Guest Author: Kevin G. Smith, Assistant Editor of Research in the Teaching of English
Issue 50.3 of RTE launched online this week just as our editorial team is preparing to send to press the final issue of this volume year. Wrapping up work on the 50th anniversary year of RTE is a moment that invites some reflection—on the field and on our editorship of the journal. In the first issue of this volume year, we noted that the articles provided a “conceptual turn from research report to story” (5). In that spirit, we would like to story our editorship of the journal by thinking about the questions that have animated us throughout this year.
The articles leading up to and in volume year 50 lead efforts in the internationalization of the journal, particularly by addressing issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion that increasingly come to the foreground in plurilingual societies where all language speakers, and their languages, have not been equally -- or equitably -- valued. The articles explore some of the larger social, political, material and economic systems in which the teaching and learning of English(es) participates. A principal concern motivating us as an editorial team has been the internationalization of the teaching and learning of English in a global era where literacies traverse across boundaries of all kinds. In our editorship, we have asked four questions that very much remain at the forefront of our vision as we look to the future of this journal. These four questions also promote social change in and by researching in the teaching of Englishes.
First, how can those concerned with research in the teaching of English(es) bridge multiple contexts to explore the teaching and learning of language and literacy in diverse settings beyond the classroom?
This question responds particularly to historical, cultural, and political shifts in our global society. Rebecca Woodard’s The Dialogic Interplay of Writing and Teaching Writing: Teacher-Writers’ Talk and Textual Practices across Contexts in 50.1 links teachers’ out of school writing practices with their writing instruction. Also in 50.1, Amy Lachuk’s article, The Sociohistorical Mandate for Literacy and Education in the Rural South: A Narrative Perspective, uses data poems to better reflect the cultural and collective commitment to using literacy for self determination immediately. In #WhoNeedsDiverseBooks?: Preservice Teachers and Religious Neutrality with Children’s Literature, Denise Dávila responds to the social exigency of religious (in)tolerance reflected in the twitter stream #WNDB to argue that preservice teachers may inadvertently be contributing to the defamation of other cultures and religious identities when they adopt a non religious reading lens in their selection of books. These and other studies are bridging multiple historical, social, and cultural contexts in this past year of RTE.
Second, what impact do new technologies have on on students’ literacy practices, and how can those concerned with research in the teaching of English(es) move digital literacy research in the direction of internationalizing English(es), honoring multiple ways of knowing, and resisting monolingual production?
Amy Stornaiuolo and Robert Jean LeBlanc’s multi-sited ethnography in issue 50.3 is a great example of the kind of innovative research that can expand our understandings of digital media and communication technologies. Their “scaling” approach to studying digital literacy can be useful to a range of literacy scholars working across borders. And keep an eye out for Kate Vieira’s piece in issue 50.4 (link will be active in May, when the issue goes online) that shows us that the influence technology has on our literacy practices don’t necessarily mean we should always be studying online communication. Rather, traditional qualitative research methods can reveal the movement of “writing remittances,” those material supports for literacy, across borders. In this way, Vieira’s study is not one of technology for technology’s sake, but an exploration of how the movement of technology and attendant literacy demands is bound up in complex economic, social, and political relationships that resist easy binaries between global north and global south.
Third, how can those concerned with research in the teaching of English(es) continue to work against the imperialist logic of languages which mirrors, creates, and sustains unequal and oppressive social hierarchies and work toward decolonial and pluriversal perspectives?
In issue 50.2, Melinda J. McBee Orzulak’s article, Disinviting Deficit Ideologies: Beyond “That’s Standard,” “That’s Racist,” and “That’s Your Mother Tongue”, pointed to how preservice teachers responded to linguistic ideological dilemmas that unfolded in their classrooms, and how teachers might respond to deficit language ideologies with approaches that value language variation. And looking forward to issue 50.4 (link will be active in May), we will see Susan Choo pushing back against oppressive social hierarchies through a critique of neoliberal, strategic cosmopolitanism.
Another way that we’ve tried to address this question is by publishing studies that re-invigorate existing methodologies, such as the article by Paul Anderson, Chris M. Anson, Robert M. Gonyea, and Charles Paine (50.2) that drew the attention of Inside Higher Education. We’ve also sought articles that adopt novel methodological approaches. In our introduction to issue 50.1, we asked how storying our research could “help us to conceive of an RTE audience beyond the academy and to imagine our research being accessible to and inviting reciprocity with members of the communities we research” (9). This project began in issue 50.1 with Todd DeStigter asking: “why argument?” It continued in that issue with the already-mentioned innovative pieces by Denise Dávila and Amy Johnson Lachuk, and continued with Timothy San Pedro’s storying methodology in his article, Silence as Shields: Agency and Resistances among Native American Students in the Urban Southwest, in 50.2. As we look forward, we see an important area for exploration in imagining how methodological orientations can reproduce, but also respond to, resist, and reorder language hierarchies.
And fourth, how can those concerned with research in the teaching of English(es) continue to cultivate research from countries and cultures around the world where the teaching and learning of English(es) happens alongside, oftentimes in tension with, the teaching and learning of other languages?
