Psicología del Arte – Lev Vygotsky

Psicología del Arte - Vygotsky 2006

El arte es lo social en nuestro interior, e incluso cuando su acción la lleva a cabo un individuo aislado, ello no significa que su esencia sea individual.  Resulta bastante ingenuo y desatinado confundir lo social con lo colectivo, como en una gran multitud de personas.  Lo social también existe cuando sólo hay una persona, con sus experiencias y tribulaciones individuales.  Por ello la acción del arte al realizar la catarsis y arrojar dentro de esa llama purificadora las experiencias, emociones y sentimientos más íntimos y trascendentes del alma, es una acción social.  Pero esta experiencia no se desarrolla según lo describe la teoría de la contaminación (en la que un sentimiento nacido en una persona contagia y contamina a todo el mundo y se convierte en social), sino justo al revés.  La fusión de sentimientos fuera de nosotros la lleva a cabo la fuerza del sentimiento social, que es objetivizado, materializado y proyectado fuera de nosotros y fijado entonces en objetos artísticos externos que se han convertido en herramientas de la sociedad.

–Vygotsky (2006, pag. 304)

El juego es muy importante para los niños de edad temprano.  Es la manera que los niños aprenden la mayoría que pueden aprender.  En su libro sobre el arte en general, y específicamente la literatura, Vygotsky dice que, “para el niño existe una similitud psicológica entre el arte y el juego” (2006, pág. 314).  Este significa que los niños pueden jugar y pueden hacer arte con los mismos pensamientos.

Lo veo este en mis clases todo el tiempo.  Cuando los niños dibujan ellos me dicen lo que hacen los personajes que dibujan.  Están imaginando con sus dibujos en una manera como el juego.  Con la literatura que hacen este es más evidente.  Las historias pueden ser obras del arte, pero para los niños las historias usan los mismos procesos psicológicos como el juego.  Las historias forman una manera de analizar el proceso psicológico del juego.

En sus historias, los niños juegan con las emociones y los sentimientos.  Los niños crean historias que usan humor, miedo, alegría, justicia, amor, y muchos más temas.  Usualmente los niños usan numeroso emociones en una historia.  Vygotsky revela que “una obra artística (como una fábula, un cuento, una tragedia) incluye siempre una contradicción afectiva, suscita sentimientos en conflicto y desemboca en el cortocircuito y la destrucción de dichas emociones” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 263).

El concepto del uso de los sentimientos en conflicto se manifiesta en esta historia por Enid:

A Película en Rapunzel

Una vez estaba una princesa.  Y allí estaba en su castillo.  Y pues ella era Rapunzel.  Y pues allí hubo un señor en la casa.  Y pues cortó su pelo.  Y pues allí estaba un castillo en un bosque.  Y allí una vez hay un dragon.  Y pues un muchacho niño para matar a un dragon.  Y pues ellos se cazaron.  Y pues ellos estaban juntos.

En la narración, esta historia es maravillosa.  Tuvo un gran empiezo que estableció la protagonista y el escenario.  Hubo tensión, primero con el hombre en la casa que cortó su pelo, y después tensión más dramática con el dragón.  Finalmente la historia terminó con alegría cuando mataron al dragón y terminaron juntos.  Esta historia contenía una dualidad de manipulación emocional que hace gran literatura, uniendo temor con alegría en precisamente el momento perfecto.  El hecho que yo escribí “se cazaron” en lugar de lo que más probable quería decir “se casaron” muestre esta dualidad perfectamente.  Mientras mi miente estaba pensando en el matado del dragón, yo creía que ella hablaría sobra una caza de dragones, pero en precisamente ese punto en la historia ella cambió su sentido y habló sobre el matrimonio.

Vygotsky dice, “El acto de creación artística no puede enseñarse.  Esto no significa, sin embargo, que el educador no pueda cooperar a la hora de formarlo u ocasionarlo.  En el subconsciente penetramos a través del consciente” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 313).  No enseñé a Enid cómo usar emociones en su obra, ni cómo yuxtaponerlos para cambiar el sentido de la obra.  Pero el hecho que reconocí esta obra como una obra que puede influir mis emociones mostró a ella que sus palabras tienen poder.  Y cuando los niños reconocen que sus palabras son poderosos, pueden manipular las palabras para mostrar su agencia.

Vygotsky señala que es importante considerar “el arte como método para construir la vida” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 316).  Para los niños una cosa que es más importante en la vida es la familia.  Pues, muchos niños crean historias sobre la familia.  En esas historias, de frecuente un personaje pierde su familia, y el conflicto desarrolla de la búsqueda a su familia, como esta historia por Stephanie:

Elsa y Anna y un Oso Polar

Una vez una chiquito oso polar vino.  Un chiquita.  Y pues alguien vien.  Princesa Elsa.  Una vez el oso polar no quiere familia.  Y dijeron que ellos no van quedarte con nosotros todo tiempo.  Triste.  Y ella dijo, “¿Puedo regresa contigo un otro día?” Un otra dijoren, “Pior cien pueda quedar con nos otros.” Príncipe vino y el niña se casó las dos niñas Elsa y Anna.

Al primero, Stephanie contó esta historia en inglés, y después ella tradujo la historia en español.  En la versión en inglés, la oración “Una vez el oso polar no quiere familia,” era “And then the polar bear had no family” (“Y pues el oso polar no tenía familia”).  Ella usó la palabra “quiere” en lugar de la palabra “tiene.”

Este es interesante porque ella aún está aprendiendo español, y en su mente, las palabras “querer” y “tener” son indistinguibles en español.  Esta paradoja entre lo que el personaje quería y lo que el personaje tenía fue accidente, pero muestra una cosa muy importante en esta historia.  Si el oso polar no quería familia, el resto de la historia no tiene sentido.  ¿Por qué la osa polar está triste cuando Elsa y Anna no quieren quedarse con el oso polar?  ¿Por qué la osa polar pide regresar con ellas?

Las palabras que un autor elige son muy importantes.  Vygotsky dice que “Los sonidos sólo se tornan significativos si la palabra es significativa” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 96).  Para Stephanie, los sonidos de las palabras “quiere” y “tiene” son bastantes similares para intercambiar las palabras, pero para un lector de español las palabras tienen significativos muy diferentes.

