Auer & Wei, Gafaranga & MacCarty

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KOIIA2 Reading log Catarina Schmidt Auer & Wei (2007) Gafaranga (2007) McCarty (2005)

Handbook of Multilingualism and Multilingual Communication (Auer & Wei)

This volume is one of nine handbooks covering applied linguistics in areas like communication and foreign language learning. The aim is to offer descriptions, analyses, explanations and solutions for the work with everyday language-related problems. This specific handbook covers multilingualism and multilingual communication with the aim to introduce bilingualism and multilingualism in schools, in the workplace and other institutions.

First of all the editors, Peter Auer & Li Wei, stress that most of the language users in the world speak more than one language which means that they are, at least, bilingual. They therefore argue that monolingualism is the exception and bilingualism the norm. Being able to use more than one language is something natural - becoming multilingual and staying multilingual is part of a natural process. The authors give us a background where the European nation states have played a fatal role in order to maintain the dominant language and not allowing the different minority languages. To stay multilingual you have to act multilingual but very often is the weakest (or the language that is not used in school) neglected. If you come from a monolingual background it might be easy to forget this. Therefore, I think this book carries an important message to all of us who has grew up in a monolingual environment. When children speak several languages they do so because they have need of it. We have to keep this in mind when we meet children (and adults) in education and so forth. For me bilingualism is a gift I wish I had.

In chapter one Johanne Paradis discusses the issue of early bilingual and multilingual acquisition. There are different kinds of child bilinguals and multilinguals – the conditions are not the same for everyone. For some bilingual children one of their two languages is a minority language; “meaning it is not widely spoken outside the home, and has little or no cultural, political or educational status in the broader society” (p 15). French-English bilinguals, on the other hand, are, according to Paradise, considered majority language bilinguals since both their languages are widely spoken and enjoy the same status.

Simultaneous bilinguals are exposed to two languages as infants. Paradis argues that it is possible that bilinguals acquire their languages at different rates than monolinguals. One reason is that they seldom receive the same input in both languages and the author stresses the fact that often one language is more dominant than the other. Compared with monolinguals bilinguals have to acquire two grammatical and linguistic systems. Paradis refers to several studies that altogether show that considering phonological properties by bilingual children seem to “lag behind monolinguals in their acquisition rates” (s. 18). Considering lexical acquisition some studies, again, show lower scores compared to monolinguals. Maybe the most important conclusion is that “bilinguals are not the sum of two complete or incomplete monolinguals, but have a unique and specific linguistic configuration” (p 34). Again we have to be aware of the many ways to achieve and maintain languages. There is no simple rule system for language acquisition.

In the next chapter Elizabeth Lanza discusses multilingualism and the importance of the family as the input of language. Her focus is on the influence of the family environment on early bilingual language acquisition where the minority language does not have any support. In this context the family is seen as the necessary input of language. Lanza sees the family as an important sociolinguistic environment especially in a society where the minority does not have any support. She claims the importance of giving support and empowerment to parents so their children do not lose one of their languages. Otherwise the child will be losing one of its language identities facing an inability to communicate with his or her grandparents. Lanza refers to Harding & Riely (1986) who claim that usually it is the mother who loses her linguistic identity. The family can, according to Lanza, be seen as a community of practice, a kind of social unit that has its own norms for language use and she draws a parallel to Lave & Wenger (1991) that addresses the importance of gradually gaining membership at the same time as learning progress. By carrying out surveys of bilingual and multilingual families, finding out about attitudes and beliefs of the parents and doing interactional analysis of parent-child conversations, the author suggests that interesting information can emerge. Lanza claims that it is through micro-analysis of parent-child conversations that “we can gain insight into what can contribute to active bilingualism in the child” (p. 62). My own conclusion is that since language is so much connected with identity we have to meet and acknowledge all the languages that a child has. Teachers have a significant role here. If we as teachers lift up and discuss all the languages that actually exist in the classroom we will also begin the empowerment of bilingualism – and identity development.

