Yetta Goodman

YETTA GOODMAN

Yetta Goodman:  My name is Yetta Goodman and I’m professor at uh the University of Arizona. I’m a emeritus—um no, I’m not a emeritus prof—let’s start—I’m Yetta Goodman and I’m uh regents professor at the University of Arizona in the College of Education in the Department of Language Reading and Culture. 

Well, in some ways I’ve been working a lot uh with very young children and uh the early childhood movement has been a wonderful movement to help teachers realize that you know best about children when you know how to observe them, when you know how to watch them closely and see what they’re doing, when you know how to uh interact with them when they’re um working with objects, when they’re writing, and when they’re reading to try to understand what they are trying to do, what they already understand when they work with materials. And so kids—basically it’s an attempt to get teachers to be able to uh constantly evaluate kids uh—we—we do that anyway. We’re always evaluating kids uh when we interact with uh anybody. And so what I’m concerned about as the teachers do that with—as an informed mind as possible. And so that’s what kid watching is all about. I think I began to use the word ‘kid watching’ because I wanted them to think of it as um not a um very uh, uh strict process where you have to check off every little box or where you have to ask a specific question, but it’s just in your ant—interactions and in your conversations when you watch kids interacting realizing that everything they do is based on their knowledge base and that it—whatever they do reflects what they know. And as teachers we need to know what kids know in order to help them grow and um re—and to relate to their own knowledge base.

Uh, well miscue analysis—first of all, I’ve been involved in miscue analysis for a long time and miscue analysis keeps informing me as a researcher and as a professional educator.  And so basically I want teachers to understand the underlying um theory about the nature of miscue. Um, I wouldn’t mind calling it the nature of mistake making if people thought of mistakes as revealing of processes, not just something that’s wrong that you have to eradicate.  Um, when I first started out miscue I was—we—uh, Ken Goodman, my husband, um, um began to look at how people read and how kids read and—and began to notice that the um mistakes that they made seemed to have some kind of logic to it.  Some kind of meaning that you could actually begin to organize. And so he began to think about that.  And having a background in linguistics and language, he began to look at the language issues. And to this day we still use miscue analysis in that way but I see miscue analysis as something to help me understand the nature of error or the nature of miscue in all language processes. In order to—uh, whenever we talk—and you can even see it maybe while I’m talking, I’m thinking about what I’m saying and sometimes I catch myself and sometimes I want to say it differently. And sometimes I see the audience and they’re nodding or they’re not nodding and so I keep shifting that. So miscues happen in oral language as well but they’re not negative because we need those to help use think through processes.  And especially when we see them in—in reading and writing, it helps us know the language knowledge that the kids have. I mean if the kids come up with a substitution that’s a synonym, for example, or omit certain words—omit um ‘the’ and ‘a’, which I call function words. If they omit those in particular situations but not in other situations, it shows me that they understand how function words work in English even if they don’t even know that they’re called function words.  That’s—I want um teachers to appreciate this nature of miscuing and—so that’s part of that aspect. 

Well first of all, I want them to listen. I want teachers to listen to one child reading one whole story—or one student.  And I—I need to say that we do miscues with elementary students, secondary students, adults, ESL uh people, um people of—who speak a language other then English.  And we’ve done miscues in other languages as well. But mainly I want uh a teacher to listen to uh, um their students read a whole passage that’s complete without ever stopping them. Because one of the powers about miscue analysis is say—say there’s a new word that the—that’s embedded that you know as a teacher that the student doesn’t know well or you may not even know that—but anyway, let’s say you do know that, and that word is repeated two or three times in a text and sometimes more. And you see that student transacting with that text and making changes at the same word across the text and eventually getting it. Well, that gives us insight into the fact that we don’t have to worry that we have to give kids every word that they know and every—all the information that they know, that their transaction with that text or their attempt to understand what the author is trying to say happens across time. And that the—how important it is to have texts that engage students, texts that teach, that’s to me a very important part of—uh, one of the important parts of the miscue analysis. The other is to just notice the strategies that kids use.  Uh, to be aware that they’re predicting that—and that they’re constantly self correcting and—and questioning what they’re reading. You know, that help you realize how smart our readers are, how smart our students are and that they’re not passive. I think that sometimes we still have this notion somehow that writing and speaking are very active and reading or listening are more passive processes. Reading and listening are as creative and pa—and um—and active processes as um, uh speaking and writing are and we need to help students realize that that’s the construction of meaning that we talk about.  That you’re constantly when you’re reading thinking, “Oh, oh look at that.”  And then, of course, we know now that we image when we read and we think about—we make up our pictures and we—we construct that text in—in a way that fits our own knowledge base. Well, miscues help you see that and that’s what I’d like teachers to be able to do first and then the question is what you do afterwards and how you help kids look at miscues um themselves or how you use it as a teacher and those are additional things we could talk about.

