P DAVID PEARSON
It’s P. David Pearson and uh I’m at Michigan State University where I hold the John A. Hannah uh chair in uh education.
Where am I in terms of literacy? Well literacy, I take—uh, I actually have two complimentary definitions that I use when talking about literacy. The first one has more to do with print and it’s the—it’s the use of print uh for uh purposes of uh communication, uh information gathering, and uh, uh personal pleasure, uh reading just for fun and like so. But communication is the—is the essence of—of literacy. We communicate with a—with a person who’s either there or not there. Uh, and that’s what I think ties it into language. There’s a second meaning of literacy that’s become more and more popular recently and that is literacy as mastery over some particular discourses, set of discourses or practices in the liken. That’s how I think the social linguists talk about literacy. And so they talk about literacy as being uh competent in and able to use a certain discourse being oral or written.
Sure. Well as—as I look at the history of our conceptions of literacy over the past 40 years, it—it seems to me that the uh, uh the concept that um best explains our journey is one of expanding use of the national context. So when I was in graduate school in the 1960’s, when we talked about context—I mean context might have meant the context of a word or a context of a sentence. So do you identify letters faster within a word or in isolation? Or (clears throat) is a word more meaningful when it’s in isolation or in a sentence? Or is it easier to read in one situation or the other? So it was a big deal in the—in the 1960’s when the psycholinguistics came along to move from uh the uh old more behavioral um, uh sort of uh linking and chaining models of learning to—models of learning to models of learning that actually lets you talk about things like language, and sentences, and—and alike. So that was an important uh—I think uh first step. It seems to me that then psycho—psycholinguistics—psycholinguistics sort of got—at least in the field of reading, it got a sort of subsumed into uh cogni—the cognitive revolution and became a part of that. And when—when a—sort of the new cognition came along in—in the 70’s, our national context e—e—extended to include the context of whole text. So we had all kinds of work on text analysis and then the context of one’s knowledge, that is what the reader brings to the page. So that in—in a sense all the experiences that you bring became a context for understanding how it is you uh make sense out of text. And then in the uh—when social linguistics um started sort of um becoming uh a more popular uh phenomenon, I—I would—I think starting in the 70’s but really it’s more of the 80’s when I think it really became uh much more popular. It seems to me that a context that becomes a—a cultural and social context and you get—you get those two context coming into play. So now the resources available to the reader and the influences on a reader’s uh making meaning while reading and writing now extends even farther outward to the social and through the cultural to sort of like almost historical kinds of context, that is the context of the—of the group or culture of which you’re a part. And then finally, I think you can um, um look at uh kind of the constructivist take on all of this uh looking at critical theory and uh, uh--and uh some of the constructivist literary theorists and the like uh saying that there are now economic and political contexts that have to be brought to bear in explaining how it is that people understand what they read. So—so my—my conceptualization of this—of this journey is uh that our notion of literacy and—and—and what counts as a part of meaning making, uh can be conceptualized as an every expanding set of contexts.
What is some things that children must go through to become literate? Well, let me revise that a little bit. I think that there are sort of optimal pathways. I think there are many pathways to literacy and—and kids get there in a variety of ways and some kids get there uh, uh just through immersion with the language and print that’s in environments and some kids get there, you know, sort of kicking and screaming through all kinds of uh, of very elaborate and—and uh—and sincere instructional um efforts on the parts of—of folks and schools and the likes. So there’s a lot of ways to get to—to be literate. But uh—but if I had to describe sort of optimal uh pathways, it would be no question about it, lots of early experiences with language and with print. And in ways in which you can—kids learn early on from the time you’re two and three, you see the relationship between the language that they’re using and their parents are using and—and—and what happens when people talk about books and talk like books and—and all those kinds of things. So if—if a child very early gets the idea that books contain language and the language contains ideas, and ideas con—are—are—are the stuff of experience and the like, then the book becomes a part of one’s life and one’s experience and the liken. And developing that knowledge and that expectation and that disposition toward print I think uh smoothes uh the learning uh curve for the kids who have that. And, of course, embedded in that are—are not only rich experiences with print, but also lots of rich experiences with language. So uh the—the more you talk, the more you read, the more you write, the better you get uh kind of thing. And that’s true of a three—that’s true of a two and three year old as it is of a—of a 20 or a 30 year old. Uh, so if that can be in place