Bill Eggington

BILL EGGINGTON


Well it’s this notion that teachers and administrators are the front line deliverers of a policy.  And whether the policy is a formal policy or an informal policy it really is incumbant upon them to, to know what that policy is.  So it’s that type of thing.
(Interruption)

My Name is Bill Eggington – or William Eggington.

(What would you prefer on tape?)

Probably William. 

(Discussion about questions. Vacuum in the background… discuss to wait until the sound diminishes)

Let me talk first about what I call “academic restricted code.”  That’s uh, that’s uh, from a socio-linguist point of view, what a restricted code is, is is a special type of speaking or even a special type of writing that, that uh, that only a few people—there are a restricted number of people who can participate in that writing.  And we call that a restricted code.  And uh, and my research basically tells me that, that in many ways, there is a thing called academic restricted code.  Uh, there is a way of speaking that academics use.  Uh, now when I say academics, also referring to educated people.  Part of what kids learn, what children learn when they go to school is how to manipulate—how to negotiate this restricted code.  How to read it, how to understand—uh things, uh that are written in it and so forth.  When we look at restricted codes, what type of things are there?  You have uh, a, nominalizations.  Lots of uh—actions for example.  Processed or realized as nouns.  Lots of “tion” type words.  Its uh… in, in, -- trying to think of some examples.  Instead of saying uh, uh, “we did this” we say, “there was an occurence of something.”  So, that requires a process of semantic processing or unpacking.  The, the, this is not the natural way that we speak.  When I lecture, sometimes I tell my students to uh, to write a letter home using a chatty letter, but that is the normal format.  But this time use academic restricted code and say something like “Dear Parents, the previous week was an endurable one due to the following three factors.”  And see what sort of reaction you get.  But that is the way we say things in an academic environment.  Well that academic environment – or type of language, that academic code, gets put into the textbooks.  And, and uh, it gets put into the examinations that we give our children.  Especially to high stakes examinations.  And so, children who are successful in the school system have to have a certain mastery of the academic restricted code.  Uh, this requires them for, for especially they need to master the levels of the academic restricted code before they hit the high stakes examinations.  I first became aware of this when I was in Australia.  We were in a city called Darwin, and there were a lot of um, uh, Greeks living in that city.  And, and the Greek culture is one that is very keyed into educational success.  And these are kids who wanted to achieve in school.  But these are kids from families—low socio-economic background, and so their parents hadn’t achieved in school.  And what was occurring was, uh, we were, uh the kids through the Greek speaking, or kids from the Greek speaking backgrounds were uh, were being very successful in Elementary school, uh, moderately successful in Lower Secondary.  But then when they got up to around year 10, they started hitting the examinations, and the text books and so forth written in this academic restricted code and they started to have difficulty.  And like a lot of people in our culture when they face difficulties, they started dropping out and losing attention.  Not coming to school and essential just--- so that you may have – I can’t remember the exact figures but let’s say you had 100 students in one school from Greek speaking backgrounds being very successful in 8th grade.  By the time you had 11th Grade, you only had 10 being successful.  And by the time you got into 12th grade, only 5 of them graduated.    So what was the problem??  Uh, various teachers put it down to maturation problems, behavior problems and so on.  But when you looked at the type of language that the children were dealing with in their text books, in their writing assignments, in their reading assignments, and in uh, uh, the negotiation of meaning that they were engaged in… you found that there was this giant leap—this huge leap, actually, hitting them around 10th—10th Grade.  Uh, now this is a factor of the text books, may be  a factor of that particular school environment.  But I’ve seen it elsewhere as well.  I’ve seen it in aboriginal communities in Australia.  I’ve seen it in the South Pacific and I’ve seen it here in the United States.    That, that  there seem to be some children who can successfully negotiate this academic restricted code—successfully breech the gap and other children who can’t.  And so we need to figure out what are the factors that enable someone to, to, to breech the gap.  Well group of people have done some research on this.  You have people like Catherine Snow who’s, who’s, uh, looked, done a longitudinal study of uh, uh, children from all sorts of background—English speaking backgrounds, Non-English speaking backgrounds, uh, and different socio-economic backgrounds and so on.  And she has found that whole language environment seems to be a major factor.  If the children are engaged in what she calls explanatory talk, then the uhm, with parents, given the opportunities.  For example, right at, right at the earliest level, uh, the mother is reading to the child.  And uh, and she ush, she is reading a favorite story and she gets to the end of the page and before she turns the page, she says, “And what do you think is going to happen next?”  Well, why did she do that??  Or why did he do that?  And engage the child in making explanations and, and drawing inferences from the text and so forth.  Then it seems to be an indicator, a predictor of continuing academic success.  That’s at the earliest stage.   But then that can increase at dinner table talk, and so forth.  It increases the likelihood that when they hit that barrier, they will be able to  uh, to be successful in this restricted code.  It’s very similar to uh, uh, to the abilities that Catherine Snow,  uh, talks about.  Very similar to what Jim Cummings (ph) has done with cognitive academic language proficiency, or CALP.  Essentially, there appears to be, um, a relationship between uh, between language proficiency and an ability for a person to negotiate complex meaning.  And, and , to, to develop cognitive skills required for them to negotiate the complex meaning.  This all suggests… actually Catherine Snow’s research, and Jim Cummings’s research, suggests that you can , that this is in a sense language independent.   That if a child has had access to explanatory talk or those environments that help in, in developing cognitive academic language proficiency.   Regardless of their first language, then that enables them to transfer that into second language situations.  So for example, you may have, let’s get back to that example of the Greek speaking children in, in Australia.  A family that engages in explanatory talk, uhm, in Greek, their child will be able to bridge it.  So when they hit that high stakes barrier, and the high stakes examination wall… you know around 10th grade, they will be able to negotiate their way through it; whereas a lot of the other children won’t.  Some of the children will be able to because there’s natural ability and uh, uh, other conditions.  But a lot, the majority of the children won’t be able to negotiate that.  So it’s a very important thing, I think, for teachers to be aware, that uh, they don’t offer all the solutions in a classroom…… that there’s some parental, home, family, background solutions out there and that maybe in parent teacher conferences, uh, maybe a school system if they’ve got a large population for example of children who perhaps come from backgrounds where the parents didn’t have a lot of exposure to education… that maybe the school system needs to provide some training to the parents to uh, to to to explain what we think is simply explicit-- because most teachers come from backgrounds where their parents  did those things that enable them to acquire the academic restricted code or the cognitive academic language proficiency.  So they are just implicit for us, but maybe these types of activities need to be made explicit to uh, to the parents.  So I think in any, uh, situation like that, people need to be aware of the background and maybe factor that in—in, in the objective of having academic success for their children.

