R o s e hyphen capital M a r e w e d e r. I’m in the reading department of the University at Albany, that’s part of the state University of New York system that’s called the suny system, s u n y.
Well of course people use literacy in so many specific ways ah, teachers tend to think of literacy as the things that they do with kids in their classroom and ah maybe later on reading books and newspapers, but of course literacy permeates our lives. When we use it functionally ah external memory, shopping lists, that kind of thing, ah as well as ah really ah legal documents, ah in the other end of the spectrum in formality ah we have in school we ah ask kids to write compositions very few kids end up doing anything like that outside of classrooms and into their later lives. I would say though that teachers do ah ah and are expected to write extended ah kinds of pieces ah when they are reporting on kids er a preparing things for parents ah um those kind of ah formal exercises that we ask kids to actually do in classrooms do have relevance to their daily lives. Ah those are the those functions of literacy ah things like ah do you write a note or telephone a complaint, ah or condolences. Ah um there are ah interpersonal kinds of functions ah up close and there are functions where you have no idea who might read what you are writing and ah likewise you read a lot of things that are interpersonal that mean a lot you know who’s writing and for what reasons. Ah a lot of things come to current occupant in the mailbox.
Well, through time of course the meaning of literacy has changed. Ah even within the 20th century we expect everybody to know how to read and write now days. Earlier in the century that really wasn’t expected and um ah now a days sometimes you say oh ah he’s illiterate or ah she doesn’t know how to read and write when we know that those people actually do know how to read and write somewhat, they have a sense of what literacy is for, what reading and writing can be used for. They might not do it up to par that teachers work toward and e e e expect um ah but we have very high standards of literacy and we really notice that um when we go to other countries, other countries around the world where it’s not expected that all people will be literate. I’m having trouble getting just to the perfect example here.
Well, ah it’s a real challenge because teachers have to work to make their instruction really accessible to every child. Ah it means organizing classrooms making sure that kids go to school because that’s the main site for literacy learning. It’s not to say that kids can’t learn to read and write in other types of settings, but ah for teachers it does mean that ah they have they have to work hard and in fact in our nation we say well if kids aren’t learning ah we have u programs to have them to have the kids falling behind to have them catch up. Ah we make a lot of different efforts, we’re not always ah successful, uh, but for teachers I think that means that in their own everyday lives they have to look around and ah see am I leaving any kids out? Ah and that they ah I think most teachers do, consider themselves as part of this n this ah national and cultural ethic of having everyone know how to read and write well.
Well, um there is you might consider there is a kind of range of ways of viewing literacy. Ah perhaps um I’ll take the e the example of people, teachers in my region whoa re really interested in bringing children’s literature into the classroom and ah having kids read together alone and responding to it on their own terms. Um bringing their background aha to understanding what authors are trying to do and it comes out of um the er ah theoretical terms reading response ah reader response theory. There’s reader response theory that really ah was ahs been so influential in critical analysis and the teaching of literacy ah ah at all at teaching of literature at all levels. Uh I have a colleague ah who has written a book called “Talking Back to Shakespeare” and she has the students respond to the plays in terms of their everyday experience as well as their literary experience. Some of it is very funny. Ah but uh some of it also shows the thoughtfulness of students. Well this is the kind of thing that teachers try to do in first grade in third grade in eighth grade. In other places people really say that’s not appropriate. There are ways of looking at what we read in terms of the intention of the author or the traditions that we use. In the the example that I’m somewhat familiar with is ah the Amish community where there is a some people say a received way of knowing. And that the kinds of conversations like talking back to Shakespeare are just not done and many people ah ah would say that ah is that fits with people’s way of thinking about their place in the world, their place in nature, ah and that they um ah when ah the teaching of reading and of writing is organized, um in schools that teachers, the schools, the community bring those things to bear. In some places where teachers have said lets do reader response and get the kids going there are members of the community who object.
