Kathleen Hinchman


Kathleen Hinchman at Syracuse University

Well as I see I have to confess that I come from a perspective that emphasizes the socio-cultural. I was a middle schools teacher um and was was a teacher who wasn’t always satisfied with the things that I learned from um a purely psychological perspective or linguistic perspective because I knew that the variables that were woven into kids lives were a lot more complex than any sort of experimental or kind of carefully defined procedure could ever account for. So I really am interested in socio-cultural perspective so I’m I’m going to try to spin my answers in that direction and when I think about um adolescents needs for literacy I think about who they are the multiple layers of who they are as family members as um as teenagers who are assuming are trying to construct an identity based on the things they hear from their world and um their world has lots of stories in it about gender and about race and about class and about um work ethic and about what it takes to be successful and and those sorts of things. So I think adolescents are really complicated people who have complicated needs. Um I also think that literacy right now in our society is in a pretty fluctuating state dispite what the tests tell us I mean there’s there’s this sort of thing going on with literacy in this society where we want to see people passing tests and politician who are looking for increased test scores and and what not. On the other hand what students really need is the ability to succeed in the worlds where they want to be successful and they need to be able to get access to the things that they want and need and desire in order to fit into their perception of society and so it’s it’s they’re pretty multi-faceted. They bring skills into the setting um and they try to continue to develop skills that they’re going to need in order to participate in all of what goes on in the world to be literate critical citizens who can participate in a structure I think.

When I first um learned about teaching reading I learned a lot about word level understandings I am that old I might look younger but I am that old. I learned first about att--- addressing word level understandings as we would do with kids um and because I worked in a middle school I had trouble translating that into what I saw as all of the students needs and so a big boon to my life as a teacher was when I read um David Pierson and Dale Johnson’s book Teaching Reading Comprehension, which came from a scheme a theoretic perspective and I later in graduate school got a chance to read a lot of the research that was behind that. That um works suggests um that we consider they’re relationships between reader and text and reader have to be strategic and they have to be purposeful in the way they approach text. That gave me some things to work with as a teacher. Even then it didn’t that perspective that scheme a theoretic perspective didn’t offer me enough to be able to look especially at teenagers because they’re such complex people. You can see the uh many influences in their lives in the way that they struggle with those things on a day to day basis and so a socio-cultural perspective lets me look at issues of of their identity work I mean uh kinds of things that feed into their identity work.

Often when I start out workshops with teachers to try and get them to think about the influences of the socio-cultural perspective and how that can affect their practice. I have them start out their talk by thinking to themselves of um their most memorable memory from being a teenager. Maybe the thing that that most they were most afraid of or or something that happened to them and usually in a workshop you can kind of go around a room full of adults and say ooh well there was do we have to talk about them or say them because because there’s all those sorts of humiliations we remember and then I’ll and then I’ll do a little pole of the house and ask people to tell me um so how many of you um sighted your completion of a math problem as being your memorable experience and you know occasionally some one will sight some sort of academic example but usually people talk about their relationships with their friends and um oh horrible fights with their parents or the sorts of things that that kids do as their um kind of starting to pull a way from only being at their homes and only following parents influence or perhaps teachers influence and moving to a place where they’re trying to figure out who they are. As a teenager recently told me um I like my relationships with my friends they help me figure out what I think about things um I think that’s a really good indication of what it means to go through adolescents. Middle schools students um I think are a bit different from high school students, middle school students are um th they are are still interesting mixes of a kind of pop culture that suggests childhood, um they collect things they um have funny little jokes they are often horribly horrible teasers of each other and to the point so it’s that sort of elementary school bullying thing grown large um they can be cruel to each other actually I think um they can become wholly immersed and engaged in a subject still though if a teacher’s enthused and kind of invites them to come along with him or her on a study of that subject so they’re they can uh anyone can do that surely but middle school students I think are still in the place where if a teacher’s enthusiastic enough and really shows that she or he loves the stuff that they do enough. Um they’re still in a place where they’re quite likely to buy into that I think. Um at the same time their friends mean a lot to them in middle school and you I mean you really have to get them excited enough to to want to come along with you. Um high school students I think well they’re more complicated they’re more worried they know adulthood is looming they’re trying to figure out what to do about those sorts of things and those are their concerns. Their friends are still of course quite important to them. Um so is the business of growing up important to them they know that um they’re going to have to take responsibility for earning a living and and that sort of thing and that definitely makes them um more serious I think in their relationships with each other and their relationships with their parents, the struggles get a little bit deeper um I think it’s it’s a bit of a harder group to kind of convince to come along with you or they do come along with you but they do it in rote way that they’ve learned to where they’ve sort of learned to separate out and and do the routines of school as David Bloom has talked about and kind of follow along and do the procedural displays that are necessary for school at the same time they’re not really engaging with the content in any sort of deep way depending on how it’s introduced and how they’re invited to come along with that. They learn how to do that trick pretty well by the time they’re in high school if they need to and can depend on it.

