My Literacy Journey

Posts Tagged ‘Reading the Word

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems is a clever and powerful story about one particular mole rat who dares to be different.  Wilbur is different from all of the other mole rats in his colony in that he likes to wear clothing and is brave enough to show it. The other naked mole rats shun him and ridicule him for doing this.  Wilbur simply asks “why not” when the others challenge him as to why he is not naked.  The other mole rats are so bothered by Wilbur’s differences that they look to Grand-pah, the oldest, wisest, and most naked mole rat for some answers.  The other naked mole rats are surprised when Grand-pah’s reaction is far from what they expected.  Grand-pah supports Wilbur’s clothing-wearing and ponders the question of “why not” himself.  Grand-pah issues a new proclamation that it is acceptable to wear clothing if the naked mole rats wish to do so. Once the proclamation is issued, some of the other mole rats become brazen enough to show that they also enjoy wearing clothing.

The nature of the characters in this book lends itself to a rather neutral portrayal of society.  Both the pictures and the text portray only mole rats as the characters. The fact that there are no human beings in the story makes it relatable to all readers, regardless of race or background.  Children from a broad spectrum of socio-economic and educational backgrounds may feel comfortable with the story because the characters are represented as mole rats and there is no hint of class delineations among the rats.

Males would relate most to this text because of the gender of the main character in the story.  Wilbur is male, as is Grand-pah, who is seen as the respected leader of the mole rat community.  There is no mention of female characters in the text and there is only one or two illustrations of a female among the many male depictions.  Females are underrepresented in the story. Whether or not this is intentional or is simply representative of the real mole rat population remains unclear.

The underlying message in this story is to stand up for what you believe in and to dare to be different. The courage and independence that the main character, Wilbur demonstrates are valuable personality traits that a reader can learn from and identify with.   Subsequently, the reader understands that it is okay to be different and one may even be respected for their individuality.  To this end, children may be encouraged to become leaders as opposed to following the crowd.

The cues that led me to this interpretation were both present in the text and illustrations.  “’Why not, indeed?  Do clothes hurt anyone? No.  Are they fun?  Well, they may not be fun for everyone, but this old naked mole rat wishes he had tried getting dressed earlier’” (Willems, 2009, p. 27)!  The issue of posing questions is discussed in Using Controversial Books to Support Engagement, Diversity, and Democracy.”…students can make connections between the lives of people they read about in realistic fiction books and their own lives” (Lewison, Leland, Flint, & Moller, 2002 p.217).  Children’s questioning is a starting place for curriculum. It is clear that the opinion of Grand-pah is highly valued by the community of mole rats. Grand-pah is wise enough to re-evaluate the standards of society and shows that there is always room for reinterpretation and change.  Change can be beneficial.  On pages thirty-six and thirty-seven of the story, the illustrations show some of the mole rats naked and some of the mole rats clothed.  This is an example of an illustrative cue substantiating this interpretation.

One point to consider is the idea of social class represented in this story.  Wilbur demonstrates different walks of life by wearing different outfits and articles of clothing including uniforms and costumes.  “’I like clothes,’ replied Wilbur.  ‘When I get dressed I can be…’…fancy, or funny, or cool, or I can just be an astronaut’” (Willems, 2009, p.6-7).  The varied clothing types encourage the reader to use their imagination and fantasize.

Stephanie  Jones, in girls, social class & literacy brings up the point of privilege and accessibility to resources.  Wilbur can be seen as a privileged mole rat because of his accessibility to many different types of clothing and how easily he reaches these materials.  Moreover, privilege can be related to opportunity.  Wilbur is able to “try on” different roles in society. Opportunity is more available to those who have access to monetary goods.

Jones serves as a teacher, researcher, and mentor to eight young girls.  Similarly, Grand-pah shows the mole rats that with his leadership and support, dreams become possible.

The concept of bullying also comes to mind when reading Willems’ story.  Wilbur experiences both verbal and physical bullying from the other mole rats.  Wilbur learns to be a fighter and an advocate for what he believes in.  In Jones’ text, “Cadence hinted at her wondering of why fighting was such a way of life, but this didn’t interfere with her determination to be a fighter when she grows up” (Jones, 2006, p.39).  Although some may consider Cadence’s desire to be a fighter similar to that of a bully, Jones explains it as just someone who is determined to stand up for what they believe in and deserve.

