Katharine Davies Samway

KATHARINE DAVIES SAMWAY

Um this cloud emphasis in California that I was just referring to that allows people to ---- second language learners um I’m trying to think now it’s probably about five years since our institution in San Jose really made it in an essential part of the credential in fact students could not take the courses and just go to the state and get the certification to be a teacher without cloud emphasis.  And I would say in five years there is a difference in what the credential teacher coming out of a preparation program knows about second language learners in contrast with ten years ago where they knew virtually nothing through up their hands and didn’t know what to do.  But they really don’t know as much about second language acquisition and how to take into account cultural diversity and linguistic diversity when working with second learners.  Not like a well-prepared specialist.  And so on the one hand it’s preferable to a main stream teacher who knows nothing um but it’s not a good as it would be if we had really well prepared ESL teachers.  But we have a serious problem in California a lack of teachers we have a real shortage so at the moment there’s lots of teachers um on emergency credential all they need is a uh a BA a Bachelors and to have passed the Cbest(?) and they can be a you know a credential teach not a credential teacher but working on with emergency credential so imagine how um how incompetent they often are and particularly when talking about working with second language learners.  Really no idea.  And often it’s the second language learners by virtue of often being in low income areas who end up with the emergency credential teachers.  So on the one hand I guess you have to um congratulate these emergency credential teachers for being brave enough to go into a classroom with no preparation but when I look at it as advocate for children and it I think it’s an issue of equity the children who perhaps need the best prepared teachers are not getting them.  Which I think is a serious problem.

Katharine Davies Samway at San Jose State University

I think one of the continuing problematic myths is and I hear it all the time in fact I think it’s really my nemesis as an educator is parents don’t care.  Our second language learner parents they don’t care.  Why don’t they care.  They don’t come to school.  They don’t come to conferences.  They don’t respond to letters we send.  They don’t respond to telephone calls, assuming that teachers even make a telephone call.  And when I try to dig deeper why it’s all total inference.  They’ve never been to the home they don’t know the family they don’t know the circumstances under which people are living they don’t whether the family even speaks English.  And those programs that I’ve worked with um  and the one that was particularly effective was a migrant program in New York state where eh uh home visits were are requirement for teacher and you know teachers were paid to do that and it made a huge difference in the sense of reversing back to mythological uh view of parents and whether low income and these were low income parents who didn’t often speak English and we found things like this the parents lived out in the country and didn’t have access to any kind of transportation once the evening arrived.  They uh often had uh uh issue with who would take care of the children and in many schools in even today don’t welcome siblings into the schools during conferences or you know parent meetings um most profoundly and this is something that we can do something about these teachers couldn’t do much about um busing and you know getting we could do something but that wasn’t our -----(?)  but we could do things to make parents feel  ---(?) welcome and very  often um low income uh non-native or and or non-native English speaking parents did not feel welcome in schools.  Um and it’s interesting I remember you know I’m a parent of school age children and I could remember occasion when I have felt very very unwelcome in schools.  I remember actually once um one of my sons elementary schools had sign posted all over the schools about how you had to check in with the office and you couldn’t do this and you couldn’t do that not very welcoming right?  And I don’t even know if there had ever been a problem with somebody abducting a child but that was the the atmosphere and the secretary wasn’t welcoming and started to sneak in through a side door and I use to think to myself cause I was working at that time with second language learners in a migrant program and I thought if I’m intimidate and I’m an educated and I’m a teacher and I’m a teacher educator how intimidated are and I speak English how intimidated are other parents going to to be and ineffectively the school cut off the parents and then blamed the parents for poor performance.  Another um myth . . . I think schools that have done the following and done it very effectively have really um undermined that myth have have made have helped teacher realize that of course parents do care um one is to make sure that notices to parents go home in the native language, make sure that the there is somebody who speaks the native language who can act a translator.  Um schools,  I uh, schools in Oakland I know have community liaisons who are teachers who work as liaisons to the school a as well doing some teaching so that the the families realize that they have a valuable role in the schools.  Meetings for parents at time that are convenient for parents you know having everything during the day is not going to work for a lot of parent who are workings.  So having meetings sometimes they’ll hold meetings on weekends, evenings, um, holding uh informational meetings for parents on issues that are of concern to parents so poling parents and not just poling those few parents who really are there all the time whether it’s you know running off things off of you know helping out on the playground but really going beyond that.  I remember reading an article about uh it was written by a couple of high school teachers uh in their high school the teachers as often happens complained about they’d have these back to school nights or open houses and no body would come and it was sort of a a blame the family syndrome and they decided they need to proactive and to teachers in the school divided up all the families and then they got on the phone and they personally invited the families to the open house and they had something like a seventy five percent turn out.  Huge difference from like a five percent turn out to a seventy five percent turn out.  Other things that um schools there’s a school in Oakland some teachers I  I mean  in uh San Jose uh in the San Jose area where when there are parent conferences they’re actually family conferences and uh the teacher’s invite groups of uh of families so let’s say four families to come in for a one hour conference and she the teacher will meet with each family individually at some stage in that hour and the children and their families rotate around centers and the children introduce their parents to key areas of the day so one is in a math center another is a language center another one is a science center that kind of thing and the children take their parents around so that even when the parents don’t speak English they’re still able to find out what their children are doing where they’re going what they’ve accomplished and then uh the fourth rotation at some stage is meeting with the teacher and it’s a family meeting and when the translator is needed a translator is brought in and of course those as much as possible um the parents are scheduled um according to language so as to accommodate translator schedules that kind of thing.  So we can make a difference but I don’t think we’ll make a difference until we get to know communities.  I think Louise Mull’s(?) work and all those people in Arizona who’ve been um working with the funds(?) of knowledge where the teachers go out into the community and get to know the expertise in the community and then bring that expertise back into the classroom um these are things they’re time consuming things and they need dedicated teachers and they need teachers who don’t immediately assume that a community is unsafe if the people have a different skin color or speak a language that they’re unfamiliar with which you know is something that often happens.

