Linda Harklau

LINDA HARKLAU

OK.  My name is Linda Harklau, that’s spelled Harklau, and I’m at the University of Georgia.

Well, I think what really, for me, separates um, and makes adolescent second language different than um, language acquisition among younger students, is that they’re simultas- simultaneously facing so many different challenges.  So they’re not only learning language, they’re also um, one teacher I know compared it to um, trying to catch up to people who are already running.  Um, because they walk into a school where they may or may not share the academic background of other students. Um, they’re also facing adolescence, which is considered, at least in our culture, to be a somewhat critical time, sometimes troubled, and they’re also trying to learn language.  And so the academic content, the socialization, and the um, I blanked out----I’m sorry.

Adolescent second language learning is different than the language learning by younger children.  Um, and I think younger children have been far more studied than adolescents.  Um, older learners simultaneously face………let me try it again

Adolescent second language acquisition is a much more difficult and complex process, I think, than the language acquisition for younger children.  I think younger children have been far more studied.  Um, adolescents simultaneously face, not only learning a second language um, in this face to face sort of context, but they also face second language acquisition for academic purposes.  They’re um, they face an enormous range of technical vocabulary, of um, in subjects like biology and English and social studies.  They need to know things like; what metaphor is, um, that younger children just don’t have to.  So they have the language component, they have an academic component, um, and, a teacher I know is termed  this process-----I’m going to do this over and over again.

I um, met a teacher recently who um, compared adolescence second language acquisition to trying to catch up with people who are already running because, the students walk into a school where they may or may not share the same academic backgrounds, socialization, um, and they’re trying to learn that subject matter through a different language.  So, students who are, perhaps, well prepared academically may fare a little bit better, but they still have to learn that language in English.  Um, so they’re facing the pressures, not only of second language acquisition, but also keeping up with the academics, which is quite a challenge.  And, they’re also facing adolescence, which is a, a difficult time for some students.

Oh, I think the institution has such a significant role.  And I should say that the work that I’ve done has been mainly in institutions that are um, have very few second language learners.  I tend to work in the schools where, perhaps, the second language population is growing, but many times I work in schools where there may be, perhaps, one ESL teacher, sometimes two um, and it’s a sort of outpost, almost, of ESL.  So, we’re talking about institutional context where perhaps the um, institution as a whole hasn’t really had to reckon yet with what it means to have a second language population.  Um, and that has some significant consequences. Um, the kinds of things that e-administrators can do, but many times don’t realize that they can do are things like, um, explicitly connecting ESL students to the school through things a, for example like; bilingual signs in the hallways.  Um, I’ve seen some schools do class assemblies where they um, really um, try to explain that they are in a school that’s multilingual.  Um, on the other hand I’ve um, I think many of the structural characteristics of middle schools and high schools make it very difficult for second language l-a-learners, particularly because of tracking practices.  And that is such a major factor.  Um, schools are um, designed to track students by things like standardized test scores, um, which of course second language learners typically do not perform well on.  Um, so, in many cases, second language learners in schools that are really not set up to accommodate their needs will end up in low track classes.

I, one of the major risks is um, that low track classes don’t provide the same rich language opportunities that high track classes do.  Um, so, low track classes may have students doing work sheets, and the high track classes are doing um, literature study, um group discussions, maybe um, student speeches things like that.  And in low track classes they tend to focus on um, activities like; seat work, um, worksheets um, and control is also a major issue in low track classrooms because of the nature of the student population you often end up with um, classes where student silence is valued.  Um, and that’s a problem because students, ESL students, really need some form of spoken language interaction, and may times high track classes are the only place where they’ll get that, that sort of interaction. Um, the level of writing is different, many times low track classrooms um, either don’t do extended writing or um, focus quite a bit on structural foc-um-on structure.  So um, high track classes, on the other hand, may focus more on content, on analysis, and on synthesis, but the real difficulty here is that you, by um, putting these students in low track classes um, the system really isn’t set up to um, re-evaluate them periodically and to figure out whether they should be in high track classes.  So it becomes a default placement and over time these students run the risk that they will never catch up and be fully prepared to um, go on to college.