Well, the one other thing that—one of the things that uh I would want to do with miscue analysis, after I’ve listened to a student read a whole story I’ve marked down the miscues as I understand them, listen to the tape again.  I’ve—one of the things I’ve been working on now I—I call retrospective miscue analysis.  And we’ve been doing a lot of this with um students whose first language is not English and we’ve been doing it actually with people who are learning Japan—Japanese as a second language and other language, foreign language.  It’s to actually have conversations with the students themselves about their own miscues. So we actually have them listen to their tapes themselves and then begin to talk about why did you do that um and what does it show that you know. One of the things that we’ve learned that teachers pass on to their students is that mistake making is bad.  And this is especially true of students who are—uh, come from certain countries where perfection being correct—and we could name those countries but I—I think anybody who’s watching and has students from other countries knows that it—it—you know, in certain places if you don’t—aren’t perfect there’s something wrong. Well, um it’s amazing to be able to work with those students and have them begin to talk about their own reading process and to begin to look at miscues and say, “Look what you know.”  Well, going back to a function word again.  When a student makes a substitution—when uh—when uh an ESL student makes a sub—substitution with ‘a’ for ‘the’ that means that they understand something about the determiner system of English, they couldn’t make that substitution if they didn’t. So if we can help the students realize, “Look what you are doing” and it’s not a sim—it’s not just a simple mistake but it really helps us understand what you know about English and if we can engage those students in that process, that’s very important. And another—and I’ve actually been working with uh students who uh are Korean, um uh Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic students, Spanish speaking who are coming to the United States and who’ve uh passes TESOL ex—uh, exams ad are—are working in uh our university but still struggle a lot with reading.  And one of the things that I’ve begun to realize through analyzing miscues and having them talk about it, that they don’t—they’re not aware that their reading in their first language can be a resource for their reading in a second language. So I actually have these students who say to me, “Oh, when I’m reading in a first—when I’m reading in Korean or whatever, I don’t even worry about it.  I don’t—I don’t have any strategies,” they’ll say.  “I just read because it’s just there and I understand it all the time.  But when I’m reading in English, I make sure to separate that subject from that predicate and I make sure to be—be sure where the appositive phrases and all those kinds of things.”  And then I began to realize that they are capable readers in their native tongue but that they’re analytic readers too much so in English. And they are never going to become fluent English readers until they begin to think about how they can make use of their—the strength in their first language as they read the second language. And miscue analysis allows you to see those kinds of things.

Um, I think that teachers have to constantly be self-reflective of their own teaching practice and to try to understand how their teaching practice reflects their own theoretical knowledge about the reading process.  Now our views about reading come from very many different places. Um, they come from our own teaching of reading but they also come up from the way we were taught as readers ourselves. They come from our um teacher education courses or our ESL courses and theories of reading. Sometimes they come from just reading this theory, this theory, this theory, this theory and then this notion that somehow if I put all of them together I’ll have—you know, I do a little bit of this, and this, and this, and all of a sudden I’ll have a good way of instructing kid—people in reading.  But we really develop a theory about it ourselves and so somehow we have to think about “What are we doing in a classroom and um—and how does that reflect what we really believe?”  And it’s not an easy process. It’s a very complex process especially when we have a tendency sometimes to follow somebody’s program in some strict way without saying, “I’m the teacher. I’m working with a student or I’m working with a group of students, how does what I know about reading fit my students?”  And how you take instruction and instructional programs, which are not theory—instruction and theory inform each other but instruction is always built on theoretical practices. But you can’t take a theory and impose it.  It’s something you have to um work through yourselves. And I’ve decided more recently, although I feel very strongly about a theory of reading that I hold, I know that I can’t impose that on any teacher. But I can help teachers begin to think about “What do you believe about reading yourself and then are you really putting that belief into practice?”  And there are many teachers who have a wonderful holistic view of the reading process. And they’ll talk about the importance of comprehension and making meaning. And they’ll talk about the importance of um students reading a lot. And yet when they’re practicing, you see them focusing on um nouns and verbs or you see them focusing on how to par sentences. And you—we’ve got to find ways of asking ourselves “Well, why do we—why are we doing that?  Are we really doing it because we believe it or are we doing it because there’s a program—a commercial program we’re using that’s telling us to do that or our we doing that because that’s the way we were taught and we haven’t thought through how can I take this concern for comprehension and meaning and provide opportunities for my students to really be able to talk about their reading—what they understand, what’s their knowledge base—and to accept multiple interpretations about the reading process?” So I don’t—the—I think we need always as teachers to be self-reflective and it’s hard to do it by yourself and I know a lot of teachers are out there and doing it by themselves. But if you can work together with another person or be in a small study group or, of course, have course work um in universities where you can sit around and talk about these issues together, that will begin to help you reconsider and reflect on and rethink some of the practices that we do so that they match what we understand the process to be.

