Diane Baron

DIANE BARON

I’m Diane Baron and I’m at University of Nevada, Reno.

What is positioning theory? OK. Um, I really did not know very much about positioning theory until about a year and a half ago. And I have a colleague, Cindy Brock, who said, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if you took some of your data and looked at it with this particular lens.” And I said, “It might be interesting, but I don’t know what it is.” OK. So that was—so that’s where we began. And we actually started reading um books and articles about positioning theory and having a community of three of us who would talk about it. So that’s the background of how I got to positioning theory. What it is is a lens away to uh analyze data that comes out of a discourse community moving away from cognitive theories. So when I was looking at the literacy development of young children, I—I—my predominant lens was literacy theory, the developmental theory of how children learn to read and write. And that’s the way I interpreted four years worth of data of these children that I was following. So last year what I did is I went back to a piece of that data and used this lens to reinterpret it. And what—what you can see, first of all, by using a different lens are that your results are interpreted differently. So they’re richer, more complex. And in this case what I was able to reveal were the power relationships that occurred between the foster mother, child, and myself as a researcher. And what I thought that I was pretty much the person in control since it was my study, I designed it, it turned out very much that I was positioned by the foster mother as the recipient of information that she chose to share with me. And she was the person in control the whole time. Um, but that didn’t show up because in looking at the literacy part the child, in this case Billy, was the focal point. Well with this new analysis using positioning theory and looking at who was positioned by who and what those positions were, in her case expert leader, a person uh—she moved forward and Billy was actually the reciprocal. She decided that he had to be a smart, good student and he did do that. Um, but that was because she set that up as something that was important for him to position himself as. Um, and so that whole interpretation came forward by using a theory such as positioning theory.

I think the—the opportunity of the multiple lenses. So I think that if a teacher is looking at his or her classroom and thinking of—which I would think they would think of mostly first was, you know, “Is the management appropriate? Are the groupings appropriate? Is my lesson meeting the kids’ needs? How do I know that when I look at what they say and do? How can—how can I interpret that?” I would think that would be the most important primary lens a teacher would use when they look at their classroom. But yesterday in a presentation actually with—with Cindy Brock again, she was analyzing data from a classroom where the teacher was engaging the students in book club kinds of discussion, talks about the books that they were reading. And her first look at that was it—it looked wonderful. So if you looked at the classroom, the teacher had the kids engaged—she was working in this case with the whole class. The kids were engaged. There was interesting conversation about the book. In this case it was “Maniac McGee.” Um, so if you were—if you were just looking at it that way, engagement, talking about text, meaning making, it was incredible kinds of teaching and learning. But then when you use positioning theory as a lens to interpret it, there were five children who were contributing to the conversation, not the whole class of 20. The—the children who were learning English as a new language were not contributing at all. Um, so when you looked at it that way, the teacher would have gotten a very different interpretation of that experience. OK, so five kids were—were right there and were contributing but the rest of the class wasn’t. And because it was oral—orally based, she in this case had no way of knowing what they were bringing to that activity. So if the teacher has the resources and the time for re—reflection, looking at it this way, it gives you a whole different interpretation of that event. So…

Well, in this case if—if you ground it back in this example, the power for that teacher is she would continue to go on and teach the way she’s teaching and five of her students would be very successful. And at the end of the year I think she would look back and say, “Why weren’t these other kids pretty successful? What happened? They seemed to be a part of this?” So in this case I would hope that by reflecting on that the instruction would change or she’ll do small groups or some way of engaging these other children in—in book club kinds of activities. I—I mean I wouldn’t dismiss a book club. I don’t think that’s the message. But how do you bring these other kids in, particularly second language learners um, or the quiet child? And so that would, I think, be pretty critical because if the whole year continues in this way, those kids are never really engaged in what’s going on.