(Next question:)
Yeah, uh.  Let’s take… I think.  Let’s take an example and by the way this has probably come from some sort of slide or show.  Let’s take an example uh,… in normal conversation we may use the word “often”.  The adverb “often”.  But in academic restricted code that gets expanded to the adverbial phrase “in many instances”.  So a child who’s, who has come from that background where there’s been explanatory talk and explanatory activities uh, in the home has probably encountered in many instances many tmes before uh, so when that child hits that, in the grade 10 textbook  or the grade 10 examination or something, then uh,, then, that’s not new processing that occurs.  Now that phrase “in many instances” is going to occur in humanities fields, math, in science textbooks, and so on.  So the content is very important in those science textbooks.  But if a child, uh, has to negotiate the meaning of uh, uh, paragraph that might be talking—might be talking about uh, biological species and that “in many instances” is there, regardless of the topic, it still is going to require some semantic processing and uh, and some difficulty for some children who are already going to be negotiating a paragraph that’s no doubt contains some complex vocabulary and this simple adverbial phrase may also be an additional roadblock.  It’s it’s, I think the difference is this… some children are prepared ----in academic code so when they hit the barrier, it’s like swimming downstream.  Some children are not prepared in academic codes so they are going to hit the barrier regardless of the subject matter, it’s like swimming upstream.  And eventually you keep swimming upstream long enough you are going to get tired—you are not going to be making much progress. 

