Monthly Archives: July 2019

Striving Toward an Anti-Racist Pedagogy in Literacy By Doctor William Kerns

The next few weeks are going to be interesting. This week my blogging partner Dr. William Kerns gives his views on an important issue in literacy. Sometime in the next few weeks, I will be blogging about the topic- The Reading Wars: A New View from the Radical Middle. Radical Middle is a term first used by P.D. Pearson, the creator of the gradual release model. So, stay tuned, lots of good things coming! Dr. Sam

 

reading-scrabble

 

In this blog, I take a stance that as teachers, it is imperative to engage in ongoing self-reflection and exploration about race. This is a crucial step in order to engage in teaching that is actively anti-racist. The topic is imperative to consider considering the news of this week, but I would not wish to view a discussion of critical literacy (Kuby, 2013; Luke, 2018; Wallowitz, 2008) and transgressive pedagogy (hooks, 1994) as limited to only times when discussions of the role of race in politics and society make headlines. Instead, I argue in favor of foregrounding anti-racist pedagogy and critical literacy in an ongoing manner as a teacher.

 

This is a challenging task. Thankfully, there are a wealth of recent books that explore strategies for being an anti-racist teacher who helps students to explore difficult discussions and texts on the topic (Ahmed, 2018; Brookfield, 2018; Kay, 2018; Minor, 2018; Okun, 2010; Tatum, 2017). In taking on the challenge, it would also be wise to explore literature related to racism in the United States (Kendi, 2017; Ortiz, 2018) and literature that can provide guidance in reflecting about the difficult topic of race (DiAngelo & Dyson, 2018).

 

I believe in the importance of teachers openly and honestly investigating our beliefs in relation to teaching practices. This includes, for white educators, such as me, openly confronting issues of white privilege and interrogating whether white fragility or even the white gaze might come into play. It also means listening – always being open to learning.  Key questions we might ask include: What are my fundamental beliefs about education including reading education and language arts? How do these beliefs shape my teaching? Underlying these questions are also questions about stances on diversity, race, ethnicity, and whether you view it as important to activity be anti-racist as an educator. Why or why not.  There are possible tensions and challenges that arise as you consider ways to be anti-racist while helping students gain knowledge and skill that they will need.  In addressing these questions, follow-up questions to address can include: What assumptions do we make about people around us – the adults and the children? It is imperative to be anti-racist, rather than merely making a claim to be non-racist. Otherwise, activities can wind up supporting racist narritives without questioning the narratives. The educational choices we make in the classroom are not neutral. The very claim to be neutral itself is an act of privilege, exercising the power to claim neutrality while making underlying choices about what texts to use, whose voices will be heard.

 

I believe in the need to raise the question of voice by asking who is considered legitimate to speak on a certain issue and who is silenced within a curriculum as an aspect of being an anti-racist teacher. Is it possible that a curriculum might condone or support racist structures or racist assumptions? I also believe that it is important for teachers and students alike (and together!) to develop the skills to examine language used about issues such as race and racial identities in various texts and contexts. Race is a socio-cultural construct grounded in Colonialism and in systems of oppression. An anti-racist approach which includes ongoing self-reflection as a teacher will aid teachers as they respond to the diverse ways that children are impacted by life-conditions.

 

In order to be anti-racist as a teacher, I believe that it is important to examine discursive practices, or episodes in action and rules – made explicit or implicit – related to who has a voice and who does not, as well as things that are deemed acceptable to be said or that are deemed unacceptable (Young & Ortega, 2009). This can help teachers to explore underlying beliefs regarding race that shape educational practices.  The discourses about children and parents who are of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds provide a framework for further communication about aspects of the reality of lives of students, and the reality of teaching.  Discourses on race are shaped by social structures, and in turn discourse can either support or change those social structures (Fairclough, 2013). So, in practice, this means listening and engaging in dialogue with students while engaging with diverse texts. It also means providing the context within the learning environment for students to be empowered and to be heard.