I um, I think in many cases that um, there’s a default tendency to um, (pause) basically associate second language learners linguistic proficiency with their academic capabilities.  I, I realize it’s very difficult sometimes to separate those two out, um, but at the same time, um, by doing that it really destines many students, if not most, to low track placements.  Um, and what I’ve seen is that this is where um, many times individual differences in stu-in terms of student personalities can really come in to play.  That students who are able to um, really a, represent themselves to teachers as um, go-getters, as um, being willing to um, do hard work, as um, bright, motivated, capable, those students sometimes manage to convince a teacher or a counselor, and really all it takes is one teacher or counselor who really believes in that student and who’s really willing to push them, to, to place them higher track classes.  Um, and those students tend to do really well.  Um, on the other hand, the students that really aren’t as savvy about the system, who really can’t work it, who don’t realize, for example, many students don’t realize, or they realize sort of in the back of their heads but they can’t quite articulate that there is a tracking system.  And, I, I think we make that more difficult for both students and their parents because, many times um, schools don’t want to tell people what track they’re in.  I mean, we don’t talk about, for example, low tracks.  We often talk about regular tracks; in fact, tho-thos-the regular track is often the low track. Um, so it’s through things like that, I think you oftentimes um, students are perhaps not aware, many students are not aware, if they’re not really think about the system, it may not occur to them that ar-they’re in low track classes. Um, and even if they know they’re in low track classes, there may be students who simply, by virtue of their um personality may not be able to um, convince teachers that they are really worth the um, worth the extra push and the extra effort.  And I think um, for me, that is maybe the thing that is coming through more and more clearly for me as I work with these students, that what it really takes is one teacher or one counselor who is really invested in that student and really willing to argue for um, putting them in higher track classes, or to give them the best educational opportunities they can.

Well, I, I think um, it-in any teaching situation, any of us, it’s impossible to even teach a class without um, developing some kind of over all image of the class that you’re working with, um, and I –and the students that you’re working with.  And I think, to a certain extent, that same process occurs with um, your-with different students that you meet.  You, you tend to, I mean we all do, this is not a-e-I mean it’s not necessarily a, a bad thing, it’s just the only way that we can really operate as teachers is to say; oh, this student is from this background therefore they may have these sorts of characteristics and therefore this is the way that I think might be the most effective way to reach them or to teach them.  The danger in that is that sometimes the student really doesn’t fit the mold, and um, you may end up, for example, um, believing that a student, because they’re Mexican-American, that they are probably low income, that their a family speaks Spanish at home, that um, um, that they’ll probably want their children to drop out of school as soon as possible and, and um, pick up an extra income.  That’s actually been my experience most recently in the work I’m doing in north Georgia now. Um, on the other hand you may talk to students and find out that they, among themselves, really differentiate considerably, and they don’t all share the characteristics that, that you may think of.  So, for example, um, some students may be um, pretty much middle class um, they um, may share, they may have different values for education and whether children should go on to college.  Um, things like that are-a-are sometimes lost when we a, need to generalize to an entire class.

Um, well, specifically, I think um, many times um, because of um, in America as a whole we-we value immigration, we a, sort of associate it with this idea of Ellis Island and of large hardships that people go through to come to the United States, and um, there’s a whole American mythology about the um, glories of immigration.  And that may be true, I mean um, many peoples grandparents um, great grandparents, my own grandparents, came through Ellis Island and, and um, and did face some hardships um, but at the same time the problem with that, that sort of mythology is that um, many times we sort of um, expect students to um, sort of perform it, over and over again.  We expect them to become sort of exemplars of um, of immigrant status.  So we may ask them to tell us over and over again stories about, without even realizing that maybe two or three teachers before have asked for exactly the same story about um, what their trip to the United States was like.  Or what are um, what sorts of holidays they have in their culture.  Um, they’re, um, sort of a story about how they adjusted to American life.  And these are the sorts of um, things that I think students over time sort of internalize and they realize that this is a sort of character that they can play in classes, and a, that teachers really find appealing.  And so I find in some cases students get to the point where they just start um, start producing these sorts of narratives constantly.  What, even when teachers don’t exclusively ask for them, they’ll start talking about holidays in their country when ever yo-um, they’ll talk a, for example, a teacher will do an essay topic like um, a special day, and instead they’ll change it into a, a-um, essay on Chinese New Year, or something like that.  So I think that’s where the real danger is, it-th-it becomes a stereotype and they end up performing the stereotype um, over and over again in their classes.  And (Coughs)