As we finish the final issue in the 50th volume year of RTE, we reflect that this issue exemplifies the challenge to the field of literacy studies moving forward: How best to understand the teaching and learning of Englishes from a global perspective? In our editorial introduction to issue 50.2, “The Teaching of English”, we noted the importance that border spaces can play in working against imperialist hierarchies of language—that researchers, students, and teachers might not just cross, but also dwell in and occupy these border spaces (Tlostanova & Mignolo, 2012).
In many ways, we see the forthcoming issue 50.4 as the perfect close to RTE’s 50th year in that it takes up in compelling and unique ways all four of the questions outlined above.The focus of issue 50.4 will be rooted studies emanating from four nation-states on four different continents with four distinct colonial legacies—Cameroon, Singapore, Brazil, and the United States—responding to and helping to shape the internationalization of the teaching and learning of Englishes. Beyond nation-state diversity, the studies engage a range of contexts both within and outside of schools and classrooms. Vivian Yenika-Agbaw examines the legacies of imperialism in Cameroonian textbooks; Susan Choo argues for pedagogies of strategic cosmopolitanism as a way to promote ethical connections and border crossings in an increasingly globalized world, Kate Vieira traces the bi-directional movement of technological and material supports for writing between the global north and global south; and Mary Amanda Stewart and Holly Hansen-Thomas map the transnational life of a particular student and how that movement manifests itself in translanguaging practices for the learning of English. (Look for issue 50.4 in May; we will update this post when the issue is online!)
The articles in 50.4 will trace, create, occupy, and cross borders—borders that cut across political, geographic, and nation-state lines and exist in our very classrooms, schools, and institutions. The powerful directives these articles will offer to researchers, teachers, and learners of Englishes around the world exemplify the way that literacy and language learning is always already bound up in larger social, material, economic, and political systems and histories. The project of internationalizing and reexamining what research in the teaching of English(es) can and should be in the years ahead continues.
A Future Teacher's Perseverance
Cary Edington sat in front of me clicking through his teaching portfolio. Hair in a tuft, eyes bright, and wearing a huge smile at the accomplishment and ideas, he's always been tireless and strident in pursuing his belief that all students deserve engaged and engaging Math and English classes. The portfolio features lessons, activities, and his philosophy on teaching diverse learners, oftentimes through problem based lesson plans. A lesson plan on addressing discrimination in a community, for instance, will teach argumentative writing based on an analysis of statistical evidence gathered during the Math lesson. I admire him deeply for the ways in which he's trying to create the types of educational opportunities for his students not seen in our reports and tests about teaching. He'll soon be entering his first year of the Teach for America program. He decided to leave MSU's top education certification program to take a route more likely to place him in the kinds of classrooms and with the types of students he hopes to teach. Students not unlike himself.
Cary has been raising himself since the age of 13 when he became an emancipated minor. He worked his way through college at MSU as a janitor cleaning schools and rode his bike between campus and work or took the bus when the snow got too deep. Categorized a female at birth, he identifies as a man. When his students ask if he's a boy or girl, he smiles and asks them: "What do you think?" Whatever they answer, he smiles and turns their attention back to the lesson at hand.
Cary's teaching portfolio represents that hard-won place where possibility can emerge in curricular and pedagogical designs created for students' in urban and impoverished schools. In his well-written and provocative revised edition of Why School?, Mike Rose takes up "the experience of eduction when it's done well with the student's well-being in mind" (34). Tracing his own educational journey alongside the students he's taught and observed in master-teacher classrooms, Rose explores questions about school reform, adult education, cognition, work, development, and the possibility of public education in a society with staggering poverty rates and that too often fails to hear the stories of students like Cary. But what do we listen for when we hear a story like Cary's?
Some will hear evidence of a bootstrap story of hard work, perseverance, perhaps even, bravery. In a new chapter on, "Being Careful about Character," Rose takes up the problem of reading stories like Cary's as an indicator that meritocracy in our educational system works. Bootstrap stories (and their newest iteration in character building exercises that emphasize teaching perseverance) amount to little more than placing the onus to change squarely on the very people who are most oppressed by poverty. "If you work hard in school, through sheer perseverance, you will succeed," the thinking goes.
Cary's story is exceptional in large part because it is an exception-- an exception that offers evidence of the rule: Too few people in Cary's position actually make it out of high school, let alone through college, let alone through Math AND English. Even fewer of them actively pursue a teaching career, especially in the hopes of working with students in schools hit hardest by poverty. Rose reminds us that stories like his own, like Cary's, like so many others, are really examples of what is wrong with a capitalist society that tolerates poverty, broken social safety nets, and very unequal access to education.
Cary's curriculum will surely have impact and be helpful to students he teaches. But his success and his teaching are small doses of medicine that will only treat the symptoms of what ails the United States today: unchecked capitalism, institutionalized racism, vast and growing inequities, and failing infrastructures. We need more teachers like Cary teaching students like Cary; we need educational policy bold enough to provide the best educational practices for students in poverty without finding fault with their characters; and we need broad and smart social policy on the scale of Roosevelt's WPA projects and the scope of Johnson's War on Poverty— policy that treats all people humanely and provides safe, clean, state-of-the-art learning spaces.