One must also consider why there are few or no female characters in the story.  Female audiences may find it difficult to relate to the story or question why the Wilbur and Grand-pah are both male.

Further, it is important to pay attention to the idea that all of the naked mole rats are the same light, pink color.  It seems as though this story is speaking only to mole rats of this color.  It is questionable as to whether there are naked mole rats of other colors and why they are not represented in the story.  The reader may have difficulty relating to the story because he/she may be a different color than classmates or have never been in a situation where everybody was the same color or looked the same in his/her own community.

Fortunately, I have always been supported of my differences and my individuality has been celebrated.  Although Wilbur is male, I am easily able to identify with him as a character that possesses courage and a strong voice.  The reading connects to culture in the sense that the mole rats are a community.  They are all part of the same group.  The reading connects to power in that Grand-pah represents an omniscient character that the other mole rats look to for leadership.  The reading connects to literacy in that this is a story that children can both read and discuss.  There are opportunities of further discussion and ways to incorporate individual reflection. Overall, Willems’ work is a story that is fun, engaging, and easy to relate to for a wide variety of audiences.


Jones, S (2006). girls, social class, & literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinesman.

Lewison, M., Leland, C., Flint, A. S., & Moller, K. J. (2002). Dangerous discourses: Using                 controversial books to support engagement, diversity, and democracy. The New Advocate, 15(3), 215-226.

Willems, M (2009). Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.


I decided to include this critical reading of Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed by Mo Willems because I think it shows how much I have changed my thinking about critical literacy. This was a critical reading that I did during my first course at TC this past summer, with Ellen Ellis as my instructor.

Throughout the analysis, I show some instances of deep thought and interpretation about the text yet there is so much that I did not uncover.  I partially believe that some of this is because I simply did not have as much access to the materials and information about engaging in critical literacy, while I also think that I just was merely as astute about what I was reading, and my wonderings.

One aspect that really grabbed my attention was my discussion around how the use of rats as characters avoids marginalizations and allows everyone to relate to the text.  As I have explored this semester, I know that this is not the case at all, and as a teacher of critical literacy I need to be cognizant of this.  There is so much more to pay attention to when critically reading a text, which can give the reader insight into who the text is really designed for, relatable for, and positioned for.

I think this critical paper demonstrates just how far I have come in my own literacy journey.  I am proud to say that I have come a very long way from how I thought when I wrote this, and I look forward to continuing my journey as a literacy leader.


I came across this comic in Newsday, which is a Long Island newspaper.  I thought this comic was extremely relevant, interesting, and had a lot to say about  literacy…

The man reads: Fred and Larry wandered down the path, through Braille.  While the dog “reads”, Hey, Fred and Larry were here!, through sniffing the ground.  This is a clever way to demonstrate the many different discourses (Gee), metaphors of literacy (Scribner), and how we go about making meaning in our every day lives. This could pertain to many different readings that we have focused on throughout the course of the semester.

Had I not been so in-tune to constantly challenging my beliefs about literacy, I do not think I would be as cognizant of the many instances around me that demonstrate literacy in a variety of ways.  This cartoon was especially funny, in that it clearly signifies literacy in two very different ways.

Dear Ms. Wotman,

I would miss you very much because you teached me much and I want to see you when you visit our school again. and I want to see you again.




When I first read this letter from Mindrew, I floated out of my body, my heart in the clouds.  I smiled as I read it again and again.  What does this say about this student? Who is he as a writer and as someone who is literate? What does this say about our relationship? His expectations of me as his teacher? The power?

As I thought about how others “read” this student, I couldn’t help but be even more proud. Mindrew has autism yet from the “reading” of his writing to me, one would never suspect that.  I feel that this is one of the dangers of labels in the first place.  Clearly this student displayed emotions in his letter and his desire to see me once again, which implies that he has formed some sort of bond with me.  How happy did this make me? Words cannot describe this.

McDermott & Varenne (1995) and Wheeler & Swords (2004) both discuss this idea of disability and its relation to literacy.  As I read this letter from a student who is labeled as having a disability, I further am supported that literacy is a means of communication. If literacy is a means of communication, then one cannot deem something as right or wrong; further, literacy is a means of adaptation (Scribner) and we must broaden our perceptions and conceptions of literacy as we know it today. I also got to thinking about Kliewer and his ideas around local understanding and truly acknowledging all forms and attempts of meaning making as literacy. I feel that Mindrew was able to be supported in all of his forms of meaning making, which is why I believe he is so successful.

