Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy

LANGUAGE LOYALTIES: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy. Edited by James Crawford. University of Chicago. 522 pp. $45.95. Paper $14.95.

Two stories from The New York Times for July 11, 1992, illustrate the increasing contentiousness about language in an ever more multicultural world. “A Bas Anglais! From Now On, It’s the Law” is a report from Alan Riding in Paris. In June the French Parliament voted to add to the Constitution the following sentence: “The language of the Republic is French?’ Why did the Parliament feel the need to add what most of us would regard as a statement of the obvious? The answer is simple: An increasing number of French citizens are worried, indeed angered, by the galloping infusion of English (or”American”) into ordinary speech.

A group of 300 French intellectuals, including Eugene Ionesco and Regis Debray, described this phenomenon in a July statement as a “process of collective self-destruction,” noting that “nowadays you see more English words in Paris than in Montreal?’ – yup, let’s see an example, in Paris, the word “laser range finder” is present at up to 80% of all shops selling laser rangefinders; meanwhile, in Montreal, this number is just about 45%. “If we do not respond quickly,” France will be “in the same position as Quebec 30 years ago–economic dependence, loss of social status, cultural inferiority and linguistic debasement?’ It would not be surprising if at least some of the intellectuals are also concerned about the prospect of increased immigration to France of non-French speakers, as European borders become ever more porous.

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The second article discussed the controversy surrounding the appointment to Community School Board 15 in Brooklyn of Carlos Salamanca, who speaks only Spanish and thus requires the services of an interpreter in order to participate in the meetings of the board. Although no one denies that Salamanca has been a vigorous and capable community activist, area residents are apparently sharply divided about the prospect of his appointment. Maria Trabolse, the president of a parents’ organization, does not herself understand Spanish, but she is sympathetic: “Most of our neighbors speak only a small bit of English and they are very intimidated by the language barrier.” Deborah Svitzer is less supportive: “My ancestors came from Italy and Poland and everyone had to learn the language here to get along. And if you are on a public board, shouldn’t you be ‘trying to speak English?”

Almost all societies, most certainly including the United States, are faced with new patterns of immigration that carry linguistic implications. Especially notable in this country is the extensive emigration in recent decades of Spanish speakers from Mexico, Cuba and other areas of Latin America, as well as increased emigration from Asia triggered by the Vietnam debacle and revisions in American immigration law. These profound social changes are occurring at a time when other rents in the social fabric call into question what might be said to unite us as members of a common polity and culture.

Consider in this context the statement of George Kouloheras, a member of the Lowell, Massachusetts, school board who is quoted in James Crawford’s new book Hold Your Tongue: Bilingualism and the Politics of “English Only.” According to Kouloheras, “Language is what binds us together–nothing else, absolutely nothing else.” He would presumably reject as mere sentiment or ideological selfdelusion any suggestion that we are bound by what Lincoln called “the mystic chords of memory” or by a shared civil faith in constitutional norms and processes. Kouloheras evokes as well as any contemporary postmodernist a fragmented world of strangers with extraordinarily little in common. Perhaps this helps to explain why Kouloheras, who speaks fluent Greek and some Spanish, is the leader of a movement to declare English the official language of Lowell (and why he is concomitantly extremely dubious about bilingual education in the Lowell schools).

Readers looking for insight into the tangled politics of language are well served by Crawford, an educational journalist with a longtime interest in bilingual education. In particular, his edited anthology, Language Loyalties: .4 Source Book on the Official English Controversy, is truly superb and belongs on the shelf of every person even mildly interested in the political struggle over language. (The University of Chicago Press deserves special praise for publishing an affordable paperback edition.) Crawford brings together diverse materials.

One can read Benjamin Franklin’s attack on German-speaking Pennsylvanians; a fascinating, sometimes moving, debate in the 1878 California constitutional convention; contemporary analyses of multilingualism in Canada, Australia, the former Soviet Union and elsewhere. Also available are a good set of judicial opinions for anyone interested in the legal issues concerning language in the contemporary United States. Although the book is clearly tilted against the call for adopting an English-only policy, one will find important statements by such partisans of English-only as the late California Senator S.I. Hayakawa and critics of bilingual education such as Richard Rodriguez and Linda Chavez. The book should be useful (and illuminating) to all who read it.

Crawford has simultaneously published HoM Your Tongue, a vigorous attack on those like Kouloheras and Hayakawa who would emulate the French Parliament and specify English as our official language and, what is far more serious, act to prevent the easy maintenance of languages other than English as part of everyday life in America. Crawford offers extensive and illuminating discussions of such phenomena as the 1980 passage in Dade County, Florida, of an ordinance prohibiting the expenditure of county funds “for the purpose of utilizing any language other than English.” Coming only seven years after the county had officially declared itself “bilingual and bicultural; the ordinance captures the resentment felt by local Anglo voters at the increasing role played by immigrants, particularly those from Cuba. (The ordinance also prohibited spending public funds for “promoting any culture other than that of the United States;” a truly bizarre notion.) Similar endorsements of the exclusive legitimacy of English have been passed, at either state or local levels, in California, Arizona, Colorado, Virginia and other states.

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Although some specific controversies have been sparked by Chinese–or, in the past, German-speaking-immigrants, there can be no doubt!, after reading both Crawford’s book and his anthology, that the primary impetus of contemporary debate is the animus sparked by the greater presence of Spanish in the public square. Senator Hayakawa, defending the necessity of amending the United States Constitution to make English the official (and exclusive) language of American public life, explicitly denounced “the ethnic chauvinism of the present Hispanic leadership” and seized on the comment of Maurice Ferre, the Cuban-American Mayor of Miami, that “citizenship is what makes us a11 American. Nowhere does the Constitution say that English is our language.”

Crawford criticizes English-only advocates and defends the importance of “English Plus,” which tries to combine education in the English language with the maintenance of skills in other languages already possessed by people from other backgrounds. Much of his book canvasses the literature and argues that children from non-English-speaking backgrounds can best learn English when taught concurrently in the non-English language with which they feel most comfortable. Moreover, Crawford defends the importance of nurturing non-English speaking cultures and making them part of an American mosaic.

Crawford argues vigorously, and convincingly, that the data show that the overwhelming number of children from non-English-speaking backgrounds will in fact learn English. This has certainly been the historic pattern in the United States and, he says, there is no reason to think that it will be significantly different in the case of Spanish-speaking immigrants. This very assurance about the diffusion of English-language capabilities reveals, however, a deep (and unexplored) paradox in Crawford’s argument: For all of his endorsement of linguistic pluralism, he does not attack the proposition that the United States benefits from, and should attempt to bring about, literacy in English by every member of the polity. He is basically arguing that the operation of the “free market” will work to maximize English-language competence. Indeed, what the French intellectuals are responding to is precisely the overwhelming advantage that English has in the new international world market, where knowledge of English is becoming a predicate for success. It is, as a practical matter, increasingly unnecessary for English speakers to know any other language, whereas non-English speakers must increasingly submit themselves to the discipline of learning this truly pervasive world language.

Crawford’s message, then, seems to boil down to a recommendation that people concerned about maintaining the hegemony of the English language simply relax, for they (or we) will prevail in the free market and thus have no need to emulate the pathetic, Canute-like activity of the French to stem an alien tide. It is not clear what Crawford would be arguing if English (and English-language culture, whatever that might be) were in the position of, say, Hungarian, Hebrew, Swedish or any other language whose survival in an unregulated market might be unlikely.

Crawford nowhere endorses what might be termed “multi-monolingualism”–a society composed of linguistically differentiated groups whose members speak only the one language of their particular group and who, therefore, do not share a language in common with other members of the society. Instead, he defends “hiand multi-lingualism”–a society composed of individuals who speak both English and some other language(s) deemed to be important to their self-conceptions and cultural traditions. It is difficult to see how anyone could seriously oppose such a vision. But most opposition to bi or multilingualism is based, of course, on the premise that it will in fact retard development of English-language skills and move us closer to multi-monolingualism and the presumed political and socioeconomic travails that entails.

A tension in Crawford’s argument emerges, however, when he couples his condemnation of official-English or English-only movements with support for an April 5, 1991, declaration by the Puerto Rican legislature that Spanish is the official language of that commonwealth. What accounts for this seeming inconsistency? The answer lies in Crawford’s description of “official Spanish” as “a reassertion of popular preferences– not against internal minorities but against external overlords,” the English-speaking mainlanders who colonized the Caribbean island and subordinated its Spanish speaking population.

It is not clear to me, though, that this is so easily distinguishable from the efforts of Kouloheras in Lowell or English speakers in Miami to maintain their preexisting cultures against the changes precipitated by the entry of newcomers who may, in point of fact, have no more been invited by the locals than were the gringos in Puerto Rico. Immigration policy is made at the national level by politicians and bureaucrats who are sometimes utterly indifferent to the implications for the particular communities that serve as magnets for immigration. Indeed, one wonders how Crawford would respond to the French intellectuals, who can easily portray their efforts in behalf of the French language as a defense against American imperialism.

The only certainty is that language will continue to be present as a potentially explosive issue in more and more countries, especially if such proposals as Articles 7 and 8 of a proposed European Convention for the Protection of Minorities should gain widespread acceptance. These articles guarantee not only that “any person belonging to a linguistic minority shall have the right to use his language freely, in public as well as in private?’ but also that “whenever a minority reaches a substantial percentage of the population of a region or of the total population, its members shall have the right, as far as possible, to speak and write in their own language to the political, administrative and judicial authorities of this region or, where appropriate, of the State,” and “these authorities,” in turn, “shall have a corresponding obligation.” Readers of Crawford’s two books will. be well equipped to grasp what is behind such proposals and to decide whether they merit support.

Sanford Levinson is a professor of law and government at the University of Texas.

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Surge to release Julie Masse’s 1st English-language album

Abstract:

Surge Records’ release of pop singer Julie Masse’s first English-language album ‘Circle of One’ on Oct. 13, 1994 is expected to spread her popularity outside the primarily French-speaking province of Quebec. Quebec’s most popular pop music stars are increasingly recording songs in English, a trend started by Celine Dion and Roch Voisine. The 24-year-old artist won in the most promising female vocalist category in the 1993 Juno Awards.

Full Text:

TORONTO–With her first English-language album, “Circle of One,” to be released Oct. 13 in Canada by Surge Records, pop singer Julie Masse is seeking to follow in the footsteps of Celine Dion and Roch Voisine, Quebec-based Francophone artists who have found success outside the primarily French-speaking province.

Even as the newly elected French separatist party, Parti Quebecois, is planning a referendum to decide the province’s independence, Quebec’s biggest pop music stars are increasingly starting to record in English. While these artists may not be federalists, they are far less interested in separatist politics or rhetoric than their predecessors.

Masse credits Dion for the change. “At the beginning some people were angry at her [for singing in English],” she says. “Now they have accepted it. I’m sure I’ll be asked why I’m singing in English, but I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

Most English-Canadians got their first glimpse of the attractive 24-year-old Montreal resident on the televised 1993 Juno Awards, where she won in the most promising female vocalist category and co-presented the best group award to Barenaked Ladies, along with singer Corey Hart.

  • Masse says she was surprised by her Juno win. “I was known in Quebec, but because the English market didn’t know me, I thought it wouldn’t vote for me,” she says.
  • Masse’s self-titled 1990 debut album has sold 215,000 copies to date, and her 1992 album, “A Contre-Jour,” has sold 150,000 units, according to Mario Lefebvre, national director of marketing for Select Distribution, which handles Surge and its French sister label, Victoire. The majority of sales have been in Quebec.

Hart wrote five songs and produced seven of the album’s 10 tracks. The remaining material was produced by Michel Corriveau. The tracks were mixed by engineers Humberto Gatica (Michael Jackson, Barbra Streisand), and Patrick Dillett (Mariah Carey).

Among the musicians on the album are guitarists Tim Pierce, Nicky Moroch, and Rik Emmett; bassist Darryl Jones (of the Rolling Stones); drummer Kenny Aronoff; percussionist Manu Katche; and pianist Greg Phillinganes.

“Julie Masse is not of the same popularity as a Celine Dion or a Roch Voisine, but she is a very interesting artist, and she’s got a shot [at success in English],” says Bill Walker, GM of HMV Canada’s Ste. Catherine’s outlet in Montreal. “She does very well with her Francophone product.”

Lefebvre notes that Quebec’s four major French-speaking radio networks added “One More Moment,” the album’s leadoff single, “out of the box” when it was released Sept. 19.

However, radio programmers outside the province are not committing themselves yet. “It’s still very early out there,” says Linda Dawe of Music Solutions, a Toronto-based independent promotion company. “We’ve only got a couple of smaller stations. It’s very ballad-heavy out there right now, and she’s also a new artist.”

