Timothy Shanahan


“K. (Laughs) Sure.  Sure. Ok. (Laughs)  (Mumbles)  Ok.  Timothy Shanahan.  Uh Shanahan is S-H-A-N-A-H-A-N.  Uh I’m at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

            “K.  Sure.  Sure.  Over the last thirty years literacy research has often uh influenced practice.  Uh what the public and and most professionals usually think is that means that things have improved necessarily because of research and of course that isn’t always the way it works.  Sometimes research misleads.  Uh or people select a piece of research to follow and not a body of research.  And so they get misled that way.  Uh while research has has moved practice it has often tended to move it e…uh almost all over the map.  Uh people have tended to select what they wanted to believe at a given time.  So weather practice has moved in various periods towards basic skills or whole language or literature based or textbook based they’ve usually used research as the rhetoric for making those choices.  Uh what has happened in the last couple of years uh the uh the congress has actually said the U.S. congress has stepped into this and said everybody is claiming research as as the the reason for their practice and people are doing all kinds of things and what we’re seeing is that achievement isn’t getting any better.  So what’s going on here?  And in fact they appointed a National Reading Panel.  I’m a member of that.  Uh the job of of that panel is to determine what the research says with the idea of trying to put that in some kind of a form so that that will move practice.  Uh we have to operate under a number of rules.  We can’t do what the marketplace essentially does now and and says ooh here’s a really interesting study, let’s follow that.  What we really had to do is look for bodies of work that actually provided convincing evidence that something worked or didn’t work.  And and whether we liked it or not had to go with that.  And uh the hope is that in the future research will move practice but in a different way than it’s been doing. 

            “Mmm hmm.  Sure.  Uh obviously there are various kinds of research.  One way of dividing research up is is qualitative where it’s much more descriptive observational ethnographic uh anthropological cultural uh and quantitative which tends to be much more psychological uh more experimental um uh in in in terms of the field of education more traditional even.  Um most people like to put together some kind of a contest posing one form of research against another.  The problem with that is that these different research paradigms have come up because they’re useful for answering certain kinds of questions.  Uh qualitative research does not give you a very good picture of what works or what doesn’t work.  And so if your question is does a particular program or technique work qualitative research usually doesn’t have much of an answer because that isn’t the kind of question it’s designed to answer.  Quantitative research is pretty good at answering that kind of a question but often that isn’t enough of an answer.  And so you find out that the XYZ program works really well and raises achievement but you don’t get all the information about the fact that the kids are really unhappy or the teachers are resigning in in droves or or you know that the parents are up in arms uh because it doesn’t look that widely.  It only looks very specifically at the question that it asks.  What you really need is a combination of studies.  The National Reading Panel had been asked some very specific questions by congress.  They wanted to know what worked.  If you want to know that e...the real way to look it is is you want you want to take a program or a technique or a method and you want to try it out in a real classroom.  Classrooms where people actually hadn’t been using it before to see if it changes anything.  If it improves things.  That’s experimental research.  And so we re…you know set a a standard that we would work with experimental research.  But the the panel also made a determination that they were willing to look at associated qualitative information.  So ok if you find out that the X Y and Z program works or doesn’t work do we have other information about how it plays out in terms of side effects in terms of people’s perceptions of the program in terms of the influence of that program on on some other cultural value.  And what we found as we searched for that evidence was that the topics that had interested the quantitative researchers were absolutely of no interest to the qualitative researchers.  And so you know it..ev.. I I think it in the field the the sense is that somehow the National Panel said qualitative research isn’t doesn’t have value.  What we really said is that it doesn’t have value for answering certain questions but it could be quite useful in answering some ancillary questions but then couldn’t find research on the same topics.  It was done in a qualitative sense.  One of the things we’ve recommended is that future research in the area have both qualitative and quantitative measures in and approaches and in fact my understanding is that in in uh the res...between the time we completed our report and and when I’m talking right now then the uh National Institute of Child Health and Development is actually for the first time started to fund qualitative research as a result of our recommendation.  So… (Laughs)

            “That’s exactly right.  I don’t think… So we’re not exactly attacking qualitative research if the outcome of our our work is that people want to put money into qualitative research as result so… (Laughs)

