Who Gets to be “Critical?”

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Image: Burning the “Book of Sports,” 1643

This year continues to demonstrate the importance of reading the world through a critical lens. But who gets to be “critical?” Who gets access to critical approaches to literacy versus who gets timed reading tests?

Educators who use literacy to challenge the status quo often ground their work in critical literacies. This approach goes beyond reading and writing as mechanical skills, using literacy to critique power and inequity–what Paulo Freire called “reading the word and the world.”

But what does this mean when we ask students to read the word and the world in another language?

I took up this question in a recent article for the Journal of Literacy Research. In the journal’s latest issue, Literacy Research and the Radical ImaginationI wrote alongside a phenomenal group of authors working to “radically reimagine the ways in which research can reposition people and ideas to create new and more inviting spaces for literacy.” (JLR, p. 319).

No small task. Continue reading

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“Fortunately,” We Don’t Have Language Learners Here

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Note: This post was co-written with two student teachers, who wished to keep their names and institutions anonymous.

Dear Veteran Teacher,

You may not remember, but earlier today, your new student teacher asked you how to make her lessons more accessible to diverse learners.

You dismissed that as largely unnecessary – at such a high-performing school as yours – and told her, “You’re fortunate, we have no English Language Learners here.”

You probably weren’t aware of what you said. Or what it meant.

I’m sure you’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students of color here,” though you have very few.

You’d never say, “You’re fortunate – we have no students with special needs here,” though I don’t see them either.

So I’m wondering, how did such an unfortunate comment could roll so effortlessly and unabashedly off your tongue? Continue reading

Are Language Learners a Disadvantage in the Classroom?

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At a recent forum, I listened to three regional secretaries of education discuss their states’ different approaches to education. While each took a variety of stances on big educational issues like standardized testing, charter schools, and “Race to the Top” funding, they all agreed on one thing – that having more English Language Learners (ELLs) in their states has created challenges. 

Someone had asked a well-intentioned question about how each state addresses the needs of its ELLs, but what followed was a general tirade about all the difficulties schools were now having because of “these kids’” increased presence in the classroom. The discussion was off-putting – not because meeting the needs of linguistically diverse students isn’t challenging – but because no one thought to ask about the advantages of having ELLs in schools. 

Think about it – we wouldn’t discuss other forms of diversity this way, with a laundry list of negatives. An influx of racial diversity, for example, can also bring complex challenges, but school leaders embrace these changes as an asset to their schools (as they should). They wouldn’t be caught dead making comments about how hard it is having “these kids” come into “their” schools.

So why is it ok to talk about ELLs this way?

Time ran out during the forum discussion, but I was curious how other educators would answer questions about linguistic diversity as an asset. So I asked a group of high school teachers I work with, and we came up with an extensive list of answers. Continue reading