Betty Smallwood

BETTY SMALLWOOD

  Oh, OK.  My name if Betty Anson (ph) Smallwood and I work at the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC and I think the first thing I’d like people to know  is that I’ve been a classroom teacher for about 17 years and have been an ESL edu--teacher/educator for about 13 more.  I’ve been in the field for about 30 years.  ESL is what I know and what I do.

Well, I’m glad you asked me that ‘cause children’s literature is what I’ve--I’ve done a lot of, started using it from the first class I taught in--in the Fiji Islands.  Children’s literature is--is a kind of content and it provides a stimulus to develop both the language and the literature, especially when read aloud.  When you read aloud to someone, you are introducing, students are hearing the language and they are both getting the content.  So, it’s--relates to Crashon’s (ph) model of comp--using comprehensible input and re--you’re reducing the stress level by making it a fun experience and then you have--later on you worry about the output.

Well, they lack a lot of background information, a lot of background knowledge.  You talk about the young children who may have been brought up in the American culture, they’re familiar with some of the nursery rhymes, um, I have brought some here with me, but they--they know these things that a lot of  the ESL kids don’t know.  So, in terms of just--background knowledge in terms of rhymes and children’s stories and a lot of the history that the literature, especially, can--can be one way to bring--bring them up to speed on that.

Well, in thinking about liter--criteria to select literature for, um, ESL learners, I’ve written a lot about that and I think the first thing I’d want to say it’s the illustrations.  The illustrations should be--let me give you this as an example.  The illustrations should really tell the story. (sound of turning pages)  If you think of--um, if you look at this picture.  Is the pudding done?  Well, you can see is the pudding done.  Hooray for the pumpkin pie.  Well, you can see the pumpkin pie.  The illustrations should match as closely as possible the pictures.  So I think that’s critical.

(Ms. Smallwood is asked to redo last answer without using her book)

I’d say the most important criteria in selecting, um, literature, children’s literature for ESL learners, is the illustrations.  You want the illustrations to be large, you want them to be clear and you want them to explicate the text.  And the second most important criteria is limited text, matching the amount of text, more or less, to the level of the students, obviously.   I--I’ve done a lot of work with beginners and I tend to think in terms of beginners ‘cause they’re really sort of the hardest to work with, but as they--students become more proficient you can have more text.  So I would--if I had to say two things, I’d say limited text and clear illustration that match the text.

Well, when you are introducing a book to children, the most important thing you can do is you want to get them excited about it.  So, you look at the book cover, you say, ‘What do you think this book is going to be about?’  You try to get them engaged, get some predi--guessing, it’s called predicting and so I think--and the other thing that’s really important to do is to give them a listening objective.  A reason for listening.  What are  you listening for?  If you’re listening to, um, you know, “Waltzing Matilda,” is one of the ones I’m going to do here at the conference, I’d say, ‘What do you think “Waltzing Matilda” will mean?  What can you tell from the picture what this is going to be about?  And tell me who is Waltzing Matilda?  That’s what I want you to listen for.’

Yes.  Um, I do vocabulary development.

Other prestre--reading strategies that I would use would be some highlighting of vocabulary or concepts that may be famil--unfamiliar to this students and as much as possible try to do--bring that in with realia (ph).  When I did the “Gingerbread Man” I would bring in a gingerbread and, um, you just try to show the students.  Another strategy that I use is prereading sometimes is just reading--showing the book through the pictures.  Sometimes you don’t want to do that ‘cause it can give away the ending so you have to use that selectively. 

During the reading aloud process you want to, especially with ESL learners, you really want to check that they’re with you.  So part of it is in your delivery.  You want to make sure that you’re reading slowly and dramatically and clearly, but then stop.  Check that you see you have the kids with you and do some kind of comprehension check.  People seem to think that because they can speak they can just read through the story quickly.  It’s not a race to get through.  So, some of the reading aloud or reading during strategies is, as I said, it’s the checking for comprehension, the reading slowly, and even the kids are going to interrupt you.  That’s what I find over and over is that it’s not a one-way process.  I’ve done research on interactive learning and have found that--it’s a very much of an interactive process so the kids will take charge of it.  Sometimes you have to take the floor back to finish reading the book.