I think that a—I think that um historically uh we—in education, we have um helped teachers to think of themselves only as consumers of research and not as—as being um very involved in the research process themselves. I think teachers need to consider that whenever you are evaluating a student, that in itself can become a research project. Evaluation to me—in many ways when I’m evaluating somebody, I think about it and then I think, “Oh, I’m collecting people’s writing and I’m looking at what they’re doing. I could take that writing, keep it over a period of time and then begin to use that as a research myself so that I can inform myself about my own research and how my teaching is impacting that.”  Um, I think teacher research is a field, an action research I guess some people might call it. It’s a field that is beginning to grow again. It’s not new.  Uh, everything uh we—we keep recycling very important things and I’m glad to see this being recycled. But I think that—and to me that’s—that’s self—what we do as self-reflecting as teachers is part uh—is a beginning part of research. But then collecting data, um taking anecdotal records is a very important part of research collecting that across time. That’s what early childhood people have done uh for so long in how they look at young children and what I call “Kid Watching” is—is the same thing that we can do as adults with—when we work with adults in ESL or children with ESL and collect that data and turn that into a database that we can begin to use for both evaluative purposes and then research purposes.  And then the other part of that is to involve our students in evaluating with us. And again as we look at that, that—see our observation of what people do when they evaluate is uh a research stance. And I think we have—and it’s not an easy thing for any of us who are beginning to explore what it means for teachers to be involved. So I think that teachers need to—I think that’s part of the whole issue of how teachers get involved in research. I don’t believe that there’s any research that’s so important that I could say teachers need to do it if the teachers themselves don’t believe in it, understand it, and are ready to put it in practice themselves.  And that can only happen if the teacher is self-evaluative and looking at their own practice from a research stance.

OK.  Uh, here’s where I may part company from a lot of other researchers um and theorists um in child language development.  Uh, I’m not convinced that oral language is innate and written language is not, which I think a lot of people believe. And so the—it—because if I believ—believe that written language was no innate then I’d have to agree with people who say, “Well, maybe we need to teach written language differently then we teach oral language.”  I think that both written and oral language grow from a social need that people have to use language.  Um, written language starts almost as early as oral language starts in my—as I observe and as I study young children. Uh, children who are read to from birth—and there are parents that are reading to the kids in the hospitals um begin to look at written texts uh immediately. They begin to decide how written texts are used in their culture and in their society so that—studies done with Arabic kids who are read to um—uh, Arabic kids uh living in Canada—this was a study done there where uh the kids are—are given Arabic—read to in Arabic and from—and English from birth.  By the time they’re a year old they’ll hand the mother their uh Arabic book and they’ll turn it the right way because, of course, Arabic is opened in a different way and uh, uh scan—the orientation of reading is different and here are uh one year old kids who already know that because they’ve been immersed in those texts for so long.  And then the use of pencils and all of the things that we see two and three and four year olds do, they begin—I see them learning the—the concepts about reading and writing in a very similar way as I do um the concepts of oral language. And so I still believe that written language is something that’s learned as a result of the social construction within their cultures. Now I—I always have to be a little careful because there’s no doubt in my mind that if kids have lots of experience in reading and writing at home, they’re going to look a little different when they come to school in terms of reading and writing then other kids.  On the other hand and—and um—and we know, for example, that there are kids—somebody’s done studies, a few people, kids—some kids come to school and they’ve been read to 5,000 hours before they’re five years old. I mean have that data and it’s rich. Um, but on the other hand, we live in a very print oriented society.  So even kids who grow up in homes where reading and writing are not as intimate, are still—still have to deal with the role of written language in their culture and in their society. So it’s now unusual even with working class kids that by the time they’re four and five or—and I shouldn’t say even working class kids (Interruption) We know that even in homes where reading and writing are not as prevalent as in other homes uh that these kids are very engaged in written language.  They discover what written language is in their culture. We have signs all the time uh in our environment that go out.  They don’t walk through the malls with their eyes closed. Um, we just—um, my husband and I came back from a trip to Taiwan and, of course, if you—if you don’t know Asian language like I don’t, I think that every store is a uh Chinese restaurant because the—the—the print is overwhelming. I think there’s more print in Asian countries then there are here. And you know how much we have in this nation. And Asian kids do not scribble in the same way that Eng—um American kids do.  You can see right away that they’re aware at the age of three, four, and five, that their um characters or their um, um symbols that they use are different then ours and this true all over the world.  So kids pay attention to that.  And it’s not just print in the environment because we have—you know, people want to attach television and say, “Well, kids aren’t, you know, learning to read and write because of television,” on the other hand there is some interesting data uh that came out of an international study that Joerk Ellie from New Zealand did that suggests that maybe Danish kids are as literate as they are because generally all the foreign movies that they watch are—have subtitles in Danish. Well, if you’re three, four, and five, and six and you begin to—and all the—the—and you’re watching films in—from England or from the United States and they’re all in English and you see this subtitle all the time, that’s—who’ve got to ask yourself as—as a three, four, and five year old, “What is that stuff and how do I use it and what do I do with it?” And you have to begin to make sense of that. And we have a lot of work to do to do more research in those areas but I’m convinced myself that—that that data becomes part of kids schema as—in terms of written language. So I think they’re learning about written language, their learning about relationships between sounds and letters or um in Chinese their going to learn the relationship between uh characters and—and um meanings and things like that. And that—we can’t discount all that and that’s part of—I’ve been talking more about uh or—uh—um, the development of literacy, but it’s very similar to me as uh—in terms of what we’ve known over the years about how children learn oral language. And it’s very much related to the social needs of a culture or a society. And if print is valued in a society or if kids see it’s valued because it’s there all the time and people are using it all the time, they’re going to begin to value it themselves and use it in various ways. 