Um part of the teacher’s task I think is to consider critically what they are asking students to do in their subject area. What it mean to develop expertise I that subject area. Um what the big ideas are the that are important perspectives to glean from that subject area and to look at that in light of what they know about students, adolescents, um interests in proclivities particularly in their community. And figure out ways to build connection between sort of the discourse of their subject matter and the um what the kinds of things kids are interested in. There’s uh I mean there’s the tradition has been for us to conceptionalize secondary subject areas I think as learning facts and putting them together and organizing them um so that we can spit them out on tests we can produce them on research papers and where ever and that’s our still pretty predominant um position. But another way to think about that is to think about um the fact that you have to almost learn to speak math or speak global studies or you know to to enter a new discourse community in order to um be able to kind of participate in a discussion with the teacher about the kinds of things people know within that discourse community. So I had high school students explain to me that in a global studies class um the teacher they’d tell me that the teacher they they would get it in class but then when they got to the test the teacher would use these hard words well you know if you start to look at it like a language acquisition test it’s not ever going to be enough for them to just write down the teachers words and memorize them they really need to emmerse themselves in that language context and learn the language. So if you conceptualize what goes on in those subject areas instead as a language acquisition task than it canotes different sorts of things about instruction. Little kids don’t learn how to speak their first language by being lectured about how to speak it they learn their language by being immersed in it by having a go at it by having adults mediate their use of it by the way they respond to it sometimes correcting like little words and what not that they say but um it’s it’s a whole lot more complicated than just a lecture and so if you conceptualize your math class or you science class or your social studies class that way um the things you need to do to invite people to be literate to enter that discourse community are wholly different. I mean you really have to think about how to take the skills the kids have and invite them to read write speak and listen so that they can keep kind of trying out the language with each other and with you. Um that’s not to say um I like projects center pedagogia I’ll I’ll say that up front. I like the stuff where teachers sort of think of okay what are the key ideas I need to have them leave with and and how can we go there together so that I learn things from them about their perceptions and about how they see the world but they can also learn things from me. So you can starting out with projects centered instructional techniques where kids get to brain storm kids get to like just be immersed in books at all different sorts of levels and all different kinds of text um but they get to then articulate their understandings in some way and then the teacher gets to respond to those sorts of things. Kids get to um critique the text. If you’re reading multiple text then you can talk from multiple perspectives about those big ideas um also kind of rehearsing your use of the discourse at the same time um and you can learn how multiple perspectives kind of shape the way that we see the world. We can recognize instead issues of um how the how particular text try to position us and in fact become better critical readers I think out of that. How does that change from middle schools to high school? (COUGH) I think the task, I have a cold I really sorry, (COUGH) (SMALL TALK) I think the transition from middle to high school um gets a bit complicated it’s a a fluid kind of translation but students begin to worry about knowing the things they need to know if they’re going to go college or go into the work place and so the teachers expertise becomes even more important to kind of weave in and negotiate (COUGH) (SMALL TALK). The transition from middle school to high school level becomes a little bit more complex because the the expectations for what students will know by the time they leave high school gets a bit more serious. Of course woven into all of this are the things um that teachers needing to consider the kinds of things that kids are naturally interested in as reflected in their pop culture. That changes pretty dramatically from middle school to high school to at the middle school level we find people in love with NSYNC and Brittany Spears and it gets a bit more complicated as as they work their way on up through the grade levels. Kids at younger ages um try to do and participate in all different sorts of activities (COUGH). Um kids um at middle school are involved in pop culture sorts of things where they have fascination with well these days people like Brittany Spears and NSYNC depending on how long you use the video tape that will change tomorrow which is the other characteristic of the pop culture. Kids interests and proclivities get a lot more diverse as they move through high school and so um it really is a challenge for teachers to serve keep on top of the sorts of things that students are interested in and to have respect for that because there are certain to use Jim Gee’s word literacy’s that accompany the kids attention to those sorts of issues as well into their relationships with their friends that are mediated by their interest in pop culture too so.