(Next question:)
Usually teachers come from backgrounds where uh, there’s been a high, they come from high literate culture backgrounds.  And what I mean by high literate culture is, in the teachers background, and as a child was grow—as teacher as child was growing up, there were a lot of books in the home.  There were a lot of writing and reading activities in the home.  They were surrounded by a literate culture.  Culture that just basically expected things to be done in writing.  Everyone in a literate culture carries a pen around and uh, uh, this signage all over the place and so on.  And so teachers quite often think that that’s just the natural state of affairs.  What’s interesting is  that uh, we all know that when we are born, we’re not born with the ability to read and write.  That’s a learned activity.  And that some cultures even today uh, come from uh, or negotiate the culture—do things in the culture where there is an absence of literacy.  Where things just don’t happen with lots of reading and writing.  One of my students – graduate students—for example just came back last year from, from doing a study in a village in Mexico.  And looking at the literacy in all events in Mexico—in a rural village in Mexico and essentially found that you could go through your whole life in that village—actually in that whole region—and not have to encounter any activities that required you to be literate.  It was an oral culture.  Absence of literacy.  Uh, lots of intell—highly intelligent things happened… things requiring high intelligence in that culture, but they didn’t require literacy.  The technology of literacy had not yet arrived.  You can liken it in some ways if you think of literacy as a technology you can liken it to computer literacy.  There are some people who are highly computer literate and some people who wouldn’t know which way—uh, uh, a computer works.  Um, these days when we are basically moving more and more towards American Culture, to, to the notion that you need to be computer literate to survive and if you are illiterate, you are not going to survive.  Ok, so. So there’s that notion of an oral society and a literate society.  When students form an oral society background move into through immigration , move into a high literate society as it is in the United States, then there is a huge gap between their home preparation for school in the high literate sense and what the school is doing.  There’s gaps in the way that um, um, people remember things in in in literate culture, people remember things by writing things down.  In an oral culture, people remember things by remembering.  And quite often in oral cultures, uh, if I’m saying something important to you, and I want you to remember, I’ll structure it with lots of repetition, for example.  Uh, Lots of memory aiding devices that will help you to remember it better.  But in a literate culture, I don’t have to do that.  I just have to give you the information in a way that enables you to write it down.  And so, once again, teachers need to be aware of the oral—of the , of the, of the background, in terms of oral and literacy, realicy(?) and literacy, with their children. 

(Next Question)
If, If, If a – and this is what we do in our culture—you want to show somebody in a high literate culture such as ours, you want to indicate that somebody si a little bit slow, is a little bit incapable of performing in the society, then you mark them as if illiterate or semi-literate.  Think about it on television.  You want to have some symbol of someone being dumb, then you get them to be a slow reader.  So we have that as a metaphor in our society.  So someone comes in from an oral-literate background  and they may be highly intelligent.  The child may be very, very intelligent but is a non-reader or is a beginning reader, uh, uh, years in terms of reading ability behind uh age level.  And so there is sort of a natural tendency within this perhaps to think “Uh,oh, I’ve got a problem here.  This is uh, this is uh slow learner.”  And in actual fact, it’s a  learner who has yet to achieve a specific mastery of the technology but not necessarily a slow learner.  Um,  And I think teachers—that can affect the way the teachers approach the problem if we think of it as a deficit, this is a slow learner, then you are going to address the problem through a remediation mentality—something needs to be fixed.  Whereis if you address it through this is someone who has yet to acquire something, but has acquired lots of other things in the meantime, then your approach is --- All I have to do is introduce this new technology, this literacy technology to the, to the, to the child, um, with the understanding that this is just something that the child hasn’t acquired yet. 