Well this is a real current one it’s not one I’ve written about in myth’s and realities but it’s one that’s really um affecting the life of educators in California and I think elsewhere in the country and that’s the issue of assessment really testing that if we test children we’ll have we will in effect insure that children will succeed and that is just rubbish.  Um because testing is not looking at children, testing is looking at the makers of a test and looking a direct items.  It’s not generally speaking of the kinds of tests that the children are being asked to do, second language learners also are being asked to do in California often bare no resemblance to what’s going on in their classrooms.  There’s no resemblance to what we know about effective uh language and literacy learning and instruction and have a really negative impact when they’re uh uh a lined with uh merit pay and teacher performance and all of that.  In that uh increasingly teacher are teaching to the test.  I mean the last few years has been quite distressing for us in that um I have seen really competent very effective teachers uh reduced to tears reduced to incredibly low self esteem because the test scores didn’t go up and a myth within that myth that is just not being addressed in the media in educational circles very much is when you have no reference standardized testing where you have a normal curve you’re always going to have fifty percent of the population failing so how can you succeed in that kind of environment you’re alw—you’re competing against each other.  One school’s competing against another school.  Not in terms of uh insuring that kids really are literate and enjoy literacy.  I mean what’s the good really of teaching a child to read let’s say and they never read, they never want to read, they never see a purpose for reading except to complete a worksheet or book in a text uh page in a textbook or to pass a test.  This is ludicrous and this whole standards movement even I’ve written you know I edited rather the volume, one of the Teesaw(?) volumes on implementing the standards and I had real misgivings about that because I see I think standards are very helpful to teachers as a reminder as a a way of checking you know am I you know am I forgetting things or am I being unrealistic but when standards are driving instruction and the children the needs of children aren’t really being addressed of considered then I think that we are guilty of malpractice and these are very strong words I realize uh but this notion that assessment will lead to um well I’m not even sure people are talking about really increased uh linguistic and literate uh uh competencies.  We’re talking about test scores.  What are test scores?  They’re arbitrary really.  We’re not talking about performance assess—assessments we’re not talking about on going assessments we’re not talking about we’re not even talking about criteria in reference assessments.  We’re talking about people competing against each other essentially and and the the other uh effect that that has when it’s tied to teacher accountability and I and I need to clarify I really believe as educators we need to be held accountable.  We need to be held accountable for the learning of all children, most particularly the children who are falling through the cracks many of whom are second language learners so I’m not I I want to be very clear I am we need to be held accountable.  I’m questioning the measures that are being used to hold accountable and what I see in my life is a teacher educator working with hundreds of teachers both pre-service and practicing teachers is as their self esteem is being winnowed(?) away by these pressures uh not to do what they believe is appropriate effective teaching but to follow mandates and textbooks and what ever it is.  Um they’re beginning to question the survivor teaching in the schools they’re teaching in  so it takes a very committed politically committed socially committed teacher to stay working in a low income school that’s historically had low test scores. 