Well the tradition has been um that kids are suppose to be able to read novels and short stories and poetry and traditional textbooks and figure out traditional textbooks. Um it doesn’t look as though traditional textbooks are going to entirely disappear from schools um they do represent really limited points of view toward the content area subject study um that students would do well to learn to critique. Wait -- organize that sentence appropriately. Um more appropriate if we look at uh what we’re doing as inviting students to enter discourse communities that are particular to subjects specific study is to think about multiple text types as being really important for them to learn to read. So um just difference sorts of primary source documents can be really powerful, science magazines can be really powerful, research journals could be really interesting. If you’re doing a study of poetry in an English class it could be most appropriate to have kids reading critiques of poetry that are written by scholars of poetry, that’s something that schools haven’t often invited students to do but would in fact give the students multiple text types to approach and to consider deeply. Um its appropriate kids let me start that sentence over again. Kids will, (COUGH). Long pause. CHATTERING. Um when teachers bring text into the classroom or invite students to bring text in the classroom I know we often have had a concern for the readability of text um and it is true that students do better with text that they can read with about 95% accuracy, 90-95 % accuracy. Um they understand more of the words then can spend their cognitive energy constructing meaning and really sort of thinking about the the construction of the text. It’s also true that um going back to a scheme a theoretic theory perspective that their prior knowledge is going to influence the kinds of words that they can recognize in text or if they have a lot of prior knowledge or if a teacher does a fair amount of scaffolding of prior knowledge before certain texts are brought into the classroom she or he can really effect that comprehension in in powerful ways and finally it’s also true that if a student is really motivated to dig into the text he’ll stay with the text, she’ll stay with the text even if it’s difficult to get through the words. So in the selection of text, COUGH. In the selection of text um I think you can be liberal and invite students to help you select text and if particularly if you use a multiple text perspective and students work in cooperative groups so that they can participate in groups and kind of pick things out of the pile to help address their particular areas of inquiry then they um are likely to be able to be motivated enough and um have the stick-to-itiveness enough to be able to sort of get their way through the books particularly if they’re doing it with friends and they can kind of work through, paw through things together. That can be really really useful. It’s also important to give students and opportunity to do engaged reading of longer text and so it’s important for a teacher to be there to mediate the things that students are choosing where they need more um in depth understanding of information’s that is going to be presented by a text and make sure their picking something that they can stay with and if they don’t stay with a text that they’ve picked the first time then help them look through the array of things that are available because it’s nearly infinite and help them find some things that they could stick with so that they continue to have that experience of reading more than standard discourse.

Um as the language of a field is represented in text or not um I think . . . let me start over again. I think when um historians look at the text that are used in school at the elementary and secondary school level sometimes they’re dismayed by the way history is represented as a certain kind of narrow dominant culture and multiple perspectives are often not represented and texts tend to be more abstract than what a historian would read as a primary source document actually over here. And so historians tend to critique those texts. I think scientists will often critique science text that teach kids kind of about hypothesis testing without ever actually asking them to do hypothesis testing. A real common thing to hear students say at the high school level or when look or at the middle school level it’s when they look through the microscope and they are peering down at something on a slide they’ll say well what do they want us to see in here and they go and look up in their book what they’re suppose to be seeing. Well a pure scientist would look at that and say that’s not science that’s studying science from a book. So to think about what kind of subject expertise is represented in those texts is really kind of an interesting and complicated thing and something that could be critiqued at a at a larger level in a larger critique of how school works and how it gets us to attend to specific disciplines that we think are needed for society. Um what they mean for a teacher on an every day basis is you sort of need to think through that stuff for your self. At the secondary school level I found that it really helps me when I’m working with teachers to have them think back to why they wanted to be English teachers or science teachers or social studies teachers. Generally there’s a love of content in there. Occasionally it’s because they loved a teacher and want to be like them but generally they have take you know thirty or forty credits of something as undergraduates in college that would suggest that they have a major in a particular subject area and you can call on that sense of admiration and respect for the study of the discipline and have to call on that in order to kind of get ‘em over here thinking okay well how can you invite students into that instead of into just like learning science out of a book or learning math out of a book. You can use the book as the tool by uh it again positions you as as helping students with language acquisition rather than with just getting stuff out of the text that’s going to be on the test the next week.

