Susan Hynds

SUSAN HYNDS

I’m Susan Hynds, and it’s spelled Hynds.  Um I’m a professor and director of English education at Syracuse University and before that I was a classroom teacher for ten years.  I taught um English, speech and drama for, on levels sixth through twelfth grade.

Well, let me say that um I’ll be drawing, not only from my research, which has been about, for fifteen years, kind of hanging out in backs of classrooms talking to adolescents, and early adolescents particularly, about their reading, writing and literacy’s, but also because I just got um, actually am in the middle of teaching seventh grade, and now eighth grade.  I had a sabbatical last semester and um I wrote a book in 1997 called: ‘On the Brink, Negotiating Literature and Life With Adolescents’.  And this was about a, a class tea-teacher, um an urban middle school teacher and her students and I chronicled their lives for a period of about three years.  And this study actually went on for eight years, and now I’m back in the classroom.  Last semester I co-taught with this woman, we taught seventh grade, and then this semester I am back as a researcher in her classroom and we are with the same group of students who are now eighth graders.  So, let me talk about classroom context in terms of all of that.  Um, I’ve always said that when a teaching idea goes wrong there’s something in the classroom context that undercuts something you’re trying to do with language.  And that we have to look at teaching as all of a piece and that the classroom context is integral to whatever we’re trying to do.  Um in terms of literacy, and literacy development, because I know that’s what you’re interested in of course, things like um the ways in which a teacher will present different literacy activities.  Ways in which they are evaluated.  The racial makeup of a classroom, a, the ethnic and cultural makeup of a classroom.  The gender balance of a classroom, how kids feel about themselves as males and females.  All those things are going to be part of, I think, the classroom context.  As well as the kind of um structures that the teacher puts in to play.  So that’s all, I think, very important in literacy development, and it’s something that doesn’t make the headlines.

I think it needs to be in focus because I think that right now we live in an era where high stakes testers and politicians are making a living um off of test scores in things that I don’t really think measure children’s literacy abilities.  And if anything I think they injure people.

I think they ought to be looking at assessment.  And assessment is very different than high stakes testing.  And if I would have my way, we would have no national high stakes testing what so ever, nor would we even have statewide high stakes testing.  Assessment is something um that is very rich.  It is very detailed; it is qualitative as well as perhaps quantitative.  It’s based upon an intricate knowledge of kids in classrooms, and not based on someone’s outside observation who does not know that classroom context.  Who does not know that group of children.  Um an assessment is something much richer, more long term and something that teachers do all the time on a daily basis as well as um at the end of a marking period, as well as at the end of a year, and, and that’s a much richer, more complicated process and it takes into account, not only the classroom context, but a students development when compared to where he or she was at the beginning of a year.  So you’re looking at, and with assessment you’re looking, not so much at normative evaluation, but it’s at sort of um a criterion reference evaluation or looking at a students growth with reference to where he or she began when you first had that child.

I think you should trust teachers because, I could get very political right now and I shouldn’t because in light of all of the huge wrangling that we have right now about our presidential pole election I don’t want to injure anyone’s feelings.

Who better to know than a teacher.  I’m of the philosophy that you should hire good people and let them do good work.  Now that does not mean that you shouldn’t have assessment of teachers, I think that you should.  And I think that assessment should be as grounded in the everyday realities of classrooms and in local situations as the test, as the assessment of children should be.  So that a teacher, just as a student, a has the ability to choose which pieces are evaluated.  To work at things and decide which pieces will be looked at um to create um kind of a, a larger picture.  A much richer context for looking at growth.  So that, I, I don’t know, am I being too vague there?

I think that, well first of all let me back up and just say that in the scheme of, of literacy education, adolescents are pretty much ignored, I believe.  Um we think that literacy, as Rich Vaca has recently said, um is designed for eight year olds and that adolescents are basically a forgotten group.  And within adolescents, I would say that early adolescents, or middle schoolers are a forgotten group, for many reasons.  Um one thing is, I think, that teachers are not specifically trained, often times, to deal with middle school students.  So you get either teacher who were trained at the elementary level, who have some kind of K-8 certification, a who may get into, you know, middle school teaching sort of by chance.  Or you have high school teachers, who basically wanted to teach in high school and they somehow got shunted over into middle school.  And so, until a the creation of things like the National Middle School Association, and other organizations that are very interested in early adolescents, which really happened about the ‘70’s if you look at it.  We weren’t really thinking of early adolescents as any kind of special group.  I think they are a very special group, um they are not yet adults, young adults rather, and they are certainly not children.  They are not in the middle, as many people including maybe Nancy Atwell would lead us to believe, and I don’t even think Nancy Atwell would say that they are in the middle.  I think a friend of mine once said they are always teetering between two worlds, between childhood and young adulthood.  And sometimes they tip over to one side, and sometimes over to the other, and it can happen in the space of an hour period, and certainly there is more variation, I think, across students at that age level than at any other time in human development, and more, more variation in one child at one time of the, you know, just in a day, but certainly in a year than any other age group.  I think it a very pivotal time in a child’s development.