Este es muy importante, porque el significativo se construye en el elemento social.  Creo que lo más importante de este libro es la declaración de Vygotsky que “El arte es lo social en nuestro interior, e incluso cuando su acción la lleva a cabo un individuo aislado, ello no significa que su esencia sea individual” (Vygotsky 2006, pág. 304).

 

En la mes que viene más probable hablaré sobre el libro, Educating Emergent Bilinguals por García y Kleifgen (2010).  Si hay un libro que usted quiere que yo discute en este blog, por favor haga comentario en la página de Lectura Recomendada.

 

Referencias

García, O. & J.A. Kleifgen (2010). Educating emergent bilinguals: Policies, programs, and practices for English language learners.  Nueva York: Teachers College Press.

Vygotsky, L. (2006 [1971, 1925]). Psicología del arte (C. Roche, Trad.).  Barcelona, España: Ediciones Paidós.

 

 

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Including One, Including All – Roffman & Wanerman

(en español)

Including One, Including All - Roffman & Wanerman 2011

Outdoor playtime has just ended, and the children line up to go into the classroom for lunch.  As the line moves up the stairs, two children are left outside: Harry and Enid.  Harry has run back to retrieve a hat he left in the playground.  Meanwhile Enid is sitting crying at the bottom of the stairs.  I move toward Harry to assist him while our classroom inclusion coach sits down with Enid, but I notice Enid turns her back to the coach.  I abort my motion toward Harry and move toward Enid.  Enid has a relationship with me that she does not have with the coach who only visits once every couple of weeks.  I sit with Enid and ask her to take some deep breaths, modeling deep breathing myself while the coach goes to help Harry.  Enid continues crying but looks at me.  I place my hand on her back and ask her what happened.  Enid lets out a string of unintelligible words in the midst of tears, but amidst the blathering I am able to make out the name of a classmate.  I latch onto that, and suggest we go back in the classroom and she talk to that classmate.  Enid nods, stands up and takes my hand, and we go into the classroom together.

According to Leslie Roffman and Todd Wanerman, “Bodies, relationships, emotions, and brains are all connected” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 21).  For Enid, our relationship helped focus her emotions, my hand on her back helped her calm her body and focus her brain to articulate the issue.  While I did not understand what it was she articulated, the fact that I listened and was able to pick up on something demonstrated for her that our relationship was meaningful and provided the impetus for proceeding.

I could have responded to her refusal to come to the classroom with everyone else with a sharp commandment to move, or a threat of punishment, or, even worse, by picking her up and carrying her.  But had I done so, I would have denied her agency in this situation.  By connecting with her and giving her that moment to make the decision herself to rise and join the class, I showed Enid that she is worthwhile, and that I recognized her as such.  As Roffman and Wanerman indicate, “For emotional based learning to be effective in an educational setting, the teachers need to build strong, positive relationships with the children” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 32).

Our inclusion coach was a great person, and interacted wonderfully with the children, but her limited presence in the classroom sometimes made it difficult for her to connect with the children in the same way as those of us who knew them more personally.  Nonetheless, as Roffman and Wanerman point out, “Each adult—teachers, staff, and parents—can add a slightly different but connected thread of observation and opinion that helps you locate the right expectations for progress” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 114).

The inclusion coach’s assistance in helping Harry get his hat was just as important for Harry, as my taking the time to listen to Enid was for her.  For Harry, it was very important that he get his hat.  He often felt a need to have his head covered, and even in the classroom he would often put on his jacket and keep his hood over his head.  Reffman and Wanerman reveal that “Knowing how sensory, motor, and physical experience can help the child feel more calm, receptive, organized, or safe over time is the broadest and most effective teaching plan you can make” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p.65).

The reasons for Harry’s need to cover his head were not completely clear, but it was clear that there were times when he became overstimulated in the classroom.  If the noise level in the classroom got too high, Harry would begin to get agitated.  It is possible that wearing his hood helped by covering his ears and blocking out the noise when it became overwhelming.  We attempted to get a pair of noise-cancelling headphones to help him with this, but when he wore them he would shout and add to the classroom noise level that led other children to be louder to be heard by their peers when playing.

Roffman and Wanerman make it clear that “Some children’s challenges make it much harder to transition into or enjoy a program and do not allow the luxury of time and patience before plans must be made” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 64).  Harry went through a period in which he would bite other children when he was over-stimulated.  It was something that was on the minds of the other children, even if they didn’t voice it directly.  For instance, after seeing Harry bite another child, Ammon told this story:

Tiburón

Once upon a time there was a princess.  And then she gotted vestido.  And then there was a Elsa.  And then Elsa went to there was a princess.  And then there was a bad guy.  And then there was tiburón bite people.  And then it’s going to bite somebody.  Then the shark bited somebody.  The End.

Though he didn’t reference Harry directly, it was clear that biting was something that was now on Ammon’s mind.  One day we discussed Harry’s biting as a class during circle.  The children came to recognize that this was something that Harry was working on.  They discussed different strategies they could use to help Harry with this issue.

Initially they suggested giving Harry a wide berth when he got agitated.  This was something that a number of children had already begun to do, but it had resulted in children avoiding playing with Harry even when he wasn’t agitated.  Through the course of the discussion the children talked about how to tell when he’s upset and when he’s not upset, and the importance of talking to him and finding out what he’s upset about, sometimes even helping to calm him down.  This discussion ended up helping all of the children become more aware of other children’s emotions in general.  As Roffman and Wanerman state, “If children learn to pay attention to the many different ways people communicate, their social skills will undoubtedly benefit” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 162)

One of the children had a chew toy that he kept around his neck to put in his mouth when he wanted to bite something.  The children suggested getting one of these for Harry.  The children thought deeply about ways that they could support each other, and after this discussion, they became less critical of Harry now that they understood his challenges better.  They played together with him more often and learned to distinguish between times when it was appropriate to play near him and times when it was not.  They stopped excluding Harry from their play and provided him with some of the social supports he needed to help him control his emotions.  Harry was receiving the benefits described by Roffman and Wanerman in which, “in an inclusive setting, all kinds of children can befriend each other” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 10).

Of course, the children weren’t the only ones making accommodations to help Harry through this period.  We found that we needed to increase our staff presence.  When the teacher who had the strongest relationship to Harry was gone for several days, Harry began biting other children again. Roffman and Wanerman tell us that “for children with challenges and inclusion classrooms in general, the right amount of staff is one of the most important elements for success” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 116).  We increased our staff by having a supervisor be in the classroom in addition to the regular teachers and substitute while Harry’s preferred teacher was away.  Having enough teachers provided us with the opportunity to insure that we could be close to Harry and recognize the signs of his agitation before it escalated.

