Including everyone means understanding difference in and on its own terms, helping others find their strengths, and showing them ways to build on them by aligning words, choices, and actions. A fundamental Cherokee life way, including everyone can inform all areas of the work that teachers do: from one-to-one work with students, small groups, and classrooms; to organizing and administering departments with transparency; to building projects together in teams of teachers, students, and parents.
It compliments the ethic of ᎦᏚᎩ /gadugi/ working together as a team and the ethic of ᏗᏣᏓᎫᏍᏓ ᎢᏤᎮᏍᏗ /ditsadagusda itsehesdi/ live and support each other. I've tried to manifest this in the work I'm doing as the director of the MSU College of Arts and Letters Center for Applied and Inclusive Teaching and Learning in the Arts and Humanities.
Specifically, I'm thinking of two peer mentoring projects that focus on successful students helping others become successful by building on each others' language and cultural assets. CAITLAH master teacher, Alissa Cohen, developed the idea for a peer mentoring program in the rich soli of our master mentor teachers collective. Her program pairs advanced undergraduate English language learners with newcomer international students as they progress through the English Language Center's curriculum. The program has grown to include over 100 students students working together to help each other make sense of college life and to practice English as they immerse themselves in American culture.
In CAITLAH's Teaching Diverse Learners project, preservice secondary teachers are placed in MSU's preparation for college writing (PCW) classrooms. The master instructors have engaged in and use regularly CAITLAH workshops and materials on sustaining pedagogies. The preservice teachers enrolled in my English education courses also engage in developing activities and pedagogies to facilitate the linguistic and cultural perseverance of our PCW students. In their PCW classroom placements, the preservice teachers work 1-2-1 with ELL and first generation students, facilitate small groups, lead activities, and run entire class periods by the end of the semester.
The Cherokee ethic of including everyone comes to life for me in these peer mentoring projects. They help me imagine what decolonial education can look like in day-to-day.
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.
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.
The first three pages of my Master's thesis draft were covered with penciled comments from my committee director, Ed White. At the end page three, he drew a line and said simply, "I stopped reading here. See me." Ed was a tough reader to please, fair and challenging. He showed me where my writing was confused and confusing and listened as I tried to talk through my ideas. I struggled mightily with that thesis, trying to make some sense of cognitive processes for reading and writing. Ed had in mind a type of writing that mine fell far short of with its fragments, misspellings, awkward phrasings, and run on sentences. A key founder of holistic assessment measures of student writing in college entrance exams, his responses were well-informed and well-intentioned. Under his leadership, I had helped read blue book applications of thousands of students applying to enter California State University, San Bernadino. I saw how students' form impacted deeply their placement into various tracks of preparatory writing classes. That draft of my thesis was only a little better than those entrance exams. I had to wonder if I'd ever make it through. But I had made it that far. And my acceptance into a few PhD programs kept me motivated to finish the job and get Ed reading past page three.
Writing assessment matters. It matters in the classroom, in entrance exams, and in standardized tests. All potentially impact writing development. How we give these kinds of feedback to learners and what they do with it, or feel enabled and compelled to do with it, are matters of equity. Just how so, for whom, and with what stakes are questions hotly debated in the media and scholarship. Few know this better than Mya Poe, the guest editor of 48.3, a special issue of RTE featuring international perspectives on diversity and writing assessment. Mya's research in this area includes the important book Race and Writing Assessment (with Asao Inoue). The issue includes an all star line up.
It features international scholars from across language and writing communities keenly interested in the effects a range of assessments have on diverse learners. David H. Slomp, Julie A. Corrigan, and Tamiko Sugimoto lead the issue with their article that "provides researchers, test developers, and test users with a clearer, more systematic approach to examining the effects of assessment on diverse populations of students." Mary Ryan and Georgina Barton's article details the teaching of writing in Australian elementary schools to reveal how diverse students create powerful identities for themselves in writing when given a space to do so. Asking how teachers define failure in students' writing, Asao Inoue explores "the nature and production of failure in writing classrooms and programs." Liz Hamp-Lyons widens the lens again to the global context:
"English tests have great value. Everywhere in the world, English proficiency is one of the essential keys to unlock the door of educational opportunity and all that promises for an individual’s future. The assessment of writing is, then, socially and politically significant not only within a country’s internal struggles for opportunity for all through quality education, but also between nations."
Global-scale tests in English proficiency, assessing writing at the university level, and every act of responding to writing in classrooms and third spaces impact diverse students especially. Together, these can perpetuate social inequities or help realize global equity. This issue offers paths of possibility to move us further along this continuum toward more equity for diverse learners. Hope remains strong.
Models of change, change agents, teaching, learning, expressive tools, and everyday struggles for dignity, resources, respect, and cultural perseverance.