As I was perusing through the new literature in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble, I came across a book that immediately caught by eye. Cupcake by Charise Mercile Harper is the story of Vanilla Cupcake, a “white, perfectly plain, and most certainly delicious” cupcake who feels left out because he is the last cupcake left on the plate.  All of his brothers and sisters who are “fancier” have been chosen.  Candle hears Cupcake crying and asks him why he is upset.  Cupcake explains to Candle that he is not fancy and he is plain and ordinary.  Candle tells him he feels the same way and they become fast friends.  Candle comes up with an idea that Cupcake just needs something special.  They search and try out all different things to try and make Cupcake feel more special but nothing works.  At the end, both Cupcake and Candle are disappointed because they could not find anything that worked.  That is until Candle discovered that the squirrel had left a nut on top of Cupcake.  Cupcake screamed for Candle to take it off and when the nut is tossed out, it is Candle who is sitting on top of Cupcake.  Cupcake is elated and all seems to be well.  Candle has another idea, that they should try something else the next day…

I hoped to myself that this book would be one that I could add to my collection about accepting and celebrating diversity.  Aside from my personal beliefs about diversity being the spice of life, I felt instantly connected to this book because of my love for cupcakes. As I read the book from cover to cover for the first time, I was a bit confused.  I wondered why the author chose to end the story in such a way.  I also thought about where I was reading from.  I am a lover of cupcakes, I once was a white child, who I believe was the intended audience, and I had parents and experiences that have made me appreciate humor.  I was able to understand the clever tidbits like, “Charmed, I’m sure” (Harper, p. 6, 2010), said by Pink Princess Cupcake.  After reading the book several more times, I became increasingly frustrated and disappointed that this did not celebrate diversity at all. In fact, the message was quite unclear to me.  It did not convey “finding that special friend is priceless”, either.

Embedded in the text, are perspectives that are privileged.  First, the text assumes that the reader knows what a cupcake is and has seen one before.  Males are also privileged in this text because both characters are “hes”.    The text also privileges those that are fancy and not just plain, white.  “Nobody picked me. I’m too cream white and plain!” (Harper, p.10, 2010), says the cupcake.  This demonstrates the privilege that being fancy has over being plain.  The text also assumes that the reader has had experience with a variety of foods. For example, the two characters try pickles, spaghetti, pancakes, as well as animals to sit atop the cupcake.

The illustrations, really take on a white, middle class perspective.  On pages four and five of the book, the pictures of the kitchen seem to represent a large kitchen, with a window that can be easily found in many suburban middle class homes.  Throughout the illustrations, white people also seemed to be privileged.  The cupcakes are arguably all white, except for “Chocolaty Chocolate Cupcake” (Harper, p. 5, 2010).  Scribner (1984) discusses literacy as power.  The “fancy” cupcakes are seen as “powerful” in this story.  Further, the reader who can relate to this story about cupcakes has power over one who may not have been exposed to cupcakes before and therefore does not understand the story in the same complexity.    The illustrations of the cupcakes, similar to the text, privilege the perspective of those who are fancy or extravagant in some way.

Perhaps the author intended for all children to be able to relate to this story because context.  One might think that every child has had a birthday party or has experienced the enjoyment of eating a cupcake.  I wonder about those children who have never had a cupcake because they have never celebrated their birthday or a friend’s birthday.  How about the child who is suffers from allergies that prevent him from eating cupcakes? I would also argue that this book was written for white, middle class children: the majority.  Throughout the story, there is little depiction of any “minority” figures.  The cupcakes all have white faces and the kitchen seems to represent a middle class stature.  The irony behind the story is the fact that Cupcake is disappointed being plain and white.  He does not feel special enough. I would further argue that this is an issue of class and power.  The text and illustrations position “fancy” cupcakes and candles to be more valued than ones that are plain or ordinary.

