Derek Boucher

DEREK BOUCHER

OK My name is Derek D-E-R-E-K Boucher B-O-U-C-H-E-R and I a teacher at Roosevelt High School and I teach uh social science and reading intervention courses.

OK

OK, OK

OK

So was that for you then, that they were just saying now.

OK, OK (laugh) sorry (sorry.)

I’ve just finished my seventh year of teaching and during that first year of teaching um as I asked students to read and engage in literacy experiences um and as they resisted and for whatever reason I knew I needed more training and so it was at that point that I decided to go back and do graduate work. And that experience at Fresno Pacific University has enabled me to to understand some of the needs and the struggles that English learners face and has made me a much better teacher.

Sigh. When I look back to those first years of teaching um and as I was so, as I struggled and was frustrated with myself and with the students um I realized that as teachers we were asking teachers to do some things that weren’t probably some of the best practice. Um we were asking them to read materials that were difficult for them to read, that they had very little background, that they had very little interest in. We were asking them to do activities, whether those activities were worksheets or section review questions where it didn’t really ask them to read to construct meaning and to deal in the realm of ideas. And I would say that’s really who I am now trying to support kids, give them reading activities where they can um construct meaning um uh have fun with ideas, understand ideas and react to those ideas.

Well, I only see my students for an hour or ninety minutes a day uh depending on the schedule and I realize they’re with teachers, other teachers the rest of the day. So they’re coming in with baggage so it’s my job to try to help you know overcome that. And and as I try to bring in materials that are engaging, that are interesting, that are about the real world, that take into account the students background, experiences, it’s made teaching very rewarding. Students want to learn. They they talk about what’s my grade less and less they wanta understand. They wanta learn and of course, I’ve yet to meet a teacher who uh didn’t get into the profession to experience just that. That joy and love of learning.

OK

I grew up loving to read. I wasn’t always a great student and if I could do it all again I would be a better student but I always loved to read. Um whether that was Encyclopedia Brown, whether that was Stuart Little, eh whether that was sports, Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News. And as I began teaching, and I’m in my seventh year now, um I realized that uh my students didn’t want to read and didn’t like to read. And that alarmed me. And for a number of reasons, first being: reading has enriched my life so much and I wanted my students to have that experience. I also understand the very intimate connection between between literacy and having success in our society ii in terms of having choices in one’s life, in terms of uh of making money at a level where one can have a comfortable life. And I realize if students rejected reading and literacy then then they were gonna miss out on some things in life.

My students have accused me at time of being an English teacher. They say ‘we thought this was a history class.’ Um well, aa at the very foundation we want our students to get it. And we want them to understand um and often times not a lot of learning comes from the traditional social studies practices of worksheets, section review questions, those types of activities. Because we all know that students can get the correct answer without really reading. They become very skilled at skimming and seeing those key words and writing down the correct answers, yet they’re unable to discuss the ideas um or to even personally react. And if I am passionate about the subject of history or social science and I want students to engage in those ideas then it’s incumbent upon me to bring in materials to support my students so that they can access that text or to bring in narratives that will move them profoundly and then to lead them to an understanding of issues going on today or to understand why our country is the was it is.

We’ve been sending students the wrong ideas about reading. And and I will agree with teachers in that many students aren’t at a place in secondary education where we would like them to be. But as teachers we have often sent them the wrong messages about reading. Let me give you an example. Um in terms of expository text which students will ready ah the majority of the time say in a content area class. Um we haven’t, we haven’t communicated to students that it’s the ideas and those organization of ideas that we want students to get. There are larger ideas and subordinate ideas and examples that will um that will explain those subordinate ideas. Instead we ask students to do maybe worksheets or fill in the blanks or to do uh section review questions which don’t push the students to see those ideas in te in text. And we want them to be able to organize those ideas um as they read in the text and then to organize them in their brain. And so that’s the important connection between reading and and learning in the content area. And if teachers continue to ignore that uh uh I think students learning will be limited and teachers will continue to be frustrated.