Um, as I move on in the research that I continue to do, classroom context, school context for me is becoming much more important then I ever thought—ever though. I mean, I—I—well, when I set up my first study looking at prenatally exposed crack/cocaine children in Vegas, I didn’t think about class context. My whole focus was, “Would these kids be successful in learning to read and write?” Pretty naïve. Pretty naïve because clearly their home community and context was going to support or hinder that before they got to school and the school—the teacher, the school itself was going to support or hinder that. And so it took me until the second year of my study to even think about that. But you couldn’t talk about a child not being successful without talking about what happened in the classroom. Uh, in one classroom, for example, and—and this is the worst case. This is not the middle case or the best case. There never was reading instruction in an entire year. So if you’re a child in that circumstance, why would you be a better reader or writer at the end of the year, particularly if you’re relying on the school to teach you how to read and write. Your parents aren’t going to do that for you. Or they’re going to do it but in very different ways then the school would value. So that becomes important um, and so for—in that case I learned about classroom again and how important the teacher is. Why I forgot that, I don’t know, but I did. Um, now in the work I’m doing I’m at a single school looking at children as they move through the school from kindergarten through 6th grade and what I’m finding is quality teachers don’t hang out and stay in schools that don’t support them. So even the particular school has to have development, um lots of additional money to support kids and get materials in those kinds of things. The school atmosphere hasn’t been so positive so teachers are bailing as fast as they can, um and particularly the best teachers. So there again, if you can’t get it in the whole school—um, you could have pockets of good teachers, but what’s the stance over time? I think they choose to leave in most cases.

Yeah. The role of the school for children. So if I’m looking at middle class kids and really wealthy kids beyond that, they’re parents have cultural capital. They know what it is even if I’m not so smart. They know how to negotiate the system so that I do well. So if I’m having trouble with math or reading, I have tutors coming to my house after school. Probably with the very rich they’re coming to me. If I’m not that rich then I’m probably having to go to a center somewhere to get those services. But they know how to do it. They know how to negotiate. They know how to negotiate the school. So if I have a teacher who I don’t think is so wonderful—whether or not that teacher is using appropriate curriculum or not—but as a parent if I think, I don’t like that that teacher’s to traditional or I don’t like that that teacher is only doing reading and writing experiences that don’t look traditional, I can go in and change where my child is for the better or for the worse for that child, but I know how to do it. And if I’m really um well known in the community, I can even do it easier because no one’s going to mess with me because I might say something about that situation. OK. If I’m poor um I may or may not know that I can do that. I mean, I may just think that the school’s a school and so therefore they’re the people in power and I have to be obedient. So that changes the whole dynamic. Um, I don’t know how to negotiate throughout the school, who to call, that I can call somebody and how to do that. The other thing is the literacy experiences in my home are probably different—valued, but different then what the school’s going to reinforce. I don’t know that because culturally I’m behaving the way that would be appropriate for me to behave. And so it may be oral stories, it may be conversations; it may be that until I can communicate pretty well as a child an adult isn’t going to talk to me. I mean Heath showed us that. Um, so that’s different. So when I come to school and the teacher looks at me, they may say I’m deficient because I don’t know book stories, I can’t speak in English, perhaps, um my dialect is different. I don’t know how to behave. My notion of time and working on events is very different probably then other children. And so if the teacher doesn’t recognize that as strength, then I’m deficient from the day I—from the day I walk into school. And I’m relying, in this case if I’m a low kid, minority kid, I’m relying on the school to help me and if the school says I’m not doing so well and actually says that I’m probably learning disabled or something’s wrong with me, then that’s the identity I—I take with me. And I think especially now um—Louis Mole was talking yesterday um and he—we were talking about the multiple events that are happening right now that—that make it even more difficult for minority, high-poverty child. And those events are high stakes testing, um the reduction in any sort of bilingual support for kids, this—this notion of minimalist instruction, basic skills, um convergent responses. Well those penalize these kinds of children more then other children, “Yeah, I have to be convergent here but then when I go into this conversation, I can share my views.” These kids don’t have that flexibility yet. So I think it’s really um more difficult now and I think schools do either facilitate that for minority children—for poor children, more so then minority—poor is the issue. Um, then they ever did, you know, then they did before. So, I’m not that optimistic I’m sorry to say about what’s happening with these kinds of kids right now in school.