            “Sure.  That’s…not a problem.  Instructional methodology? Well uh we probably know a lot more than the National Reading Panel findings because our time was short.  We worked on that report for about two years.  Uh that might sound like a lot of time but there are literally thousands of studies on reading.  Uh when it really got down to what we synthesized we probably synthesized across all the different parts of that report fewer than a thousand studies.  Uh I know a lot of uh people in the public will have have raised the question with me does that mean all those other studies are no good?  Quite often it’s just that they were on different topics.  And since we didn’t look at those topics there are areas that we might know a good deal but we haven’t synthesized it and somebody needs to.  But what we did synthesize we found out that we know a..a good deal.  Uh we found out for example that providing uh young children with a small amount uh of phonemic awareness instruction uh in kindergarten or early first grade gives kids a a benefit.  Gives them a benefit in beginning to learn to read.  Gives them a clear benefit in reading comprehension.  Uh lots of talk in the field that it doesn’t but we found it for example eighteen studies uh where reading comprehension was measured and and phonemic a...awareness instruction had given them an advantage.  But a small amount of instruction of that type.  Uh we found approximately eighteen to twenty hours was most effective which if you think about that that’s about fifteen minutes a day for a semester in kindergarten.  Really tiny amount tha...uh for all the arguments.  We found that phonics instruction gave kids an advantage in learning to read.  In fact up...approximately three years of instruction from kindergarten through second grade tuh to give kids a clear advantage.  And for kids who are struggling readers uh phonics instruction provided uh after that time say third through sixth grade was helpful but nowhere near as helpful as it had been with the normal readers in the primary grades.  We found that teaching children uh to read fluently uh using techniques uh like repeated reading or various forms of guided oral reading where children would read uh aloud get feedback from sometimes a teacher but quite often from a parent or a peer.  Uh paired reading in a classroom for example uh e...with some repetition uh gave kids a...a a very clear advantage not only in fluency but also in reading comprehension.  We found that a...a a number of techniques worked in teaching uh reading comprehension directly that as children moved through the grades that they really did benefit from being taught things like the structure of text uh how to ask questions uh what relationships uh…e certain text material had with certain kinds of questions and so on.  Kids benefited from that kind of instruction.  So we know a lot ab..about what works in reading uh and...but it isn’t one thing.  It’s a whole bunch of things.  (Laughs)

            “Mmm Hmm. Mmm k.  Uh first of all I you know I think the the very first question is this the only study on this or is there other evidence no matter what the study found because you (takes breath) every study is going to be relatively small and and somewhat imperfect.  Uh there isn’t such a thing as a study that doesn’t have flaws.  Uh it’s so that...the this isn’t a case of can you find a flaw in this study to throw it out.  It really is much more an issue of is there a body of research here.  Are there are a sizeable number of studies?  I you know in in the areas of that we look at in the National Reading Panel you know we would often find oh thirty forty studies uh that we thought met quality standards.  On a sim..on on the same topic those studies wouldn’t all necessarily find the same thing but when you looked at the pattern of results you could really get a a sound picture.  So when they read a single study they shouldn’t be willing to change practice too quickly I guess would be the first guideline I would give them.  The second thing is does the does the research methodology actually match up with type of question that they’re trying to answer?  Uh when it comes to something like knowing whether a a method works.  I want to know whether it’s actually been tried out in a classroom.  I want to know who taught it.  Was it a regular classroom teacher or or maybe a special teacher like a special ed teacher or a a bilingual teacher or whatever?  Or was this the researcher?  Was this you know the the researcher’s graduate students?  Uh the researcher might be able to make the technique work but if the teacher’s can’t make it work you know I don’t necessarily want to (chuckles saying) adopt that in my classroom.  Uh was it tried out on kids like the ones they teach?  Uhm how long did the study go on?  Was this a three week study a six week study a year long study?  It might make a big difference if if you’re thinking about adopting uh…uh this in in your own classroom.  Uh did it require special materials or equipment or training that are maybe are beyond the resources of of your particular community or school.  Uh those are a few of the things that I would ask early (laughs saying) on in looking at a piece of research.

            “Actually we didn’t even...n…when the National Reading Panel convened uh we held hearings around the country.  We held five separate sets of hearings.  More than four hundred people came and testified.  Everything from uh people representing uh special groups like International Reading Association, National Reading Conference uh oh the Parent Vets and Teachers Association uh Reading Is Fundamental and and so on to individual teachers or parents or grandparents who had a point of view.  Publishers and so on.  Uh not one of those four hundred people and and more than a thousand people attended these not one of those people ever stepped up and said we really think you should look at the whole language-phonics debate.  Uh that’s the first thing.  We did not look at that.  Um for the most part if you look at the research with the...e exception of one or two studies you don’t find those kinds of studies.  You don’t find comparisons of whole language and phonics.  What you find are studies for example on the phonics side.  Uh s...if we teach reading somehow whether it’s in a literature based way a basil reader way maybe something that’s uh considered a...h a whole language way.  Does it help kids if phonics is a component in that program?  Does it make a difference if we had say five uh whole language classrooms and five whole language classrooms that put twenty minutes a day into a phonics instruction?  And what we found again and again is no matter what kind of a program having phonics instruction there made a clear difference.  But that’s not exactly the (laughs saying) same thing as saying whole languages is worse than phonics.  That’s not exactly the point.  Uh phonics seems to help.  It should be an element of a program clearly.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t take things from whole language uh and there are a number of things from whole language that frankly I wish we could have looked at, if we would have had the time.  (Laughs)