This is such a—an important question to me—oh, the question about “What is whole language” is very important to me. I um am concerned that it’s being attacked by people who don’t understand it. I’m concerned that it’s being rejected because people somehow think that it’s not acceptable, um it’s not a nice word in the present context.  Um, and whole language is not an easy concept to explain. Some people want it—want a definition in my hand. “Give me a definition right now in my hand and then I’ll understand it.”  And I really have um come to believe that definitions are uh, um always over-simplified.  Given that, let me try to uh give you some of my views of whole language. I think people come to whole—whole language and uh the views of whole language uh in many different ways. Um, but basically uh whole language to me is using language in classrooms—whatever classrooms you have—in ways that whatever language you use it’s relevant and meaningful to the learner.  That the language is—and—and the word whole simply means that uh we’re using all of a piece of language. We’re not um, uh taking words out and just studying words or taking sounds out and just studying sounds. But we’re using the context of real language to help to build conceptualizations of how lan—written language works in society. So it’s very whole.  And then it’s whole in an integrated fashion as well.  That when we—when we learn language—and this uh is related to how we learn language as children, when we learn language as—as babies, nobody takes language apart. Um, we um—we—you know, and we—we don’t uh give kids little sounds and say, “Say baa and say ca and say daa.”  We actually speak children, we interact with them, we know how important that turn taking behavior is as we talk to children, and uh we expect them to begin to understand the sounds and to use the sounds, to understand the syntax and use the syntax and to learn it from its use.  And I think that’s what—and—and oral language, by the way, is part of whole language. You need oral language whenever you’re learning written language. That’s another important aspect of teaching in a whole language way, that you’re using all the language systems and you’re integrating them. You don’t have a separate time for reading and a separate time for writing and a separate time for um oral language or listening. Sometimes people just do listening activities too. It’s got to be integrated and its got to whole.  But that’s not enough. Whole language to me is also the relationship between the teacher and the students.  And it’s caring for students, it’s believing that students can learn, it’s taking into account student’s culture and their language and realizing that those are um resources to build on.  Uh, I have a wonderful colleague by the name of Richard Lewis who talks about that language—we—we can think about language as a problem, but if we think about language as a resource, then we have something to build on. And whole language builds on what kids bring to us. And that’s—and whenever I—I say that, I’m always thinking of John Dewey who says that you have to start wherever—whenever you work with students, you have to start where that student is or where the child is or whoever you’re working with. You’ve got to—and teachers have to know about their children’s background. So it’s not an easy “Give me a definition,” but it’s how you conceptualize it.  And it’s not something that I can—you can—a teacher can say, “Tomorrow I’m going to be a whole language teacher,” or that an administrator can say, “We’re going to have a whole language school tomorrow.”  It’s again, teachers sitting down and deciding, “What do I believe?  What do I care about?  What do I want kids to be able to do as a result of the educational experiences that they have and how can we work on that together?”  The social aspect of that is al—so the social aspect becomes an important part of whole language as well.     

Right.  I think that in whole language I—I talk about learning strategies, or reading strategies, or writing strategies, and then I talk about teaching strategies. And both are strategies but they’re not one-to-one.  Teaching and learning are not a one-to-one match.  I know teachers would love to have that happen but if you’ve been teaching for a long time, you know that you can stand up and do the best lesson in the world and some kids will be doing a lot of learning, but some kids won’t.  And so the learning strategies and the teaching strategies should come together and they should support each other, but they don’t always do that. And that’s where the kid watching—being a good kid watcher, watching what kids are doing when they’re learning.  Um, you know, when you’ve—when you’re in front of a class and—and the kids disengage and you get a cl—a glassy look in their eye, you know.  And a good teacher is always doing that, and sometimes you can’t help that.  So I think that there are teaching strategies that teachers need to think about all the time and they relate to what you believe (Microphone noise) about teaching. Um, and I—I keep thinking about teaching as a negotiate—a negotiation process. I’m very interested in inquiry processes and it’s—and it’s not that I think that’s new either. Uh, I think there’s data of the people using the term inquiry for a long time where we get kids involved in—in questioning—uh, in uh following up their own questions in studying their own ideas. And that can—and that’s where the negotiation comes in between the teacher and the learner. And uh the teacher needs to know a lot about learning process.  The teacher needs to know a lot about language. These are things that are—and—and that’s a problem—problematic—I sometimes say to an undergraduate students who’s 19 years old, you have to know more as a teacher then any other professional has to know because we can’t know just, you know, um eye, ear, nose and throat.  We’re not an eye, ear, nose, and throat doctor as a teacher. We’re a teacher of a human being. And so we have to know people, we have to know learning, and we have to know a lot about the content that we’re teaching. So there’s a lot of knowledge base that we have to have.  And that—and then how do you take that knowledge base and help people understand it without imposing it and shoving it down people’s throats, but getting them engage so they’re interested in doing the learning. And that’s that match that has to come between the teaching and learning.  I don’t know if that got what you wanted.