Um, let me see if I can give you an example from a book.  You’re asking about what kinds of interac--interruptions children would have.  The--typically when reading--when hearing a story they’ll--they’ll tell you about their experiences.  Oh, I know that.  I see that.  We were reading a book of, um, I don’t have it with me, but it was people, “The People Book” by  Peter Spier and the children were telling us all the way, ‘Oh, I know someone that looks like that.’  So their own stories, they interrupt with their own stories.

Well, the first thing you want to do when you’ve finished reading the story is to have the sense that they’ve understood it.   This is particularly important for ESL learners because you can’t make that assumption.  So, you want to do some kind of a comprehension check.  But the other thing I do, and sometimes I do this even before I check the comprehension when I’ve finished reading, is ask ‘What do you think?’ to get their reaction.  How did they relate to it?  How were they feeling about the book?  And--so those are two things that I do right after reading, even if I’m not planning to do any follow-up activities.  And if there’s time, and if the book is fun, they want to hear it again.

Absolutely.  That’s why I like short books.  Picture books are usually 32 pages and if there’s not too much text you can read them in--oh, it’d depend on how much you stop,   you know, 15, 20 minutes and at the end of an activity, a follow-up activity, I always try to go back and read the book again as closure.

Oh, well, they know it.  The kids know it.  You learn something--we learn...

(Ms. Smallwood is asked to begin again)

One of the advantages of reading a story either right away or at the end of a unit when you’ve done some other literacy activities, is that it’s like an old friend.  That’s when the learning really takes place, the second and third time you’ve heard something, especially  if there are repeated refrains.  Um, “Waltzing Matilda” is coming to mind.  (begins to sing “Waltzing Matilda”)  So, they’re going to sing along with you and in the singing and in the saying, they’re learning English.  So, it’s the opportunity to learn through repetition.

Well, the nine to 14-year-olds, and I’ve had a few and I’ve taught many, many, in fact that’s where I first started teaching, um, I taught as a fifth grade teacher.  Nine to fourteen-year-olds get very interested in content.  They want to know things, whether it’s a soccer game or it’s going fishing or it’s something that we choose not to be interested in as adults.  They’re interested in the content.  So it’s--they go in from the learning to read to the reading to learn stage.  So, children’s literature by  more focusing upon fact books and non-fiction books can really engage the children and we can get them hooked on something they’re interested in.

And the other thing I’d like to add is that for the ESL learners there is the difficulty, or the challenge, that many of them are still at the learning-to-read stage so they don’t have the literacy skills in the nine to 14-year-old age which you would think developmentally, if they were a native speaker, in order to go on and just read a lot of non-fiction books or read at that level.  So using children’s literature becomes challenging in terms of finding the books that have interesting content for them and are also easy enough in terms of the liter--the language proficiency level in order to--they can, um, accommodate.

Um, in thinking of using children’s literature for children beyond, um, the primary age, you do want to be careful that they feel that you’re not insulting them, that this is not babyish.  I don’t think there are any risks, per se, but you want to have them buy in.  And I’ve used  children’s literature with adults and also in family literacy situations, um, and sometimes it’s just a matter of making them feel that it’s OK.  And often is--there are many books, I have brought a number of them with me, that are not childlike at all.  Children’s literature is really written by adults and some of the books are not really appropriate for young children, even the “Waltzing Matilda” one that it’s about a wo--a man jumping in a stream to avoid someone catching him so he commits suicide.  I mean, I don’t think I would read that with a primary child.  And there’s--so, an in--a very interesting topic is using children’s in family literacy and with older learners.  It can be done.

The one other thing I think I’d like to add there, is that there’s some children--oh, I’ll--I’ll show them later. 

In using children’s literature with this nine to 14 or this older learner, picture books, some of the illustrators, have chosen to do beautiful picture book.  Peter Spier and Kellogg come to mind.  There’s a famous one called “The Star Spangled Banner” and it illustrates it line by line and it shows that the “Star Spangled Banner” that took place and  it was the  battle of 1812 in the Baltimore harbor near where I live and even a lot of native Americans--not Native Americans, but native English speakers are unfamiliar with the words.  How many times have you gone to a baseball game and heard people mangling the words?   Well, you sing those words, you look at the picture, it tells a story.  And Yankee Doodle Dandy.  Kellogg has done a wonderful book, line by line, of the Yankee Doodle story.  And actually, illustrators take a lot of pride in doing parts of American history through the picture books.