 

Freire and Macedo (1987) argue that an emancipatory approach to literacy does not merely focus on the mechanical skills of reading and writing, the classical traits of what it means to be a well-educated person, or even the joy and comprehension of reading a text. These approaches to literacy are insufficient for education to have an emancipatory rather than an oppressive impact. Instead, in an emancipatory pedagogy, an emphasis is placed on a critical analysis the text and of social structures in order to “read the word and read the world”. I would argue that to be anti-racist as an educator of literacy and English Language Arts, an emancipatory approach is needed. Crucially, Giroux (1992) argues that this voice is best enabled when the student engages in communication in his or her own primary language (or dialect).

 

The journey of self-discovery and reflection never ends. Each of us has our own story. Let’s take the anti-racist journey together. Let’s stand together. Our students deserve it.

 

References

 

Ahmed, S.K. (2018). Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

 

Brookfield, S.D. (2018). Teaching Race: How to Help Students Unmask and Challenge Racism. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

 

DiAngelo, R., & Dyson, M.E. (2018). White Fragility Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Race. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

 

Fairclough, Norman (2013) (Second Edition). Analyzing Discourse: Textual analysis for social research, London: Routledge.

 

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the Word and the World. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

 

Giroux, H. A., & McLaren, P. (1991). Radical pedagogy as cultural politics: Beyond the discourse of critique and anti-utopianism. In D. Morton & M. Zavarzadeh (Eds.), Theory/pedagogy/politics (pp. 152-186). Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

 

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

 

Kay, M.R. (2018). Not Light, But Fire: How to Lead Meaningful Race Conversations in the Classroom. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

 

Kendi, I.X. (2017). Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. Bay City, MI: Bold Type Books.

 

Kuby, C.R., (2013). Critical Literacy in the Early Childhood Classroom: Unpacking Histories, Unlearning Privilege. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

 

Kurashige, L. (2016). Two Faces of Exclusion: The Untold History of Anti-Asian Racism in the United States. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

 

Luke, A. (2018). Critical Literacy, Schooling, and Social Justice: The Selected Works of Allan Luke. New York, NY: Routledge.

 

Minor, C. (2018). We Got This: Equity, Access, and the Quest to BE Who Our Students Need Us to Be. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

 

Okun, T. (2010). The Emperor Has No Clothes: Teaching About Race and Racism to People Who Don’t Want to Know. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

 

Ortiz, P. (2018). An African American and Latinx History of the United States. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

 

Tatum, B.D. (2017). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. New York, NY: Basic Books.

 

Young, R.F., & Ortega, L. (Eds.) (2009). Discursive Practice in Language Learning and Teaching. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

 

Wallowitz, L. (2008). Critical Literacy as Resistance: Teaching for Social Justice Across the Secondary Curriculum. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

 

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the views of this author & his guest bloggers.  They do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Working Together: Addressing Challenges in Literacy through Teamwork by Doctor William Kerns

reading creatuve commons

The wonderful ILA chat this week inspired my blogging partner, Dr. William Kerns, to write the following entry. In order to get it out to everyone in a timely manner, we’re doing this extra blog post this weekend. ENJOY

Dr. Sam

Working Together: Addressing Challenges in Literacy through Teamwork

William Kerns

The debate over phonics represents one of numerous challenges that threatens to narrow the curriculum in P-12 schools and in higher education. In early childhood, teachers face pressure to conform to a narrow view of reading instruction that is based on a Simple View of Reading, which takes decoding and language comprehension into account but, in this author’s opinion, fails to adequately account for the many ways that social-cultural experiences shape and reshape the way that a child reads. This pressure is combined with pressures to “teach to the test” in order to achieve certain scores on high stakes examinations.

I do not intend to offer a panacea for this situation in this short blog. In fact, any attempt at offering a panacea would run counter to my belief that one-size-fits-all solutions are themselves potentially harmful to students. I situate myself in the social-constructivist school for reading and language arts. This blog’s proposed plan of action is also situated within a social constructivist understanding of reading and the overall language arts.

We need to work together. This collaboration should include work among P-12 teachers and university professors within a school and within a district. This tends to already be emphasized in schools, especially among teachers who instruct the same grade level. The collaboration I call for is not only local, but also statewide and national.