I want them first to to have drawn the generalization that when they’re inviting students to study their discipline they’re actually inviting students to enter a new discourse community and so they are the very best guardians of the um access the point of access to that discipline. Um they need to then think about how they can invite students into that discourse community. Um generally I have I invite students too to think then about all right if you have a certain curriculum you’re suppose to cover at a particular grade level because other people are telling you to do that, how can you conceptualize that in terms of the few really big generalizations you as an expert of that subject area would like to have the students leave with. Let them become the they then become the generalizations, um I call them organizing ideas or big ideas and I’ve gotten that phrase from um twenty years ago Hal Herber used the phrase these days lots of people are talking about um organizing ----(?) conceptual um arguments. Um I’ll have people even write a sentence that reflects and organize the idea so that they have to articulate a subject and verb and kind of a relationship that says to kids okay this is what I want you to leave here with but lets talk about how we can get to this generalization. And it will be an generalization that’s I don’t know we might look at it kind of as a as a truism like in a social studies class where they’re studying the Civil War conflict yields change or um conflict represents multiple perspectives and often results in change or or something like that could that could apply to things in the kids life now today as well as their study of the Civil War as well as their study of other historical events. Um organizing study around that could mean jumping into lots of um representations of the Civil War, text representations and other representations of the Civil War um where the students um discover how that statement is or isn’t’ true and how different texts are positioned relative to that statement what positions are represented what perspectives are represented and then report out on that so they can give stress and generalizations about about what that looks like and how it works.

Um struggling reader pose a couple of different challenges. One is uh and struggling reader struggle for different reasons. Some of them struggle because they won’t read, some of them struggle because can’t read very much at all, some of them struggle because they can read but don’t get a lot of practice at it because there’s generally in traditional classrooms there’s whole lots of ways you can get out of reading and they figure those ways out um and so the challenge is to invite people I mean if we’re really thinking of our subject area of study is inviting people to enter a discipline specific discourse community then we have to think about inviting those students to join us in that um but this the problem is going to be that some students who struggle with things like decoding multi-selemic words which is pretty frequent at the secondary level um are going to struggle with some of the more difficult text representations because they have more multi-selemic words in them. Kids who struggle because they have difficulty um um sort of strategically reading the texts and and understanding what main idea is represented in those texts and what the position is that’s represented by that main idea need to be helped see how that’s what this text process is about. Um and a content area teacher won’t always have time to do that. However strategies like cooperative learning like having students work in pairs as their reading through research materials um aren’t offensive don’t look like baby work and are ways to help struggling reader kind of work through their reading of the text. Harder for a struggling reader is to be told to go read pages 15-45 and come back tomorrow and pass the test on it or go home and read pages 15-45 and answer the ten questions at the end that generally even for good readers but especially for struggling reader becomes what Rich B---(?) use to call a search and destroy mission I mean they just it’s the way I took French actually, they read the question and look for the words that are in the question and the text over here and then look at the text around it and sort of figure out how they’re gonna how they’re gonna answer the questions there. Um that’s not a productive sort of activity for for students to do if you’re really interested in inviting them into that discourse specific community, badder would be to even have them read lots of sources and then come back and look at that text book and say so what is the text saying and how does it align with other things that I’ve read from different perspectives of here and how can I critique that text.

