Uh, my name is Katherine Au. I’m a professor at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Policy issues, I think are very important to consider and be aware of in a general sense. Uh, when we’re dealing with classrooms where there are a lot of students of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. And what I like to think about is that excellence and equity go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. So to me excellence in education means a—a great education for all kids with equal opportunities to learn and opportunities for all kids to come to high levels of literacy. I don’t see that as being a trade off. I think you can’t have one without the other.
OK. OK. Uh, I think in the past that um we haven’t put as much emphasis on policy and the large political context in which teachers do their work, especially teachers who work with kids who often struggle in learning to read and write and to be successful in school. And I find myself now when I talk to in-service teachers or when I’m teaching my pre-service classes talking a lot more about that political context and policy issues because I think these have great affects on our work every day. And one of the things that I—I think I’d really like to emphasize, especially to in-service teachers who are very grounded in their schools, familiar with the classrooms, the students, the communities that they’re working in is that their voices need to be heard. They are the ones who work closely with children every day, who see parents, who come to know the communities. And often times policy makers are operating at more distant levels and are not aware of the special needs of those communities and those children. So I think the first word of advice that I have for teachers is don’t be afraid to speak up because you know what’s going on in your classroom. And speaking from that experience often can be very, very convincing for policy makers. You’re in the trenches; you know what’s going on.
Um, I talk a lot about social constructivism and I know that’s a very big term. It’s part of the jargon of our field nowadays, but I don’t like to think of that term as being something that’s out there in abstract. To me it’s very real. So when I look at the social part of social constructivism, I think of the idea—it’s very simple, but very powerful. Learning is something takes place in communities; it takes place between the learner and the more knowledgeable other. Learning is social and it’s always supported by the help we get from other people. And this starts from the time the child is born. So language learning is a social process and learning to read and write, like all kinds of language learning, are social processes. And we see that—that uh children who become successful readers and writers are always part of social communities in which other people have helped them to become successful. I think the constructivist part of it is also very important. And here’s a very simple idea again but a very powerful one. And this is the idea that we construct our own understandings of everything we know about the world, including reading and writing. We know what we hear from other people but we don’t really understand reading and writing until we do it for ourselves, until we make it real by engaging in reading and writing for ourselves. So to me social constructivism is not an abstract philosophical uh concept that’s out there. I think it’s very real to me as an educator um and I think it would be very real to teachers to understand reading and writing are social processes and that they’re processes that children have to construct their own understanding by engaging in real reading and writing.
Well, you know social constructivism I think is such a powerful idea. It’s something that affects the learning of all of us. At every level of literacy in education, I think we’re still better learners and—and more powerful learners when we’re involved in social communities. So to me um what really helps and I think especially to the teacher who is in the classroom doing the job every day is to be part of a professional community where I have the opportunity as an educator to discuss learning to read and write with colleagues. We—we don’t any one of us know all the answers, but when we put our heads together we can get a lot better picture. And I think that—that idea that learning is a social process, that we have to construct our own understandings by engaging in those kinds of processes, I think that applies to us across the board.
We have a lot of different um terms for the approaches we take to reading and writing. And lots of times uh we see that there are two different poles on this continuum. There’s a skill-oriented pole and there’s a whole language or holistic pole. Um, I see that both of these ends of the continuum have very important things to say to us. I think on the skill side what I understand that’s very important here is the idea that yes, there are important strategies and skills that form the know how of reading and writing. Kids need that kid of knowledge base, that procedural knowledge. On the other hand, with the holistic views, I think we’ve come to the idea that reading and writing have to have meaning in real life and in the real purposes that kids use reading and writing for every day. So that motivation is also very important. So my own view is what I call the balance view and it tries to bring together the importance of strategy and skill instruction with the importance of kids inter-motivation to use reading and writing and to be motivated to use strategies and skills. I think together the two make a powerful package and that one their own they’re part of the answer but not the full answer. I think especially when we’re in classrooms with a lot of students with diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, we have a tendency to think that strategies and skills are going to be the whole answer because often times these students come to us without the kind of background that we would expect if we were in mainstream classrooms. But I think what happens often is that we don’t remember the very important finding that has come to us from years and years of research in emergent literacy, and that is that children must first understand the purposes and reasons for using reading and writing. If they understand those purposes and reasons, they will develop the strategies and skills because they’ll be motivated to do so. And lots of times for students who come from diverse homes, they’ve seen reading and writing perhaps in different forms from the forms that we expect in school. So many of the students that I’ve worked with who are native Hawaiian students have not had family storybook reading, for example, as a nightly routine. So why not use shared reading? Why not bring this new purpose and introduce children to the idea that reading can be meaningful and exciting. So I always see that putting purposes first is going to really help us to be effective for these children.