then I think that smoothes the pathway. I think uh, uh the other thing that uh the child uh needs, I think, are some um—are uh some more knowledgeable others, to use the Vagodskian phrase, who can intervene in that set of experiences to uh make the child self-conscious and intentionally aware of how the language and the print in that environment work. Because without that knowledge uh I think that it’s hard to become um a uh self-conscious and critical kind of uh—of user of written language. That is I don’t think you can read and write—write well without understanding how this stuff works. And that seems to me to be one of the primary roles of school and of teachers is to help people understand how this stuff works, if you will. To take a classic uh, uh Halladian notion to help kids understand both uh form and function of oral language and, of course, the written language uh, uh forms and structures we use to communicate and the like. So that to me is what school is all about. And it means uh everything uh from uh, uh metalinguistic awareness, to phonetic awareness, to later on letting uh kids understand how juandra works and how it is that authors use uh formal aspects of language to position readers in certain ways and to achieve the kinds of affects on readers that they would like to achieve. And that paves the way even later on in one’s career hopefully uh by the time they get to middle school or high school where they’re—where they’re—they can—they have a critical awareness of these devices and how people might use those to their political or ideological advantage and the liken. If you can—but it—it all has to do with um, with language use and language a—a—a—a—a—awareness at—at every level. And that seems to me to be the common thread. And that’s what I hope that teachers are able to do. And it seems to me that in a sense the teacher who’s—uh, who uh with a four or a five year old is uh helping them become aware of um—of uh the phonemic structures. Uh infrastructures of words is in a sense doing the same kind of thing as the high school teacher who’s uh, uh (clears throat) dealing with uh a television adver—advertisement and talking to kids about the devices that—that people use to uh propagandize others.
Well, of course, there’s the—there’s the old uh saw about you spend the first three years uh learning to read and then the next three or four years reading to learn and then you never give up the reading to learn part of things. And there’s—there’s uh—the reason that that uh saying is uh—has sort of hung around is that there’s a—a strong element of truth in it. Uh, I mean a lot of the uh, um early reading stuff that kids go through is more reading—uh, learning to read and uh the—the content mirror may not be important. But I’d like to think that in terms of—that while surely issues of content and knowledge acquisition become more paramount at a later stage in one’s career, I’d like to think that uh when we deal with uh, uh young kids, that we put—that we provide materials that have content that’s worth learning intrinsically and is interesting to them and—and the like. So I don’t—I don’t fully buy into that. That is it seems to be that—that early on not only are you learning to read but you’re also reading to learn. And when you’re reading to learn, if you—if you can structure your primary grade program so that kids are also reading to learn then I think learning to read is—is easier because it’s more interesting, engaging, and uh, uh and worthwhile uh for the readers. But (clears throat) that said, there are still uh some stages that kids go through and they are the classic sorts of stages that uh, uh people like Connie Jewel or Gene Shaw or others uh have talked about in terms of, you know, the phases that kids go through in—in acquiring uh competence with print and uh Lanai Array has a really nice stage theory on the like. Uh, but, you know, early on you do go through these stages where uh basically print is a bunch of meaningless squiggles on—on a page and you move to uh sort of a proto-alphabetic kind of phase where, you know, uh letters, if you will, sort of stand for words and then you uh get to the sort of uh, uh full alphabetic stage where you understand the alphabetic principle and how it works to uh—to uh, um, uh, uh in writing to sort of create words and in reading it, it allows you to sort of uh unlock them and say and understand them. And that—that’s a really critical uh stage when you learn that alphabetic principal and you—you make that “A ha.” That these pieces that go up in the making words can be used in lots of different words, in lots of different ways, in lots of different places. And that’s a really critical understanding that typically comes from most kids somewhere in the end of 2nd, beginning of 1st grade when they reach that full alphabetic stage. And then finally after that you reach that sort of stage where you can manage a—a—a variety of resources uh (clears throat) linguistic in the sense of semantic and syntactic as well as uh the uh, uh, uh—the um orthographic uh structure of the—of—of the words and the like to really um, uh not only be uh, a um, uh, uh a competent reader of the words you know but to unlock lots of new words you’ve never seen before. Uh, and I actually think that the acquisition of uh—of uh the alphabetic principal and that knowledge is a really key breakthrough for all kids, whether they’re taught the alphabetic explicitly as they are in, you know, most late-90’s uh phonics programs and the like or uh whether they acquire it through more of an immersion as whole language advocates would hope that kids do