OK. Well, Shirley Bryce Heath in the 70’s if you can believe it, um decided to do a 10-year ethnographic study with children in the Carolinas. And what she did is she looked at basically three groups of kids. Um, what’s really important about her work is that she was an insider. She lived in the community and had lived in the community before she did the study, um although she had left and gone to California and other places and come back. And so she filed these children at home and then in school and she was really looking because she was linguist at language. And what we learn from her is that children—and—and one group predominantly black, another group predominantly white, low SES, and then the mainstream kinds of kids—were that even though in the—in the black community where oral language was rich, conversations were rich, kids were sitting on their parents laps from when they were very little engaging in this conversation. When they came to school, that was negated. That wasn’t the conversation the teachers were valuing in school and so these kids didn’t do so well. The same with the poor white community because their stories were very rigid, they had to have a moral. You had—fantasy was not something that you talked about. It had to be realistic from the beginning to the end and actually if you deviated from that your parents kind of said you were lying and that wasn’t a good thing so you had to go back to that. The mainstream kids obviously grew up with bedtime stories, with um playing, with fantasy and fiction, and they came to school and did the best. And—and it comes back to something as simple as how do your parents engage you in story that made a difference for these children.

The moral and ethical issues. Um, well I think teaching centers on those. Um, when I hear teachers, especially really naïve pre-service people coming in, they always—the first thing they say is they’re coming for the children. OK. That’s OK. I mean I’m hoping they’re really smart and—and can um can be very flexible with the kids they work in addition to having this core that says I want to work with kids. I think it’s—it’s tough um when you’re working with high poverty students um because you go in with the best of intentions. As a new teacher what are you going to get? You’re going to get the class that nobody wanted, you’re going to get no materials, and so you go in with these ideals and I think in many cases what the culture of teaching does is try to stamp those out. It’s a routine. It’s going to be hard. You have to distance yourself because you can’t get too close to those children because then you’ll take it home and how will you survive this over time? I think some of those cautions are—are important, um but I don’t think you leave teaching at the door when you go away. Um, the work that I did in Vegas really pointed that out to me. Now I was—I was a researcher going into communities that people said, “Don’t stay in at night.” OK? But the children that I interacted with stayed there at night. So if it wasn’t OK for me, why was it OK for children to stay in those environments? I still don’t understand that. And I don’t understand then why the school—social work—social people did some stuff, but why did the school then build programs for these children after school or before school or find safe places for these children to hang out if in fact all the teachers left before it got dark? I mean, I think that’s part of what it is to be a teacher. I don’t think it starts when the school bell rings and I don’t think it ends when it’s over. And I guess, as you can tell, I went to school in the 60’s um and I think that passion and our need to change the conditions for kids needs to be part of what we do as teachers. And I think some teachers would say that’s beyond what I’m suppose to do. And I don’t know how you don’t do that and value the children. I don’t.

Well, I think they have to be. And I think even if you don’t teach in a high poverty school, you have to be an advocate because—just because you’re teaching middle class or other children, doesn’t mean that there isn’t this whole collection of children that live in your community. And even within those classrooms there’s diversity. So I think highlighting diversity is a strength and being an advocate for that, even if you’re not teaching children who represent those backgrounds. So it wouldn’t just be the teachers in high poverty schools. And I guess I don’t want the other thing, you know, the “Adopt A School.” I think the notion ‘adopt’ is a bad word. I mean do you want to be adopted? I don’t want to be adopted. I want to work with you as a community but I don’t want you as uh a middle class kid or a teacher being responsible for me. So I think we have to really even have to look at the words that we use when—when we work with schools that have children of high poverty in them um and think about what it means when we adopt those. So…

