Monday, June 27


Kelly Crumb's paper

Kelly Crumb
LIT 630 Final Paper

“Can Literacy Be Used to Exert Yourself in a Culture?”

It seems that we live in a world where people place a great deal of emphasis on “getting ahead”. You know, being “one up” on the other guy. It has been argued that money is power- and that wealth can be used to climb to the top of the social ladder. That may be true for some, but for those who live in societies where status is awarded to literates and so called “storytellers”, literacy may be more powerful than any amount of money. Literacy has also been used throughout history to advance certain groups who were exploited at one time or another; mainly African Americans, women, and Jews. Each of these groups have seen how powerful literacy can be when trying to advance their particular group in society.
In the early to mid 1840’s, many African Americans had begun to accept their position as slaves in the relatively new nation. Others, on the other hand, recognized their responsibility to challenge their role by exerting themselves in a society that had exploited them for so many years. Becoming literate was seen as a means to do so.
By 1840, Southern states had illiteracy rates over three times that of states in the north. Southern states averaged 17%, while the north averaged only 5.4%. (Graff, 1987) At this time, there was no formal education for blacks living on plantations, and as one slave recalled, “the only thing we had to learn was how to work”. (Irons, 2002) As a matter of fact, plantation owners saw the danger of slaves becoming literate. If caught learning to read or write, slaves would be forced to endure harsh punishments. Some masters would cut off the thumbs or fingers of slaves who were trying to become literate.

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What an interesting conflict here: Plantation owners who relied on the system of slavery to advance themselves economically versus slaves who recognize the effect that literacy can have on their desire to become free. I remember a phrase that I heard in a certain required course here at Cortland. That phrase was “it’s better to give a woman a gun than an education”. Could it be that even wealthy southerners realized the fact that the education of slaves and their ability to become literate was a major threat to the economic system of slavery?
Several important authors emerged during the Abolitionist movement to try to encourage African Americans to challenge norms that existed in society, mainly the institution of slavery. William Lloyd Garrison emerged as a prominent voice in the anti-slavery movement with his publication of the Abolitionist newspaper called The Liberator. His writings were very popular. Various issues of his newspaper were published from 1831 all the way until the abolishment of slavery in 1865. What is interesting to note here is that Garrison continued to try to reach the public even after President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. His words were powerful enough to incite Americans until the formal ending of slavery by the Thirteenth Amendment. Garrison showed his determination in a quote to another local newspaper saying, “I am in earnest-- I will not equivocate-- I will not excuse-- I will not retreat a single inch-- AND I WILL BE HEARD!!!”( Garrison truly had an impact on society by exercising power of the pen.

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Harriet Beecher Stowe also displayed her strong feelings during the Anti-Slavery movement when she wrote the famous book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1853. Fans of Stowe have seemed almost like a “secret society” of abolitionists in the North. Certain aspects of Stowe’s life shocked me. I realized that her family relied on her to survive. She began at an early age writing for local and religious magazines, which paid her just enough to feed her family. I have argued already in this paper that literacy is very powerful, but now I can confidently say that some Americans have even depended on it for survival!
If anything else, Stowe was described as a realist; a term that may have been looked at negatively by people during the time period. Most importantly, she used literacy to paint a vivid picture of the horrors of slavery in pre-Civil War America. Readers across the North suddenly became proactive in response to the writings of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Another group of people in history that have relied on Literacy to advance their cause is women. During the years of the Women’s Rights and Women’s Suffrage movements, several powerful works of literature persuaded women across the country to join the fight for equal rights. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem have become household names for those who followed the women’s rights movement.
Most Americans remember the publication of The Feminine Mystique in 1963, but few understand the political, social, and economic effect that it had on women across

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the country. It is amazing how one book and its message can act as fuel or a catalyst for the entire movement for women’s rights. In her book, Betty Friedan challenged
traditional roles that women had fallen to, and urged women to become active in affairs traditionally maintained by men. What is important to understand is that this book was not simply a book that was kept on a shelf in someone’s basement, rather an invitation for women to change popular culture. As Friedan’s message reached more and more Americans, political action was jumpstarted. The book inspired women to actually file lawsuits against media outlets that had relied on negative stereotypes to characterize women ( I find it amazing that one book could expose so much that Americans would want to take immediate action.
Other women took charge of the movement for women’s rights by using literacy to achieve a certain goal. Many Americans still remember the impact of the publication of MS. Magazine by notable women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem. Ms. Steinem always had aspirations of being a journalist. To fulfill her desire to inspire women across the country, she began freelance writing on topics related to the exploitation of women ( Gloria traveled a great deal, hoping to use her writings and lectures to fuel the fight for equal rights. It wasn’t until 1972 that the first independent issue of MS. was published. After that date, Ms. Steinem devoted the majority of her time to writing and publishing her new magazine.

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Perhaps the most inspirational piece that I read about while preparing for this assignment was regarding the treatment of Jews in concentration camps during World War II. I was familiar with stories about villages being taken over by Nazi armies, and
the horrors that families experienced by being ripped away from their loved ones. I remember how I felt when I read books like Night, by Elie Wiesel. In this very emotional story of a family that survived the Holocaust, Wiesel recalls what would have happened to his family if any books were found in his home. Reading for pleasure was looked at negatively by the Nazi’s who were responsible for tearing apart the homes of families in Poland. This re-affirmed my belief that literacy can be more powerful than any amount of money. I look at this example as being similar to the treatment that African Americans received in America during times of slavery. The slaves’ masters and the Nazi’s must have realized how powerful literacy could be, or they wouldn’t have tried so hard to restrict activities like reading and writing.
Literacy has also been used in History by people searching for inner strength. I could not imagine the pure terror of being placed in a concentration camp after being separated from my family. Aside from the emotional struggle, the physical pain would be completely unbearable. I learned that several Jews turned to literacy to temporarily escape from the horrors of the Holocaust (Intrator, n.d.). In an article entitled “Avenues of Intellectual Resistance in the Ghetto Theresienstadt: Escape Through the Central Library”, Miriam Intrator writes very compassionately about the lives and personal

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perspectives of the “inmates” of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. As Intrator states:
“Through a close examination of Theresienstadt memoirs, diaries and histories, this paper explores the concept of intellectual resistance as a result of participation in some of the camp’s intellectual activities—namely the library books and reading. These activities provided prisoners with a means of keeping their minds and imaginations active and
alive, allowing them to escape temporarily from the horror surrounding them, as well as providing a means of maintaining hope and strength that increased their chances of survival.”

I view this statement to be incredibly powerful. To think that the only means of “escape”
from the horrors of the concentration camps is through the library is truly amazing.
The most challenging part of this paper was to make connections to the readings that we have been working on in class. One central theme kept coming up when I completed an article, and that was how literacy can be powerful. As I have stated, several groups in American society have used literacy as a tool to challenge traditional roles, and to achieve a certain goal.
The first author that practically jumped to mind was Paolo Friere. I liked his reference to illiteracy as a “poison herb” (Friere, 617). This term makes the point that an illiterate person may have trouble fitting into society. He also implies that literacy can act as a bridge between intelligence and creativity (page 621), which I think connects to what I have written about thus far. Being able to read and write is one thing, but to be able to channel creative energy to an entire population of people can be an extremely powerful tool. I believe that African Americans, Women, and Jews have exercised that power in history.

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I chose to read a particular article that was not assigned during our class time together, mainly because I thought it would help me with my paper. I enjoyed reading
“Women and Literacy: A Quest for Justice” by Lalita Ramdas. On page 633, she makes an interesting reference to different periods of literacy for women. There were different priorities during different decades that made me curious. The period between 1945-1964
“emphasized functional literacy but excluded numeracy”. What was more interesting was the period from 1965-1974, where literacy for women was linked to “economic growth and returns” (Ramdas, page 633). I had no clue what she meant by the word returns, but I picked up on the reference to economics. While researching women and their quest for equal rights, I learned that the sixties and seventies were a crucial period. After reading Ramdas, I realized that there was even a more formal movement to prepare women for the work world by encouraging literacy.
I also tend to be able to relate to Wayne Campbell Peck, Linda Flower, and Lorraine Higgins and their views about community literacy. When I reread the article titled “Community Literacy”, everything fell back into place. The most interesting point is made on page 575 and reads, “community literacy supports social change”. I related those words to what I had learned through my research, particularly the part about change. The common thread that binds African Americans, Women, and Jews is the fact that at one time or another, their particular group was exploited or oppressed. Each group used community literacy in one way or another to improve their quality of life. Peck, Flower, and Higgins also caught my attention by stating that a goal of community literacy