Right.  Well, using some content-based books for, um, American history and American culture really introduces the content and the--and introduces the content and introduces the culture, um, and I’m thinking of, uh, the “Star Spangled Banner” by--um, that’s illustrated by Peter Spier and “Yankee Doodle” by--by Kellogg that that is part of our culture and it’s also content.  And another one that’s really fun that’s part of the American culture is...(begins to sing).  And that whole--and the other one is, um, what is it?  Across--it goes across the country, um...

(Interviewer tries to help out)

No, this is it.  (Sings part of  “This Land is Your Land”)  Well, that’s part of our culture in being an old folk song, but it also, through the illustrations in that book, takes you through all the geography.  So you get, in teaching that book, the follow-up activities includes geography, places and all of that that ESL students really lack in terms of being behind their peers in terms of content knowledge and this is what people mean when they say that there is a gap, the academic gap, that they talk about this in terms of the standards, well, they’re missing that background information that I believe that you can catch some of it up through the fun medium of literature.

Yes.  Well, in looking at, um, children’s literature there’s a large genre of multicultural children’s literature that do speak to the cultural background of our students and also the linguistic background.  In many of these books what’s called--they’re called dual language text.  Somehow the word bilingual is not quite as used as commonly,  but it’s dual language.  And this provides a wonderful bridge for literacy because the children, if they have first language literacy, they can make that connection and even if a program is not bilingual the teacher can provide these bilingual additions and so the children can, without having a bilingual program, and the children can make that bridge between their first language, their home language and English and there’re a number of different kinds of bilingual books.  Some of them are books like “Curious George” which are written in English, but they will have a bilingual edition.  So if the children are reading it in class, they can have that connection.  And there’re other books that are more reflective of the culture and were written originally in, say Spanish, for example, um, many of them from--Children’s Book Press in California has a wonderful collection and these are more authentic and those are more reflective of the culture.  There’s one story I--I must tell you of--what is the name of the book?  It is, um, about my--my family, my family stories and it is written about South Texas and Mexico and I was down, I was coordinating a secondary program in--in a high school in San Antonio and the principal I knew was from Mexico so I brought this book because I always like to check with people from that culture to see if a book is authentic. So we were in this meeting with all these administrators from San Antonio and I said, ‘Um, what do you think of this book?’  So she stopped the whole meeting and started reading through all the books and showing the administrators that this is her culture and so it really--they really do relate and it provides a vehicle to share with others.  She was very proud of the book. 

Well, family literacy is near and dear to my heart.  I’ve--children’s li--and children’s literature, the role of children’s literature, is--can be a really key piece in that.  Um, people like children’s book and it became--really become the bridge, it can become the glue.  You need to teach to parents how to read to children and whether you do it in the first language or the second language is--is another issue, but it becomes something that they can share.   And how children use and parents use books at home is very different than how teachers have to use them in school and it’s nice to be able to show teachers that.  But it becomes--what children’s literature becomes is the content.

Well, every--well, I guess I’m not going show you, but you want to help people relax and enjoy a book and some people just read through a book quickly, but modeling for parents, how you really can take a child on your lap.  It’s the hugging that--it’s what the parents can do that we as teachers are not able to do anymore that really provides the affective component of literacy development and makes children feel good about  and positive about the whole reading process.  But parents need to--parents can benefit, shall I say, from learning to know how to do that, reading slowly and I know that as a parent when I’ve read I used to get off the track all the time.  I didn’t worry about finishing the book and if I had something I wanted to tell my child then I would do that or he would get off track and when you’re reading as a parent that’s fine.  We don’t have to do follow-up activities when we’re reading at home.  We just have to bond and share the literacy experience. 