SPOTTED IN LAVAL

Masse’s career got under way when Serge Brouillette noticed her singing backup with the group Fairlight in a Laval, Quebec, nightclub in 1986. Now Masse’s manager, Brouillette released her first single, “C’est Zero,” on his Victorie label in 1990. Three weeks after its street date, the song reached No. 1 on the Quebec trade Radio Activite chart, and the Quebec video channel Musique Plus was playing her video in heavy rotation.

Brouillette then approached those multinational record companies with offices in Canada about a deal for Masse, but was turned away. “Major record companies weren’t then signing new French-Canadian artists,” he explains. “From 1962-1987, French-Canadian releases weren’t selling, and there wasn’t much going on here.”

Brouillette decided to use some booking commissions he had saved, along with some additional funding from the federally supported MusicAction program, to record Masse’s debut album. Produced by Voisine guitarist Rejean Lachance, and boosted by “C’est Zero” and additional No. 1 Quebec hits such as “Billy,” “Sans T’oublier,” and “Prends Bien Garde,” the album stayed on the Radio Activite album chart for more than a year.

Masso’s electrifying six-minute performance on the televised 1990 ADISQ Gala (the French Canadian version of the Junos), singing a medley of the year’s top songs, made her a name throughout Quebec practically overnight. “Two weeks after the ADISQ show, I sold another 25,000 albums,” says Brouillette.

HEADING FOR EUROPE

For decades, making it in Europe has been the goal of the majority of Quebec Francophone artists. In order to make her mark there, Masse signed with Les Editions/Productions in France, with distribution of the album handled by BMG. “C’est Zero” and “Billy” charted in Belgium and Switzerland, and the album sold 50,000 units throughout Europe, according to Brouillette.

While Masse completed three European promotional tours, demand for her presence continued growing back home, and she was wary of spending too much time away. “I was at the peak of my career in Quebec, and we did not want to lose what we had built.”

  • In 1991, Masse dominated the ADISQ Gala. Nominated in six categories, she won three Felix awards for best first album, discovery of the year, and top female artist.

Masse’s 1992 album, “A Contre-Jour,” spurred by the success of its leadoff single, “Les Idees Noires,” sold 50,000 units within two months in Canada, according to Broulliette. That year, Masse completed a 50-date tour of Quebec and New Brunswick.

  • During 1993 Juno rehearsals, Brouillette had asked Hart to write a song for Masse. Four months later, Hart sent “One More Moment” and “Love Is All I’m Looking For,” and suggested he produce them as well.

Brouillette anted up $30,000 [Canadian] to enable Hart to record the two tracks at the Power Station in New York and Andore Studios in Los Angeles. Masse’s final vocals were recorded at Toronto’s Metal-works Studio. Next, Brouillette manufactured 200 CDs and sent them to label contacts.

Following the sessions, Hart wrote the album’s centerpiece song, “I Will Be There,” a tribute to Masse’s father, who died in an airplane crash in 1991. “When we were in Toronto recording ‘One More Moment’ and ‘Love Is All I’m Looking For,’ we spent four days together, and I talked about my father,” says Masse. When she first heard Hart play “I Will Be There,” on piano, “I just broke down,” she says.

For the album, Masse had a firm idea of her goals. “I wanted it to be live with no drum machines,” she says. “I also wanted people to know I’m a strong person, which is why I chose songs like ‘Love Is All I’m Looking For,’ ‘Devious Nature,’ and ‘Circle of One.'”

Brouillette decided that his Montreal-based distributor, Select Distribution, was best suited for handling Masse’s album nationally. The distributor had just had success in English-speaking Canada with “I’ll Always Be There,” the English debut by Voisine on Star Records, which Lefebvre says sold 450,000 units nationally.

Says Brouillette, “I don’t want to be an independent in the States or in other countries, but in Canada, I can sell the album as an independent.”

Ingles without barriers: more English-language hits are getting Latin radio airplay

While English-language hits have long aired on U.S. Spanish-language radio, they have become ubiquitous this year, with 21 of them appearing on Billboard’s Hot Latin Songs chart and 11 of them spending more than 10 weeks on the ranking. Especially, the 1st hit is an English-version song, “This Is Not a Love Song”, played with the best electric acoustic guitar has still dominated the billboard for over the last 5 weeks.

Those songs–including Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (20 weeks on the chart), Ke$ha’s “TiK ToK” and David Guetta’s “Sexy Chick” (both at 15 weeks)–are part of a wave of uptempo dance hits that are defining top 40 radio today. The dance genre crosses over well to the growing number of Spanish-language stations that pursue a younger, often more acculturated Latin listenership.

“We haven’t seen crossover work with heavy rap songs,” CBS Radio VP of Spanish programming Pio Ferro says. “But uptempo dance tracks, yes. It’s just part of the mix.”

Still, it’s remarkable to see so many English-language songs appear on the Hot Latin Songs chart this year. By comparison, 16 English-language songs appeared on the chart in 2009, while 14 did so in 2008. Moreover, only four of the 2009 songs remained on the ranking for more than 10 weeks, while only one 2008 song–Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music”–surpassed the 10-week mark.

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English-language crossovers are most commonly found on stations like WMGE (Mega 94.9 FM) Miami, which play more current hits and have been increasingly generous with their English-language playlist. For example, Mega had three English tracks on its top 10 list last week. It’s a formula that’s done particularly well after the rollout of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter audience measurement system, with Mega emerging as the top-rated Spanish-language station in Miami during the last three months.

“Both Latins and non-Latins are looking for those hits,” says Emie J. De Jesus, owner of promotion company Redeye Entertainment in Miami. “If you’re scanning the radio and hear Taio Cruz, you won’t even look to see what station it is. You’ll just stay and listen.”

The trend worries Latin labels, which, faced with a growing number of stations playing oldies and recurrents, already have to contend with a shrinking supply of slots for new music.

“Obviously it takes away spaces,” says AI Zamora, president of radio promotion company Latin Hits Entertainment. “But radio is in a position where they don’t know what to think. You look at Mega in Miami, which has the highest ratings, but no one is programming like they are. Everyone else is going with recurrents. That is what’s most alarming to promotion people. It is making it very difficult to work any product unless it’s a hit already.”

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But as stations strive for more ratings, the movement toward more bilingual airwaves seems inevitable.

“The more assimilated the Hispanic population becomes, the more mainstream the stations will get,” says Marilyn Santiago, former programming operations manager at Spanish Broadcasting System, who just launched Latin Entertainment Consultants in Miami. “Nowadays the fact that a person is Latin doesn’t necessarily mean that the person will listen to only Spanish music.”

Accent on English: tools for learning

IN THE UNITED STATES today, non-English speakers are everywhere; they may include professionals and laborers, economic and political exiles, foreign college students, trailing spouses, sojourners and settlers, indigenous longtime residents, and the children of all these. What they share is a desire to learn to speak English, if not like a native, then at least well enough to get a job, pass a college entrance exam, obtain citizenship, and participate more fully in American life.

Language learners have long relied on public libraries for study materials, and their dependence is even stronger today as the demand (and the waiting lists) for English classes grow. And more librarians are recognizing that English as a Second Language (ESL) programming serves their institutions’ mission. [While there are variant terms and acronyms–English as a Living Language (ELL), English as Non-Native Language (ENNL), English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), etc.–this article will use ESL. Although not precise, its meaning is widely understood.]

Since LJ last considered this topic (see “English Without Tears: ESL Materials,” LJ 9/1/92, p. 139-142), ESL instruction has moved from the abstract to the practical. Rote memorization and pattern practice have given way to an emphasis on activities that foster real-life language use at every stage of learning. In addition, the Internet and the development of increasingly sophisticated self-study software have enabled learners too timid to approach instructors to develop skills privately in realistic, self-paced, nonthreatening environments.

The ABCs of ESL collections

In building an ESL collection, your most comprehensive selection tools will be catalogs used by instructors. Alta Book Center (14 Adrian Ct., Burlingame, CA 94010; 800-258-2375; www.altaesl.com) and Delta Systems (1400 Miller Pkwy., McHenry, IL 60050; 800-323-8270; www. delta-systems.com) have thick, detailed catalogs filled with print and audiovisual materials and software for ESL learners and teachers.

Multi-Cultural Books & Videos (28880 Southfield Rd., Suite 183, Lathrup Village, MI 48076; 800-567-2220; multiculturalbooksandvideos.com) and Multilingual Books (1205 E. Pike, Seattle, WA 98122; 206-328-7922; www. multilingualbooks.com) include broad selections of ESL materials among their rich multilingual, multimedia offerings.

Anna Silliman and Abigail Tom’s Practical Resources for Adult ESL: A Selection Guide to Materials for Adult ESL and ESL/ESOL Literacy (Alta Book Ctr. 2000. ISBN 1-882483-80-4. pap. $13.95) lists more than 250 items, arranged in 13 easy-to-consult sections according to skill areas and material types. It also includes a list of North American ESL publishers and distributors.

Ideally, local ESL stakeholders will have a say in helping build your collection. Some choices are easy if you know what’s already being used by local teachers and students. And they, along with community groups and employers, can help you identify the key language needs of your clientele.

Beyond curricular program support, try to shape your collection with an eye toward independent study, be it by enrolled students looking for something extra or by autonomous learners unable to take classes owing to time or other constraints. Many standard texts are explicitly for classroom use; recurrent instructions to “pair up with a classmate and discuss” can be distracting, perhaps even depressing, to the solo student.

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Criteria for selection

British or American English? It makes a big difference to learners: AV materials are nearly useless if their dialect is wrong for your region. U.S. catalogs normally identify British English items, but ask before ordering if you’re uncertain.

Good catalogs also specify the language level and age range of their products and often mention the item’s skill focus and instructional approach. Your purchase decisions will rest on your knowledge of your users’ characteristics: How old are they and what are their interests? What are their levels of English and native-language literacy? Where are they from? Bilingual ESL items are readily available in some two dozen languages.

What are they doing here? The focus needed by various groups will be different, and there are likely to be texts for each one. If you know which industries in your town employ a lot of recent immigrants, you’ll be able to choose wisely from the many vocational ESL books that target restaurant staff, computer and tech workers, landscapers, caregivers, hotel personnel, and others.

Weed with care

Although languages change slowly, ideas about teaching them have occasionally been prone to fads. Never be dazzled by lavish claims; as with diet books, there really is no magic bullet. Does that mean you must automatically dump your old Audio-Lingual Method-based sets? Not necessarily. Variety being the spice of life for learners, some learners may feel well served by “outmoded” approaches. If you can spare the shelf space, don’t be afraid to keep items that are in good condition, unfashionable though they may be.

Books with fill-in-the-blank exercises create a familiar weeding problem. Few libraries can afford to replace every marked-up book, so it’s the incorrectly marked specimens that should go first. Users who encounter accurately filled blanks may well be annoyed, but at least they won’t be misled. Take action to stave off this problem by preparing friendly care-of-the-book stickers in collaboration with local speakers of languages other than English.

Some citizenship materials have a finite shelf life owing to frequent changes in immigration laws. The citizenship exam’s question pool is fairly stable, but you should beware of books that proffer outdated guidance on INS application procedures, fees, and eligibility requirements. The agency’s N-400 form–the Application for Naturalization–was superseded January 1, 2002, and as of this writing it is not clear that the INS itself won’t be absorbed by a new Homeland Security Agency. Also be careful with locally produced or electronic products that name current elected officials in practice test answers–when those rascals get thrown out, make sure the item itself is thrown out or revised.

On to TOEFL

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), an admission requirement for nearly all nonnative English speakers at U.S. colleges and universities, has seen changes in recent years. Mid-1998 brought the introduction of a computer-based version (examinees can choose between this and the paper test), and there is an expository writing component absent in years past.

Don’t forget to promote your collection with vernacular-language flyers and signage. Collaboratively creating signs is a way to involve your community’s linguisic minorities and encourage them to have a stake in their library. And remember to make the experience of using the library as pleasant as possible by easing access and comprehension.

The following list reflects the mixture of materials you should have in your collection. Choices of audio, video, CD-ROMs, periodicals, web sites, and books offer chances to develop a variety of skills in endlessly interesting ways. The absence of some well-known old standbys–the Azar English Grammar series, audio kits from Pimsleur and Living Language–is not meant to slight their value and importance but rather to make room for some titles likely to be missed. Starred [*] items are essential for most collections.

BUSINESS ENGLISH

–English, Laura M. & Sarah Lynn. Business Across Cultures: Effective Communication Strategies. Longman: Addison-Wesley. 1996. 182p. illus. ISBN 0201-82532-5. pap. $23.47.