Well, I can a, let me tell you  a quick story of my first foray into middle school after I had taught high school after seven years.  In a city school, I went back to get my doctorate, and I took what I thought was going to be a part time job, and it was, I went from being an English teacher to being a Drama teacher.  And I was going to teach in a, in a all girls academy.  I was going to teach students sixth through twelfth grade.  My very first experience with my sixth graders I thought wouldn’t be very much different than my experience with my ninth and tenth graders.  And I was quickly, you know, enlightened about the differences.  Um they are not, in any way, mini high school kids, and they shouldn’t be treated as mini high school students.  Um I think that one of the things that the National Middle School Association has taught us, and one of the things that middle school educators are trying to teach us is that students still need a lot of guidance at that time.  They need a lot of structure within which to be creative.  Um they need sometimes a lot of teaming across teachers, they need a lot of inner disciplinary actions, and that’s why we have teaming at the middle school level a lot of times.  Um so they need a lot of coherence, because they’re used to that sort of insulated world of one classroom.  Now you’re moving them out into discreet subject areas and it’s very difficult for them to suddenly make that leap.  A, at the same time, they have a need, I think, for playfulness, for um just hanging loose sometimes and being silly, that high school students don’t, don’t have as much.  And they’re not exactly like elementary students though, because they’re also very conscious of peers, much more conscious of peers, I think, than elementary students.  So you have um a lot of burgeoning sexuality in the middle grades, and kids are ill equipped to deal with it.  I think far less less equipped even than high school students, I think you’d agree with that.  So you’ve got a lot of adult issues that kids are dealing with at this age, but you’ve still got this child like quality of the middle school student that you have to really attend to.  Now I haven’t talked about literacy in regard to that.  Would you like me to go on and talk about literacy?  OK.

One of the things that I think, I would hope teachers would realize in terms of literacy is the need to integrate the language modalities of reading, writing, talk, listening, viewing.  Um to give them multi-literacies, to include film, popular culture, CD-ROM, Internet, instant messaging and all of the, you know, technologies that probably were not available when, at least, I was in junior high school in those days.  I think we need to pay attention to their popular culture because, not only because it’s important to them, but because they are going to need, I think, more than any other age group, any other I guess, group of young people, they’re going to need the skills um to be able to critically examine what comes at them in the media, on the Internet, through advertising, because there’s such a barrage of it.  So I would say integration of the language arts, I would say multi-model learning, a Howard Gardner’s Eight Intelligence’s I think is crucial at this age level.  A lot of students who cannot read, or say they cannot read, say they cannot write, may be adept at something like drawing. Or they may have a kinesthetic ability, or something that you can tap into in order to reach into their literacy’s in order to draw them out and to get them into reading, writing, oral language, and listening activities.  Um so those are just some of the things that I think middle school kids need.