It’s a hard on to address.  I think teachers need to be much more political.  I think they need um in order to reverse this trend I think that teachers need to be incredibly much more political.  I think that they need to be put we need to be putting pressure on our unions to take a stand on this.  I think we should be countering we should be writing eh we should be uh getting into the media we need to it’s not our voices it’s not our individual voices that need to be out there I think it’s the co—the cumulative voice of uh are we professionals or not?

I think part of the problem is that assessment, effective assessment, (discussion with interviewer) part of this whole emphasis on assessment and the effect it has on children and teachers is that a simple solution is being sought after and being implemented to a very complex issue.  Not a problem.  I don’t think it is a problem I’m not convinced that the American children are actually under achieving.  When I see, when I go around and I see what children are doing, now there are children who very definitely are falling through uh you know the cracks, the upper grade children who are real struggling readers, these are children we absolutely need to be paying attention to.  Testing them in and of it self isn’t going to do the trick.  What helps is for teachers to be doing on going assessments of those children and then making instructional decisions that are grounded in the needs of those children.  Ways that I have found effective if we just take reading.  Um things like measures like running records or miscue—modified miscue-analysis because a full-blown miscue-analysis is very very time consuming and it’s not intended for a classroom teacher.  But modified miscue-anal analysis where you can see the kinds of miscue’s that children are making.  You see the kinds of reading strategies they rely on effective ones the ones that aren’t effective.  Then you look at those data and then you say okay this child for instance is relying overly heavily is relying too much on just the graph of phonics.  Yeah sound symbol correspondence.  Phonics really.  This child isn’t making meaning so when the child makes uh uh  uh an error that changes meaning the child isn’t self monitoring and isn’t stopping going back going forward coming back and doing a bit more decoding.  The child obviously needs to be taught those strategies.  That kind of assessment helps children.  Now I also know from working with teachers that it’s hard to do.  It’s not impossible to do but they teachers need guidance they need mentoring and this is practicing teachers because it’s still a a relatively new way of approaching assessment.  So rather than putting the money that’s available for assessment packages like this -----(?) nine or whatever it seems to me to more sense to put increasingly more rarey(?) into first rate intensive self development that addresses the needs of teachers.  And um and I just want to go back to that thing when I was saying about the you know assessing children then teaching accordingly.  Part of that uh the step of moving into instruction is deciding who you can group for instruction because no teacher has the time in the day to teach one on one all the time.  You have to to group uh in order to teach if you know to get through to teach as many children as possible and also when you’re talking about second language learners often the group uh ----(?) is very very effective, very successful for them.