Here is the central San Joaquin Valley it’s extremely diverse. Um language wise there’s a variety of of languages. And there’s a variety of proficiency within those languages. There’s also a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. And what that means is that students who ha have find themselves at the lower end of that socioeconomic background have probably found themselves having less experiences with books and with reading. So so the teacher has to understand your class is gonna be extremely diverse at least here in the Central San Joaquin Valley. So how I have tried to um to make my classroom work is to have first of all an extreme variety of reading materials that are of high interest. And of different proficiency levels. Um uh and that would include novels, that would include periodicals like Sports Illustrated, um and for social science that would be Discover magazines um and it’s incumbent on me as the teacher to to bring in materials that would meet the needs of all of my students and to have a sense of all, uh uh of where my students are at. Um and I get that in different ways from just having those materials, um of seeing how different students react to different materials. And of course by being a kid watcher, the Goodmans out of uh Arizona, talk about being a kid watcher and that’s an extremely important part of being a teacher and to watch your kids and to know what interests them and to know what moves them and to know what authors appeal to them. Um and of course student work is very important and of of teachers um asking students to engage in work where they have to construct meaning from their reading and for me to to uh to look at that work and to think about where our students are at. There’s some times I may ask a couple of students to actually read for me and to do just an informal miscue analysis and just to kinda see where they’re at and and if I can help as a teacher. So it it’s those ways some informal, some more formal.

Um. Sigh. Pause. I probably realize that um a number of teachers would disagree with me in the area of the textbook. Um but my experience with the textbook is that it is something that students don’t want to read. They have a hard time engaging with it and they struggle with. So what am I to do as a teacher? Um, ii, of course I believe it’s important for students to read expository text, which is what the textbook is. But I want to bring in expository text that is um uh has more context, that has that builds background and scaffold a little more slowly. The textbooks move so quickly and there is such an expectation on the part of the textbook that the students will have a lot of background that that they don’t have. Um the textbook in my class is used for more of a resource, especially maps, um maybe primary sources. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t ask my students to read a lot of expository text because I do. And I would bet that um, I’d be willing to put my classroom um up against any other social science classroom because we read a lot of expository text, maybe just not in the in terms of the textbook.

K

Let me just say she’s she’s crunching. Is that a problem?

Laugh. All right. You can keep crunching Tatiana it’s OK honey. OK

Would you like me to talk about as a social science teacher, as a reading teacher or

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As a social science teacher and as I ask students to read expository text as opposed to narrative text, and I’ll talk about that in a moment. I want my kids to see the ideas in that expository text. And and so I’ll ask them to to um in a way that makes sense to them is to articulate what those ideas are. So for example, if I’m asking my students to read an article on um say at the turn of the Century when you had the Plecey verses Ferguson case that upholds separate but equal and in the Brown verses Board of Education Topeka Kansas that that overturns separate but equal. I want my students to see those ideas and to be able to articulate their understanding. But then I want them to react to those ideas and I’ll want them to maybe think about is separate but equal completely dead or is it still trying to rear it’s head in places. So I want them to see those ideas and then I want them to respond personally to those ideas. Now if I’m asking them to read a narrative um say in our unit on Mexican American history and the students are gonna read the book The Circuit which is about a young man who works as a, his family is a migrant farm labor family and they follow the crops through the San Joaquin Valley. I’ll want them to respond initially um I’ll want them to think about their personal response to the text. With expository we want them to look for the ideas but with narratives we want to know how it’s grabbing them. What it, what is it making them thinking about think about. Can they make any text to text, text to self, text to world connections. Um then I want to move them to do some more formal academic activities of a a what I will call a summon (sp) reaction. Where I’ll ask them to take a text that’s a little more challenging and ask them to articulate, well what are the author’s ideas and then to react to that personally. But but what’s different than, kinda we’ll do this later on in the year. It’s a little more formal. It’s a little more what they’re gonna be asked to do in a more ch, maybe and AP class or college class. What’ s the author’s ideas? And what is your personal response? Um in my reading intervention class it it’s very much the same. Um What are the author’s ideas and how are you reacting to those? And if you’re reading narrative um how is it grabbing you, what connections are you making?

Hmmm

Hmmm

Um the bilingual or or the English language learners um are are wonderful students to have because they come from a wealth of world experiences. They’ve seen a different part of the world and which is probably very different from the United States of America. They they tend to take learning more seriously. Um and um respect learning more, but yet they they come with some real difficulties because they um are pushed into situations where they are expected, at least in California, to learn the language quickly, oral language and then more academic language which is a lot more difficult. Um The Freemans talk about the oral language being very context laden. Um academic language is um the context is much more reduced and any time the context is much more reduced it’s much more difficult ta to have success. Um so it is then very important that they are allowed to literacy experiences where um they have ss um texts that um are are um able for them, they are able to access those texts. Also texts that have their background experiences in mind because then they can bring that wealth of background experience into that that reading. Also as they struggle with those texts and sometime can get bogged down in those pieces, it’s important that we communicate to them that reading expository text is seeing ideas and and it’s very important that that the teacher of the second language learner does that as well. And I would even want to comment here that those monolingual students even though they have much more experience with the language and have maybe more background of what we expect students in this country to be able to do, sometime their ability to read, they get stuck in those little parts. They don’t see the larger ideas in text. So while they may have more experiences monolingual students may than the second language learners, the English learners, um they’re still, it’s necessary that they see text, expository text as having ideas.