Uh, we have a lot of different research knowledge that suggests to us that most children have quite a few experiences with literacy before coming to school but that these experiences may be very different from the ones that we ourselves have experienced or that we expect to see when kids first come to school. Um, I’ve spent some times uh with my research assistant driving around rural Hawaiian communities, for example, where you’d be very hard pressed to find signs in those rural neighborhoods aside from a bus stop sign. So, for example, common forms of environmental print that we expect to see in the city, that McDonald’s sign even, are not a big thing in some of these rural communities. So even experiences with environmental print may vary. Um, I see that many families have the Bible in the home and some adult magazines, perhaps a newspaper, no books that children would read. No materials especially designed for children. So there are these differences that we see. Um, it’s not that families would not want to have books but books cost a lot of money. And so re—uh religious purposes may—may motivate reading, um purposes of information may motivate reading, but not all of these may directly involve children in reading and writing. Um, some other examples, um I—I have some friends who um are Asian like myself and who’s first experiences with literacy were not storybooks either. Uh, one of my friend’s parents ran a laundry and her first experiences with literacy were reading the tickets on the laundry. Another friend who’s parents ran a grocery store and he remembers looking at the labels on the cans. So sometimes we have hard working parents who um have several jobs, uh they’re not necessarily going to have the time or energy and it may not be in their own family histories to read to their children at home. It’s not that we can’t introduce parents to these practices, but children will come to school with a lot of different family experiences and we may not always quite be able to connect to those when we—when we’re in the classroom.
Um, I guess I could tell you a—an anecdote that was told to me by one of my mother’s cousins who visited our family uh for the first time. I was about three years old and she remembers me sitting on the floor of my bedroom with a stack of books that was just about as tall as I was and just going through the books and turning the pages. And um my mother thinks that um I—I went through the uh familiar storybook stage because there was a Little Golden book that I really liked, I think it was called “Little Pond in the Big Woods.” And everybody was very impressed because they thought I could read it but, of course, what I had done was memorize the uh pictures that went with every illustration. So um we did have a lot of family storybook reading in my own home. I’m the oldest um of four children and my um brother and sister who are right under me are—are just a few years younger then I am. So I can remember many hours where the three of us were crowded around my mother, my father, one of our grandparents, or an aunt, or an uncle, and we were always read to um in the evenings. And we had a—a great collection of Little Golden books, a couple of Dr. Seuss titles, uh this was way before “The Cat In The Hat” so we had um the “Ooblick” and “Bartholomew Cubbicks” and “The 500 Cats.” I think those were our favorites. Um, I remember hearing “The Wizard of Oz” being read to us chapter by chapter and we loved that. So we were very fortunate in that sense to be surrounded by books.
