Donna Alvermann


I’m Donna Alvermann and I’m at the University of Georgia.

OK. I think of adolescent literacy development as very distinct from uh reading or writing or literacy in the early grades. Um, distinct in the sense that its certainly—it’s on a continuum. I don’t mean that they’re discrete, but it’s distinct in a sense that at that age motivation begins to play I think a major, major role in what um adolescents are willing to do in terms of literacy, especially in classrooms. So I find a lot more instances when I’m working with kids either in a supervisory role or research role or whatever, I find the adolescents are sometimes just turned off to school. I’ve been both an elementary and a secondary teacher. I go to elementary schools and do supervis—supervision work or research and I see the enthusiasm. They all want to learn. And I don’t mean that adolescents don’t want to learn, it’s just that um they’ve gotten into sort of the culture of school and they know how you play school and they’re very good at playing school. But their real interests seem to be uh extraneous to school. Even the kids who are going on to the top rank colleges, etc, they do their work no time flat and it’s those outside interests that come to play. So I’d say motivation is by far the big thing that for me um divides it.

Well, there—in terms of developmental difference in adolescent literacy as opposed to the earlier grades, a lot of people in the country—in this country anyway, talk about the 4th grade slump, meaning that the kids supposedly learned how to read in the early grades and then they read to learn in the middle school—upper, intermediate, middle school, and secondary. I for one don’t believe in that split. OK? So—and I may be on a minority—in a minority here. I do think there is such a thing possibly as a 4th grade slump. It’s where kids who have been taught a lot of things about narrative text and how to read stories now hit social studies and science text which are not organized like stories and then they begin to have some problems. So text structures do, I think, sort of demarcate elementary from uh secondary. However, good elementary school teachers are working with those kids from kindergarten on in some sort of expository text. So it depends on where the kids have gone to school. I say that as one divide, but I don’t believe that one—that the early grades are reading to learn and the upper grades—I’m sorry—learning to read and the upper grades reading to learn. (Interruption) Um, in terms of the differences between the secondary kids and the elementary kids, I do not see that divide of learning to read in the elementary grades, reading to learn in the upper grades as being a very viable divide. In my mind, um and having taught both at the lower grades and the upper grades, in my mind kids are always reading to learn. Even at the very young grades they’re learning about worms or whatever turns them on. And sometimes by the way they like to read about worms and the real worms as opposed to how to eat fried worms, which is a very popular story. Uh, there’s some research that backs that up. Uh, I also see that the good—uh, any student or any teacher is always learning how to read. I’m learning how to read at the college level when I have to pick up a difficult book on theory or whatever. So I think learning to read crosses all ages and I think reading to learn crosses all ages. So…

OK. Many times I think when I teach my own classes at the University of Georgia, I have people from all the different content areas and they’ll say to me, “I’m a social studies teacher. I’m a science teacher. I’m a P.E. teacher. Uh, the reading has to be done in the English classes or it should have been done in the elementary grades.” And I always say to those teachers who say those things to me, “Well look, whenever you put a text in front of a kid, I don’t care whether it’s a diagram on how to set up—lay up a shot for basketball in P.E. or if it’s a text on how to um do some dissection in a sc—science class, you are presenting that child with a text. If you present that person or group of people in your room with text and they can’t read that text, then that’s your role as a teacher to help them learn from that text.” So that’s how I try to incorporate this idea that everybody who works with kids is responsible for helping them learn. And if it’s a text that’s in front of them and they can’t—a text of many kinds, symbols, um print, Internet, um visual, whatever, if they are having trouble with that then the teacher is really responsible for teaching. I do not believe in the slogan, “Every teacher a teacher of reading.” Um, basic—I know that’s a popular slogan, the reason I don’t think it holds is we’ve said that since the 1940’s and I still meet resistance in my classes when I have high school teachers and middle school teachers, but more so high school, who say, “Reading is not my job, I’m a science teacher. I’m a social studies teacher.” I was a social studies minor and uh was a social studies teacher one time and I’ll have to admit to those feelings and so consequently I will not say that every teacher has to be a teacher of reading. But I will say that every teacher who puts a text of any kind in front of a child needs to help that child with that text.

