1st Edition

Official Portraits and Unofficial Counterportraits of At Risk Students
Writing Spaces in Hard Times

ISBN 9780415871242
Published October 30, 2009 by Routledge
312 Pages

USD $62.95

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Book Description

This book chronicles 5th and 6th grade writers - children of gang members, drug users, poor people, and non-documented and documented immigrants - in a rural school in the southwest US coming into their voices, cultivating those voices, and using those voices in a variety of venues, beginning with the classroom community and spreading outward.

At the heart of this book is the cultivation of tension between official and unofficial portraits of these students. Official portraits are composed of demographic data, socioeconomic data, and test results. Unofficial counterportraits offer different views of children, schools, and communities. The big ideas of official and unofficial portraits are presented, then each chapter offers data (the children’s and teachers’ processes and products) and facets of the theoretical construct of counterportraits, as a response to official portraits. The counterportraits are built slowly in order to base them in evidence and to articulate their complexity.

Many teachers and soon-to-be teachers facing the dilemmas and complexities of teaching in diverse classrooms have serious questions about how to honor students’ lives outside of school, making school more relevant. This book offers evidence to present to the public, legislators, and the press as a way of talking back to official portraits, demonstrating that officially failing schools are not really failing - evidence that is crucial for the survival of public schools.

Table of Contents



Prologue: Writing Spaces and Hard Times

Chapter 1: An Introduction to Searching for Our Truths

Before the Work Began

Portraits and Counterportraits

Mesa Vista Elementary School (MVE): The Official Portrait

Finding the School


Chapter 2: Writers Reveal Themselves

Becoming More than an Observer

First Pieces of Writing

Initiating Data Analysis

Teacher as Screamer

Strictness, Power, and Microaggressions

Strict Schools and the Search for Joy

The Counterportrait Up to This Point

Chapter 3: Claiming Spaces to Write

The Sixth Graders’ Space

Finding the Space to Write

The Fifth Graders’ Space

The Biography Assignment Begins to Evolve

Writing Spaces and the View of the Child

Counterportraits So Far

Chapter 4: Rewriting Self and Writing About Others

Sixth Graders’ Non-Biography Biography Work

Moving Towards Increased Sharing

Fifth Graders Begin Biography Writing

Composing Classmates’ Biographies

Counterportraits (so far), Context, and the Presentation of Self

Chapter 5: Expanding Writing Spaces as Communities of Practice

Fifth Graders Interview, Transcribe, & Write

Some Fifth Graders’ Transcriptions (Excerpts)

And in the sixth grade…

Communities, Boundaries, and Counterportraits

Legitimizing a Context for Counterportraiture

Chapter 6: Writing Changes Writers: The Impact of Inertia

Good News

Sixth Graders Consider Expository Biography

Featured Fifth Grade Writer

Working for Hours

Counterportraiture, Working in the Plural Form, & Inertia

Chapter 7: Heroes, Dark Secrets, Otter Pops, & Struggles

In the Fifth Grade

Featured Fifth Grade Authors

Chuck, the Humorist

Estevan’s Hero

Sixth Grade Poets’ Dark Poetry

Sixth Graders’ Brief Biographies

Things Fall Apart

The Classroom as a "Site of Struggle"

Struggle and the Use of Time

Writing as Carnival

Carnivals Breed Struggle

Counterportraits, Struggles, Legitimacy, and Possibilities

Chapter 8: Writing Places as Hybrid Spaces

Sixth Graders Get Serious

Poetry in the Biography Genre

Hybridized Texts and Contexts

Hybridized Spaces and Counterportraits

Chapter 9: Products, Presentations, and Power

Our First Public Venue

Reading Their Work in Small Groups

Slam Poetry

For Families

Counterportraits and Spheres of Influence

When Small Spheres Align…

Chapter 10: Suffering, Struggles, and the Community

Home Visits

Bringing the Community to the Sixth Grade

Writers’ Reflections on the Year

Reflections on self-as-writer and Counterportraits

Reflections on Writing and Counterportraits

What else, what next, and Counterportraits

Thank You Notes, Relationships, and Counterportraits

Critical Literacy, Hope and Counterportraits

Chapter 11: Writing Spaces for Better Times

The Purposes of School, the Search for Joy, & the Spirit of the Child

Inner Struggles

Language & Identity Struggles

School as a Site of Struggle

Knowledge/Power Struggle

Agency: Responding to Struggles

Agency and Responsibilities in Composing Counterportraits

Agency and Responsibility, the Bigger Picture

Agency and Responsibility in Schools

Agency and Responsibility in Partnerships

Changing the Course of History

Epilogue: Microeducational Economies

Appendix 1: Counterportraiture as Method/Method as Political Work

Appendix 2: Full Text of Some Biographies

Appendix 3: Storyboard

Appendix 4: Editorial Checklist


Index of Children’s Work

Subject Index



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Richard J. Meyer is Professor in the Department of Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies at the College of Education, University of New Mexico.