(Next Question)
One of the interesting things that seems to arise out of being, out of –out of culture, being a western high literate culture is uhm, for about two or three thousand years, well let’s say two thousand years, we’ve been developing ways to express ourselves that generally suggests that when we write for example, not necessarily when we speak, but when we write, we want to get straight to the point.  And we want to state what we are going to say, we want to say it, and we want to say what we said.  And that has evolved into what we call the standard 5 paragraph essay.  And it’s probably a little bit pase to talk about the 5 paragraph essay, except it turns up everywhere.  They uh, as I said, the introductory paragraph, the.. we’ve got the topic sentence, the thesis statement, the topic sentence, and then the three paragraphs supporting and then the conclusion.  That’s a good argumentative start—an expository start.  You say what you believe, then you support what you believe.  We may think that that’s the way things ought to be because that’s the way things are with us.  But in actual fact what we find is that in a lot of cultures, uh, to state your belief up front is an incredible indicator of arrogance.  Of being rude.  Of assuming that you know.  Especially with let’s say Confuscian courses that are being influenced by uh, by Confucious  philosophy.  Uh,… you’ve got those cultures that are saying, “No.  Above all avoid arrogance. Address the problem from a stance of humility.  And so if there is a belief that you have, what you really must do first, is look at all the different ways that the solution could be addressed,; it could be addressed this way, and it could be addressed this way, and it could be addressed this way.  Indirectly allude to the fact that they are, there are lots of things going on, but in my humble opinion , the solution is this.  Ok?  And so  we come along, we read something written in that approach, a very indirect approach, and we, and we, it doesn’t meet our expectations.  And we think that this is all jumbled up.  And even though, so lets say you have a student from, uh, a culture that prefers to do it this way, rather than a culture that has that direct style that I was talking about, even though the writing of that student at the sentence level in English may be grammatically correct, we still read  it and we think, “Something’s wrong here.  It just doesn’t make sense.  I can’t follow it.”  And that leads us perhaps  to , to think something’s wrong…. And we give this thing a low grade but we really don’t know what is wrong.  Well what is actually happening is what I explained.  That, that, that person is coming from a background where in that person’s culture, you just don’t be straight forward, you go around a little bit, around and around, perhaps make your point at the last.  And so it’s, it’s a cultural aspect more than shall we say, an aspect of intelligence or an aspect of, of, following directions.  So once again you approach the problem a little bit differently, rather than saying there is a deficit problem here—this child can’t – it’s really that this child is doing it in another way.  And so all I have to do to address this problem is perhaps go to where the child is now, go to where the student is now, and look at how the student is writing now, and get the student to analyze his or her form of writing now, as it is, and then say well that’s wonderful.  See how you’ve developed this meaning, but you know what???  When we write in English, we don’t do it that way.  When we write in English, we take this belief that you see at the end of your essay, and we stick it at the front.  Then we develop rationals for that belief and then we conclude again.  And point it out as just a different way of doing things, rather than a right way and a wrong way.  Just a different way and this is the way you are going to be successful in this approach.  So, and, and, and, that appears to be the feedback I get from teachers is when they attack the issue from that perspective, they get, they get a lot more, um, success  then when they just say, “Uhh, there’s something wrong, Fix it!” or awkward or fuzzy.  (Laughs) or something like that. 
(Interruption from Interviewer)
Not very logical.  Yeah, illogical.  Well, these are logical, they just are a different logic. And that by the way has impact with reading as well.  Some very good piece of research was done by Annie Martin, uh, many years ago.  She um, let’s see if I can recollect this.  She had – year or so college students and freshman students, native English speaking freshman college students.  She had a sentence – something like “Various kinds of boats used the lake.”  And then she had three choices of the sentences, of the sentence that would follow.  And of course the logical choice was, “There are fishing boats, there are tourist boats, there were many kinds of – you know, some sentence that explained  that keyed off on the subject of the previous sentence of various kinds of boats.  And of course all the native English speaking chose that.  But with the non-native English speaking college students there was a widespread of choices.  So they hadn’t developed the reading ability to key off on the subject of the first sentence and, and we know that when we read, we make a lot of inferences about what’s to follow, but they hadn’t developed those inferences.  Well, do we say they haven’t developed the ability to read?  No.  It’s that they have developed a different sense, different set, sorry, of inferences.  And it’s that, its that set that we need to adjust by giving them lots of exposure and sometimes being quite over with the structure of a paragraph. And even with , with the, the logical development of a paragraph.  And, and teaching the children to develop that in their reading as well as their writing. Probably the reading should come first, um, before you get into the writing. 