The question of learning to read in a second language I think is a very um challenging question. We often are in a situation where because we have children who are from many different family language backgrounds, we don’t have one large group of children uh who can be instructed in reading in their—in their—in their first language. And so the teacher really has quite a juggling act in this case. Um, I think this is the most common situation in uh urban districts. Certainly this is what we often find in schools in Hawaii where we may have children who speak Ilcano, children who speak Samoan, uh children who speak various Asian languages, and we just have one or two children from all these different backgrounds. And here they are six or seven of them all in one teacher’s classroom. Um, I think the—the best advice I guess that—that I feel I’ve ever been offered is that we have to respect the language backgrounds of all these children and help them to feel comfortable with the idea that they’re going to be given an opportunity to build on their existing language schools in the class—skills in the classroom. I’ll give you an example of a little girl from Thailand uh was in a 5th grade class and this was in a rural school in one of our neighbor islands in Hawaii. She was the first girl to speak Thai who had ever shown up in this elementary school. Her teacher, uh Japanese-American, spoke English as a first language, of course had no knowledge of Thai and this little girl very little knowledge of English. But uh the little girl brought a Thai/English dictionary into the classroom. The teacher actually celebrated the fact that this little girl was already literate in Thai. By having her show some of her formal reading and writing to the other children in the class. The teacher learned to pick up a few words of Thai and the little girl, of course, with the help of the teacher and her classmates learned a lot of English. But I thought this was a very sensible and sensitive handling of a situation where both the teacher and student were on unfamiliar ground. (Interruption) If there were an easy answer, I’d love to share it with you.
Very often we will have a classroom situation in which the teacher um is encountered with the child who speaks a language and is from a culture that the teacher is not familiar with. And I think this is a very common situation now because we have so um, um many people from different groups moving into so many different communities. Um, I guess I don’t like to separate the cultural and linguistic issues because I feel that language is part of culture. And my language reflects who I am as a person. And so if you um really want to understand what I’m going through, you have to have a big picture of who I am as a student and um I like to see the teacher asking a question, really “What’s going on with this child? Um, where has this child come from? What uh cultural background is this child from? An what are likely to be some of the—the family values and perhaps the family concerns in entering this new setting?” Sometimes it’s not easy to communicate with parents but we do have representatives of that cultural group within the school, perhaps as paraprofessional aids or other people working in the school. And I think it’s nice for the teacher to have a sense that she can talk to others—others who are insiders to that culture to get, perhaps, some insight into what might be going on with that child. So I think it’s not just the question of um let’s try to understand this new language because we’re not going to be able to learn all the language that our children bring into the classroom, but to get a bigger picture of the child through an understanding of the culture as well as the linguistic background that the student is bringing into the classroom.
Um, I think often we are in classrooms where we’re working with students who are from cultural and linguistic backgrounds that are quite unlike our own. I’m uh Chinese-American and my first teaching experiences as a classroom teacher were in classrooms with a lot of native Hawaiian children. Um, in addition to the fact that um we may be from different cultural backgrounds, there are also issues of um social class that may affect um the work that we do with children. So may of us our from uh families that have been rather fortunate and are considered middle class families whereas many of our students may be from low income backgrounds and that may also affect the experience that we have in classrooms. I think the thing that I had to learn as a beginning teacher was that I might sometimes see the children behaving in a way that I did not understand. That didn’t mean that the children were being uh disobedient or that they were misbehaving. They were behaving in a way that was natural and comfortable for them, but that was not culturally familiar to me. Uh, here’s an example. Um, one of the first things I did as a kindergarten teacher, of course, was uh—was read aloud to my class. I had a little boy who turned his back on me while I was starting to read the story. He wasn’t being disobedient; he was just a boy who had never had a story read to him before. He had not been to preschool, he had not been read to at home, and he was just more interested in looking at the faces of the other children. Because I knew that my students had this great orientation toward peers, I didn’t jump on him. But the natural instinct that I had was to feel upset as a teacher that he wasn’t doing what he was suppose to be doing. See I guess the uh thing that I—I feel I had to learn as a teacher and that I hope other teachers would keep in mind is that sometimes cultural differences may affect the way children behave in classrooms and we need to entertain that as a hy—hypothesis and not jump to the conclusion that there’s something wrong with this child or that he’s being disobedient. That—that may be quite possible, of course, but I think we also need to look at the fact that some children’s experiences and backgrounds may lead them to behave in different ways. Now as a literacy researcher, uh one of the things that I’ve done is look at what we call participation structure in classrooms. And that is um, uh how children uh understand the rules that we have with speaking, listening, and turn taking. And many of the native Hawaiian children that I’ve worked with um were very comfortable with uh a style that we tall—call the talk-story style. And that means that you can jump in when you have something important to say. Your speech may overlap or appear to cut off the speech of another speaker. Now that would be called interrupting in the mainstream classroom. But this kind of chaining on of responses is very common and very comfortable for native Hawaiian children. Once again I could interpret that as a way that I could get more ideas in a positive sense or I could interpret that in a negative sense as, “Gosh, these children are all speaking at once and getting out of hand.” So again, I think having this hypothesis that we may be dealing with cultural differences is very important otherwise we can have a lot of time when we feel we’re struggling with management issues because we’re fighting some understandings of the children that are just very different from our own.