OK. What did I find out (sigh) when I looked at those children? Well, when I started to think about doing a study looking at children prenatally exposed to crack/cocaine, they have to know I left my doctoral program six months before. OK? So it wasn’t like I had been out for a long time. Um, but I was at a conference like this. OK? And at that time, which was 1990, there were all these newscast shows talking about how these kids were going to be sociopaths. OK. I didn’t know. I mean I—um, and I had just come away from being a teacher in a classroom in a high-risk setting the year before. And I’m saying, “Well, that’s kind of interesting. What would I do as a teacher? I’m not that far from being an elementary teacher, so what would I do if I got a whole class full of these kids? Would they be sociopaths? Would they be out of control?” Um, so doesn’t it sound like a good study to you? OK. So that’s what I decided I would do. And I was in California at that point; I was able to get the kids in a day. Moved to Nevada, didn’t happen. It took awhile um but I was persistent and I did get 26 children to follow with the help of state welfare. Um, what did I learn? I learned that I was as bias going into this study as all—everybody else, whoever those others may be. I didn’t think they would do so well. I really thought that if their mothers used drugs um there were going to be implications for these kids, serious implications for all of them. I didn’t know if they would be a sociopath, but you know I figured there had to be something. And I was building off the work of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is so significant in what happens to young children. Um, so that’s where we went. Now all the children that I identified because they came from state welfare had mothers that used heavily and I didn’t get that—if you get self report data from the mothers, they’ll say they never used drugs. But the fact that they were identified in the hospital with drugs in their system meant that they used drugs right up to the delivery of their baby. And if you’re a smart woman in an urban setting, you know that if you drink a whole lot of water you’re not going to be I.D. in the hospital for using drugs. So these woman didn’t have the time to do that. OK? So it meant they were—they were pretty heavy users um although I—I can’t get that data specifically. Although it’s not every zero tolerance, there’s always some in your system if you’re using drugs but if it’s below a limit, the state won’t say that you’re a drug user. OK? So they were above that limit harmful. So, you know, here we are with this group of kids. What’s going to happen? My first thought was they would be early, preemies. Only about half were. Uh, one was a pound at birth but most of them were normal, typical weight. And my kids were all living in foster care or adopted, so they weren’t living with their—their mother. Which really changed for them what happened because even though these—the—the foster parents in many cases weren’t very wealthy, they were stable. And stable and that um they were going to be there in the homes. They might not read to their children um because they reflected the cultural background that they were—that they were living in and so books weren’t a big part of that, but there was stability for these kids. And while there would be drug use in the neighborhood, there wasn’t drug use in the home unless the natural mother came back in for a little bit and that sometimes happens. OK. So that’s the background. So I’m following them at home and in school and what I learned within a year is that they’re all ends of one. You can’t predict anything. Um, they’re incredible, incredible. They’re tough, which is where I came up with the notion of resilient. They survived their mother’s drug use, they survived infancy, and they came to school tough. And I don’t mean that in a discipline problem sense, I mean that in um—even in bad instruction they would come through OK. Not great, but they were OK. And so at the end of four years of working with them, the majority of the kids were at grade level, um four qualified for gifted and talented programs, uh the eight children who were in special education when the study started—and that was basically for language delay um which is really something you can’t tease out. So you might want to say, “Oh, because of the prenatal crack/cocaine exposure, they were language delayed. But if you look at children coming from high poverty backgrounds, if you would do assessment on them, most of them would be language delayed because the language is different. Um, they don’t have parents or adults sitting and conversing with them, um and so that—that often shows up. I only had one child still qualified for special ed at the end of the study. Now how hard is it to get out of special education once you’re certified for that? Pretty hard. So they’re remarkable. And so for teachers, what does it say? It says, “Don’t label a kid and then make a decision based on the label.” Um, if you do you’re really shortchanging children, especially these kids.