I was disappointed at the end of the story.  I so much wanted it to end that the Cupcake realized that all he needed was Candle and that they fit perfectly together. Yet instead, it ends with, “Tomorrow, let’s try a potato!” (Harper, p. 30, 2010). This seemed to spoil the ending; and instead of conveying a message of “all you need is a friend”, Candle does not recognize that Cupcake is content having him be there with him. It seems as though Candle is the adventurous one who does not know when to give up.  Candle is a loyal friend, yet seems to miss the big picture by getting too carried away with finding new things to try out on Cupcake instead of realizing that Cupcake is happy with Candle being there.

McIntosh (1988) states that “white privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools, and blank checks” (McIntosh, p.10, 1988).  Embedded throughout Cupcake is white privilege.  Harper (2010) writes, “After a special coat of icing, Vanilla Cupcake was creamy, white perfectly plain, and most certainly delicious” (Harper, p. 4, 2010).  Although not explicit, it is evident that being “white” and “perfectly plain” is powerful.  I question how relatable this text would be for children who were not “white”.  McDermott & Varenne (1995) discuss the notion of culture in a “deprivation approach” (McDermott & Varenne, p.333, 1995).  “I’m just Vanilla. I’m NOT fancy! I’m just plain and white and ORDINARY” (Harper, p. 12, 2010) demonstrates this view of “deprivation”.  This idea of the other cupcakes being better because they are “fancier” or that they have “culture” says an enormous amount to its reader. That some people just have “it” and therefore are better, while others do not because they are “plain and ordinary” or without “culture”.  Carrington (2003) states, “at the end of the day, literacy and texts, whatever form they take, are about identity and possible life-worlds” (Carrington, p. 95, 2003).  If we are to take this idea of literacy and relate it to the events in Cupcake (2010), then we must relate it to a real-life situation.  Every child has felt left out or the last one chosen for the team at one point or another.  Yet, I still find the ending of the story troublesome. Instead of finding a friend and finding happiness there, the Candle does not realize his place in the world and continues the search for the “perfect” thing to make Cupcake special.  By peeling the layers of the text, the reader is able to see that although the genre is fantasy, in many ways it still relates to “possible life-worlds” (Carrington, 2003).  Gee (1989) discusses literacy and its different discourses.  According to Gee, discourses empower certain people and values specific viewpoints and concepts at the expense of others.  It is clear that throughout Cupcake (2010), one who is fancy is valued and at the expense of being plain, which is devalued.  Similarly, as the reader of the story, one who knows about cupcakes or has exposure to them is empowered over one who does not.  The humor and references made throughout the story assumes that the reader knows a good deal about cupcakes.  If we are to consider cupcakes as a form of discourse, then those who are not familiar with them are therefore robbed of this experience.

Through the use of Jones’(2006) framework for critical literacy, I was able to begin “peeling layers away from the text” (Jones, p.75, 2006) to better understand the perspectives positioned and empowered in the story.  Although all three tenets of critical literacy are important and interrelated, in a democratic world, I believe that taking social action is the most essential.  Comber et al (2001) discuss the need to rewrite the world by using critical literacy to take action.  By becoming cognizant that no text is neutral, I can better prepare my students to engage in critical literacy activities. In addition, this awareness will allow me to choose more appropriate and relatable material for all students.  Most importantly, it is our responsibility to engage our students in critical literacy activities so that they are “doing” instead of just being “done to”.  “…critical literacy involves local action and imagination, interrogation of the way things are and design of how things might be otherwise” (Comber et al, p.463, 2003).


Carrington, V. (2003). ‘I’m in a bad mood. Let’s go shopping’: Interactive dolls, consumer culture and a ‘glocalized’ model of literacy. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 3(1), 83-98.

Comber, B., Thomson, P., & Wells, M. (2001). Critical literacy finds a “place”: Writing and social action in a low-income Australian grade 2/3 classroom. The Elementary School Journal, 101(4), 451-464.

Gee, J. (1989). What is literacy? Journal of Education, 17(1), 18-25

Jones, S. (2006). Girls, social class, and literacy: What teachers can do to make a

difference. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Peace & Freedom, 49, 10–12.

McDermott, R. & Varenne, H. (1995).  Culture as disability. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 26 (3), 324-348.

Scribner, S. (1984). Literacy in three metaphors. American Journal of Education, 93(1), 6-21.


If I had picked this book up about a year ago, I definitely would not have “read” what I did as I was analyzing this text for this assignment.  Once again, I picked up Cupcake and read it from cover to cover while considering what readings I wanted to choose to showcase in this portfolio.