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is inquiry (576). I asked myself, “isn’t that what various groups have relied on to challenge their current position and/or to better themselves?”
I feel that it would be unfair to mention the likes of Friere, Ramdas, and Peck, Flower, and Higgins without mentioning Shirley Brice Heath. I think of her as one of the main proponents of community literacy. The main difference between Heath and the
other authors was obvious to me: it didn’t seem like Heath placed as much of an emphasis on “power”. She seemed to take the position that supports that people in various communities (Trackton, for example) acquire literacy skills that will help them to be successful in the community that they live in. I didn’t really notice Heath advocating that literacy should be used by members of the Trackton community to challenge their position in society.
So, it comes time to ask the central question. Who do I push against? This was by far the most difficult part of my paper. I was trying to think of authors that took a stand against community literacy and its power, but to no avail. I realized that I might look into people that see a great deal of value of formal education over anything else. At first, it seemed obvious to look at David Bartholomae and his views on what I consider to be formal education. At no point while reading the article again did I feel that Bartholomae discourages community literacy, but I don’t think he emphasizes it. I was astonished after reading a particular quote on page 523. Bartholomae states “Their (the students) progress will be marked by their abilities to take on the role of privilege, by their abilities to establish authority”. I was not sure if I had read that correctly, but I

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understood that quote to mean that privilege and authority can be achieved through formal education. I think I have proven that formal education is not necessary to allow a certain person or group of people to establish themselves.
My views of literacy have changed a great deal after taking this course. I held very traditional views of what exactly literacy is, and how it is used. I guess I never
appreciated the value of literacy being used to achieve something in life. In school, I was taught about various minority groups and their struggles to achieve equality, but I never realized that literacy was one of their most powerful weapons. In today’s world, I feel that so much of the population is wrapped up in things like “Reality TV” or meaningless competitions to win one million dollars. It was refreshing to be able to see various people throughout history using literacy as power. It reaffirms my belief that thought (more specifically, literacy) is more effective than any other means to achieve status in today’s society.

Works Cited

Cushman, Ellen, Kintgen, Eugene R., Kroll, Barry M., and Rose, Mike (1999). Literacy:
A Critical Sourcebook. Boston, MA, Bedford St. Martin’s.

Intrator, Mirium. “Avenues of intellectual resistance in the ghetto Theresienstadt: escape through the central library, books, and reading”. (no date). International Journal of Libraries and Information Services. (note… I absolutely could not indent this citation. I have no clue why…)

Irons, Peter (2002). Jim Crow’s Children. Harmondsworth, England, Viking Penguin


Final Paper

This is my final paper because I have emailed it any times and it hasn't worked for some reason.
Sherri Buchanan
Lit 630
June 24, 2005
Final paper

The question remains whether we will use the classroom walls as instruments of separation or communication.
-Anne Ruggles Gere

I’m sure that almost everyone can think of a time when they were in school that a teacher re-directed their individual thinking in some way. By this I am referring to any instance in which one said something (a statement, question, etc.) and the teacher changed the subject in order to avoid an uncomfortable situation. The teacher avoided the situation because they thought that it was inappropriate for school or assumed that the topic could reach a level that may be considered inappropriate for school. What the teacher is unaware of is the way that the student perceived the situation. The student was given the message that what they had to say was unimportant. Here I would like to stress the difference between the words; inappropriate vs. unimportant. The word inappropriate, in this case, means that the topic is unsuitable to be discussed. Unimportant, in this case, means that what you have to say does not matter. The difference in meaning between the two words can influence how a student will feel, act, and progress in school. I will argue that teachers should be aware of these instances and handle them in a different manner. I think that these instances can be used in students’ literacy at school. I believe that students should be a part of their education (literacy development) rather than given their education. With this theory in mind, I will offer an example to illustrate my point.
This past year I had four students that stayed in my classroom for the entire day. Other students joined us for ELA (English Language Arts) and math but the four were together for the duration of the school day. Due to the small group and length of time that the four students spent together, they became very close. This past week has closed out the school year for us and it is clear in their actions and words that they will miss each other very much. They resemble a small family in that they argue and annoy each other but at the same time stick together and help each other.
In April one of the students, Justin, was hospitalized. At first I did not want to tell the three girls because I was worried that they would be scared. I also was unsure of how long Justin would have to stay and I did not know how to explain his condition. Justin was having mental health problems and the doctors were unsure of what the underlying causes were. The doctors did not know how long Justin would have to stay and what course they would take to help him. After Justin was out of school for a week and the girls were asking everyday where he was, I decided to tell them.
I told the girls that Justin was sick and he was in the hospital. I told them that I did not know when he would be home. I did not talk about his condition due to confidentiality and the fact that the girls would not understand. However, I answered any of their questions the best that I could. I allowed them to express concern and talk about their feelings. I validated their feelings and thoughts by allowing them to have a discussion. I also provided journal writing time in which they could write their thoughts privately. They had the option of keeping the entries private or handing them in for a response from me. The girls later claimed that they felt better and liked talking and writing about their thoughts. We made a classroom policy that when things were bothering them journal writing would be a good way to help them.
One month later Justin came back to school. We were all very excited to see him and were happy to have him back in our class. The girls told him about our classroom policy of journal writing about things that were bothering us. He expressed some of his feelings about the hospitalization and I recommended that he try the journal writing strategy. Justin (who dislikes writing a great deal) wrote about his experience in the hospital after talking to me about it. When he finished his writing about the hospital stay, he wanted to share it with the class. I made sure that I set aside time in class for him to do this. He thanked me later and said that it made him feel better. “And now the girls will quit askin’ me what it looked like and if I was scared!”
My point in writing the above scenario is to show that real-life experiences are important to include in school curriculum. When Justin was hospitalized I was scared. Consequently, my instant reaction was to inform the girls that he was sick and I didn’t know when he would be back. But then I thought about it and realized that the girls would be scared too. I thought that the best way to help each other was to talk about the situation and brainstorm ways to deal with it. It would have been futile to ignore the students’ concerns and feelings. It also would have been useless to tell them that it was inappropriate to talk about. I decided that by giving them time to write about things that are important to them, they are becoming a part of their education and literacy development. They were writing about something that they knew and therefore they became involved. The writing that came out of this (sad) situation was some of the best they had done all year.
In this paper I plan to discuss how changes in the literacy curriculum (K-5) could be made to encompass the extracurricular, social and cultural (I will refer to home literacy) influences. Children come to school already exposed to literacy. “It slowly became obvious to me that children’s discoveries about literacy in a literate society such as ours must begin much earlier than at school age” (Goodman, p.316). The type of literacy that children may be exposed to prior to school may be different than the school literacy. However, rather than expect children to adopt school literacy in place of their home literacy, I am arguing that there may be ways in which to include the home literacy in the school literacy. I will offer suggestions for curriculum adaptations and alternative grading/assessment options. “…literate practices are never good nor bad in themselves but rather good for or insufficient for the purposes we name” (Peck, Flower, Higgins, p.577). Some other authors that will support my thoughts are Purcell-Gates and Gere.
In order to make my argument clear I will describe the current literacy curriculum in terms of expectations of students. This can best be seen through standardized tests and the New York State Standards. I will argue that standardized tests should not be the sole measurement of student achievement. I will provide proof that the New York State Standards allow room for innovative ideas and teaching. Therefore, it will be concluded that students can benefit from including home literacy into school literacy. In fact, I believe that more student progress will be noted.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as part of his “Great Society” programs. This act has been reauthorized every five years. “Each of these reauthorizations have given the Administration and Congress the opportunity to add, delete, or modify provisions in the law in response to current demands and expectations” (Trahan, 2002, p.1). The most recent reauthorization, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), was signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002.
The NCLB act is a 377 page document covering many federal aspects of education. However, for the purposes of this paper only a few major points of the NCLB act will be noted. The major implication on education that NCLB has had is the focus on standardized test scores. The term scientifically based research is “defined as research that involves the application of rigorous, systematic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to education activities and programs” (Trahan, 2002, p.2). Based on this piece of the law, educators must provide data-driven information in order to prove that they are providing an adequate education to students. Therefore, some states have interpreted this and required schools to administer various standardized tests at various grade levels.
Within the law it is stated that there must be scientifically based research proving a connection between state and national educational standards and assessment. Again, this requires more standardized test taking. “A representative sample of students in the 4th and 8th grades in each state must also participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) testing program in reading and mathematics every year to assure the alignment of the state assessment process with national standards” (Trahan, 2002, p.3).
The NCLB act is an attempt to hold educators and students accountable for the education provided and received. Because the law is written in terms of scientifically based research, states and educators are forced to provide numerical data from standardized test taking scores. My argument is that test scores are not always the best measurement in which to hold all students. By law these tests do have to be administered, however they do not have to be the base for the education that students receive today. In fact, I believe that they should not be the focus for the curriculum. If the true focus of the NCLB act is accountability, then I will offer ways below that will hold teachers accountable while providing an active and engaging education for students. This type of literacy development that I will describe encompasses what students know and care about and therefore, makes their learning meaningful.
One of the ways in which to adapt literacy curriculum in order to make it more meaningful to students, is to incorporate journal writing. Journal writing can be done in many ways. If teachers are looking for students to use a specific skill (i.e. using describing words, verb-noun agreement, writing questions, etc.) then they can tell students that they must include the skill in their entry. Teachers may have a specific topic that they want students to write about (i.e. their summer vacation plans). At times students may be able to free-write. Regardless of the varying situations, I think that it is important that students take ownership of their writing. One way that students have ownership is simply by giving them the responsibility of their individual journals. I make it their job to write during some point of the day and to hand it in to me. They are also responsible to keep track of their journal. By handing over some of the responsibility (power and control) the students feel pride in what they accomplish independently. “We are able to learn only what we can experience” (Purcell-Gates, p.404). When students are active members of the journal writing process they are able to gain literacy skills from the experience.
When I look at the journals I only assess the content of what the students write. Although I teach students to use capital letters, punctuation, grammar, etc. I do not grade for these in journal writing. By doing this I am showing the students that what they have to say (write) is more important than whether they forgot a period at the end of the sentence. When students are not overwhelmed by all of the grammatical necessities of writing, they are able to express their thoughts more eloquently. This is due to the fact that the students are only thinking about the content of what they have to say. We, as teachers, often take for granted the thought that our students must engage in, in order to write grammar mistake-free sentences. I do not believe that grammar always needs to be graded. By giving our students a little breathing room their writing becomes their own thoughts and ideas on the paper.
My last point on journal writing goes back to my connection of home and school literacy. As I said earlier I do not assess grammar in journal writing. I allow my students to write as they would speak. In this way, the writing becomes their own. It is also important to allow students to free-write frequently. In my above example students were able to view writing as a way to express themselves and make sense of their world. Allowing students to bring their outside of school experiences into their school experience will make their learning more meaningful. “As we consider our own roles of social agency we can insist more firmly on the democracy of writing and the need to enact pedagogies that permit connections and communication with the communities outside classroom walls” (Gere, p.289). The connections that are made between home and school literacy are the bridges that students use to cross between the two places that they know in the world. This knowing leads them to increasing their literacy skills and development.
Another adaptation that could be made to curriculum is incorporating portfolios in the classroom. Portfolios are a way of tracking student progress over a period of time. The most important piece of this process is that students are a part of it. Students help decide which samples of work should be included in their portfolio. This helps to increase students’ pride in their work coupled with a rise in their self-awareness as growing learners. By showing students that literacy development is a process, again, they are able to be active members of their education.
Portfolios are a good way to assess students because they look at students as individual learners. Instead of comparing students on a bell curve, portfolios examine individual students’ progress over a particular time. In this way the curriculum can include a variety of activities and work pieces. Teachers are not forced to teach to a specific test. Therefore, teachers are able to incorporate home literacy more into the school literacy. Students can write about their individual experiences at home and learn from them. Teachers will have the flexibility in the curriculum to allow students to both make sense of their experiences and develop their literacy skills.
The New York State Standards for English Language Arts are as follows:
Standard 1: Students will read, write, listen and speak for information and understanding
Standard 2: Students will read, write, listen and speak for literary response and expression
Standard 3: Students will read, write, listen and speak for critical analysis and evaluation
Standard 4: Students will read, write, listen and speak for social interaction
Based on these standards, the above curriculum adaptations mentioned are suitable for New York State public schools. My point is that the standards that we (teachers) are required to teach students are very broad. There is a lot of room for interpretation and innovative teaching. It is imperative that we engage our students in order to provide them the best possible education. Perhaps NCLB should look more at engaging than accountability, because ultimately students are going to receive a much more meaningful education when it is engaging.
The above examples of curriculum adaptations are simply a jumpstart to get teachers thinking in a new direction. My points are simple; engage students by making them members of their literacy development; include what they know (home literacy) to make sense of new information (school literacy); and allow students to write about their experiences whether they be comfortable (for us) or not. Students will become literate to a higher degree from a process that they can view with their own eyes. Handing students a report grade at the end of every ten weeks is not nearly as powerful as asking them what they would like to add to their portfolio. “Our students would benefit if we learned to see them as individuals who seek to write, not be written about, who seek to publish, not be published about, who seek to theorize, not be theorized about” (Gere, p.287).

