Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Viva La Aurora

On Monday and Tuesday Yetta and I got our reality fix. Pretty heady stuff.
Imagine going into beautiful  well-kept schools, teeming with
multicolored, multilingual youngsters and meeting with young teachers and their not
much older coaches  who can speak the language of RMI and RMA. Each
came to share with us the case studies they are doing of sixth to
eleventh grade students who read at various levels of proficiency and to talk about their plans to
    engage their students in a range of literacy experiences. The
case studies will be part of a research project being conducted by
Lisa Escarcega, the research director for the district and
Charlotte Butler, the secondary English director who conceived the
idea of turning English classes into literacy workshops using miscue
analysis and retrospective miscue analysis as central tools. It's
Charlotte who hand picked and continues to nurture this remarkable group of
educators. She expects  a lot of them and gives them a lot of support.
 Her Toyota Avalon has its own phone number and she was busy
orchestrating her program on her hands free phone as she drove us to
the schools.

 Each of the teachers we met with was excited about the tools they were
using to understand their students and they asked questions which
stretched our thinking  about what was going on in the heads of these
teen and preteen readers.

A common concern of the bright young literacy experts ( remember I'm 84 so
20, 30 and 40 some things are young to me) are bilingual Spanish
    English students who make few miscues but have weak comprehension.
   On the other hand there was one Korean- American seventh grader who made
    many miscues but produced an impressive retelling.

Aurora Pubic Schools has a policy of spending 10% of its budget on
staff development.

Charlotte  brought together literacy educators from the surrounding
area and  from local universities for a lunch meeting. We were
reminded of the other political reality as they shared their concern
over Colorado's version of the "must read by the end of third grade
law". Local educators have apparently won a victory in that the law
will not make failure mandatory but there seems to still be a
requirement that the test used must involve a hand held device for
recording and reporting scores. And guess which test that would mean?

Our experience in Aurora was a real world demonstration of what should
be happening in American schools everywhere as real professionals use
their knowledge and expertise to work collaboratively to produce confident eager readers.
Instead of course teachers and other educators have had to fight to
protect themselves and their students from the imposition of DIBELS
and worse.

Charlotte will be presenting with Debi Goodman at WLU in St.Louis.in July.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Glorious lingustic imperfection

Last night I had one of my epiphanies. It came to me in the privacy of the commode.

Language is gloriously imperfect. It is a marvelous achievement of our species but it isn't perfect. Though it is rule governed virtually every rule has its exceptions.Why in every language does the same word  have many meanings and why are there many ways of saying the same thing? Why are there homophones, homographs and homonyms,? Language is constantly changing but as language communities become more sophisticated, knowlegeable and educated shouldn't that change be toward a more perfect form? Shouldn't language become more regular and simpler as it matures and changes? Why do strange phenomena such ass the many different forms of be- is am,was were, be, been, being persist? Why do some languages lose future tense  or second person plural. If alphabetic writing is the end product of evolution why do non-alphabetic forms of writing continue in use?

And why is language perception so clearly based on illusion?

 I want to argue that language is imperfect because:
1. It needs to be. If it were perfect it would not serve our needs. It has to be dynamic and easily changed because our need for it is always changing.
2. It can be. By that I mean that our brains are comfortable with all this imperfection. Not only can they make sense of imperfect language, they thrive on it. Our brains are equiped with a set for ambiguity. They thrive on redundancy. Something in the way the human brain uses language requires it to be imperfect, to be malleable, flexible , and recursive.

It is easier to argue my first point than the second because the manner in which the brains represents meaning to itself is not well understood. We all have the experience of knowing what we want to say but not finding the right way of expressing it. I'm avoiding talkng about how the brain "stores " meaning, or ideas or words because I'm not convinced that's what it does. There seems to be some way the brain constructs and organizes what it "knows".

This is not to say that there is no need for language to be consistent in the way it is used. It wouldn't work if we didn't share in the way we used it- if we didn't "play by the rules" But it wouldn't also work if it required each of us to use it precisely and perfectly either. 

I'll have more to say about imperfection. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Yetta was a keynote speaker at Central Connecticutt University. last week.
This came today from Lois Bridges:

Here is some good news for you.  The Connecticut Corporations paid $35,000 to have Michelle Rhee speak. They ran full page ads in newspapers and 30 second spots on TV . The talk was free and 75 people showed up. Yetta Goodman spoke two days later at Central Connecticut University because Jesse invited her despite protest from the department saying she was 'old hat.' They charged $60 a person and they did not have enough chairs.  Over 400 teachers came to take notes and learn about a real way to teaching reading."
Louise Rosenblatt  a decade or two older than us, used to wag her finger at us and say " You young people....
We "old hats" appreciate the work you young people are doing to keep the flame of holistic scientific wisdom brightly shining. What goes around comes around- which is what my linguistic friend Pete Friies would call formulaic language as is "old hat"

Frame us as you will: we've miles to go before we sleep- and  books to write and battles to be fought- vebal ones=that is.  And who is this Rhee lady?

Ken Goodman