I actually begin every class that I teach at the University of Georgia with a statement such as, “When you leave my class at the end of this semester I hope you will take two major ideas with you. And one of those ideas is that every child in your class can learn from the text or the models or whatever you’re using. And the second thing that I’d hope you’d take—would take from this is that it really is useful to use strategies, but the strategies you use will have to be streamlined so that they’re useful in your grade. So you’re going to learn a bunch of strategies in my class but when you actually leave, those strategies will only be useful to you. And maybe only one or two that you’ll modify, and modify, and modify until you hone it to the point that it works with period 1 kids, but it might not work with period 5. So you might try something different.” So I’m big on strategies. I think that I have seen a lot of enthusiasm when teachers of the secondary and middle school level work with adolescents and they have some strategies under their uh belt, so to speak. The teachers are excited about it and so are the students.

OK. First—when I ask people in my class when they’re looking at a strategy—and we do a lot of um reading about the strategies and then we model them in class. I model them, they model them for each other, etc, and I ask them to look at a—at a particular strategy that they’re going to use, and I ask them if they will tell me whether the strategy was the upper most thing in their mind or was it the content was the uppermost thing in their mind? If content was the uppermost thing in their mind, I think the strategy will work because they’ll choose a strategy that will enhance that content. If they just like a particular strategy and think it’s fun to do and they apply it to any old content or any old topic coming along, typically um the strategy is more for play. And the kids might have a good time, the teacher might have a good time, but I’m not sure it’s helping them understand the content. So to use some of Hu—Hal Hubert, who was my major professor at Syracuse University many years ago, Hal use to always say, “Content determines process.” And I use and many other people use strategies as a process for learning. So in my mind you think first of all, “What is the content? What is the most important conceptual ideas that I want to get across here if I’m a classroom teacher or university classroom teacher.” And then I find the strategy that will most help me match that content with what I know about my students, which is upper most, and then that’s how I would—those are the criteria that I would use in choosing a strategy. So…

One of the things that I think uh has accompanied our interests in the United States in strategy use is this idea that the more strategies that we have in our back pocket, the better teachers we will be. I think that needs to be qualified. I think that if we know the theory behind the strategies that we like or that are useful to us in terms of uh motivating the students and pre-assessing what they need to know and also making sure that the content is the key thing that drives the strategies, if we know—if we have all those criteria in mind, then I think the thing that we have to keep in mind is that the theory driving those strategies will probably be the very—it’s either the first thing you look at or it’s the last thing. It depends. It’s either a—a pre-assessment that you do as a teacher or a checkpoint as I like to tell my class is at the end, which means I’ve chosen this strategy, I have this content to teach, and I know my kids. And now I have to figure out is the strategy soundly based in the research? And there are many articles out there that have done um surveys of the strategies to find out if there’s any research behind them. And some strategies quite frankly are backed by a lot of things that we know about kids prior knowledge and background experience. So those would be the—the strategies that I would think if you’re going to do some pre-reading type strategies you should probably be looking for the—for some prior knowledge research or what we call background information research on that. Um, if you’re looking at questioning strategies in the 1970’s slue of research—not so much anymore because we found a lot of answers back then, um about when—when to ask questions, where to place them in the text, when they’re most useful for summative recall versus um predictive um motivational type questions. So for me you either know that stuff going in, you have your theory behind you and it just sort of clicks in. Or you don’t necessarily know that, then this is where the checkpoint for me comes in. At the end, when you finally decide what strategy you want to use—and I know teachers are busy and I certainly—it takes me longer to explain this then it really does do this. OK? So at the very end you might say, “OK, I want to use strategy ‘x’ for my class but do I know whether that’s soundly based or is it just a strategy that’s part of the bag of tricks? And um it could be—it could be a part of that bag of tricks, by the way, and be a very good strategy, but I think it’s up to the teacher to know theoretically and conceptually why am I choosing strategy ‘x’ over strategy ‘y,’ for this particular content, for this particular class?

