Authentic Literacy and Crow Pose


Several years ago I started practicing yoga. I’m not as dedicated as I’d like to be and therefore it has taken me three years to achieve crow pose, and I can still only hold it for less than ten seconds. I spent a long, long time attempting crow while it seemed like nothing was changing—no progress. But there must have been some microshifts and tiny strengthenings, because one day—boom! I hit it and held it.

There are things you do to lead up to crow—lift one toe, and then little by little the other, work with a bolster at your head, etc. But the only way to achieve crow is to dive in and continually attempt crow over and over and over. You don’t say “I will wait until I’m a lot better, a lot stronger, a lot more confident and then I will attempt crow.” It’s the continued attempts that make you better, stronger, and more confident.

What does crow pose have to do with authentic literacy? Teachers often resist the close reading model of having students just dive in to a complex text without providing the traditional “props.”

I can’t tell you how many teachers we’ve heard say “This text is too hard for my kids. Can I give them an easier text (think ‘pose’)?” Or this: “I’m going to have to pre-teach a lot of vocabulary, talk about themes, and spend at least a week giving them the context and background for this.” I understand that those have been our strategies for teaching texts for many years. But do we really have to do those things?

The problem with those practices is that none of them ever happen in real life. They don’t happen in college and they don’t happen in the workplace. What happens in real life is that we dive in to a hard text (or a hard pose) and we figure out ways to solve problems and answer questions as we go. In other words, our traditional pedagogy for teaching texts has actually contributed to the literacy gap.

No one gains authentic literacy without practicing authentic literacy.

Because of this common temptation to both pre-teach and substitute an easier text, I was recently asked to provide a brief explanation for our partners at North Clackamas School District in Oregon about why we (and all close reading models) advise against these inauthentic practices.