Well this the standards the ESL standards like any standards are very broad and the ESL standards that that Teesaw(?) has put together.  You’ve got goals, three goals, and then standards that accompany them so you end up with nine standards that go across that across the grades.  Within those standards you then have descriptors and then uh sample progress indicators.  More like things to assess whether the standards are being met.  I think the most my from my prospective and from working with authors and other editors who worked on these volumes of implementing the standards it seemed that the most effective use of the standards was as a check as a a reminder to us so let’s say I’m a new teacher it would be a very good idea I think for a new teacher to familiarize him or herself with the with the standards and to read the scenarios read the the units that the teachers that we have published in those volumes.  So they see the range of how teachers approach teaching but they see how standards rather than being the driving force which I think some some people I you know I realize that what I’m saying is not uh consistent with other what other people say.  I don’t think the standard should be the driving force I think that they should be that sort or umbrella that we go back to to sort of remind ourselves.  Let me give you a couple of examples one of the authors of the volume that I edited um was writing her unit while teaching and so she was doing on going assessments as she was teaching and about half way through the unit she she went back and she took a look at the standard and she said mmmmm gosh you know I didn’t I didn’t we didn’t do anything with this third goal which is um appropriate use of language right it’s really a pragmatics and she said yah I can see that some of my kids that I’m working with at this time they need more help in that, what’s appropriate, it’s not appropriate to go up to uh a you  know a principle and say hey dude you know that kind of thing.  There’re different ways in  which we interact with people right?  But she said this isn’t the time to deal with it.  Th-- the unit was on oh I I can’t remember maybe I can’t remember which unit it was but let’s say it was about colonial life.  It wasn’t appropriate right then to plug that in but she made a note to herself soon I need to teach that.  Another teacher completed her unit and realized the same kind of thing,  something, there was a gap and there was a need.  Now other times the teachers looked at the standards and said you’re never going to address everything in any kind of unit and I don’t need to address these particular standards cause the children don’t have a need for it.  So I know as a teacher I find the standards useful as that reminder to me.  But as a teacher I’m trying to push myself to follow the lead of students and then take into account content, curriculum, kinds of goals and a part of that is assessment on going assessment of children.  But to all of the sudden to say well today we’re going to we’re going to address um using um you know reading and writing for academic purposes.  That’s such a huge goal presumably you’re doing that most of the time.  It’s really getting down to the nitty-gritties more like the descriptors what is it you want students to be able to do. To be able to use headings and subheadings appropriately in um a non-fiction book that their writing in writers workshop to be read by um second graders with whom they’re buddied buddied up for a buddy reading program that kind of thing.  So I think again we we have to be going back to the students and then using the the standards to to guide us to remind us of any gaps.

Yeah parent the parent involvement programs um a few years ago I wrote one of those parent involvement grants and what we did is to it was for primarily for second language le—parents who themselves are second language learners and we focused on the parents who had children in kindergarten, first and second grade and what we did was one of the goals was was to the parents themselves develop their English fluently.  And what we did was to we we had as I recall three strands to it.  A strand that dealt with literacy in their native language cause they were all to some extent literate in their native languages.  A part that was focused on English language development and a part that was focuses on on parenting kinds of things.  And the parenting part we really followed their lead,  the topics the issue with the kinds of issues that they raised.  What to do about homework uh what to do about actually even though it was for designed for parents with younger children they often had older children what to do with adolescence who no longer would talk to them.  You know those kinds of things.  And then the third strand which was the one getting at the English of helping English we focused on uh children’s literature in English that their own children might be reading and so it was a way of bridging the you know the parent issues also with what was going on in the classroom and it was very very effective.  So the parents we had classes when the parents could attend.  Some were during the day because some of the families had young children and they they were mothers primarily those those classes they could attend during the day and then there were some evening classes for children for parents who who couldn’t attend during the day and then I think it once a month we had this a general meeting with translators on and brought in speakers on issues of concern to them, drugs was an issue at one stage um uh police tactics in the neighborhood was another, immigration issues was another.  So it was really a parent education program that we tied into um the education of their children.

Well they’re all you know uh uh I would say a great many of them were were se—I work with pre-service teachers who are graduated students because in California you can’t have a education major.