Yes, well ah the literacy landscape ah is a good term I haven’t really thought about it ah ah using that term, but I like it. What I tried to do in 1991 was to look at second language reading from a broad point of view. Children learning to read for the first time in a second language. Ah students ah ah studying languages as school subjects and learning to read um university students coming to the United States from other places and becoming readers that have to pack in a lot of information. And um I’m still interested in all three of those but I’m going to talk right now about children who who ah enter our schools not knowing how to speak English well. The landscape has changed. For one thing in the 1990’s the standards movement moved across the nation. And um the professional organizations in literacy National Council of Teachers of English, International Reading Association, had a hand in developing standards. And of course teaching speakers of English other languages had a a hand in this as well. But of course the various states develop standards and the ones that I know are the ones in New York state that are in place. There uh uh fortified by, that’s not the right term, but there they are um ah having been ah shaped now by high stakes testing in English language arts in fourth and eighth grade and what that means for children who are learning English as a second language is that they have to be ready to take these tests pretty quick. The details haven’t entirely been worked out at this particular moment, but it is expected that ah English language learners will just join ah the rest of the population likewise ah students who are identified as having special needs they have to ah do well on these tests. AH so that has changed ah because teachers are very concerned about having the students pass these tests and you say hey are these the right kinds of tests, is that what you want students to be able to do? Actually ah in New York state right now the ah way the tests are set up are not that far from the curriculum that has been developing ah but ah and with that I would say that there is expected that students will really apply a lot of their own thinking. It’s not received knowledge so much as drawing on what kids bring ah to their analysis or written and spoken language. Ah that has changed the landscape a good deal. Another one though of course that is ah relevant is that state of California and most recently Arizona have publicly gone into a mode of course things aren’t entirely settled there, but where bilingual education has been upturned, overturned, as public policy. And ah so that even though ah those of us who love languages love to have kids come in and use their languages and ah use their languages for learning other things use their languages for becoming proficient in English, using their languages to ah maintain ah their ah sense of self as coming from backgrounds other than the mainstream, ah I’ve lost my train of thought. (interruption) Those of us who love language really support the support of the kids languages in schools. Ah ah on the other hand ah we may have to face ah the fact because as individuals we can’t do awfully much about ah some of the changes in public policy. Ah so that has for ah ah for some ah teachers, ah and ah teacher educators has changed. There’ve always been teachers in bilingual education who have not been keen to maintain the children’s mother tongue. They switch to English pretty quickly, they have switched to English. Ah but there are others who really take much more of a maintenance at least ah a kind of prospective ah I don’t know where those things are going to go. Ah I guess that ah what we find in many places is the teachers themselves are coming to appreciate a lot more now with the numbers of children increasing in I’ll say out of the way places. In small cities and towns in upstate New York, children who don’t know English are showing up and ah ah yet at the same time teachers are saying gee, that’s kind of interesting. Where do these kids come from, what do they bring and ah that um ah teachers have ah a sense of what newcomers can contribute to the community and contribute to the classrooms. Ah may I mention one example of ah ah ah ah school ah close to where I live where our grandchildren go. And it’s a place where hearing impaired children have a a unit and a a there’s a a little entity where kids form the district ah who are hearing impaired come. Now our grandchildren surprised us, have learned a lot of sign, ah they have learned finger spelling and sign because that’s what’s happening in the school. And that um ah that they have they take sign and finger spelling for granted and um that’s the sort of thing that some teachers are kind of working for in their schools where there are minority kids. The the example the formalized example of that are two weight programs ah that many people do really appreciate. There aren’t very many of them across the nation. But anyway I think ah that in many places ah teachers who have no experience with other languages are really saying hey there, these other languages , I’m monolingual in English, but look what those kids can do.
Well may I just say this, that for all of our work on second language acquisition and as I talk about this I’m really thinking of children in primary grades. What I know best ah and also where English language learners cluster in the population ah that ah for all the work on second language acquisition we really don’t know how individual kids structure their learning, how they move through ah learning English. And ah I find that people who make generalizations ah about those early years are not very believable. And one kind of example has to do with learning social language versus learning academic language. I’ve always been kind of puzzled by that because we do know for many kids that they don’t join in in social language. They’re silent. On the other hand they are looking around and they seem to be doing a lot of the early literacy tasks in kindergarten and first grade. So they maybe in a sense using that academic language in a way that they are not using ht social language. Anyway, that kind of generalization is one if you’ve got a generalization, question it, keep it in mind, don’t ah don’t ah swallow it hook, line, and sinker. Is that a very old fashioned term? (laugh) Ah but ah at at any rate, we don’t know awfully much about the way kids learn English as a second language or the way they get into literacy. Ah and so for the point of view of teachers we can’t come say do it this way do it that way, we can only give some general kinds of guidelines. And um, ah I think that teachers do well by teaching the ESL learners in the way similar to their monolingual learners. That is that ah you give them a lot of opportunities to do whatever the tasks may be ah that you do a lot of of talking, a lot of talking around tasks, you give them very specific kinds of instruction having to do with the way that the letters they see correspond to sounds in patterns. Some kids don’t need very much of that some kids do when you are a teacher you know those kids when you have them, when you know they don’t have strategies for dealing with words they’ve never seen before so you give them specific kinds of guidelines, instruction, ah strategies how to deal with words they don’t know using those words, seeing those words in sentences, seeing those sentences in stories. What ever your approach maybe to the teaching of reading that the English learners join in. Um you can’t say oh they don’t know English so I can’t do this. No no no no. Ah my experience with first graders who could not put English sentences together ah and who a lot of the time didn’t seem to know exactly what was going on, they still recognized words, they still could name letters and ah particular bunch of kids that really couldn’t do rhyming um and it ah yet I’m not pessimistic about their not getting that ah in, they couldn’t do it in first grade in this particular setting but they’ll get around to it. Ah that teachers have to not ah say oh they can’t do it so I’m not going to teach. But that they really have to figure that kids are going to get something out of what they are saying. As long as they are somehow or other engaged. We don’t know what that is.