Having children like Harry and Enid in our program helped us become better teachers, and helped the children become more welcoming.  As Roffman and Wanerman point out, “Inclusion, at its best, is a model that enriches every aspect of a program, from the experience of the child, to the skills of the teacher, to the harmony and diversity of the school community” (Roffman & Wanerman 2011, p. 8).

 

I welcome discussion and comments on this topic.  Also, if there is a book that you would like to see me discuss in this blog, please comment on the Recommended Reading page.  Next month I will most likely be discussing the book Psicología del Arte by Lev Vygotsky (2006).

 

References

Roffman, L. & T. Wanerman. (2011). Including one, including all: A guide to relationship-based early childhood education. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Vygotsky, L.S. (2006 [1971, 1925]). Psicología del arte (C. Roche, Tran.). Barcelona, Spain: Ediciones Paidós.

 

From Lullabies to Literature – Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse

(en español)

From Lullabies to Literature - Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse 2007

It is lunchtime and there are two empty seats at the table.  Everybody knows that Trinity and Amanda are best friends, so the two seats have been left for them.  But neither Trinity nor Amanda wants to come to the table.  They had gotten in an argument and told each other that they never wanted to be friends again.  Now, with the only two seats remaining being next to each other, they refuse to come.

I approach them and bring them together away from the table and place myself between them.  I tell them a story from my childhood.  It is a story of when I was a child and I had an argument with my best friend, and we said we would never be friends again.  I tell them how I had gone home that day and cried, but the next day we were playing together again, and even today I still am friends with him on facebook.  I tell them I can sit between them at lunchtime to help them while they are arguing, but that I think they will be friends again.  They don’t believe me, but join me at the table.  Sure enough, that afternoon they were inseparable once again.

Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse say that “Stories can cross the borders of time and place better than many other experiences because they connect children and adults to each other through the sharing of universal feelings and experiences” (Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse 2008, p. 7).  In this situation, Trinity and Amanda were having difficulties with conflicting feelings.  They had been close friends all year, but recently Amanda had gone away for an extended time, and ever since her return they were having more arguments and their friendship appeared to be suffering.  But my story helped bring them closer together by helping them to realize that they can come back together after an argument.

Many people equate the word “story” in a classroom with the word “book”.  When I talk about telling a story to a child in my class, people often assume I am referring to reading a book.   But stories are both much deeper and more diverse than that.  As this example reveals, told stories can also play a very powerful role in the classroom.  Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse tell us that “told stories can extend linguistic learning that happens through natural conversations and language play” (Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse 2008, p. 74).

In my bilingual classroom, linguistic learning is very important.  While I read books in both languages, my told stories for a long time were only in English.  I recall the moment I realized that I needed to start creating told stories in Spanish.  In my classroom we had these Story Starters in a Jar, published by a company called Free Spirit Publishing.  They contain a short phrase with an ellipsis in a thought bubble to help trigger the imagination.  Several children enjoyed using the Story Starters to tell their own stories. When I noticed that they were all in English, I contacted Free Spirit Publishing to see if they had a Spanish version available.  They did not, and also informed me that they had no intention of publishing a Spanish version.  They gave me permission to translate them myself for my classroom.

A short time after adding the Spanish version to my classroom, Brandon told me he wanted to do one of the Story Starters in a Jar.  I decided to try out the Spanish ones with him.  As I read it to him, he stared at me blankly.  I read it to him again and he stared at me blankly again.  After repeating this several times, I asked him if he was going to finish the story and he told me, “You know what, I change my mind.  I don’t want to do this.” I then offered to make up a story myself based on the story starter, and he sat and listened to my story in Spanish.

However, I discovered I had difficulty creating a story in Spanish.  I realized that I needed to tell stories in Spanish more often.  Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse say that “Children with little or no knowledge of English will generally enjoy the same stories as children who are native English speakers, provided that you are expressive and use props when you share them” (Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse 2008, p. 83).  I quickly discovered that the same is true for English speakers when telling stories in Spanish.

One day shortly thereafter I told a story in Spanish at lunchtime.  It was a story about a rabbit going for a walk in the grass and coming across a dog.  The rabbit ran home to its mother who kept it safe.  Later that day Amanda created the following story:

Cat

One day there was a little cat.  And then she saw a rat.  And then when the rat saw the cat it ran away into the forest, because that’s where its home was.  But it didn’t know the path home.  And then the little mouse found a tree.  It found its home.  And then the cat found another rat.

She replaced the rabbit with a rat/mouse, and the dog with a cat.  Otherwise, a great deal of this story follows the structure of the story I had told at lunchtime.

As I considered Amanda and Trinity’s relationship, I thought about this story of Amanda’s and what it revealed about the nature of dangers outside of the home.  Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse reveal that “Stories weave bright threads of communication and connection through all human relationships” (Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse 2008, p. 116).  Amanda connected with my story and retold it in her own way because it was one that strengthened our relationship by speaking to her concerns of the time, namely her fears of not connecting with others away from home; her fears that her teachers and peers at school will be more like the cat than like another rat or mouse.

Trinity was exploring similar fears around this time, and she created the following story:

Me and My Amigos

Once upon a time there was a little girl.  And her name was [Amanda].  And there was another girl named [Trinity].  And there was a boy named [Seth].  And then there was a little girl named [Bridget].  And they were doing a story.  And they were doing outside.  And there was a big storm.  And then the storm made me so powerful that it made me mean.  And then there was the sun.

For Trinity, her story expressed a great desire for friends, and she added many peers as characters to be her friends in her story.  However, she realized that friendship can be like the weather.  It can go from sunny to stormy in an instant.  And when that storm approaches, she herself can become mean.  But she also realized that it can go the other direction and the sun can come back just as suddenly.

Not long after the lunchtime incident where Amanda and Trinity refused to come to the table, they got into another argument.  My personal story had served its purpose that day, but it was a temporary solution, and now once again they didn’t want to be near each other.  Birckmayer, Kennedy / Stonehouse tell us that “when we listen to their stories, we model attentiveness and reinforce children’s willingness to listen carefully when others share stories with them” (Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse 2008, p. 15).  I decided this time to demonstrate such attentiveness to one of Trinity’s own stories and use it as an example rather than one of my own.  I pulled out my computer and read her story from long before, “Me and My Amigos.” I told her what I had noticed about friendships being like the weather.  She instantly showed that she recognized this analogy when she said, “Me and [Amanda] are having a storm right now.”