What is seemingly more disturbing to me as I continue to notice things about the text, is the mere fact that it truly tries to be a neutral, heart-warming, cute story that kids should love.  After all, who doesn’t love cupcakes?

After reading through my analysis again as well as the text, I really thought just how marginalizing this text was. Cupcake is clearly supporting that only fancy, or privileged individuals are worthy of happiness.  What does that say to all of our young readers? This is quite alarming, to say the least. In addition, the portrayal of race, or lack thereof was another quite disturbing aspect of this text.  As I mentioned in my paper, I was frustrated and disappointed that the message was so unclear.  I would have deemed it a much more worthy story if somehow the cupcake and candle found happiness in each other as opposed to trying on things to fit the norms of being “fancy”.

As a teacher who is dedicated to critical literacy and social justice, I think this piece demonstrates one instance of my thinking.  I feel that I unpacked and explored many aspects of the text while demonstrating my ability to synthesize relevant literature and push my thinking even further.  As with anything, I feel there is always more work to be done and more to be uncovered so this is absolutely a text I would like to revisit and think about further.  I feel that this is an important part of engaging in critical literacy and I intend to practice this.

This reading is one example of how far I have come in my thinking about texts and all that is implied.


John is from a small town outside of Shanghai, China.  He says that Shanghai is the closest city to where he lives.  Casey, Monica, and I met with him every week for five weeks and learned a lot about why he was here and about the Chinese culture.  He is nineteen and will be here studying for the next few years.  His goals are to learn English to the extent that he will be able to speak it both in a business setting and for social reasons. He is the only one of his family members in the United States and only has a family friend with him here.  His parents are back in China and he has no siblings. He speaks highly and positively of being here but says there is a lot to learn.  Through meeting with him, I have learned an immense amount about the Chinese culture, his experience here so far, and his language acquisition. There is so much to learn and compare to the English language and culture.  I have been able to apply what we have learned in class about different language programs, funds of knowledge, stages of uprooting, and the language learning process to John’s experience.  This first hand experience of meeting with John has given me a deeper look into what it is really like to come to America alone and begin a new life (or chapter).


Culture can be explained as the practices, beliefs, and behaviors of a specific social, ethnic  or age group.  Each culture is unique and defines the way its people live. For our purposes, there is both deep culture and surface culture. Surface culture can be described as the visible aspects of culture.  For example, food, clothing, and holidays are surface culture. Deep culture can be explained as the values and ethics of a group; their beliefs and practices.  For example concepts of time, respect for the elderly, greetings, and personal space are all deep culture aspects.  To better understand the process and experience that John has had in the United States, we must first discuss the two different cultures he has been exposed to.  There are many differences and similarities among the American and Chinese culture to explore.

American culture is a world in itself.  As many would say, it is “the land of opportunity”.  There is a sense of competition in every thing we do and we expect the best.  We expect quality products to be produced and quality work to be put in.  What is most important to Americans is the chance to change and better ourselves.  This plays a very important role in daily life.  Americans pride themselves on the equal opportunity for all to better their lives.  Laws and the government is another essential aspect of American culture.  Democracy and freedom for all is something that is highly valued.

There are many others aspects of American culture.  Pop Culture is another one.  Music, celebrities, media, and trends are very important to many Americans.  Television, baseball games, Broadway, ballet, and holidays are other things that come to mind when thinking about American culture.  Food such as hamburgers, pizza, and breakfast foods also come to mind.  The surface American culture list could go on forever.  This is true because so much of our culture is based on immigrants and their cultures as well.

In America, there are also many beliefs and values that we pride ourselves on.  For one, punctuality is essential and the key sign of respect.  People take tardiness very seriously and consider it an insult or a lack of concern.  Eye contact is another sign of respect.  When talking to someone, making eye contact means that you are engaged and listening to what the person says. Personal space is also something that is important to Americans.  When talking to someone, it is polite to stand close enough to hear but far allowing space in between the two parties.  It is considered rude or an invasion of space if someone is standing too closely, and they might take a step backwards.

There are many aspects to Chinese culture.  In many ways, Chinese living is not very different from American living today.  Parents, children and sometimes grandparents live together until the children are grown and ready to live on their own.  There is a very close knit family unit that the Chinese value immensely.  Both males and females have jobs and the responsibilities are split at home.  Parents still demand a great amount of respect from their children and this is taken very seriously.  Marriages are decided by the people getting married, but there a great deal of parental involvement in the decision. In some rural areas, arranged marriages still take place.