Well I think an important challenge really calls on teachers expertise, is the ability to ah I’ll use the term assess ah ah assess kids. To be able to take the time to know where individuals might be. That turns out to be a tremendous challenge in whole classrooms. But um we know that ah when teachers see their kids, once again I’m talking about primary ah grades ah when ki teachers see their children everyday that um they can make some kinds of assessments. And go with them, but they have to be prepared for their assessments to change. To not make generalizations about the kids that may not hold. Because the kids are changing or you night not have quite enough information, maybe you’ve closed your mind to what this kid can do. Um I think that um ah ah that sometimes ah we might lead to conclusions about kids and the English language learners and all the learners at the primary age, they re changing quickly and I have a strong ah ah it’s a belief, it’s a belief I guess that as kids are learning they are reorganizing their their knowledge. I’d like to give one example of that that actually is a friend’s example ah and she got it from someone else. But ah it’s a a Spanish speaking girl ah actually in South America whose name was Esther and she came to school knowing how to write her name E s t e r. And then she learned about sounds and letters and so she listened to her name and then she started out ehh and she’d write the letter e and then s and she couldn’t finish because she really didn’t know how to finish. Well, just a couple of weeks before she’d just been dashing off her name as a whole and now she was analyzing it and so that was a really different way of thinking. And that’s the kind of things I think kids do all the time. And we don’t know it, and they maybe slipping back, they may have reorganized their thinking for themselves and and it doesn’t stick. Um at any rate that that keeping an eye on individual kids is really important so that when teachers necessarily are teaching groups that they also can bring some kids along that ah add alittle extra something. If they know that kids are on the verge of learning a particular word ah that they might say hey you remember this word we had it the other day ah even though 10 out of the 11 kids she is working with at that moment ah might get it but that 11th kid might be the one that eh needs a little boost. That might not be too bad for the others either. But um that ah ah teachers need to be balanced a lot. And they also need some reflection time that they don’t often get in classrooms. And ah and ah where did we begin with what teachers(Interruption)Well, what I’m trying to say is their knowledge ah teacher’s knowledge of individual learners helps them. On the other hand it can be overwhelming and so they have to be very strategic. Ah another ah I think another important thing for teachers to keep in mind is that even though learners may not move from the teacher’s point of view, smoothly ahead, that um they are going to learn. The kids are going to keep on going. And ah so ah there might be let’s say you are working in a particular ah ah set of small books ah and reading with the kids and individuals might may not be tuned into them that it’s not going to be that way forever, ah and that some kind of shift and or ah climate or materials or interaction among the kids can help ah ah make the change.