First I want to say that I’m not trained in reading with a capital ‘R’, I’m trained in English.  And I think you’ll find that people in middle school are interesting because some of them come with a strict reading, pretty strict reading or literacy background.  Literacy meaning reading education.  Um and others come with a more, with an English education background which would be more of an integrated language arts perspective, perhaps, than straight reading, although not always.  But I think more literature based, perhaps.  Now I’m saying perhaps because there’s a lot of carry over I think in both fields.  So I’m an English person, and you’re going to get the view of an English person.  Those kids who are struggling by the time they reach us in the middle grades are very interesting to me because by the time they reach this age, and I always say you can’t dry dock the ship, all right, you can’t teach them to think deeply while they’re learning to read and write.  You can’t dry dock that ship and say: ‘Well excuse me, um I need to teach you to read and write first and then I’ll teach you how to think.’  And, so what you have to do is; you have to teach them to think deeply while they’re learning to do these things.  So it’s not as easy as just simply putting them off in a corner, or in a special room, and skill drilling them to death because they will mitch, miss the richness of being in a large group with kids who are more successful.  So my belief is you need strategies that help, I would say, struggling readers to succeed along with more successful readers.  So some of the things you might do would be to have a lot of oral reading experiences where students make, may hear text read aloud that are a little more complicated than the ones they could read on their own, for instances.  Where you may give them opportunities to enter into discussion about those texts, so that they’re at least getting a chance to talk about the reading material, even though they may not be reading it word for word.  Um so those kinds of experiences, I think, are very important a in terms of absolute remediation, again I think, I believe in a sort of an immersion where if you have certain models of teaching, say for instance a workshop model. You can take the opportunity to take certain students, who are struggling, and take them off, you know, into a smaller group, maybe with more adept peers, and give some special instruction to those kids.  While other kids, for instance, are doing independent reading, or independent writing activities or inquiry projects around the room.  And you can do that on a regular basis, you can do mini lessons, um they may have to be pulled out from time to time and, to work in special setting.  I know that that’s true, particularly if kids with learning disabilities, but basically I believe most things can be accomplished with a good inclusion program.  And by inclusion I don’t mean simply dumping, you know, a bunch of kids with learning disabilities and other disabilities and kids who are struggling into a classroom and letting one classroom teacher cope with all that.  I mean, putting personal, um people who know how to deal with disabilities, in the regular classroom and having everyone teach those children all the piece. So that the person who’s teaching the kids with special needs is also teaching the other kids and the classroom teacher is teaching everyone as well.  So that’s sort of my philosophy of that is that we have to have strategies that allow them to think deeply, even though they may be learning language. 

How interesting that you say that because my early research was on cognitive complexity.  I don’t do any more work on that, but in terms of, and I don’t know if we’re saying the same thing by cognitive complexity.  I was looking at Kelly’s Construct Theory in terms of cognitive complexity, I don’t know, how are you defining it?

All right, let me say that, first of all though that, the, though that I think in my work now I’ve moved away from a purely cognitivist stance into a more a I would say even past social cognition into a more sociopolitical stance towards languages.  So that’s fine, that’s my own movement as, as a researcher.  But when I was teaching, many years ago, I taught drama and speech and English.  Always it seemed to make sense to speech, excuse me, to teach literature, for instance, through dramatic activities, creative dramatics, oral interpretation, Readers Theater, those kinds of things.  I noticed as a teacher that there would be some students who could pass tests on literature, who could pass reading comprehension, who were very bright young people, but they didn’t seem to have, what I called at the time, inner drama for reading.  And by that I meant, you’d ask them you’d say, you know, what do you think this character looks like.  And they’d, they’d just ‘well I dunno.’  You know, they’d look at you sort of clueless, and I called these stick figure characters, they had stick figure characters.  And I thought very monodimensional um views of what was happening in a story.  They could tell you the plot, but they didn’t seem to create a rich representation.  So when I went back to get my doctorate, and I began reading heavily in the area of social psychology, because I’d also taught public speaking and inner personal communication.  And they were very, you know, those two subjects are very tied in with psychology and social psychology.  I got very interested in Kelly’s Construct Theory, George Kelly’s ‘The Psychology of Personal Constructs’.  And Kelly talked about how we have a repertoire of personal constructs on which we represent people in our social world.  So that as a young child, I can talk about my four and a half-year-old daughter, for instance, for whom everybody’s either a monster of a nice person. (Laughs)  You know, or good or bad or mean or nice, or whatever.  And as you grow in complexity, not necessarily as you grow older, but as your complexity develops for people in innerpersonal relationships, then you begin to see shades of gray.  You can someone is, for instance, nice in this context but not nice in that context.  Overall so and so is a, a generous person but sometimes, you know, she has a stingy streak.  And you also gain um in numbers of constructs.  So you can represent people in a variety of ways as well.  And a lot of research that was being done was being done in the areas of speech communication; actually you probably know this from your own speech communication background.  Um where they were looking at um how people looked at audience, for instance, and how people were able to judge what audiences might think of what they say.  Or judge their arguments or persuasive appeals, based upon what audience members might think of it.  So, I took this over into the reading of literature.  And the first studies that I did were pretty simplistic questionnaire based studies.  I asked people to describe someone their own age whom they liked, and someone whom they disliked, and then to take a story and take their favorite character, describe that person in five minutes, and then describe their least favorite character.  And I simply coded their responses for numbers of inner personal constructs, in their responses.  Well, I thought I was going to find something very clear-cut.  (Laughs)  I think this is what we all do when we start in our research, you know?  And, of course, it’s one of the limitations, I think, of questionnaire based studies, particularly in something as complicated as reader response.  Um I didn’t find anything that, that hit me over the head.  Um what I did find though, is there were interesting patterns.  There were kids who definitely were very rich on their construel of characters and peers, and kids who were very, you know, minimalistic in their construel of peers and characters.  But then there were these people who were, who had odd relationships, and they were the ones who interested my most, it turns out.  The kids who had rich, rich um perceptions of peers, but didn’t have rich perceptions of characters and the people who have rich perceptions of characters and those who didn’t have very rich perceptions of peers.  And I thought that was very interesting.  I started to do case study work on those patterns, and that was my original work.  From kind of an offshoot of my um number crunching studies, I started to interview kids.  And what I found was that there are, and it goes to social context again, there are readers who are more at home in the realm of literature than the realm of personal relationships.  Those bookworms, those kids who would rather curl up with a good book than almost anything.  And you can ask them to talk about friends but they don’t hang out much with friends, they would rather sit and read a good book.  And there are other students for whom social relationships are paramount.  And they, perhaps, are involved in a lot of extra curricular activities, they’re involved in sports, or involved in dating, they don’t have a lot of time for reading.  It’s not that they can’t have rich perceptions of characters, they just don’t.  These, perhaps, are people in reading research that we call a-literate.  People who can read but don’t read. Now there’s not a clear-cut relationships a there either, I can’t tell you that you can give a quick questionnaire and know who these kids are, but I think if anything that that early research taught me it was that.  That you cannot predict, and the other part is the difficulty of predicting in any classroom just who those people are.  OK?  I’m kind of going on.  My answers are very long. (Interruption)