That’s a a really interesting question I’m not sure I know the answer to the question. Um I know as a middle school teacher I would occasionally have struggling readers in my classroom who really really couldn’t do anything that we were trying to do in the class I also know that at the time my pedagogy isn’t the same sort of pedagogy that it would be now with more project based instruction which I think would bring reader along. I think it’s not enough I uh well okay the content area teacher’s responsibility is to figure out ways to involve students in different sorts of explorations in their classroom. Um to provide additional representations of text maybe books on tape, a reading buddy, um at what point do you give up I suppose it’s at the point or do you say it’s not your responsibility, I suppose it’s at the point where the you and people who collaborate with you one (CLEAR THROAT) sorry, at what point do you give up, you give up at the point where the people around you who you talk to about how to struggle with this student cause you wouldn’t struggle with a reader like that by yourself there are other resources in the school, people you can talk to and go to for advice about it. When you can’t figure out how to make any of the experience productive and you’re doing your all to have the kinds of activities that would invite him to even try texts that’s at his level or her level. Um then I suppose you need to ask ask questions about whether the time being spent is productive. Um it’s also true that it’s never going to be enough for a reader who struggles that much where a content area teacher is asking that kind of questions for his needs to only be addressed in those content area classes. Schools who don’t have additional resources over here that address the needs of that student are abdicating their responsibility. It’s not going to be the science teacher’s job to help those students learn how to decode learn how to strategically read small chunks of text. Um it is the content area teacher’s job to model strategies that she uses or that he uses in order to um in order to get through text.

There’s some research that suggests that students have learned some things from some strategies like reciprocal teaching like using graphic organizers to help um organize information and remember it later on. Um teaching vocabulary that’s pertinent to understanding and being able to discuss an organizing idea (COUGH) excuse me. Those things are all things that we know about that can help students um with their comprehension of text but also their critique of text. Um how can you tell if a strategy is good or not. Well even if we look at what the research says if you think about it what research tells us imperical research into strategy, strategies that work and that don’t work tends to to be judge by what works for most children meaning we take a group of kids and we try to teach the strategy to them we try to control the right number of variables and what not. But the kids who don’t succeed in school aren’t most children. That for me as a teacher puts me in a different place. It puts me in a place where every time I hear any body talk about having a discursive transaction with a child and something positive seems to come from it I listen to what they say to see if it’s something that I can add to my own and I’ll use that phrase bag of tricks and I don’t mean that in a sort of superficial way but it does become something that’s really important to me. Um I think that teachers who talk to other teachers as they work with students can help each other to figure out those techniques of responsive pedagogy they little tricks that that students can do um I’m going to stop there because I forgot what I was saying. (COUGH)

What I’ll do is listen to people talk about the things that work with particular students with whom they’ve struggled and try those things myself it might not work for a huge end as and perical researcher might say but if it’s even worked for one person or if they’ve even perceived it to have worked it might be something that I want to add to my bag of tricks so that I can pull it out later on when I need it for something. So not to say that we shouldn’t pay attention to the researcher on strategy instruction, I think it’s really helpful but again it’s help in a kind of gross ball park sort of way. There’s also sort of the relationships that we have with kids in the discursive transactions that we have with kids that are all that are equally important I think and different kinds of things might work in helping us to show or explain something to a student in a particular way that’s going to cause a huge change in the way she sees the world. So I try to pay attention to those things as well.

Um they teachers should probably understand about the theoretical orientation from which the strategy was developed as so if you take a strategy like KWL that’s what the students knows what he wants to know what he and then what he learned after. That comes out of a scheme of theoretic perspective that suggests prior knowledge is important and the transaction between prior knowledge and information in text e----(?) that occurs as where comprehension occurs. Um understanding that a teacher can then consider alternative ways of thinking about learning like socio-cultural perspectives and say well where does that thing we initially brainstormed for KWL come from and do I negotiate that with the students and that does that grow out of the students interests and my concerns for the kinds of things that I think we’re suppose do in in this study of this interdisciplinary study even even we don’t restrict ourselves to subject area study the socio-cultural perspective um causes us to need to enhance some of those things that we’ve called the traditional reading strategies I think.