Jenn Marinelli- Final Paper

Experiences and Environment:
How They Impact Literacy Development

Jennifer L. Marinelli

Although it may seem obvious, it is important to remember that children’s development of literacy grows out of their experiences, and the views and attitudes toward literacy that they encounter as they interact with social groups (the family, the local community, and other socioeconomic classes, races, or ethnic groups). The soil in which the roots of literacy grows has significant impact on each child’s development.

- Yetta Goodman

As I sit and listen to my first grade students talk and interact among each other, it is very clear to me which students are growing up in a literate environment outside of school. Some children are talking about books they read at home and the writing journals they doodle in for fun. Other students are talking about movies and video games they play after school. The same children return their homework each week, are reading each night. The same parents are calling to make sure their child is doing well. We were having a discussion the other day about books the students could read over the summer and where they could go to get these books. Some students raised their hand and said they could go to the library and take out books like they do at school during the year. One little boy said he didn’t think he would have time to go the library because he would be too busy! Too busy for reading… how can that be possible? I thought to myself, it all depends on their parents. I hope they realize the importance of continuing to work with their child, which I stress all year.
The extracurricular activities talked about by Ann Ruggles Gere is an example of working outside the classroom walls. Gere says,
Positive feelings about oneself and one’s writing, motivation to revise and improve composition skills, opportunities for publication of various sorts, the belief that writing can make a difference in individual and community life-these accomplishments of workshops outside classroom walls mirror the goals most of us composition teachers espouse for our students (277).
Parents can involve their children in these kinds of beneficial activities to help support their children’s learning. These events should be happening outside of school. If students are involved in these kinds of literacy activities then they are staying out of trouble!! They are also allowing themselves to learn to enjoy writing and express themselves in a different way.
The support and cooperation of parents play a critical role in a child’s education. So, if a child does not have these literacy experiences at home, will this impact their literacy development? Is what they learn at school enough? Does their literacy development need to be reinforced at home? What if literacy is not valued at home?
With the end of the school year approaching, my students are about to enter into the next phase of their education. I think about the students coming up from kindergarten and what literacy skills they will bring with them; obviously all they learned in kindergarten but what about from home? Do they come from families where literacy is valued?
Victoria Purcell-Gates states, “Learning and exploration do not take place in a vacuum, however. We are able to learn only what we can experience” (404). This makes me think of schema theory. The idea that we need to draw on children’s schema, to activate their prior knowledge. What do they already know? What have they experienced that will help them learn what’s in front of them? What do we do if these experiences don’t exist? As a teacher I will create meaningful experiences for children in my classroom. I need to make sure I respond to children of different “soils.” It is my role as a teacher to meet the needs of all learners and create experiences for them that matter and will help them in their lives. It is important for teachers to remember it is not the child’s fault or the child does not have control of their living environment. We as educators have to be sensitive to these situations and help these students.
I have a little boy in my class whose parents don’t work with him on his reading and writing at home. He came into first grade below average and needed extra help. My teacher assistant would work with him in the morning to help him get caught up on reading, homework and spelling words. He wasn’t exposed to books, reading, writing or meaningful conversations at home. I feel this has had a negative impact on his learning because nothing is being modeled or reinforced at home. Then there is the other spectrum where reading and writing are important at home and they have experiences to draw from. These children enjoy reading and writing and see it as functional and that it has a purpose.
But the age old question is, are people a product of their environment? A person’s experiences and environment will effect the development of their abilities. Gates states, “Emergent literacy researchers and theorists claim that, as children learn oral language through experience and interaction with speech, so do young children learn about print- about written language- as they grow and develop in a literate society such as ours” (404). According to Gates, experience and development do effect literacy development. A good example of this is Donny and Jenny’s life from Gates’ article. Their world was limited due to their literacy knowledge. They had to adapt their lifestyle to what they knew and how to get by. Their children learned to do things by the way their parents did. Since Jenny and Donny didn’t read or write anything besides familiar names or marks either did their children (409). They learned what they were exposed to. How did they go on for so long living with such limited literacy skills? I still can’t believe these boys were passed through school without having the necessary skills to read and write. They did their best to function in society as having very limited literacy skills.
As Laura said in her blog,
I also found it very interesting to read about the impact that a non-literate environment had on these two children. I think that this article really backed up what Gere was saying about extracurricular activities and literacy outside of the school walls. Gere emphasizes the importance of this learning. “…Neither child ever asked about what the words or print in their environment “said.” Rather, the children learned to use the symbols their parents used: physical landmarks, colors, and shapes.”(416) These children have no understanding of print. They don’t really even understand its purpose. The children in my Pre-Kindergarten class understand the purpose of reading and writing and some of them are only three years old. Donny is in second grade and still struggles with the letters of the alphabet. Wow, I just can’t believe that he has gone through school and still does not understand so many of these key concepts. How did Donny pass through Kindergarten and first grade without this understanding about literacy? What should be done to help Donny and children in similar situations? As I read this article it brought to mind a family that I have been working with for two years. I have had two of the children in my Pre-Kindergarten classroom. They live with their grandparents, who have very limited language and literacy skills. These children sound like their grandparents. They have learned from the environment that they live in, and when they come to school it’s a bit of a shock to them. The situation is not as extreme as the one discussed in this article. However, there are strong connections between what was said by Purcell-Gates and what I see with this family. “Children learn about what they experience and participate in within their particular sociolinguistic cultures.”(409) This makes perfect sense to me, as this quote is describing why the children I am working with are so much like their grandparents who struggle to communicate with me. As educators we have such an important role with both the children and their families. We can be advocates for them and provide them with assistance and resources necessary to feel and be successful.