OK. The 1st grade studies that were done in the 60’s, John Redence and I as editors of “Reading Research Quarterly” decided that it was time to look at those studies again in lieu of what we’re seeing with all the emphasis on early childhood and certainly when Sierra was funded with the focus on early learning. And we started seeing um—in that work—in Sierra work a bit, but in other research that’s come up, the program. We’re looking for magic programs again, right? I mean if you get the program, then all the kids are going to learn. Now what was interesting is the programs are only being used for high poverty kids. The middle class kids and those other kids aren’t getting the programs, but the poor kids are. So we said wouldn’t it be interesting to reprint that study because, in fact, it was inaccessible. It was the whole RRQ issue and so you can’t legally photocopy a whole issue. So if a doctoral student, for instance, or a faculty member wanted to use those—that study in their class, they really couldn’t get it. And—yeah. So we reprinted the whole thing, which was just an interesting event. No computer technology then so we had to scan it all. Um, I—I can’t remember. I think there’s like 80, 90 tables in this study so all of those had to be reformatted. So the task was a phenomenal task. But it placed it in one place so students could get it. And then what we did is we went back to people who were researching or were authors um of that study and asked them now to do uh retrospective pieces about it and then we asked new researchers looking at it to do retrospective pieces. So what did we learn? Well, they learned that it was the teacher. The program didn’t matter. If the teacher liked the program, guess what, the kids were successful. And um there were all kinds of programs. LEA, Language Experience, Basils, um really bizarre programs that we had back then, Words in Color, um some of that other stuff. Um, and it—it was just the teacher. Well, I don’t think it’s very different today. I think in the work we see that the teacher is the critical—the critical element and if the teacher um is reflective—and I don’t care what program they use, by the way. If they believe in it, if they’re looking at their kids, they’re teaching to where their kids are, their kids will be successful. Now certainly they might be more successful if they had programs based on what we know about teaching children to read and write, the teacher was successful. What Arlett Willace um showed us in—in the retrospective pieces, I think, was the fact that even though they had data on poor children and minority children, it was never really reported or highlighted in that early work. Um, and that’s to bad. I mean that was unfortunate. So…

Huh. I don’t know that there’s any questions left. I mean, I think for me and—and I’m sure I’m just hitting the gloss of it—I mean, there’s—there’s all kinds of details within that—that study because it was so complex and it was the first time we were, you know, all these centers around the country were funded to do this research at the same time. We learned that the program—I mean, I have to keep going back to that, that the program wasn’t it. It was the teacher. And when I’m looking at states today with their magic list of research-based programs, they’re forgetting that it’s the teacher and the—and the teachers have lost their voice or their power in this. And so these programs are being superimposed on them and what they know is being shoved to the background. Again, Louise—I mean, we’ve seen letters to teachers that were saying, “You probably will lose your job if you don’t follow the program. Now I know that you’re a literacy expert, but to bad. Um, you need to follow this program.” Well, our teachers are the smartest people we’ve ever had. They’ve gone through the most schooling we’ve ever had for teaching and we’re trying to deskill them and I—I don’t get it and I—and I guess that’s where you go back to advocacy. I what to see teachers say, “I’m sorry. You know, I’m smarter then this. I’m not going to do this. Or I’ll do parts of it because—that makes sense, but I’m not going to read a script.”