First off, I show them how eh, first off, when when talking about literacy and enhancing the literacy development of second language learners and effect practice um some of the prac—many of the practices if not all practices that I think are good practices are effect for all learners and so that’s like a base line.  Things like reading aloud regularly to children uh fiction, non-fiction, poetry, uh at all ages.  Uh shared reading uh particularly with emergent readers.  Um some form of guided reading reading strategy instruction for all learners’ right? And then eh the case of uh writing, being given multiple opportunities to write for real purposes like in a work shop environment.  Not writing for you as teacher uh not writing to be put in the folder but writing to communicate to persuade to inform to entertain and and and publishing that whether it’s sending something off or with in the classroom or how ever it is.  So those that’s sort of like the base line that those practices are appropriate for all learners including second language learners.  But there are differences between native or native like speakers of English and non-native speaker who are moving into English.  Some of the differences that I have noticed include these.  When for instance um I’m say doing a guided reading with a group of children who have similar needs.  If the children are mono-lingual or very I leave it mono-lingual English speakers generally speaking when I do a book talk you know go through the book just sort of introduce them to the book there is a little bit of discussion about some key concepts that maybe the children aren’t that familiar with but generally speaking there’s usually shared knowledge and shared vocabulary, shared conceptual understanding.  With second language learners I can’t assume that so a book walk a book talk is often longer in order to build scheme and activate the scheme that they have and so um paying a lot more attention to vocabulary, not decontectualized vocabulary development but taking time when doing a read aloud or doing a shared reading or doing a guided reading making sure that we stop and we talk talk talk about what is this what is all what’s going on who’s talking that kind of thing but to do it in a way that doesn’t ultimately disrupt the enjoyment of it.  Um another area that I have noticed it is when I’m conferring in writers workshop for instance with children what ever the age K through twelve with students generally speaking with English dominant children I can have very quick conferences with them one, two maybe three minutes and that they’d be quite effective.  Zone in on something have a quick conversation listen a lot to the learner and move on.  And I have found maybe it’s me and maybe I need to just back off a bit , but I have found that I need to spend more time with them, that what I can do quickly with a native speaker I can’t do a quickly with a beginning certainly with a beginning speaker of English.  I can still do some of the same things of listening to the child but I often have to do more power phrasing, you know, figure things out more even if it’s um even let say I’m having an editing conference with a child it will usually take me longer to teach to a point than it does to a non-native speaker.  So I just have to make sure that I allocate uh enough time for that.  And also I’ve learned that uh although I think that group conferences can be very helpful for all learners I’m more likely to make sure we’re doing group conferences with second language learners.  And I’m also likely to make sure but actually with all learners that I’m moving around the classroom to confer rather than having the children come to me be— that why um I can be continuing to teach while focusing one child cause children tend to listen in we all listen in when somebody else is talking.  So there there’s some of the key differences um so conceptual uh uh and uh and part of that conceptual knowledge is culture culturally uh based um in the sense that for instance here’s another one choosing books is something that I think we have to be very careful about whether it’s for a read a loud a shared reading or a guided reading and I’ve learned this the hard way.  Uh we know that patent books you know with repetitive refrains or some kind of repeated dynamic to it is very very helpful to emergent readers and including older learners who are coming in to reading in in a language.  And um many books that we use particularly with younger learners are grounded in English or folk tales and rhymes that children hear in kindergarten, etc, etc. Um there’s a book by uh eh a couple of books by the uh the Albergs and that are very popular, the jolly postman and then each peach pear plum.  Um children love these the way that they draw on uh in all these different fairy tales or rhymes right?  Well I have and other people have noticed that uh these culture bound tales and rhymes are very difficult for second language learners to to access and to understand.  I I remember uh not that long ago doing some miscue(?) analysis with a fifth grade grader Spanish speaker who was um sort of like an advance beginner orally and also in literacy and I I I selected um some books that he had access to as a tutor to work with younger learners, first and second graders in a cross age buddy reading program and one of the books was um Margaret Wise Brown’s Good Night Moon, yeh a really well known popular book in kindergarten.  And and he read that and his decoding wasn’t bad but he had no idea what was going on none what so ever and we talked about it and I and I asked him I said were there any words there that you you you didn’t you had difficulty with?  We’ll he said yah this mitten, all right, okay, mitten, so then I didn’t have a mitten on me so I then I drew it and I described it you know it’s like a glove but it didn’t have the separation and you know and he said oh you mean like a boxing uh what’s it called in boxing it’s called a boxing glove you know so he’d never se—why would he have ever seen a mitten?  You know he he came from a a country and lives in a a part of the count—the United States where he just doesn’t encounter cold weather and snow he had no reason to know mitten you know.  I then did a miscue(?) on um why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears right. Much longer much more complex and I thought he would have more difficulty with it and he didn’t.  He made lots of miscues(?) he understood more when he did the retelling and I asked him which he found easier to read and he said why mosquitoes buzz and I asked why and he said well I know something about sna— snakes and animals and the jungle.  So we have to be very careful when we select materials that we are taking into account background knowledge so that we can capitalize you know build on background knowledge and not assume that what native speakers may be familiar non-native speakers will also be familiar with.  Now there’s also another de-- dimension to that where it could work very effectively.  Um in some cases a teach teacher can use um fairy tales from around the world something like a Cinderella story, quite effectively but you have to be very careful that you realize that these the tale we might know, the English language versions that we know maybe different in other other languages and maybe begin with those different language culture versions to to tap into the children’s knowledge and do some kind of a you know whether it’s a Cinderella study or what ever.  Fable also, I remember Dorothy Taylor who is was a that time a um elementary, middle school, high junior high teacher working with some recent immigrant children.  And they had workshops, reader and writers workshop, and one of the students from Iran was a very reluctant writer he just was just resistant and they had done a unit on fables and that launched him into writing,  He wrote fables and his explanation for it was with there little um what do um the moral at the end he had come from Iran his family had come under political duress and he was writing these political fables that were grounded in his own experience, you know from a child’s view point but they resonated with him and I think that’s that’s what we have to seek.  What is it that resonates with our students.