Um, sometimes we have uh a curriculum that um is very well designed and very well intentioned but that may not do the job for culturally diverse students in the way that we would like it to do. I think often that um what happens is when we have uh packaged curriculum uh we have very clearly in mind the content, the skills and strategies we want children to learn, but we don’t—because we have the package—take enough time to make the connections to the children’s own life and experiences and what matters to them. And that’s where I guess I’m really in favor—regardless of the curriculum framework you have—when you’re dealing with culturally and linguistically diverse students, to really look at the idea of responsive teaching. I don’t argue so much with the goals and the intention of the curriculum as I do with the way that the teacher helps the curriculum to connect to the children and to make it meaningful to them. As an example, uh when I first began to teach we were using um a lot of Basel Reader’s selections and there’s nothing wrong with stories in the Basel Reader especially when they’re good literature. But often times those literature selections may be about situations and places uh and—and events that are very different from the daily experiences of my native Hawaiian students. Uh, for example, I remember teaching kids a story that involved a raccoon. Now we don’t have raccoons in Hawaii, we don’t have winter in Hawaii. So we had to do some—some talking about uh the climate that we live in, the animals that we expect to see in our neighborhood and how some people who live in different places might see different animals, might be living in a—a different kind of climate. Now the kids could understand what was going on. Without those kinds of connection I think all are beautifully designed curricular may not have the affect that we want them to have. So this responsiveness, uh this work that the teacher does to make the curriculum meaningful to the kids, I think that’s really something that only an expert teacher can do.
Um, we’re in a very tough time now for the teaching profession where there are tremendous pressures for accountability and we are seeing that states have standards and expectations of children at kindergarten, at 1st grade, at 2nd grade and so on. Um, I’m very much in favor of the idea of standards because I think standards help us to keep our expectations high for all students, including students of diverse, culturally, and linguistic backgrounds. What I worry about again is that um while these standards are important and having high expectations for all students uh is a very important idea, we can’t expect though that all children will be on the exact same timeline as other children. For example, uh we know from uh research that was done by Gordon Wells back in the 1980’s that one of the best predictors of achievement at the end of 6th grade is a number of times a child has been read to prior to coming to school. And often times successful readers uh who get a strong start and finish strong at the end of elementary school have been read to on 5,000 separate occasions before they even came to kindergarten. Contrast that with uh a student who may never have been read to at any time at home. So we have zero family storybook reading occasions compared to 5,000. And these two children could both be in your kindergarten classroom. Now I think the teacher has a tremendous job here to deal with that range of children. And I don’t think that we can have the same expectation at the end of kindergarten for the reading and writing for that child who has been read to on 5,000 occasions and that child who has not had that same kind of experience at home. So while I’m very much in favor of high standards for all students, I’m also concerned that we be flexible in terms of the schedule and the timing of when these expectations will be applied to children who may come from different backgrounds.