One of the things that really struck me, um, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  As a matter of fact I’m still thinking about it and trying to write about it because I think it’s an important issue. Um, we-a student-I was observing an ESL classroom one day and um, the students were looking-the teacher had a picture that she was showing students and she was pointing to different places in the picture for them to-and, and using it as a prompt.  And she pointed to um, I think it was a shadow of some kind in the picture, and she said; well, what’s this.  And the student says; oh, is that a s-i-l-h-o-u-e-t-t-e?  (Chuckles)  And a (chuckles) she a, she said; silhouette, yes, an-th-an-um, and they went on from there.  And then the same student, later in the same discussion um, didn’t know what the word sleeve was and later on didn’t know what the word snake was.  And so, from that I-it-so-I’ve thought about that ever since and what that means in terms of the learning process of these students.  Um, and, what really occurs to me is how much they were learning through written language.  A-an-it’s something, see this is one thing that adolescents are very different than younger children because they are often literate in their native language, and they are often literate in English.  Or literate enough to start using English as a tool to pick up most of their vocabulary.  And it tells me things, for example, that um, the sort of register that they’re picking up fro-from reading instead of um, listening as much.  An-so that they learn words like silhouette first and then shadow later on, um, and also, just that idea that he can spell that.  He call spell a word that that’s complex and um, but can’t pronounce it.  Um, so those-that for me says a lot about um, how students are learning in the classroom, and um, I think it’s really important for teachers to understand that um, students need exposure to both rich, spoken language and rich, written language, because they’re learning through both modalities.

Um, I think of-the thing that really strikes me the most is: that ESL students, or ESL teachers, in these settings.

I think the thing that strikes me the most is that ESL teachers, in settings where demographics are changing and that they may be the only ESL teacher, um, need to be sort of a jack-of-all-trades.  They um, a-th-it’s sort of an outpost for ESL, and they become simultaneously, not just an ESL teacher, but they also become a curriculum developer, they also become a counselor, a defacto counselor, um, they um, end up being a resource teacher and liaison to the mainstream teachers, and those are um, very difficult simultaneous roles to manage.  I think um, one thing that mainstream teachers really need to know is that ESL teachers have their own curriculum and, and have their own instruction.  That they are not simply, um tutors for um, for mainstream content area teachers.  Um, another thing that I think is um often very difficult for teachers is that they’re um, pulled into a lot of counseling, sometimes translating situations. And I think teachers um, many times ESL teachers feel happy to do that, but at the same time it’s a very disruptive process, and tha-um, difficult one if they’re constantly being called out of their own classroom to help in situations like that.  I think maybe the um, most important thing that ESL teachers do in these contexts is to be an advocate for ESL students, to um, really educate the teachers at their schools about what wh-um, ESL students face.  What ESL instruction is, um, how they can help students the best.

I think um, well, one of the things, in terms of adolescents particularly, that ESL teachers a, tend to do is to focus on spoken language, because many times um, the way that the curriculum is structured the rest of the day, these students get very few opportunities for extended interactions.  So, one of the important things that ESL teachers do is to um, really help students with um, spoken interaction in the classroom.  Um, another thing that they do is to um, many times a, ESL teacher’s work through content area instruction.  So for example: I think it’s um, ideal if ESL teachers work through, say, English or social studies in-instruction.  Um, in that sense maybe they cover the same literature focus as an English teachers would or the same a, social studies content, but they do it in different ways.  So they, um, include most of the concepts, but they um, also simultaneously teach vocabulary, um, they may simultaneously teach writing and learn-e-and teach students how to develop their writing.  I don’t, I don’t think that’s getting it.

Oh, tha-it-well, you know, that’s the interesting thing.  I think um, most high school teachers um, can’t follow those students into college.  They sort of know what happens to them, but they really never really get a chance to actually walk into a college classroom with them and see what they face.  Um, and what I’ve found in my research and following these students from one context to the next, is that, um, the same students in-a-in high school that were considered very successful, um, that most teachers really liked a lot, and a, find themselves in college being constituted as a remedial student.  That their language becomes um, treated as much more of a deficit than it ever was in their high school classrooms, and so you find many students who really thought of themselves um, not even as ESL students anymore, as, as regular students.  Um, in being placed into ESL classes when they get to college, and ESL classes that often have a very strong remedial stigma, that may not even be credit bearing, or even if they are credit bearing, don’t um, have any um, can-the credits can’t be applied toward their college degree.  So that, that’s a very difficult thing, and you’ll find that um, ESL instructors at the college level that teach these students find that students become very resistant, and they’re, um, they’re angry.  They’re angry that they’re um being treated once again as ESL students.  Um, many times the instruction a, because college instructors have the same problem that-that high school instructors have, they never see high school classrooms, so they’re working on um, many assumptions about what students covered in high schools, what they did.  I find, for example, that um, college ESL instructors will sometimes start focusing on grammar thinking that students haven’t had any grammar instruction before while, in fact, that’s exactly many um, high school, many students have graduated from American high schools have had a lot of grammar in um, high school.  So they’re um, a-I think there’s this notion that some how giving them more grammar will um, automatically change the way that they speak, that’s it’s just simply a matter of um, a couple of semesters of instruction and they’ll be fine.  And it doesn’t work that way.  Language learning takes years and years.  Um, and all of us are still learning language, so to assume that this is a-um, sort of um, fix-it job that we can do in the course of a semester or two just doesn’t work.