Although oriented toward fostering classroom discussion, this workbook’s provocative consideration (with case studies and exercises) of communication breakdowns attributable to cultural differences can encourage intermediate ESL students, even those studying alone (a self-contained answer key is included), to reflect on some of the frictions and frustrations of culture shock

–Webster’s Business Writing Basics. Federal Street: Merriam-Webster. 2001. 400p. illus, index. ISBN 1-892859-27-0. $9.98.

This thick style manual and reference handbook for intermediate and advanced ESL students covers virtually every form of written business communication, from memos to e-mail to press releases. Fifty different kinds of sample business letters appear, along with guidance on grammar, punctuation, and the finer points of electronic correspondence.

VOCATIONAL ESL

–English on the Job/Ingles en el trabajo. Southwestern. 1992. 110p. illus. ISBN 0-923176-10-1. pap. $7.95.

Though a phrase book can, in the wrong hands, be more of a crutch than a learning tool, the usefulness of this slim pocket-sized volume for beginning English speakers is unquestionable. (There’s also a handy Spanish on the Job for their employers.) Phonetic renderings of common utterances in a bilingual Spanish-English format cover typical circumstances in such employment areas as landscaping, construction, restaurant work, and housekeeping.

–* Robinson, Catherine & Jenise Rowekamp. Speaking Up at Work. Oxford Univ. 1985. 192p. illus. ISBN 0-19-434196-8. pap. $10.95.

More than a few ESL instructional hours have been squandered teaching students how to grovel, apologize, and snap to attention. This book addresses in 33 units less servile uses of occupational English: clarifying work assignments and schedules, broaching the subject of promotion, and, yes, calling in sick. For intermediate students.

–Talalla, Renee. Main Course: Language and Skills for Restaurant Workers. Falcon Pr. (Selangor, Malaysia), dist. by Delta Systems. 2000. 86p. illus. ISBN 983-9672-67-3. pap. $13.50.

Often the difference between waiting tables and busing them is a few hundred English words. Main Course relies on cartoons and training-style exercises to help beginning and intermediate students acquire the specialized lexicon of food service. The presentation is reinforced by a complete glossary, and an optional CD provides listening practice.

LIFE SKILLS

–Owensby, Jean & others. English for Technology. Dominie. 1999. 146p. illus. ISBN 0-7685-0008-7. pap. $14.95.

If you’ve ever used a bank machine in a foreign country you might know the peculiar thrill that comes with pressing a button based on hurried guesswork; the language demands are not trivial. This book equips students to use and discuss confidently the electronic devices and interfaces that have become indispensable in everyday North American life, including vending machines, gas pumps, office machinery, and even library OPACs.

HEALTH AND SAFETY

–Fisher, Kathleen S. Health Easy to Read: For Ages 10-Adult. Fisher Hill. 1996. 107p. ISBN 1-878253-09-3. pap. $12.95.

Content-based grammar and reading instruction centering on familiar themes of health, illness, and personal care. Diet and exercise, alcohol and drug abuse, poison control and fire safety are among the topics designed to convey the virtues of good living and good English. Vocabulary and activity pages (with an answer key) accompany each reading.

–Outterson, Beth & Kathleen Flannery Silc. ESL for Farm Safety. Assn. of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, 4350 N, Fairfax Dr., Suite 410, Arlington, VA 22203; 703-528-4141; www.afop.org. (Working with English). 1997. 95p. illus, student ed. ISBN 1-886567-06-9. pap. $12. tchr.’s manual. ISBN 1-886567-07-7. pap. $25.

This text presumes a low literacy level, building on illustrations to deal with minimizing exposure to pesticides, recognizing and responding to poisoning, and avoiding injury in agricultural work–perennially one of the three most hazardous occupations in the United States.

–* Ringel, Harvey. Key Vocabulary for a Safe Workplace. New Readers. 2000. 108p. illus. ISBN 1-56420-175-9. pap. $11.50.

The most dangerous jobs in America have traditionally been filled by recent immigrants, particularly those with limited or nonexistent English skills. Sections on ergonomics, tool safety, warning signs and caution labels, and first aid make this text–which is part of a set for which a teacher’s manual and photocopy masters are also available–a potentially lifesaving read. For students at high beginning and low intermediate levels.

DICTIONARIES

–Collins Cobuild New Student’s Dictionary. 2d ed. HarperCollins. titania. cobuild.collins.co.uk/catalogue/newsstud. html. 2002. 1088p. illus. ISBN 0-00712034-6. pap. $24.

Over the past decade, our understanding of languages has been revolutionized by corpus analysis. Computers examine enormous banks of text, tallying words, identifying patterns, and spurring empirical discoveries about how we really talk and write. Applying cutting-edge linguistics work directly to language study, the Cobuild dictionaries are exciting products of this research. This one, suited to intermediate ESL learners, emphasizes commonly used words and employs a two-color format to enhance the clarity of its definitions.

–* Pamwell, E.C. The New Oxford Picture Dictionary (Monolingual). Oxford Univ. 1988. 124p. illus, index. ISBN 0-19-434199-2. pap. $10.95.

Oxford’s beautifully realized picture dictionaries, featuring sensible thematic organization and clean, colorful drawings, have spun off series at various levels and spawned appealing teaching aids from cassettes to flash cards. Series volumes (e.g., for kids) include up to 2400 words and come in nine bilingual versions (e.g., Cambodian and Navajo) in addition to the monolingual dictionary.

–* Random House Webster’s Easy English Dictionary. Random House. 2001. 620p. illus. ISBN 0-375-70484-1. pap. $12.95.

For a language learner, graduating to a monolingual dictionary is a significant step toward integrating the target language rather than translating back and forth. The controlled vocabulary and generous use of illustrations and examples in this volume’s 13,000 definitions make it a realistically useful, highly explicit first dictionary. The intermediate and advanced versions also incorporate levels of explanation that encourage understanding and exploration

IDIOMS

–Gulland, Daphne M. & David Hinds-Howell. The Penguin Dictionary of English Idioms. 2d ed. Penguin. 2001. 378p. index. ISBN 0-14-051481-3. pap. $17.

Idioms are hard to learn, easy to misuse, and eternally captivating for learners who strive to speak like the natives. This dictionary, not overwhelmingly British, indulges students’ curiosity and preserves the fascination embedded in figures of speech, thanks to its principled thematic organization and cross-indexing.

–Spears, Richard A. NTC’s American Idioms Dictionary. 3d ed. NTC Contemporary. 2000. 625p. ISBN 0-8442-02738. $18.95; pap. ISBN 0-8442-0274-6. $14.95.

As with any good idiom dictionary, examples of use in context are furnished for the more than 8500 words and expressions found here. (LJ 5/15/00).

READERS

Several series of controlled-vocabulary readers available through ESL suppliers offer considerable variety, reasonable pricing, and carefully calibrated difficulty. The Oxford Bookworm (Oxford Univ. $5.95 per book) series begins at a threshold level of 400 words (i.e., each book graded at Level 1 tells its story using a set of 400 words) and progresses through five more steps to a 2000-word vocabulary. Mostly familiar tales (David Copperfield; The 39 Steps) distributed among six genres comprise the nearly 90 titles in the series. Heinemann’s Guided Readers (Heinemann. $3.95-$5.45) start at 300 words and by the sixth level reach 2000, also offering simplified versions of classic literature together with newer titles, about double the number that Oxford offers.

BEGINNING LEARNERS

–Freeman, Daniel B. Speaking of Survival. Oxford Univ. 1982. 228p. illus. ISBN 0-19-503110-5. pap. $10.95; with audiocassette. ISBN 0-19-434105-4. $17.50.

Although many immigrants have survived for years without English, tending to rely on intermediaries, often children, for help with essential functions, life gets a lot less frustrating once they learn how to tell off a phone solicitor. Freeman’s text is an old standby that employs illustrations and drills to reinforce the language needed to cope with everyday encounters and misfortunes.

–Molinsky, Steven J. & Bill Briss. Access: Fundamentals of Literacy and Communication. Prentice Hall. 1990. 124p. illus. ISBN 0-13-004235-8. pap. $17.67.

The authors of the ever-popular Side by Side ESL series designed this text to carry preliterate learners through the early steps of shape discernment and left-to-right scanning while developing basic writing, speaking, and listening skills. A matching teacher’s guide is available.

–Mosteller, Lee & others. Survival English: English Through Conversations. Vol. 1.2d ed. Prentice Hall. 1994. 260p. illus. ISBN 0-13-016635-9. pap. $21.55.

The low beginning level of a three-part series walks new English speakers gently through simple dialogs built around everyday situations. Easy-to-follow illustrations and varied exercises consistent with the context of the unit, such as filling out forms, connect this text to the real world.

TEST PREPARATION

–Gallagher, Nancy. Delta’s Key to the TOEFL[C] Test. Delta Systems. 1999. 731p. illus. ISBN 1-887744-52-5. pap. $34.95 with CD-ROM.

Of the many TOEFL study aids available, this is one of the most comprehensive and flexible. The book and CD-ROM package accommodates examinees who choose to take either the CBT (Computer-Based Test) or old-fashioned paper version. In addition, a five-cassette battery of listening practice tapes can be purchased separately or in combination. Extensive practice tests and quizzes present more than 2000 questions (with a reasonably navigable answer key), and the CD-ROM is dual platform, compatible with Mac and Windows. Ten full-length exams can be taken in authentic TOEFL format, or restructured to allow the learner to focus on particular sections.

–Weintraub, Lynne. Citizenship: Passing the Test. 2d ed. New Readers. 2001. 192p. illus. ISBN 1-56420-281-X. pap. $14; audio CD. ISBN 1-56420-297-6. $16.

Since the naturalization exam is an oral interview, strategies such as circumlocution take on an importance they don’t have in the TOEFL. Designed for low beginning speakers, the text covers the essential information but also test-taking techniques and confidence-building exercises. An optional teacher’s guide is available.

MULTIMEDIA COURSES

–* English for Beginners. 4 vols. color. 120 min. with text. California Language Laboratories, PO Box 176, Cupertino, CA 95014; 800-327-1147; www.esltapes.com. 1993. $100 (or $65 for first two parts, $63 for last two).

[VIDEO] These video sets ease beginners bilingually (in 21 languages) into using English. The translation ratio is deliberately kept at about 3.5 to 1 in favor of English–repetition is frequent and the situations are fairly simple. A visit to the library is included in the videos. CLL also produces a bilingual video for citizenship study, with versions in the same 21 flavors.

–Nazar, Jose Luis & others. Ingles Sin Barreras. 12 vols. color. 24 hrs. Lexicon Mktg. Corp., 640 S. San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048; 888-777-7777; www.inglessinbarreras.com. 2002. $1299.

[VIDEO] Production values are high, and the packaging is lavish: each two-hour video is housed in a sturdy plastic case along with an audiocassette, text, and workbook for the individual lesson, which deals with relevant themes from everyday life. Engaging bilingual instructors and a variety of recurring presenters help viewers feel at home in the course, which is as much a motivational seminar about triumphing in the United States as it is about language. The only barrier is the price tag.

–* Rosetta Stone (American English). (Rosetta Stone Language Library). Fairfield Language Technologies, 135 W. Market St., Harrisonburg, VA 22801; 800-788-0822; www.rosettastone.com. 2000. $199 single user; $299 multiuser license.

[VIDEO] Many learners find Rosetta Stone irresistible; the software is challenging, varied, and entertaining, combining solid applied linguistics with high technology for an experience that moves at users’ own pace and furnishes constant feedback. It even lets students see their accents graphically, comparing it to that of a native speaker as they record and play back their voices. The Los Angeles Public Library is among those that make Rosetta Stone available to cardholders via the library’s web site.

PERIODICALS

–Easy English News. m. $2.50/m. Eardley Pubns., PO Box 2596, Fair Lawn, NJ 07410; FAX 201-791-1901. ISSN 1091-4951

This 12-page tabloid runs well-written news and features aimed at the interests of adult immigrants, written at a third- or fourth-grade reading level. American holidays are featured in every issue. Photos and illustrations add context, and 150 or so difficult words are boldfaced where they appear in articles and are explained in a separate glossary.

FOR TEACHERS

–* Auerbach, Elsa R. & Nina Wallerstein. ESL for Action: Problem Posing at Work. Addison-Wesley. 1987. 192p. ISBN 0-201-00101-2. pap. $16.47.

This influential, prescient text still serves teachers as well as it does learners. It offers the former a view of how action research can powerfully drive student-centered adult education in which genuine experiences and concerns enhance relevance and thus learning. For the latter it fosters a move from object to dignified subject and toward active critical consciousness in the spirit of Paulo Freire.

–Sperling, Dave. Dave Sperling’s Internet Guide. 2d ed. Prentice Hall. 1998. 183p. illus. ISBN 0-13-918053-2. pap. $23.45 with CD-ROM.