Jared actually was a um 18 year old um junior in high school in uh who is participating as a collaborator in a critical literacy study that I was engaged in with another te--- with a teacher at a high school. Um and some of the things that I heard the students in that study group that I worked with talk about um and some of the things I struggled with even getting them to talk about tied to the things that were happening to them as students. We were looking at how they perceive literacy and how high school students perceive the kinds of literacy skills you need in order to be successful that was sort of the topic for this other this other study group that we had. Um Jared was one of the students in there and he very interested in trying to figure out the connections between events in the world and literacy as a problem and so when we formed our study group and we know it was about literacy he would find articles about adult literacy problems and bring them into our study group were in the newspaper and he would find um articles about other sorts of things that were happening with teenagers in society and bring them in and say is this a literacy problem. (COUGH) um as as I worked with Jared I got to know him really really well um I came to understand that he was um children of a --- a child of a family um where the parents were divorced he lived with his mom and his grandparents which suggested maybe somebody was trying to scramble to cover living arrangements uh most moms and children don’t choose to live with grandparents but are maybe baby-sitting arrangements but I one might conclude that there was some trying to save some money there. Jared had a part time job, his part time job was um working after school an entire late shift as a um part of a janitorial service that worked in a nursing home and so he finished late in the evening went home and did homework and then got up and went to school the next day so he was tired said he needed money cause he was saving up for college but he also had a car and he confessed that most of his work money went into the car, had a girl friend, she was really important in his life. Um overall as we worked together I came to realize that um Jared was participating in school, oh he said he liked going to city school so it was an urban high school, he said he liked being in city schools because it helped him know how to get along with different kinds of people and he set that up as opposed to he had relatives, step family relatives, actually who didn’t go to the city schools and challenged him on that all the time, wouldn’t come to the basketball game at his school because they were afraid they were going to get shot um so Jared had kind of thought through why he liked city school. He likes city school because he was learning how to work with different kinds of people he said and yet the things I saw him do in class and even in our study group suggested he kind of stayed away from wealthier white kids and he stayed away from um the children of col--- the students of color in the class as well. He kind of forged his own way. Um and wasn’t acknowledging that as part of how he was constructing an identity. So I came to see Jared as um having certain influences of gender and race and class that were feeding into his perception of literacy and how it works for him and other people in schools um in ways that were complicated and suggest that we should pay attention to individual students so that we know how to mediate their understandings, excuse me (COUGH). Jared’s insight about Columbine was that we had a study group meeting the day after the Columbine incident occurred and he said did this have something to do with literacy and so the kids in my study group all said well no they were good students but then we started to talk about how they were disengaged students and that had tied into previous discussions. We’d had about um kids who struggled with reading in the elementary school that they knew or kids who are really really poor and you know maybe didn’t smell good when they came – how kids were ostracized on their way through school and how those kids seem to disappear by the time they got into high school and so they saw these two fellows at Columbine as perhaps being disengaged with school in a way that did suggest that there was a sort of literacy problem because they were not kind of engaged in the discourse, the social discourse community of the school. Um the day after we had the conversation um Jared wrote a little acrostic poem that said fight illiteracy and ignorance. He put the word fight and the word ignorance with the word illiteracy and he pasted it to the teachers door where we were having our study group session and came to see a connection between them but his way of seeing the connection was um was he was making an effort to see sort of the social issues that were wrapped up in that but not in a way that would suggest he saw those same kinds of things playing out in is own life and school he was starting to be them. So Jared’s insight is that those adolescence’s are kind of in a place where they’re um struggling to construct an identity and to figure out what their fit in the world is but th they’re not putting they put together their data representing multiple and competing perspectives and it’s not a smooth story that they’re able to tell.

Probably already said it when I talked about conceptionalizing their work as people who are inviting people to have uh gain entre into alternative discourses communities and recognizing that they have discourse communities of their own that are to be treated with respect and kind of woven into those invitations. Um at the same time I spend a lot of time in secondary schools where I don’t see kids reading very much at all and that says to me were not inviting kids into those subject specific discourse communities. Um we’re doing other sorts of things but if they’re not doing any reading when they’re in schools or they’re not doing any talking about things that they read and things that they write um there’s not going to be a lot of progress and so my personal soap box right now is we have to figure out ways to get kids to do read to read and write and speak and listen in secondary schools and and just thinking about that should change the whole set of premises that we have for instruction.