            (Laughs) “You were curious!  (Laughs)  Mmm hmm.  We never looked at that.  And it’s…  Well fluency has been described as the most neglected reading skill.  What we’re really talking about by fluency is the ability to read a text quickly accurately and with expression.  Uh wh…what we mean by quickly is it has to be fast enough that a person can understand it.  Uh we know from studies of listening for example that if we uh make a presentation to somebody or read to somebody at less than a hundred words a minute they have a lot of trouble comprehending it.  At a faster speed they’re actually able to comprehend.  Uh the reason being things like it’s hard to hold the beginnings and ends together, you get distracted, your mind wanders and so on.  Uh we have a lot of children in the United States for example who don’t read at even close to a hundred words a minute.  So it’s awfully hard to maintain their interests.  It’s hard to hold the beginning of a sentence or a paragraph together with the endings so that they can make sense of it.  Uh accuracy, you actually have to read the authors words.  You can’t just make up your own.  Um it does matter what the author has written.  Uh even at times when you can look at a text and say well car and automobile mean the same thing.  It’s true they do in a semantic sense but they actually pragmatically or in terms of tone might actually have a different meaning.  And so the author’s words matter if you’re trying to understand what the author is telling you.  An expression quite simply means it has to sound like the language you’re reading.  If you’re reading aloud in English, an English speaker should be able to listen and know what you’re reading about which means you have to pause in the right places.  Uh you have to pay attention to punctuation.  You’re voice probably has to rise and fall in in certain parts of of of it.  We’re not talking about reading like an actor.  We’re talking about being able to read clearly enough and so much in the language that a a native language speaker would be able to understand it.  Uh that’s what fluency is.  What we know over with research that has been conducted say the from about nineteen-eighty on uh is that you can actually teach fluency directly.  That you can help kids.  Folks used to really believe that reading had sort of two major components.  You taught words and you taught comprehension.  And if those two things were there everything would be fine.  If you taught words well enough kids would be fluent.  Certainly knowing sight vocabulary, knowing phonics, knowing those types of things gives you a leg up on fluency.  But you can be terrific with phonics and and read too slowly um (slight pause) without expression uh…uh you know still making mistakes because you get uh distracted by the rest of the text.  And so what we really want to see uh teachers doing is giving kids some real instruction in how to read fluently.  Uh things like reading aloud with feedback.  Uh not in the round ra…robin fashion where one child reads a sentence or a paragraph while everybody else waits their turn and then the teacher calls on somebody else.  There’s nothing wrong with the oral practice that that gives it’s just there’s way too little of it.  Uh in most of the kinds of studies that we’ve seen where where folks have been able to teach fluency directly, typically they put something like a half an hour a day into this.  Um put...you know a a half an hour a day that’s usually a pair of kids or a a child with a tutor or a parent reading aloud and getting some kind of feedback.  Maybe being told to go back and read it again and maybe even a third time so that they get good at it.  Practice it.  I think there’s some other things that you can do with fluency that the National Panel didn’t look at.  For example, there are some wonderful studies uh usually with kids of..of...in the upper grades where you teach them chunking or pursing.  N all’s I mean by this is uh showing them where the sentences break up.  Where to put the pauses.  Um for example uh some of the studies will do things like that for a while they’ll give kids text where the teacher has actually gone through and drawn lines wherever you should pause uh you know whether there’s punctuation there or not.  And the kids practice reading it with those pauses.  Then what the teacher does is starts giving the kids text that don’t have those pause boundaries marked but the kids work in pairs to draw them in (laughs saying) themselves and they talk about it, pretty much like actors do.  (Laughs)  And then eventually the teacher gives them text that doesn’t have the pause boundaries and their told just think about it in that way but don’t draw them in.  And read in that fashion.  Those kinds of programs have actually been found to raise reading comprehension pretty pretty dramatically, even in high school kids. 

            “Umm, not off had.  I think you know those those are pretty good.  (Laughs)  Those are pretty good.  (Laughs)  I do a lot of this.  I I probably either newspaper or radio or television about once a week on average.  (Laughs)  No I just I do a lot of newspaper work and a lot of press work.  That’s very kind of you.  (Chuckles)  (Laughs)