that they—but I think everyone um, uh wants kids to uh make that break—breakthrough to discover what uh, uh Phil Goth calls the “Cypher,” and they develop—I think the other term he uses that I love is “Cryptoanalytic Intent,” which means that you have in your head the disposition to discover, to—to recode that message into some—into another code that’s more readily understandable to you, i.e. your oral language code. So I think that’s a real key breakthrough. Then I think another uh key breakthrough is um—and hopefully kids make this early on but a lot of them don’t make it until later (interruption) Oh, sorry. And I think another key breakthrough—and hopefully kids make this early on but lots of them really don’t make it until later is uh developing the disposition that books are not only there to read but they’re actually there for learning, that there’s stuff in them that’s—that’s worth knowing and worth having or worth experiencing in the case of uh novels and poetry and things like that. So that to me is another important uh breakthrough that kids make. And then I suppose the third real breakthrough is—is the discovery that again, you know, it comes with—for different kids at different stages, uh the—the discovery that you can control and manipulate uh the language that authors and books are controlling and manipulating, that that’s something that you as a language user can do yourself. Uh, and when you discover that then you discover uh the power of language uh and quite literally the power that language has uh not only for you in terms of uh, uh, uh liberating unity in lots of things but uh the power that uh others can avail themselves of and using language uh for political or ideological gain, which uh we have lots of examples of historically.
Well, the knowledge base issue and its historical development has a tricky phenomenon because the problem is—is that every time we discover another one of these uh, uh contexts, uh these uh areas of uh—of uh—of investigation that are—that are important, that have an influence on reading, then uh we want to add it to the knowledge base but we never take anything out of the knowledge base. So I think the knowledge base for teaching and reading in the 60’s was—was uh, uh pretty uh, uh—pretty manageable and pretty small. I mean we wanted—in the 60’s we wanted people to understand uh the alphabetic principle. We wanted them to understand a few things about uh comprehension, that comprehension consisted of—of uh a set of uh—of identifiable skills. It had names like, you know, main idea, and—and details, and determining cause and effect and uh, uh summarizing and a few other things like that. But—and then maybe we had the notion that uh, uh reading uh—that the distinction I made earlier—the distinction between reading to learn and—learning to read and reading to learn, that was all a part of our knowledge base but—and I think early on uh we uh developed uh, uh the conviction that—and I think it was the late 60’s, early 70’s. We developed a conviction that it would be helpful if—if teachers knew a fair amount about language and how it works and how it develops. And I remember uh I was teaching at the University of Minnesota, we actually had a course that all elementary majors had to take on the structure of the English language, which was uh a sort of a history structural account of uh, of—of English and the like. Uh, that sort of went by the wayside in the 80’s, got swept up. I don’t know what it got lost too but it—it got swept up and—and what I think uh emerged in the 80’s in terms of the uh—what had to be added to the knowledge base was the cultural and—and essential uh features and aspects and grounding of learning. That is that uh learning uh always occurs in—in—in a social and cultural and, if you will, a historical context too because cultures are always tied to the history of—of a particular group of uh—of uh folks. So I think that those were the—uh, the—uh, the grounding in the 80’s. That—and the other thing that happened in the 70’s and 80’s was just uh the—the imposition of uh, uh, uh the growth and our knowledge of cognition, that is uh, uh all of the stuff that we were learning about the nature of knowledge and the nature of learning. All of that, I think, became a part of the knowledge base to. Um, and then um another element got added uh very explicitly in the 80’s and if had always been there a little bit in—in children’s literature courses but the—the notion that you could teach reading through literature. It was a late 80’s, early 90’s kind of phenomenon and I think we added to—if you look under methods text and the like from the 60’s they—they make a passing nod to literature. But if you look at them in the 80’s and early 90’s, I mean literature is uh—is the core of—of—of teaching reading. Uh, and as I said earlier, these—these um—these—well, let’s start over again. And to make a point that—that, I think, really important, when these new um, uh, uh phenomena come along and when people think they’re important, we don’t usually get rid of something—some of the old, we just add them—add on to it. But, unfortunately, we don’t usually expand the number of credits that people have to have in their courses and the like. So—so—so uh it just seems to me that we put more and more of a burden on those who uh do teacher education in our—in our colleges and universities. Uh but, you know, this is not unlike what happens to the elementary teacher. Uh, people discover all kinds of new things to be added to the curriculum but it’s uh—it’s not a zero sum game. They don’t take anything away; they just keep piling it on.