Whole language classrooms are going to look so different depending on the age level of the students, the kind of school you have. Uh, I think that a science teacher in high school can be a whole language teacher. I hope that I’m a whole language teacher when I work in my college classrooms teaching miscue analysis or teaching um language development or teaching the theory of reading.  So that’s the big—uh that’s the big statement that I want to make is that you can’t—I can’t come up with a—what a classroom would look like but there’s some major principles maybe that I could suggest. And maybe I—and, of course, always thinking about elementary classrooms helps me think about those principles because I try in some ways as a college teacher to see what can I do in my college classrooms that I know good whole language elementary teachers do. So one thing is to pro—whatever I do is to provide choice for my students. And so I need to have opportunity for choice.  Places where they can go—they can move around uh and so grouping becomes uh another kind of thing to think about.  I don’t think everybody has to have the same kinds of groups and I—sometimes whole language gets into formulaic.  You have to do writing workshop or you have to do reading workshop.  And I know lots—I know teachers who don’t like to do writing and reading workshop, but they do a lot of science and social studies in their classrooms and they use reading and writing through science and social studies. So I—I need to make clear that I don’t think that there’s one way of organizing a classroom.  But it’s a classroom where students feel that they can get up and move around. They’re not controlled by teachers telling them where to sit or how to sit, the classroom can be organized in different and maybe every semester the teacher’s going to change that organization because the kids are different. She needs to reorganize because uh the discipline might be different. Um, uh I know one elementary teacher who had um a lot of places in the center of the room where the kids could gather so it looked like a library corner but also with lot—all of the technology was in the middle and the kids were sort of sitting on chairs in the outside. And then she had an area where everybody could come together. Well that worked with one classroom, but then she got a classroom of kids where the kids would go to those center areas and they would sort of like to be under the tables and sort of do things that weren’t too constructive and so she had to break that up and move those kinds of center areas to the outside of the classroom. So you need lots of materials for kids to interact with. Books and uh—if—uh, when you’re a secondary teacher or a college teacher, that means maybe having a library cart and carrying your books with you. Uh, I get very upset when I teach in my college when they’ve put me in a building that’s not in my own building because I have library carts, pushing carts, things that I’m schlepping all the time—if that’s a good word to use in this context—because I have to bring to my classroom things that—where—where we can uh—where we have resource materials, articles, books, uh to share.  And in elementary classrooms or middle school classrooms, lots of different kinds of materials are important. Uh, dictionaries is a—a wonderful thing to think about because in some classrooms I come in and there are 30 dictionaries and there’s only one real dictionary. Everybody’s using the same dictionary at the same time.  But uh in a whole language classroom you would have 15 different kinds of dictionaries and kids could go to whichever one they want at whatever time.  So that opportunity to move around.  Um, time for reading, time for writing, time for lots of integration and organizing the day or the hour more flexibly so that you’re not doing the same thing every day in the same way in—uh, and reorganizing when you need to reorganize.  Time for individual conference. In my graduate classes I have a time where my students can meet with each other. Uh, they’re doing group work of some sort, uh they’re reading the same book and—and uh having a—a lit study, they’re working on a similar project, that gives me an opportunity to have individual cl—conferences in a college classroom when I need that. They can come to my office too but some of my students I teach late afternoon and evening, they come 120 miles to a class once a week, their not going to come up that. So I—so lots of things would change depending on who my students are, where they are, how I can organize, things like that.