“(Pause) People have been interested in how did how reading and writing combine for a a long time.  Uh not just in the United States but in lots of other countries as well.  Uh it really has only become a a real research an empirical research question in the in since about nineteen seventy five, nineteen eighty.  Uh there had been occasional very small studies done before that.  There really are three major ways that people look at reading writing relationships and each one of them gives us something different in terms of what we can draw from it for instruction (pause) or just for understanding kid’s language.  Uh one approach to reading writing relationships is to look at it psychologically in terms of reading and writing.  Each entails some set of skills, strategies, abilities uh and that these are uh strategies or abilities that take place in a person’s head. And they they range everything from vocabulary knowledge would be one of them.  Uh what you know about words is going to have something to do with how well you can comprehend a text.  The more word meanings you know the more likely you’ll understand a text.  On the other hand the more word meanings you know the better your diction is likely to be in something like writing.  And so folks get very interested in for example if you have words that you can use to comprehend do you necessarily use those in your writing.  And in fact quite often you do not.  Uh your your uh receptive vocabularies tend to be higher than your productive vocabularies.  And so the the issue becomes can we teach for example children vocabulary to such a level that they not only comprehend with it but that they can actually compose more specific, accurate, uh appealing text for other people to read.  Uh it but it’s not just skills like that.  It’s also you know higher level metacognitive strategies.  The ways that we think about thinking during reading and writing.  Uh for example when a student is going to read a text they have to think about (pause) uh..f…hm gee I you know I know something about this.  How do I use what I know when I’m I’m I’m reading what this author has said?  Uh when a re...a writer is is working they might know a lot about a subject but they have to start asking themselves gee what what do I have to tell?  What order do I have to tell it?  How do I use my prior knowledge?  And we found relationships between doing those things and and there’s some thought that teachers could hook those up.  But when you’re teaching kids to think in one of those ways that you could link it to what’s going on in reading or writing.  So this notion of that you have some body of information or some set of skills or strategies that underlie both reading and writing and that those things won’t be exactly the same but that they can connect up in some ways and that we maybe can connect their instruction to make them more efficient or more powerful is a really pleasing one.  And there’s a large amount of research on that.  The secondary of research on reading writing relationships really looks less in the head it looks at what it looks at reader writer relationships.  It looks at what do readers know about writers that helps them to read better.  And what do writers know rhetorically about readers that helps them to write better.  So for example, uh a a a reader has to look say at a piece of fiction and say this was written by somebody.  They had a reason for this.  They m…meant something by it.  I wonder if I can figure out their theme or what their purpose was so that I will understand that.  On the other hand the the writer has to look and say my readers know something.  What do they know about this?  What do I have to tell them?  What would be considered rude?  What would be you know too repetitive of their bac…basic knowledge where they would think this isn’t an appealing text?  And so they have to think that through.  Uh and there’s a lot of thought that if you know how to think about the writer when you are a reader you’re gonna be better enabled to think about readers when you write.  If you know how to think about the readers when you’re a writer you’re better able to to make that rhetorical move to say what’s that author doing behind the text there so that I understand this.  A third way of looking at reading writing relationships is to wonder about how can you combine reading and writing into tasks.  So e…the area that’s been studied the most in this is learning.  For example how do we combine reading and writing most effectively so that kids can learn from the text.  Not just understand it but actually read it and remember it, be able to take tests on it.  Be able to use the information later maybe to do something.  Um it’s is quite possible that if you combine reading and writing in certain ways ya be more powerful in remembering.  And so a...as one example of of that.  And so what we uh we try to do in that area is is not so much worry about what the underlying skills of reading and writing are, we don’t worry about rhetorical relationships.  What we worry about is how you know what would be the combinations that will allow a reader to com…a a reader or writer to combine to to achieve their purpose, to meet their goal.  And you know obviously learning is just one area.  It might be social interactions.  How do I uh interact with another human being more effectively.  Some people for example if they go to a doctor or they go to a uh a mechanic get really nervous about it.  And their their afrai…oh, you know how am I going to talk to that doctor?  I d...have nine questions I want to ask him but I can’t…y..  How could I use writing?  How could I use reading?  Uh what would be the combination that’s gonna allow me to con…communicate with that physician or that mechanic in a way where I’m not gonna get so scared or embarrassed or my hands aren’t gonna sweat and I’m not gonna walk away with half my questions unanswered.  And so thinking about reading and writing is is tasks that you can combine to do things is is really a very powerful way of thinking of reading writing relationships.  They all add something.  (Laughs)