Well, my notion of the role that research ought to play in uh—in—influencing uh the uh practices and the uh conceptions and theories of literacy uh that a teacher has are two fold. First of all, uh you know, in my—in my um ‘Pollyannish’ world, I would hope that uh—that uh people who do research could write about it in ways that would be uh perceived as relevant to and interesting uh to teachers. And, you know, some people do that better then others do. Uh, but uh—but there’s a sense in which I—I think all teachers really do want to engage in what we would call “Best Practice,” where best practice is defined as that set of practices that are best documented by the research that is—that’s available at any given point in time. And so um I’m uh—I think teachers really want that. I think so often what happens to them is they try to get into the research and it is such an opaque uh, uh, uh phen—you know, uh phenomenon out there that they can’t get inside of it. They don’t feel comfortable with it. The discourse of—of—of academic pros is not something that uh, uh, uh invites them easily into those texts. And—and so they uh—they tend to view, I think, research or theory as something that’s uh, uh difficult and irrelevant to my life. Um, now—but I think that—that the problem—that this is more of a reading—of a writing problem then a reading problem. That is that those of us who do research and who evaluate and want to see it used have—have really not learned how to write about it in the ways that—that appeal to uh, uh to the audience who—for whom we intended. Uh, and the solution to that problem is, I think, uh, um getting better at—at writing about—writing about research in ways that talk to rather then pass teachers. But the other aspect of research that I would love to promote amongst teachers is uh the—the concept of—of a teacher, as if you will, a researcher, an applied social scientist, a—a—an inquiring mind, whatever you want to call it. The notion that every day there are paths before you, hundreds and thousands of bits of information that uh—that you could actually use uh to help you make decisions about what you’re going to do for your whole class, for a small group, for an individual child, and those data are every bit as valuable and useful and—and—and valid uh, uh for making those kinds of decisions as are uh, you know, somebody else’s conceptions of a—of what a curriculum ought to look like or something like that. Uh, but I—I’m not sure that our uh teacher preparation programs uh do a very good job of helping teachers develop that disposition and helping them develop the confidence that they would need uh to uh—to pull that off. And, of course, if you’re going to do that then it—then it puts some responsibility on the teacher to be as knowledgeable as he or she can about, you know, what the research base out there and in the fields have to say.
Well, I mean uh standards are sort of like a lot of things in life. You can’t live with them and you can’t live without them. Uh, the—the uh—and I—I was a real strong supporter of standards uh in the early part of the standards movement and there were uh—there were really two or three reasons why I was supportive of—of them. The first is that uh—and the thing I like about standards is that it seems to me that what they do is they—they make our values public. Uh, I am uh convinced that every—in every school, in every classroom, whether they’re explicit or not, there’s a set of standards operating in that classroom. There’s something called “What counts.” And standards are really public expression of what counts. What gets you ahead in that classroom? What—what will get you a good grade? What will get—what will pass you on to—through the next portal and the like? And I think that uh—that when standards aren’t clear, and open, and explicit, that uh what you do is you really uh privileged that subset of kids who figure out what the rules of a game are on their own mainly by virtue of where they grew up and where they lived. And so I think standards are a way of uh hopefully uh letting everyone uh share in uh the uh, uh—the expectations—the clear expectations of—of schooling. Um, another reason that I supported standards and I think one of the—the good things about them is that uh, uh they uh increase the likelihood that low income, poor kids and kids in poor schools will gain access to the same curricular advantages as the rich kids and kids in rich schools because uh if you just let the system work its way, what will happen is you’ll develop dafacto differential curric—curriculum in rich schools and poor schools. It’s been happening for years. It happens all the time. It happens within high schools in terms of different tracks. And I think one of the lessons of—of the work on expectations and standards is that uh if you aim low uh, uh, you know, you’ll shoot low. And uh—and uh—and kids and their parents will bear consequences of that uh—of that low uh aim. And I think what we’ve uh, uh—we haven’t figured out how to hold everyone to high standards though and—and I think what we’ve got is we’ve got the high standards in place but we haven’t figured out how to support the kids who uh have more difficulty or take more effort in getting there. So we—we—so if—if you have the high expectations for everybody but you don’t have uh the kind of support that uh some—some uh kids are going to take to reach those high standards, then it’s uh—it—it’s really no different then having a differential curriculum. Right? Uh, and—and that’s the thing that I think we haven’t figured out how to do very well. Now we’re getting better at it. I mean, if