Well, ah this teacher, a fourth grade teacher, ah read everyday for about half an hour at the beginning of the day to her students. She read a book that was harder than what the kids, or what most of the kids could read ah in this case it was Gary Poulson’s “Hatchet” that had to do with survival in it. She read to them and along the way asked ah questions about what they thought about what was going on. She was concerned about their understanding what was going on in the story but also thinking about the story. And in interviews she said that interviews with us, she was interested in having the kids appreciate their own intelligence and power. Ah so ah she would ah interrupt her reading to ask about certain um um certain things and ah sometimes the kids said things that were wrong and ah um that they weren’t getting the story, they weren’t paying attention, or that they were ah trying to that they weren’t remembering. Anyway what I was focusing on was how she if you will, corrected them, or got them back on track. And ah it turns out that she and ah other teachers in other settings as well don’t just say no that’s wrong, ah even in a polite way they don’t say no. What this teacher did was that she asked other questions. Most of the time she was um asking ah the ah a the child to if you will question themselves, the presumposition of ah what ah was involved in their question. Ah and ah the idea is that when you repair kids that you might be as the politeness theory that it threatens the kid’s self-esteem ah their sense of face their self respect. And ah so how might you soften that for them. And what we see is part of teacher talk is that teacher rarely are blunt ah rather they ask other questions and turn the repair over to other kids in the class, if not the original error maker. Ah it it ah and that I would claim that that’s something teachers do in classrooms they don’t do it in other settings.
Most important thing is to give the learners opportunities to learn to read and write. They may not be they may not be um learning in the way that you expect. They may not be responding the way you expect. My own experience of talking to first graders I wasn’t the teacher I was an adult visitor, but when I spoke Spanish they didn’t pay any attention to me it was as though I was from outer space. And um I’d say hey what’s the matter with this kid. Well I couldn’t take it personally that was their way of coping ah and ah we have our ideas about that. But ah that teachers have to keep on teaching even though the response may not be what other kids are doing. That I think is the most important ah ah message that I’d like to give teachers. To keep on teaching and to trust to trust the learners that they are going to keep learning. Ah to not come to judgement too quickly even though you are constantly making judgements and you want to see where they are so that you can keep on going. The signal that they give you may no t be ones that are awfully helpful, ah they may not be on target, but ah that ah ah ah you don’t exclude children from your instruction. You could call on other children, you can organize things in the classroom sometimes so that you can have students participating in in ways that maybe even leadership ah positions of leadership. When kids can’t seem to talk very well and yet they are given the opportunity to show others or to initiate things that you might be that they could do, but that they can do. Um that’s my soap box issue.
Ah I think that regular classroom teachers often have colleagues that are specialists and ah yet they rarely have an opportunity to collaborate with other teachers. That they may have expectations as to what the specialist are doing or should do. I really think it’s important for classroom teachers, mainstream teachers who are ah working with special education teachers, a ESL teachers, ah ah it maybe that in some schools there are other kinds of other organization for ah ah bilingual support or ah the the teachers have to work with one another. If you put yourself in the place of a first grader for instance, and think bout the way a first graders day goes, just being with one teacher with routines ah it it is a pretty big challenge. But then you go off to some other teachers and they have their other routines and they are very very different ah it it take a lot of thought and energy and strategy on the part of the kid. So I really believe that teachers have to talk to one another about individuals to some extent and that’s when I think most of the conversations are about. I’m really talking about curriculum. I’m really talking about ah the long range kinds of efforts that teachers make. Some times it’s really good for the specialist to do something very different. Sometimes it’s not ah what those judgements might be, have to be, I think decided on locally.
Um, I do think that there’s something to be said about the intensity of instruction. Ah in field of reading ah people have said, what’s the best way of going about teaching reading? The thing that we all know is that kids learn no matter how ah teachers teach, if they teach. Ah and so ah that I do think the pacing and the engagement are really important. I have my own ideas and we all do about ah what kids should be doing. I strongly believe ah as many linguist would, that ah ah there are these ah multiple organizations of language going on all at once and that kids learn them all at once. And so I’m very much in favor of having, making sure that kids really read um material that has message. Really connected text rather than fragmented sentences. I believe that focusing on bits and pieces, but not for long and for having kids really read as soon as possible, as soon as they can. And ah ah to not withhold ah the bigger picture for the bits and pieces. So um ah not ah ah moving very slowly or or using ah ah kinds of worksheets where kids are focusing on fragments um I don’t think that that’s an appropriate way to go. However if there are enough bits and pieces and fragments kids will get to connecting text and comprehension that is that move through a lot of material and that the kids are engaged, that they’re knowledge accumulates, ah gets reorganized. And that they can ah apply it so that um I really do believe in the importance of ah ah giving kids a lot of intense experience. Sometimes it’s exhausting but we know that in ah ah programs where kids have an opportunity ah one on one for intensive tutoring ah that they make progress a great a high proportion of them do. We want them to think that all teacher will ah give kids intense experience every day ah that will move the kids forward.