The example that Laura gives about the little boy in her class and his struggles relates to the influence from his environment. He only knew from which he came.
“Without the context of functional uses of print in their world, they never thought to explore its symbolic nature through pretend readings or writings attempts during their preschool years” (416). This is such a crucial act, pretend reading and writing when learning about literacy. My friend asked me if it was OK that her four year old daughter was “reading books” but not actually reading the words. I told her that this is part of the process of reading. It was good that she was allowing her daughter to engage in this act of pretend reading and that it will lead to actual reading. My friend is also an avid reader and I told her without even realizing it she is modeling reading for her daughter and she is also learning by seeing her mom. I think when parents value literacy and show their children that it is important in the home; children will learn the value too.
What if one’s surroundings don’t influence literacy development? Brian Street talks about two different models of literacy; the autonomous model and the ideological model. Brian Street states, “The exponents of an “autonomous” model of literacy conceptualise literacy in technical terms, treating it as independent of social context, an autonomous variable whose consequences for society and cognition can be derived from its intrinsic character” (432). So he is saying according to the autonomous model that literacy happens on its own and is independent. We know that children have the ability to learn how to become literate human beings; but without any social influences seem ineffective. In Street’s article he refers to David Olson as,
David Olson has perhaps been the most explicit exponent of the “autonomous” model, arguing that there is a transition from utterance to text both culturally and developmentally and that this transition can be described as one of increasing explicitness with language increasingly able to stand as an unambiguous and autonomous representation of meaning (432).
David Olson is talking about writing and its consequences. As I was reading Street’s article it was clear (I think) that he was talking about people who agreed with the autonomous model, not including himself. Street agrees with the ideological model of literacy which included the importance of social factors.
Shirley Brice Heath collected data in a community called Trackton in the Carolinas. She discovered some very interesting information. All adults in Trackton could read and write. Children were exposed to written material but not encouraged to read and write. Adults did not read to their children! No bedtime stories…nothing! Heath states, “Adults did not consciously model, demonstrate, or tutor reading and writing behaviors for the young. Children, however, went to school with certain expectancies of print and a keen sense that reading is something one does to learn something one needs to know” (447). Children were able to read print in their environment. This is interesting because they are not being read to but they are exposed to print and preschoolers are going to school with knowledge of print. Trackton was an oral community so storytelling was important in their community. Literacy was very much a social event. Children did have experiences and positive effects from their environment. It was just done in a different way. This way of literacy worked for this community. Although I can’t imagine reading independently and being looked down upon. This community just had a different way of doing things. Heath states,
Yet their literacy habits do not fit those usually attributed to fully literate groups: they do not read to their children, encouraging conversational dialogue on books; they do not write or read extended prose passages; reading is not an individual pursuit nor is it considered to have intellectual, aesthetic, or critical rewards (451).
In this environment literacy is seen as a social event. A reason for people to get together to talk. The function of literacy is social. One in this community would be confused as to why another person would want to read alone. What would the point be? In Trackton the environment and experience do affect a child’ literacy development, just in a different way than ours. Although what is ours? There isn’t just one way as we already know.
In the beginning of this paper I quote Yetta Goodman as she talks about the soil and roots of literacy. She goes on to say,
The ingredients in this soil include the amount of functional literacy that children encounter in the environment and the quality of those encounters; the attitudes and values about literacy expressed by other members in the social group; children’s intuitive awareness of the symbolic nature of oral language, art, music, and dance; and children’s own oral language (317).
I think this is such a powerful combination of important factors for literacy development. We can look at literacy development as a kind of plant! Without the essential needs it can’t grow properly and be a healthy living organism. Like a plant needs rich soil, water and sunshine; a child’s literacy development needs support, encouragement and modeling. A child is going to receive instructional support in the classroom but to be most effective it needs to carry over into the home.
Experiences and environment play an important role in who a child becomes and how he/she learns to participate in literacy events. If a child is not a part of this type of environment then it is the teacher’s responsibility to try and “pick up the slack” to the best of his/her ability. It is also important to try and foster a meaningful relationship with the parents to help ensure successful learning. A good way to create an open line of communication and to help families who don’t provide many meaningful opportunities for children is to have a literacy family night at school. During family night parents can interact with their children in fun activities such as sharing stories they have written, and reading books they have learned how to read well. Maybe if parents see the excitement in children while participating in literacy activities they will see its value. In my school we use to have a parent literacy night. We would talk to parents about how we teach reading and writing in school and how parents can help at home. We would teach the parents the reading strategies we teach the children when learning to read. Parents would leave with an understanding with what we do in school and how their children are learning. Unfortunately we haven’t done this in the past two years which as I wrote this I’m thinking it needs to start again because the parent response was very positive. It was a way for parents who had limited literacy skills to be involved with their child’s learning process.
Literacy development is a very complex process!! So many factors come into play while trying to achieve the ultimate goal… understanding that literacy has a purpose and it is very meaningful in our lives. What children bring to school with them helps or hinders their learning. We hope that children have the basic skills and experience to work with. Learning to become a human being who can read text, write a printed message, think, analyze and put it all together is an amazing accomplishment. We hope that children are growing up in a literate environment and are being exposed to literate experiences; the influence is priceless. We also need to continue to make sure the “soil” of literacy is nurtured and well cared for. We want our students to have the most powerful experiences with literacy that help them grow and succeed. The environment and experiences one has plays a role in literacy development and it doesn’t all just happen on its own. When the new school year starts in September, I look forward to meeting my new group of students and find out what they know and what experiences they bring with them. It is very exciting to meet my new students and learn what challenges I have to overcome and how I am going to create little first graders who can read, write and think. I do know that regardless of their experiences and the environment from which they come, I will teach them the value of literacy.

Work Cited Page

Gere, Ann Ruggles “Kitchen Tables and Rented Rooms: The Extracurriculum of
Goodman, Yetta “The Development of Initial Literacy”
Heath, Shirley Brice “Protean Shapes in Literacy Events: Ever-Shifting Oral and
Literate Traditions”
Purcell-Gates, Victoria “A World Without Print”
Street, Brian “The New Literacy Studies” (Laura)

Sunday, June 26


paper...jessie b.

Literacy and the Early Catastrophe

Jessie Hawley-Brown


Summer Session I

“Before children can take charge of their own experience and begin to spend time with their peers in social groups outside the home, almost everything they learn comes from their families, to whom society has assigned the task of socializing children. We were not surprised to see the 42 children turn out like their parents; we had fully realized, however, the implications of those similarities for the children’s future”
-Hart and Risely
For year’s linguists, psychologists, reading specialists and teachers have been conducting research to observe how children acquire language. What are the key factors that influence this learning? Why do some children enter school with a more extensive vocabulary than others, and what are the best ways for children to acquire language? Many theorists believe that from infancy the best way to acquire language is through total immersion. Learning a first language is something that every child does successfully, in a matter of a few years without the need for formal instruction. With language intertwined with what it means to be human, it is not surprising that children’s acquisition of language has received so much attention. Children develop literate behavior in a context that is social, interactive and holistic. Their language is mediated by an adult or a more knowledgeable peer. Thus parents or other caregivers are their children’s first teachers who provide a language rich environment. They have dialog with their children, engage in language play, draw attention to print that is all around them, and accept children’s scribbles as intents to mean and foster reading and writing.
The ability for children to acquire language has many factors; home environment, educational and economic status of family, conversation and communication, modeling by parents and other family members, and the amount of text that they are exposed to, all support the development of language.
Betty Hart and Todd Risley conducted a study in 1995 based on the rate of language development of children across income groups. What they found was that vocabulary deficits start as early as seven months and by the age of three they have experienced a 30 million word gap. The language that is used is not only less frequent in the lower socio economic households but it differs in context. Many of the children from these households are not being spoken to. I think of all the underpriveledged children that I work with each day and how much these students value the simple act of conversation. Sometimes the school that these children attend each day is more like their real home. At school the conversation is two sided, when many times at home these students will try to talk with their parents but nothing is said in return. The words that these children hear at home are in a ratio of one encouragement to two discouragements per hour. I found this chart as well as the graph below helpful to reinforce these facts.

Families’ Language and Use Differ Across Income Groups
13 Professional 23 Working-class 6 Welfare
Measures & Scores Parent Child Parent Child Parent Child
Protest scorea 41 31 14
size 2,176 1,116 1,498 749 974 525
utterances per
hourb 487 310 301 223 176 168
Average different
words per hour 382 297 251 216 167 149
a When we began the longitudinal study, we asked the parents to complete a vocabulary pretest. At the first observation each parent was asked to complete a form abstracted from the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT). We gave each parent a list of 46 vocabulary words and a series of pictures (four options per vocabulary word) and asked the parent to write beside each word the number of the picture that corresponded to the written word. Parent performance on the test was highly correlated with years of education (r = .57).
b Parent utterances and different words were averaged over 13-36 months of child age. Child utterances and different words were averaged for the four observations when the children were 33-36 months old.