I think when teachers are um at the same grade level, perhaps teaching the same subject matter for several years in a row, uh a lot of good things can come out of that. Number one, you really begin to know um in the content area that you’re teaching what turns kids on, what interests them. You really hone your lessons and uh I’d like to—I’d like to see somebody who’s very comfortable with his or her content. At the same time I think that we all can become stale. I become stale in my classes at the university and I think, “OK, I know what I need to teach, I know what kids before have done.” And the thing I guess that I don’t do that quite as often anymore—I don’t know whether it’s because I’m now in the year 2000 as opposed to 1999, but um I—I find that my classrooms—and I know the classrooms that I observe in—in public schools and private schools in Georgia are changing at a phenomenal rate. Um, there’s much more—in—in Georgia—and I can only speak specifically from Georgia’s perspectives, we’re finding many, many children now who are coming to school speaking only Spanish and that is new to us in Georgia because even though we’re just north of Florida, we’re bi—for the most part have been a biracial state. It’s been black/white and we’re very um interested in learning to work with children who come to school with English as a second language but quite frankly are not equipped yet to do that very well. So I have to look at my own classroom and the teachers who are sitting there and realize—and it’s not just Spanish, many of them are teaching children from Vietnam, from um European countries, and they just are realizing the importance of taking into account what these kids from linguistically and culturally diverse homes can bring to class. And that’s what I always say to them. These are not problem kids. These kids are coming to our class with so much diversity. Into our states—into our states—into our schoolrooms with so much diversity, that we need to think of that as gifts that they’re bringing to us as teachers. And I remember many years ago David Bloom saying at a national council of teachers of English session that I was in, “You know I keep hearing bilingual—um bilingual children and children who have English as a second language are really going to be problems that we’re going to have to deal with in the new century. And he would—he said at that time and I’ve thought of it so many times since then, “You know, bilingualism isn’t the problem, monolingualism is the problem.” And he laughingly looked around the room and said, “And a lot of you I know have that problem.” And we all broke out laughing. So that’s the basis for my saying to teachers look at what’s in—look at the children in your classroom. Look at the rich things that they bring from their cultures. See how you can use that to—um, I don’t know if it could improve upon your delivery of your curriculum or whatever, but how you can use that to change the curriculum a little bit, to make it lively for the kids, to make it lively for you because if you’re learning, the kids will be learning. And I think that’s the beauty of what we find now in the classrooms in Georgia. That I see teachers struggling to say a few words in Spanish, but the smile that comes on those teachers’ faces is every bit as wide as when a child who’s learning to speak English communicates well. So to me those are some of the things that I would look for in a way for a teacher to um—what do I want to say—enliven the curriculum, um gussy up the lessons or whatever. So…

I think that in many ways um teachers are very good at playing school and kids are very good at learning how to play school. And so a low—a nice little symbiotic relationship evolves where—uh, and I’m not saying this sarcastically, I just see it over and over again. I see it with my own classes as I teach every Tuesday night at the University of Georgia. I’m up there playing school like I was as a nine year old on my back porch stoops playing school, having the kids all lined up and holding court. Um, I see this sometimes in classrooms where teachers love to teach and kids are great, especially adolescents. They—they know how to feed egos, etc., and they have fun letting us teach and they have fun playing student back. However, if we’re up there having so much fun, I always tell my students, then there must be somebody that’s inactive in that classroom and I’m afraid it’s the students. And I’ll say to my own classes, “And I’m afraid it might be you who are sitting there enjoying the show, so to speak, but let’s get you involved.” So how I try to get those kids who might be sitting back enjoying—um, thinking only have 10 more minutes to go, let her go, you know, I—I find if you break into small groups um not the entire class period. I believe some things are better delivered in a more lecture style format or a delivery style. But I think kids need every, every class period to have some time to be active in their own learning. And the thing that I really like and take this from research that Slaben and other have done is that if you’re working in small groups, the kid who’s being um brought into the class from a special education area or a child who is new to the language, to the culture, whatever, gets a chance to hear the same content and the same texture of materials begin discussed by their peers. They’ve heard it from the teacher, now they’ve hear the same topic in their little groups. And that’s been shown to be helpful in the sense that you hear it said in a different way by your peers and that can be very helpful. Plus I do know there is some research—at least with special education kids and adolescents that—I can’t quote that right now but I think it’s Slaben’s research which has shown that if you’re sitting next to somebody and that person is very different from you in learning style perhaps abilities, etc., it’s very difficult to ignore that person who’s eyeball to eyeball with you and there is a lot of socialization that goes on and a—acceptance of some children who might not be accepted if it were a large group activity. So I like the small group—and by small I really mean three to four kids. If it gets much bigger then that and it’s no longer very productive in my mind anyway. So…