Um, the—the research support for whole language um is a very good—uh, just like everything else, whole language is a very complicated one.  Um, first of all, there is even experimental research uh, uh that’s related to whole language and that’s something people can look up.  I can’t think of anything off the top of my head, but there’s some—numbers of references that are possible uh in relationship to research. Some of the richest research in whole language is in dissertations, students’ dissertations. And I am so impressed with the kinds of uh work that uh students are doing uh as part of their doctoral programs. And often these are classroom teachers who collect samples of data um of transcripts and uh maybe I can mention just a—a few of those uh to indicate the power of that kind of research. Um, um Carmen Rolldon who recently studied—she was a um teacher—she was a—a researcher at the university, a doctoral student, studying in a bilingual classroom in Tucson, Arizona. She came in for over a year collecting, only looking at the lit discussions in a first grade classroom.  Now these kids were reading books and uh sometimes the teachers read aloud to the kids, sometimes the kids were reading by themselves, they were reading in Spanish, they were reading in English, and sometimes they—and they were reading around similar topics.  And the discussions that these kids had about immigration to the United States, uh social justice issues, um important questions about their own learning, being nice to each other, family organizations, were amazing to me as someone who knows early childhood well. And it’s—and it’s those kinds of dissertations and there’s so many out there right now—I guess the book that comes to my mind um that I think um—it—it’s not this study, but um Kathy Whitmore and Carol Crowe have a book called, “Inventing a Bilingual Classroom,” and that’s a book that um—that uh Kathy also spent I think a year maybe more in Carol Crowe’s classroom collecting the—the uh information around the kids’ literacy development.  Now those are important uh research places that are not well recognized in our field and yet they are the most powerful answers to the questions that whole language works and that kids become engaged and begin to discuss things in ways that we don’t generally expect. Now some of that is because the teachers in those classes expect these kids to be able to handle topics that lots of other teachers think 1st graders can’t handle or 5th graders—“Oh, we can’t talk about that.”  You know, “5th graders can’t handle that.”  But when kids are engaged in reading things that they care about, they’re answering their own questions, and the teacher expects them to deal with this, it’s powerful. It’s not—and again I’m going to say it’s not easy, it’s not unstructured. In fact, it’s highly structured and highly organized. It takes work, but it’s just marvelous. And that’s the main part of where I like to send people when they really are interested in whole language and they’re not just saying, “Well, until you show me, you know, the test scores somehow I’m not going to believe this.”  But the data is there and it’s there to be mind. 

Um, the con—uh, the concept of revaluing is something that Ken Goodman wrote a num—numbers of years ago and it came out of all of the work that we’ve done with teachers with kids who are in different kinds of classrooms. Sometimes special ed programs, sometimes bilingual classrooms, sometimes kids who speak a dialect that’s different then their teachers.  And we began to realize that so much of how these kids learn and what—in the classroom is related to how they’re perceived by their own teachers.  And it’s so easy to make kids feel unvalued, stupid—and I get kids who tell me, “I can’t read, I’m stupid”—just by the way we organize our classrooms and what we expect from kids.  And so to me the word revaluing began and Ken wrote it in an article and we began to use it more and more with—to think about rather then remediation—remediating kids all the time or um, you know, um intervening all the time which are terms that have good qual—understanding but I’m trying not to use those terms because they have a tendency sometimes to build some deficit views to talk about how do we ourselves, each of us, revalue the students that we work with.  How do we help the student revalue themselves?  How do we revalue language itself?  This powerful thing that we all know how—love how wonderful it is and how powerful it is, but then we get nervous and we have to sort of somehow teach it explicitly in some way.  But to revalue the fact that the more you use language in rich ways because people expect you to use language in rich ways, the more you’re going to learn it. And Michael Halloday talks about that all the time, that we learn language when we use language. And the more we use it the more varied it is, the more opportunities we have to use and then we—when we talk about it to—and that’s the talk about—and that’s where the teaching strategies and the learning strategies come when we talk about it. But the focus has to be on the use of it all the time.  If we can revalue all that and put the kid in an environment where the kid begins to say, “Wow, you think I’m pretty important don’t you.”  And so I work with kids in reading situations and often I—when I do—working with them, I do it one on one. But I see classroom teachers doing this with a whole class. If we take our interactions with our kids seriously, our conversations are serious; the kids begin to be serious too. I always remember Don—when I watch uh films of Don—Donald Graves working with kids in the writing projects and when you see him so interested in the kids writing and say, “Well, tell me more about this fishing village that you’re talking about.”  “Oh, I didn’t know that that went on there?”  You know, it’s these—engaging the kids in a way where they really believe that—that you respect them as—as a human being but as a learner, then they begin to see themselves in a different light. So maybe I can spend just a few minutes talking about Zeek who’s a little kid that’s a 4th grader who came to me as a non-reader. Not a bilingual kid, but he was African-American kid who’s uh dialect may have been an issue in some of the perspectives that people had about him.  And it, you know, it took me months to help him stop saying, “I don’t know.”  Everything that I asked him he would say, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” Finally—finally I said to him, you know, “I don’t want you to use I don’t know anymore. I want to tell you what you’re thinking.” And so then he said to me, “But I’m not thinking.”  And my whole job was how do I turn on his thinking cap, in a sense, without telling him I’m turning it on. (Microphone noise)  I don’t want to be in charge of his thinking cap.  I want him to know that his brain is working for him.  And little by little as we began to bring him books and I can remember the first time we brought him uh, uh, um a small, uh little novel and he looked at it and he said, “Wow, a chapter book.  Cool.”  And then we found out that this kid had never been given the opportunity to read a book that was something other then a worksheet or a workbook. And he began to realize that he had some capabilities and we could work with him, we could read with him, talk to him about what he understood. And little by little he began to realize that he had something going on in his head.  I’ve been talking to teachers about the word ‘leveling,’ which is related to this um word ‘revaluing,’ where the teacher—where I think if—especially with adolescents—I want to level with you as an adolescent. I want you to know that there are some people who think that the way you talk isn’t too good and that maybe you can’t get to college. But I think the reason they talk that way is because of how they view language.  You’re language is perfectly acceptable for your purposes and I want them to realize that there language is powerful even if they use bi—their language bilingually. And then maybe they’ll begin to think about language in other ways as well. Again it’s the whole notion of starting where that kid is at that point and reval—and helping them value themselves and revaluing that and expanding from that.  Um, I don’t, you know, I—I—I have this wonderful opportunity to do traveling all over the world and I don’t know any country that seems to be little bilingualism as much as we do uh in this country. It is a tragedy to me that we don’t appreciate the power of language and how—and how much your home language and your first language is a powerful resource for what you are. And teachers need to know how to value that and to revalue it and to value the—uh the, um the parents and what the parents are doing in relationship to that and realize that even it it’s happening in other language, there’s that support that’s going on at home in that language. Louis Mole talks about the funds of knowledge of the home base that we as teachers and educators need to value enough so that we can bring that—bring that funds of knowledge or have the parents bring it in or the kids bring it in so we can build on that in the classroom.  