Well, I—well, what do I say to them? Um, oh gosh, it’s so hard um, especially for the new teacher. So, what I’m doing with them, pre-service, having conversations about it. It’s explicit. It’s not in the margins of the classroom anymore. We talk about it. It’s uncomfortable for them. They want to be good people; they don’t want to be in trouble, they just want to teach kids. But it—it’s always been that way. It’s just more vivid now, which is, you know, and so—in some cases the bad stuff that happens makes us really aware of—of the good things that we need to do and want to continue. Good times, we don’t think about that. So what can you do for them? First of all, I think uh get—have them realize they need to be in a community of teachers. They can’t do it by themselves, uh especially those first critical years. And for the smartest ones that will take the most risk, I think they really need that community. I think they have to learn to ar—and—and I think we have to help them as teacher educators, learn to articulate the argument. I don’t think you go head on with state legislators. I don’t think that’s the way to change things. I don’t think you go head on with your superintendent. I think what you do though is carefully document your case. So I’m using these literature discussion groups and you want me to teach phonics for one hour a day. “Well, I think sound symbol, skills things are important and this is how I do it. And some of it is explicit, and some of it is implicit. And here’s how it happens. Um, here’s what kids are saying about the books and discussing. This is important too, so let’s put it together. Here’s the best research evidence.” I’m very careful now when I work with teachers to give them articles, books, so that they don’t say, “It’s Diane’s ideas,” that they see where it’s grounded. So, in fact, if they want to share with a principal or a colleague, or an administrator, why they’re doing what, they have some evidence to say, “Yes, this is research-based too. Look at this. You know, here it is.” So helping them wage the arguments in proactive voices that aren’t whiny. Um, I think the data soon is going to be there to help them even more. Um, Guther Uses (? Spelling) and I—and I know I’m not saying her name the way it should be said, was showing cohort data on testing in Sacramento, the results of this minimalist reductionist curriculum. That data is powerful. What it shows is if you look at kids—and this is standardized test, OK? And if you look at them, OK—the whole group of kids let’s say in Sacramento, they look pretty good. Most of the kids—the majority of the kids were at grade level or above or at the 50th percentile. The second year it looks really good. The third year it looks about the same. So if you’re a politician reporting this data you’re saying, “See these curriculums are working, aren’t they? Look at this. This data’s better then it ever was before.” However, when you look at the kids in 1st grade and their scores and then you look at that same group of kids in 2nd grade, those scores deteriorate. And when you look at them in 3rd grade, they’re now all below the 50th percentile. We’re going to have incredible programs for struggling readers in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade. And we started that. It’s going to be—we’re going to see funding like we’ve never seen before. Now that’s a result of that curriculum. OK? So when teachers have that data, um I don’t know who’s going to say, “You’re wrong.” And so I think things will change slowly but I think teachers—right now it’s the lowest point, I think. But with this kind of data hitting we’re going to see more and more and more of it. Things are going to change again. It doesn’t mean it will be easier for teachers, because it’s complex. Teaching is complex, but they’ll have more flexibility again and better arguments to support why they do what they do.

OK. So my first question, I guess in response to this whole thing is “How can I be unsuccessful if I’m in kindergarten or 1st grade?” It’s the beginning. I need to get a chance to start. Um, so when I’m looking at kindergarten screening, which I’ve had the unfortunate luck to be able to observe, and it’s very traditional. I mean I still see teachers doing balance beam stuff—OK?—and making decisions on that. Or, which is unethical and immoral, asking children who don’t speak English take assessment the first week of kindergarten in English and then saying, “Oh, I think you’ll probably have to go for special education support because you can’t finish this sentence with the correct tense or plural versus singular.” When the child has never been asked to speak in English in an academic setting. Uh, that’s ridiculous. OK. So—so I want my teachers—groups of teachers I work with, to look at stupid practice, stupid things that they’re asked to do and get their common sense and say, “This was a dumb—I had to do it. OK, so I did it and I mark it off.” Now, let’s go find out what these kids can do and build instruction to that. Um, and—and you know, and—and I like compromise, I guess, so I would do it pretty quickly. Um, for the child who couldn’t speak English, in this case, I’d say very quickly, “Guess what, this isn’t very appropriate. I’ll give you a zero or whatever. Let’s move on and now talk to me in your home language and let me get an interpreter if I can’t speak that language and let’s talk and see what you need.” Um, but—but mainly what I tell teachers is children are not unsuccessful. They are successful. You just may not know what they’re successful at. So you need to figure that out. Don’t tell me what they can’t do. I don’t want to know that. What can they do? Uh, how do they talk? How do they talk to their friends, have you noticed? Do they talk to their friends out on the playground? What’s their home like? Have you check that out? If the home is kind of chaotic, ‘cause lots of people live there and they’re coming and going, what have you done in school to emulate that? Do you have quiet times for kids? Do you have times where if they can’t do their homework because of the circumstances at home or because you asked them to do something they can’t do, do you have time in school where you can support that so they can be successful? So what do you do? Do you give homework that’s always due the next day? Is that fair even to the middle class kid who had soccer last night. So think about those kinds of things. As a parent do you want to go home to a child who can’t do—your own child, let’s say, who can’t do the work that’s been sent home by the teacher. So if you’re now the teacher sending homework that you know that child can’t do, why are you doing that? I mean, why are you setting up a parent/child interaction that’s not going to be positive. So we look at where are the kids’ reading? What can they read? Uh, anything that’s independent needs to be at that level. Anything that’s more difficult then that, are you going to sit with the child or do you have somebody else sit with the child who can help them do that? Um, and so we’re looking at successes um and we’re also looking at growth. I don’t think it’s—it’s um appropriate for a teacher to say, “Well, but the child came in and this is what they could do and that’s pretty much a three year old can do, but I’m teaching kindergarten.” OK. So where’s this child going to be at the end of the year? You need to accelerate their learning and what are you doing to get them there? Um, they may not be uh where all the kids are by the end of kindergarten, let’s say, but won’t that child be there by the end of 1st grade, uh and what’s your plan to get that child there. Um, so I don’t really by in to unsuccessful, I guess. Um, I think all kids can be successful, you just may not recognize how they are being successful.