I guess what that taught me, that experience taught me about cognitive complexity literacy is that the teaching of literature, for instance, involves much more than simply the teaching of literary terminology and tropes and um trivial questions about plot.  It involves a, I think, helping kids to understand the rich social knowledge that they have t o bring into texts.  They have to understand characters and their motivations, and they have to understand how societies work, and how cultures work.  And that all plays a part in the interpretation of literature.

I wrote a book a while back, a while back, it was one of the first books I ever read in my, wrote in my career (laughter) with Don Ruben called ‘Perspectives on Talk and Learning.’  And I quess I, I can’t get away from the Dartmouth Conference.  I believe as James Briton does, that talk is the sea upon which all language floats.  I believe as James Moffat did that um drama is the matrix of all language activity.  And everything revolves around our language. 

First of all I don’t want literacy teachers to be afraid of talk.  I think that English teachers have traditionally been very afraid of talk because they associate it with performance.  And I think that talk, as Peter Elbow has taught us in his wonderful article called ‘The Shifting Relationship Between Writing and Speech.’  Talk is a continuum from that kind of um personal, private singing in the shower kind of oral language to the much more public performance centered oral language.  And you need to mind that continuum in your English classroom.  So first, don’t be afraid of talk.  Um second, I think, don’t believe that talk is an inferior form of writing.  We’ve been really hurt, I think, over the years by people who say: ‘well you write as you speak and therefor you need to get that oral language out of your writing.’  Um oral language supports writing, it’s not the same as writing, but if you don’t have a lot of talk about writing.  If you don’t have peer conferencing, or teacher-pupil conferencing, or even talking to learn, um I think writing is diminished.  So I think we have to understand that talk supports writing and that talk is not an inferior form of, of written language.  Um the other thing that I would like people to understand about talk is that um (interruption).

I would like to tell English teachers that talk is much more than a large group discussion.  The large group discussion, in a way, in many ways, is rigged against certain children.  It’s rigged against, in some ways, the second language learner.  Um, this poor child who’s first language may not by English, or whose home language isn’t even very developed, which I think we assume that the home language is very developed and that’s not always the case, may not even say a word in a large literature discussion.  Um and so we have to get opportunities for talk that are smaller, that are less risky, for instance.  It may be, in fact, a kind of talk that is imbedded in writing.  I would say that some journaling is an almost an oral language put to paper.  Which is a safe kind of talking to learn for students whose language proficiency, oral language proficiency, may not be great.  But who can put something down in writing.  So I would like to tell teachers to mine all the different kinds of talk.  The informal to the more formal.