Um, I’ve been—uh, in all my work in miscue analysis uh and now especially with retrospective miscue analysis, a group of my students and I have begun to question whether there’s such a thing as a poor reader or such a thing as a struggling reader. And so lately what we’ve begun to do is talk about um, uh calling the reading itself a reading that’s not so uh effective.  And then we begun to realize—I’ve been even playing with the concept of “What is a struggling reader?”  And we’ve—and we’re trying to use struggling because it’s not as negative as poor so—and then I began to realize that doesn’t everybody struggle with reading?  And maybe we should honor or value struggles that we do in reading. And when you do a lot of miscue analysis, you find kids who are making lots of miscues and reading slowly and haltingly, and yet at the end they can tell you a lot about what they’ve read. Now this is especially true of bilingual readers because they’re trying to devel—you know, use their English while they’re reading to you and then they’re struggling through that, but they’re—what they’re thinking about, they’re bringing their thought processes into their brain and I don’t know whether they’re using what—we don’t know what that language is that they’re using. Maybe it’s an image or maybe it’s an understanding that’s different then language itself, but they’re taking that in and um so I don’t know what a poor reading is uh, uh in some ways.  But if I can build a kid to let—to feel comfortable about struggling through harder material if the kid is willing to do that, then maybe we’re going to get kids who will start to read better, more complicated materials. And we don’t have to always think that the best material is simplistic um material that’s not um, uh, um it’s not good literature or whatever uh, uh or not a good piece of writing. I think that’s the problem with the term ‘poor reader’ is we disenfranchise the student from being a reader. And so when I tell kids, “Look it, you are reading and look what you can do with your reading,” I’m not just doing that because I want the kid to feel good about himself. I’m doing that because I want the kid to know, you know, “You’ve worked hard in this passage. You’ve made mistakes but look at what you’re able to still understand.  Keep going.  That’s the thing we want you to do. Read a lot.”  Or—and, of course, I want to use that with “Write a lot and talk a lot” and all the language uses that we can.  And—but if you’ve de—if you’ve decided that you’re a poor reader, you spend your life building strategies to avoid reading.  And I—and we all know in ESL, in uh—in uh—when we—when you work with readers who are struggling, that they’re so proud of the fact that they can find somebody else to do their reading for them.  But the more we ask uh other people to do our reading for us, the less opportunities we have to practice reading. That’s where practice is. Practice is in the reading itself. I remember once working with a teacher coming into a classroom and she’s teaching math and she had a worksheet of the math exercises. And I said to her, you know, “Why”—you know, and I—and I knew the book that she was using and I realized that she had just Xeroxed a page out of the math book and she gave the kids just a single page. And I asked her why she did that and she says, “Well, these kids aren’t very good readers so I’m just giving them the page so they’ll just have the um—just have the um problems to solve.” And I said to her, “But then how do they learn to use the math book?” because that’s what ultimately where you’re going. And if we’re simplifying and we—and we do these things in all good spirit because we want to help kids, but when we over simplify when they’re reading uh material that’s too simple, too easy, because we want to help them as poor readers, we don’t give them the opportunity to work out that they can struggle at reading. I—I struggle at reading. There are some things that I work so hard at because I want to know.  Trying to read Piragua and the original and get to understand what assimilation and accommodation and adaptation is.  I struggle at that. And why shouldn’t we honor that?  And it’s another part of trying to revalue what kids are doing.