Sperling recognized early on the Internet’s potential in English teaching, showing the way with his web site (see below). This book will be a revelation to inexperienced volunteer teachers in search of ideas, and even veteran TESL professionals who embrace Sperling’s ethos are sure to find valuable resources and save themselves from endless reinvention of the wheel.

WEB SITES

–* Dave’s ESL Cafe www.eslcafe.com

The opportunities for connection at the ESL Card–with other students and teachers around the world–constitute one of its main attractions, but the site also includes an imaginative array of interesting learning diversions.

–English Exercises www.better-english.com/ exerciselist.html

More than 200 online quizzes, organized by themes and topics, allow learners to get instant feedback and keep a running tally of their scores.

–The Monthly TESL Journal iteslj.org

Primarily a resource for teachers, this monthly journal also offers practice quizzes, crossword puzzles, and other activities.

Bruce Jensen is an MA-TESL who was drawn into librarianship by his adventures teaching English in public libraries. You can read more about these at the “Outreach” portion of his web site, Public Libraries Using Spanish (www.sol-plus.net). He recently earned his MLIS from UCLA and works as a reference librarian for the Metropolitan Cooperative Library System, Los Angeles

Practicing What We Preach

“Practicing what we preach: an argument for cooperative learning opportunities for elementary and secondary educators”

Abstract:

Van Allen (1996) supports a paradigm shift in how Americans think about education, from a view of school as hierarchy to school as continuum. While the relationship between elementary and secondary education is not always visible, teachers can model cooperative learning for students by working as a team across grade levels to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish common goals, such as reducing gaps and redundancies in education. Schools could respond more productively to elementary and secondary students and teachers if they provided cooperative learning opportunities for teachers where they could exchange information, schedule meetings, share experiences and joint work, and provide teacher education and training at preservice and inservice levels. If administrators would provide regular, scheduled, joint meetings across grade levels, they would support teacher autonomy and teacher professionalism. Such opportunities would allow teachers to practice what they preach.

Full Text:

“Elementary educators teach kids; secondary educators teach content.” I have heard this stereotype many times as a junior high English teacher, English Education methods instructor, and educational researcher. Having worked in both elementary and secondary schools, I am always struck by the implications of this stereotype. It is usually followed by such statements as, “Elementary teachers make bulletin boards and teach kids to tie their shoes; they’re glorified baby-sitters” or “In junior high, students are just biding their time until they get to high school. High school is where the ‘real’ learning takes place.” Such misunderstandings are not only surprising; they’re counterproductive. They establish a view of school as a hierarchy as opposed to a continuum.

children-learning

==> Next: The meanings attributed to writing skills in English by Turkish children: a concept map study

 

Van Allen (1996) describes a need for a paradigm shift in how people think about schools in America, a shift to viewing grade levels, students, and teachers as more than hierarchical stereotypes. In his article, “Visualize Vertical Connectedness,” van Allen challenges educators and non-educators to “[i]magine your district achieving quality and excellence in education through purposeful and sequential efforts across the grades” (p. 94). He asserts such a vision could reduce gaps and redundancies in schooling. What van Allen refers to as “connecting” involves identifying, analyzing, and implementing relationships across grade levels, academically and personally. The question must be asked, “Who benefits from connecting?” In schools, everyone stands to gain: students, teachers, administrators, parents. The process of connecting can help to reduce gaps and redundancies in education, and increase communication across grade levels to better meet the developmental needs of students. This process can be difficult in the most utopian situation, and it can be particularly problematic in schools, since the complex cultures of schools do not always lend themselves well to connecting.

Structures of Schooling The relationship between elementary and secondary education is not always visible. The transition from elementary to secondary school is complex for teachers and for students. Van Allen (1996) comments, “The schools themselves are structured differently, the students’ needs and characteristics are different, but we move forward with bases of the things we share in common: sharing our strengths and starting the conversations where we are” (p. 95). This article is meant to begin a conversation. The culture of the elementary school and the culture of the secondary school have different behaviors, patterns, rules, and rituals, and each help to construct a different kind of learning community for students and teachers. As Dewey observed, “Education proceeds ultimately from the patterns furnished by institutions, customs, and laws” (1916/1997, p. 89). Elementary and secondary teachers need to understand one another’s patterns so they can identify opportunities for cooperative learning.

Lieberman & Miller (1992) assert the main concern for the elementary teacher is to establish routines in the school day that offer stability and patterns to the messiness of students, curriculum, time, and materials that comprise the culture of the elementary school (p. 21). The key to establishing these routines centers on the principles of care and control (Hargreaves, Earl, & Ryan, 1994; Lieberman & Miller, 1992). The size and structure of the elementary school result in care being central to the school culture. As Johnson (1990) notes, elementary teachers work with the same group of students throughout the day, allowing them to establish and maintain bonds of care. Ahola-Sidaway (1988) adds to this by concluding elementary schools are like families. Elementary students: are part of the school neighborhood; have strong connections to the school community; are located in specific classrooms; occupy a designated desk; have close ties to teachers, classmates, and principal; and establish connections that are based on relationships.

Hargreaves (1994) argues care is connected to ownership and control in the elementary school. He believes teachers come to think of their students as family, and they see themselves as head of the household. Smedley & Willower (1981) find control to be a component of the secondary culture as well, but they conclude control in elementary schools is more humanistic, while control in secondary schools is more custodial. Because elementary schools are described in this way, we can see how it would be easy for elementary teachers to feel isolated. They are located in specific classrooms with limited opportunity to interact beyond their self-contained cultures. It takes a great deal of time and effort to assess and meet the needs of students, and while elementary teachers often devote this time and effort to establishing routines that incorporate cooperative learning strategies, they do not necessarily have readily available opportunities to reach out and model cooperative learning across grade levels.

The story in secondary schools has a different landscape but the same result. Hargreaves (1994) describes secondary schools as cultures of an immense scale, with patterns of specialization and bureaucratic complexity (p. 9). Lieberman & Miller (1992) echo this sentiment when they write, “More than the elementary school, the secondary school is a complex organization; it is more bureaucratic, more formal, and more difficult to negotiate” (p. 38). Hargreaves, Earl, & Ryan (1996) observe secondary students:

  • go to school outside their community;
  • occupy a large, complex building;
  • have no home-based classroom, desk, or teacher;
  • are controlled by bells, forms, and procedures;
  • have only a locker as their personal territory;
  • and develop peer cliques that are formed around common interests (p. 23).

High-School

Lieberman & Miller (1992) note one of the challenges for secondary teachers is to help students negotiate this culture, this life in crowds. Teachers become the police of the school, and order often comes before instruction. Students leave one classroom to enter another. Students and teachers need to switch gears and change their frames of reference quickly and frequently. They need to leave behind what was going on in the previous class and concentrate on the subject and individuals at hand.

This state of constant change contributes to the conceptualization of secondary school culture in terms of a factory model of schooling (Knowles & Brown, 2000). Information is delivered in seven or eight periods of forty-two minute segments in which subjects are taught separately. Knowles & Brown believe this structure creates a challenging barrier for teachers, administrators, and university professors who seek to implement change within this culture. The structure also makes it difficult to bridge the cultures of the elementary and secondary schools.

If teachers are not taught to cooperate across grade levels in their teacher education programs, it is difficult to learn. If teachers are not afforded opportunities to cooperate across grade levels, it is difficult to practice. Working in isolation becomes a habit. In an article about providing advice to teachers considering taking a job at a rural school (Rehrauer, 2004), high school teacher Kim Chism Jasper observes, “Yet, teaching can be a lonely profession, and it’s easy to become isolated (p. 25). Isolation is a concern for all teachers, not just rural educators.

How did teaching become such an isolated profession, not always amenable to cooperative learning opportunities for teachers? The way the majority of teacher education programs are structured in the United States today, few, if any, allow opportunities for preservice elementary education students to take classes with preservice secondary education students, and vice versa. From this training, educators are taught they do not need to cooperate with one another. The unspoken message is they do not need to know what the other is doing. This is a dangerous message that is then carried out into public school classrooms by inservice teachers. Such training fosters working competitively and individualistically over cooperatively (Johnson & Johnson, 1988).

Defining What We Preach

“Cooperative learning” has become a buzz term in American education. Artz & Newman (1990) define cooperative learning as small groups of learners working together as a team to solve a problem, complete a task, or accomplish a common goal. At its best, cooperative learning stimulates cognitive and social growth by inviting students to work in groups and as groups (Hargreaves, 1994; Kagan, 1990). By sharing their knowledge with each other in small groups working toward a common goal, students can benefit from distributed cognition, where the strengths of one student complement the needs of another, and each increases her knowledge base. They work together to construct new knowledge.

Many teachers (Atwell, 1998; Hynds, 1997; Rief, 1992) refer to this as collaborative learning, as opposed to cooperative learning. Scholars and educators (Jack son & Davis, 2000; Atwell, 1998; Hynds, 1997; Sarason, 1996; Rief, 1992; Vygotsky, 1978) tout the value of collaborative learning for students, and elementary and secondary teachers write numerous articles for professional journals each year describing how they use some form of cooperative learning in the classroom (Wills, 2002; Mayer, 2002). Educational researchers Johnson & Johnson (1988) offer this description of cooperative learning:

There are three basic ways students can interact with each other as they learn. They can compete to see who is “best”; they can work individualistically on their own toward a goal without paying attention to other students; or they can work cooperatively with a vested interest in each other’s learning as well as their own (p. 34).

If we, as teachers, promote the use of cooperative learning in the classroom, we must consider the work of Vygotsky (1978). Vygotsky discusses the importance of imitation in learning, noting people can only imitate that which is in their developmental level. Imitation allows students to go beyond their developmental capacities. Vygotsky asserts “human learning presupposes a specific social nature and a process by which children grow into the intellectual life of those around them” (p. 88).

As teachers, it is our job to help children grow into the intellectual life around them. In order to do so, we must model what we want our students to imitate. In essence, we must practice what we preach.

If we want our students to take an active role in cooperative learning, we must examine how we model cooperative learning in our own school lives.

Examining What We Practice

In today’s American society, most universities certify teachers as either elementary or secondary classroom educators. My own teaching license declares that I am certified to teach English and French in grades seven through twelve. It is considered a secondary teaching license. As a teacher educator who teaches students who are working toward becoming secondary English teachers, I often encounter resistance to reading “elementary” textbooks. For example, when I incorporated Calkins’ The Art of Teaching (1994) into a secondary writing methods course at a previous university, students refused to read the book. They said they had nothing to learn from an elementary school teacher. This was an eye-opening experience for me. I refrained from blaming the students for such an abrupt statement that was incongruous with my own belief in the possibilities of cooperative learning. Instead, I reflected on what would cause preservice teachers to believe they had little or nothing to learn from teachers from other grade levels, a belief that contradicts my own fundamental beliefs about cooperative learning and informed teaching.

When I reflected further, I realized how rarely elementary and secondary education students have the opportunity to take classes together or to interact with one another. Their methods courses are often content- and certification level-specific. They learn to work in a localized group because that is what is modeled for them.

This same culture of schooling is present once they reach the classroom. Rarely are elementary and secondary teachers afforded the opportunity to work collaboratively with one another. We have much to learn from one another in terms of curriculum, theory, and practice, yet we are left to function competitively and individualistically instead of collaboratively.

Ways to Practice What We Preach

At this point, I am not arguing for restructuring teacher education, but I am arguing for increased opportunities for cooperative learning among elementary and secondary educators. From their inception, public schools were designed to be places where teachers and students interact with one another. School cultures need to provide teachers with opportunities to talk with one another, to investigate strategies.

Schools could have a more beneficial impact on the development of students if school district administrators provided teachers with the time and the opportunity to meet. My findings support those of Hargreaves, Earl, & Ryan (1996), who suggest schools could respond more productively to elementary and secondary students if they allowed more direct contact between schools. Such contact could include:

  1. Exchanging information, particularly in the form of student records;
  2. Scheduling meetings between the two levels;
  3. Sharing experiences and joint work between teachers in both school contexts; and
  4. Providing teacher education and training at preservice and inservice levels which familiarize teachers with issues that concern elementary and secondary students and teachers (p. 44).

I suggest administrators support regular, scheduled, joint meetings for teachers across grade levels. It would help ensure viability of content, as teachers could rely on shared experiences to help determine scope and sequence of instruction. It would help teachers decide what to cover, and it would inform teachers across grade levels about what teachers within the district were covering.

Most importantly, providing teachers with regular, scheduled, joint meetings across grade levels would support teacher autonomy and foster teacher professionalism. It would place at the forefront the needs of students within a given district. It would allow teachers the time and opportunity to share information about specific students, particularly reading needs, writing abilities, and developmental concerns. Instead of standardizing students and teachers, it would honor their differences and support their individual growth and development while reducing gaps and redundancies in education.