Um, (pause) I find, well, a, ESL students are students and um, and adolescent ESL students are adolescents, and um, so one thing that I can say is that there is um, an economy of time that they put into literacy activities.  So, if there, if there is an easy out, they’ll try to find it um, just like another adolescent um, for example, I was thinking of um, a student who was asked to write sentences to um, a, exemplify words.  And so of course, he turned to his trusty bilingual dictionary and a, just took the sentences right out of his dictionary and wrote ‘em down.  Um, and students will do things like that.  I um, have a written about-students play a sort of a, beat the clock game to see if they can finish their assignments for one class in another.  Um, so, those are the kinds of things I, I think a, that, that’s something that teachers need to know, that, that um, students will cut corners if they need to and the important thing to know about that is that um, activities need to be meaningful.  Because if it’s a rote activity students um, don’t engage at a level that really helps them to learn language.  Um, I, for that reason I guess, I really think that students need rich writing opportunities, they need opportunities to really a, develop a thesis, to um, get the content in and then to consider um, form later on.  They need multiple drafting of tasks, that’s really important and it’s um, done too seldom in um, middle school and high school classrooms.  Um, in terms of reading, I think they need much more than literal comprehension exercises.  It’s not enough to read um, short little snippets of um, prose, and them ask them comprehension questions.  Many times too, it’s important to remember that those students lack the um, cultural schemata for understanding um the snippets of prose that you find, for example, in a literature textbook.  So, for example, um, I’ve written about a student that a, read a chapter from the Yearling that was in the middle of the book that was a, maybe barely introduced, and all of a sudden you find yourself on a bear hunt in um, some frontier a, rural setting.  Tha-for ESL students that simply is an incomprehensible I-eh exercise, they um, they don’t have the content to begin, or the um, understanding, the cultural understanding to begin with of the setting, much less um, figuring out the rest of what happens. 

I’ve been noticing that um, students find the transition from secondary school to post-secondary to be a cultural transition. Um, more than just a literacy transition, but a cultural transition, and I can say in two different ways there’s things that students really need to know who are um, if they’re going on to college.  And the first thing is the um, (pause)that----focus really changes from um, teacher responsibility for what you learn to self-responsibility.  And that’s something that students find really um, a significant change, and sometimes overwhelming.  That nobody’s going to tell them anymore um, what they need to do, that they have to figure it out.  Um, and all students need to figure that out, but I think especially for ESL students they th-somehow they don’t expect it, they don’t always realize what that means.  Um, but they need to a, take full responsibi---that teachers won’t take late assignments, that they can’t um, that they’re gonna have to go talk with teachers during office hours if they want any help, because the teachers aren’t gonna sit there and offer it to them, they’re not going to um, short of shepherd them through schooling.  Um, the other major transition that ESL---that the ESL students that I’ve worked with really don’t understand, is that college, you’re not in the classroom all the time.  And that most of your learning, and most of your literacy activity, and most, most of the language that they work with, is actually outside of the classroom.  That in college classrooms, I mean, high school classrooms you spend, you know, like six to eight hours a day, every day, with each other.  And there’s a, a sort of pace that goes with learning that you get in that context. But in a, what students need to know is when they get to college they’re going to um, that their lives are going to be focused around these sort of brief college episodes of lecture, and then they’re gonna have to go away and do most of the work on their own.  Most of the reading, most of the writing, they’re gonna be doing by themselves.  And they’re gonna have to figure out how to do it.

Yeah, thank you, that’s a fun question.  Well, um, this comes back, for me, um, there’s a issue of um, students um, performing in Ellis Island identity.  And um, it many times um, particularly from an expressivist um, stance, we value personal writing.  Um, particularly, in a high school setting we um, often times will ask students to read something and then to respond with a personal experience.  Um, the issue for me there, is that nobody ever um, is writing truly a um, neutral experience of, of what happened to them.  What, what you do anytime you write about yourself, and your own experiences, you create um really sort of a, um, not a fictional story, but you create a self.  You, you create a character that um, that experiences these things.  And so, whenever we ask students to do expressive writing, whenever we ask them to write about their own experiences, their past, things like that, we are um, really asking them to sort of um, play a character.  And when that happens, um, the ESL students that I’ve worked with will um, of course, they’ll choose some pathetic characters, they’ll, they’ll choose characters that the teacher will like.  Um, and they use that in a way to enforce this a, enforce it, in intimacy with, with teachers and um, a, the problem with that is, for example, um, if students are writing about very traumatic experiences, how do you as a teacher evaluate those?  It becomes a very difficult issue.  And it’s also an issue of um, maybe um, inadvertently, not meaning to, but me-maybe forcing students to disclose things about themselves that they maybe don’t feel entirely comfortable disclosing.  Um, -----is that----.