Clothing is much like the fashion in the United States.  There is a focus on the mixture of traditional Chinese clothing and modern clothing to create new fashions.  During special occasions, men and women are seen wearing the traditional Chinese outfits.   Men wear the long gown and women wear the chipao.  Blue, red and green are important colors in the Chinese culture. Many traditional accessories are also worn to decorate the body such as the macramé.

The Chinese New Year and festivals are an important aspect of Chinese culture.  The Chinese New Year is called the Spring Festival and is a time for family to come together and pass into the New Year.  Celebrations take place and most famously dragon and lion dances take place on the streets.  During the Lantern Festival, colorful lanterns are carried and everyone meets in a public place for a lantern fair.  Rice dumplings are also eaten during this festival.  The Dragon Boat Festival is another  time when people come together  for dragon boat races and to eat rice dumplings. The Mid-Autum festival is a time where the moon g-d is worshipped. Expressions of gratitude for heaven and earth are done during this time and round moon cakes are eaten.  This festival is characterized by serenity and delicacy.

The Chinese have rules about the proportions of meat to rice for food.  These rules are followed seriously and provide the harmonious feel to Chinese cuisine.  Soup must be eaten with a spoon and chopsticks must be used to eat dinner.  Tea is also a key aspect to Chinese culture.  Tea is the main beverage in China and is believed to be healthy and life-lengthening.

John has expressed that he was shocked when he first got here.  Nothing felt familiar and the pace of living was completely different.

Chinese Culture and American Culture definitely have some similarities among them.  Modern day China is a lot like America today.  In many ways, John is a young adult growing up just like me.  In America, we do not have festivals like the Chinese do.  We do have other celebratory holidays.  In America we do not use chopsticks to eat like the Chinese do.  In this country, there is a code for showing your parents respect, but it is not as serious as it is in China.  The elderly are helped in America, but they are not given a different level of respect than others.  In China, the elderly are cherished and thought of as wise.  In China, time is much more relaxed. It is not considered rude to show up late somewhere.  Timeliness does not mean the same thing to people in China. Time is not taken in literal terms.

From meeting with John, I have been able to get a taste of what it is like for a young adult to grow up in China.  All of the following information has come from what I have learned about the Chinese culture by talking and discussing culture with John and my two partners, Casey and Monica.  In China, celebrating holidays is deemed very important. The Chinese New Year is the most celebrated and significant one where everybody takes a vacation takes off from work and school and traditional meals are cooked.  John says that he looks forward to this part of life every year and it is taken very seriously and is respected by all Chinese people regardless of the area you live in.  John described some key characteristics that are essential to learning about the Chinese culture and the Chinese way of life.  The first is the use of chopsticks.  According to John, Chinese people have been using chopsticks during every meal for the last two thousand years. He also says that his favorite part of the culture and probably the most important aspect is the country’s history of culture.  It remains traditional in many ways, yet it is modernized enough to remain up to date with today’s advances. He also explained that Chinese people value individual efforts and work over cooperative learning groups.  The value of the individual person comes from the personal effort and work done by him or her, not by a collaborative effort.  There is also a great emphasis on formal and proper education.  A person is respected by the level of their education and their successes.

We have also discussed differences among American culture and Chinese culture with John.  He has expressed that the most different aspect from his culture and American culture is the eating habits.  He explained that this is one of the hardest parts to adjust to about American culture.  He also talked about that in China there is no drinking age, but drinking is very different in China than in the United States.  People do not drink in the same way and there are definitely no drinking games to play.  He said that going out habits are similar such as bars, clubs, and dining out.  I felt that it was rather difficult to get John to talk about the differences in cultures and how he was feeling about adjusting.  I would attribute this to perhaps a hard time adjusting and feeling weary about a new place.  As for speaking and interacting with others, it is acceptable to show emotion, but Chinese people tend to be reserved.  John explained that it is common for people to hide their emotions in public and remain stoic and only show their emotions in private settings.  He also said that when talking to elders, people must be more polite and respectful than talking to anyone else.  It is acceptable to talk more casually amongst friends and confide in one another.  He said that he confides more in his friends than in his parents.  He does not tell his parents nearly as much as he would tell his friends.  John also stresses that years ago, China did have a very structured, traditional way of speaking with other and some of that is still apparent.