They came together to act out one of Amanda’s stories as well, and the next day, when they got into an argument once more, they immediately resolved it without my intervention.  Through stories, they were able to come together and find their friendship once again, demonstrating how “the gift of stories can greatly improve any early childhood program” (Birckmayer, Kennedy & Stonehouse 2008, p. 113).

 

Next month I will most likely be discussing the book Including One, Including All by Leslie Roffman and Todd Wanerman.  If there is a book you would like to see me discuss in this blog, please comment on the Recommended Reading page.

 

References

Birckmayer, J., A. Kennedy, & A. Stonehouse. (2008). From lullabies to literature: Stories in the lives of infants and toddlers. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

Roffman, L. & T. Wanerman. (2011). Including one, including all: A guide to relationship-based early childhood education. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

 

Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism – Colin Baker

(en español)

Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism - Baker 2011

As I entered a bilingual preschool classroom I found myself filled with excitement, but also a little bit nervous.  It was a new group of students, a new program I had never been in before, and a new teaching model I had never experienced before.  I was to be one of two English language models in the classroom that also had two other teachers that were Spanish language models.  This is the classroom version of what Baker calls “The ‘one-person – one language’ parental approach in a family,” which he describes as “a well-documented and often successful route to bilingualism” (Baker 2011, p. 113).

It wasn’t long before I found myself well-adjusted in the classroom and fitting in with the language model well.  However, as Baker describes, “there is often a difference between formal policy and the informal practice of codeswitching, with ‘center stage’ and ‘back stage’ choices” (Baker 2011, p. 287).  While I spoke primarily English in the classroom as per our official policy, I would occasionally code-switch into Spanish for a variety of reasons with both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students.  I noticed this trend among all four teachers in the classroom.

Baker reveals that “codeswitching is a frequent behavior among bilinguals, with a variety of valuable purposes and benefits” (Baker 2011, p. 112).  For myself, I relied on code-switching with Spanish-speaking students to help build a connection with them and help them feel more at ease around me, and also to insure understanding of difficult concepts or during times of stress.  I code-switched into Spanish with my English-speaking students to increase their exposure to Spanish, particularly during times of the day when we were doing a small group activity without one of the Spanish-language models.  After all, Baker tells us that “understanding (and speaking) a second or third language quickly grows once there is sufficient exposure and incentive” (Baker 2011, pp. 104-105), and by using more Spanish with my English-speaking students I provided that exposure.

However, the incentive seemed to be lacking.  The children knew that I was an English-language model and that, if they didn’t understand me at the time, they could rely on me for English a short time later when I switched back into my official role as English-language model.  As Baker states, “If language mixing by the teacher occurs, students may wait until there is a delivery in the stronger language, and become uninvolved at other times” (Baker 2011, p. 228)  Several months into school the year we noticed that the English-speaking students were not progressing in their Spanish as rapidly as we were expecting.  Most of the children were very reluctant to tell stories that included any Spanish, and even when they did they limited themselves to a handful of words.  For example, by late January Sally’s attempt at telling a story in Spanish included only three words:

My Little Pony Babies

Once upon a vez there was a princesa.  And her name was Aurora.  And another one was a mermaid.  And her name was Ariel.  Then another day there were 3 princesas.  They were ponies, but not people or princesses.  Then there was 10 My Little Ponies.  Baby ones.  Baby Applejack, baby Twilight Sparkle.  And then there was Rainbow Dash and Pinky Pie and Fluttershy.  And then so don’t forget Spike.  And then that’s The The End.

Baker reveals that “education cannot be separated from issues of power that affect the lives of bilinguals” (Baker 2011, p. 335).  In our society in general, it is the English language that is the language of power.  One of the reasons we conjectured for the difficulties of the English-speaking students related to the fact that, for a successful bilingual program using our language model, “The numerical balance of native speakers and learners of a minority language is important, possibly tilted to a predominance of minority language speakers” (Baker 2011, p. 305).  Our program, however, was tilted to a predominance of majority language (English) speakers.  While fifteen of the 32 students in the class listed Spanish as being spoken at some level in the home, only three students had Spanish listed as the primary home language.

We needed to do something to offset this balance toward English, and Baker gives us a clue as to the solution when he states, “the dominance of a majority language outside school can be complimented by a corresponding weighting towards the minority language in school” (Baker 2011, p. 223).  The teachers-as-language models approach in our classroom provided equal exposure to both languages in the classroom.  What we needed to do was change the model to favor exposure to the minority language (Spanish).  We did this with a time-based model, using Spanish three days a week and English two days a week.

An unforeseen, yet perfectly logical phenomenon resulted almost immediately from this change.  I began to notice the children engaging in more collaborative language exploration.  As Baker tells us, “Language learning is partly about becoming socialized through interaction with other language speakers in particular social contexts” (Baker 2011, p. 133).  Amanda, one of the quietest and most reserved children in the classroom, but one who also loved to tell stories, had never created a story that included any Spanish.  The day after the new language model officially went into effect, she created a story together with Ammon, a child who had recently begun exploring Spanish in his three most recent stories.  Though this was an English day, Ammon continued his exploration of Spanish by including it in this story as well, while all of the parts that Amanda told were entirely in English:

The Lion Ate the Bunnies

Once upon there was a little bunny.  And then there was a lion.  And then the bunny ran away.  And then there was a tiger.  And then the tiger ate the bunny.  The lion saw a other bunny and ate it.  And then uno conejo y pues una lion.  Then there was 100 bunnies.  And then there was another bunny.  And then there was a lion.  And then there was eleven bunnies.  And then the lion ate the bunnies.  The End.

Sally quickly latched onto the idea of creating stories together with other children, and the following day, Sally and Amanda created a story together:

Cat [Sally] [Amanda]

Hoy a gata.  And then it went all the way to [Sally].  But [Amanda] was the owner.  But [Sally] was the mom.  And dos gatos came.  And una vez una flower bought there was a big grande monstruo named Teacher Jeff.  But uno vez and dos gatos came again.  And then there was a kitten, a baby one.  And it went to its mommy [Sally] mamá cat.  And they love each other.  And the baby kitten was named [Amanda].  But dos más grande Teacher Jeff.  Love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you, love you.