It’s very difficult I um, th-yeah, it, it is difficult.  The thing a-the things that I’ve seen teachers do that I think really a, sort of get around that.  Um, because it is, I mean that the idea is sound, the idea that you-that you work from personal experience, and use that as a key and as a means to get into more academic writing, but I think um, teachers need to give ESL students some outs.  Um particularly people that, that have a traumatized backgrounds, but really everybody needs to find-have some way that they can write about someone else, and um, not have to write about self.  So, and I think it’s no enough to um say; oh, you can write about yourself but it doesn’t have to be completely –a—um true.  Which is what one of the teachers did to a student, and, and the student in return said; sometimes I make it up.  I, I just make up a character and she does all sorts of stuff, and, and she has my name, but um, so, I think what teachers need to do, there’s a couple things.  Um, one is to um, give students the opportunity to write about a character in the book, instead of writing about their own experience, to write about the character in some way.  Um, ---pause---I’m trying to think.  I know I had a couple others, I’m sorry.

Right.  I, I think um, that the difficulty for me is that it enforces—re-enforces stereotypes, so that um, students come to see themselves as Asian.  A-as being perpetually foreigners, that they can never escape this a image of themselves as immigrants.  Um, and that, a-that they---I mean, even students who are American citizens, and that’s the part that disturbs me, people who have um, been through that, I mean, a very lengthy process, and, and are justifiably proud of what they’ve accomplished in this country, who even changed their names.  So-I-uh a, students who have looked through baby books a, baby name books, to find a name that sounds more American.  And um, and to find those students a, always ask to respond to every thing um, in the sense, as a foreigner.  That’s what bothers me about it.  I think um, there’s, we need to really respect their experience as Americans.

I think um, one of the things that would be very helpful for teachers to do, is to um, really ---pause---problematize the idea of culture.  And, what I mean by that, is that um, culture isn’t a um, sort of, inert thing that um, that identifies students.  That culture changes, that it um, it’s constantly moving, that um, ---pause---culture um, that the students that may have come from one culture but um, by the time they’re in an American classroom that culture is already changed.  That there is a, um, sort of amalgam that happens between um, their home culture, their a---home country and the United States and that it becomes um, an immigrant culture in a sense.  That they um, many of these students a, the students that I work with, if they um, arrive in, maybe elem---late elementary school or middle school,  don’t really have very many memories anymore of their um, native country.  I mean, they know, they’ve been in the United States, sometimes, as long as they’ve been in their native country.  And so to ad---even to ask them questions about: how is ‘x’ in your native country, is a um, question that either they can’t answer or that they’ll a, answer based on hearsay a, is something that their family said.  Um, so for example, um, if you ask a student that never went to a funeral in their own country um, what funerals are like in ‘your’ country, they’re um, likely to give you an answer that’s a little bit vague, and understandably vague.  Um, I think part of this is first of all, to, to stop referring to a, people’s a countries of birth as ‘your country.’  That’s a, I think, a big part of it right there.  Um, they are Americans.  They’re as American as you or I um, because they’re here and um, what we really need to start exploring is more the mix of cultures in countries, and maybe some of the, the conflicts that they experience, um some of the similarities.  What-if-and maybe some of the cultural richness that comes from combining traditions from their um, country of birth and the United States.

Um, you know, I think what always comes back to me is a, tracking and issues of teacher investment.  And I see so many students that, just by default, um, end up being a-educated in um, classes that are really inappropriate for them.  And being educated there simply by virtue of the fact that they start out with limited English proficiency.  And so for me, the real important thing, and then on the other hand I’ve seen teachers who are really  inspirational in their um, willingness to help students whatever way they can.  I, I’ve seen teachers help people get mortgages.  I’ve seen teacher’s bail kids out of jail.  I’ve seen teachers um, give loans to students.  I um, these are um, they’re really heroes in some ways.  And I think um, people need to really know how much impact one committed teacher, one committed counselor, can have on the lives of ESL students.  And a, and their educational path.