The last part of culture that was discussed with John was his adjustment to a new culture.  Again, I believe that he has had difficulty in this area naturally, and perhaps this is why he seemed reluctant to talk about certain things.  John said that the most difficult things to adjust to are the transportation and eating habits in the United States. This is the first time that John has had the challenge of adjusting to a new culture and he accounts this as why it has been complicated for him. John said that there are different cultures in China and more differences in between those cultures.  He did not really explain how.  As for adjusting to the eating habits, John expressed that there is a lack of fresh vegetables and familiar foods near by so he has had a hard time getting used to the eating here.  He tends to eat fast food because it is easy.  He explained that the bus system is hard to understand so he has experienced the inconvenience of getting lost, getting on the wrong bus, and frustration.  To adjust to the new culture, John has adapted some ways of self-soothing. He tries to always think positively, cooks traditional Chinese cuisine for himself, makes new friends, and sharing things about his culture and listening and taking in his friends’ cultures as well. John explained that overall, he is enjoying his experience here, but he definitely faces some challenges. He noted that he feels that he will like it here better once he knows his way around and is able to communicate more effectively.  He expressed feelings of being overwhelmed and bewildered and shaken because Gainesville is significantly bigger than his home town.

From learning about John’s experience here so far, his reactions to questions asked and the general vibe that he illuminates, it is clear that he is going through several, if not all of the stages of uprooting.  If he has not gone through them yet, then with time, he will.  I can only imagine how John must have felt when he suddenly felt extremely ill and did not know what to do. He was plagued with appendicitis and a severe infection.  I feel that this was the onset of culture shock for John. According to the article, during culture shock, “the child may enter the silent stage, keeping his or her emotions inside, including emotions stirred up in the native country during the initial stage of moving.  The child may become depressed or confused and let down” (Igoa ,p. 43-44). This sounds a lot like what John was going through.  After a traumatic experience in the hospital and being so far away from home, John was hesitant to speak and interact with others.  He also missed the first few days of his orientation, so he felt left out alone, and behind all of the others.  I believe that John is in between stages of uprooting currently.  Although I do not feel that John is depressed, I do think that he is still very much in culture shock, but at the same time he is trying to embrace the American culture leading towards acculturation.  The article notes, “this stage is crucial; the child can either be guided to integrate his or her cultural self or be left alone to discard it, only to try to regain it later in life” (p. 44-45). Since John is nineteen, I feel that he is more willing to embrace the American culture while still holding strong to his Chinese background.  This stage of uprooting seems much more life-changing for a youngster than for someone who has already developed a strong sense of self.

Throughout this course, I have learned how essential it is to embrace the students’ cultures and differences.  One way that this can easily be done is to bring in funds of knowledge from the children’s backgrounds.  According to the article, the purpose of these funds of knowledge is “to develop innovations in teaching that draw upon the knowledge and skills found in local households” (Moll, L.C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. ,p.132).  It is so important to let all students know that they matter and their backgrounds and cultures are highly respected and valued.  Further,” there is much teachers do not know about their students or families that could be immediately helpful in the classroom…” (p.147).  What this article stresses, is the importance for all types of knowledge to be known and apparent in the classroom.  This type of attitude will influence students’ adjustment and overall feel for their new setting.  In John’s case, I would be happy to let him show me aspects of his culture so that I might understand and identify with him better.  Although we would not be in a classroom setting, it would still show him that I cared about where he comes from.  If he were a student in my classroom, I would make sure that his parents and family were invited to share about their culture and funds of knowledge that they may have.


John’s English learning experience has definitely been one of the biggest challenges that he has had in his life.  He has never tried to learn another language other than English.  He has found it particularly hard to acquire the English language and struggles with this learning process.  He expresses that he is strong when it comes to history and math skills, but language acquisition does not come easily to him.  He wants to learn English to succeed in the business world and for social reasons.  John explains that reading and speaking are easiest for him while learning English, but writing and grammar are the more difficult aspects.  Listening is easy for him if the speaker is talking at a moderate pace.  He also talks about that he finds it helpful for learning English when he talks with us, his roommates, reading, and having people repeat and explain phrases to him.  He finds it very difficult to learn English in his classes many times because his some of his teachers have thick accents and his fellow classmates are from all parts of the world with many different accents as well.  He said that he is used to learning English from a Chinese teacher at home, with all Chinese speakers, and learned very different English than he is learning here.

