Saturday, December 11, 2010

So Much to Learn

This is not a blog post of answers. It's a reflection on OWP work and the future of some work. I'm just trying to think through some connections I am beginning to see.

Yesterday, we had our Ozarks Writing Project Winter Work Day. The goal was to work on the Continued Funding Application for the grant and to do program planning for 2011-2012. The Dean of the College of Education introduced me to Dr. Rosa Maria Mejia. We've met several times and on Friday we worked on an English Language Learners mini-grant to begin a book study group in an area school. We started the morning by writing about challenges and successes of the site. Since Rosa Maria is new to the site, I asked her to write about the project and the successes and challenges that she sees in working with the teachers and students at this school. After we wrote, we all shared what we were thinking. 

I had heard Rosa Maria make this point before, but it's such an important point--one that I have thought about in different contexts. Her point is that as teachers working with students who are bilingual and bicultural that we ask student to value or prioritize one culture--English-speaking culture--above the one that they bring with them to school. Here's a poorly worded example of what this might look like: a teacher working with a bilingual student, "We are glad you are here. It's nice that you speak Spanish. Now, speak English, and start acting like we do. You have to do this to succeed." 

This makes me think of so many things. I think of bilingual students and bilingual cultures. I think of Ozarks culture. I think of students in poverty. I think of what we ask all of these students to do in school. We hold them up to a standard that we set as the teacher. The standard that we set is affected by our own culture and values. Reminds me of so many situations--the teacher who says, "Kids need to know grammar and spelling if they are ever going to get a job" or "Kids need to speak English if they are going to be successful." These two types of comments seem similar to me. Ruby Payne came up in the conversation yesterday, and I had to stop myself from saying anything. Randy Bomer wrote an article in English Education about Ruby Payne's work, and I have, and never will, think the same thing about her work. I'm also thinking about academic writing and "expectations." 

This moment of meeting Dr. Mejia and having her willing to be involved with the site is one of those writing project events where it feels like the stars are aligned--people and resources come together at just the right moment. I am so excited to work with Dr. Mejia. I also recognize that this is a point in my life where I can learn so much. I know virtually nothing about English Language Learning. I have a lot to learn. One of the books that they might read is called Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classrooms. I am ordering this book today. I just realize how little I know. I don't know the "language" of ELL. As much as I want my students to take into consideration students' background, family, and culture (and I'm disappointed when I don't see that), I'm not really sure if I know how to do it all that well. I thought I did, but I'm not sure. 

I see this partnership with Dr. Mejia as a new journey. It feels pivotal to me in my thinking as a teacher and as an educator of teachers. I can't wait to read and learn more from her. 

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