Uh hmm

My sense is that my experience um and the experience I try to give my kids is very different from what they experience in other social science classes. Um you know, just some of their comments like you know, ‘now I really get it’ or you know um ‘Now when I read I understand,’ or or ‘When I go home I talk with my family about what I was learning.’ School is not um as much as a game for them. And students do see school as a game, hoops to jump through, just kinda this work to be done and um and I don’t want my class to be that way for my students. And I I get the feeling that when I talk about what I do with my colleagues, um they’re not real interested um and I don’t know why. I don’t know if they’re so much in their own world they don’t want to collaborate or if it’s just too overwhelming for them. There is one colleague that I had that I went through graduate school with and he is my saving grace. Uh we talk and collaborate and it is just uh incredible, without him I don’t know what I would do. So.

Hmmm

Right

Yes

A couple of years ago through my connections with Fresno Pacific University because that’s where I went to graduate school and that totally and completely revolutionized um the way I think and what I do in the classroom. I got turned on to a book, um the title is The Passion of Teachers by Robert Freed. And he challenged me an as a teacher to to think about the end of your course. K what do you want students to be able to do? What kind of attitudes do you want them to have? What do you want them to look like? What do you want them to talk like? And that struck me because as teachers we’re we’re commonly thinking about that next day and that next week, we don’t think about the end. And so that that book challenged me to think about what do I want my students to be able to do, to be able to think about, and uh what kind of habits of thought do I want them to have at the end of my course. And so I took time to do that and I came up with about four or five things and uh off the top of my head um those things are um I want my students to grow as readers, I want my students to grow as thinkers, I want my students to grow as learners of United States history, I want them to have a lot of moments where they say ‘OK I understand our country today because this is what happened in the past.’ Or I want my students to have had an experience with US history that was such an epiphany or moments of epiphany where they want to learn more. I want my students to grow as risk takers. Uh I want my students to grow as uh as participators in a community or learners to where they’re talking and thinking and bouncing off ideas off one another. So they have those five or six kinda goals at the beginning of the year and that’s in the syllabus and so that is something they’re exposed to in the beginning and then throughout the year we continue to co come back to those. So I’ll ask them maybe at the first quarter or maybe at the six week mark I’ll ask them to take it out and ask them to think a little bit. ‘Well, where are you at in these areas?’ And then maybe at the quarter I’ll ask them to write me a letter and to choose a couple of those. For instance, how are you growing as a learner or US history or in how you’re growing as a thinker. And then to to to to kind of reflect in those areas and write me a letter. Um at the end of the semester I’ll ask them to go back to those goals and ask them to think a little deeper about it and to pull out some work that would offer um an example of their growth in so of these areas. So we continue to come back to these. They continue to moll them around throughout the whole school year and so we get to the end of the year and those five areas are not you know something that I’d just sprung upon them but it’s something they’re familiar with. And um it’s a very uh it’s a nice experience to see one’s growth.

Well, obviously they’re not going to reflect as someone who has their bachelor’s degree or their master’s degree or someone who’s been on this earth for you know twenty five, thirty, thirty-five years plus, um but but students are used to playing the game and so you almost have to convince them that ‘I really want to take you seriously and I want to take this learning seriously, and students will reflect, they will learn. Um if I might just throw this out. I taught summer school this past summer. We’re in August right now. And I taught a uh two sections of United States history. And it’s all students who had failed United States history during the school year so it was a unique group. And uh when I get to the end and get those self-assessments it’s always fascinating. And I recall one girl and her first name was Gloria. And Gloria in her first paragraph said, ‘You know, Mr. Boucher, it’s really, I find this odd that I’m gonna tell you this, but I’m glad I failed during the school year because I wouldn’t have got to take United States history, and I wouldn’t have been able to think about these thoughts that I thought uh for these six weeks of summer school.’ And so that was an incredible moment. And and um a number of assessments can could be uh looked at this summer that tal, that students talked about how they grew as learners and as thinkers and how it was a good experience. Every student hundred percent, no. But um many many of the students grew tremendously. So come to my classroom. I invite you. Laugh