“By the time the children were three years old, trends in amount of talk, vocabulary growth, and style of interaction were well established and clearly suggested widening gaps to come”(Hart). If there is a 30 million word gap by the age of three, imagine what an unfair advantage these “poor” children will have when starting school.
After reading this article and the many articles required for class I began to wonder, how can schools expect children to perform and progress at an equal pace? Many of the articles we read for class reminded me of the findings that Hart and Risley had written about. Research states that even before entering school, children from lower socio economic families are already at a disadvantage. It has nothing to do with their ability to learn and everything to do with their environmental surroundings. How can we expect nine year old children from all walks of life to have all the same experiences, vocabulary, and exposure to the world?
According to Akinnaso becoming literate is a social action. You become literate from the world around you. ”To the advocates of this view, then, literacy is a facilitating agent, promoting the development of preexisting cognitive capacities into certain channels that are socially and ideologically sanctioned by the user group” (Akinnaso 139). We acquire language form the environment in which we reside. “A literacy event is any occasion in which a piece of writing is integral to the nature of participants’ interactions and their interpretive process” (Heath, 445). For many of the lower socio economic families the literacy events that take place within their daily routines vary from situation to situation. These literacy events probably have little or no relevance to situations that these students will soon encounter at school.
“Rather than concede to the ultimate forces of heredity, we decided that we would undertake research that would allow us to understand the disparate developmental trajectories we saw. We realized that if we were to understand the how and when differences in developmental trajectories began, we needed to see what was happening to the children at home at the very beginning of their vocabulary growth” (Hart).
With this information proven to be true, I feel our educational system not doing their job. The No Child Left Behind Act was created to meet the needs of each student regardless of their background. But how can we as teachers make up for what is lacking in these students lives?

New York State has created a false representation of our society by expecting the “results” of the state tests to show student progress. When actually all they are doing is lessening the quality of our teaching. We as teachers can only build on what the students already know. We can try to give them as much background knowledge as possible, but we cannot make up for the lack of knowledge base outside of the classroom. Ogbu states".....understanding difference is not enough to change the status quo or allow minorities to succeed in school.” (Peck, Flower, Higgins 582) As a part of social, economic action they argue that both the white and African-American communities must also change how they practice learning.
Our education system does not allow for us to make decisions best to educate our students. Why is this? If we know students that live in these poorer households are at a disadvantage- why can’t we teach them the skills that they need to survive in today’s society? “Writing, together with reading, are described as “abilities” which it is the task of education to enhance” (Scribner and Cole 126). If we as educators are supposed to be enhancing the students learning the STATE is making this virtually impossible. Why is the “five paragraph essay” considered a more academic form of writing than poetry or writing music? Why can’t we teach the students through a context in which they can relate? The New York State exams are written for the middle to upper class children, who have experienced more worldly activities. The fourth grade English Language Arts exam is written at an eighth grade readability level and is expected to be interpreted by nine year old students. To tell you the truth, when I was grading the ELA exams this past year I had a hard time understanding the context of one of the writing pieces! The question was based around a passage about HAM radios. WHAT adult has even heard of a HAM radio? What is the point of testing students on information that they have never been exposed to? College students that are studying chemistry are not asked to take exams on literacy, so why are these types of tests considered unbiased?

The need for a new vision of education in inner city communities is an issue I feel very strongly about. Even though I don't work in an inner city school perse....I see many concerns in the elementary school where I work. Many of the families that have migrated to our schools community are brought here because of the maximum security prison. Many have fathers, uncles or brothers in the Auburn prison and come from inner city life. I do not think that NYS and the people creating these exams have any idea what actually goes on inside a title I school. We spend more time building background knowledge in a week than some of the middle class schools from the same community do in one month. These students should not be held accountable for the lack of life experiences in situations beyond their control.

Works Cited

Akinnaso, N.f(1991). Literacy and Individual Consciousness.

Freire, P. (1970). The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom and Education and Conscientizacao.

Hart, B. Risely, T. (2003). The Early Catastrophe. American Educator. Spring 2003. Retrieved June 2, 2005, from http://www.aft.prg/american_educator/spring2003/cacastrophe.html

Heath, S.B. (1982). Protean Shapes in Literacy Events: Ever-Shifting Oral and Literate Traditions.

Peck, W.C. Flower, L. & Higgins, L. (1995). Community Literacy.

Scribner, S. Cole, M. (1981). Unpacking Literacy.