Spelling is really an interesting thing and I guess I’d—I’d like to take the opportunity to talk about it because when I was a teacher—and I taught 1st grade for like 20 odd years, so it was a long time in 1st grade—um, I didn’t—had no clue how to teach spelling. Um, I really didn’t think it was so important, to be honest. Just like I didn’t think handwriting was very important so I didn’t teach that either. Um, and then, you know, I wound up teaching as a demonstration teacher in the school district working with Shane Templeton and Donna Bare. So spelling had to become important because they were doing research in my room. But what I learned was not the “Here’s a list of words, spell them. Lucky you. You’ll get an ‘A’ every week. You won’t do so well, but those are the words,” was how you could use how a child represents words as a window to their reading and their writing. Now that’s sweet. OK? So I could ask kids to spell some words for me and certainly I needed other measures, but as a teacher pretty quickly I could tell if this child was going to struggle with grade level material or if it was going to be easy. And let—let me give you a real example of that. So I’m in 1st grade—because 1st grade’s my love. At this point I was teaching 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders together, but with those beginning 1st graders—so I’d ask them—now this is like the first day of school, “Would you spell ‘bed’ for me? Would you spell ‘ship’ for me?’ And they were like, “What are you talking about?” You know, “No one ever asked me to spell a word before?” And so what you would see, you know, when I remember Paulo, he scribbled. Well, as a 1st grade teacher, if I think I’m going to teach him sound symbol relationship today, I’m in for a whole world of hurt because it’s not going to happen. He has to learn how to write his name first. So by asking that, a spelling thing, it was very clear that that would be an inappropriate instruction. We needed to work on predictable text, language, learning that there is an alphabet in the world um because he didn’t know that. For another child, same 1st grade, OK? They spelled bed, ‘bd.’ Well, that child already understands sound symbol relationships. Probably not a real proficient reader, needs predict—predictable text, but not the same as Paulo. OK? Uh, and then I had a child who wrote—um, spelled all those words correctly, by the way, and then wrote “Wellington is my dog,” when I said write something that you want to write and wrote it all correctly. OK? That child’s a reader and actually was reading novels. Now that’s a 1st grader—three kids out of this group of 10 uh in my whole class of 30. So asking that little assessment piece that involves spelling showed me that right away and then I could verify that with other reading/writing kinds of informal assessment. The other thing is that it taught me that you teach children how to spell words by patterns um and you help them know that so that it’s a—a thinking activity and that you can use that knowledge then to spell an unknown word. So you have strategies to go about it. Um, so I think that’s really important and I didn’t know that before and it changes the look of spelling. So it’s not this memorized notion from the 1800’s. It’s a very active, inductive process and it helps you understand, again, what a child is doing in reading and writing. So um it gives you a window in.