            “Sure.  Sure.  Well, there are a...when it comes to the teaching of bilingual children there are probably more similarities than there are differences when it comes to teaching somebody in their native language.  Uh at least that’s true when it comes to highly similar languages um Spanish and English, French and and Spanish and so on.  Uh uh languages that have a lot of the same cognates and similar grammatical patterns and so on.  I’m not saying there are no differences in languages like that but there are enough similarities that that frankly the language learning patterns are pretty similar.  And most of the techniques in fact I I can’t think of a single exception of a technique that has been studied in English that when somebody goes and studies it in French or German or or Spanish hasn’t been found to be effective there uh as well.  Um but there are some differences and there are some some issues.  Um for example uh there are (sighs) certainly native language s…speakers uh try to draw on their native language when their their learning to read.  Uh certainly uh when you come to a language as a second language you try to do the same thing, especially if the languages match up.   What that means is that time you’re gonna reach into your your oral language and pull out a feature that could be quite helpful and will actually give you a leg up in learning to spell, learning to recognize a word, thinking about a word’s meaning, um interpreting a text but it’s also possible that it’s one of those minor features in the languages that actually differ.  You reach in and you pull that common you know th...what seems to be a common feature from one language and all the sudden you’ve got some interference or you’ve confused yourself or you’ve you’ve pulled it it maybe it it’s a vocabulary issue.  You’ve gone in and said oh that must be like my the word in my language and it isn’t like that at all and all of the sudden there’s some confusion.  Um that’s one kind of of of problem when it when you work across these languages.  There’s also the problem (swallows) of of things like you know the typical child the...say a first grader comes to school and they might have five, ten thousand words in their language that are in their oral language.  Uh the school that year is maybe going to teach them uh to read three, four, five hundred words.  Most of those words perhaps all of those words will actually come out of those child’s oral language.  He’ll be learning absolutely no words for the first time he’ll just be learning how to map the print onto that oral language.  The second language learner might come into exactly the same learning situation and what to learn those five or six hundred words and know none of those in English or or only a few of those in English and has to learn both the oral language and and the written language.  That oral language that those other children those native language speakers have picked up over five years over six years they’re now trying to pick up in a matter of months.  Uh that means the teacher um the the teachers (enunciates S) have to give a lot more language support, have to uh put kids in a lot more language learning situations.  I’m always perplexed when I see schools uh setting aside for example a couple of hours a day to teach reading and writing to na…native language kids and then setting aside exactly the same amount of time to teach it to children who not only have to learn to read and write but have to learn their native language.  They have to learn this new language this second language uh on top of that.  It’s not that they can’t, there’s nothing wrong with these kids they’re wonderful kids it’s they have that much more to learn in exactly the same space of time which doesn’t always seem fair to me.  Um (pause) there are issues quite often if you’re working with kids a little bit older who are second language learners that they not only might be coming uh to e...to English say witho...without much oral English they actually might already know how to read in their native language and quite often you’ll see the schools neglect that.  Uh they don’t seem to know that the kids not only have a wonderful oral language resource in their own language but they also have a wonderful written language resource.  They understand a lot about how print works (pause) th...that the schools sometimes neglect and go right back to square one and say oh this child can’t read at all in English.  Let’s let’s teach him like he’s a first grader.  If he can read in a third or fourth or fifth grade level in his language maybe even higher, teaching him English like you’re a first grader to read English like you’re a first grader might not be the best thing to do.  (Laughs)  Uh it it’s not only insulting to the child it probably slows the process down and means that that that youngster who has so much progress to make doesn’t get the opportunity.  Um that’s a that’s a few of the things that I would.

            “Yeah.  Sure, sure.  No I understand.  I understand.  (Background noise during question)  Well, when it comes to something like techniques um (pause) w…whether you teach phonics, whether you work with fluency, whether you teach comprehension strategies, whether you want kids to read a lot, whether you want to uh uh have kids say at the beginning of learning to read uh connect oral language with written language a..abso..o..w..whether you want kids to write along with reading and so on ya I would say yes indeed if I’m working with second language kids that’s all exactly the same.  I want all of those things going on.  They all work with those kids.  They work with them as well as they work with native language speakers.  It’s the fine print where things differ.  It’s it’s (laughs) it’s uh when you get to the day-to-day activities.  You know the teacher who takes a group of children (swallows) uh who’ve never you know just learning to read and they have this rich oral language and the teacher s...oh I’m gonna take a big book.  I’m gonna take a language experience story or I’m gonna take a simple basil reader’s story uh and and I’m gonna read this to you uh you know once, twice, three times but then I want you to try and read it along with me so that you can see how this works.  Um that makes great sense in in native language.  That doesn’t make quite as much sense when those kids are sitting there going I don’t know what ‘the’ is.  I don’t know (laughs) I don’t know the word.  I I don’t use that in my language.  Um the teacher has to uh i..i...introduce those children to some kind of oral language in English along with the reading in a way that frankly the teacher doesn’t have to do necessarily in in English.  Same technique but there’s a need for a little bit more language activity to go on around it.  Um something like a vocabulary item.  Uh gee we know teaching vocabulary before you work on text really helps you to comprehend.  What we do when we work with native language speakers is we go through and say well what’s the technical vocabulary in here that the children might not know yet.  With the the the second language speaker it might be what are some of the really basic vocabulary words or grammatical structures that they don’t know yet but I want to familiarize them first orally with before we move into exactly the same kind of lesson I would do with those other children.  Uh sometimes it’s it’s something like um let’s say it’s a comprehension lesson with older children uh you very well might want e..e...typical comprehension lesson you’re gonna read this text that I’ve given you on purpose for and when you’re finished I’m gonna ask you certain kinds of questions which over time are going to show you what types of information we hold to be important, makes sense in in both languages that’s not a problem at all.  But maybe when you ask that question maybe about the text maybe you wanna accept the answer in Spanish instead of demanding it in English.  That it might be a lot easier for the s...student to think in Spanish initially or in you know in some other language uh but they’d be a lot more comfortable and socially able to to take part if they could frame their answer, even if the teacher then wanted to reframe it back to them in English, you don’t do things like that.  But the lesson is the same.  Uh it it’s you know the method would be the same and so I would expect if I had a textbook on how to teach bilingual reading and a textbook on how to teach native language reading that all the techniques would probably be pretty much the same.  Um...uh all the terminology would be the same but all of the sudden there’d be all this sort of help of how do you do sheltered English i...in it or how do you you know give kids some uh how do you switch back and forth between the two languages at different points in the lesson and when is it ok to frame the question in the child’s native language rather than in English and so on that you would never see in the native language uh text and so it...it it’s more differences by degree than it is the real content or methods that would differ.