Finally, providing teachers with the time and resources for regular, scheduled, joint meetings across grade levels would allow teachers the opportunity to practice what they preach. We tell students that collaborative learning is an inherent good. We tell them that by sharing their knowledge with each other in small groups and working toward a common goal, they can benefit from distributed cognition, where the strengths of one student complement the needs of another, and each increases her knowledge base. As teachers, we need to heed our own words regarding best practice.

References

Ahola-Sidaway, J. A. (1988). ‘From Gemeinschafl to Gesellschaft: A case study of student transition from elementary school to high school.’ Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 297 450)

Artz, A. F., & Newman, C. M. (1990). Cooperative learning. Mathematics Teacher, 83,448-449.

Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle: New understanding about write and learning (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Calkins, L. M. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, Nit: Heinemann.

Dewey, J. (1916/1997). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York: The Free Press.

Hargreaves, A. (1994). Changing teachers, changing times: Teachers’ work and culture in the postmodern age. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Hargreaves, A., Earl, L., & Ryan, J. (1996). Schooling Reinventing education for adolescents. London: The Falmer Press.

Hynds, S. (1997). On the brink: Negotiating literature and life with adolescents. New York: Teachers College Press.

Jackson, A. W., & Davis, G. A. (2000).Turning points 2000: Educating adolescents in the 21st century. New York: Teachers College Press.

Johnson, Roger T., and Johnson, David W. (1988). Cooperative learning: Two heads learn better than one. In Context, 18, 34.

Johnson, S. M. (1990). Teachers at work. New York: Basic Books.

Kagan, S. (1990). Constructive controversy. Cooperative Learning, 10(3), 20-26.

Knowles, T., & Brown, D. F. (2000). What every middle school teacher should know. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (1992). Teachers–Their world and their work: Implications for school improvement. New York: Teachers College Press.

Mayer, J. C. (2002). Student-led poetry workshops. English Journal, 91(3), 51-54.

Rehrauer, E. (2004). What advice would you offer to new teachers considering taking a position in a rural school? English Journal, 94(6), 24-26.

Rief, L. (1992). Seeking diversity: Language arts with adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Sarason, S. B. (1996). Revisiting “The culture of the school and the problem of change”. New York: Teachers College Press.

Smedley, S., & Willower, D. (1981). Principal’s pupil control behavior and school robustness. Education Administration Quarterly, 17, 40-56.

Van Allen, L. (1996). Visualize vertical connectedness. English Journal, 85, 94-95.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wills, C. (2002). The role of literacy rituals in constructing and supporting classroom community. Primary Voices, 11(2), 26-37.

PAMELA K. COKE

Assistant Professor English Education

Colorado State University

Coke, Pamela K.

The meanings attributed to writing skills in English by Turkish children: a concept map study

Abstract:

One of the four basic language skills of children, writing, is central to expressing themselves and to developing high level thinking capabilities. Competence in writing is a rather complex learning structure in which cognitive and, especially, psycho-motor learning processes are intensively employed and it further needs to be fed by perceptive processes. In these processes, on the one hand, students cognitively exhibit learning products oriented to creative high level thinking. On the other hand, they have to behave according to mind-muscle coordination. The aim of this research is to figure out the cognitive processes regarding how the students show an approach to writing competence in English, making use of the affirmations of the students. This study has focused on 90 10th grade students and the research has been qualitatively designed.

The study has employed an open-end interview form in order to determine the cognitive processes used by the students and what they think while writing. Utilizing the data from these interview forms, the study has attempted to describe students’ opinions regarding writing in English with concept map methodology, and to constitute English writing competence thinking profiles of the students. When results of the research are examined, it is observed that the students have mentioned what writing in English means to them; the factors that affect their writing process; the success-determining factors for writing in English; which topics they prefer to write about; their attitude towards writing; their expectations from teachers who instruct them to write in English; which learning methods they prefer; how their writings should be evaluated and so forth.

Full Text:

Introduction

The importance of the four basic skills of the language in foreign language teaching cannot be underestimated. Using the reading, speaking, listening and writing skills and the relationships that these skills have with each other is also an important detail. Though a large number of studies can be found in the historical perspective about the instruction of these skills in language teaching, the history of the studies focusing on reading and writing skills date back to 70 years ago (Eurich 1931; Mathews, Larsen and Butler, 1945; Schneider, 1971, adapted by: Belanger, 1978).

basic-skills-of-the-language

==> Related Posts: English translation (Competition)

 

Although it reported that writing power of the children endowed with different linguistic background develop in an incredible manner (Samway, 1987, adapted by:Urzua, 1987), the answers to the questions of “What is the relationship of writing to overall linguistic profiency? Do revision, whether stimulated by self, peer, or teacher, contribute to better writing and/or better overall language use? How are the revisions influenced by and audience of a different culture?” (Urzua, 1987, p. 295) are not clear yet. Nonetheless, practical guide type studies that are related with instruction of writing, academic writing in particular, are present (North Carolina State Dept. of Public Instruction, 1998; Silvia, 2007).

In the research conducted in Turkey about the writing skills, the problems in both the native language and the second language have been discussed (Ertas, 1986; Erdal, 1988; Er, 1996; Gursel, 1998; Adiguzel, 1998; Deneme, 1999; Bahge, 1999; Gumus, 2002; Polat, 2003; Koral, 2003; Basran, 2004; Ozbay, 2004; Kurt, 2004; Orgun, 2004; Yazar, 2004; Akay, 2005; Turkkorur, 2005; senkaya, 2005; Akbayir, 2006;Banskan, 2006; inal, 2006; Maltepe, 2006; Ozturk, 2006; Selvikavak, 2006; Muslu, 2007; Telgeker, 2007; Barut, 2007; Atali, 2008; Deneme, 2008; Erice, 2008; Siging, 2008). A increasing growth in the number of these reasearches are obsevered within the past five years.

One of the four basic language skills of children, writing, is central to expressing themselves and to developing high level thinking capabilities. Competence in writing is a rather complex learning structure in which cognitive and, especially, psycho-motor learning processes are intensively employed and it further needs to be fed by perceptive processes. In these processes, on the one hand, students cognitively exhibit learning products oriented to creative high level thinking. On the other hand, they have to behave according to mind-muscle coordination. In this regard, the acquisition of these skills brings along a quite tough and complicated process.

While the students attain these skills, knowing what kind of a picture forms in their mind will give an idea of how we need to approach the educational process of writing and determining the educational help prepared for the students will not be difficult anymore. Instead of focusing on their success and writing skills oriented performance and assigning shares of responsibility to the problems of education by viewing them, analyzing thought processes about writing skills seem like a more logical approach. It shouldn’t be forgotten that, as much as what they know, what they think and what they feel, what and how they want to do are also important as well.

languages

Method of Study

The aim of this research is to figure out the cognitive processes regarding how the students show an approach to writing competence in English, making use of the affirmations of the students.

This study has focused on 90 10th grade students and the research has been qualitatively designed. The study has employed an open-ended interview form in order to determine the cognitive processes used by the students and what they think while writing. Utilizing the data from these interview forms, the study has attempted to describe students’ opinions regarding writing in English with concept map methodology, and to constitute English writing competence thinking profiles of the students.

Since a conceptual structure was attempted to be depicted from the thoughts of the children while the study was being conducted, quantitative data has not been employed. Setting out from the children’s thoughts does not mean examination of their individual mind maps. Since what goes in the minds of all the students are evaluated collectively, the emerging mental structure and thinking relationships are called the concept map. Because, when the data collected on an individual basis is evaluated collectively, a structure of thinking that goes through conceptual relationships emerges.

While the interview form used in the study was prepared, in order to provide validity arguments, five specialists with PhD degrees in educational sciences (2 in curriculum development and instruction, 2 in educational management, and 1 in counseling) have been referred. The specialists have accentuated the necessity of moving freely and spontaneously asking additional questions as well during the interviews when needed. When it is considered from this perspective, it can be said that the measurement tool used also possesses features of an observation form. The interview form’s “English Writing Skills Thinking-Attitude-Action Screen Test” is included in the appendix.

As can be comprehended from the literature of the research, there is a large number of research findings that figure quite different methods regarding the issue of writing skills. It is hoped that the findings of this study that figures out an issue that encompasses such a complex expansion procedurally with a qualitative analysis brings forward a different point of view and contribution to the literature.

The Findings and Their Interpretation

During the organization of the findings of the study, focusing on the details of the conceptual structure in the minds of the students oriented at writing in English has been especially paid attention to. Below in Figure 1, the meanings attached to English writing skills in the minds of the students are demonstrated by a concept map and outlining the conceptual structure in the students’ minds has been attempted.

When the map is analyzed, the conceptual structure in the minds of the students can be outlined by these subheadings in the following sections; meanings attached to the writing skills by the students, metaphors that the students use towards the writing skills, the conditions set forth by the students towards the acquisition of the writing skills, the benefits of attaining writing skills according to the students, the learning-teaching process according to the students and the expectations of the students from their writing instructor.

Meanings Attached to the Writing Skills by the Students: The students describe writing as “writing sentences error-free and meaningfully, correctly and on the spot, related to the topic, conformable with the spelling rules, detailed, comprehensible, suitable to the ordering of the sentences, writing by maintaining the completeness of meaning, expressing yourself by another language”. Students approach to the writing skills as a group of skills that makes learning permanent, develops speech, facilitates learning vocabulary and tests learning, as well as language learning itself. From this point, it can be stated that the students express their definitions related to writing only through cognitive aspects. It is noteworthy that despite being posed two distinct questions (What does writing mean according to you?/What do you understand from formal writing?), the students have defined writing only as a formal action. Besides accepting that writing is not an action that is free from rules, it is seen that conceptions such as self-expression, relaxation and a free thinking tool have not been attributed to writing. It can be thought that this situation is caused by the habits associated with the learning-teaching process at the school.

Metaphors that the Students Use Towards the Writing Skills: The students comparing writing to a student/child, a teacher or other thinks associated with school attracts notice. In the child and student comparisons children of students such as the following have been referred to; worried and sorry, referring to the dictionary, continuously writing, thinking, doesn’t know what to do, sitting on the table, where butterflies flying on his notebook, ambitious, memorizing words and happy with writing, hands full of book, with English writing on his t-shirt, running in the class, collecting words like a flower, closed his dictionary, in the shape of a flower, writing “I love you English”, writing in English at the blackboard happily, able to talk to the tourists, joyful, listening to his teacher well, having lots of questions in his mind. Among the metaphors used, it is stressed that writing skills are very hard to attain, those who achieve this are happy and efficient, and on the other hand, those who cannot achieve are in an anxious, hesitant and helpless state. The students compare their teachers to a book, the stun or a vase regarding writing skills. From here we can infer that writing is perceived as quite an abstract, aesthetical, qualified, full but nevertheless distant skill. It can be stated that the students do not perceive writing skills a concept familiar to them. In addition, the students have alsoe compared writing skills to a broken pencil. From hence we can infer that it is believed that a lot of effort is required to write well but find this ability as unattainable. The students have also defined writing skills as “feeling yourself to be Englishman” and “as if being at another world”.

The Conditions Set Forth by the Students Towards the Acquisition of the Writing Skills: The students believe that the ability to utilize the following rules and skills are indispensable for acquisition of the writing skills; reading, understanding what’s read, expression, speech, listening to what’s talked, English and Turkish grammar and spelling, templates and tenses, conjugation of verbs, sentence formation, improving vocabulary, pronunciation, repetition, literature knowledge, general culture, memory, imagination, listening to music, painting, creativity and project design. Additionally, they cerebrate that the mathematics course, logic and intelligence should be decent. It is seen that the students are aware of the necessary goals to write in English. In this regard, it can be stated that the cognitive awareness level is at a quite satisfactory level.

The students think that the writing of the individuals who have acquired the ability of writing well should possess the following characteristics; easy and comprehendible, coherent with topic, interesting and consisting of original sentences, informative, conformable to the writing rules, far from a citation, intriguing, appropriately spelled and punctuated, up to date, funny and entertaining, illustrated and decorated. This information displays the cognitive awareness of the students.

The Benefits of Attaining Writing Skills According to the Students: The students believe that the ability to utilize the following rules and skills are indispensable for acquisition of the writing skills; reading, understanding what’s read, expression, speech, listening to what’s talked, English and Turkish grammar and spelling, templates and tenses, conjugation of verbs, sentence formation, improving vocabulary, pronunciation, repetition, literature knowledge, general culture, memory, imagination, listening to music, painting, creativity and project design. Additionally, they believe that the mathematics course, logic and intelligence should be decent. It is seen that the students are aware of the necessary goals to write in English. In this regard, it can be stated that the cognitive awareness level is at a quite satisfactory level.