Talk in two languages(Gafaranga)

This book focuses on language alternation. Joseph Gafarangas key question for research is how bilinguals actually manage to use two languages in the same conversation despite, what he means, is a theoretical impossibility. In chapter five Gafaranga discusses the interactional order when talking two languages and he examines language alternation from an identity-related point of view. He explores two different identity-related accounts:

• The Interactional Sociolinguistics perspective (Blom & Gumpertz, 1972)

• Markedness Model (Myers-Scotton, 1983)

Gafaranga argues that both models above share the “one-situation-one principle” and claims that this is not appropriate. The norm that follows this principle is the norm of language separateness. Instead he suggests his own model named “one-situation-one-variety”. Language alternation can, according to Gafaranga, be seen as a resource for identity negotiations. The given situation decides what language to use – the different languages are being regularly exchangeable. Gafaranga concludes that: “the norm must cease to be that of one-situation-one-language nd become that of one-situation-one-variety, where variety eed not consist of one language” (p. 115).

Literacy and Power in Schooling (McCarty)

This is, as the title informs us, a book about language, literacy and power and Chomsky is becomingly cited in the beginning with the words; “questions of language are basically questions of power”. According to the editor, Teresa McCarty, this book has a critical ethnographic perspective on language and literacy. The book is divided in three parts; part one examines the difference between the local and the general in literacy development, part two steps into literacy classrooms where face-to-face interactions shape literacy practices and part three includes a globalized view of literacy policies. The overall aim is to focus on “language, literacy and schooling as interrelated axes of power in struggles over access to key intellectual, social, economic and political resources and rights” (preface xyiii). Another aim is to challenge the barrier between theory and practice.

In the first part, in chapter three, McCarty describes a project where, after 4 years, students result improved from scores of 58% to scores of 91%. The context is a Native American school where Navajos are the numerical majority. McCarty describes the Navajos as minoritized since they are “socially, economically and politically marginalized within the larger society” (s. 48). The aim with the project as I understand it was, and hopefully is, to empower teachers to create and maintain indigenous literacies. The teachers were, according to McCarty subordinate the authorities. She stresses the fact the teachers were female and indigenous and that the authorities in charge were male and white. After this project, though, the teachers have come a long way. They seem, according to the description, to have been empowered and have now developed a sense of being in charge. One important change is that “there is a much greater consciousness and use of Navajo by the teachers” (p. 58) which have resulted in that the pupils are now studying their own history. Other important changes, according to McCarty, are alternative assessments which help the teachers to know where the children are and what they need in their learning process. The title for this described chapter is, in my opinion, very telling; “The power within: Indigenous Literacies and Teacher Empowerment”. From the description by McCarty, the involved pupils and their teachers seem to have found the power within them by telling their history in a way that ring true for them.

Ray McDermott contributes with a commentary on part one. He describes McCarty's description of the Navajo language project as relentless since the teachers succeed in holding onto Navajo language and culture. The change started, obviously, with the empowerment of the teachers. One simple conclusion of the meetings with the teachers was the increased use of multicultural or Navajo literature for children in the school. McDermott argues that school should not be “a comfort zone” (p. 117):

Change does not happen in comfort zones. Bad things happens while people are attending to their comfort zones. Change happens when people are putting comfort to risk. The teacher meeting that McCarty attended and documented over a decade were a less comfort zone, and more “often a site of pain and discomfort as teachers revisited their own educational histories and challenged the pedagogical assumptions internalized in the course of their schooling” (p. 117)

In the second part, chapter six, Gloria Ladson-Billings gives us her experiences from another project. This time the main focus is the question of race and literacy. The connection of power and literacy is early mentioned:

The relationship between literacy and power is well established in U.S history. The early experiences of Africans in the Americas underscores this relationship. It was illegal to teach an enslaved African to read because White slave owners knew that literate slaves would be difficult to oppress. (p. 135)

Ladson-Billings claims that even today many African-American students struggle to acquire the “kind of literacy that leads to liberation”. The author's aim is to move beyond technical explanations of the lacking reading ability. The reason may not be, she suggests, an inability to understand the alphabetical principle. Instead Ladson-Billings argues that “literacy is deeply embedded in our conceptions of humanity and citizenship; that one must be human to be literate and one must be literate to be a citizen” (p. 135). Literacy is in this sense knitted together by strong elements like identity and the sense of belonging or not, being a human – or not. Ladson-Billings stresses the importance of remembering that US from its colonial beginnings was a socially stratified society. The connection between race and literacy is in the article grounded in critical race theory and the author cites Delgado (1995) who says that “racism is normal, not aberrant in American society” (p. 136). As I understand Ladson-Billings was her research questions from the start not specifically drawn to aspects of race, instead it became the answer and the result from the questions that was being asked:

How can teachers use small, local professional communities to improve the literacy of struggling early readers? (p. 137)

What literacy strategies do teachers attempt to improve the literacy of struggling readers? (p. 137)

Qualitative data were collected via participant observation, interviews and group conversations and quantitative data were gathered from the students’ test scores carried out by the school. Seven primary teachers participated in the project and each teacher was asked to identify those children whose literacy they were most concerned about. When Ladson-Billing and her research colleague listed the names they found that about 80% of the names offered were those of African Americans and more than 90% were children of color. Ladson-Billings and her colleague observed classrooms two to three times per week and met with the teachers as a group once a month. They also assisted students who were struggling with their reading, and it was, again, children of color. The monthly meetings were “structured around questions and dilemmas of literacy teaching” (p. 137). All classroom observations were recorded in field notes, transcribed and coded and all teacher meetings were audiotaped, transcribed and coded. Ladson-Billings describes how for almost six months the routines rarely changed. As participant researchers they were observing, assisting students and listening to teachers talk about their struggles to teach. One conclusion described is that most of teachers carried out “activities” (p. 139) “but little in the way of reading instruction” (Ibid.). One teacher, called Paulette in the article, stands out as an exception;

Paulette knew exactly what every student in her class was reading and all of her students were reading. (……). In her first-grade classroom the students were regurarly called to the chalkboard to identify sounds, wordparts, and the number of syllables. Paulette’s students also did a lot of writing. Paulette made certain that she stopped at each student’s desk to discuss his or her work and ask questions about the student’s understanding of particular words and concepts. When we observed in Paulette’s classroom we left exhausted. She recruited us to check student’s journals and to reinforce the concepts she taught. The work went with a rapid pace but Paulette circulated throughout the room, paying particular attention to the students she had identified on her list of concerns. (p. 139-140)

Finally, after six months and after having received new test data that showed the low result of African American boys at the school, the issue of race came up on the table. Ladson-Billings ends quite abruptly the description of the project here. One kind of explanations is given. This is, she says, “not a “good” story” (p. 142). Instead it is “a real story and as such, we are continuing to thread lightly around issues of race” (Ibid.).

Ladson-Billings then tries to analyze what she calls the racialization of literacy teaching and learning. She refers to Morrison (1991) who shows that literary texts omit an African presence, but it remains unclear if they saw something of this during their classroom observations. It is clear, though, and stated by Ladson-Billings, that almost none of the teachers at the actual school had “been in a personal relationship with and African-American adult or child who was of equal or greater social status than she” (p. 143). The only exception was, as described before, the teacher named Paulette. Ladson-Billings also claims that “failure seemed to be a place reserved for African American students” (Ibid.). At the same time, she means, that the question of race is being ignored at every turn. Another interesting issue is that when the teachers asked the children what it meant to be a good reader the conclusion that being a good reader meant being a good person came up.

What I think is lacking in this interesting chapter by Ladson-Billings is the issue of gender. She mentions that there are no teachers of color at the actual school and she presents the fact that African American boys are underscoring on the tests. But she only discusses the issue of race as an important issue. Still, the question of gender remains hanging in the air. Can it, maybe clear the view a bit, if we see the full picture of White, Female, Middle-Class teachers with no personal relation to any African American, teaching a whole range of individuals representing many different ways in being a human ? But, where I agree totally with Ladson-Billings, is the necessity of an ongoing conversation about how we teach and why we are teaching the way we do. A more intersectional perspective where gender, race, social class etc. is included would, in my opinion, widen the picture and open up for more perspectives, and also more adequate solutions.

Luis C. Moll means in her commentary of Ladson-Billings that a never ending reproduction needs not to be the case. Moll suggests that “special settings for teachers to reflect on their work, the values and resources found in local communities, and the ideologies underlying their teaching can certainly contribute to a reconceptualization and change of schooling practices” (p. 211-212). Moll finds it noteworthy that “the only teacher emphasizing the academic preparation of the students was the one who had a history of personal relationships with African American adults and children” (p. 212). She therefore put forward an idea about finding out the “funds of knowledge” in the individual households in order to develop more personal relationships with the children and their families.