            “(Laughs) Uh oh!  (Laughs)  Ya, I was gonna say that I work with children a lot.  That might have been where that was coming from.  (Laughs)  There’s a lot.  Oh absolutely.  It it absolutely does and that’s why it’s so critical that the teacher be able to move back and forth between you know most of the the types of things I was talking about child is confused is a momentary confusion.  It’s not oh no we’ve got to move ‘em to a different classroom or he needs some (laughs saying) special technique.  It’s much more the teacher has to be aware that that’s going on, be willing to stop and say now wait a minute I might be losing you right now.  Let’s switch back to your language and and get you back on board.  It’s real low level kinds of um pulling people along.  I...it’s not terribly different than what you would do if you had a friend from another country who sort of spoke English and came you know y...were visiting when you happened to be having a dinner party or a cocktail party you were very concerned that they be part of it (pause) just to be polite even.  Um you would do a few things like that.  You would you would try to help them so that they could be part of it.  A good deal of teaching of of second language children deserve that level of politeness rather than some unique technique or (laughs saying) specialized system or…(interviewer interrupts) Yeah.  It’s it really…(interviewer interrupts)

            “Well in school uh...e.. (pause) any place a language learning situation where you are being confronted by new information um let’s think about uh first of all a let’s let’s think of a native language speaker first cuz it’s easiest for most native languages to think about that.  Um think about when you go into a new situation uh I don’t mean when you meet somebody new though that might work but but y...you take on some new uh.. new challe a a few years ago I took up long distance bicycling.  I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since I was a child and when I did it was just a regular old bicycle.  I didn’t know about things like bicycle shoes.  I didn’t understand twenty-four gear ratios.  I didn’t you know I didn’t know all that kind of thing.  Uh when I wanted to take that on I went and I started reading bicycle magazines, I started hanging out with people who would do hundred mile bike rides.  Uh all of the sudden I was learning a ton of new language.  I was learning to use words in ways that I had never used them before or was learning completely new words that I had no idea.  Some of those words were vivid, road rash, uh w...when the somebody falls and and gets a bruise or or tears their skin.  Boy that one I I I heard it once and I knew it.  There are other words that oh my goodness I heard them again and again and again and I just you know I couldn’t remember it.  I I’d have to think about it.  I didn’t have the concept.  I didn’t know enough about bicycles yet.  Um after two or three years of reading those magazines and hanging out with those people frankly I’m not adding a lot of new language now.  I’d have to go do you know take up French cooking or do something different.  Um (pause) native language learners when they take on a new subject matter, a ninth grader goes into their first lab sciences class and takes a biology class, they’ve had physical sciences but they know nothing about that kind of information.  It’s a huge language learning information.  They have a lot of new vocabulary to learn.  Just reading the book won’t do it.  Just listening to the teacher’s lecture isn’t going to accomplish it.  A lot of kids struggle in a in a physics class or a biology class because they don’t get enough time working with that new language.  But that’s how it works for a a native language speaker.  Now imagine you’re coming to this second language and ya you have all that technical vocabulary you have to learn genomes and phenomes and all the wonderful language of biology.  But you also have to learn ‘the’ and ‘was’ and ‘there’ and all that basic language.  Um it’s it’s all of those opportunities when you are interacting with people over language.  When your i…in a situation that allows you to learn.  It can be situations where maybe your intention isn’t learning like out on the street asking somebody for directions and trying to make your unders...yourself understood in their language and and picking up just a few words and and now that gives you just a little bit of an edge for your next language learning opportunity.  And it can be you know very high level sophisticated situations where you actually have a teacher there saying you know we know that you have trouble with uh comparatives and so we’re gonna teach you know things like better and best and and and those types of of of you know -er…-er endings

-est endings and so on uh real formally.  It’s that whole range of things.  Uh second language learners are coming to English and they they yes they learn during the school day, they learn when the teacher’s interacting with the kids and so on but they’re up against they’re trying to compete with and do as well as so that they can graduate and so on as kids who’ve been speaking this language their whole life.  And so they need other opportunities.  I know at my University students in our program who are working with kids who who are second language often will even do language learning…you know ya they take courses in Spanish or whatever but they also find themselves doing things like going over visiting families that we work with and and doing things like watching a video tape with them and and talking about that.  Wonderful language learning opportunity.  It’s not very formal but it’s it gives them a leg up on on being able to learn the formal things.  Trying to create opportunities for kids to talk about what they’re learning uh with other kids, uh with parents.  Um getting them you know I would think that a…a second language student is probably the least likely one to sign up to be in the science club or to sign up and and and be in the the reading club or or whatever kinds of academic act…you know debate or whatever and they’re losing huge opportunities to learn in in greater depth and to to pick up that social language around a subject matter.  So it’s all of those things.  The teacher has to make (emphasizes) their classrooms rich in language but then they also have to wonder what can they do beyond the school day that’ll give these students the opportunity to learn English in this case.