For me when I think of a skilled adolescent reader, uh I always have to say a reader and a writer because I can’t separate those two—and a speaker. I—I—those language arts are important for me. So in ado—a skilled adolescent learner works really better for me. OK? Is someone—and I will use uh an example of a young girl that I have in mind—is a person who first of all has the skills, the basic skills available to that person to get information from many different kinds of texts, a spoken text in a group, a written text, or whatever. And when I say that I don’t think that the meaning lies just in the text. I think there’s meaning being developed in that young woman’s mind and head that is helping that textual print make sense. So there’s a big interaction going on there. And I think of someone who can’t make meaning of text in a variety of ways and academically has the background in that subject matter to understand the vocabulary. That’s real important to me. You know, you can be talking about a table in a social studies class and you’re talking about, perhaps, a water table as opposed to a multiplication table or a table that we would dine at. So I think that that conceptual knowledge in that subject matter a skilled reader will have a lot of background information about a lot of vocabulary that will bring—uh, make this text meaningful to the person. I also think a skilled learner is someone then who needs to be able to take that information and summarize it in a way that he or she, in my instance of the girl I’m thinking of, can use this in an expressive way, either speaking with a small group in front of the whole class, writing something, using it for a research project, or whatever. And then I think of a skilled learner as being someone who has the social skills available—if not available, perhaps they are available to all children, but they make use of them in the classroom so that this child is motivated to participate in school in a way that is spontaneously engaging to that child. That child isn’t playing school just to make the teacher happy, but that child is caught up in the moment, is learning, and therefore is applying all of these skills, the academic, the background knowledge, the vocabulary, which is obviously part of background knowledge, and the skills in which to express herself in a particular setting. So that is someone—and then I guess I would go on maybe and add one more thing. A skilled learner is someone then who takes that information from that class—and this is the big hope—and hopefully uses it in another class. Takes something from a social studies class and sees some relation to something their doing in Elizabethan literature or something like that. If they can make that kind of transfer I would be doing somersaults down most high school hallways. Unfortunately, I don’t see that a lot. I know that we as teachers teach toward that idea, but I don’t think we have enough time in the day sometimes to talk with our colleagues in other classrooms to learn how those kids are making those transfers. And it’s only occasionally will a high school student and perhaps a middle school student who’d say, “Oh, is this like in Mrs. Weaver’s room? I remember doing this” or whatever. And when I hear that, I want to go up and hug that kid for having though that school is something more then a container which have five equal or six equal periods a day. You know, so…