Trends in Writing Research
One theme of the 2014 Writing Research across Borders conference in Paris, France concerned research that promotes social equity, an especially important topic in a time when teachers around the world are seeing demographic shifts in their classrooms and communities. Here are a few trends in writing research that hold promise for addressing questions of equity.
Methodological Innovations Writing research continues to develop more robust ways of approaching language learning. Promising trends include cognitive ethnography, ethnolinguistic studies, mapping, neuroscience research, and cross cultural genre studies. These approaches might offer the scale and depth needed to understand language learning in diverse communities and across multiple languages.
International Research Teams Increasingly, humanities, engineering and sciences, and education scholars are working together to develop large-scale projects. Their research questions are tending to address cross cultural understandings and approaches to questions of the transfer of writing skills and strategies, genre studies particularly across disciplines, the materiality of literacy, and assessment.
Ecologies and Materialities of Writing This longstanding area of research pays attention to the interconnected, networked, collaborative, material, infrastructural, systemic ways in which writing unfolds or is hindered in workplaces and communities. A new dimension to this research, ethnolinguistic studies of writing codes in contact, traces the imperialistic introduction of new writing technologies in cultures and communities.
Professional Development for Teachers in all levels and educational settings remains an important development in writing research. Along this line, look for didactic learning and teaching methods, competency based approaches to teacher education, as well as mentoring and professional development initiatives for faculty.
Global writing networks, digital contact zones, connectivity, citizenship, social networking, and activism all remain important areas of theorizing and research. While not a new area, look for interesting pedagogical innovations between teachers and researchers uniting classrooms across the globe to enhance learning of all students through project based assignments.
Trans (insert noun here) Cultures. Languages. Disciplines. Nations. All of these areas were represented by several presentations from scholars around the globe. The results of these studies show how learners develop metalinguistic awareness as they develop abilities to transfer skills and strategies; they show how literacies travel and accrue across life spans; and they reveal deeper understanding of the translating process as it unfolds in learners' texts. This important trend in writing research promises better understandings of circulations of power in literacies and language learning.
Interested in learning more? Browse the convention program here.
One of the the brightest, most enthusiastic and creative preservice teachers I've had the pleasure of teaching, Elizabeth (psuedonym) is in her internship year in a mid-Michigan school district. I hardly recognized her voice on the phone when she called in tears. Just one week into her unit on Zora Neale Hurston, a parent sent her a note lambasting her for the unit's content and focus on African American Language. This parent thought that only the classics and standard English should be taught. Elizabeth had developed this unit throughout her senior year in Michigan State University's top-ranked teacher education program. As well prepared as she was, little in her teacher education preparation readied her for this person's horribly racist remarks about the content of the class and her abilities as a teacher.
It's hard for me to decide which I loathe more-- the parent's explicit racism or implicit sexism.
For Elizabeth, this was just a taste of what will likely be a steady stream of oppressive, demeaning, and exhausting encounters with parents she'll have as a teacher. Her story isn't that unusual. Read through some of the 3,400 or so comments in response to futurist's Ron Clark's CNN editorial, "What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents." It's not clear why parents have so little respect for teachers or when this phenomenon starting taking root, though Richard Worzel has a few ideas.
If the entire profession had more males, though, my hunch is that teachers would be much more respected and well compensated, and recognized for work they do.* Between 1961-2006, the profession has remained consistently 70% female, but the number of those holding a MA degree has increase from only 23% in 1961 to 60.4% in 2006 (NCES). Despite the increased educational attainment of teachers profession, their income increased by only 2.7% between 2000 and 2011 (NCES). Compare this to the anemic 5.7% growth of the average US worker and the absolutely obscene 527% growth in CEO pay from 1978-2011 (ThinkProgress).
The disrespect for the profession and disregard for the teachers flies in the face of what we know about the demanding nature of the job. "Teaching done well is complex intellectual work," Mike Rose reminds us. "Teaching begins with knowledge: of subject matter, of instructional materials and technologies, of cognitive and social development. But it’s not just that teachers know things. Teaching is using knowledge to foster the growth of others." I'm not sure how much growth Elizabeth would have been able to foster in the parent whose racism and disrespect were everywhere present in that note.
I do know she was trying to educate all of her students equally well. And for that she should be well paid, respected, and recognized. The everyday struggle for equity in classrooms unfolded here on two fronts -- in the curriculum AND in how teachers are recognized as professionals. Both link back to an ongoing struggle with patriarchy that place white males at the top of the chain of being.
Not quite finished with her internship year, Elizabeth asked me to write her a letter of recommendation for graduate school. But it turns out she didn't need it after all. She's accepted a teaching position teaching in Saudi Arabia where, she was assured by the search committee, the teachers feel respected, have autonomy to make sound decisions based on their professional training, and have opportunities to refine their craft. Why does she have to go so far for respect?
* A recent UNESCO sponsored study "Women and the Teaching Profession: Exploring the Feminisation Debate," reviewed by Kate Greany for Gender & Development 20.2 (2012): 379-380, seems to suggest this as well.
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