I’ve done quite a bit of writing about what is called “The Literacy Achievement Gap.” And by that um we refer to the gap between the literacy achievement of students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds and their mainstream peers. So let’s say uh 3rd graders um who may be of different uh cultural backgrounds and mainstream 3rd graders or 6th graders or 8th graders and so on. Um, and the main source of our information is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is pop—popularly known as our nation’s report card. And that’s a Federally funded testing program um that’s been going on for more then 25 years. Gosh, I think it’s almost 30 years now. And when we look at that what we see is that we—we have great discrepancies in achievement. Now the gap has narrowed somewhat in recent years, which is good news for us, but we still see a substantial difference. So that the average student of diverse backgrounds uh from—from some of the groups within the US may be several years behind the average achievement of students who are from mainstream backgrounds. And I think that’s a continuing cause of concern for us. It means that as a nation and as a system of schooling, we haven’t quite done the same job for students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds that we have done for mainstream students. So our challenge really is that to close the literacy achievement gap and make sure that we’re getting more equitable outcomes among all groups of students.
Um, one of the complicated issues we have is that we would hope that if we taught children in exactly the same way, gave them all the same amount of time that we would have the same outcomes. So let’s say that I have a group of um, uh mainstream students and I have a group of culturally diverse students in my same classroom and I use the same instructional strategies, I give them all equal amounts of time, I would hope that because I’ve taught them in the same way I’ll have the same outcomes with them. But what we see time and again is that this doesn’t quite work. Actually what we have to do is look at our goals as being the same for all our students. We want all students to reach high levels of literacy. But the approaches that we use to get students there may be different. So to me um I would—I would differentiate between, equity and outcome and equity and approaches. To me equity and approaches doesn’t mean that we teach the same way. It means that we teach in a varied way that will best meet the needs of the students that we have. And that’s why we come to ideas like culturally responsive instruction. That we may teach a little differently depending on some of the characteristics of our students because teaching differently will help us be more effective with those groups.
I’ve written a lot about the idea of ownership and I believe that ownership of literacy should be the over-arching goal for the language arts curriculum for all children, but I think this is an especially important idea when we’re talking about students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Now what do I mean by ownership? Um, I believe the students who own literacy are students who want to make reading and writing part of their every day lives not only when they’re in the classroom and we have the opportunity to stand over them. But when th—when they go out in the home and community, they’re using reading and writing for their own purposes. They may be making lists, creating address books, uh writing letters and messages, uh reading for their own enjoyment. But these are things that uh they’re doing because they want to do. And so I think that ownership has this I—this—these two components. It’s a positive attitude toward reading and writing. It’s also uh the idea that it’s a habit, something I do every day and it’s part of my real life. Now I would distinguish between ownership and proficiency. I think we hear a lot of talk these days about proficiency and I’m all in favor of it. Proficiency to me—to me means I have the strategies and skills to be a good reader, to be a good writer. I have the no how. To me ownership is something that comes above proficiency. It means I not only have proficiency, it means I have the motivation to use those—use those strategies and skills for the purposes that I set for myself as a reader and writer. So I feel that we have a big job. Yes, we want our students, especially those of diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds to have every opportunity to become proficient readers and writers. But we also want them to have ownership because what good is proficiency if I don’t also have the motivation to really put my skills and strategies to use.
I think ownership is a big challenge for all stu—uh, all teachers. One of the things that we know that’s very interesting is when the National Reading Research Center uh was at the University of Georgia and University of Maryland, they did a big nationwide survey and they asked teachers all over the country, “What is the greatest challenge you face in teaching children to read?” And the answer was not phonics; it was not comprehension. The answer from teachers was “It’s motivation. If I can get my students to want to read and write, I’ll be able to teach them all the skills and strategies in the world, but my students are not interested.” And I think this issue of ownership, of interest, of motivation is even greater for a teacher who is working with students who speak a first language other then English. There are many issues that the student is struggling with in the classroom, which makes the job of learning to read and write quite overwhelming, I think, in the beginning. Um, the student is often in an environment, an English environment, where it’s difficult for—for him or for her to understand everything that’s going on. Um, I know with older students um it can also be a question of why am I even hear? Why did I have to leave my home where I was very happy and—and come to this strange place to be with people that I don’t know, to live in a language environment that I don’t understand. So I think the whole sense of the students identity and of belonging uh makes it that much harder for the teacher to—to get the academic job done. So I see in the beginning the challenge that the um teacher faces is really a challenge of helping the student to feel accepted, and wanted, and comfortable in the classroom learning environment. Um, with that kind of acceptance, with that kind of understanding of “I—I know who you are. I—I understand who you are and where you’re coming from.” I think the teacher then has a better chance of working on motivation and ownership. I think this is a very, very sensitive and difficult issue. Now I’ve spent my whole life studying reading and writing but I have to say that I think there are some things that are more important even then learning to read and write. And that’s, I think, feeling accepted and wanted and feeling confident as a learner in the classroom environment. I think a teacher who can create that kind of classroom environment where all children feel they’re part of a community learners, they can be supported and accepted for who they are, that teacher has a really good chance of developing ownership of literacy.
