Well, besides the fact that it’s in TESOL’s theoretical framework for the standards, um I think it speaks to why we want to reform how schools are delivering instruction in this country. Um I think we want to begin to help students become part of the larger educational community of schools and not feel that they are uh second-class citizens, that they are only receiving um cast off services. Um we want to make sure that students realize that they have um – they have opportunities, that there are resources for them and their families in schools uh just as all the other students have access to those opportunities and resources. Um I think that uh certainly all schools in this country or nearly all schools in this country are looking at increasingly diverse student populations and its – so it’s not just um any more the resp – it can – it can no longer be only the responsibility of the bilingual teacher, or the ESL teacher, to take care of those students. Rather those students or all of our students uh are the responsible – are the responsibility of the larger educational community, and so it behooves that larger educational community to take on that responsibility and to do so with – with pride and respect.
I’ve been working on a Civil Rights – on Civil Rights stuff – an equity project for the last three years dealing not only with language minority students, but with African-American and other students. So, I mean, I’m really into the equity band wagon.
It’s very easy to talk about – uh it seems very popular to talk about giving everybody the same thing. We want to make sure that everyone has a fair shake and it seems easiest to make sure that everyone gets a fair shake by giving them the same thing, but as we know – I’m a parent, I have two children. Um each of those children requires a different kind of um upbringing. Not totally different – I don’t want to go too far off the wall on this, but uh certainly both of my children have taken different paths to literacy, for example. Both of my children have um – have different personalities that impact how they relate to me as a parent and how they relate to their friends and – and relates very directly to the kinds of needs that they have and – and the way I – I address those needs, um similarly, our students. Not only our language minority students, but all of our students in our classrooms are individuals, as well as members of cultures, um members of communities, um members of different geographical areas. If we forget that and assume that we can provide the same services to everyone in the same way, I think we’re diluting ourselves in thinking that that is equity. As populations in this country change (Interruption) As school populations in this country change, um I think we’ll be seeing more and more the situation of uh what some people call minority/majority schools. That is to say, that there is no majority population represented in the school. So we’ll have, for example, a school where uh 43% of the students are Latino, maybe uh 23% are African-American, uh 8% are Asian, and the rest may be white or other uh – other uh nationalities. Uh and in fact, I think we’re going to be – I think we’re coming to a time when we’re going to be looking more critically at the term minority and – and – and – and instead trying to deconstruct that in some way, trying to look at and just say, “Well who is there?” um and not – and not use the term ‘minority’ because it brings a lot of baggage along with it as if somehow uh students who are minority students somehow are deficient, come with um, uh lackings in their – uh in the preparation of the background. Now that may be true in an academic sense, but it seems to spread over into the way we treat these so-called minority students as if uh we need to um, uh – we need to make up for – actually I want to stop right here. (Interruption) I think sometimes when we – when we use the like minority, um we add onto it baggage that um is condescending and it puts a barrier between the teacher, who often comes from the majority culture, who is often white and female and middle-class, and the student, who many times is none of those above. Um and we fail to recognize that that minority students is actually bring a rich culture, and a rich heritage, and rich experiences to the schooling environment. Louis Mullin, his colleagues in Arizona, have looked at the funds of knowledge that such students – all students bring to schools and to educational settings. And when teachers can begin to take advantage of those funds of knowledge and begin to look past the minority status I (telephone rings) Most teachers in – most teachers in our schools are white, many of them if not the majority, particularly the elementary level are female, and um many are middle-class – what I identify as middle-class um and – and our students – many of our students now are becoming more diverse and becoming from backgrounds which don’t match uh those of the teachers in our schools. And I think it behooves all of us in the educational community to look beyond the superficial characteristics of race, ethnicity, and class, and look at the – at the funds of knowledge that Louis Mullin and his associates um describe in their work, and look at the richness of the lives of the students that they – that they bring to the school setting. Um a lot of the work that he and Norma Gonzalez and others have done really look at the contributions that students and their families can make to not only the cultural aspects of international night, but to the academic uh richness of curriculum and – and have built curricula around that richness of their students’ lives and those experiences. Um I think that that kind of diversity is – is to be celebrated and embraced and enriches us – enriches us all.
A few years ago my colleague, Tamara Lucas, and I were doing a study with um William Teaganoff and some other people from Swirl to look at uh especially – especially designed – special alternative instructional programs. (Interruption) Right, okay. Okay. A few years ago my colleague, Tamara Lucas, and I were involved in a study looking at um (Interruption) I have to right is down because I’m getting (Interruption) And as – and that was fine when we were populations, a bilingual population in schools, um those programs were totally appropriate. However, as programs began to serve multilingual populations, schools had to come up with other program models and one of them was the SAIP, or the Special Alternative Instructional Programs. Um a few years ago my colleague Tamara Lucas and I were involved in looking at those SAIP programs. The purpose was to look at the effective practices in those programs and um as we traveled to school districts in Texas, and uh Illinois, and Oregon, and so forth, one of the things we were struck by – and this wasn’t the focus of the study, but we were very much struck by the amount of native language use in these extensively English-only programs. So again, these programs were designed to deliver the instruction in English. Students were to respond and produce work in English, and yet they would sit in these classrooms – and we had our – you know, our – our observation tools and we were going through and making little notes and – and we had our interviews all set up, and we would sit there and listen to this rich language of – this rich primary language of the students around us as they used their primary language to structure information, to uh – to work uh collaboratively, to understand the task, and to be able to address the academic content of the task and not be uh sidelined by the uh English language proficiency demands of the task. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a lot of English language being used, uh being learned, being developed, but rather that the native language was use as a way to enrich the curriculum and to support that English language development.