Dialogue through social media is a powerful tool.  By virtue of reading this blog online, I am presuming that most if not all readers of this blog are active in online communications with fellow educators. This can be the start of a type of professional learning community in which strategies and resources are actively shared. It can also be the start of an inquiry community, in which research efforts are performed in collaboration together even among people at a geographic distance from one another. Along with this collaboration comes increased voice.

Mutual support is vital. This can take the form of basic friendships, even among those of us who have not actually met in person. We all get tired and discouraged at times. We need one another as a support base.

Finally, comes perhaps the hardest part. Public advocacy of literacy education even among those with whom we might strongly disagree. An important aspect of fighting for the active, engaging, constructivist approaches to education that readers of this blog are likely to favor is through dialogue and through example. The thing with dialogue is that it works best when both sides of a dialogue feel mutually respected. The collaboration that I advocate is, in many ways, already occurring. However, I advocate that the collaboration should become increasingly systematic and strategic. Teamwork will help produce increased research. Increased dialogue. Increased awareness. In a sense, we each are ambassadors of literacy education. We each have a role to play. And who knows, we might even enjoy this process along the way. We need to come together. We cannot adequately address the challenges we face if we are working in isolation.

This call for action is not easy. However, below I will outline some areas where I believe there can be agreement and collaboration.

Children need to develop skills in phoneme awareness and phonics, decoding, accurate and automatic word recognition, reading at an appropriate rate, vocabulary and word attack strategies, text comprehension and strategies for comprehension of difficult texts. Misunderstandings and lack of agreements abound. For example, proponents of approaches to reading instruction that privilege taking social and cultural experiences of a child into account are often accused of being “anti-phonics” when in fact a social constructivist approach does recognize the importance of decoding, phonemic awareness and phonics skills. Greater emphasis tends to be placed on inquiry, games, songs, rhymes than in programs that are based on synthetic phonics. Proponents of whole language prefer to work on these skills in the context of real/authentic texts being read.

Complicating matters, there is a great deal of linkage between the reading process and the writing process. Writing is both a way of learning and a way of communicating. In fact, I argue for an approach to reading instruction that is inclusive of areas often discussed within English Language arts, including but not limited to the study of grammar and syntax, the study of literature, the study of writing and composition, the study of linguistics, and the study of rhetoric.

Skills generally associated with language arts include reading, writing, speaking, listening, viewing, and visually representing. I view reading instruction as insufficient without strong language arts instruction, and likewise, I view language arts instruction as insufficient without strong instruction in reading. This means that reading teachers and reading specialists need to work in alliance with language arts teachers. It also means that language arts teachers need to team up with reading teachers. The success of the two fields are linked.

A misimpression that exists about the social-constructivist approaches to instruction which I support is that they are opposed to explicit and direct instruction. This is not true. However, it’s important to draw on a child’s background knowledge and to consider the social-cultural influences on meaning-making. That’s why dialogue matters. It’s important for the teacher to learn from the child as the child is also learning from the teacher. Leaving a child bored and disconnected from material is something to be avoided. Intensive, personalized instruction for students using other educational staff members. As appropriate, seek additional reading and varied forms of texts (video/digital, visual art) and instruction for students.

A wide variety of diverse literary options need to be available for students to read. These options should include representations of characters and settings from diverse cultures. It should also include multiple genres and multiple types of texts. Wide reading experiences with diverse texts is also critical. The end goal of instructional intervention is for the student to gain increased independence as a reader, to be able to gain purposeful comprehension skills and strategies that can be applied with diverse texts and in diverse contexts.

Plus, let’s not forget, we want the student to also have a lifelong love for learning and passion for reading. It is so important to provide opportunities for students to become independent readers. A wide selection of texts can be a critical aspect of intervention. Interest in a text can help a student to be increasing engaged and motivated while working on skills in an authentic context. Guided repeated reading can help a student to build fluency skills. A classroom teacher should work with a team of well-trained professionals who specialize in intervention assessment and techniques when a student fails to make adequate progress.

Appropriate assessments guide instructional choices. After all, it would not be possible to accurately determine a student’s current ability to independently engage in a task without assessment. Likewise, it also is not possible to determine a student’s upper range of ability to successfully complete a reading task with guidance and assistance unless there is assessment tied to goals. These assessments should determine both strengths and areas of weakness to address in an ongoing way that tracks progress. The strengths can be used toward addressing weaknesses, but key to this is that the teacher needs to be working in partnership with the student.