(Next Question)
Ok, one of the things I do is, uh, language planning and policy.    Language planning is when a government agency, usually some governing agency, um, uh, decides on policy regarding the language of the community.  Sometimes they decide on a policy to change the language make up of the community, and so they sit down  and they come up with a plan.  Now whether we know it or not, it’s sometimes these plans just make so much sense, that once again they are just implicit.  But it is a plan that when a child from a non English speaking background—or so—so it’s a policy that when a child from a non English speaking background comes into a school that the the essentially, we are going to teach that child English.  That’s a policy.  So, teachers of –are the front line deliverers of a policy, of a language policy.  They are the ones who deliver the policy.  If the policy is straight English immersion, sort of sink or swim English immersion, then they deliver that.  If the policy is uh, uh, withdrawal English, where the child is English immersion sometimes and then withdrawn from the class for some sort of intense English experience.  They deliver that policy.  If the there’s uh, if there’s uh, if the children who don’t speak English in that classroom are essentially treated the same way as the special education children are treated, uh, then the  teachers are delivering the policy.  If there is a bilingual situation in the school, where there are some bilingual classrooms – classes—two way bilingual immersion for example, then the teachers are delivering the policy.  Quite often teachers just deliver a policy without questioning the rational of that policy.  But I think it behooves the teacher to question the rational of that policy, to say, “What’s going on here, why is my school district, why is my state engaged in this particular policy? Is it supported by the research, for example. Is it, uh, is it something that is going to help my children that I’m responsible for in the best possible way?”  So I, I think it’s good for teachers to be aware, to, of, of the policies that they are involved in, and then also give feedback regarding the effectiveness of those policies.  So uh, what I’ve been talking about is language and education policy but of course there are broader language policies as well.  Uh, English speaking countries such as the United States and Australia accept English as the language of wider communication as the language that things get done at, done with  in society or done in  in society.  But since I mentioned Australia and I mentioned the United States, Australia and the United States have really taken two different pathways in dealing with what’s occurring lately.  We’re now entering an era where people are talking about global, global village, globalization, uh, internationalization, there is huge immigration going on all around the world.  And uh, we can’t put up barriers any more.  We can’t stop people coming here—we can stop people coming into our countries, but uh, uh, there’s a realization that that’s dysfunctional to the growth of the country.  And so, what’s occurring is a lot of non  English speaking immigration coming into Australia, coming into the United states, into England, into other English Speaking countries.  How do—How do we deal with that?  That’s part of language policy.  Australia has chosen to deal with it in terms of, uh, of essentially four objectives.  Saying, English is the language of broader communication, we expect everyone to be proficient in English, uh speaking and English literacy.  Uh, there are some indigenous languages that people speak, uh, the Australian aboriginal people and we honor and respect those as part of the heritage of this land and we want to develop those.  There are in addition to the indigenous languages, there are uh, community languages, immigrant languages, and we respect and honor those.  We don’t see those as a deficit, ah, and finally we’re going to provide translation and interpretive services for people who need uh, assistance in non, in, in, in negotiating English who come from non English speaking backgrounds.  This is sort of a multi-lingual policy.  It’s something that acknowledges English, plus other languages as being valuable.  It’s looking at other languages as resource rather than as problem.  Many areas of the United states, on the other hand, have , have said ok, the first point, English is our language of wider communication, English gives opportunity.  We need people to be literate.  But then the other points, uh, indigenous languages and, and the languages other than English, are seen as deficit.  And as a, as a  problem,  And rather than having shall we say an English Plus language policy, English Plus other languages, uh, United States in many areas, wants to have an English only, or language restrictionist policy.  English IS the language. Period.  You can actually see it.  Uh, there is a very good way of seeing this.  In Canada, children who come from non English speaking backgrounds, there acronym is EAL—English as an Additional Language.  See that?  English as an ADDITIONAL language.  There’s, there’s an acknowledgement that ,that the first language is a resource and we are adding to that.  In, uh, the United States, children from, non English speaking backgrounds are called Limited English Proficient.  LEP—which right away, to me, is LEP, is so that brings in that whole notion… especially when children from limited English speaking backgrounds come from alien families, right because they have an alien registration card.  There’s there’s there’s something there that makes me feel uncomfortable, and it makes a lot of other people feel uncomfortable—sort of an institutionalization of a deficit model.  We’ve got a problem here.  Uh, so, so Uh, teachers need to question the language policy that… then…that they are delivering to their students and maybe suggest some alternatives. 

(Next Question)

There’s a movement that has developed in the United States over the last, probably about the last 20 years.  That, works on, that has – hung to the notion that English is a language under threat, that the United States requires English to be our unifying language that we need one single unifying language and that that language should be English, or the English language.  These people fit under the umbrella of language restrictionism and sometimes they are called, uh, uh, official English or English Only, there’s an organization called US English. UH, My research tells me that uh, there approach is misguided.  I can understand where they are coming from.  I can understand—I can understand that it is legitimate to expect a language of wider communication and that language unifies people—a common language unifies people.  The problem is, that, that argument seems to be moving towards saying we don’t value other languages.  We don’t value people who speak other languages.  It’s, it’s once again that deficit model.  And so there has been a political movement – the official English movement, there have been other movements in language policy to restrict bilingual education, uh, to take the decision making process away—regarding how, uhm, we address issues of multi-lingualism in, in school districts, away from the professionals and put them in the hand, the hands of the politicians and sometimes even in the citizen initiatives.  Uhm, where they become emotional and political issues rather than objective educational issues.  Quite a number of years I’ve opposed those, those uh, official English or language restrictionalist movements.  I believe that they’re uh, uh ultimately going to lead to the creation of the problem that they are so called designed to solve.  That by restricting both by symbolically saying “You don’t become us until you speak our language.”  They’re, they’re creating an environment of rejection that says first of all, learn our language.  Then we will accept you.  The problem with that is that all the research from—all the sociolingualistic research tells us that there is this thing called social distance.  That when I’m trying to acquire your language and I’m socially distant from you and I have a sense of rejection from you, then guess what?  I’m not going to acquire it as easy—as easily and as quickly and as well as if, on the other hand, I had a sense of acceptance from you.  That you accepted who I was or who I am regardless of what language I speak.  So when you accept me, I’m going to acquire your language.  How do you show that you accept me?  By perhaps even learning my language.  By perhaps even reaching out to help me in my language.  Then I’m going to have a sense of acceptance from you  and I’m going to want to acquire your language a lot easier.  On the other hand, if I have a sense of rejection, then, then I’m probably going to be – it’ll be more difficult for me to acquire your language.  Thus, you’ve in a sense have control over how well I acquire the language.  And so, the official English movements uh, in their various forms, can sometimes lead to the problem that they are so called trying to solve.