[lg policy] book notice: Literacy Strategies Tap Student Experiences

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 15 17:15:21 UTC 2010

Literacy Strategies Tap Student Experiences: Immigrant Students and
Literacy: Reading Writing and Remembering
Jan 14, 2010 Arlene Marturano

Immigrant Students and Literacy: Reading, Writing and Remembering by
Gerald Campano [Teachers College Press, 2007] is a petite book with
powerful messages for the teacher of English language learners. This
is not the typical prescriptive language arts and reading methods
textbook with chapters on grammar and usage, listening and speaking,
handwriting, writing activities, vocabulary, and spelling. Instead,
Campano presents an approach to literacy which features ethnic and
migrant narratives by his fifth grade students including
autobiography, prose, poetry, letter reading and writing, family
stories, oral conversations, journaling, interviews, scripts, and
performances. Campano’s target is a specific slice of American
student, elementary immigrant, migrant and refugee children who have
been overlooked and marginalized by a one-size-fits-all standardized
curriculum and failing school system.

Urban Teacher-Research
As an urban teacher-researcher Campano’s guiding question was “What
would happen if I invited children from immigrant and migrant
backgrounds to read, write and speak from their own experiences and
the realities of their lives?”(p.31) The book documents his findings
while teaching fifth graders over a period of four years.

Voices of Children
The voices of the children in his classroom are voices of experience
used to theorize Campano’s practice. When Celso opened his deceased
father’s secret box, the contents opened the world of literacy to him.
He was able to articulate orally and in writing his own history
through the artifacts. Carmen, labeled a reluctant reader by the
system, became confident and clear when sharing biographies of family
members interviewed. Maria invited classmates into her neighborhood
through her poems and stories.

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Campano found his most insightful teaching moments came when classroom
literacy activities were informed by student experiences and
identities. He believes “Until our profession is reoriented to more
systematically and comprehensively support and develop the
experiential knowledge of both students and teachers,…..children… will
continue to fall through the cracks.” (p. 41)

The experiential knowledge emanating from student interests, wishes,
forms of cultural expression and stories needs to be tapped by the
teacher to move children in the direction of academic language and
mandated goals.

Campano writes a political pedagogy in the spirit of a youthful
activist teacher determined to forge an alternative path to literacy
for immigrant, migrant and refugee children and their families. He
cautions teachers to remain skeptical about the dominant explanations
given for student failure and preconceived notions regarding cultural
or class superiority.

The author challenges teachers to become activists for their students
by foraging for new resources and basing curriculum decisions on the
inquiry process rather than from external mandates.

Campano’s career as a teacher is liberated as much by his students and
their narratives as his methods transformed their lives. His local
grassroots effort to improve literacy and life for migrant children
opens a much needed dialog on just societal and educational provisions
for immigrant children.

Dichotomies of Teaching
Throughout his book Campano presents pairs of seemingly opposing
concepts. Sometimes these pairs are passages from one state of being
to another. For example, students use intergenerational storytelling
to move from silence to voice. He integrates the personal and
professional in his own life by taking a teaching position in a
Filipino-American community in California. When he sees his students
assuming the work responsibilities of adults outside of school, he
encourages them to write and share their personal stories while
working as his fifth graders in the classroom setting.

Sometimes Campano discusses pairs of concepts with tolerance toward
the ambiguity between the two. He acknowledges that teachers
frequently find themselves in contradictory positions and must assume
a Janusian approach by allowing contradictions to exist. For example,
he grappled with the problems of the mandated curriculum or first
classroom while working to establish a personalized curriculum or
second classroom. When as a tenderfoot teacher he was given four
canned literacy programs to implement, he struggled with his desire to
collaborate with his students to build a literacy curriculum emanating
from their own personal experiences.

Sometimes pairs of concepts have a reciprocal relationship. Teaching
and learning were reciprocal in the sense that “…my ability to
effectively teach the children is predicated on my ability to learn
from them.” (p.112)

Roles of a Teacher
Capturing the many roles of a teacher Campano writes from a variety of
viewpoints including activist, inquirer, immigrant, learner, literacy
teacher, and urban teacher-researcher. The book has the memoir quality
of Frank McCourt’s Teacher Man and imparts the emotional and creative
energy found in Sylvia Ashton-Warner’s Teacher.

Campano’s book is a catalyst for debate, discussion, planning, and
changes in local and national social and educational policy toward
literacy and immigrants.

Read more at Suite101: Literacy Strategies Tap Student Experiences:
Immigrant Students and Literacy: Reading Writing and Remembering

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