Well, I wanted to go back and talk a little bit--there are a couple of wonderful books that I think are just wonderful for--to read with--with parents and children.  One of them is called is--that’s not quite as good in--in school and it is called, (begins to sing “Hush Little Baby”).  How does it start?  Um, (continues singing).  So that whole sort of sequential if and then it’s a wonderful story to read at home and, um, so there’s some that work really particularly well bonding between parent and child.  There’s another that I read at home with my child that--that I’d really encourage in a family literacy program that I don’t really use in a school setting so much and these are some of the distinctions.  Um, i--it’s the one--oh, what is it?  “I--I Love You Forever” by Robert Munsch.  The real--because what  these books can do is provide the words for the parents and really bond them with their children.

Well, in terms of literacy activities, for ESL it’s really important because the parents don’t have--they don’t know how to connect and so an ESL teachers role becomes much more just the classroom teacher.  It is a reaching out to the families in ways that make them familiar and comfortable with the routine of the school and explaining how it’s different.  Doing things like even finding buddies in the community, helping them get on the soccer teams and making those connections for them.  Of course there are concrete things, in terms of literacy activities, that we can show them how to read the books, show them activities they can do, concrete things like taking them to the library and showing them how to get library cards, um, you know, the things that a lot of American parents think that--they assume they know how to go to the library and go through and select books, but that is not something that is intuitive and that, um, incoming families appreciate because our culture is new and foreign to them. 

Well, one of my favorite--when--when thinking about learner centered literacy activities the one that has always been fundamental to me and my favorite and--and I’ve done intuitively without even being teacher, um, trained, is called, uh, language experience approach.  And I know that people know about this and think of it as maybe an old-fashioned type of model, but it still works because a language experience approach takes an experience that you’ve had with a child or with a student, um, something from making popcorn, making tea, um, going on a walk to the playground, going on a trip together and then--so you have the experience.  You develop the vocabulary and then afterwards you come back and you write about it.  But for a beginner all that a teacher has to do is say tell me one thing about the experience that you remember.  You as a teacher can write it on the board and then they collectively--you build an experience story, they read it.  That becomes their story.  So it’s--it’s really holistic in the sense it goes from the oracy to the literacy and--I have found year after year that kids like their own stories better than the published ones.  You can do this also, um, with a book so that if you have read a book to  a group of children rather than es--telling them to go off and write a book report, if they’re beginner learners, if you say, ‘Tell me one thing you like about the book.’  Then you collectively put that together and you have a group report.

That’s a very good idea.  The idea of using a lear--language experience approach or something that comes from your own experience is really very valuable in family literacy because in family literacy, with the adults, you want to develop their writing, which is the hardest part of--of a language and the places to start are with their own stories and I’ve always been the child part of the family literacy component, but I’ve been a parent and so--and I also know how important it is to write what’s important to you.  So the logs are the stimulus that a book can provide.  There’s a wonderful book called, um, “No Woman”--something about my nana’s house and I have a picture of and it talks about how beautiful you are on the inside.  Well, that is something you can connect with and especially during language experience or reflections about a book that are close to the people’s culture.   Different groups, ethnic groups or--or different families cultures are really, really critical in family literacy.  So, again, they can begin this identity and aside from the language experience approach other ways to--other learner center act--learnered centered activities  can very much come out of content based activities.  So while it’s not just with, um, an experience, but I think always find it important, whatever the content is, to always make that cultural connection and the connection back to the individual.  How do you connect with if--even if you’re reading about Iroquois Indians or you’re reading about the Lakota Indians.  I work with Alaskan natives and I work in North Dakota so I’m thinking of these groups a lot, uh, but not all the ESL children are from those groups, but what about the Lakota is similar to how your culture would do that.  So that we--we make that connection so if it doesn’t start with the learner as a language experience story, if you’re having content part of a curriculum the teacher always brings it back.