Uh, very often when we have a student in—in the classroom who is a second language learner, that student may need help with skills and strategies that many other children in the class already have. Um, I think this is a great challenge for the teacher. And I guess the way that—that I see uh skill and strategy instruction working best in classrooms with a lot of second language learners is that that skill and strategy instruction has to be connected to something meaningful to the child. Um, for example, I don’t think if a student uh doesn’t know about books and the joys of reading that it makes sense to start teaching on the first day the sound of ‘b’ because I don’t know about letters and sounds yet. I—I need to learn first that books tell wonderful stories and I need to want to read books. And then as a teacher you can tell me, “OK. You want to read books because they’re interesting—interesting and exciting? I’m going to teach you some tricks that will help you read those books.” I think the first thing is that the strategy instruction has to be embedded in something the student find meaningful. I think the other thing that may help is that um, you know, I’m not the only teacher in the classroom. If I have 25 students, there are potentially 25 other teachers in the classroom. So the second language learner, I think, can be supported by being involved in meaningful literacy activities with other children. You know, um we talk about um the zone of proximal development, that’s one of the famous ideas from Vagodski, the region of sensitivity to—to learning. And I think lots of times when children are working um at their seats or in learning centers; um they are seeing their future. They are seeing the next area in the zone where they may—may be able to learn something because they’re watching kids do things, they are not quite able to do themselves yet. But they’re getting an idea. So I think in all these informal interactions where meaningful literacy and—and uh instruction is taking place or meaningful literacy activities are going on in the classroom, children have a lot of opportunities for informal learning as well. Partner reading is another great one. Um, the writer’s workshops where children are engage in peer conferences. So I think often we think, “Gosh, I’m the teacher and boy I have a lot—a lot of work to do.” And that’s true. But there’s a lot of help out there and sometimes I think we can be amazed by what children can help other children learn uh through informal as well as planned interactions.
Um, there are different uh ways that we can look at the different groups within the United States for diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. And the famous Nigerian anthropologist, John Augbough, has suggested that one of the ways we can understand these differences if to consider that some groups are immigrant groups and other groups are indigenous groups. So the immigrant groups—uh, I give myself as an example, I’m a Chinese-American and my family has been in Hawaii for four generations and my great-grandparents um came to Hawaii for economic reasons. Um, they expected that they would be in a strange country, have to work hard, have to learn new ways and a new language and that’s just how it is. Um, I would contrast this with another group in Hawaii, the indigenous group, Native Hawaiians. Now Native Hawaiians um settled in the Hawaiian—what are now called the Hawaiian Islands. Um, they came from the Marquises and uh they probably settled there—well, perhaps over a thousand years ago. Um, they were living in isolation um from the Western world until the arrival of the British explorer, James Cook, in the late 1700’s. Now indigenous groups are different because um they didn’t—they didn’t choose to become part of the United States. They didn’t come to America as immigrants did. America came to them, let’s say. So uh the kingdom of Hawaii was annexed uh many Native Hawaiians would say illegally annexed by the United States uh shortly before 1900. Now the attitudes um that—that uh families and uh students may have toward educational systems which are part of uh a larger political structure may be different depending on their family histories and the history of their group in that particular situation. So we often see that students who are from immigrant groups are very eager to learn whatever the school has to offer because “My family came her for economic success and by—by God I’m going to uh succeed.” And that’s—that’s the attitude often of—of students and their families, that they’re going to work hard and climb up the ladder and realize the American dream. This may not be the attitude of an indigenous group um that has been taken over by force, become part of a system uh that it had no intention of becoming a part of. Um, so there may be uh a history of alienation from that system, of lack of success in that system, and of a lack of payoff um for education. So, for example, one of Augbough’s famous studies, which was