you look at early literacy programs, I mean one of the things that—one of the big revolutions in the last decade is all of the early intervention programs that are uh designed to uh, uh if you will, remediate before the factor failure or the—the more uh popular term is accelerate the students learning. Right? So that they get ahead of the game before they experience uh, uh a steady diet of failure in the like. So I—I think those programs are—are working very well. And even at the secondary level I’ve seen uh some uh programs that uh, uh reach uh, uh very reluctant uh learners in—in—usually in poor urban environments. Uh and uh by taking on the issues directly uh what role literacy serves in our lives and how you can use literacy, if you will, to either beat or become a part of the system in the like. Uh, so—so—so for me standards uh have this sort of uh underlining uh under belly of equity about them. They—they make things fairer and more open and that’s why I like them. And the downside of them is uh, you know, we don’t always have the support systems uh, uh to uh—to help people achieve the high standards that we are encouraging them to hold themselves too. And that holds for schools, for teachers, for kids. I think the other place that standards get uh, uh—get us off tract is when they become translated in the performance standards, in assessments. Uh, it gets associated with high stakes kinds of stuff. And what we have now is, you know, around the country is all these high stakes assessments that are uh preventing teachers from really—in—in lots of places, from engaging kids in the very sorts of challenging curriculum that the standards are suppose to be promoting. Uh, and so it’s kind of like there’s these uh—there’s an internal contradiction uh in the whole movement and we seem to be uh, um sort of, uh I don’t know, imploding back into our—well, we certainly are working at odds with our own intentions uh with a lot of the stuff that’s going on. Uh and, you know, in the state of Michigan we have a very sensible set of standards and we have a very sensible state assessment yet when it becomes uh such a—when it becomes as high stakes as it—as its become, it encourages schools and teachers to engage in—in—in uh, uh curricular practices that are at odds with both the standards that we have and what it was that the designers of the tests thought we were going to promote by putting those tests in place. I mean, I know schools where kids practice worksheets that look just like the state tests for three or four weeks before they take it and that’s not what we had in mind.
Yeah, well this is a personally wrenching story for me because I have a history of—of uh dashed hopes when it comes to assessment. Uh, my—I—I use to just loathe assessment. I just thought it was the (microphone noise) least interesting concept in the world—in the world. I—and I loved instruction and I loved uh, uh promoting comprehension and response to literature and really getting kids inside of text and dissecting it and doing all that kind of stuff with it. But I got into assessment in the—in the middle 80’s because I would go out and talk to—to groups of teachers about how, you know, we—we’re—we’re learning so much about the cognitive processes underlying reading and—and comprehension and the liken that if you really—if you’re really uh systematic and enthusiastic about uh pushing the envelope on all—on these higher order processes, you can make a real difference in the lives of kids. And then I talked with a group of teachers and they say, “Well, you know, that makes a lot of sense to me but, you know, how is that going to help our kids get a better score—score on x,” where ‘x’ was the name of some state or standardized test or the liken. I didn’t have a real good answer for them. So I started thinking about assessment and in the late 80’s I got involved in some efforts, like in the state of Illinois, to write uh assessments that uh, if you will, tests worth teaching to. That is, where the—where the test embodied your model of reading and your model of reading instruction so that if you talked to it, you know, you’d be doing good things. I mean that was the logic of it. Uh and, you know, um it didn’t work. Uh, what happened is we put out those tests and—and publishers would come along and they’d—they’d find ways to curricularize them in the same way that they curricularized and—and—and, you know, dissected all the other kinds of comprehension curriculum we had before. So, you know, you had all these—these uh—people were making money hand over fist selling these practice booklets to schools and the like. Same thing happened in Michigan that I just described. It’s been going on for uh, you know, over a decade now. Uh, but—and then in the early 90’s—uh so—so I decided that—that maybe we had to get out of the multiple-choice, you know, uh paradigm in order to make this work. So I got very imamate in the early 90’s of performance assessment and—and conceptualizing reading assessment at least for older kids, as not, you know, a sort of set of tests with a bunch of questions about them but rather really needy kinds of tasks where kids would read texts or obsessive texts uh, uh about important issues and then—then the comprehension activities that surrounded the—the reading of those texts and the response to literature activities and those were all—those would all become kind of a seamless hall, would really get kids into close reading of the text and get them into uh uncovering the themes, relating those to their own knowledge, helping them become uh critical consumers of texts in trying to fare out