            “Ya.  Well I’ve been running uh home school programs for second language kids for I guess now about ten years.  Um in fact operate what’s considered to be an Academic Excellence Program which means that the federal government supports our teaching uh other folks to set up programs like ours around the country and so uh our program is called Project Flame.  It started in Chicago.  There are actually Project Flame programs now that we don’t operate but that are operated in California and South Dakota and North Carolina and so on all over the the the United States.  Uh what we’ve found uh is that for the most part second language parents are extremely concerned that their children learn English.  Quite often they have come to the United States uh in some cases taking huge political risks, often taking you know huge economic risks, certainly uh o in in many dividing families and so uh taking great social risks.  They’ve usually done that with the idea of giving their children some long-term economic advantage.  Whether they’ve come across the border from Mexico or whether they have to had to cross the sea from China uh you know they it’s it’s all pretty much at at at that point.  Uh they are really hungry for their kids to to learn English.  They’re often afraid to help their children uh with schooling because they can only help in their native language and they’re certain that that must be wrong or that that’ll hold their kids back.  Uh we find it doesn’t make much difference what language they help in as long as the help uh what it communicates to the children is that the parents really do think that the school is important uh it it allows the kids to a better opportunity to actually learn the material and it certainly cuts down on some of the fear between schools and parents.  And so we really strongly advise parents even if they can’t read themselves uh e…either in their native language or in English to actually uh show an interest.  Uh they can help with homework even if they can’t uh read it themselves.  They can ask a child to explain it to them.  They can ask a child whether they had any trouble with the homework, what parts they weren’t sure they understood and guide the youngster to go in tomorrow morning and ask the teacher about it.  Things that the child might not do on their own but with the parent’s encouragement would gladly do.  Uh a parent can tell you know if the child’s trying to explain the the material and can’t explain it they can tell that there’s something wrong and they can raise the question themselves and and and you know push the issue rather than just gee I hope it that it’s going well but I really don’t know.  Um parents need to to be willing and you know  w…want to encourage a parent to do is to come into the school and teachers have to know that that’s a scary thing for these parents and and they need to to make that a a a pleasant thing.  We’ve often found that that if you want an individual parent to come in the better way to do it in most cases is if you can set up some social meetings with the group first.  Let’s get several of women for example from the neighborhood to come over to the school for coffee and talk to the principal and teachers arou…you know over sweet rolls and coffee.  Or let the parents the parents love to cook and you know let em bring in a plate and everybody you know do a potluck.  Everyone bring something in and and talk.  And we set up meetings for example initially where the teachers tell the parents what they’re trying to do with their children.  And what kinds of hope help they think that they hope the parents would give.  They also explain things like how difficult it is if they have thirty or thirty-five kids in a classroom the behavior that’s ok at home when there are two or three children isn’t so terrific if you have thirty kids sitting there.  Um but then on the other hand we want to and and we guide the parents, we give the parents opportunity to tell what their hopes and dreams are for their kids.  And why what they hope they’re gonna get from the schooling and what they’re doing at home to facilitate it.  Par…teachers are often surprised by that.  They you know gee we didn’t think these parents cared or we didn’t think… So all the sudden everybody’s sort of on the same team.  Gee wasn’t that scary to go over and have coffee uh you know or to share my cooking.  Maybe it isn’t so scary to go and talk to Mrs. Jones if if she’s having trouble with my my child or if she has a question or if I have a question.  Uh and so it’s really important that we we uh open those lines of communication.  Uh most teachers think of of of teaching i...individually even though they have full classes of kids.  What we really need to think when it comes to parents quite often is how we do this more socially.  How do we bring in the group of parents first.  You’ll get the individuals later.  At least we’ve we’ve been successful with that.