You know the whole notion of language learning being a a soci- socio-cultral act I think is is something we need to take into account.  And we need to really work hard to ensure that that children have environments in which they can collaborate with other children other people if they wish.  Um there are lots of second language learners who come from cultures where collaboration is the center of life, you know, whether it’s family collaboration or whether it’s a wider community kind of collaboration or whether it’s just children with in a family collaborating.  And particularly when you consider how lonely language learning can be and how very very exhausting it can be if you are immersed in a language that you you aren’t fluent in we need to take that into consideration.  Just a few months ago I was in Mexico, I speak Spanish, and yet there were times, I’m I’m I’ve lost a lot over the years of not using it regularly and but there were times I couldn’t say a word I couldn’t think I couldn’t say a word in either Spanish or English and that reminded me of how demanding second language learning and immersion can be and I love Spanish I I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Mexico but there those moments when I was obviously on overload and I couldn’t cope and it was very helpful for me to be able to then once I got my English in order to talk to my husband in English and in the same way I think as teacher we need to be respectful of the way in which, having moments times to use the native language with other with piers or volunteers or with the teacher him or herself can be very very helpful.  Um helpful in that congnesive overload way but also helpful in the reducing of the you know the monitor that can go up and also in the sense of re—recognizing and acknowledging the value of the native language so that students aren’t forced into this notion of having to choose.  It’s either this or that but in actual fact the the two together are ultimately much more beneficial um than the one alone. 

This is a hard one for me to talk about because um I do feel very passionately about it and um it’s one of the areas where um when I’m with teachers this is the point where they’ve often had a very traumatic experience themselves.  Um what I uh uh uh I care very much about writing.  I write, um I’m moving into new genres and and I find writing to be a very uh challenging but very satisfying uh aspect of my own literacy and my own teaching.  And I find that when I share my writing with students whether they’re little children or adult teachers it really has a profound impact on them.  So in my teaching um I teach for instance a six unit uh to either six units in one semester or six units in two semesters course on uh reading language arts which includes writing and we have workshops, readers workshop, writers workshop, literacy workshop, that kind of thing.  And and before we get very far into the course I survey students to find out um whether they think they’re writers, whether they like to write and if so why why not, are they good writers why why not and the majority of teach—and I do this with practicing teacher too.  The majority of teachers that I’ve worked with, and this is hundreds now, say that they don’t like to write they’re afraid to write and when I probe further they say it’s usually because of another teacher.  Often college, sometimes high school and sometimes sadly in elementary school.  And invariably a teacher has told them they’re lousy writers, they can’t write, they shouldn’t write, you know something like that.  And they’re afraid.  Um I agree with Don Graves that if you’re going to teach writing you have to write yourself.  You don’t have to be great, I I don’t you don’t have to have published, but you do have to write I believe so that you know what it feels like so that you know what it means to come to a dead end and have to search for where to go next.  You have to know what it feels like to share your writing with other people, how scary that can be so that you know how to respond and one thing that I notice I think because of this fear of writing an awful lot of teachers use writing programs and writing programs or writing um schemes like you know the three paragraph essay, it’s alive and well, believe me, still, is not writing and it really doesn’t help any writer become a writer and it certainly doesn’t help second language learners become writers.  We become writers when we have real audiences and when we have many many opportunities to write and to share our writing and to talk about our writing.  So that mean with the young children and with second language learners of many ages we need to make sure that we don’t impose unnaturally a silent classroom.  They may need to talk about their writing.  As we get older we tend to need a quieter environment but many older second language learners need opportunities to talk about their writing, which means you can’t have a silent classroom.  And we have to we absolutely have to share our own writing and our own writing prophecies with children what ever their age, K through twelve.  If not we’re not really serving students appropriately.