Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Friday, October 18, 2013

Connecting through language

In my most recent work I've been using the term connecting rather than communicating as a more inclusive term for what language does for children.

Babies begin connecting from the very moment of birth with that first cry. Then they begin to be aware that people make noise when they come together and they participate in the noise making- sometimes quite loudly. They know that language is social before they know that it is meaning making.

Much of the early  language between parent and child is more interpersonal than ideational  if you think about it. I would guess babies hear "I love you" a lot more often than any attempt to actually tell the child something. They hear lullabies and soothing sounds directed at them , though the other forms of language surround them. So they come fairly early to the sense that language is the way people connect with each other.

Eventually the connection begins to differentiate into other functions- understanding and following directions,, expressing their needs, commenting on their environment, and eventually engaging in conversation.

As I find myself saying often what makes language possible is our ability to think symbolically and what makes  it necessary is the need to connect. And the connection is in the fullest sense: emotionally, physically, expressively, and comunicationally.

And this generation of digital natives has new ways of connecting. and by adolescence by far the most important form is texting. So important that it happens when walking, driving, and almost any other times. And I would guess that much of the content is more just being together- connecting= than communicating.

And here I am connecting with you through the ether.

Isn't it amazing?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Response to Learning

In working on the final chapter of  Reading: The Grand Illusion I worked through what I believe is the fundamental issue in literacy education:
 Reading and Writing are being taught as school subjects   They should be taught in the context of their use.
Yesterday in working through this issue with Yetta I finally realized why I reject RTI (Response to  Instruction)
   RTI assumes that literacy learning is the result of instruction. So research in reading is trying various instructional methods, materials or hypotheses to see how much learning is produced.  And the best method is the direct teaching of most effective instruction. Then  the curriculum is the sequential organisation of the elements of literacy as defined by the instruction.    And the proof that the instruction is successful-            is a test of how well the learners respond to the instruction.

But learning is no sense limited to instruction. Human beings have the universal ability  to create, learn and use languag in the process of connecting with a community of language users and  participating in the language use.

Effective in instruction is a response to learning. In Re:spnse to Learning (RTL)

Research in reading is studying the language learning children achieve  and the conditions that most facilitate the learning which is occurring. The best method is creating  the conditions in the classroom which most facilitate the learning
  The curriculum starts where the learner is and responds to the learning in the context of  its use in all the rest of the curriculoum,. And Inliteracy education the proof  that  the instructions is successful is the quality of the reading and writing the students achieve.

So Yetta and I drafted a challenge to promote
Rsponse to Learning
Framing a Responsive Curriculum that is built on teaching as response to learning.

Ken and Yetta have been involved in a lot of reflection on their work recently. By the end of this year (2013) we will  have published three coauthored books and some articles.  Ken is also working on a popular book on the reading process with Peter Fries, Steve Strauss and Eric Paulson.   Yetta is beginning to write again about her research on early literacy development. 

One of the coauthored books, we’ve just completed is a book of selected readings as part of Routledge International Educationalist Series which has provided focus to look at our work with greater depth than before.  As graduate students and colleagues have been responding to these works and given the present political realities in terms of learning, teaching and instruction in reading, we have been thinking of framing the teaching of reading and writing in a somewhat new way but in keeping with our established theoretical frames.
We’ve written about the problems with the concepts of readiness that has been prevalent in reading and writing instruction over the years although during the 1980’s – 1990’s that focus diminished to some degree.  However, at the present time under No Children Left Behind, Reading First and Race to the Top, we are seeing a strong focus of readiness in terms of phonics, phonemic awareness, syllabication, etc. taking a strong hold on schools and shifting down into kindergarten programs and even preschools. We just read today about the work teachers in early grades are doing to teach keyboarding skills so that children can write without looking at their fingers.  What they haven’t understood that these kids have learned to text with their thumbs on tiny cell phones faster than most people can type.  So now we’re going to tell kids that there is a sequence they have follow to become writers and they must stop doing what they already know how to do and be instructed.
       This led us to consider framing a view that would place the teaching of reading and writing as tools of the curriculum rather than subject matter.  Instead of thinking about the learning to read and reading to learn dichotomy, we suggest that schools should not set aside separate times in the curriculum for the direct teaching of reading and writing as school subjects.  The idea is that every teacher is a teacher of reading and writing responding to the natural language learning capacity of students.
 The focus especially in elementary school would be subject matter areas such as physical and social sciences or math, science, social studies and the arts.   Projects, theme studies, units of inquiry, critical thinking would be the focus of elementary curriculum and reading and writing involved as important tools to be learned in the context of their use across the curriculum. The hope is if we can frame curriculum in this way that schools will highlight the engagement of learners with inquiry about world issues that are important in their ever growing communities (from close to home to ever expanding horizons).  In this way children will learn to read and write as they use literacy opportunities to extend and expand on their language and thinking.
We thought we would put this out to  if this is interesting and engaging enough to take time for some serious discussion and action on how we can build the framing around these ideas.  We don’t expect this to occur very quickly but without effort on the part of many strong  voices, this may never occur. 
       The basic understanding that children learn language easily in the context of using it as participants has been voiced before by Vygotsky, Dewey, Piaget, Emilia Ferreiro, Frank Smith, Margaret Spencer and supported and written about by many members of our own CELT thought collective.  What’s needed now is to flesh out how this can come about.  