The students think that in case the writing skills are attained, their self-confidence increases, their future life may change, they can communicate with the foreigners, their horizons shall expand, they will perform better in the exams, learning English will get easier, they will speak more comfortably, they will learn grammar rules more straightforward and they will be able to express ourselves fluently. It can be asserted that the students are interested in the future looking actual life.

The Learning-Teaching Process According to the Students: The students believe that an hour or two of class time should be allocated to writing in the curriculum, because they believe that this time should be long in order to learn English more easily, write more quickly and better, become creative, apply and consolidate what has been learned, improve in written expression and due to the difficulty level of this course. Some students believe that less than an hour of class time should be allocated, because it may be boring and this time may extend by homework assignments. The fact that the students feel the necessity to comment on the weight of the course in the curriculum can be deemed as an indication of that the students clearly have an either positive or negative attitude towards the course.

The students demand the attributes and characteristics of environment for learning writing skills should be as follows; comfortable, lighted well, colorful, substantive, active students, speaking is always in English, English writings and drawings hang on the walls, everyone in competition, English materials are present, everybody is distinctive, quiet, well equipped and organized, the language is at an advanced level. It is seen that the students are aware of what characteristics should be possessed by the environments where writing skills can be attained with ease.

The students trace the reasons behind heir motivation regarding writing as follows; the work being appreciated by himself and the class, the teacher praises and encourages, the work draws attention, the teacher’s expectations are high from him, the environment being entertaining, getting rewarded, getting applauded, the work being displayed on the bulletin board and coming up with a more qualified work than the previous one.

The students have denoted that they may share their material regarding writing skills with their families to make them proud of them and to get their opinions. They are also willing to share these materials with their teachers as well in order to get their mistakes corrected, learn new stuff, prevent their friends from laughing at them, receive constructive critics and ideas, and become motivated. Among their reasons to share these products with their friends are coveting for them to see their knowledge, carrying out knowledge exchange, helping their friends to learn, and seeing the mistakes and finding the corrections. It can be presumed that the students may share their learning material with everyone as long as they are not emotionally crumpled.

The students wish to attempt writing memories, poems, lyrics, articles, tales, novels, journals, fables, stories, dialogues, prose or paragraphs only if they are left with the choice of form. It can be presumed that the students possess an extensive knowledge of literary categories and this situation is affected by their native language education.

The Expectations of the Students from their Instructor: According to the students, the teacher should make games played in the classes, assign simple topics, take a vote for choosing the topics, assign funny topics, employ music, make students write a Turkish joke or riddle in English, select student of the week, frequently give breaks, devise a realistic atmosphere, be positive, active, humorous, conduct competitions and animations, act sympathetically, go easy when criticizing and not assign too much homework. The homework assignments of the teacher be reading books, writing short stories, translation, writing journals, projects, writing jokes & letters, writing tales, funny dialogues, illustrated pieces, the topics and issues that affect us and finally presentations where the studied grammar subjects can be applied and recently learned words can be used.

children-learn-languages

In the classes, the teacher should organize activities such as the following; word games, sentence formation games, drama, story completion, watching short English films, writing first in Turkish and then translating into English, arranging pictures into order and then writing, making up a story about a picture, competition for fastest sentence creation, imagining, coming up with the brightest idea, deriving questions whose answers are hanging on the wall, drawing pictures related to the subject and brainstorming. The students think that their teacher should devise rich learning environments. It can be stated that the awareness of the students regarding what their teachers should do are also at a quite decent level. It can be contemplated that the students’ preference of game like, entertaining and funny activities arises from their belief about learning or teaching to write is a tough process.

The students want their teacher to write with them. By this way they believe that they can correct their mistakes easily, take him/her as an example, learn to use time well and develop close mutual relationships and expand their horizons. Their reasons for wishing against their teacher writing together with them are that their teach will write better than them, he knows everything, the students are ought to think differently than them, it might be a time loss, it may not be necessary, the teacher may have written it already long ago, their writing may be weak and the teacher conducting this as a duty.

The teacher should ask the students to write about amusing, informative, from basic to difficult and students’ attraction grabbing topics such as; the universe and the nature, love for humanity, friendship, peace and fellowship, attaching value, what will happen to the world, love for the homeland, family or babyhood, seasons, a day I cannot forget, adventure, yearning and love, separation, importance of learning English and the reasons, explanation of a quotation, serial movie or drama associated with war, and introducing yourself. It can be said that the students are willing to express themselves with positive feelings, exhibit a tendency towards violence oriented topics and are interested in national and at the same time future related subjects as well.

The students expect from the teachers to leave topic choice to them, to keep their writings, himself writing too, give introductory information, maintain silence and make them listen classic music during the writing sessions. Furthermore, the students expect their teacher to pay attention to the whole, time and language consistency, originality, content, command of vocabulary, their effort, meaning of the sentences, appropriate choice of words, punctuation, narration, spelling, page setup, legibility of writing and their performance in the classes as well with respect to evaluation of their work. The students want their teachers to use incentive symbols like scores, smiling faces, sun, crown, heart and stars. It can be stated that the students expect their teacher to demonstrate comfortable, free and encouraging approaches in practice and evaluation.

Discussion and Suggestions

It can be mentioned that the most important findings of the research is that students are aware of the processes and environments intended for learning the writing skills, student responsibilities and teachers’ duties, what needs to be done to be successful and even the value of motivation and skills (difficulty and significance). Such an explicit level of cognitive awareness proves that the students care about language learning and that they can achieve this mission if opportunities are created. Their awareness about the universal power of learning a foreign language can be an indication that they are moving in coherence with the globalizing world.

The students claim that as there writing skills are improved, so does their general learning ability. From hence it can be supposed that they maintain the permanency and reinforcement of what they have learned through writing, which is quite natural indeed. Hence it can be inferred that the students utilize writing as a cognitive strategy.

The students have tried to defined writing skills through metaphors they are familiar with, generally student and child. From here it can be said that the students identify their thoughts regarding acquiring or not acquiring writing skills with themselves. This situation can be supposed to be connected with their cognitive awareness. Besides that, the abstract meanings attached to writing skills by the students point out what an arduous job the instruction of these skills is.

The students think that writing is a complex, demanding and tough process. They attach a great importance to employment of rich instruction methods, entertainment and games in the environment where the writing skills shall be attained. It would not be a stretch to state that the students have an attitude that rejects the traditional learning environments.

The students having a wide range of opinions from what their teachers should do to what kind of evaluation techniques they need to use clearly exposes the necessity that the teachers should contemplate on refraining from traditional structures and thoughts, and improving and enriching the learning environments that they have created.

Author Note

Ergin Erginer earned Ph.D. in Curriculum Development and Instruction at the University of Abant Izzet Baysal. His interests include specifically children’s learning characteristics, teaching methods, drama teaching. He has taught in higher education for over 19 years.

Veda Yar, is a graduate student studying on Curriculum Development and Instruction at the Institute of Social Sciences of Gaziosmanpasa University.

APPENDIX

English Writing Skills Thinking-Attitude-Action Screen Test

Dear Student;

1. What does writing in English mean to you? How does it look like?

2. What is learning to write in English dependent on?

3. Do you need to be good at other course to be good at written expressions in English?

4. Do you need to be good at other skills to write well in English?

5. Could you tell us about your attitude towards English writing skills?/Could you paint that?*

6. In what topic and form would you write in English if you were given with the choice?

7. With whom would you like to share your written work and why?

8. Why is it important to attain English writing skills?

9. What does formal writing mean to you?

10. What do you think original writing is?

11. What needs to be done prior to writing?

12. How much time should be allocated to writing in the curriculum to develop writing skills?

13. What kinds of activities should a teacher that aspires to instruct writing skills conduct?

14. What should a teacher that needs to make writing skills class more pleasant need to do?

15. Should the teacher assign homework in order to develop writing skills? If yes, what kinds of homework should be assigned?

16. Before starting to write, what kind of games/activities can be devised to write better?

17. Would like the teacher to write in the way together with you in writing classes? Why?

18. What should be attitude of a teacher that wants his/her students to attain writing skills?

19. What are your expectations from your teacher with respect to increasing your motivation towards writing?

20. Under what conditions does your material from a writing activity motivate you for the next writing activity?

21. In what kind of a classroom would you like to work on writing in English?

22. What criteria should the teacher take into account during the evaluation of your writing?

  • It has been observed that the students do not quite prefer to paint a draw a picture for answering this question. Also for the pictures that were drawn, they have generally felt the necessity of explaining their pictures by writing. Therefore, these data were excluded from evaluation.

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ERGIN ERGINER

Nevsehir University, TURKEY

VEDA YAR

Ministry of National Education, TURKEY

Erginer, Ergin^Yar, Veda

English translation (Competition)

IN COMPETITION NO. 2247 you were invited to describe a scene or report an incident in politically correct prose and then supply a version in politically incorrect prose, or vice versa.

My first disillusionment with political correctitude came when I discovered that my 1950s dictionary’s definition of “angekkok” as “an Eskimo conjuror” (a delicious concept) had been changed to the prosaic `an Inuit shaman’. The whole area is a randomly sown minefield. Take race. My working vocabulary does not include words like “yid”, “nigger” or “spick”, but I am quite happy to refer to ‘frogs’, ‘russkies’ or ‘japs’ because, unlike Chambers, which stigmatises them all as ‘derogatory’ or ‘offensive’, I regard them as entirely neutral, even capable of being used affectionately. Mysteriously, Chambers fails to express disapproval of ‘bohunk’–a person, like our own Petronella Wyatt, of Hungarian or Slav origin. Call me honky, call me limey, call me whitey and I shan’t mind a bit, but if you want to see me annoyed, call me a Brit.

English-translation-1

Not all the compers realised the difference between PC and non-PC language is not quite the same as that between ‘bureaucratese’ and plain English, though they may overlap. The prizewinners, printed below, get 30 each, and the Sheaffer Prelude ballpoint pen in black lacquer goes to D.A. Prince.

  • No person is an island in this typical regeneration-opportunity streetscape: the pavement thronged with clients of the Job Centre; the socially excluded; youthful victims of an uncaring society; the disadvantaged from developing countries, and travellers. The newsagent sells a range of magazines catering for alternative sexualities. The challenged and the no longer youthful are everyone’s equal. Women are confident here among people such as builders who express admiration for their figure-enhancing clothes.
  • No man is an island in this bog standard inner-city ghetto: pavements swamped with the unemployed; the poor; juvenile delinquents; the scum from backward countries, and gypsies. The newsagent sells porn for the perverted. The handicapped and the old are outright failures. Bimbos large it here, in front of cowboy roofers who wolf-whistle at their asking-for-it-get-up. (D.A. Prince)

Statement by the USAF, Bagram Air Base. “We’re sorry to report a suboptimal outcome to today’s sortie, resulting in severe terrain alteration to a soccer field. Following receipt of non-representative data, ordnance was misdirected and 22 ethnic ballplayers were rendered non-viable in the rapid oxidisation which followed the event, together with eight casual attendees. The US military command regrets this collateral damage, but anomalies are inevitable due to our policy of high-altitude interventions, which have resulted in negative casualty figures for US servicemen.”

“We screwed up today when we trashed a playing field. We got some crap intelligence and killed two soccer teams in a little bitty fireball. Oh yeah, and eight rubberneckers. But what the heck, they’re only towelheads. Bombing from up high is kinda hit and miss, but it means our guys don’t get their asses whupped. Hell, we ain’t lost one yet.”

(John Phillips)

Italian countertenor Enrico Stroppi is to sue the Hilyatt Hotel, following an incident in which his toupee became detached in a revolving door. Stroppi, who currently sings the lead in La Travestia at the London Palliseum, is understood to be `mortified’ by the indignity of the occurrence. `It is tantamount to character assassination,’ his agent claims, adding, `Signor Stroppi now fears ridicule from his public.’ No one at the Hilyatt was available for comment.

English-translation

Top wop Enrico Stroppi yesterday lost both his rag and his rug. The megapodge confirmed bachelor Eyetie warbler got himself stuck in the revolving door of London’s Hilyatt Hotel, after a night out at Arthur’s Seat, the capital’s notorious gay wateringhole. An unnamed source said, `Enrico is gobsmacked. He never expected a door to snatch his thatch. His reputation’s in tatters.’ Phooey. Stroppers is still the same clapped-out old poofter, singing for his supper. (Mike Morrison)

The regional French ad hoc delegation, in spite of scheduling difficulties with their arrival in southern England, soon integrated with and formed close connections with some local residents, and played a lively part in upholding traditional legal practices, contributing fully to a national building programme on a large scale. Following the sudden retirement on health grounds (due to ongoing visual impairment) of the chief executive, one of the incomers, himself apparently from a one-parent family, has now taken on this arduous role.