final paper

The Division within Literacy

Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way.
George Evans

I walked into the meeting with the knowledge that this student’s parent is know for yelling and causing scenes in our school and has been banned from the building during previous years. What I was not expecting was her reasoning behind the refusal to amend her child’s Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). The purpose of this meeting was to add an Alpha-smart to this student’s IEP. This student has very poor handwriting and has been receiving occupational therapy all throughout elementary school. He is now a fifth grader and there has been very little improvement in his handwriting.
Many occupational therapists agree that if there has not been significant improvement after this amount of time then there are high chances that there will not be much more improvement. This is the appropriate age to request that the student be provided with technology such as the Alpha-smart or a modification such as a scribe. The mother was completely against this idea. She ranted and raved about how this school has failed her child because he has poor handwriting and no one has ever tries to “fix” it. We explained to her that he is a bright young boy with a lot of potential. This is part of his disability and is something that cannot be “fixed”. It certainly will not improve overnight. She also went on to say that by giving him the option to use the alpha-smart that we are cheating him out of an education. We felt that this student has the information but because he has such difficulty writing he does not give it his all in his work, he gets frustrates and gives p after a certain point. When he can verbalize or utilize the alpha-smart he is successful in his assignments and work. Most importantly he feels successful at this point. With the parents placing so much emphasis on writing and see it as a superior skill they are not allowing their child to reach their full potential, focus on his strengths, or feel successful.
Many will agree that the “default” definition of literacy is the ability to read, write, speak, listen and understand or something very close that includes those skills. Some see a separation between these skills of literacy while others view it as one whole concept. Some perceive one skill to be superior to the others or vice versa. Is there a separation of skills in literacy? Should educators view it as such, with a division of power within literacy? When it comes to teaching students which view should the teacher hold?
David R. Olson (1997) presents a general theme that skill of print has been superior to an oral skill in his article, From utterance to text: the bias of language in speech and writing. In the article he summarizes two major steps that are taken when it comes to understanding meaning. The first stage or step to create meaning is print or more specifically the principle of the alphabet. This is a system that is important and very explicit and it is because of its explicitness that makes it such a significant step. There is a certain particular sign or symbol for each sound. The second step or stage discussed still goes along with the importance of print; it is the idea that a sentence should only be allowed one interpretation. According to Olson, oral statements have some importance but only with text, “They tend, however, not to be explicit or to say exactly what they mean; they require context…for their interpretation” (Olson, 1997, p.90). The meaning is more or less in the text. Printed text is seen as a high form of knowledge in this article; everyone should understand the reading and the writing. In Olson’s mind oral language is context specific general and ambiguous, while print is autonomous, specific and allows for logical conclusions and drawing on general theories. When speaking of being literate, Olson generally means being print literate and these literate societies are seen as a higher rank. Though Olson does refer to oral language, he comes across as print being superior (Olson, 1997).
Walter J. Ong clearly implies a division of power within literacy in his article; Writing is a technology that restructures though. It is obvious by his title where the power lies in literacy for him. In the beginning he lets his audience know that he does not settle for the idea that writing is just a skill. He goes on to say that writing is not natural it is something that needs to be taught. Oral language is natural since everyone learns to talk. (Ong, 1986). “The process of putting spoken language into writing is governed by consciously contrived, articulated procedures…” (Ong, 1986, pg. 23). According to Ong, writing is transformative; it changes us, develops and awakens our consciousness. It is the literacy skills that allows us to think in the abstract, all the other skills of literacy are come naturally to us and don’t allow us to do what writing does.
Sylvia Scribner and Michael Cole also imply a separation of skills within literacy. Unlike Ong, they view writing as inferior. They discuss the “writing crisis” and battle against the typical 5 paragraph essay. They are saying that this is what is being taught and questioning its quality. They do not look highly upon the skill of writing, “It generates products that meet teacher demands and academics requirements but may not fulfill any other immediate instrumental ends” (Scriber & Cole, 1981, pg. 135). They do not provide us with any evidence that writing effects thinking. Therefore, it comes across with their perception that formal writing is an inferior literate skill.
With this view that some literacy skills are seen as separate instead of part of the whole, and as superior or inferior there are criticisms of this. Olson makes it clear that in order for oral literacy to be a success there needs to be text. Without implementing both oral and print concepts and skills and viewing those as a whole many important strategies can be left out. By separating these skills you are singling out methods which in turn are not meeting all the needs of the students. By stating that one is more important than the other, that one that is seen as inferior may be strength for someone. In general, when viewing literacy skills as separate you are focusing on a smaller range of students and limiting your methods.
Unlike some researchers, some do feel that literacy is more than just decoding and being able to read and write. In her ethnography, Ways with words, Shirley Brice Heath (1983) explores the literacy practices in children between their home and in school in Southeastern communities. Heath obviously sees a strong connection between oral language and print in both towns of Roadville and Trackton. Roadville has a very literacy stimulated environment. They begin a focus on oral language from the very beginning. Adults encourage talk and play with other children. Children are encouraged to explore, play, and make noise on their own. Children read the bible and write for informal reasons (Heath, 1983). In Trackton, social interaction is intensified and includes storytelling; it is a community that stresses dialogue and wide range of bible interpretation. Reading is public and social and also very context specific. Members of the Trackton community learn print in context. The texts read deal with theme (Heath, 1983). Heath makes it clear that there is an overlap between print and oral literacy just by her study of these two communities.
In their article, Ten years after: a reexamination of symbolic play and literacy research, A.D. Pellegrini and Lee Galda (1993) discuss and explore the importance of play and how it parallels with literacy. Play is significant in the early years because it encompasses all literacy skills. Along with that comes the metacognition aspect and how it relates to reading.
What does seem to be important for this important dimension of literacy are verbal interaction and conceptual conflict which co-
occur with, but are separate from, symbolic play. This conflict
results in children using language to talk about language; this is
important for story comprehension.
(Pellegrini, A.D., and Galda L., 1993, p. 171)
Children need play, it allows them to apply both oral literacy from the interacting with others when this actual talking about what their doing and talking about aids in their reading comprehension. Therefore the idea of play has effects on the print and oral skills that early childhood experiences.
In the article Literacy and the politics of difference, Henry Grioux makes it clear that literacy is just more than reading and writing. Grioux feels literacy should be defined as more than just skills that we use to broaden out view. It is a way of understanding the social world we live in (Grioux, H., 1993). He feels the whole deal is to make peoples lives well, even the ones that are at a social and economic disadvantage.
Literacy is a discursive practice in which difference becomes
crucial for understanding not simply how to read, write or
develop aural skills, but also how to recognize that the identities
of “others” matter as a part of a progressive set of politics and
practices aimed at the reconstruction of democratic public life.
(Giroux, H. 1993, p.368)
Many other uses of literacy are also discussed not just the opportunity to recognize others. Literacy is used to maintain status quo, and promote change. Giroux feels a strong conflict or controversy in how we define literacy and teach it so that people will embrace and accept difference and no one will be rejected. As you can see, Giroux is one who strongly feels that literacy skills are not to be separated; it is more than just learning to read and write (Giroux, H., 1993).
Kenneth S. and Yetta M. Goodman (1977) heavily support an overlap of literacy skills in their article, Learning about psycholinguistic processes by analyzing oral reading. Both see reading as an active language process. The two oral language processes they speak of are speaking and listening and the two written processes they speak of are writing and reading. All four language processes are what make up a literate society (Goodman, K. and Goodman, Y., 1977). Differences do exist between the two, “The differences between oral and written language result from differences of function rather than from any differences in intrinsic characteristics” (Goodman, K. and Goodman, Y., 1977, p.258). They can be reciprocal; any meaning in writing can have the same meaning in speaking. Although there are differences and their history oral language and written language become equivalent for people who are literate. These people can utilize whichever process whenever it best fits. They can create meaning from print the same way they create meaning from speech (Goodman, K. and Goodman, Y., 1977). They present a very strong argument that reading is not just decoding, “Reading is not simply knowing sounds, words, sentences, and the abstract parts of language that can be studied by linguistics. Reading, like listening, consists of processing language and constructing meanings” (Goodman, K. and Goodman, Y., 1977, p. 262). Reading involves the reciprocity of all language systems, whether it is distinct or not. Readers use all information available to them at some degree (Goodman, K. and Goodman, Y., 1977).
With the view of literacy as a whole or the existence of a strong overlap of the skills, there are some criticisms, as there are with any belief or theory. When looking at the whole you are obviously looking at a wide variety of students, which is a good thing, though may make it difficult to point out or focus on specifics of a student or method. When viewing an overlap it can be complicated to assess, study, or expand due to such a broad picture. On the contrary to the criticisms, the preponderance of evidence supports a great deal of overlap between oral and print literacy. Heath (1983) presents a case for an overlap in the two communities discussed in her ethnography. Pellegrini and Galda (1993) discuss the importance of play and how it encompasses all acts of literacy. Giroux (1993) goes on to discuss the many uses of literacy and focuses in on the idea of it being much more than reading and writing. Goodman and Goodman (1977) have a strong belief for the overlap of print and oral language.
In my experience as a special educator it is more beneficial to the success of the students to view literacy as a whole. There is not one skill that is more superior to another, the view should be what best fits each student. It is all relevant to the student. In the case of the situation at the beginning of the paper, the mother views the physical act of writing as superior to all other skills of literacy. She is keeping her child from sharing his knowledge and talents. It is not fair to view literacy this way. When seeing literacy as a whole you are able to reach more students and focus on their strengths. The main goal of an educator should be to allow their students to work to their potential and be successful. When viewing a division of power within the skills of literacy you are keeping the students from doing such.

Works Cited

Giroux, H. (1993). Literacy and the politics of difference. In C. Lankshear and
P. McLaren (eds.) Critical Literacy: Politics, praxis and the postmodern,
pp. 367-377. Albany: SUNY Press.

Goodman, K. and Goodman, Y. (1977). Learning about psycholinguistic
processes by analyzing oral reading. Harvard Educational Review, 47, 317-333.

Heath, S. (1983). Ways with words: language, life and work in communities and
classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Olson, D. (1977). From utterance to text: The bias of language in speech and
writing. Harvard Educational Review, 47, pp. 84-108.

Ong, W. (1986). Writing is a technology the restructures thought. In G. Bauman
(ed.) The Written Word: Literacy in Transition, pp.23-50. New York: Oxford University Press.

Pellegrini, A.D., and Galda, L. (1993). Ten years after: A reexamination of
symbolic play and literacy research. Reading Research Quarterly, 28, pp. 163-175.

Scribner, S. and Cole, M. (1981). Unpacking literacy. In M. Whiteman (ed.)
Writing: The Nature, Development and Teaching of Written Communication, 71-87. New Jersey: Erlbaum Associates.

Final Paper

Opening Doors of Communication; Rethinking Interactions With Parents Who Lack Fluency in Literacy
Bethany Skarupa

In particular, I will object to the tendency in current discussions to place too much faith in the power of literacy and to put too little credence in people’s abilities, particularly those of blue-collar and non-traditional workers…I will argue that the popular discourse of workplace literacy tends to underestimate and devalue human potential and to mischaracterize literacy as a curative for problems that literacy alone cannot solve (Hull 667).

Something really struck a nerve in me the other night in class when we began to discuss the parents who send in letters that we can barely read, or who obviously do not help their children with homework and therefore must not care about their child’s education. I was embarrassed by how angry I began to get, as I am sure that no one was intentionally being critical or judgmental. This is simply something that we find frustrating because we see it as inhibiting the success of “our” student. I have been pondering this issue for the past couple of weeks and there are so many things that I want to say about it that I barely know where to begin.
It seems that we get very upset with parents who are unreachable, who do not show up for parent-teacher conferences or respond to our phone calls about their child who is not achieving success in school. We get even more upset when we get notes from them that are misspelled and barely readable. We assume that these parents do not value their child’s education and therefore do not care about their child the way we think they ought to. But why do we think that? I am putting myself in this category also, because I have found myself groaning about these things as well. It seems that we must think that there is some simple solution for them to change their attitude and/or circumstances. Maybe we think if their attitude changed, then their circumstances would change as well. In a response to one of my blogs, T Wall expressed the tension many of us feel in this area:
I have met many parents that can barely read...Most can write, just not spell. Some try to push their children and encourage them to try their hardest so that they are better than their parents. Then there are some that feel that they didn't graduate and they didn't turn out that bad. It's just a shame that as teachers, we need to not only try to help our students, but sometimes "fight" with the parents. I use fight loosely of course...Some parents just don't understand how school tries to help.