Um, I’ve had uh opportunities to uh work with people uh learning a second language in many different countries and I’ve become aware of the complexity of the question of learning a second language uh and learning to read and write in a second language or even to learn to read and write in a native language where um the language doesn’t have a lot of things to read and write, where’s there’s not a lot of literacy available. So with native kids, one of my concerns sometimes (Interruption) Uh, Native American kids uh are in this country in many places uh the language is being revitalized. And so there’s an attempt to bring written—the written form into the classrooms. I think that that’s important and I think that these are issues that have to be solved within the local community because these are issues that are culturally embedded, their politically embedded within in the uh framework of how the uh Native American group is structuring their particular tribal organization or uh however their groups are organized. Um, it’s important to keep in mind that learning—that in order to read and write in a language you need a lot of materials available in that language. And I think that one of the things that people who are going to be teaching in a first language—say they’re going to teach Navajo in the first language is to make sure that they have lots of materials available or else what happens is they begin to—and they need people who uh—not only do they need uh, um a lot of material available, but they need people who know—who read and write in their language. And very often the teachers who are teaching the kids are learning the written form at the same time the kids are. And so it ends up that you’re teaching that in a very isolated—you know, you teach the—the—the alphabet, or you teach uh color words, or you teach number words and you’re not enriching the importance of the literacy. And so I think the literacy—that—that’s another—that’s a question that has to be dealt with.  The reason I’m raising the issue of learning to read in the native tongue if it’s not a highly literate language is that there are places in the world where peop—all people are learning to read and write um the second language that’s in their culture even though it’s not the oral language. You know, it took me a long time to understand that Arabic, for example—written Arabic—nobody speaks written Arabic. So when—when students have to learn written Arabic they’re learning to read—read a system that nobody speaks. And so there is an example for us to look at so that we can begin to say, “How does that happen?” so we don’t have this notion that um you have to learn to read the language you speak first. Now I do believe that it—you know if the language is surrounding you and you have lots—and lots to read and write in that language, and the adults in the community are reading and writing in that language, and speaking that language, and that you could build that bilingual focus that that’s certainly very powerful. But on the other hand, I think the other problem that I want to make sure is that we don’t keep um—keep kids from learning to read and write in a language that they don’t necessarily speak themselves. Teachers can read and write—can read to kids in the second language and read stories. The teacher can write stories for the kids that come from their experience and use experience stories. Then let the kids talk about those in their—in the language in which they’re most comfortable talking about.  We had a lot of interesting experiences with kids when uh—and—and Native American kids when they read a story in—and this was on the Navajo reservation—and then they talked about it to each other in Navajo. And we didn’t know Navajo and we knew that they were talking about the story. We weren’t scared that they were talking about something else necessarily. They were talking about it and then we can come back to talking about it in English too.  I don’t have answers for this question but I want to indicate that there’s a complexity there. And here again is where teachers can explore with other people in the community, with elders in the community, to find out multiple ways of doing these kinds of things so that uh it respects the local culture, that’s got to be first, and—but at the same time—but that we don’t—we don’t hold kids back from learning that—uh learning to read in English at the same time their learning to read in uh Navajo or whatever language those—those can happen simultaneously.  My experience uh with bilingual programs has been mostly with Spanish and English. And when I first came to Tucson, I went into classrooms, 3rd and 4th grade classrooms where the kids weren’t reading anything because the teachers—first of all, they weren’t—at that time they didn’t have Spanish reading and the teachers had this notion that you had to be orally fluent before you could read the language. And so they were waiting until 3rd and 4th grade until kids were 9 or 10 before they introduced reading in English.  Well, these kids are in an English environment.  They see signs. They should be involved in uh that.  And I think on the Navajo reservation—uh, we actually did this once on the reservation.  We wrote down all the signs in 80 miles as we went from the Highway 40, which is where the Navajo reservation starts to Salaigh, which is about 80 miles, and we wrote all the signs. Most of the signs on the reservation is in English.  Well, here would be a nice way of kids going out and taking pictures of the signs and their environment and saying, “What can I read and—in my cul—in my culture and my community,” and making books of what they can read.  They can talk about it in Navajo, but they can begin to read that. And that—and then reading can become a bridge to the oral language as well. So those are things that we need to do a lot more work with. It would be nice to have more research and teachers are the best researchers of that kind of material.   

I wished—um, one of the things that I think is so important for teachers to do is to feel comfortable in their teaching, to realize that there is no one essential teacher, no one effective method.  But it’s in your—it’s in the uniqueness of each teacher and their negotiation with the uniqueness of the kids.  Now I believe strongly in the importance of the social community but that doesn’t mean that we’re all the same. And so at the same time we need to respect um the—we need to build on the—how we help each other socially and learn together socially to recognize the power of our uniqueness.  And each teacher is unique. Teachers should be sharing their own literacy experiences with their kids whether they were positive or negative. Organized conversations with your kids around um all kinds of learning.  Share yourself with your kids. If—if you like to knit, get your kids involved in knitting. If you like to play the guitar, bring your guitar in your classroom.  Especially ESL classrooms, uh adult classrooms because you’re working with people who have such rich backgrounds and if you bring yourself to the classroom, they can bring themselves in.  And that is such an important part of what teaching is all about.