A word count reveals this story to be a whopping 16.67% in Spanish, a huge leap from Sally’s high of 6.78% from before the shift in language model, and Amanda’s 0.00%, and this time both children were using Spanish during the parts of the story they told.  In fact, by the time a month had passed from when we announced to the children that we would change the language model, Sally was creating collaborative stories that were as much as a quarter in Spanish, with herself contributing a great deal of the Spanish (as with the following story she created with Brandon, a child with less experience creating collaborative stories, in which the only Spanish word Brandon contributed was “plantos”):

Plants Versus Zombies

Once upon a time there were zombies.  And then there was plantos.  Then a cherry bomb came and explode the zombie.  Then there were sunflower with sun.  And una vez una grande monstruo como [Brandon].  Then there were still more bombs and explode the bad guys.  Then one hundred zombis como se llama [Brandon], [Brandon], [Brandon], [Brandon], [Brandon].  Then [Brandon] came and eated all of the zombies.  Then [Brandon] comió todos monstruos.  And they save everyone from the zombies and monsters.  To be continued…

The striking thing about this story is not just the quantity of Spanish used, but the sentence structure.  She’s using descriptive language (i.e. “grande monstruo como [Brandon]” – big monster like Brandon) and verbs conjugated appropriately for past tense (i.e. “[Brandon] comió todos monstruos” – Brandon ate all monsters), while at the same time continuing with the flow of a story that is engaging, with a clear beginning setting the stage, heightened tension in the middle, and an ending that resolves the conflict and sets the stage for the possibility of more in the future.

As for Amanda, the collaborative language exploration she was doing with other children helped her Spanish growth so much that she too, like Ammon, began including Spanish in her stories, even on English days.

Elsa and Anna

Uno vez Elsa.  And then there was Anna.  And then Elsa froze Anna.  And then there was Hans.  And then Hans got killed by Anna.  And then Anna and Elsa married with the prince.  Then Elsa said it was Anna’s birthday party.  And then there was Kristof.  And then Anna and Kristof married.  And then Olaf ate the cake.

By changing the classroom language model, we implemented an effective tool toward helping children on their road to bilingualism.  Baker tells us that “To allow students to make progress in both languages, there needs to be strategic classroom language planning” (Baker 2011, p. 288), and our conscious adoption of a new method served as that planning.

 

Next month I will most likely be looking at the book From Lullabies to Literature (Birckmayer, Kennedy, & Stonehouse 2008).  If there is a book you would like me to discuss in my blog please comment on the Recommended Reading page.

 

References

Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism, 5th edition. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Birckmayer, J., A. Kennedy, & A. Stonehouse. (2008). From lullabies to literature: Stories in the lives of infants and toddlers. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

 

Documentar la vida de los niños y las niñas en la escuela – Rosa Sensat

Documentar la vida de los niños y las niñas en la escuela - Sensat 2011(in English)

He pensado mucho en cuál libro a leer para el regreso de este blog. Creo que es importante que discuto la observación de los niños en la clase, porque este blog es sobre mis observaciones con relación a los libros que leo. Pues, leí el libro Documentar la vida de los niños y las niñas en la escuela (Sensat 2011), mostramos nuestras observaciones de los niños por medio de la documentation.

He enseñado en muchas clases a través de los años, y los niños han aprendido mucho. Pero yo también he aprendido mucho por mis observaciones. Y también los niños, si lo saben o no, me han enseñado mucho. Como dice David Altimir, “los niños y los adultos tienen que estar, para aprender, en relación con los demás” (Altimir 2011, p. 38). Los niños y yo tenemos que estar en relación mutua. Cuando yo pienso en lo que los niños dicen, cuando yo reflexiono en lo que pasa en la clase, cuando yo hablo con mis estudiantes sobre mis reflexiones, nosotros ambos aprendemos. Una forma de observar los niños es escuchar. Altimir dice, “La escucha pone al adulto en la condición de observador, pero no de observador neutro y objetivo, sino en la condición de un elemento subjetivo que forma parte de la realidad que está observando y que no solo la describe, sino que construye” (Altimir 2011, p. 39).

En una de mis clases, Irene iba a clases de ballet. En el invierno yo observé a ella bailando el ballet de “Cascanueces.” A ella le gustaba contar historias de balet de no ficción. Ella me contaba frecuenemente sobre una “prima balerina” que necesitaba cirugía en su pierna y no podía hacer ballet por mucho tiempo.

A Irene también le gustaba contar historias de ficción sobre princesas. Una vez ella empezó una historia que yo pensaba fue una historia de ficción. Empezó así, “Una vez estaba una balerina. Y ella era una princesa. Y ella tenía una hermano. Que quaría la hermana. Y después estaba otra hermana. Y ella no era una balerina. Ella era una reina. Y ella se llamaba Isabella.” Pero ahora ella se detuvo la historia. Ella me dijo que no pudo recordar. Le dije, “No tienes que recordar. Tienes que imaginar.” Pero ella me dijo, “No quiero.”

La actividad de contar historias usualmente es una actividad de una dirección. Los niños cuentan, y yo escribo. Es una forma de observar por escuchar. Pero Mara Davoli revela que “’observar’ es un verbo activo, un acto creativo que requiere nuestra interpretación” (Davoli 2011, p. 16).

Cuando Irene me dijo que no quería imaginar lo que seguía en su historia, tuve que actuar en la observación. Pues, tuvimos una conversación.

Irene: El hermano no estaba una prima balerina. ‘Cause I forgot [Porque me olvidé].

Jeff: ¿Sí?

Irene: Don’t write that down [No escriba eso].

Jeff: ¿Qué, qué era el hermano?

Irene: Él, then, so, do you know Cristoran Col- Columbust [pues, conoces a Cristoran Col-Columbust]?

Jeff: ¿Quién?

Irene: Cristonal Canaldis.

Jeff: No ¿Quién es?