Teachers of ESL learners should know a lot about second language development and literacy skills.  And in the past literacy skills was not part of the curriculum, it was just second language development and so now it is very interesting that in our programs we’re talking about second language literacy development.  Um, there’s so much to know that takes a whole course or whole books have been written about this.  I think it’s important that substantive information that teachers understand the different models, the different components, um, and that they understand this in some depth.  I really do believe that our base foundation in, um, ESL, working with English language learners as second language acquisition and not linguistics per se.  Yes, I think teachers need to know about how the language is put together, but the process of language development starting with first language acquisition, how that occurs and then the differences between first language development and second language acqui--development are very important.  The length of time and als--all the research of Ginger Colliers who was my mentor and professor when I did my PHd work, but how long it takes and documenting that and understanding that and also the importance of the common underlying proficiency, so the--the importance of building up the proficiency in the first language.  I know that those are just a few ideas.   I would just want to emphasize that it’s a core subject in terms of understanding, even the theories of second language acquisition.  The interaction, the importance of interaction and not just input.  I have found that teachers, although Crashon is a good model and I have studied him and used him a lot, there’s a lot beyond Crashon and I would think any course should make sure that teachers can be articulate about beyond Crashon in terms of second language acquisition.

Well, in supporting the development of second language acquisition I think it’s important to always be keeping in mind either a classroom or a specific learner, so when I teach second language development to, um, inservice or preservice teachers, I try to have them sort of do a log or have a student they’re working with along the way so each mo--or a classroom, so each of the ideas that we developed they are trying out all the time, so I usually build my courses or my trainings along the pr--idea from principles to--from principles to practice and the practice can sometimes be above the activity level.  Teachers always like to think, ‘Well what am I going to do in my classroom?’  But sometimes in thinking of second language development you want to be thinking about the learner.  So keeping in mind, tracking a learner along with the principles or the models that are being introduced I find is a very helpful strategy to make it concrete for teachers, but still thinking at the conceptual of the academic level.

Um, examples of ways that you can support a learner in terms of second language development is to really be thinking of a particular situation, um, and the different factors that come to--come to bear upon their development.  I’m thinking specifically about the students in, um, Alaska, in Juneau, Alaska where I’ve been teaching and I’ve been working with the teachers there who work with these students.  Many of them have limited English proficiency, although English is their first language.  It is an interesting hybrid.  Um, and the teachers and when myself would I go out and I watch them (sic) we talk about--we introduce the model of, um, influence of--of the community or influences of the family.  What are the reasons that some of these students are not being successful in school?   We almost hold a student before us without naming him, sort of do like a--a student study and some of the case studies, I guess would be a way of--of looking at it, and thinking of--of this child and if you work with teachers and many child--child--students have the same teacher they can--I try to get teachers to think and apply the concepts to an individual child.  And when they can bring in the home situation what happens is that it gets muddled very quickly and then my role as a--an instructor is to tease out and relate them back and to give them the language and the concepts that they can use to professionally sort of understand the student.

Well, most mainstream--the challenges that most mainstream teachers have in using ESL standards is that they don’t know the ESL standards.  I think that’s the first challenge and not all ESL teachers know the ESL standards.   So, the challenge is to introduce them and to understand them in a way that they can apply and fit into their classroom without having to run a whole separate parallel class.  And I--I would--wanted to add i--in this conversation that one of the changes that I have seen over the--over my 30 years of being in this field, is a gradual shift to just teaching the ESL students separately in pull-out situations so as ESL educators, teachers or, um, instructors we worked with the ESL staff.  More and more the calls I am getting in the Center  for Applied Linguistics where I coordinate all the school services is from the classroom teachers from the mainstream settings.  And I--I see this as a real trend in our field.   As the numbers grow I think it’s a healthy trend.  It’s a challenge to our field because we are having to not just teach people with some background in what we know, but we are having to explain ourselves to people who don’t know anything really about it and sometimes are sort of resentful of it and these children are an intrusion.  So going back to the question of introducing the standards, it’s sort of getting their feet wet and building an appreciation at the same time.

Well, the colonel’s standard that mainstream teachers--it is important for all teachers to understand, but certainly not the only standard is goal-to-standard-to which talks about the academic content, um, and--and how to use that in a classroom setting, but that’s almost too easy because I think one of the problems that people have with the standards is they think that everything is goal-to-standard-to which is, as I said, the academic content interacting with the--with--I think the ones that are almost more interesting, because they’re a little different, is reminding them of the learning strategies that are needed to accomplish these different academic success.  And in the ESL standards this goal one standard--goal--the standard three, six, and nine each talks about the learning strategies related to the different goals and so I tend to focus on those, um, and also goal three is very interesting because it talks about social and cultural variations, the different registers and I find that registers is something that ESL teachers understand, but mainstream teachers are less familiar with.  So I--I guess just to finish is that  I have come to see how I can learn the E--use the ESL standard as a way of introducing our field in concrete ways to the classroom teachers.