Um, one of the things that I’ve been interested in a lot lately and its been influencing me is this whole notion of critical literacy. It’s uh, and it’s an idea that—it’s sometimes confused, I think, in the United States because we’ve had in the past this hierarchal notion of reading so that you had literal level, you have interpretive level, and then you had critical level. And so the word critical meant that you could take some outside standards, apply them to something you were learning, and evaluate whether or not that information was in fact valid. That’s not—that is critical reading and there is nothing wrong with that definition, but that’s not my definition of critical literacy. I learned first about critical literacy actually through my Australian and New Zealand colleagues. Uh, I’d go to Australian reading association meetings and hear presentations and realize that they were not talking about critical reading; they were talking about critical literacy. And for critical literacy is looking at any kind of text—again, a printed text, uh, um could be music from a rap group, a CD insert, it could be a visual—visual image that’s portrayed on an Internet screen—but any kind of text in a broad sense, that has meaning. It’s being—critical literacy is being able to take that text and ask one’s self some questions about some of the assumptions that I’m making as a reader when I look at that text. And some of the assumptions that usually—usually boils down to would be uh, “Who produced that text? What audience did that producer have in mind when he or she produced that text? What is that text supposed to be doing to me as the reader? And if it’s not doing to me, why isn’t it? And if it is doing something to me, if it’s what we say, working on me, why is it working on me and should I let it be working on me?” And I think that’s where kids become critical. I do not believe in critical literacy as setting up kids to be a little Marxist, you know, looking forward like what’s the gender, class, race, um any other kind of dividing things that we have in our culture. Ageism, um body build, um ability level, or whatever. Those are good things to think about. Those are some of the things we can think about when wonder who made this text? Am I the kind of reader this person had in mind? But I don’t want to take the pleasures away from those kids. Uh, but one of my doctoral students and I are working on some things now. And she’s—she’s a young teacher and she’s saying that she thinks that sometimes when we come in too heavily adult—as adults and say to kids, “You have to be critical of this text, you know, it’s showing women in a bad light or it’s showing blacks in a bad light, or whatever. It’s making fun sp—people who speak another language.” She said she had—you really start doing that to kids and you start making them go underground because they’re going to try to please you or they’re going to think “Well, she’s over 30. She doesn’t know how we think anyway.” And they’re going to turn you off. So what Margaret and I like to think about is when kids are looking at a text critically, that they’re doing it from on their own terms. That we don’t say, “Find the gender imbalances. Find the race imbalances” or whatever. That’s too heavy handed. Those things will come out of kids’ mouths but you have to hear it coming out of their mouths in their way of saying it. You take that then and then you can turn that into somewhat of a discussion. But I think if you lead that discussion with “Everyone should be believing in feminism or everyone should be believing in multiculturalism” or whatever, you’re going to always alienate the very kids in the classroom who may be trying to come to terms with some of these ideas and would come to terms with them if they had a little bit more time to express themselves in what brings pleasure to them. And uh sometimes the very things we—that we are abhorrent about—when we hear that—why they like it, it isn’t what we as adults think they like about it, it’s the layer that we put on them. And as kids they’re not even thinking that. Uh, I could give you lots of examples, but I won’t hear. So um… (Interruption) Exactly. Yeah. And how you should stand on them. You know, and kids will usually do the opposite of what you said. (Laugh)