Jim Cummins gives us his comments on part three of the book and the question he raises is whether schools can challenge coercive power relations in the wider society. By this he also questions and challenges the role of academic research since it needs to articulate and explain more clearly how inequality is created. Cummins rhetorical question is how this can be carried out in a way so that “educators and communities are enabled to resist these coercive processes and institute educational structures and relationships that affirm students’ identities and academic achievement?” (p. 284).

From Cain’s analysis in chapter twelve, his own and others research, Cummins draws the conclusion that there is an exaggerated belief in phonics. Teaching phonemic awareness and phonics will enable all children to succeed is the mantra, but the solutions is not as easy as that, Cummins claims. He does not underestimate the necessity of phonics in the initial reading development, rather the simplification of what reading ability consists of. Cummins cites Cain who notes that “phonics is repeatedly invoked, becoming almost a mantra in ‘Reading by 9’ “(p. 285). Cummins raises the following questions and wonder if it is true that;

• Bilingual education failed to teach children English and raise academic achievement?

• Whole-language approaches were actually implemented in schools and failed to teach children phonics and decoding skills?

• English-only immersion is backed by considerable “scientific” research, as Rossel and Baker (1996) claim?

• Teaching phonemic awareness and phonics effectively will solve the literacy crisis?

• State-mandated high-stakes standardized tests will increase accountability and student learning? (p. 285)

These questions are, of course, not easy to answer. Cummins refer to Cain who suggests that there is little evidence to support these claims. He also suggests further reading by himself for a detailed analysis (Cummins 2001). Clearly politics is involved here. Gee’s article ads, according to Cummins, an additional dimension since he “suggests that students are “selected” at a very early age for certain kinds of pedagogy that will direct them toward their preassigned niche in this new economic order” (p. 286). According to all the authors in part three there is a discourse about what reading is, how it is developed and what is needed for this. Cummins draws four conclusions of this discourse, of what the research on reading is saying. His first conclusion is that decoding skills are a necessary, but not sufficient condition for reading comprehension development. For example, students can show good results in the early grades but then further on experience a halt in their reading development since “reading comprehension rather than decoding becomes the primary focus of standardized tests of reading” (p. 287). Cummins second conclusion is that “the most effective approaches to developing initial reading skills (decoding) are those that combined extensive and varied exposure to meaningful print with explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and letter-sound correspondences” (p. 287). The third conclusion is that decoding skills does not automatically generalize to reading comprehension or other aspects of second-language proficiency. Finally Cummins concludes that “after the initial grades, reading comprehension is predicted primarily by the amount that students actually read” (Ibid.). Extensive reading provides a wide range of vocabulary; a parameter that is one of the strongest predictor of reading difficulty. To summon up one can say that decoding skills are, of course, necessary but not sufficient enough. There is in Cummins article a strong criticism towards American educational politics:

In short, by discarding the “whole-language” emphasis on extensive reading in favour of intensive phonics, the current reading dogma ignores the bulk of scientific research on the instructional conditions that promote strong reading comprehension. Under the current regime of truth, low-income culturally diverse students are unlikely to be any better off at the end of elementary school than they have been in previous years. (p. 299)

Educational structures determine, according to Cummins, what happen between and among educators, students and communities, something he calls microinteractions. So, in short, the educational macrostructures have an impact on the local schools microinteractions. Cummins claims that these microinteractions are never neutral; “they either reinforce coercive relations of power or promote collaborative relations of power” (p. 291). Therefore, they must, according to Cummins, challenge historical and current patterns of coercive power relations in society. Cummins suggests a documentation of academic progresses that emerge from the current accountability-oriented curricula and programs like “No Child Left Behind” along with a documentation of patterns emerging in programs that combine more adequate pedagogy for culturally diverse students. Finally he argues for the “need to explain, in clear and credible ways, why and how these patterns of achievement occur under different pedagogical conditions” (p. 292). We have, he argues, to engage educators in critical discussions that identifies contradictions in the dominant discourse and exposes the consequences for low-income students.

For me personally this book has all together been a very interesting text to read. I am impressed by this action research, which for me, gives hope and alternative solutions. At the same time the book, in my opinion, lives up to its promised critical approach. Especially the chapter by Cummins raises many questions that is still ringing in my head. I will carry them with me, trying not to forget them. But I will also strongly remember the described projects that have empowered teachers and pupils. I think we have too few of them in the time being where assessment and goal fulfillment seems to take up every minute that is left to think and reflect over what learning and education is and should mean.