            “Ok.  (Laughs)  Been a while.  Ok.  Here we go.  (Laughs)  Well we’ve done some studies, been a while, but we’ve done some studies with um young children uh first and second graders kindergarten and first graders um in terms of the relationship between uh their native language learning and their second language learning.  Uh what we have found is that uh in a nut shell uh for example children who come to English from Spanish uh draw when they are learning for example to read in Spanish initially and then try to make the transfer to English uh they draw a good deal of knowledge from Spanish spelling and in fact get a very clear leg up on on English spelling from Spanish.  Now it’s not perfect because there are some features some just some specific letter sound relationships that work differently in English and Spanish.  And for a while you’ll see kids who actually get some interference and don’t do as well with certain aspects of English spelling because they know Spanish spelling.  But we have we found so many more features transferred and and gained support that for those few that interfere there were many more that were were beneficial.  Uh we found that children uh who were learning oral English at during that stage drew a good deal of of information from oral English into their spelling uh about the same amount that they were drawing from their Spanish spelling.  And so the the oral English instruction they were getting was certainly helping their their English literacy and so was their Spanish literacy.  And it was actually helping it to about the same extent statistically.  Uh and so it really argues or again when the languages are quite similar, Spanish and English being quite similar, I wouldn’t bet on it working the same with say Chinese and (laughs saying) English.  Uh at least we don’t know necessarily how that works.  Uh with Spanish and and English uh there’s an awful lot to be learned and so there you know if if you want to teach children in their native language uh or or you want to do dual language and teach ‘em both English and Spanish there’ll probably be some minor interference but there’ll be a lot more transference and support so I would s…strongly encourage any kind of written language learning English and Spanish lots of oral language work of course and it certainly in in whatever language you’re trying to learn literacy in.

            “Mmm hmm.  Sure.  Uh the National Reading Panel uh when they first had their deliberations from their very first day on uh agreed unanimously I believe uh that the teaching of second language children in our schools was a major issue.  Uh that it was something that deserved substantial attention.  It was either the first or second uh item that we actually determined that we wanted to look at.  Soon after uh we were discouraged from doing that not in terms of it’s importance but in terms of the the uh Federal Government indicated that they really hoped that we would stay specifically to native language because other groups would look at second language issues.  It wasn’t that it was less important it was just simply that there were people who were more specialized in that (pause) were gonna do such work.  Hasn’t exactly worked out that way is my understanding or at least not so far.  Um (sighs) my reading of of the um second language research uh when it comes to reading and writing instruction is that it ha...it is not an extensive body of research.  Uh a good deal of it has has really tried to involve itself in issues of of of just you know gross types of things of whether it’s better to teach a child in their native language or or in in the the uh the second language that your your language of choice.  Um for the most part those uh my my readings of the various syntheses of those that do exist is that they haven’t actually found huge differences there and and it’s much more theory and opinion and and uh uh sort of social feel that’s made people fall on one side of the issue of that.  But when it really gets down to issues of how do you make a second language child fluent uh what do they need to know that’s different than what a native language child knows, what is it about the structure of a word that if you come to it with a Spanish uh written language or Spanish oral language that might be different that you need to learn.  When it gets to issues like uh what aspects of phonics are most important when you go from a particular language to a second language.  We might not know answers to those kinds of questions.  I would say that there’s much more unknown than there is known.  And that should be troubling to all of us given the the substantial immigration into our schools.  And and not just into American schools.  If if you I this year I’ve I’ve had a wonderful opportunity to visit many many countries.  Bilingual issues are big issues almost everywhere right now everywhere in the world.  Um it’s not always English as as the issue but that learning from one language to another unfortunately very few governments very private agencies have put real dollars into trying to understand those questions.  That means that if you move across borders and your language is different when you move across that border, you’re on your own.  It’s up to the good will of those teachers you work with.  It’s not necessarily up to their great depth of knowledge at least not empirical knowledge.

            “Oh, gee.  Um why don’t we go back to the very first stuff um when you were asking or when I talked about each of those things that were important let me just…(pause).  When the National Panel studied phonemic awareness and phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension uh we found that instruction in each of those things gave kids a clear benefit.  In many cases I think folks interpret that to mean ah that means only vocabulary instruction matters.  Or alls you need is phonics instruction.  None of the studies that we looked at ever looked at those things in isolation.  Um children who receive comprehension strategy instruction were always getting that as some addendum to their normal instruction.  They were already being taught many of the the types of things that we know work or are helpful.  Same thing with phonics instruction.  Yeah we clearly found phonics instruction made a big difference.  But we didn’t find studies where they put phonics against all other kinds of reading instruction.  It was always phonics as part of a basil reader program, phonics as part of a whole language program.  In those cases phonics and comprehension strategies and vocabulary instruction worked.  But it wasn’t working on it’s own, it was working in conjunction uh wh…if what teachers need to do is they have to put substantial amounts of time into teaching kids to read and to write.  Uh that instructional time should be devoted to helping children to figure out those things that we know you have to learn to be a reader or writer.  Things like phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension strategies, all of those things need to be learned.  Instruction shouldn’t proceed on one of those, it should proceed on all of those.  It shouldn’t teach one after the other.  Those all need to be taught pretty much simultaneously.  That’s really uh what we actually looked at.  That was how the studies were actually done.  That’s really how instructional practice needs to proceed. 
“No.  I think that’s all.  That’s probably…(laughs).  Is that what you wanted…to to know?  Did I make noise too much noise on the microphone and stuff?  I know I do it occasionally.  Oh I that last round I…did did it mess up a good answer?  (Laughs)  Are we ok?  I I heard that too and wondered if it was (pause) picked up.  I had a stomach growl in the middle.”