I think of media literacy as um something that I first knew about—perhaps didn’t have that term for it, but first knew about it when I started teaching and that was I wanted to use television a lot with kids when I was a intermediate level middle school and then in high school wanted to use—I taught many different grade levels throughout the years. And I always thought of media at that point as being just one thing, TV. I think in those days it was. I think we missed the boat entirely and there’s evidence of that in the literature, etc. Schools never did tap into TV in a way that was very useful to schools or to the kids and so it became something that was um not particularly a tool that teachers used. I think videos came along next. Teachers started using those. It was (?) so the kids would watch them. There’d be discussions, filmstrips, etc. Um, we taught them how to learn from filmstrips, how to take notes and things. And—but I never thought of that particularly as useful to kids either in a sense of what they would then use in their projects or whatever. And now the Internet came along and for me and maybe for the kids um there’s multimedia there. As you know, you turn on sound, you have speakers blasting at you, you have visuals, you have movies running. Kids are very good at using all those things. Uh, the thing I find that they cannot do well in the new media literacy that we’re talking about today is they cannot do a—a good search strategy on their own. If you give them a website address or a URL, they’ll be able to go to it and they’ll then be able to make links if there’s—are links on that site. But if you say to them, “Here’s an assignment and we want you to find out everything that you can about Dolly Madison” or whatever, chances are that they’ll type in Dolly—is that James Madison’s wife’s name? I think. Well, anyway—maybe I better use a different (Interruption) Martha Washington. (Interruption) All right. I think today in terms of media literacy, the Internet is what comes immediately to mind as opposed to perhaps in former days thinking of it as television, videos, um filmstrips, etc. And for the Internet, one of the things that I find most troublesome for kids is that they cannot do a search on their own, that they need help on that. So that’s for me what media literacy is. Teaching kids how to search the Internet versus perhaps how to—or similar, rather, to how we teach them to search their textbooks. Very different but yet strategies that they need to have. I find that if they have a URL given to them, they can go to that site, find it, um maybe make—go to links provided at that site and find some information. But then if you give them a topic to do sometime and you don’t give them the URL and you just say, “Find out everything you can about Martha Washington” or “Find out why Martha Washington’s particular place in history uh and where she lived, etc., would have made a difference had she lived in California in those days, etc” and so if there’s any kind of original search pattern to it, they’ll usually type in in their browser, Martha Washington. Well as you all—as we all know, what comes up for Martha Washington will be thousands and hundreds of thousands of sites. And they’ll be many different kinds of Martha Washington. Martha Washington candies, Martha Washington historical figures, etc. So I’m thinking now that media literacy—and this is pretty new, I don’t have a lot of answers here—but I’m thinking that we’re going to be challenged as educators to come up with ways to help kids learn some search strategies. And I’m working on that very thing right now and I’ll tell you the um—the easy—this is now harking back to a different technology. The easiest way for me to get kids to design their own search strategy is to work through with them an outline of what they want to know, let’s say about Martha Washington. So now we’re going back to the old Cornell outline notes in a way. But I’ll say to them, “You know, what do you want to know about her because there’s so much out there. And if they’ll say about her life, where she lives, whatever, those key words you can then start to do some crossing and things like that of having a little bit of luck that way. But they’re lost completely when they—and they’ll come up with the funniest things because they’ll look up Martha Washington and they’ll be so many and they’ll get stuck and then they’ll say, “Well, I spent an hour on my assignment and didn’t find it” or whatever. So I think we need to provide some direct instruction in how to search the Internet on topics where they don’t have a URL given to them.

I think of textbooks as having a language all their own. Uh, by that I don’t mean just the squiggles, the black and white print that appear on the page, but the language that is incorporated into that text beyond the vocabulary, beyond the concepts, etc. I—I like kids to think about who produced that text? So in some ways—in many ways there are connections to critical literacy here because the language of the text is speaking volumes to kids that they don’t hear sometimes and don’t understand because they think that it was made um number one, to torment them maybe. I think they think that textbook authors like to torment kids. Um, some of the textbooks that I’ve read I think they might be right about that and I’ve writ—writ—written some of those texts, actually. But I think that the language of the text as giving them cues as to what they should be alert to. They can be um very visual cues like first, second, third, fourth, listing text structural order. That’s one of the easiest things to teach kids. That’s—that is a language of the text. But I’m thinking beyond that to think of “Who produced that text and how is that text supposed to change the mind of the kid who’s reading that text? How’s it suppose to influence the kid? Uh, how is that information supposed to be used?” And that’s where I think kids and texts don’t intersect. I think authors of textbooks do intend kids—for kids rather to take something from that textbook and use that information. And I think the usefulness is usually to complete an assignment. Uh, it’s a very functional form of reading for them because they’ve already decided how they play school. And so I use this information to complete my assignment and then I can go do what I want to do. But I like to have them think about “What is—Imagine who it was that wrote that text. And imagine that person sitting alone in his or her study writing it. What do you think he or she would want a teenager to be able to do as a result of that?” So I try to build a—the language of text for me is building a dialog with the child reading it, with the reader—the supposed author writing it. And nowadays on the Internet it’s so much fun because many textbook companies are making author—textbook author’s time available on a distributive basis to answer questions that kids who are being taught in the schools with the material that these textbook authors have written. They can write in and question the author. And as you know, Isabelle Beck has—well, and Mattie McCowen have a whole strategy called “Question The Author.” And so I find that extremely useful in terms of getting that language of the text to mean something to the students and to see it as a truly interactive device that they can employ if they are so inclined.