Bloody Normans, typical Frogs, turn up at Hastings, nobody invited them, got hold of as much Saxon totty as they could after they’d strung up or tortured all the blokes. Also they build their castles on every bloody corner. Old Harold gets an arrow in the eye and next thing you know, their bloke’s made himself king. No wonder they call him William the Bastard. (Brian Murdoch)

It was panic at the supermarket. A mouse had got loose in the shop and the checkout girl was hysterical, practically wetting her knickers, while some old fool of a pensioner’s dog had started barking. Then this kid who was stacking the shelves, a thick Mick if ever there was one, went after it with a broom. Finally the manager, a fat, bald bloke dressed like a pansy, told all the customers to clear off and come back later.

The appearance of an unscheduled rodent in a retail centre caused a customer service representative to suffer shock, distress and emotional damage. Also traumatised was the companion animal of a senior citizen. The stock replenishment manager, an educationally deprived young man of Hibernian ethnicity, made an unsuccessful intervention. An executive decision by the retail unit supervisor arranged for the temporary postponement of customer activity. (Basil Ransome Davies)

No. 2250: Cautionary tale

You are invited to write a verse cautionary tale, a la Belloc, suitable for a modern child. Maximum 16 lines. Entries to `Competition No. 2250′ by 1 August.

 

Language Loyalties: A Source Book on the Official English Controversy

English Language Learners

English-Language Learners: Unlike other states with large numbers of English-language learners, Texas has not established a single, statewide process for schools to identify and assess those students and redesignate them as fluent in English, according to an examination of states’ policies for English-language learners.

The study–conducted by Boston University political science professor Christine Rossell and published by the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute–examined six states that have the largest numbers of English-language learners. California has the largest number, followed by Texas, Florida, Arizona, Illinois, and New York. The study also examined Massachusetts.

High schools could do a better job teaching English-language learners by changing some traditional practices, suggests a policy brief by the Linguistic Minority Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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The policy brief identifies five myths about educating English-learners and tells how to overcome them. One myth, the brief says, is that school time frames for completion of high school are sacred. Norm Gold, a longtime educational specialist for English-language learners who wrote the brief, recommends expanding the time provided for high school from four to five years for English-language learners who want the extra time and need it.

English-language learners have limited access to some of the 186 small high schools that are part of a small-schools initiative launched by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in the New York City school system, says a report by two immigrant-advocacy groups.

Out of 183 small high schools studied during the 2005-06 school year, 93 had a population of English-language learners that was less than 5 percent of the student body, compared with the 12 percent of all high school students in New York City who are classified as English-learners, according to the report. It was produced by the New York Immigration Coalition and Advocates for Children of New York.

More than 40 percent of teachers of English-language learners in California public schools have had little or no professional development in the past five years to help them teach those students, concludes a study by researchers at the University of California, Davis.

About 43 percent of teachers whose classrooms were composed 50 percent or more of students learning English had taken no more than one in-service training session about instruction of such students in that time span, according to the study. It based its findings on a 2004 survey of 4,500 classroom teachers in 22 school districts. The report also found that half of new teachers who were required as part of their induction to take some in-service training focused on English-language learners had done so.

The No Child Left Behind Act is devaluing bilingual education and failing to address the needs of language-minority students because of the law’s heavy emphasis on English-only programs and high-stakes testing, concludes a report released last week.

The report, conducted by Arizona State University’s education policy studies laboratory, suggests that prior to the passage of the education law in 2001, the federal government had progressively taken steps toward meeting the needs of English-language learners. But since then, the report says, that commitment has eroded.

English-Language-Learners

Among other criticisms, the report says the federal education law forces English-language learners to take standardized tests in a language in which they are not yet proficient.

At the elementary school level, the nation’s English-language learners are largely concentrated in a relatively small number of schools, according to a study.

Produced by the Washington-based Urban Institute, the study found that nearly 70 percent of elementary-level English-language learners are enrolled in 10 percent of the nation’s elementary schools. The researchers also noted that nearly half–43 percent–of the nation’s elementary schools don’t have any students with limited proficiency in English. The study defines schools with a high number of limited-English-proficient students as those in which such students make up at least 23.5 percent of enrollment.

Arizona’s English-language learners do increasingly better on the state’s standardized academic tests during each of the first three years they participate in special programs to learn English, but their performance on those tests stagnates or declines if they stay in those programs for more than three years, a policy brief by the Arizona Center for Public Policy concludes.

The authors of the study say that such a finding shows that students don’t continue to benefit from special programs to learn English after a certain amount of time, which they argue has implications for how such programs should be funded.

English Learners in California: What the Numbers Say

The more time that English-language learners spend in U.S. schools, the more likely they are to pass the English section of California’s high school exit exam, with the exception of students who have repeated a grade, according to a report by EdSource, a Mountain View, Calif.-based nonprofit education research organization.

But more time in school doesn’t lead to higher passing rates on the math section of the test, the report says.

It also notes that school districts’ rate of reclassifying students each year as fluent in English doesn’t necessarily correspond with how well students perform on state tests. For example, in the Natomas Unified School District in Sacramento, 6 percent of English-language learners were reclassified as fluent in English during the 2006-07 school year, but 54 percent of ELLs scored as proficient on the state’s English-language proficiency test.

 

Read more: Ingles without barriers: more English-language hits are getting Latin radio airplay

Then who wrote the best essay ever in the English language?

At a recent literary seminar, the question was asked: `Which is the best essay ever written in English?’ It is a question I have often asked myself, and a difficult one, for all kinds of writings can be essays. A sermon, which brings in Donne and Newman. A theatre review or a sports report, which makes Philip Hope-Wallace, Ken Tynan and many other writers eligible. A radio talk, which raises contenders such as Alistair Cooke, or J.B. Priestley for his marvellous wartime broadcasts. A concert note brings in, for instance, all those elegant pieces by Donald Tovey, rightly called Essays in Musical Analysis. There are many other categories, including extracts from books, that fit the essay form and are complete in themselves. Some would even call the Sermon on the Mount an essay, though presumably it was first given in Aramaic, and so ruled out.

Francis Bacon, our earliest essayist, is a strong contender: he is succinct, to the point, deadly in apophthegm, the master of the oneliner. Of his 58 essays, more than half are winners, and a few — `Boldness’, `Envy’, `Gardens’, `Truth’, `Revenge’, for example — superb. I find that I quote him more than I do any other author, in conversation as well as in writing, for he is even pithier than Johnson. He outclasses his master, Montaigne, though he does not have the sweet softness that makes the Frenchman touch the heart. There are great essays in 17th-century works. Clarendon’s portraits of both Cromwell and Charles I are enviable things to have composed. Pepys’s account of the fire of London is the best eye-witness essay I know, though a strong competitor is Evelyn’s elegiac picture of the last days of Charles II in the Great Gallery.

You can dig out bits from Bishop Burnet or Swift or, still more, Defoe, and categorise them as essays, though none would be quite in the top league. The supposedly great essayists, Addison and Steele, leave me gasping for air. There is not enough personal feeling or particularism in the marmoreal tomb-prose of either. The same applies to Johnson’s Ramblers and Coleridge’s Friend. It is as though a man, when he says, `I will now write an essay’, experiences a sudden stiffening of the literary joints, whereas Johnson, when he described Iona in his book on the Highlands, composed a moving little essay, and Coleridge’s vertiginous account of his descent of Scafell Pike, which occurs in a letter, is a brilliant action-essay and still makes my hair stand on end. It is the same with many great writers. I find Dickens’s essays in Household Words a bit platformy, whereas his letters recording the big railway accident in which he was involved, or just workmen rebuilding his house, are perfect essay-accounts. So is his description of Marseilles in the heat, or London in fog, from A Tale of Two Cities and Bleak House. (One could add Thackeray’s sleepy Dublin from his Irish Sketch Book.) De Quincey can be joined to this group: his essays tend to be dull, especially the learned ones, or too long, like Macaulay’s and Edmund Wilson’s, but his account of Wordsworth’s legs in his book on the Lake poets is a little masterpiece. He also, I should add, wrote a near-perfect formal essay in `Murder Considered As One of the Fine Arts’. Stevenson’s essays never quite hit the bull’s-eye, but the California-Pacific cloud-systems in his Silverado Squatters is a magical little prose-poem. I would also include in this category Hemingway’s unforgettable picture of the retreat across the Po in A Farewell to Arms, since this was his witness of an actual event.

The outstanding example of a writer who wrote his best essay in a book is Carlyle. Normally I do not recommend him, for his is literary heroin, fatally addictive; read too much of the old sage and you start spluttering yourself. So avoid his essays. But the 3,000 words he included about Coleridge talking in his Life of John Sterling is one of the finest essays ever composed, written with truth, love and horror. I do not value much Carlyle’s friend Emerson, whom many Americans would call the greatest essayist, though his occasional submersions into unconscious Freudianism add a sneaky zest. On the other hand, Mark Twain is the master of the extended single-topic passage. I am thinking, for instance, of three more or less truthful episodes in Roughing It: the portrait of the Nevada mine-camp cat, Tom Quartz; the flesh-creeping story of Slade and other gunmen who, in Twain’s words, `kept their private graveyards'; and the ever-popular story of the great Horace Greely and his stagecoach ride with Hank Monk. I would also rank as an essay Twain’s superb (and he swore truthful) piece `The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County’. Twain I respect particularly because of the economy of his writing. He served up the `Frog’ not only in English but also in French, translated the French literally back into English, was told that the story came from ancient Greece only to discover it had been translated into Greek for a school textbook. This piece of prose has probably raised more laughs, over the years, than any other.

Twentieth-century writers have not been great essayists on the whole. Orwell is the best, though it should be remarked that his beautiful pieces on seaside postcards and children’s comics had their origin in Chesterton’s fine essay, `Penny Dreadfuls’. However, Orwell’s `Shooting an Elephant’ is entirely his own and a work of genius. It is an obvious contender for the top prize. For sheer consistency of talent in what he produced over a fraught and distracted life, you cannot beat Hazlitt. I discovered him at 14 when I read `The Fight’ — I still rate it among the very best — which taught all the great American sports writers, as well as Hemingway, a trick or two. Oddly enough, when I reread it yesterday, I noticed that only two pages out of 13 are actually about the fight — the rest is getting there and coming home, a mine of vivid information about early 19th-century travel. Of Hazlitt’s 60 or so essays, a higher proportion even than Bacon’s are winners. And nearly all are as fresh and sinewy as when first written (you can read them in the superb new nine-volume edition of his Works by Pickering and Chatto). My favourite is `My First Acquaintance with Poets’, which contains passages of pure poetry set in scintillating prose, and still has the power to make me weep. But I also recommend Hazlitt on the pleasures — he would say the necessity — of hating. Indeed, virtually all his pieces contain nuggets of deep thought or gems of brilliance which, as Wellington said of Talleyrand’s epigrams, `you remember all your life’.

What about Charles Lamb then? Considering the tragic circumstances of his life, and his enslavement to commerce for the best part of it, it is amazing that he produced so much and of such high quality. Six or seven essays are on a level with Hazlitt and Bacon at their best, though his average is lower than either. However, there is one amazing item, which holds a unique place in my heart. It is called `Dream Children’, and evokes figures that emerged from the deepest recesses of the writer’s emotions. It possesses at one and the same time warmth, beauty, tenderness, visionary shapes, nostalgia, mystery and chilling fear. It is the most perfect and creepiest thing in the English language. The great collector and scholar Alfred Newton, who once owned the holograph, rated it the best essay of all time, and I agree with him. It was sold in 1941 for the then enormous sum of $7,500. Where is it now, I wonder?

Univision’s Conde sees growth opportunity in English-language audience

UNIVISION NETWORKS’ primary audience is and will continue to be Spanish-speaking U.S. Hispanics, but president Cesar Conde sees the general English-language non-Hispanic audience as a growth opportunity for the company.

In a keynote discussion with B&C executive editor Melissa Grego at B&C/Multichannel News’ 10th annual Hispanic Television Summit Oct. 3 in New York, Conde said optimizing Univision’s product to be consumed in English and Spanish is a priority.

“I think it will be great for our Hispanic community, but I think more importantly, it will also help begin to transcend some of that English-language non-Hispanic audience that has a real interest in the type of programming that we have,” Conde said.

That goal is being partially realized in Univision’s joint venture with ABC News, which will launch anEnglish-language news network primarily for a Hispanic audience but with potential to go more mainstream.

“If done the right way, this network will have broad appeal, beyond just the Latino community,” Conde said.