authors intentions and all those—all those good kinds of things. And I actually thought by about ’93 or ’94 that we were making wonderful progress in performance assessment in building these rich performance tasks. We even made them look like good instruction because we would have this—there would be phases where you’d be encouraged to discuss things with—with uh kids and the like. And then uh—and I thought we were really uh moving along and then about ’95 (noise in background) the thing just started to fall apart. And it fell apart for I think three reasons. Uh, first uh, uh the tests did not pass psychometric muster on—on issues of reliability and generalized ability, that is uh people couldn’t always score them the same way and get—you know, the two judges wouldn’t necessarily give the kids the same score. Although that’s a technical problem, we could have overcome that just by better training. The second issue was generalized ability and that is if I gave you a passage about, you know, uh, um I don’t know, photosynthesis to read and you knew a lot about photosynthesis, you might not—you might do OK. But it didn’t necessarily predict how you would do on another passage that was about a different topic. Or if I gave you a story to read and the story had a certain set of characters and there was a certain kind of uh social situation depicted and you did well on that, I wouldn’t necessarily predict how you might—might do in response to another story. So we couldn’t feel confident without administering a large number of tasks that we had a really uh trustworthy assessment of—of—of your uh prowess in—in—in reading. Uh, so psychometrically it didn’t pass muster. The second thing that—that happened with those tests is because they engaged kids in thinking about texts in—in critical and personal ways, response to literature and the like, they had a lot of activities like, you know, “What does this remind you of? What is the author really trying to say? What do you think about this and the like?” There were a lot of folks who worried that we were getting too much inside kids heads. That they—that we wanted to know their opinions and feelings about things and that schools didn’t have any right to sort of be impinging on your feelings and your opinions. Schools are about knowledge and facts and stay with that. And I remember in California with a—a class assessment—a California learning assessment system, it was just uh, uh—there was a lot of public outcry about—about class for that uh and so it didn’t pass muster there. And the third place it didn’t pass muster was in classrooms because why people loved it and they thought it was great and good instruction, I mean it takes a lot of time to score those things and you’ve got to get other people together and you’ve got to have these scoring conferences. And while all that’s really good stuff and good professional development, it’s very intrusive and it takes a lot of time. And, you know, teachers in today’s world uh, uh live a very busy and hairy life and they don’t have uh the time to uh—to really, I think, en—engage in—in assessments that are as uh, uh labor intensive and—and as, sort of if you will, cognitively taxing uh as those are. So it seems to have been, you know, sort of retreated. And now where it exists, it exists in very local circumstances where—where people have been, you know, just decided this is what they’re going to do. Strangely enough it seems to have survived in writing because writing is such—so—so much more transparently a performance kind of task or activity. So I—I’m disappointed about that uh and uh where we’re headed now, my current stick is building uh articulated and synergistic assessment systems. That we no longer search for the perfect tests, the—the—the silver bullet that—that’s going uh meet everyone’s needs. We know longer worry about having a single tool that will uh help kids understand where they were, help teachers figure out what to do next for that kid or group of kids, give parents a sense of where their kids are, help the administrators figure out whether their school is on track or doing well, and satisfy the—the school board and—and—and the public that our tax dollars are being spent well. That what we need to do is to build assessments and ask of each assessment uh what kind of information it provides and what kind of uh—and what that information—what kinds of questions that information could be used to answer. So what I do now is I set out—OK (clears throat) here’s the—here’s the uh, uh the constituents or the clients of the assessment systems. So it’s kid, parent, teacher, uh administrator, school board, public. Right? And here are uh—here are uh questions that people—that each of those people want to have answered. And then the question becomes “What kinds of assessments tools would help us uh, uh give—provide them with information that—that would help them answer those questions?” So that’s the way that I approach it now. And we’re—we’re actually working with a school trying to do that. So far, so good. (Interruption) It’s only because it’s so intrusive on—you know, in—in—in people’s lives, in everyone’s lives. In teachers’ lives, kids’ lives, parents worry about the whole thing. I mean, it truly is. It’s—It’s crazy. I think we’ve made too much out of it, frankly. Yeah. The one piece of advice I always give people about assessment is that whatever you do, you should never send a test out to do a curriculum’s job. And I think in so many place in our—in our country that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re really—we’re—we’re betting that the test will carry the day.