When I think of good school-wide programs (Interruption) Start again? When I think of uh a good high school literacy program, building wide, I’m always aware that there’s probably something in that larger context that’s making that a good building program. So I won’t spend a lot of time talking on that. But I don’t think you can have a building program that is separate from a district level program with somebody coordinating all of this. But let’s just take one school for today and talk about that. For me one of the things you would look for, first of all, is you would have done some pre-assessments. Like what is it that the people in that particular school need to be doing in order to have a coherent literacy program. So I—with that assumption behind me, that there would have been some assessment which would have looked at kids’ background knowledge, the culturally diverse communities they come from, uh teachers’ expertise, um the culture of the school, how much they’re—how much of a learning community it is versus how much perhaps it is compartmentalized. You can work around all of these, but I think you need to know what your building looks like before you begin. Then you don’t invite in an outside consultant who tells you how to um enact particular program because it probably won’t work if you’ve not done some pre-assessment of your own needs. Then I think one of the things is the comprehensiveness of a secondary program. In other words, I don’t want to just think about—well, they have a program where the kids who struggle with reading get some extra help. That’s great. That needs to be there. That’s a component. But I think we need to have programs where the kids who apparently on the service don’t seem to have any trouble learning from text. How do we help them become even better readers and writers? Um, not AP courses. I think AP courses can do some of that, but I’m talking about some actual um—perhaps literature discussion groups. But things in the school that a—that will apply to all different readers, and all different areas, and all different places they are in this continuum because I still think of myself as a becoming reader, you know. And so it may be even having uh literature groups for teachers so that there’s modeling going on that way. Um, one of the best schools that I know right now has a—when everybody reads—drops everything and reads, uh the fact—the fact that people who are in the service industry of the school, like the people working the cafeteria lines, people cleaning the building, etc., can be seen with books in hand. Not always at the very same moment, perhaps that’s sometimes un—unable—they’re unable to do that. But sometime during the day kids get an opportunity to see everybody is a reader in that school. That—whoever it is. And so I like to see that. That’s sort of the broad part. And then I also like to see that the uh assessment at the end to see whether all of this stress we’re putting on teachers to do these things and build their curriculum around it—very busy time around a curriculum that we think is essential to sorts of—to these sorts of things, I like to see a time where the school stops, takes a breath, and says, “How are we coming on this?” And I think maybe one year is a place to begin. But if you make decisions based after one year, I think you’ll be illadvised to believe in that assessment. I think you look at it a second year, a third year, even into the fourth and fifth year, and see how you’re growing as a school and which of the programs are really catching on with the kids. I like to see grandparents come in and read. In other words, for me it’s the—the more inclusive this reading becomes, then the better the program is. If I hear and go into a school where I hear they have a program just for struggling readers or this year they’re working on just on kids who are good at this but who need help with a second language or whatever, it—it doesn’t—it seems divided to me, compartmentalized in a way that I’m not sure then brings that culture to the classroom where the—where everybody’s talking about something, you know, literacy, so—that’s—that’s a hard question for me to answer, by the way.