I feel that this is an honest expression of how many of us respond to parents who do not seem to value education the same way that we as educators do. And there is certainly a great tension there, because we truly do value literacy and see it as a powerful tool that can allow people to take advantage of a greater number of opportunities for bettering themselves. However, I think we need to critically evaluate our assumptions about the great power of literacy, as well as our attitudes about people (especially parents) who are not fluent users of literacy. While it is true that some parents may not understand how we are trying to help their child, sometimes we as teachers are not as understanding as we ought to be either.
When we get frustrated with parents who lack fluent literacy skills or who do not value literacy as we think they should, it is almost as if inside we are saying, “If they would just…” But how do we finish that question? “If they would just work with me more.” But perhaps they feel that they will be judged or looked down on for their lack of skills. Do we think we hide it so well when we criticize their “illiterate” notes from home? “If only they would just try to help their child with homework.” It is possible that they cannot, and do not want their child to see how “dumb” they are. Or it might be that they simply do not have the energy after working long hard hours, or that they are discouraged with life and depressed that they cannot seem to improve their circumstances. I don’t really know. However, I do believe that there are few parents who really do not care about their child’s educational success. Maybe they have given up out of frustration or depression. Or it may even be the case that they really are content with an uneducated life. How can we really know the answers to these questions if we are just making assumptions without developing real relationships?
While lack of relationship contributes to ignorance and criticism, some of the problem also lies in what our assumptions about literacy are. Why do we get up in arms when we hear statements about illiterate people being “sick” and needing the “medicine” of literacy (Freire 620), but then get upset with parents who are not fluent users of literacy and do not seem to value literacy education as we think they should? In reading the article by Harvey Graff, I was amazed at how many times he makes statements about how literacy did not have a liberating effect on the black population of the nineteenth century. Some of these are as follows:
 “This transformative influence has not been proven…High rates of literacy did not preclude contradictions or inequalities, regardless of rhetoric.” (211)
 “The contribution of literacy to economic welfare is a major question. It was often claimed that literacy and schooling were required for economic survival, but the data proved otherwise.” (214)
 “For students who learned to read and write in schools, the process of acquiring literacy was not unequivocally liberating.” (216)
 “”The benefits of education usually went to those who already had an advantage in occupation or property.” (216)
 In regard to “class, ethnicity, gender, and race…Literacy did not overturn those relationships.” (218)
 “Rising levels of literacy did not pay off occupationally or economically.” (225)
 “Literacy changed black culture and black consciousness. However, it did not lead to occupational or economic gains.” (227)
 “Education…may well have followed occupational and economic gains, rather than preceded and caused them.” (233)

When looking back at these situations, we may begin to see more clearly that the belief that literacy has great powers for liberation economically and socially is not really accurate. As we learn from our history, we need to ask, “What does this teach us about the beliefs we have today? Is literacy all-powerful to liberate our students or their parents?” And perhaps the most important question, “How does this affect my interaction with my students and with parents who do not have strong literacy skills?”
Glynda Hull, whom I quoted at the beginning of this paper, provides a criticism of some of the assumptions our society has about the liberating effects of literacy. Hull begins where she will also end, with words from and about Jackie and Alma, two women who would probably be viewed as having "a literacy problem" by "potential employers and society at large" (680). In relating a portion of the conversations with these women, Hull also reveals her purpose. "I find most current characterizations of workplace (il)literacy troublesome and harmful, and in this article, I hope to show why...We must see how different stories and other voices can amend, qualify, and fundamentally challenge the popular, dominant myths of literacy and work" (660 - 661).
The lesson that we can learn from Hull is that we need to constantly check the things we assume to be common knowledge, and hold them up against actual situations with real people to see if they hold water. We need to make sure we are asking ourselves, "What other factors could be involved in this situation?" And as we are constantly evaluating what the real needs of actual people are in specific situations, we also need to evaluate what and how we are trying to teach them. This applies not only to “workplace literacy,” but also to dealing with parents of various backgrounds and value systems as we teach their children.
In her article titled A World Without Print, Victoria Purcell-Gates tells the story of Jenny and Donny, an illiterate mother and her illiterate son who are trying to become literate (402). This is a family with almost no ability to decode or encode information in writing. It really amazes me to think that there are people functioning in our society that have no literacy skills at all (as the people in this article illustrate). I am fairly certain that I have never, and probably will never, encounter families in my school district with illiteracy at this extreme level. I have, however, had experiences with families who have not had successful school experiences, and who do not – or cannot - provide the rich literate environment that would serve to increase their children’s success in school.
One such family moved into the district after the beginning of the school year during my first year of teaching. After their son was placed in my classroom, we received information from his previous school that he had an IEP (individualized education plan) and that he was borderline mentally retarded (in other words, he performed very poorly on IQ tests). The family was very poor, and although they did have a vehicle, the mother often could not drive it to school because the father had to take it to work. The school district had to send a bus to pick her up for parent-teacher conferences and CSE (Committee on Special Education) meetings. She told us during our first meeting that she always had trouble in school because she was “learning disabled.” Her written correspondence with me was always barely readable, and even after her daughter spent the next school year in my class, she never learned to spell my name correctly.
What impressed me about this woman was that she always did whatever she could to help her children. She not only participated in school to the extent of her ability, but they took regular walks as a family to the public library where she was a volunteer. Part of her participation, I am confident, is due to the Special Education teacher who made her feel like a valuable and indispensable part of her children’s education. If we had responded by grumbling about her misspelled, sloppy notes and her failure to show up for school meetings, instead of seeking solutions that made her feel valued, I am sure her willingness to work with us would have been greatly reduced.
I have also had experiences with similar families who hide from school and teachers as much as possible. How do we involve these parents effectively? How can we get them to trust us enough to open up to us and to be an advocate for their own children? I have seen some incredible teachers do amazing things for these families. But I have also seen criticisms so sharp and so pungent that I think those parents lacking fluent literacy really are seen as the social “deviants” of our society (Ong 19).
In both school and workplace situations, I think it is important to educate ourselves about as many real-life situations as possible. Although it is not easy, and we will not find simple answers, if we are diligent we will make progress. In a response to one of my blogs, Jessie B. wrote the following:
After reading your comment from my post I also have to wonder if everyone has to agree with us. "We" as literate educated people value our knowledge of the world around us. So, are we the minority? Are we the educated "snobs" that think that the way we live is the right way?? I think that Jenny's family’s situation is more common than we'd like to think. You asked, “Does that make Jenny and Big Donny bad parents?” I don't think they were bad parents...I think that the way they have been living is all they have ever known.

I agree. I don’t mean to sound as if I believe that literacy is not an effective tool in helping people to improve social and economic situations. Wayne Campbell Peck, Linda Flower, and Lorraine Higgins provide an example of dealing with real problems in appropriate ways using literacy in their article, Community Literacy. They provide a possible model for building bridges with literacy, rather than using literacy as a power over those who are not as fluent in using literacy. The people described in this article used writing as a tool to support communication between groups that were at odds. The authors state that "writing is a tool" for the writer who stands "in the midst of a conversation or argument" (576).
In order to use literacy as a tool in this manner, however, it is essential that we open up conversations with others in a way that is respectful and validating to their point of view – even if it is the opposite of what we believe! Which means that when we interact with parents, we need to listen to what they have to say without the intention of trying to convince them why we are right and they are wrong. Ouch! This is certainly no easy task, but definitely worth putting effort into. How can a child come to value education if teachers and parents cannot communicate with respect?
When I first started teaching, I was expected to complete five days of “Responsive Classroom” training. We learned the importance of developing a warm inviting classroom community in order to improve student success. We were taught to have morning meetings, which include a “sharing time” for children to talk about important things from their lives and ask and answer questions of one another. We were also taught to have weekly class meetings so children have a chance to discuss issues that are causing them problems. Without naming names, children share things like being bullied on the playground, or feeling left out, as well as options for solutions. We were also taught to include the children in the beginning of the year in making class rules and consequences.
All of these things help children to have more of an investment in the class as a whole, and to feel like a valued part of our community. Shouldn’t we put just as much effort into developing a responsive relationship with all of our parents as well? Of course, this means extra effort on our part. Laura Kinney shares several suggestions for reaching out to parents in her final paper, “Building Bridges in Literacy.” She suggests going to people’s homes, making phone calls rather than relying on just a weekly class newsletter to transmit important information, and passing along information regarding community resources (5-6). Ideally, this is what we should all be doing whenever it is needed! We should be reaching out to parents, and giving them open doors to express their hopes, dreams, and concerns as well. This is what I think we should be striving for, open doors of communication, providing opportunities to solve real problems in a non-judgmental way, and giving people the respect and freedom to make their own choices about what is valuable to them.
Works Cited
Freire, The Adult Literacy Process as Cultural Action for Freedom and Education and
Graff, The Nineteenth-Century Origins of Our Times.
Hull, Hearing Other Voices: A Critical Assessment of Popular Views on Literacy and
Ong, Writing Is a Technology That Restructures Thought.
Peck, Flower, and Higgins, Community Literacy.
Purcell-Gates, A World Without Print.
T Wall,
Jessie B.,

Eaton's Paper

Teri Eaton

Creating Life-Long Readers and Writers

Although there still is much that researchers and teachers must learn about literacy learning and teaching, we currently have the scientific foundation for helping teachers
make learning to read and write an exciting literacy curriculum for all children.