Hmm

Yeah, let me talk about the theme units because I’m really excited about that. Um sigh, social science, US History, World History are taught chronologically. And in California you’re supposed to do a review from the explorers, the Native Americans up through the Civil War and reconstruction. Then you spend your time focusing on the twentieth century. And my experience was my first couple a years of teaching that that is just so fast, goes so fast, that the students, it’s very difficult for them because they have very little background and it’s history just one event after another. And most people who love history don’t study history that way. If we’re watching A & E or uh PBS, we’re gonna watch the Lewis & Clark story, we’re gonna watch the story on the Civil War or Jefferson. Um we we like these powerful stories. So so I was starting to get a lot of dissidence from students doing that traditional chronological route so what I then was involved in was uh graduate school at Fresno Pacific and began to think about in our reading and conversation the ideas of themes. And so at a conference I found a a a seminar, a little presentation on teaching US History thematically. So I went to that conference mulled it over for a while, played with it, and then took that risk to teach my US History thematically. So um my themes are um a couple of them are um uh American Civic Values. What are those civic values? So what we do is we go from well how did our American civil values emerge? What are those documents we find them in? And then even then bringing it to today uh it’s very tough to live out those civil values. The right to bare arms, you know how do we come to terms with that today. How do we come in terms with students in Texas who want to say student led prayers at high school football games. Where some students would say that’s a a a violation of the establishment clause in the first amendment. While the students who want to pray say that’s their first amendment rights. So that’s an example of how a thematic unit can bring us to the current and engage kids and let them see how history in the past influences us today. Another theme that’s very very well accepted by the students is the fight for equality. And we’ll look at African American history, Mexican American history, Asian American history, Native American and then women’s history. Um very very powerful theme and again we within those themes we’ll go chronologically. We’ll start at, we’ll have some beginning point but then we’ll always work up to today. In African American history um we’ll get up to the issue of reparations that is being talked about throughout the country. And so it’s a very powerful time to go from beginning to end in uh not end but current in a matter of a couple of weeks.

OK

OK

Right. UH huh

The themes that um that I engage my students in in United States history through the year is uh American Civic Values. Another theme would be immigration. Another theme which is a fairly long theme is the fight for equality and that involves uh African American history, uh Native American history, Asian American history, Mexican American and then women’s history. Another theme that we’ll engage in is the presidency and uh the issue of leadership and uh to look at presidents in the past and bring it to the moment now, what is our president doing? So those are a couple of the important themes that uh that we focus on in our school year.

Sigh. Pause First and foremost as a teacher I have to be student-centered. I have to think about where my students are at, where they’ve come from, what will engage them, what materials can I bring in that will support them that will scaffold them. Um uh I have to think, I have to try to put myself in their shoes and think about what will make sense? What are they dealing with in a in in my school, in a large urban school that has that has lot of diversity. Um you know, if if I come in saying ‘this is what the students have to know and they have to learn and they have to read the textbook, you know I can ramrod my way through it but but I really question and based on my own experiences that the students are going to have a very good experience. That they’re gonna come to love learning and that they’re gonna want to become life-long learners. So unless we’re reaching the students I’m not sure what we’re doing.

Hmmm. Let me think about that for a moment. Uh (pause)

The end of this last school year there was this girl, she was an African American girl and her name is Celise and uh she she wrote me a long letter and that she gave to me the last couple of days of school. And in that letter she she talked about um just seeing history in a way that she’d never thought about it before. History up until her eleventh grade year was textbooks and worksheets, regurgitating answers, not really asking her to think about ideas, not asking her to read expository pieces that were informative or persuasive that that really grabbed her. She hadn’t had that experience. She hadn’t had the experience of reading a novel, a narrative in United States history or in any type of history class. And she just told me that she she’ll never be the same again. She told me how she had conversations with families and friends outside of the classroom and she told me how she’d grown as a reader and felt prepared for college to to face the rigors of college uh after my class. And um of course, I’ll, you know, I’ll save that letter forever and think about Celise forever. She talked about the conversations too that we had had as a class or her with me and just the importance of having those conversations with students about letting them have a voice and trying to move them to to speak with something that that really really she was able to begin to uh articulate what she believed about things in society and things about history and things about African American history.

My pleasure.

My pleasure. OK. OK.