TEIS Newsletter

Teacher Education and the Education of reading and Writing Teachers (from Winter 1987, Vol. 3, No. 2)

by User Not Found | 10/31/2011

Curtis W. Hayes  (University of Texas at San Antonio)

Robert Bahruth  (University of Texas at Austin & Austin Community College)

Books to buy, to keep, and to cherish - books containing a wealth of Ideas we can use. In this era of easily obtainable and relatively inexpensive materials available for students, texts written by teachers for teachers still remain a vital part of teacher education, especially for the ESL reading and writing teacher. We see much to recommend in publishers' materials - having been Involved In writing materials for students ourselves - but given the choice we prefer to glean classroom Ideas from teachers writing to teachers, for we believe that just as a good cook does not have to rely totally upon a cookbook, a good teacher does not have to rely completely upon materials generated by others. Good teachers, like good cooks, must know, however, what they are doing and what the outcomes of that "doing" are likely to be. Frank Smith has said more than once that "...the universal concern should change from what teachers should do to what teachers should know" (1985: xii). With this "knowing" serving as our thesis, let us begin with a brief survey of selected texts on the teaching of reading and writing.

We in ESL can learn a great deal about "knowing" what to teach and how to teach by turning to practitioners who may not be directly concerned with the teaching of literate skills to limited English proficient students, the so-called LEP Yet the Ideas from these practitioners, directed at teachers of English to native speakers are useful, we maintain, In teaching students whose first language Is not English. In fact, we have used these ideas in our own teaching.

Frank Smith In his Reading Without Nonsense and Understanding Reading questions a number of widely held Ideas, some of which are still considered current, on how one learns to read: he hypothesizes that one learns to read by reading and the teacher makes reading possible by making reading easy. Smith's hypothesis reflects in a sense Krashen's Comprehensible Input, the i + 1: students acquire language (reading in this case) by knowing most, but not necessarily all, of the message that is addressed to them and Inferring therefore, the Input must include "a little language that is somewhat beyond them" (Krashen 1982:21) Moreover, Smith, arguing against lockstep instruction (see, In addition, Michael H. Long and Patricia A. Porter 1985) Says that there is no first reading lesson, that increasing proficiency is developmental, that development is variable. A great many directions are pointed to In these two texts for the reading and writing teacher, especially for the teacher whose students are experiencing frustration and failure in learning how to read and write. If students are experiencing difficulty, Herbert Kohl suggests additional strategies for coping with frustration and failure In Reading, How to.

For teachers looking for ways to design and organize reading materials, Reading, How to is a useful and powerful text. It is text filled with a great deal of Information and many practical Ideas on the preparation, design, and sequencing of reading materials. Kohl organizes his reading levels under four labels, from "beginning", to "not bad" followed by "with ease’" and "complex". Those who read this book come away with the impression that Kohl Is successful and experienced in reaching students who have failed to learn. He believes that anyone can learn to read. The best way, according to Kohl, to teach reading is to surround students with Interesting reading materials that they can use to begin to understand print, along with a caring teacher whose expectancies are high and who Is unwilling to accept failure. Kohl Indicts the "industry" of reading Instruction - which partially accounts, he says, for the large spread of failure in language teaching: "it Is almost predictable he says, 'that these problem with speaking, writing, and reading have given rise to class of professionals who specialize in them as well as to elaborate ... expensive remedial program, diagnostic clinics, and a whole culture surrounding the so-called diseases' (213), an observation that Is perhaps mirrored in Smith: "Education would be In a far sorrier state today were it not for teachers' untutored Intuitions and insights' (1985: xii) While Kohl, the pragmatist, designs materials which reflect a "skill approach to reading, he at the same time emphasizes that all exercises have to be meaningful to the student (a view that Smith and Krashen, we feel, would share and applaud).

All teachers of writing should be acquainted with the research of Donald Graves. In our opinion, Graves has done more to bring writing and the teaching and learning of writing skills to the visible attention of those who may profit most: those teachers who concentrate upon correctness in form to the virtual exclusion of content within. In the collection of papers contained in Donald Graves in Australia: a Report, he says, "The writing teacher, like the pottery teacher, must practice the craft alongside the student" (8); (see, also, his Writing: Teachers & Children at Work). By doing so, teachers realize how difficult it is for students to learn to read and to write. In short, Graves reminds teachers that writing is developmental and recommends that teachers write for themselves and for their students, as it is only through "demonstration" of writing that students see the use, and the joy, of writing.