Irene: There was two sisters. Isabella was younger. And her mom was again named Isabella. And, um, and, um, she had two older brothers. Yeah. And, um, she had so many, like, goldens. And Cristobal Canaldis came. And he s- wanted to buy two boats. Three boats. First, there wasn’t anything here. They didn’t know about Sfran Ticisco. Yeah. [Hubo dos hermanas. Isabella era menor. Y su madre también se llamaba Isabella. Y tenía dos hermanos mayores. Y tenía mucho oro. Y “Cristobal Canaldis” vino, y él quería comprar dos barcos, tres barcos. Al principio, no había nada aquí. No sabían sobre “Sfran Ticisco”. Sí]

Jeff: ¿Dónde, de dónde estaba?

Irene: There wasn’t anything and they didn’t know about Fran Francisco. And Cristobal Columbus wanted, and he was going to get all the way there. And going to see, see, para ver. [No hubo nada y no sabían sobre “Fran Francisco”. Y Cristobal Colón quería, y él iba a ir todo el camino allí. Y iba para ver]

Jeff: ¿Y él vino a San Francisco?

Irene: Sí. And there was just water. And he putted all the gold into it. In there. And then people took some. And then they died. [Y sólo había agua. Y él puso todo el oro adentro. Adentro allí. Y pues la gente llevó algunos. Y pues murieron.]

Jeff: Awww…

Irene: I don’t think so [No lo creo].

Jeff: Porque, porque estaba hace mucho mucho tiempo, ¿sí?

Irene: Sí. Antes que personas, antes de esto estaba aquí. Antes una vez estaba aquí.

Ella contaba la historia de Cristobal Colón, pero yo cambié la historia por mis preguntas. ¿Qué era el hermano? ¿Quién es “Cristonal Canaldis”? ¿De dónde estaba? ¿Él vino a San Francisco? ¿Estaba hace mucho tiempo? Pero toda esta conversación no estaba parte de la historia escrita, porque ella me dijo que yo no escriba. Ayudó a ella pensar en su historia, y cuando ella regresó a la cuenta después de esa conversación, ella supo lo que quería decir.

Esta fue la historia completa, con el título A Long Long Time Ago [Hace mucho mucho tiempo]: “Una vez estaba una balerina. Y ella era una princesa. Y ella tenía una hermano. Que quaría la hermana. Y después estaba otra hermana. Y ella no era una balerina. Ella era una reina. Y ella se llamaba Isabella. Y lo dió responeras a Cristobal Colón. Y él fue a los barcos. Y quiere estuvió en San Francisco. The End.”

La documentación de la historia escrita fue una buena documentación, pero no era completa. Para entender toda que la niña decía, necesitamos la grabación también, porque la grabación de la conversación revela cómo ella hizo la historia. Irene escuchó a la grabación, y podía reflexionar no sólo sobre lo que había hecho, sino también sobre cómo lo había hecho, que es muy importante para aprender. Como dice Davoli, “Hacer es importante, pero no es suficiente. Hay que permitir a los niños y niñas, y a nosotros mismos, tiempo para reflexionar sobre lo que se ha hecho y sobre cómo se ha hecho” (Davoli 2011, pp. 18-19).

Escuchar la documentación no sólo ayuda a Irene reflexionar en sus pensamientos, sino yo también. Pienso en mis preguntas para Irene. Hay cinco preguntas importantes en aprendizaje: Quién, Qué, Dónde, Cuándo, Por qué. Yo pregunté Quién (¿Quién es ‘Cristonal Canaldis’?), Qué (¿Qué era el hermano?), Dónde, (¿De dónde estaba?), y Cuándo ( ¿Estaba hace mucho, mucho tiempo?), pero no pregunté “Por qué”, pregunta muy importante. Mientras reflexioné en la documentación, miré que yo pudiera preguntado “¿Por qué vino a San Francisco?”, o “¿Por qué necesitó tres barcos?” Quizás con esta pregunta ella pensara más.

Es importante que observamos los estudiantes, pero también es importante que reflexionamos en lo que observamos. Rosa Sensat dice “no es posible documentar solo, porque sobre lo documentado es necesario un diálogo, es necesario que el otro o la otra pueda comprender, hay que estar dispuesto a desnudarse y a aceptar la crítica” (Sensat 2011, p. 11), entonces yo quiero un diálogo aquí si es posible. Por favor hacen comentarios sobre lo que piensan de esta discusión.

El mes que viene más probable estaré discutiendo el libro “Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism” por Colin Baker (2011). Si haya un libro sobre que le gustaría que yo escriba en esta blog, por favor haga comentario en la página de Lectura Recomendada.

 

Altimir, D. (2011). Escuchar para documentar. En R. Sensat (Ed.) Documentar la vida de los niños y las niñas en la escuela (págs. 37-51). Barcelona, España: Octaedro.

Baker, C. (2011). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism, 5th edition. Bristol, RU: Multilingual Matters.

Davoli, M. (2011). Documentar procesos, recoger señales. En R. Sensat (Ed.) Documentar la vida de los niños y las niñas en la escuela (págs. 15-26). Barcelona, España: Octaedro.

Sensat, R. (2011). Documentar la vida de los niños y las niñas en la escuela. Barcelona, España: Octaedro.

 

White Teacher – Vivian Paley

(en español)

White Teacher - Paley 2000

The local library had recently added some toys to the children’s section. There was a large number of blocks in a variety of colors, but there were only two dolls: one White and one Black. Most of my students, however, were neither White nor Black. I recall seeing Jonathan, a Vietnamese student, playing with the Black doll one day. He was holding it very gently and carrying it around as any parent would their own baby. I smiled inwardly at the sight as I went to go help another child locate a book on a shelf. A moment later I noticed a commotion between Jonathan and Samuel, a Pakistani student. I went to see what was wrong, and now I saw Jonathan holding the White doll, while Samuel was holding the Black one. Jonathan said that he didn’t like the other doll because it was “brown.”

At first I wasn’t sure how to respond. Vivian Paley discusses how her training and her colleagues had brought her to the point where “I was unable to mention color in the classroom” (2000, p. 9). It was a taboo subject, so when the topic came up among children (as it typically does in a diverse classroom), she did not know how to approach it. In Jonathan’s case, I needed to get to the heart of his concern. As Paley states, “doll corner play at its best contains some of the freest expressions and most thoughtful observations in the kindergarten” (2000, p. 84). I needed myself to remain thoughtful and not react spuriously to Jonathan’s statement, so I asked him to clarify his desires. He told me that he wanted the doll that looked more like him.