I think one of the problems that we’re facing now as language educators in this country is an increasing pressure from political groups to somehow design instruction for language minority students, that is English-only. Uh granted, I’m not in the classroom right now, I’m not speaking from the perspective of a 3rd grade teacher or a biology teacher in high school, and – and I’ll be very frank, that perhaps may make some of my comments suspect in that I’m not in the trenches today and maybe I could do it differently, but I find it difficult to understand how good, high-quality instruction will be delivered to children if they cannot understand what the teacher is saying. Um I find it puzzling. Now I do believe that there are techniques that teachers can use to make content accessible. We use terms like sheltered English or specially designed alternative instruction in English to describe some of those methodologies. But those methodologies were designed for intermediate level proficiency students. They were not designed for beginning level students, for students entering school for the first time, for students who have had interrupted schooling and have fragmented academic backgrounds. Um and I don’t hear very much from the English-only people about how to do that.
I – I sometimes – I sometimes wonder what it must be going through student’s minds – our language minority student’s minds when they come into a classroom and our faced with these um artifacts of our assessment culture. Um unless they’ve been well prepared, even my children who are native speakers, born in San Francisco, uh sometimes come home from school uh talking about weird testing practices that they’ve encountered. They don’t put them in those terms but I – I’m describing them for you here as – as a parent and as a professional interested in assessment. Um and – and as our students – our language minority students come into classrooms and they’re faced with uh some standardized tests that, first of all, they have difficulty understanding, um that they have difficulty seeing the purpose of, and that often they don’t even see the results from, um I think it’s surprising the students come back the next day for instruction. Um I think that when we can design assessment that engage students, involved students, um where they can see what – what the purpose is, they have a sense of why they’re taking a test or – or why they’re engaging in assessment, there’s a much better chance that they will do well on it. Um a few years ago I was at an AERA convention, the American Educational Research Association Convention, and I was in a session where one of the presenters did this – had this wonderful cartoon. It was exquisite. It was a – a child with a bow and arrow uh aiming towards a target. And I think the uh – the cartoon went something like this: “Any student can hit the target, as long as they can see it and it’s held still.” And I think when our language minority students, as with any other student, can see the target when expectations are clear, when the student has had an opportunity to learn what it is that they’re being tested on, and in a form and format that they know and understand, our students can achieve. When they do not have those opportunities, I think it’s not surprising when they do not achieve.
I think when – I think students have a very clear sense of how teachers – how teachers respond to them and what teachers expect of them. When teachers don’t expect very much of students, students will not produce. Just as when my children don’t expect me to make dinner, I get take-out. Um I – I think that when teachers feel that they are limited in the resources that they utilize for assessing their students, their language minority students, they are unfairly limiting uh the kind of work that students can product for them. And I think they’re being unfair to themselves as teachers. Uh when I work with teachers uh and ask them to identify uh who they – who they are, um often they are – they’re very eager to say, “Well, I’m a 3rd grade teacher” um “I’m a high school teacher” and I – and they talk about their joy of teaching and designing lessons and in – and involving themselves in – in the instructional process. And then what I ask, “Well, how many people here are into assessment? How many people identify as assessment people,” and no one raises their hands. No one wants to be identified as someone who is fervent about assessment. I think teachers feel very put off by assessment so that it’s very easy to say, “Well, if I have to do a test I’ll just give a student the paper and pencil and let them just answer something over on the side.” But I think what we need to do is encourage teachers to be as creative in assessing the students as they are in designing the instruction that uh will promote learning. Um teachers are incredibly creative. And whenever I design activities for – for a workshop or for a session, and I try to envision what teachers will do, how they’ll respond. I’m always blown away by the fact that I’m only getting one little piece of the picture because they always come up with much more interesting ideas – well, they’re not much more interesting, but many more ideas. Um they just are – can be very creative. They just need to be told to be creative and encouraged and um – and have their confidence built that they can do this.
When – when we were working on the first document in the assessment series to accompany the ESL standards project for TESOL, I ran across a quote that I – I absolutely love. Um I think it was from Fair Test. I found it in – in one of the Fair Test Examiner documents that I had received. Um and it’s from the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy that notes – and it notes that “Assessments have changed from a gatekeeper to a gateway.” And I think that’s a really important uh distinction to be made in thinking about assessment because often when we do think about testing or assessments, we think about the – the gatekeeping that they of – that function that they often serve. Um our students need to be prepared to meet those kinds of demands in their academic lives. If realistically we want students to um have opportunities, the maximum range of opportunities, they need to learn how to take SAT tests. They need to sit through the PSAT. They have to understand what uh strategies to use. Certainly our native speaker students need to be taught that. That’s why we have all of these courses out there to teach it. Uh and our native – our non-native speakers need to have those opportunities to learn those skills um when their proficiency levels um give them the ability to – to compete because it is a competition. However, assessments can also be a gateway for students in opening up to our eyes in their own eyes the kinds of development that they have uh enjoyed. Um I – I – I think one last thing I’d like to say about assessment is that um often times when we look at any assessment we’re, of course, only focusing on the one piece of information that we gleamed from that assessment to be a – a score on a standardized test, uh a percentile ranking, um a checkmark, um or – or a – a whole list of checkmarks on a checklist. And I think it’s very important for us to remember that we’re still only getting one piece of information uh that needs to be put into a larger picture or mosaic. Um many people talk about the patterns of achievement that students uh – that we need to document for assessment. And so any assessment much uh – must be looked at in terms of that larger picture.