This is particularly important at this point because of the increasing emphasis in so many schools in stopping everything else and teaching reading and writing as autonomous skills.so that the serious and important work being done by colleagues in inquiry, reflection, reclaiming literacies, conditions of learning, critical thinking etc. is being marginalized and not considered important aspects of school learning.
Ken has become aware as he’s been writing his chapter on reading instruction in his latest book that every attempt to teach reading as a subject requires the establishment of sequence including elements, skills, vocabulary, fluency, narrow aspects of comprehension, etc.  We know that there is no sequence to learning language, it is learned in the context of its dynamic use and children learn it easily when it needed to connect and participate in its social and personal uses.
In a sense the phrase response to instruction (RTI) makes learning the result of and dependent on instruction. Rather we want to frame the idea that learning is always taking place and particularly in language development, effective instruction is a response to learning hence the possibility of a responsive curriculum.     
 So what do you think?

Yetta and Ken 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

After viewing the Crucible

 On seeing the Crucible once again. 
There is evil in the world. Some of it is the result of warped and demented minds. Some of it the result of greed- not just for money- though that is productive of much evil,  but there is also the greed for power.  And some of it is the result of amorality : people who follow orders but take no responsibility for the result.  But , as  Arthur Miller made clear in his Salem witchcraft play- some of it is the result of people so righteous and sure of their own beliefs that they would impose them on others regardless of the suffering it might cause. Fundamentalism is not just confined to religion.

The evil I speak of is what is happening in schools to children in the name of teaching them to read. All of the forces of evil are involved: Greed of publishers and profiteers, greed of politicians who use literacy  to attack schools and stir up fear among their constituents, amorality of school board members and administrators. But especially evil are those whose fundamentalist views of literacy, learning, and schooling are being enacted into laws that are designed to root out heresy- anyone who does not share their  fundamentalist belief- and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation  for any who challenge their doctrine.

What has happened in American schools in last 15 years has devastated schools where they are most needed in the urban ghettos: the schools of New Orleans, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Oakland, and our nation’s capital are wounded beyond repair. Schools are closed where they are most needed and any semblance of self-government of local education is gone.

And schools everywhere are  being turned  into sweat shops in which five year olds can be failing in the first week of kindergarten and the primary day  is spent almost entirely on fundamentalist literacy programs. Like the good people of Salem, professional teachers are being rooted out or forced into submission, and blamed for the failure of their programs to work, turned away from the truth by the Satans in the teacher’s colleges.
Education is not the only aspect of American life in which this is happening- see the parallel in the attack on modest attempts to provide health care to millions without it.

But what  is more evil, or more dangerous to democracy than what is happening to the education of a generation of our youth?

Pervading all this evil is an anti-intellectualism which serves well those greedy for money and power. If you can’t trust yourself to tell truth from fiction, sense from nonsense, science from myth then you are prey to voting against your own best interests.

It is not the fundamentalists who have brought this situation about. By themselves they could not have the power. But they are being used by those who  have power to minimize the tax burden of supporting public schools while limiting the access to  knowledge and literacy.

Those with power have the clever minds in the neo-conservative think tank to do their evil for them. They know how to use the institutions of democracy to subvert democracy.

How do we fight this evil? With the only tools we have.
Knowledge  and  the same political process they are using against us.
Save Our Schools is a national coalition organized  to resist  this evil.
If you are parents exercise your rights as parents to  protest bad tests and curriculum. Defend your children from the sweat shops. You can join with other parents  and the professionals in defending your schools or taking them back from the fundamentalists. Get on school boards.
And educate yourself and others.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ezrial, my 5 year old grandaughter
Is now complaining that school is boring
Because it is.
All day boring
Worksheets all day plus boring homework
More worksheets.

So I wrote this book for her

Then I sent it to her with this message.
Dear Ezrial,
I wrote this book for you .
When you can read it yourself ,
Take it to school and
Say," Teacher, may I read my book to you?"