I’d like to talk first about the social and cultural forces behind literacy.  Um I think my early studies, which were deeply imbedded in a psychological frame work, they were social psychology, but it was, what I call social psychology with a small ‘s’ and not a capital ‘S’.  Um, it was, was more of a cognitivist view with a little bit of the social thrown in.  And it was deeply imbedded in the individual and how individuals make sense of their social world, which I think is very important.  Um, if anything I’ve shifted to see, uh my view I guess, to embrace the fact that the individual has a pure notion, you know, doesn’t really exist.  It’s a kind of what Norman Holland might call useful fiction. Um, I am of course, and I don’t want to just be spouting a party line here, but I’m a product of all of my social interactions, and that I shape those interactions but they also shape me.  I think that’s really true.  My language shapes me as I shape my language, that’s really true as well.  Um but it’s deeply important to me that teachers understand that too.  One of the things that I realized after I got into my next phase of research where I went into an urban middle school classroom, back in 1989, and began what would become the book: ‘On the Brink,’ um was I started questionnaire studies and after a year threw out my questionnaires and began hanging out in the classroom.  And not it’s funny because ten years later I’m teaching with that same teacher.  So I’ve gone even a step further. And some of the things I realized that don’t make it in the cognitivist framework um are things like: gender, race, income level, social class, and those things are very complicated too.   I think they’re much more complicated than our early research even showed us.  Now do you want me to go into those things individually?

Let me talk a minute about gender and literacy.

Um, first of all, everything I say is a stereotype right now, so realize that.  Yet we know that most often the shy kids in our classrooms are most likely to be girls, not always true, but most often.  And that’s because girls are afraid to be smart, and because, perhaps, if you believe Fifer’s reviving Ophelia, you know, and I do, um girls start out being very strong and, and very active and very out there.  And then something happens around adolescence where they begin to become very aware of how others see them.  They’re much more focused on that perhaps than boys, although I don’t know that for sure, but whatever the case um they’re often the ones who are likely to do well in classroom activities, but they might not shine in the class discussion.  Um they might also be the ones who won’t say anything for fear of looking smart in front of their male classmates.  Uh that’s a problem and often times I think we have to, as teacher, overcome our tendency to pay attention to the boys, and I do this myself.  I’m an avowed feminist, and yet if you ask me to name off the kids in my role right now I will name the boys first.  And I’m constantly catching myself doing this, I have to constantly work against it, have to constantly say why am I not noticing these girls.  And I think it’s because, as Maurine Barbe, Barbierre once said so eloquently ‘we expect our boys to need our extra attention and help.  We expect our girls to cooperate.’  You know, and so there’s that.  And in a literacy classroom I think that could be problematic, especially if you um, you know, base most of your assessment on the large group discussion, or the large group performance.  Boys, on the other hand um tend, if they are jocks, they tend to be afraid to participate; they tend to be afraid to do something like poetry, which is seen as a girl thing.  They also, as we, as you know from the standardized test scores, they don’t do very well in reading and writing in the text scores all the way through the grade levels.  And so that’s also a significant issue.  So gender comes in to play.  Race comes very much it to play um particularly in terms of the fact that um literature, without different cultures, is still pretty scarce in most classrooms.  Not because, necessarily teachers don’t know about it, or don’t want to use it.  I think the biggest travesty in our society today is the fact that in our urban classrooms, which of course tend to have more racial and language minority kids, we have the least a amount of resources, to buy textbooks and to buy multicultural texts into, you know, enrich the curriculum in these ways.  Um so there is that.

I think one of the things that came across loud and clear when I wrote the book ‘On the Brink’ was that adolescents, and particularly early adolescents who are not even at the age where most of them have jobs outside the household, feel quite literally useless.  Um advertisers love them, a video game manufacturers love them, but they’re seen as targets.  And I think they feel very useless. And if you look at the invention of adolescents around the turn of the century, um prior to that time adolescents, you know, worked in the farms and worked in the factories, and they had a life.  They actually contributed to the family.  And for good or evil, they felt as though they had something that they could contribute.  My students in the studies that I did that I talked with would often tell you what it felt like to be a teenager and have no voice, and to have no say.  And what I noticed was a lot of kids were gravitating toward projects that I called um mini-commercials against drug abuse, against teenage pregnancy, against crime, against uh urban poverty, and I found that those were very engaging projects for those kids.  So I began to think about what is the next step to what I’ve learned.  And the next step seemed to me, to move kids from literacy as a form of reaction, in terms of writing activities or literature activities, to a form of social action.  OK?  Um I’ll go on just a little bit though and say that I see there is a continuum from what I call a social action perspective, which might include something as simple as helping out community members or family of friends, to literacy social justice.  Which gets into much larger political and social issues and dilemmas.  And what I found in working in the last two years on the study I’m currently working on, is that students tend to be fairly comfortable with that social action perspective and they don’t tend to gravitate toward the social justice perspective.  And I guess if there’s anything that I’d like to try next, it’s see, to see what I could do with that other end of the continuum, to move kids just a little bit further along.