conducted in Stockton, California, showed that there was a job ceiling of African-Americans who lived in this particular community. There was not a strong connection. You could go on for higher education but that didn’t necessarily mean you were going to get a better job. So I think lots of times in the—in the classroom—and here again I’ll refer to the work of another anthropologist, my colleague John Damoto. Um, what John found was—was this. He says if you’re a teacher in a—in a classroom with a lot of mainstream students, you as a teacher have the power and you’re holding the cards because you’re students know that if they don’t listen to you and learn what they’re suppose to learn, they’re not going to get good grades. If they don’t get good grades, they’re not going to graduate from high school. If they don’t graduate from high school, they’re not going to go on to a good college and they’re not going to have the education that enables them to have a better job and life opportunities. So they’re going to listen to you because they understand the long-term consequences of not doing well in school. Aah, but suppose you’re a teacher in a classroom with a lot of students from diverse cultural and linguistic minorities who don’t have uh this same kind of—of family history where they understand all these connections? These students may come from families where a few people have graduated from high school and gone on to get good jobs. They may not in their own family histories have seen the connection between schooling and later life opportunities. In these classrooms the teacher does not hold the cards. The children hold the cards because they have no reason to listen to you because they don’t know the long-term consequences of not doing well in school. Now what’s going to happen hear John says is that you as a teacher have a great challenge? You can’t hold those long-term consequences over students. You have to make sure that reading, and writing, and learning in school are rewarded every day so that children have immediate um opportunities to be rewarded for learning what they’re suppose to learn and for doing well in school and for enjoying it because if they don’t um you’re going to have a tough time uh in managing those classes. So his idea is we have an obligation as teachers who work with a lot of culturally and diverse students to make reading and writing meaningful on a daily basis to children. This is why I really believe um that uh—when I speak to teachers I—I just want two messages to get across. We can make reading, and writing, and learning to read and write very complicated. But I—I think in my experience it comes down to two things. If I as a teacher can help my students to fall in love with books and if I can teach them to write from the heart, I believe that I can help them be successful and I think it can be just that simple.
I think to be really successful in schools and classrooms where we have a lot of second language learners; we cannot do business as usual. And I guess when I say that we can’t do business as usual; I mean that we have to experiment with new and innovative, powerful forms of instruction. Now I happen to really favor the process approach to writing and the writer’s workshop, literacy-based instruction and the reader’s workshop. But there are also other avenues to success. What I notices though in schools and classrooms where teachers had been successful is that they’re doing something that looks very different from business as usual with a lot of um drill and repetition, with a lot of kids sitting in rows, we’re working in groups, we’re doing meaningful real reading and writing for large blocks of time. Now these teachers, these schools have been on a journey and often this journey takes years. I often get calls from principals, “Uh, Kathy, will come to help our school and, you know, we want to do this, we want to do that? Well, how long do you think it’s going to take?” When I say 3 to 5 years, maybe 10 years, well lots of times I hear the phone clicking on me right there. It is a long process. It’s a journey; it’s an uphill journey. But we’re trying to do something new and different and it takes time for use to make these changes. And also to educate parents, other teachers, administrators about the differences um that we’re—we’re trying to work with. I guess if there’s anything I could say to teachers who have this very hard job is that we need to allow ourselves the time and not expect instant change. I really think that many of these approaches take about three years to really feel comfortable with and really feel successful with. But if we don’t give it that amount of time, if we do business as usual, I just don’t think we’re gonna get the results we want. And I believe that we do want to bring all of these students to high levels of literacy. Not simple basic kinds of literacy, but the kind of complicated literacy, kinds of higher level thinking that we really need in a global, competitive world.