Lucy McCormick Calkins, a student of both Graves and Donald M. Murray, describes the experiences of her own growth as a teacher: "Lessons from a Child" she says, "is the story of what I learned because I wasn't too late." (5). It is also the story of Susan, her experiences as a third and fourth grader In an experimental writing program, and her growth in writing. The process of writing, she reveals in her The Art of Teaching Writing "does not begin with jotted notes or rough drafts but rather with relationships within a community of learners" (1986: ix). And elsewhere (R.D. Walsche: 89) she says, "what teachers don't realize is that writing brings energy Into the curriculum."

"There is joy in teaching writing' (yes, "joy" is underlined in the original). Anyone who still believes that the teaching of writing Is same of the worst drudgery around must read more from the authors of that statement. Dan Kirby and Torn Liner, one a high school teacher, the other a college professor, who say we have made a mistake in trying "to teach writing without Integrating theories of learning and theories of discourse" (3) contribute insights into the writing process and share passages from their own writing (Graves' advice is followed). For those looking for a theory-driven composition program, with ideas on how to make the dreaded essay, the more dreaded term paper, joyful, this is the text for them. Kirby and Liner bridge the gap between personal narrative and expository (content-related) writing. Their text, Inside Out is a model of good writing practices. For anyone needing courage to begin, Kirby and Liner, warm and friendly throughout, colleagues who because eventually, friends, write as though they were in a conversation with their readers. They have a firm appreciation of their audience, those teachers who might have avoided any writing instruction, or even writing, in their classes because they found It burdensome, joyless, even painful.

Another useful text Is Marjorie Frank's book, If You’re Trying to Teach Kids how to Write, You've Gotta have this Book! Frank has compiled it seam, at least five hundred ideas for writing, revising, editing, displaying, and publishing the final product. Student papers should be published, she says, echoing Graves, Calkins, and Kirby and Liner. In her book Frank shares the "enjoyment" that has cam from writing with kids in my own classrooms". Here is another teacher who practices her craft, like the pottery teacher, and enjoys teaching and writing.

We can remember those quiet and sometimes unstated misgivings we seem to always have about the teaching of writing. We want to do right thing, to teach writing, but each year, each day, we share with our colleagues that "My kids groan when it's time to write"; or " I'm not sure how to evaluate their writing." These are some of the Issues that Frank addresses. Her book is packed with invigorating Ideas and solutions.

Harvey Daniels' and Steven Zemelman's book, A Writing Project: Training Teachers of Composition from Kindergarten to College builds upon and extends Calkin's workshop model. What appears after the colon in their title is both important and revealing: they do prepare teachers to cope with writing form kindergarten to college - the same teachers. Daniels and Zemelman use some now familiar adages: "Writing always holds the opportunity for joy." And "Teachers are being tempted to overlook some important things they know about learning.' Here, is a- text based upon joy - the authors love what they are doing - and learning theory. And similar to the attributes of the other texts we recommend, it is written extremely well.

We now recommend two anthologies, one that we discuss now, and the other later. Thomas Newkirk and Nancie Atwell have brought together a set of articles in their Understanding Writing. In it is Hasse K. Halley's, "The Bundle". In "The Bundle" Halley talks about the stack of papers she faces on a Friday afternoon, that remain on the back seat of her car until Sunday evening, good intentions not withstanding, waiting to be corrected and graded. But If we are looking for new grading ideas and procedures, designed to satisfy both teacher and students, and sane hard talk about "standards," then this article is a "must". Halley says that through her efforts to find equitable grading procedures, she has learned that "grades become secondary, while the writing becomes primary'"(149).