Well I think first of all we have to acknowledge as teachers that this is a, a very conflicting role for us.  Particularly those, those of us who are, we see ourselves as innovators, tend to resonate with what I call learner centered perspectives like reader response teaching or a workshop teaching in the, in the teaching of writing.  Um which we’re very com, became very comfortable for us, and I think taught us to stay out of the way of kids learning.  To give them lots of choice and lots of free space, and I, and I love that, I hold dear to those ideals.  And I think we have to admit that when we move them into this arena of social action and social justice we suddenly come into the center of the classroom in a big way.  It is not always their agenda to go to these topics on their own, in fact, if left alone, many of them would never talk about it.  They don’t really want to talk about it.  So I think we have to sponsor sometimes uncomfortable discussions about these issues so that our kids of color, or our kids who come from abusive households or our kids who are poor don’t have to step out there and become the spokespersons for these issues.  Make us very political, it’s a scary move for all of us I think.

But if I may say, the students that we’ve worked with now and they’re in their second year of the project with us, we had a gigantic social action fair at the end of, I say gigantic because we had a hundred and seventy of our students and three hundred community members who came to this social action fair.  And the kids did anywhere from ten to maybe fifty hours of community service or social action as part of their last in-group project and they had to write about it, they had to document their work, and then they had to create um a display and talk to community members about what they’d done.  And um once, you know, we got them into this area they became incredibly powerful.  Not for every student, but I would say for perhaps eighty-five percent of our students.  They began to really, I think, feel as though they were making a difference, and they were.

A big one.  Because, you know, I think in terms of motivation, in terms of the ability to stick with a task.  I always said motivation doesn’t come from with out, it is not a carrot on a stick.  When you are using language for things that count, and you are directing it to people who count then motivation will always follow.  And with adolescents and particularly early adolescents, motivation and engagement are key.  Whether we want to think there’s no such thing as the individual or not, there kids are very centered in the self.  And if they cannot see a reason for what they are doing, then we can give them all the test prep we want, and they will not succeed.  And I want to just say one thing.  Um our school a the students in our school, um when compared with other classrooms of the same socioeconomic and racial and cultural mix, got the highest English language arts examination scores in the eighth grade in New York State and Upstate New York, when compared with these other schools.  So, it does work.

These are my definitions of social action and social justice.  I don’t know whether you’d read these in a book.  In the terms of social action, and I think it’s any attempt by teachers to engage children in using their literacy skills, to take action upon the world and to transform something in the social realm.  This may be a relationship with one another person, it may be in the community, it may be with family, it may be um in a larger sphere.  So that’s what I would say social action is.  Social justice, on the other hand, it probably im, it imbeds social action and it presumes social action.  But I think it goes farther than that.  It presumes that students will try to make a difference in terms of a much larger social or political issue.  Something like: racism, injustice, intolerance, police brutality, violence in today’s world.  So it’s a, it’s a much larger social issue.  And the assumption there is that students may work in their communities, but they will also prevail upon social and political structures to try to get that work done.  Still using their literacy’s.

I believe that teachers should say first and foremost, we teach good writers, we teach writers, we don’t teach writing.  The most important thing is you’re dealing with a human being.  And you’re going to make the most inroads anyway in the teaching of writing if you think first about the writer, and only later about the writing.  And by that I mean that you must begin with that particular child at this particular moment in that’s child’s history within whi, within a particular social and cultural milieu that, that child happens to find him or her self in.  Um is that enough?

First of all I think when you talk about the successful reader and writer and, why don’t we say successful language user, because you’re talking about listening or oral language as well, I think.  Because it is all is of a piece to me.

You want to distinguish between academically successful and successful in other ways with other definitions.  I have seen some incredibly successful readers, for instance, who do not show up in a teacher’s grade book as successful readers.  Uh an example is the young woman in ‘On the Brink’ who read twenty books a month but never did reader response, reading response entries.  So.  First:  distinguish between successful in terms of academic and other definitions.  Which do you want?  Do you want academically successful readers and writers?