The tracking of student growth and the development of literacy abilities requires strong assessment.  Students will at times struggle in reading for a variety of reasons, including skill development but also potentially including lack of mastery of appropriate reading strategies. Too often, students whose primary language is not English may be misidentified as having a learning disability. A student might need to work on decoding, phonemic awareness and phonics, or other skills such as fluency or word identification strategies in order to enhance purposeful vocabulary development. The nature of intervention should be determined through assessment. The type of reading structure appropriate for the child depends on needs and interests. Options might include whole class, small flexible groups, or guided reading with systematic and explicate instructional strategies.

Care should also be taken when the tutoring is pulling a student out of regular classroom instruction. Students can feel embarrassed, and they can miss out on valuable instructional time with the regular class. If the tutoring is unengaging, fails to be beneficial, or it is simply boring to the student, then the effort at tutoring could backfire and contribute to the student becoming disengaged.

Finally, I believe in the importance of a positive learning environment. To be more specific, this learning environment should include welcoming students into a community of readers and writers. Such a community should welcome the exploration of new and imaginative concepts while drawing on prior knowledge. The classroom community should be welcoming to diverse students of varied backgrounds. One way of promoting such a positive classroom community is to make sure that students have a sense of belonging and acceptance. Teachers need to honor the human dignity of students and promote the ability of fellow students to honor one another’s dignity. An important aspect of honoring the dignity of individual students is to honor their sense of identity and their cultural identities.

 

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the views of this author and his blogging partner. They do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

One size still doesn’t fit all: Finding the middle ground in the reading wars by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Reading Header for the Blog

Of all the hats I’ve worn in almost five decades of teaching (see addendum at the end) the one that fits me best is that of reading teacher/reading specialist. During my Title I days, one of my jobs was to support/coach teachers in Tier one and to sometimes provide Tier two services as needed. The Tier one programs changed over time. What all had in common Is that none succeeded with 100% of the kids. There were always some kids for whom the Tier one program didn’t work. One of my jobs was to scaffold those students into learning to read. This experience definitely shaped my view of things.

Fast forward to today. We now have SOME (not all) proponents of the Science of Reading point of view claiming they do have the solution to all students reading problems. Just teach them using a strong systematic synthetic phonics and all is solved. Before I say another word, please note the word SOME. Let’s look at relevant evidence.

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/eie.12125

According to Torgerson et al., ‘There is currently no strong randomized controlled trial evidence that any one form of systematic phonics is more effective than any other’   Bottom line, research does not support the notion that synthetic phonics should be used EXCLUSIVELY.

‘The conclusions of one study on phonics and similar word-level training represents … Benefits for “reading comprehension were not significant” (Reading the Naked Truth, 92). A recent analysis by literacy researcher Jeff McQuillin drew similar conclusions from a large-scale study in England.’ https://www.garnpress.com/news/cryonics-phonics-inequalitys-little-helper?fbclid=IwAR1FlU2YcezBi0XvlrATOxB3Z60IjXfbJyu1gxCOM6g8_v5pxOoQVIvhRQw

Bottom line- Science of Reading approaches must be viewed with caution. Care needs to be taken that the approach doesn’t just produce better decoding.  The extreme proponents of Science of Reading have tried to pass off gains on decoding based tests as reading gains, claiming almost miraculous one-year growth.  Bad science. The problem remains- they are not demonstrating long term growth in comprehension. Decoding DOES NOT automatically lead to comprehension. Comprehension requires direct teaching around comprehension (a blog in itself).

The final problem is what I call the Near 100% Problem. On many occasions, I’ve asked proponents of all the current possible ways to teach reading to “show me the beef,” i.e. show me studies demonstrating their way gets almost 100% success. Unfair? Remember my background. I’m the one that got to work with and scaffold the students for whom the Tier one program didn’t work. So long as there are such kids, there is a need for alternative approaches to teaching those kids. There is also a need to allow reading specialists and classroom teachers some leeway in how they help those particular kids, and to give them some serious PD in those alternate ways. My mantra is, fit the program to the child, not the other way round.