Hmm. Oral language and writing? I don’t know because I don’t think the link is real direct and I’ve not done any specific studies. I know that in second language work you—you can’t just develop oral language fluency. That’s not sufficient. I mean, you need um—and—an, you know, when you think about it, you’ve got students that are good talkers, right? Lots of oral language, incredible vocabulary, but you might not see that in written format. You have other kids that kind of struggle, um and you see incredible um product in—in what they do in writing. So I don’t, you know—I—I don’t know where to go with that to be really honest because I don’t see direct links necessarily.

OK. It’s hard. I mean, at the beginning it’s hard, the—the rational why I’m doing what I’m doing and where I’m going. Um, I think you start with that early on in undergraduate programs. I—I think that you always ask, “Why are you doing this? What’s the goal?” before you even really get into the theory. Um, “Why are you doing ‘Round Robin Reading?” “Well, I don’t know. I’ve always done it.” “Really? Now let’s go look. Um, what might be the research here? Don’t you think we should go explore it a little bit?” Um, I think sometimes that’s the best way in. But the other thing I think you have to do and—and this is from Connelly and Clendenin’s work, personal and practical knowledge. They’re work is made, I think, a tremendous difference in the way we can approach this with teachers. And it’s “You are who you are as a person, so who are you as a person? What do you value as a teacher? What did you see when you were a student? What did you like? What didn’t you like?” And I think we have to spend lots of time making that explicit, really explicit. Not just leaving it underground because we know that in times of difficulty in classroom, teachers are going to revert back to that. You may not even know why, it’s just something that they were so entrenched in as a child going through school. Um, so you need to make that explicit. And then I think we have to in our classes work from that. So just like elementary students or high school students and middle uh school students, that all the pre-service teachers and all the practicing teachers that are in our classes or workshops or professional development sessions or whatever, are coming with different experiences. And so when we see them co-opt or appropriate, something that we’re talking about within our class or professional development center and it looks different, very different in some cases from what we thought we were talking about, then I think we need to engage again in conversation um because for some teachers that little step was huge and for other teachers they never would have never even done that because they’re thinking in experiences of different—will take them to different points. So I think making those things part of the conversation rather then letting them be underground helps that. But I think we have to know that who I am as a person is going to be very important in how I interpret that research and how I bring it into my classroom. And then again, I—let’s overlay it again with the context of the school. Uh, and again I may bring it in but I may not because in my school that would be too risky to do even though it’s something I really want to do. So I think opening up all these layers um is really important. Uh, change is not easy and it’s not “I share this wonderful thing with you, why aren’t you doing it?” It’s not. And you—you’re going to do it in more effective ways for your students because what I don’t know as the person supporting you is I don’t know your students like you do. I don’t know how they work together as a group and how they work as individuals. So you have to help me understand that and you have to help me understand that because you’ve had experiences before you came to be a teacher, you’ve had experiences now that you are a teacher, and you’re combining all that with this new thing that you’re trying to do. So I think I’m packing all that.

OK. Well, they won’t. It’s uh maintaining your common sense. Um, and you go “What’s common?” Well, if—if you’re feeling uncomfortable as a teacher in what you’re doing, just think of what the kids are feeling. OK? If you’re unhappy and you’re going to work every day and you’re miserable but you’re in charge, just think of what your students are doing. OK? So I think be real close to who you are and what you’re feeling. Uh, and if it’s always painful and not happy, what are you going to do to change it. What are you going to go do common sense wise to say, “I shouldn’t be doing something so awful every day. What will I do to change that?” Um, and so I guess it’s just that simple um, doing checks on yourself to see um because if it’s that awful for you, it has to be absolutely awful for your students who have no power in this circumstance.