Unfortunately, the reality was that neither doll looked like him. The White doll may have been closer in skin tone, but the facial features were far from being representative of Jonathan’s own face. Paley tells us that “The challenge in teaching is to find a way of communicating to each child the idea that his or her special quality is understood, is valued and can be talked about. It is not easy, because we are influenced by the fears and prejudices, apprehensions and expectations, which have become a carefully hidden part of every one of us” (2000, p. xx). How could I value Jonathan’s desire to find a doll he could identify with while not encouraging prejudice against those dolls that did not share his features.

I feel it would have been easier in some ways if Jonathan were White. I think about the term “White privilege,” and the idea that racism is an institutionalized oppression of a minority group by a dominant group. That is familiar territory. Ever since I was a child I have felt that oppression of minorities by a majority group is wrong, and I would speak out against racism when I saw it. For situations of expressions of identity by members of a minority group I instead applied the term “nationalism,” recognizing this as a means to confront the oppression that they face.

My years of teaching in diverse classrooms have helped me to realize, however, that nationalism is not necessarily a positive quality to promote. In this instance the nationalism I was observing was a member of one minority group seeking to express his identity by devaluing another minority group. As with Vivian Paley, I felt that “teaching children with different cultural and language experiences kept pushing me toward the growing edge” (2000, p. 112). I needed to rethink my approach to interracial and intercultural conflict in the classroom. The diversity of my classroom provided an opportunity for me to help the children address some deep-seated biases toward other minority groups.

It is important to help children see that, despite superficial similarities, underneath everyone is unique. As Paley states, “Friendship and love grow out of recognizing and respecting differences” (2000, p. 131). However, perhaps more important is helping children see that, despite superficial differences, underneath everyone is alike. As Paley suggests, “it’s a source of comfort to be able to identify with someone else’s feelings” (2000, p. 124). If I can help Jonathan see that beneath the differences are common interests perhaps he can grow to welcome the diversity in his life. I spoke to him about how some of the children he plays with are brown and that everybody has different skin tones. I pointed out two children he often enjoys playing with, both of whom had darker skin that Jonathan. I drew attention to Michael, an Ethiopian student, and to Samuel, the child with whom he had been in conflict that day. One day in the middle of the following week Jonathan spontaneously came up to me and said, “My Daddy is brown.” His father is also Vietnamese, but has a darker skin tone than Jonathan. This unprovoked statement of fact revealed to me that he was seriously taking to heart the conversation we had in the library that day.

Paley states that “children know they are each different in style and story; they listen eagerly and identify with one another’s separate visions of pleasure and pain, of strength and weakness, of love and loss. In their play, they reveal the intuitive and universal language that binds us all together” (2000, p. 135). As teachers it is our role to become a part of that story, to become a part of that binding. The more we can help children see that, though differences exist, there is something greater that makes us all human, the more we can help them to create a better world in which they can become agents for social justice and change.

 

Next month I will most likely be discussing The Night Is Dark and I Am Far from Home by Jonathan Kozol (1990). If there is a book you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading Page.

 

References

Kozol, J. (1990 [1975]). The night is dark and I am far from home: A bold inquiry into the values and goals of America’s schools, revised edition. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Paley, V.G. (2000 [1979]). White teacher. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Learning and Not Learning English: Latino Students in American Schools – G. Valdés

Learning and Not Learning English - Valdés 2001(en español)

As I sat on the bus reading Learning and Not Learning English by Guadalupe Valdés (2001), I found myself breaking down in tears about halfway through the book. The story that hit me the hardest was that of the child referred to as Lilian. The struggles she faced pushed her farther and farther away from the classroom. As Valdés puts it, “She entered a new world, and she found a way to survive. Her survival, however, had little to do with doing well in school or with learning English” (2001, p. 75).

 

Power and Agency

Lilian existed in a society that marginalized her language experience. At her school, “mainstream teachers largely viewed the ESL teachers’ role as making certain that English language learners would be kept both out of the way and very busy” (2001, p. 40). The more her reality was pushed to the side, the more detached she became. It wasn’t just her own school experience that pushed her aside, however. The social pressures existed universally in her town, leading to a jailed father, an out-of-work mother, and a roommate who abandoned them when they most needed help with the rent.

We live in a society which not only maintains this power differential, but actually actively promotes it. As Valdés renumerates, “language is always situated within larger discursive frameworks” (2001, p. 156). The reality is that English is the dominant language in this country, and this country’s imperialist approach to international relations has made English a dominant language in the globe. It is made dominant by virtue of the power associated with those who speak it. While not consciously aware of the power dynamics associated with use of the language, many people in the United States reinforce its power and that of the forces that bring it to the world by refusing to acknowledge that other languages have value as well. Valdés points out that “power is exercised both through coercion and through consent and that, in many cases, people ‘consent’ to preserving the status quo and to maintaining existing power relationships simply by accepting established practices without question” (2001, p. 155).

Power can be exerted in many forms, and the role of schools is to reinforce the power of the state. As Valdés describes, we live “in a political climate that has become increasingly hostile to immigrants” (2001, p. 18). Individual teachers may make efforts to move students toward a more liberating view, but the system of schooling in this country is designed in such a way as to validate the power and dominance of a certain class of people while devaluing others.

This is done at times through a power differential between teachers and students. This differential exists in any classroom, whether the teacher wishes to acknowledge it or not. I have myself felt the influence that my power has had on students, and I recall a very painful interaction with one very shy third grade student in a multilingual classroom. Casey’s native language is Spanish, but he also spoke English fairly fluently, although not as much so as most of his peers. Occasionally they would use Spanish when speaking with each other, but generally they conversed in English with both teacher and peers. Unlike his peers, however, Casey was enrolled in special education services specifically for language arts. He missed the majority of the language arts portion of the day due to being pulled out for these services. By the time I asked Casey to share a story he had written in English, all other students had already shared their stories over the course of a couple of weeks.

While examining the videotape of the lesson after the children had gone home, I wrote in my journal that day:

Casey (9.75) is sitting at his desk, aware that his turn has arrived, but still unwilling to share his story with his peers. As I prepare to introduce Casey’s story he calls out desperately, “Nononono, don’t start! Mr. Daitsman, please. I’m begging you, please.”

I ignore his pleading voice and speak to the class. “Alright, we have one last story.” I turn to Casey and attempt to reassure him with my words even as my physical presence invades his privacy by reaching out for his notebook. “You can stay here if you want, just give it to me.”

