98). Not only do teachers need to be curators for their students, but for themselves. Teachers need to remember the importance of reading education research and not just for them, but to share with their fellow teachers, so everyone’s teaching can be enhanced.
The book concludes with the pose of the Teacher as Designer. We need to shape culturally proactive classroom space, but also think of the other spaces for learning. Classroom learning is limiting, there are many obstacles that teachers face, which are out of their control, but we need to learn how to push through those obstacles and become the designer of our classroom. “The world, be it a classroom, a home, a park, a student commute from home to bus to school, must be understood and read” (109). Any space can be turned into a learning environment. Students come into the classroom with feelings regarding school, it is our job to change those negative feelings and create an environment that is welcoming. Students need to feel that they belong and they have ownership within the classroom. Students should be part of the design of their classroom. Technology has become a huge part of the classroom design, but if technology is not used effectively, it just takes up space in the room. In attempts to fix long-standing educational problems, technology is added to classrooms. Without proper training, the technology will do nothing to fix the problem in the school. The pose of Teacher as Designer should not stop at the classroom door. We need to support students inside and outside of our classrooms. The classroom needs to be a place where literacy is taught, but it should not end there. We need to engage the students beyond the classroom. Finding your “flow” can take time and you will most likely experience some big-time fails, but when working with your students, you can create a learning environment that works for everyone. When students help design their learning environment, they are more willing to feel a connection to the space and in turn learn more easily. The space needs to be a place where they can be heard and should reflect their culture. Remember that as you wobble with the pose of Teacher as Designer, don’t get discouraged, you will find your flow, but it might take some trial and error.
This text has many features that make it accessible and applicable for a variety of educators. For educators like us that have limited time for professional reading, this book serves as a great guide, providing modifications and changes that teachers can implement immediately to support and encourage a classroom that is accepting of diversity. Each chapter is a blend of specific teacher-student scenarios and a follow up description by the author of how this pose or ideology can be applied in the classroom. In addition to success stories, the authors were willing to share failures. These relatable scenarios make the reader feel that they are not alone in their wobble.
The organization and theme of “Pose, Wobble, Flow” permeate throughout the chapters. Even though different cultural stances are discussed in each of the six chapters, there is a consistency that incorporates the larger framework of pose, wobble and flow. This makes the text a predictable and flexible read. Similarly later chapters reference earlier chapters and “poses” from the text so that readers are constantly reminded of previously discussed concepts and see how they connect. One could sit down and focus on a single chapter or stance at a time, or read the entire text in one sitting.
As readers, our biggest take away is that as modern educators, we need to push ourselves outside of comfort zones in order to create a culturally relevant classroom. It is imperative for us to struggle in order to recognize the struggles of our own students. For some teachers this struggle is about being open to sharing oneself within the classroom in order to connect and understand one’s students. The authors emphasized how it is the responsibility of the teacher to draw a connection between the lessons in the classroom and the real world. This might also include changing your perspective from “my classroom” to “our classroom.” The authors provide relevant strategies for collaboration.
As much as the authors discuss the pose, wobble, flow concept and make it relatable and meaningful for teachers of all grade levels, many of the examples used in the text are not applicable in our fourth grade classroom. All of the sample scenarios are set in an urban classroom setting where teachers have more discretion to discuss controversial topics. As fourth grade teachers in a conservative, suburban school district, we have to be more careful about what we do and say in our classrooms. We noted this continually while reading the different scenarios and poses. Additionally, regardless of demographics, our fourth graders do not have the developmental maturity or experience to handle these weighty topics. Therefore, secondary teachers may benefit more so from this text than elementary teachers. While we were able to make connections and find applications throughout the text, we feel that the scenarios are better suited for an upper level teacher.