Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I never stop thinking about literacy... even when vacation planing

For the past couple days I have been in planning mode for our Costa Rica trip a month from now. My husband and I tend to enjoy the planning the trip almost as much as the vacation itself. We go to the library and check out a giant stack of guidebooks to get an overall feel for a place. We check out DVDs at the library or watch videos on YouTube to actually see the place in real life, not just in our minds. Finally, once we have purchased our tickets, we scour TripAdvisor to find just the right hotels and activities.
Step one of trip planning: check out a ridiculous amount of guidebooks at the library
When I read through reviews on TripAdvisor, I have a system. I am incredibly dubious of superlative and overly negative reviews, due to fear of business paying people to write glowing reviews (or rival businesses paying for poor reviews). Just do a Google search of "TripAdvisor fake reviews" and see all the articles that pop up about being able to tell whether a review is fake. What I look for instead are reviews that offer practical advice that aren't steeped in hyperbole.

For example, I was reading through reviews of the Mystica Lodge and Retreats, which looks stunning. On the surface, this appears to be a place I would love to stay. But after reading one user's review that said despite the lovely setting, it was 1.5-2 hours away from any activities near the Arenal volcano and the hotel doesn't organize tours, I immediately knew this wasn't the place for us, at least not for the kind of vacation my husband and I like, which is to always be seeing and doing things. We figure we can lounge around at home all we want. On vacation we want to see the world, not sit around on a beach and have someone bring us drinks. So once I subtracted the emotion out of the user review, I looked at the practical advice the reviewer gave and made a decision to keep looking. 

As I have been processing this information today, I started to think about the inordinate amount of time and energy secondary English teachers spend in class teaching literary analysis, which is a helpful and sophisticated skill, don't get me wrong, but given the fact that literary analysis is what American students seem to spend most of their time doing in English class, it makes me wonder how many practical literacy skills we are failing to provide for our students in the name of the "because that's the way we've always done it" model of education.

Learning to decipher reviews on any kind of user-generated website, be it TripAdvisor, Yelp, or even Amazon, is a literacy skill that I don't think many teachers have even considered as something to teach, but given how much time humans now spend in online spaces, this is something we need to consider over the traditional model of high school English, which is: read a book, listen to the teacher's interpretation of what it means, then regurgitate some stuff she said in class, and finally turn it into an "analysis" essay.

But as I continue to seek out a hotel that will provide my husband and me with just the right amount of adventure opportunities in a great location near the Arenal volcano, I am also thinking about ways to take this learning and translate it into the classroom. Because contrary to popular belief, we don't turn off our teacher brains in June, July, and August. If anything, this is a time for us to reflect and reprocess, to figure out all the things we can change and do better for next year. So even though I'm only a few days into summer vacation, I'm still and constantly thinking of my students. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers


  1. Trip Advisor is great (most of the time). I had no idea about the "fake reviews." I write a lot of reviews on there since I rely on the site for recommendations when I travel.

  2. Like you, my experience in life, in the wild as a reader (and writer) as Donalyn might say, provides a constant mirror for my classroom practice. Can't wait to see what your students do with travel research or review writing. Love this topic idea too.