“Noooo.”

But Casey is powerless in this classroom. In elementary school, it is the teacher who wields all the power, and the children must succumb to it. I rely on this power dynamic even as I delude myself into believing that I’m trying to make things easier for him. I change tactics. I have convinced myself that if I can just keep reiterating that Casey has control over the situation that perhaps both he and I would come to believe this. I explain to the class that Casey doesn’t want to act in his story and that he is therefore going to stay in his seat. This seemingly innocuous pronouncement of Casey’s exercising his own power in the classroom glosses over the fact that what I am about to do next completely overrides his autonomy when it comes to his intellectual property.

Casey takes his plea to his classmates, telling them, “It’s too short.”

As he says this, I begin the casting process and tell the class, “There are two characters in the story. The characters are Casey and his friend.” My stating this right on the heels of Casey’s pronouncement of how short his story is turns out to be catastrophic to my goals of trying to build Casey’s confidence, as his classmates begin to make fun of Casey’s story before it has even begun.

I feel myself losing control of the situation. Suddenly everything I know about dramatizing children’s stories, everything I’ve been trying to do with this activity is being undermined with the very last story we share in the first round of dramatizations. Instead of building community, I’m now driving it further apart. Instead of being a champion of inclusiveness, I have opened the door for the ridicule and ostracization of a child with special needs.

I interrupt the growing pandemonium, “Hey, hey, hey, hey!” I catch myself. I’m not sure if Casey realizes that the other children are making fun of him. I feel the need to find a way to make it clear to the class that it’s not okay to make fun of Casey while at the same time still trying to coax Casey into actually wanting to share his story with the class. If I draw attention to the fact that they’re ridiculing him, Casey is going to draw back even further. I solve my dilemma by once again invoking the element of power. Rather than making it about Casey, I make it about myself, “Did I say you all could start talking about the story right now?”

The class quiets down, but Casey remains reluctant and says, “No, I don’t know.” He groans as I take his notebook from him and ask him if he’s come up with a title yet. He tells me that he hasn’t and explains, “I only just came here.” He is referring to the fact that he had spent the past two hours in his special-education class. As I ask the class which table was next in line to be in a story, Casey asks to go to the bathroom. This is the third time he’s asked me since he got back as we were beginning to act out stories today. I know that he hasn’t had a chance to go all morning, but for some reason I still feel like he should be in the room while his story is being acted out.

I tell him, “After we talk about your story, alright?” I pose it as a question, but really it’s a statement. We both know that what I really mean is that he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. I address the class, “Alright, table six, who wants to be in the story?”

Casey mutters, “Nobody.”

I assign roles to the two volunteers and remind them, “It is a short story.”

Casey confirms this, saying, “Very short. Very short.” There is some snickering and Casey says, “Shorter than half.”

I remind the class, “You know what, the first stories we were doing were pretty short too. Because people didn’t have a lot of time to write, so it’s okay to have a short story.”

This explanation isn’t acceptable to Casey and he takes advantage of this opportunity to self-depricate even further, “No it’s not okay. I’m in third grade.”

I wonder if he’s feeling the pressure of being pulled out of the classroom for special education services, but I put that question in the back of my mind and instead ask, “Alright, are we ready?”

Casey puts in one last plea, “No, we’re not.” I ignore him and begin reading the story.

Valdés reveals that “motivation is a crucial factor in language acquisition. Isolation creates a climate in which youngsters have few incentives for learning English” (2001, p. 151). In the example of Casey, he had been driven to despair as he compared his skill to that of his peers. The pressure that I exerted in my position of power as his teacher served to demotivate him further by denying the reality of his own perception of his work. As a student who did not have the same level of English language competency as the majority of his classmates, he had been made to feel that his perception of his language capabilities was not worthy of recognition.

Valdés makes it clear that teachers “must help students to find and create insurgent voices—voices that question the reality that surrounds them” (2001, p. 159). After my eye-opening experience with Casey I modified my approach, and by the end of the quarter he voluntarily published one of his stories in the class’s anthology. If I hadn’t reflected carefully on the moment that day, I could very well have missed the role my own exercise of power was having on Casey’s sense of agency, and his experience could have turned out much like Lilian’s, in which “The village child who first wrote about being happy and about wanting to learn English had turned into an angry and rebellious young adolescent” (2001, p. 83).

 

Racism and Oppression

As I was writing this blog entry I glanced over at a newspaper and saw two words in the headline that made me stop what I was doing and read the article. Those two words were: Racism over. It seems that the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of a law overturning Affirmative Action in Michigan schools. The idea that racism could end simply because a small group of (admittedly very powerful) people declares it so is so outlandish that I find it difficult to comprehend how the justices that voted in the majority opinion could have the gall to make such a declaration. Immediately my thoughts turned to Elisa, another of the case studies Valdés discussed in this book.

Elisa “saw herself as an English speaker who had some limitations but who was learning more every day” (2001, p. 98), however her ESL teacher “felt strongly that allowing students to move forward with weak skills would result in many complaints from the mainstream teachers who had agreed to take on more non-English-background students” (2001, p. 99). Though Elisa performed well on a language competency exam, her teacher held her back. This was the reality Elisa was up against at every stage of her academic path. Arbitrary policies overruled demonstrated competence, and she found herself entering high school in courses that would not allow her to attend college afterward because “no ESL classes or sheltered classes met college entrance requirements” (2001, p. 107).

Is this racism? Is there an oppressive state toward non-English speakers in this country? A few months ago a friend of mine told me “Not having something offered in one’s language is incredibly oppressing. It limits one’s life chances.” But Elisa’s case seems to indicate that the oppression goes deeper than that. The oppression is not just a result of lack of language ability, but rather systemic constraints on those who come from a certain background, regardless of their language growth and competence. As Valdés concludes, “The teaching of English to immigrant students, rather than being a straightforward and unproblematic practice, is a contested site in which there is a struggle about the role and the future of immigrants in our society” (2001, p. 159).

I plan on examining some of these issues further next month when I will most likely discuss Vivian Paley’s White Teacher (2000 [1979]). If there are any books you would like to see me discuss in this blog please comment on the Recommended Reading page.

 

References

Paley, V.G. (2000 [1979]). White teacher. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Valdés, G. (2001). Learning and not learning English: Latino students in American schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.