An academically successful reader and writer will be someone who, I would say, reads avidly both in and out side a classroom.  I would say it would be someone who will read widely, who will try a variety of genres.  A someone who will continue with a piece of literature, for instance, even though it’s difficult. Who will see reading, the reading of literature as a horizon of interpretive possibilities, to quote Judith Languor, rather than a narrow reference point.  Um a successful writer, and academically successful writer who, again, will try a variety of genres and will be, I think, able to code switch, in a sense, um and use language that is appropriate for each different genre as well as to use some of the structures and forms.  Will be able to understand audience beyond just generic audience.  But will be able to seek out audiences for his or her writing.  Will be able to ask for feedback and ask for help and then be able to incorporate that feedback into, into writing.  Um successful oral language user is someone who is comfortable in, in a performing as well as comfortable in just sharing ideas in an informal way.  Is comfortable in talking to learn experiences.  Um and a successful listener would be someone who can not only listen and take notes, which would be the way I think our New York State test defines that, but also someone who can listen with rapt attention.  Who can give non-verbal cues to let someone know that um they matter to that person?  So, does that sum that up? 

First I want the teacher to know that our less academically successful students may be glaciers.  They may have hidden literacy’s that are, for some reason, submerged.  In this case of English as a second language students there’s an obvious reason for that.  They may have an incredible literacy in their home language but it’s not being brought to the fore because of, because of a lot of inner personal things.  Because of shyness, a for one thing, or because um can I talk a minute about ESL because I know that’s yeah.  And I’ve never taught ESL but I’ve worked with a lot of doctoral students who have, and I have a lot of ESL learners, you know, in my classroom.  One of the things I think we don’t under-I, I think the public does not understand is it’s more than a linguistic difference.  Lets say I have a classroom of ESL learners.  And talk about social and political here.  Um lets say I have a person who speaks Russian, but they are from a part of the former Soviet Union that is not Russia.  So politically, they may be angry with this other person who speaks Russian who is from Russia. (Laughs)  Or we have someone who came over from another country as a result of persecution and as a result of poverty, and then we have someone else who came over from another country who came over um just because his or her father or mother is an executive with IBM.  Um you have children who have tremendous um linguistic demands being placed upon them, and social demands at home.  Maybe they’re the only one who can translate for their family at home.  And so in addition to doing homework, they have to go home and go to the grocery store, or negotiate something at um an office, um so, because the parent can’t do that.  Um so we see a lot of, I think, complexity.  So that that student may seem like someone who’s not successful, but if you have to, if you understand that person in all of his or her dimensions, then you understand sometimes why they’re not successful, of he or she’s not successful.  So that’s the first thing I’d like them to know, is that academic success does not always translate into a lack of success.  The second thing I would like them to understand is that success is a very multifaceted thing too.  And it depends very much on how we measure it.  We all have our favorite ways of measuring literacy.  I tend to be a person who’s very comfortable in performing activities.  So I love to do a lot of whole group activities.  I like to do whole group discussions, I like to do plays, I like to do creative dramatics, and that child who is uncomfortable with that may fall through the cracks of my system. Other teachers like to give tests, and there are people who can do well in an informal situation, but the minute they’re confronted with tests, fall apart.  So, the second thing is: use multimodel ways of assessment.  And don’t just be satisfied with one way.  Um I think I’d like them to know about the incredible social complexity of being illiterate.  This may be a kid who’s hungry.  This kid may be a kid who has no money.  This may be a child who can’t do homework because there’s no space or time in the family for that.  Um and so literacy is much more than simply, you know, what you do in the classroom.  Is that helpful?

           
‘So what, I just have to use this strategy,’ I really love that one strategy for all thing, you know, I think my generation of the ‘60’s um with our individualized learning kits and SRA kits did more to perpetrate that myth of this one strategy for all approach than anything else.  And if there’s anything I’d like to do away with, it is that.  We have to have a tremendous tool kit of strategies.  And I would like to say, first of all, that as an English teacher I am bereft of strategies.  Um I think reading teachers in many ways have many more strategies than I do.  I learned done strategy in high school and that was literary interpretation. (Laughs)  I now know other reading strategies.  I know, for instance, that things like predicting, um things like evaluating, a get making evaluative judgments about things.  Um things like clarifying, um writing to learn, and there are many strategies that I can pull out of my teacher tool kit.  And I can really, although I can’t, maybe, individualize instruction where I would take one student out at a time.  I can look at each individual student’s, if I do it right, at a portfolio of that student’s work and could get a rough gage of where that child is and what one or two things I can work with with that child before moving on to something else.  I like to call it triage, you know, you have to know who has the spurting artery, and where that spurting artery is before you can fix the broken leg.  And so what you do is: you can look at a child’s work and at a whole child and say: ‘where’s the spurting artery here, what do I have to begin with’ and then you begin there.  You don’t try to do it all.  That’s the first thing I guess I would say, so.