Well, yeah let me talk about—let me review uh several of those things. First of all, when it comes to second language learners, if we think that uh, uh performance and portfolio assessments are important for uh—for first language users or even more important I think for second language users because we need to—we need lots of work products and to see their work products. And, by the way, I—I would also include oral activities in that uh to really be able to uh evaluate their acquisition uh, uh of—of English. Um, secondly uh I think that um (microphone noise in background) if the issue of uh building on one’s knowledge and strengths is important in—in first language reading, it’s equally as important in the second language reading. And—but it’s sort of a double whammy there because you’ve got—you’ve got two questions to answer. Is the conceptual knowledge base there? And then is the—is the linguistic uh knowledge base there? And—and so it’s—it’s even more important to (microphone noise in background) uh to consider those issues because, you know, you’ve got a lot of second language learners who really do have the knowledge, they just don’t have uh the uh, uh—the words to put it in, uh so to speak. Uh (interruption) Right. Yeah, and—and—and the issue of uh—of—of building um—of using uh one’s uh knowledge and—and uh conceptual strengths uh as a basis for uh teaching them to read and write and things like that is even more important for the second language learner. Being there you’ve got the double whammy because you have not only the uh, you know, not only the question of whether or not they—that they have the concepts or ideas in their head, but whether they quite literally have the words to express them at least in the language uh that you’re uh teaching them in. Uh, and the um—I guess the other point I would make about uh—about working with uh second language learners is uh—this—I’ve—I’ve been doing some research recently that has given me pause about um the recommendation that seems to be so um—uh being taken so seriously in so many places. You know, in the—in the book, “Preventing Reading Difficulties,” at the very end of it they—they have a recommendation about working with second language learners in teaching reading. And—and basically the recommendation is this. Uh, if uh there is competence within the staff to teach reading in one’s first language then that’s the route you should go. So teach the kid—if you—if you have a lot of kids who uh speak uh Spanish and you have a teacher who’s competent in Spanish, teach the kids to read in Spanish and then transition over to—to English. But if there’s—if there is neither uh, uh, a uh critical mass of kids nor the professional expertise in the school to do that and so you’re stuck with more of a typical ESL situation, then what you should do is to make sure that a uh, uh, uh a substantial oral language uh base of competence is in place before you start to teach reading in any formal way. They do have a copy out that says, “No, you can use print informally” and things like that but they uh—they say avoid the formal reading instruction until oral language is reasonably well developed. And the thing that gives me pause about that is uh some work that we’ve been doing at Michigan State in—in—in, you know, a local school that has a lot of kids from other countries uh because they’re graduate students at the university uh and granted those are not the typical immigrant kinds of kids. But there—we just see so many ways in which written language is uh—is used to uh boot strap oral language development. And so I’m—I’m—I’m becoming skeptical of the wisdom of that recommendation. And I guess what I’m thinking is that if written language can be used in ways that uh, um—what’s the right word? If written language can be used in ways uh that uh, um invite kids into the learning process and—and bolster their oral language development rather then as in sort of a whip to hold uh, you know—or to hold their feet to the fire, which is I think the worry that a lot of people have, now I think it’s uh going to be a powerful tool uh in—in—in uh—in English language development for ESL learners. So uh—but I’m going to do a lot more work on that and I think uh we as a—as a country, as a profession needs to do a lot more work on the role of literacy in uh English language development for kids who are learning English as a second language. (Interruption) Well and so much of the work—so much of the work has been done with older kids in ESL populations and we’re just now starting to be—right. And—and the ESL situation, I think in bilingual they’ll be search-based because of a strong uh Spanish/English connection is—is a little more substantial. But I worry about these other situations where you have 20 languages around in the school and the liken. Right?