Though he had few details to offer about the network’s launch, he said the digital component, which soft-launched a beta site last month, will officially launch later this month with the TV network scheduled for summer 2013. Conde had no news about carriage agreements, but said there has been “overwhelming interest” from distribution partners. On Oct. 4, it was announced that Cablevision had agreed to carry the upcoming channel under ABC parent Walt Disney Co.’s new distribution deal with the MSO.

Conde also spoke about the importance of TV Everywhere to the Hispanic viewers, who are looking for more control of what they are watching.

“It’s a more acute issue for us as a Hispanic industry because our community over-indexes on the usage and consumption of interactive and social devices and social media,” he said. Conde said Univision has tried to be proactive about tapping new alternative distribution mediums, like a new deal with Xbox to launch its UVideos Digital Network, and ensuring they have social media functionality with all of their content through things like second-screen apps.

Despite the growth opportunity of the Hispanic audience for the general media landscape, Conde said it is important for Univision to remember they are still underdogs. While Hispanics represent an increasing percentage of the population, national political ad-spend and ad sales in general on Spanish-language media still have not reached fair scale parity with the general population.

Conde said that lag is expected when an industry shifts focus and said, “the trend is moving in the right direction” though “we still have work to do.”

Education: standards and assessments in practice

The Changing Face of American Education

In my nearly 15-year progression from teaching in a high school classroom to teaching future teachersin a university classroom, I’ve gained an unusual perspective on American education, one that led me to want to take stock of our currently standards–and test-obsessed climate. In 1995, as I began my teaching career, I was blissfully ignorant of both content standards and high-stakes standardized testing. I received my initial teacher certification that year from the state of Ohio, one of the first states to institute a benchmark, high-stakes exit exam for its students.

My university methods class in English/Language Arts had taught me how to write a lesson plan, structure a novel unit, and respond to student writing. But even though the Ohio 9th Grade Exit Exam had been instituted three years before, there was no talk of standards, content or otherwise, and no discussion, as far as I can remember, of teaching to the test. When I compare my own teacher-training and student teaching experiences with the teaching and research I have conducted recently, I see so few similarities between them that it almost appears I was trained for an entirely different profession.

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When I received my first job later in 1995, teaching 9th and 10th grade English in California, nothing had changed fundamentally from my training in the Midwest. I know now that California had a curriculum framework for English/Language Arts (E/LA) in place at that time (specifically, 1985’s Model Curriculum Standards: Grades Nine Through Twelve), and this framework had grade level expectations for students, but I never would have guessed that from the materials handed to me at my new teacher orientation.

  • My department chair gave me two small binders, one for each grade level I was teaching. The 9th grade binder told me I would teach short stories, To Kill a Mockingbird , and Romeo & Juliet, and I was free to choose additional novels from the included reading list. Additionally, I was asked to teach a variety of literary terminology specific to prose (exposition, conflict, rising action, etc.), as well as the narrative essay.
  • My 10th grade binder looked much the same. I would teach poetry (and its related terminology), two core novels (Lord of the Flies and Black Boy), the persuasive essay, and the research paper. There was a general expectation in both grades to teach vocabulary and grammar, but no guidelines as to which words or concepts. That was the extent of the direction I was given as a 22-year-old teacher fresh off a plane from Ohio.

Six years later, the world had changed. When I returned to the classroom after a one-year stint in graduate school, California had instituted their brand-new curriculum frameworks and content standards. I now had an expansive, state-mandated list of items to cover with my students, running the gamut from vocabulary acquisition to public speaking. Students were tested on these standards, and 10th grade students now had to pass an exit exam in order to receive their diploma. In my district, course outlines had to be rewritten showing how every aspect of every class related to the standards. We adopted a textbook anthology that provided teachers with discussion questions, worksheets, and tests all tied directly to California’s content standards and we were encouraged to use these resources to ensure that we were meeting the standards.

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Site administrators required teachers to conspicuously post the content standards that related to that day’s lesson, and they were diligent in spot-checking classrooms to ensure that the standards were, in fact, posted. Department meetings, staff meetings, and staff development days focused not on how to better meet student needs, but on how to better meet the content standards and their accompanying tests, apparently assuming that these two very different goals were actually one and the same.

As I became involved in teacher education working with pre-service teachers in E/LA at the graduate school level I saw that the emphasis on standards was not isolated to kindergarten through grade 12 education. I was required to instruct the student teachers in how to meet the content standards, and the students were asked to demonstrate this in their lesson planning. They were also asked to discuss the ways in which they met standards and objectives in their major teaching assessment, the Performance Assessment for California Teachers (PACT).

In the two years that I taught the Methods and Procedures course for the E/LA cohort, the student teachers reported that they felt pressure to meet the standards, and were constantly concerned that they were failing to live up to these state-mandated expectations. Additionally, no matter how successful they had become in developing their own lessons, most of the student teachers were required to shift gears completely in the weeks leading up to the spring standardized tests, abandoning literature and authentic writing assessments in lieu of isolated lessons on test preparation.

It is one thing, I have discovered, to be in favor of accountability, and another thing entirely to see what this accountability looks like in practice. For me, the school year would get hijacked once in March for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), and again in April for the series of Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) assessments. Spread over two weeks, the five days of STAR testing (covering the core content areas of English, Social Science, Science, and Mathematics) took up roughly half the school day, and required that the daily schedule be rearranged so that there would be some sort of equity in class meeting times. Predictably, the students were frazzled and exhausted after three to four hours of testing each day, so even though classes met for roughly the same amount of time, productivity was nearly zero. And, as with the CAHSEE, much time and energy was devoted to test preparation.

Additionally, teachers and administration had to come up with ways to get the students to take the test seriously. Unlike the CAHSEE, where graduation is contingent upon a passing score, there is no real reason for students to view the STAR as anything more than a hoop to jump through each spring. They are not punished for a poor performance, nor are they rewarded for an outstanding one. Hanging potential classification as a “Program Improvement” school over their heads isn’t a credible or meaningful threat, and since the Governor’s Scholarship program, which awarded top-performing students $1,000, lasted only three years, it is hard to find a good reason for students to expend effort on an assessment for which they receive nothing in return. In my observations, I’ve seen schools resort to various “carrots”: offering a carnival during school hours for students who improved their scores over the previous year, extending lunch time, or awarding gift cards from various local businesses. It is unclear if this actually did anything to boost student performance.

Bearing all of this in mind the overhaul of school curricula, the implementation of new tests, the drastic changes required of administrators, teachers, and students by high-stakes tests one crucial question has been left unasked by many and unanswered altogether: are the standards and tests, in their present form, promoting student learning? If they are not, it casts serious doubt on whether all the time and energy expended so far has been worth it, and raises troubling questions about the schools that have already received punitive measures under the mandates of NCLB.

Troubled by the changes I witnessed as a result of my own teaching experiences, I spent three years researching California’s system of standards and assessments. I focused on the twelve Literary Response and Analysis standards (the curricular tasks dealing with the study of literature) at the 9th and 10th grade level, analyzing them to determine just what they wanted students and teachers to know and be able to do with literature, and also examining the corresponding STAR test questions released by the state in an effort to see exactly what kind of knowledge of the standards was being measured.

As a result of this research (which also included interviews with practicing teachers), I worry that there is A) a disconnect between the content standards and what constitutes meaningful instruction in literature, and B) a lack of accuracy in the way the standards are assessed by the STAR.

My fear is that California’s current system of standards and assessments might represent nothing more than an empty gesture toward increased intellectual rigor and higher standards for graduation, but is, in reality, a sort of pseudo-literacy that sounds impressive, but falls apart under genuine scrutiny.

A practical example would be helpful. In my analysis of the standards, I found that, among other things, the standards often misrepresent (or even misunderstand) the way readers make meaning of texts. Standard 3.5 asks that students “compare works that express a universal theme and provide evidence to support the ideas in each work.” There are other problems with this standard, but most troublesome is the idea that texts “express” a theme. The implication of Standard 3.5 is that a student reads a text, and the theme immediately leaps from the pages, as though it were contained within and merely waiting to be released by the reader. This is a view of literature instruction with which many critics and well-informed teachers would disagree, as this approach seems to ignore the fact that not every student reads the same way, and therefore not all themes will exist equally for all students.

Louise Rosenblatt’s transactional theory of reading, with its notion that students interact with a text based on their own history and experience, allows for individual interpretations of texts, and the possibility that not every child will arrive at the same thematic understanding. Looked at in this way, the theme isn’t “expressed” by a text and received by a student; rather, the theme is arrived at after the student interacts with the text, applies his or her own knowledge, and arrives at an understanding. To put it another way, a theme isn’t found in a text; theme is imposed on a text by the reader during the process of constructing meaning.

Even if we were to adopt this extremely flawed and reductive view of how people read, and remembering that Standard 3.5 apparently allows for only one theme to be discussed, who gets to choose which theme is the “right” theme? In Huckleberry Finn , I can see how there could be a wide range of themes at which a student might arrive in his reading. A student could plausibly believe the novel to be about any one (or more) of these themes: the evils of slavery; the need to avoid hypocrisy; the debilitating effect of racial injustice; the importance of friendship; the perils of growing up; finding redemption in the wilderness. Are any of these more worthy of discussion than the others? Who makes that decision? The teacher? The students? And on what are they basing their decision? Standard 3.5 doesn’t see any of these issues as problematic, since apparently there is only one theme in a text, and you can find it there if only you look hard enough.

Ideally, the STAR test items that correspond with this standard would shed light on exactly what teachers should do with it. However, at the 9th grade level, the STAR does nothing to illuminate just what Standard 3.5 is after. In fact, it makes matters more difficult.

After reading two short texts (an excerpt from a prose passage about scuba diving, and a Noboa Polanco poem titled “Identity”), the students are asked to identify what “sense” is conveyed by each passage. This is, of course, not a question about theme. Asking students what sense they receive from a text indicates mood or tone. What it does not indicate is theme, in any way that I have ever taught the concept myself, or seen it taught by others.

This only reinforces my fear that the authors of the standards (and now, I see, the STAR) have themselves only a rudimentary knowledge of the concepts they have established as requisite student knowledge. How else to make sense of a test question supposedly assessing knowledge of theme that in fact has nothing whatsoever to do with theme? It is not entirely clear what the standard wants teachers to do, and this test question only serves to muddy the waters by implying that tone or mood are somehow comparable to theme.

It comes as a relief, then, that while I may not agree with the views embodied by the 10th grade questions, they at least possess a semblance of alignment with what I think the standard is asking of teachers and students. The problem, though, is that they do seem to adhere to the reductive view of reading and meaning-making that I believe Standard 3.5 embodies (that is, a single theme rests in the text and will be discovered by a competent reader). In two questions, students are asked to identify issues of theme dealing with two separate poems. In both cases, the questions make the assumption that students will read and arrive at the same theme as the test-makers. This ignores what we know about how readers read texts and make meaning of them, and is troublesome because a student could read the poems and understand them, but arrive at a different thematic interpretation than the one endorsed by the STAR.

The effect on the student, then, is that he believes his reading of the poems to be “wrong.” This is the problem with asking questions about theme and meaning on multiple-choice tests. We know that there can be variances in interpretation, but standards and tests (or at least these standards and tests) act as if there is only one “right” answer, and if you don’t agree with the test-makers, you will be penalized.

If we look to the test questions released by the state to clarify what is meant by each standard, here is what we can now conclude about Standard 3.5: At the 9th grade level, we learned that theme is roughly the same thing as tone and mood, and at the 10th grade level, we learned that theme is seen as singular and based on an authoritative reading of the text by a removed third party. For the released STAR test questions, only a third of them seemed to accurately assess the identified standard. In another third, I couldn’t figure out what they were assessing. My position to standards and assessments is not adversarial, but it strikes me that these results are simply not acceptable.

I have no problem with holding teachers and students to high standards, nor am I opposed to using some form of assessment to determine if they are meeting these standards. However, as I look back over the changes occurring in public education in the 15 years since I finished my teacher training, I don’t see the current system of standards and assessments as accomplishing much more than adding an additional level of bureaucracy to our schools. More to the point, if the Obama administration’s rhetoric is anything to go by, standards and assessments are here to stay.

Common core standards are currently in development, and there is talk of increased accountability for teachers (with tenure contingent on students’ satisfactory test performance) as well as teacher-training programs. It is absolutely vital, then, if we are to buy into this system, that we see the standards as reflecting meaningful instructional tasks, and the assessments as accurately and thoughtfully evaluating student performance on those standards. For over a decade we have allowed these sweeping changes to take place, simply assuming that the existing standards and tests represent our best educational interests. Instead, the mandates made upon teachers should be held up to the same level of scrutiny as the teachers themselves.

Rob Montgomery is Assistant Professor of English Education at Kennesaw State University. He is a National Writing Project fellow specializing in pre-service English Education, composition studies, and adolescent literacy.