I guess, if I were to sum up the field, I would say we have moved from a focus on texts to a focus on learners, to a focus on social contexts, to a focus on political contexts.  Is that helpful?

Let me say that when I was a child um I had some wonderful teachers, but um in terms of reading, first of all, um we did read literature in high school but we did not read literature in grade school, in primary grades we read from readers.  I was very piecemeal; it was very part to whole.  We did a lot of skill drill, we did phonics, which by the way helped me a lot, but it wasn’t the only strategy my teachers used.  But we did a lot of individual word level text centered activities.  In terms of writing, I don’t remember ever learning to write.  I remember learning penmanship, and we had inkwells in out desks in the ‘50’s.  I can still remember the, the blue ink on my, you know, finger a when I would go home each night from practicing my penmanship.  So that was very text dominated, I think, instruction.  Um we had grammar drills, we diagrammed sentences, those were the mainstay of 1950’s and 1960’s.  Long about, I guess, the mid ‘60’s um when I graduated from high school and went into my teacher education program the Dartmouth Seminar had come along.  And while I don’t think any of this was really being felt keenly in classrooms, it certainly was felt my teacher education program at the University of Illinois.  We began to get all of these hippie scholars, like Postman and Wingardner, and teaching as a subversive activity right, and the Dartmouth Conference spawned James Briton, James Moffat and Jim Squire and, and reading response to literature began to come to the fore.  A, Louise Rosenblatt began to be recognized for her literature’s exploration. And what you had there, as a result of the Dartmouth Seminar, I think, was a focus on learners.  In terms of literature it was a focus on that the reader.  In reader response pedagogy in foc-terms of writing it was a focus on the writing process.  In a cognitive processes that writers went through when they wrote, revision and so forth.  Um the learner-centered movement, I think, did many great things for us.  It a helped us to get out of our sentence diagramming a little bit and begin to look at kids as human beings. Began to look at the affective aspects of education.  Um I think it was limited. Um and I would say that at the time the ‘70’s began I began my teaching.  Now I have to tell you that I taught in a high school that was three, it was three thousand kids in three grade levels.  A nine, lets see, tenth through twelfth.  And um the motto of our school should have been ‘where are you, where is your car’ because as long as your car was parked in the right place, and you were in the right room, nobody cared what you did. (Laughs)  So I taught all of these wonderful, you know, integrated things and, but the interesting part was we didn’t have a textbook.  We went, and I went down in the, in the book room and all we had were a hundred copies of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and an old extension cord.  In this huge school we had no, no anthologies, we had nothing to teach from.  So we had to make up things, I think.  Um we sort of went by the seat of our pants there.  Uh, it was a very good time in my life, I think, as a teacher.  We then moved into, I think, a consideration of social contexts and that’s when I started my doctoral, uh excuse me, yeah, social contexts, started my doctoral work, um the composing process began to move from this kind of tho-theory of cognitive development to more social cognitive development.  We began to go from simply asking kids to write revision and drafts to asking them to conference with each other, or to asking them to work in groups and collaboratively write.  So collaborative learning came to the fore, um that was also true in reading as we began to do literature circles and reading groups and um have kids do response journals and trade journals, do dialog journals.  So you can see that whole focus, I think, on oral language, on collaboration among the social context of learning.  Also Vagatski, I think, became very prominent there.  We began to look at the Vagatskian approach, which says that, you know, all learning develops in social matrix.  And so, um I think that was in my early days as a researcher.  I was very interested in social cognition.  Then as I began to understand that I was more of an ethnographer than simply a cognitive psychologist or social psychologist.  And I began to um actually live with students and become um a co-learner with them.  I wouldn’t say I was a participant in terms of being a teacher, but as I began to hang out in classrooms more, I think I began to see some of those political dimensions that I have talked about, like race, class, and gender and income and all kinds of things playing a part in literacy and those things happening almost under the surface.  So that you had to hang around for quite awhile, and follow kids down the hallways into their free time, or in the lunchroom, or in the library, to see those things happening.  Um I think what’s happened in the last decade has been: the cultural critics, the post-structuralists, and the post-modernists, have now made us acutely aware that we not only need to, I think, provide multi-cultural literature, and engage kids in collaboration and help them to tolerate each other.  But to move into a new phase which is to become more critical and more aware of social and political structures that keep those gender inequities, you know, and those racial inequities, and those class inequities going.