Currently, there are any number of approaches being advocated. That is a whole different blog entry. What I say to every one of those advocates of alternate approaches, if you don’t have the near 100% study for your methods, then admit your methods have limitations. That is a very hard sell. But if folks TALKED TO, as opposed to debated with, folks with alternate methods,  kids would benefit. Districts can and should adopt the method they think best fits their population. See both Mary Howard’s and Linda Dorn’s books on RTI for guidance. It is critical that the Tier one program be strong enough that Tier two and three aren’t overwhelmed.  BTW if anyone really does have that magic near 100% method that nets comprehension gains over several years, please do let us all in on it. I’ll help organize the parade for you!!! Longitudinal data using actual comprehension tests, please.

Overall, I call this potential dialogue among advocates of the various approaches “The Reading Evolution”  #readingevolution1. Check the entries in my sidebar labeled the Reading Wars/Reading Evolution for details. Remember that the key to this dialogue happening is for all sides to admit their ways have some limits and limitations. I think good things will come from it.

I’ll end with a quote from Pressley who I view as the “take the middle ground” advocate of his day.  A good friend reminded me of this quote. Think about it. We’ve tried the extremes so many different times; maybe it is time to try finally try the middle and end this swinging pendulum once and for all.

“What is “balanced literacy instruction” from my perspective? It involves explicit, systematic and completely thorough teaching of the skills required to read and write in a classroom environment where there is much reading of authentic literature–including information books and much composing by students. Balanced literacy instruction is demanding in every way that literacy instruction can be demanding. Students are expected to learn the skills and learn them well enough to be able to transfer them to the reading and writing of texts. Yes, this is done in a strongly supportive environment, with the teacher providing a great deal of direct teaching, explanations, and re-explanations, and hinting to students about the appropriateness of applying skills they have learned previously to new texts and tasks. As children learn the skills and use them, the demands in balanced classrooms increase, with the goal of the balanced literacy teacher being to move students ahead, so that every day there is new learning; every day students are working at the edge of their competencies and growing as readers and writers” (Pressley, 2003).

Happy Reading and Writing

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka the one in the middle of the road happily taking flak from all sides)

Addendum: MY BACKGROUND/BACKGROUND ON WRITING THIS ENTRY

It’s been an interesting and productive week on twitter. I’ve been asked to clarify and synthesize my views on the reading wars and good literacy practices. Here goes. First, it will help readers to understand my positions on literacy instruction if they knew something of my background. Started teaching in 1970. Have taught every grade from K-graduate school. Have taught all the preservice reading courses both at the undergraduate and graduate level. Spent over two decades teaching in Title 1 buildings spanning the time from 1985 through the early 2000s. Three times,  projects I worked in received the Secretaries’ Award, placing the reading achievement gains made in those projects in the top 1/10 of 1 percent of all Title 1 projects nationally. Two of the three buildings involved had free lunch rates exceeding 90%.  I am currently retired (not really). During the school year, I spend one full day a week pushing in at an elementary school, I am active in the ILA, and Co-Editor of the professional reading journal for my state, The Missouri Reader. I am also involved in promoting local literacy projects, including the St. Louis Black Author’s Believe project and The Ready to Learn book distribution project (over a quarter of a million books given to Title 1 kids in the last four years). I’m starting to do some national consulting and Inservice work. I also write this weekly blog and am working with some friends on a book. As I said, not really retired.

Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

P.S. If you found the blog through Facebook or Twitter, please consider following the blog to make sure you won’t miss it.  Use the “follow” entry on the sidebar of the blog.

Happy 4th of July!

happy_4th_of_july_by_aparks45-d3kzxqm

Taking the day off. Celebrating the 4th of July with my family.

Let me use this occasion to give you a tip on where to find some good reading about literacy issues. Visit the Missouri Literacy Association’s Facebook page (@mscira).  They have good readings on a daily basis (including today). You’ll find this page a great resource with a wide variety of posts relevant to improving literacy. The screen capture below shows a recent posting. Go to the MLA Facebook page (@mscira) to see the live feed.

Thanks,

Dr Sam

MLA