Over the years, I’ve been in this field for 30  years and I have seen a transition in working with ESL learners from pull-out and specifically ESL teachers working with ESL students in pull-out settings or maybe in specific classroom settings to the regular mainstream teacher, the--and--and educator and administrator and principal being concerned about the ESL students in the classrooms and in their programs overall.  Now, in fact, these children were always in their schools and in their classes so I think it’s more of an awareness that has changed and a sense of ownership and I think if we as--although it’s sometimes more difficult for us as ESL professionals to educate people who know less about our field and sometimes are not so welcoming it--we should feel that we have been successful because now the whole school, the principals, the administrators, all the teachers are feeling a sense of ownership of these children in their regular classes.

Well, in looking at different models of working with--with teachers a lot has to do with the attitude of the regular classroom teacher.  If there is a regular classroom teacher that is very interested in working with an ESL teacher, well, it’s wonderful to have an inclusion model, to collaborate, to work together.  But there are some teachers that resent an ESL teacher coming into their classroom or they treat them as an aide or they just have them work with a small group and--so, in those kinds of situations where there’s not a good relationship, where the  regular classroom teacher feels threatened, then that’s not the ideal model.  I have found, though, that most classroom teachers welcome working with--with other people in their building because they realize that there’s an expertise there and they appreciate it. 

Well, it was a wonderful experience to be invited to be the editor of one of the integrating ESL standards and to classroom practice volumes.  And they asked me which volume I wanted to--to edit, they gave me a choice.  And I quickly, within ten seconds, said pre-K to two even though I’ve taught--I’ve taught all levels.  I’ve taught both of the--especially the elementary levels, but I really think that there’s an incredible need to fort at the early childhood level where more and more of our numbers are coming.  What was exciting about that book is that, as the editor, it was my pleasure and also my responsibility to choose the writers and so through my years of my networks and going out and training teachers I know who good--I know good teachers and--um, so I got to select them and work with them.  What’s exciting about this volume is it takes the standards in the standards books that are all written and have written about them specifically in vignette and takes them into the classroom because these reach the pneumatic (ph?)  units that the teachers have then had the challenge of integrating the standards into their--into their units.  So it’s really a working model and I have, um, brought a--an audio/visual prompt here to show you that this is my fishing line.  This is from my husband’s fishing line from Fiji from 30 years ago and we were looking at the metaphor in putting this together of do we want to give someone a fish so they know how to eat for a day?  Or do we want to give them a fishing line so that they will know how to fish for a lifetime?  And I think that the idea of the standards books was to do both.  What I--I also have learned from this metaphor is realizing that there are many hooks that weigh the teacher’s hook into the standards.

Well, I really care about kids and I really care about teachers and I think the thing that I feel most passionately about is giving teachers the chance to teach and giving the kids  the chance to be kids.  That there is a developmental process that I don’t think we can short circuit and I think that there is a language acquisition process that can’t be short circuited and I guess I get very passionate about this scripted phonics-only approach.  I--I don’t want to be over on the left wing to say I’m just total language or I just want to be literature, but I think having a balanced literacy approach is really healthy because you can start with a book, you can start with a text, you can start with content, you go down to the decoding process, go down to the phonics, you can go back to the meaning, but more and more I see that districts are just grabbing this phonics-scripted texts which, if you watch children, they’re not really having fun.  Are they learning?  Maybe they’re learning to pass a test, but I get concerned about the--this swing I think towards a phonics-only and scripted text which I think are not respectful of the professionalism.  If we really respect teachers, let’s train them.  Let’s train them to be professionals and give them some leeway to relate to the kids.  Teaching is an art as much as it is a science.  I know we have to assess children and we have to assess teachers, but don’t straight jacket them so much that you take the joy out of teaching and out of--out of teaching for teachers and out of learning for students.  There’s going to be a teacher shortage in this country and if they come--there is a teacher shortage.  If they come down so hard on teachers and so hard on students, who’s going to want to do it?