We will also recommend two journals. Although, like the text above, they do not primarily address the problem that we may encounter In teaching LEP students, they are valuable nonetheless. The National Council of Teachers of English publishes Language Arts, under the finely crafted editorship of David Dillon. Within the pages of this journal we find teachers sharing ideas, based upon recent language learning theories, on the teaching of reading and writing. The articles and papers are written for teachers by teachers and are a source themselves of good writing. We can learn from them. The other journal, Dialogue edited by Jana Staton, Joy K. Peyton, and Shelley Gutstein, is published by the Center for Applied Linguistics, an organization closer to home for us in second language education. Dialogue contains ideas and suggestions for teachers to follow in writing to their students and receiving responses from them. Dialogue publishes papers on both native and ESL teaching. Good "starting" Ideas are suggested in both of these publications.

But what have these texts, journals, and anthologies to do with limited English proficiency students? A great deal, we suggest, as we based an entire year's reading and writing program on the philosophy and the Ideas that they contain. A chronicle of success, a group of our own LEP students' growth In writing and reading, can be found In the anthology edited by Jane Hansen, Thomas Newkirk, and Donald Graves, entitled Breaking Ground. The paper, "Querer es Poder", Is the story of a group of fifth grade failures, all children of migrant laborers, all Spanish dominant who could not read at grade level or who could not read at all. We began In August and by the end of the school year, In May their average growth in reading proficiency measured three years. We now know more about how to teach reading and writing because of the knowledge we gleaned from the texts and journals we have recommended and from our experience of this past year. Like Calkins, we learned because we weren't too late. Occasionally, we were not "Joyful" but on the contrary exasperated and frustrated. But our students and we persevered, and they came to know, as we did, that learning is an on-giving developmental process, that they could learn, that learning was relatively easy, and that It was satisfying if not always joyful.

Good teaching does, eventually, translate Into learning; and Smith, Graves, Frank, Calkins, Daniels and Zemelman, Halley, and the others we have reviewed, are good teachers: they love their craft and they love their students. It Is not enough to select or recommend a text, or texts# for our students these days; we must select a philosophy, a direction, and then act. These texts and journals will help. There are others that we could give reviewed which are useful. But as Donald Murray (1982:112) has said, "There cams a time when you have to admit that the work can't be perfect. It will never match the vision (R.D. Walshe: 112).

References

Calkins, Lucy McCormick. 1982. When children want to punctuate. Donald Graves in Australia, R.D. Walshe (Ed.), 89-96. Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

-.1983. Lessons from a Child. Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

-.1986. The Art of Teaching Writing. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

Daniels, Harvey and Steven Zemelmann. 1985. A Writing Project: Training Teachers of Composition from Kindergarten to College. Postmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

Dillon, David (Ed.). Language Arts. (official journal of the National Council of Teachers of English) Urbana

Frank, Majorie. 1979. If You're Trying to Teach Kids How to Write You've Gotta-Have this Book. Nashville, TN.: Incentive Publications.

Graves, Donald H. 1983. Writing Teachers & Children at Work. Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

Halley, Curtis W. and Robert Bahruth. 1985. Querer es poder. In Breaking Ground: teachers relate reading and writing In the elementary school, Jande Hansen, Thomas Newkirk, and Donald Graves (Eds.), 97-108. Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

Kirby, Dan and Tom Liner. 1981. Inside Out. Montclair, N.J.: Boynton/Cook Publishers, Inc.

Kohl, Herbert. 1973. Reading, How to. N.Y.: E.P. Dutton & Co.

Krashen, Stephen D. 1982. Theory versus practice In language teaching. In Innovative Approaches to Language Teaching, Robert W. Blair (Ed.), 15-30. Rowley, MA.: Newbury House Publishers, Inc.

Long, Michael H. and Patricia A. Porter. 1985. Group work, interlanguage talk, and second language acquisition. TESOL Quarterly 19(2): 207-228

Murray, Donald M. and Donald H. Graves. 1982. Revision: In writer's workshop and classroom In Donald Graves in Australia, R.D. Walshe (Ed.), 105-118. Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.

Smith, Frank. 1985. Reading Without Nonsense (2nd edition). N.Y.: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Staton, Jana, Joy K. Peyton, and Shelley Gutstein (Eds.). Dialogue Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Walshe, R.D. (Reporter).1982. Donald Graves in Australia. In Donald Graves In Australia, R.D. Walshe (Ed.), Exeter, N.H.: Heinemann Educational Books, Inc.