When I think about the information processing model of how we read and process text, um I think about mainly the cognitive processes that we know are so vital to what it is that we do when we perceive print and then make sense of it. And, of course, that would mean things like um metacognition that you are aware of when you’re reading, when you don’t understand something, and then how you can make sense of it, a fix-up strategy that you can apply or whatever. So it’s like, “Why am I—Why am I knot understanding now and what can I do to help myself get back on track?” That would be the metacognitive aspect. I also see in the information processing model, I would put in things like motivation, I would put in things uh like background knowledge, all of these factors that will influence how somebody processes that text and what we preverbal—proverbially have talked about, is that little black box. Nobody can see it. We do research around it, through it, in it, etc. It’s still very, very abstract and we do not know what goes on in the individual child is interacting with the text. So we have some good models out there. Uh, we have, I think, I still like the notion of the interactive model, that it’s not all top down. It’s not just bringing background information to make meaning of the text that’s in front of you. It’s not just looking at that text and being very bottom up and being very—looking at it and going word for word, or sentence for sentence, or paragraph for paragraph. It’s some of that. It’s some of the top down, but in my mind it’s that interactive. It’s doing both. So when top down knowledge fails you and you’re not making sense, then maybe you’d better pay a closer attention to the text. And vice versa when you’re plotting along and about to go to sleep, maybe you better pull in something that you’ve done in your past that can bring that to it. So I teach and think a lot about the interactive model of reading. Uh, motivation, again, plays into this in many ways but I—I prefer to speak of motivation in terms of a—of a broader term. That is engagement. When we were at the National Reading Research Center in the five years that that was at Georgia and the University of Maryland, we spoke of how do you engage kids cognitively in text, socially in text, and also some personal sort of engagement. Something in their lives that makes this text comes alive for them. It could have been a trip to a place historically where they’ve been and now they’re reading about it, but that connection. So those are sort of what I think of as the information processing model and the different components or factors that make it up. But then I can’t think of just that model by itself because I don’t think that’s how we process information. I think we process it in a bigger sociocultural mealu (? spelling). So I like to think about it as this. That it’s not an either/or. I hear a lot of people saying now, “Oh, I’m—I’m in socioculture, you know, that’s what I do now. The cognitive sort of passé.” Or, “The sociocultural’s too broad. I can’t deal with that. I’m going to stay with the individual child and work on the information processing model.” I don’t see it as separate like that. I see it as the cognitive information processing that’s going on is always within this bigger sociocultural, political mealu (? spelling) that we all live in and we’re all making sense of text in a very information processing way, perhaps, but it’s just being penetrated in all corners by the very culture we live in. So I like to think of it not as separate from information processing being separate, not separate from the socioculture mealu (? spelling), but rather being embedded within it and having the borders pretty permeable so that the—there’s movement between the two. And in my mind when we teach that way, when we realize that the strategies we use, etc., the kids who are coming to our classroom, the great gifts that they’re bringing to class from their cultures that we could build and improve our own teaching uh around those gifts, if we take all of that into consideration—and it is complex, but I like the messiness of the complexity—and I think if we take that into consideration, our own lives as teachers become enriched because we’re always learning. And I think we really do reach kids a lot uh—in a lot more effective ways if we engage them in a way that shows that they are part of that classroom, that we’re aware that they’re bringing things to our class, that we’re learning about them, and that we use that in an academically sound way.

I think uh when I think of what I’m most passionate about as an adolescent literacy um professional, teacher, researcher, is the fact that I like adolescents. I love the teenage years. And I’m passionate about um listening to kids. And I don’t mean that as becoming a very cliché sort of thing like, you know, “Listen to the kids and you’ll learn from them” or whatever. I mean really listening to children. I’m very passionate about that. Listening to what teens are saying. Um, not butting in. I tend to do that. I have to be careful about that. But not butting in and saying, “Oh yeah, I know” or “I understand.” I don’t think I understand or know that soon about what they’re saying. So I mean listening over, and over, and over. Observing, watching, putting this information together. Ken Goodman in the—in the earlier grades talks a lot about kid watching. I think he has that in mind. I think Yetta and he both have that in mind. So I would say it’s kid watching in a way at the upper level, but it’s more then that. It’s kid listening and trying to see what it is that interests them that you might take and somehow build in to your classroom to make learning more fun. And I don’t mean that you become their pal, that you speak their same code, or anything. You could do that if that’s comfortable for you and you like that. I have no problem with that. The kids don’t have any problem with it. That’s fine. But I’m saying that you really know what kids like, what turns them on, how they feel about things. And then I would say, “What are they passionate about?” If you learn what they’re passionate about, then I think you can see whether the thing you’re passionate about as a professor or as a classroom teacher is meshing. And if not, then how do you work around it, with it, in it, or whatever.