-Yetta Goodman

This is a typical day at Charlotte Valley Middle School, period 4, in
Mrs. Rickel's class, English 6. The students enter the classroom to find a worksheet on their desks with comprehension questions from a story they all read the night before. The students file into their seats, accompanied by heavy sighs and rolling eyeballs signaling signs of frustration and boredom. Several comments are made, "Do we have to write the answers for ALL these questions?" Along with, "Why do we always have questions to answer after we read?" This assignment, along with writing five-paragraph essays, DBQ's (document-based questions), critical lens essays, (reading a quote and relating it to a novel using literary elements and techniques) and research papers, are examples of many monotonous reading and writing assignments students work on and detest. What is the reading and writing curriculum taught in schools today doing to encourage literacy? This question needs to be addressed in order for children to learn and retain literacy and also set the stage for becoming life-long readers and writers through a variety of experiences with literature. Based on multiple articles from Literacy - A Critical Sourcebook regarding the way children learn and retain literacy, the curriculum in schools today desperately needs to be addressed and revised to accommodate the needs of children and create life-long readers and writers. The curriculum needs to include choices for students, independent reading at the appropriate level, journal responses, independent writing, poetry, shared reading as a class, and group writing investigations. A variety of learning experiences within literacy make it more exciting and encouraging way of learning.
An area I see a great deal of frustration for children is with writing in the classroom. Students unable to brainstorm their ideas or struggling with relaying the words down on paper is the main problem when it comes to writing. Sylvia Scribner and Michael Cole, "Unpackaging Literacy", raises a question about whether or not there is a "writing crisis" within our educational system. The crisis I see is educators focusing too much on the state standardized tests and the rigid ELA curriculum. The stress level among students with reading and writing becomes a chore instead of an enjoyable activity. Scribner and Cole says, "Our research also highlights the fact that the kind of writing that goes on in school has a very special status. It generates products that meet teacher demands and academic requirements but may not fulfill any other immediate instrumental ends. Is this an unavoidable feature of writing instruction" (135)? This writing that is stressed in school is the five-paragraph essay and research papers that all students are required to learn to write. This writing is generated because the state wants acceptable test scores, therefore, educators need to teach according to the "test". These essays are what the state requires the students to write and are what most students find boring and meaningless. Is this process creating life-long readers and writers? Scribner and Cole feel that the education system needs to move away from teaching the five-paragraph essay and teach the kind of writing that will help students function in society. (135). Scribner and Cole studied a culture (Vai) where literacy is obtained without formal schooling. They say, "The fact that literacy is acquired in this society without formal schooling and that literates and nonliterates share common material and social conditions allows for a more direct test of the relationship between literacy and thinking than is possible in our own society" (128). Literacy is used in different parts of their lives. Shouldn't educators be teaching skills to help students be able to function in our society today? What about instilling the importance of reading and writing instead if forcing it because we need to obtain good scores?
My personal experience in the classroom when it comes to creating a classroom community, is giving students the opportunity to "free write", which is time within the day to sit in a comfortable spot in the classroom and pick up their pencil or pen and write about anything they choose. These experiences give them the confidence they need to write and the time to expand their ideas. Brainstorming helps the students sort their ideas and it encourages writing inside and outside the classroom walls. The students are given the opportunity to use their "free writes" to draft, revise, and publish a piece of writing of their choice. Giving children a choice is a key component in creating life-long readers and writers. This process helps organize and makes the writing process manageable and more enjoyable. I remember my teachers saying, "Here is the book we are going to read, whether you like it or not". Along with, "Here is the type of story you are going to write, get started". I never had a choice in what I read or wrote until I entered college. Then, I found it difficult and still have trouble organizing my thoughts. I wonder if I had had a choice or a chance to explore my ideas with reading and writing, would it have made a difference for me now?
At the end of every day in my classroom, students are given a prompt or choose a current event to write about in their journals. The assignment is to sit at home and write on the topic for fifteen minutes. They do not have to worry about spelling or grammar. The students reflect, respond, or just write what they know on the topic. The most important part of the journals, the part the students enjoy, is the morning sharing time. For ten minutes on the carpet, the students take turns sharing their writing piece with their peers. "Writing Journals" and "independent reading" are great examples of encouraging reading and writing because the students are given a choice of what they want to read or write. They are making a decision when it comes to their education. Unfortunately, when educators are forced with the demands of the state tests, there isn't much time in the classroom for the students to experience literacy in a variety of ways.
Anne Ruggles Gere, Kitchen Tables and Rented Rooms: The Extracurriculum of Composition, suggests that students need the opportunity for writing to occur outside the classroom (275) . Gere says, "Positive feelings about oneself and one's writing, motivation to revise and improve composition skills, opportunities for publication of various sorts, the belief that writing can make a difference in individual and community life--these accomplishments of workshops outside classroom walls mirror the goals most of us composition teachers espouse for our students. Workshops outside classroom walls frequently, however, succeed with those individuals deemed unsuccessful by their composition instructors" (277). When writing occurs outside the walls of the classroom, the participants find success within their communities and with themselves (278). Educators can look at this research and suggest or develop extracurricular writing "get-togethers" within their writing curriculum to encourage students to see themselves as readers and writers. Timothy Rascinski and Nancy Padak in Effective Reading Strategies says, "If we want children to read real books and other reading materials, they need plenty of opportunities to read such material in their corrective reading instruction. By reading real stories, poems, and letters, students learn that reading is enjoyable and has meaning in their lives" (11). If educators make reading enjoyable in the classroom, students are more likely to pick up a book or their pencil to explore literacy.
As a reading teacher for 5th and 6th graders, I see the resistance when it comes to writing in the classroom. The heavy sighs and rolling of the eyes are a daily occurrence when the word "writing" is mentioned. Reading and writing inside and outside of the classroom needs to be something students crave and needs to be important to them.
Literacy experiences within the classroom need to meet the needs of all the students. Some students have had more experience than others have with literacy and language. Yetta Goodman, "The Development of Initial Literacy", looks at literacy during the early years and proclaims that the earliest experiences are crucial to developing language. Goodman states, "It is important to remember that children's development of literacy grows out of their experiences, and the views and attitudes toward literacy that they encounter as they interact with social groups" (317). As educators, our job is then to make these experiences happen in school for all students and encourage students to continue reading and writing inside and outside of the classroom. Writing workshops, poetry, journals responses, letters, and reading and writing incentives are all examples of ways to encourage reading and writing for students.
My son AJ, thirteen years old, has a difficult time reading. He has always been a very slow and choppy reader. I remember when he was learning to read in kindergarten and the first grade, he had a hard time sounding out words and became frustrated. AJ would get upset during end of the chapter reading tests and holistic assessments in reading. He could tell he was different from his classmates and his initial experience with reading was not positive. To this day, he despises reading and I am trying everything I am learning about literacy to help him. I want my students to enjoy reading and writing and feel comfortable when they pick up a book or pencil. Timothy Rasinski and Nancy Padak in Effective Reading Strategies says, "When overcoming reading difficulties, the earlier likely it is that our interventions will be successful and lasting. Indeed, the best way to overcome a reading problem is to not have one in the first place! Instruction and nurturance in reading are absolutely essential for developing early and successful readers" (59). Nurturing is the key word in this statement. When the state is making up an ELA exam are they looking at nurturing children? Every child will be tested two times a year starting next year in ELA and Math. This testing is creating fear and anxiety in students at an early age and the requirements should be based on learning to love reading and writing instead of score that will not matter in five years. All children learn using different techniques and they develop and grow at different rates. Is there a large number of children being tested by the state just developmentally not ready? Does this mean they will be illiterates?
A theory very important to education is the multiple intelligence's theory - children learn in many different ways (573). This theory must be considered when it comes to learning how to read and write. Learning to read and write determines the success for students in other content areas, social studies, science, and math. In an article by Wayne Campbell Peck, Linda Flower, and Lorraine Higgins, "Community Literacy", this multiple intelligence's theory is applied in a Community Literacy Center where young students express themselves through different forms of writing that is significant to them (573). Writing rap music or voicing their ideas in a newsletter is how these students apply their reading and writing skills (574). Flower et al says "We believe the next step, more difficult step in community building is to create an intercultural dialogue that allows people to confront and solve problems across racial and economic boundaries"(574). The students from the 6th grade English class all come from different experiences with literacy and culture. A Community Literacy Center within our classrooms will give students the opportunity to grow as readers and writers that struggle. These centers build the confidence and self-esteem of students that feel they have no voice in the classroom. The centers give students the opportunity to experience their feelings and the chance to be heard and make a difference in the community. Students need a purpose and need to feel valuable. Instead of the stressful, formal standardized tests, lets give students the opportunity to express themselves and be heard in the classroom (their community) by their classmates.
F. Niyi Akinnaso in "Literacy and Individual Consciousness" says, "There is yet another notion about literacy that requires further clarification--the notion that literacy is more than the act of reading and writing. In this view, literacy is given an extended definition to include ways of perceiving, thinking, speaking, evaluating, and interacting that characterize a group of individuals and set them apart from others. The implication here is that 'literate thinking' involves ways of perceiving the world and talking about it, a perception that may result from interacting with either text or text users…" (139). We should be looking at how children communicate within their community and how they function in society and make sure they are successful.
There is more to being literate than just reading and writing. The state tests and ELA curriculum are focusing solely on the ability to read and write instead of looking at the whole child. Don't we want to create life-long readers and writers? Educators should instill the love for reading and writing everyday in their classrooms by creating a community in their classroom where every student feels included and not afraid of reading and writing.

Works Cited

Akinnaso, F. Niyi. "Literacy and Individual Consciousness".

Gere, Anne Ruggles. "Kitchen Tables and Rented Rooms: "The Extracurriculum
of Composition".

Goodman, Yetta. "The Development of Initial Literacy".

Peck, Wayne Campbell, Flower, Linda, Higgins, Lorraine. "Community

Rascinski, Timothy and Padak, Nancy. "Early Intervention". Effective
Reading Strategies, 2004.

Scribner, Sylvia and Cole, Michael. "Unpackaging Literacy".

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