There are many differences between the English language and Mandarin Chinese.  Through talking to John, I have learned about his opinion of the differences and his first hand experience learning English while being a native Mandarin speaker.  John explained that in Mandarin a baby’s first words are the same as they are in English. The usually consist of mama, daddy, things that are familiar to the baby. John talked about the first things he learned while learning English.  Conversational words, numbers, the alphabet, yes/no, and letters and their pronunciation has been the foundation for his English learning acquisition.  When talking about the English language structure and the Mandarin Chinese language structure, John says that sentence structure of both languages are very similar.  He also said that English letters are not at all similar to the Chinese characters that make up Mandarin Chinese.  John also explained that mostly all pairs of English letters equal one character in Chinese. There are very different intonations of words, and accent symbols differentiate these.   John talked about that he finds the English language extremely confusing and convoluted if the person is speaking too quickly.  He cannot follow and gets overwhelmed.  John sees that there are a few similarities between English and Chinese, but the two languages are mostly very different because of different intonations having multiple meanings.

When talking about second language acquisition and the different stages, it is necessary to analyze what level of language is being produced, if any.  According to the textbook, John seems to be in the Speech Emergence stage of language acquisition for a second language.  He is able to speak in phrases and short sentences and get his general point across.  His errors are generally grammatical or mispronunciations.  His knowledge of morphemes and phonemes are fair, but he seems to have trouble making sense of how to create the sound of words.  His limited vocabulary also leads to his overgeneralizations of word meanings at times.  He also substitutes words or phrases because he cannot find or does not know the proper thing to put in place.

In chapter sixteen of the textbook, non –linguistic variables are discussed that influence second language acquisition.  Cognitive styles are extremely important to consider when being exposed to learning a new language.  A person’s emotional state may influence the learner to be an impulsive learner or reflective learner.  Although the impulsive learner may be faster, mistakes are more frequent as opposed to the reflective learner.  In addition, field independence and dependence are other cognitive styles.  For many second language learners, field dependence seems to be the trend and is easier to get by with.  The field dependent learner “analyzes information in a holistic way and does not easily distinguish the parts from the whole” (p.137).  Teachers must acknowledge this and teach the second language learner through contextually embedded activities rather than focusing on rule learning. Stories, discussions and group work are examples.  Personality traits do not always have a factor on the language acquisition of a student.  Both introverted and extroverted individuals can be successful in learning a second language.

Motivations and attitudes learning a second language also influence the learning process.  Integrative motivation is “a desire to identify with and appreciate the values and members of the target culture, may be more likely to continue learning and persevere through obstacles they encounter in their learning” (p.139).  Motivation is increased if learners are internally driven to learn a new language. Instrumental motivation, “ a desire to learn a language for utilitarian purposes, may also do well in acquiring a language; but this motivation may be reduced once learners have met their target goal” (p.139). In the case of John, I feel that he is motivated to learn English both integrative and instrumentally.  I feel that he is trying his best to adjust to the culture and people here and tries to succeed with his language acquisition.  From a future teacher perspective, it is essential to respect all students and accept their values as second language learners.  We must embrace their families, cultures, and learning strategies and styles.


After my experience with John, I feel that I have had a more authentic experience with someone who is truly an English Language Learner.  I have experienced what it is like to interact with someone who knows little English and what challenges come with that.  Not only did John not know English, but he is new to the American culture as well.  An experience like this has prepared me for what may come in my own classroom one day.  It is possible that I may have a student or even multiple students who will be new to this country, the culture, and the language.  Throughout this course and through the experience I had with John, I have learned ways to support these types of students.  I have learned that people adjust to new places differently and that it is our responsibility as teachers to assure that each and every student has a positive learning environment to come into every day and feel comfortable. I have learned that supporting the student(s) through embracing their culture and heritage is the best way to make them feel at home.  The students need to know that the teacher is there for them and is interested in where they come from, too.

Through discussion in class, I have learned that people from all over the world go through the same things.  It does not matter where they are from or what their backgrounds are, people all go through an adjusting period. My classmates have all agreed that their ELI partners have enjoyed their time in the United States so far.  Many of them are here for different reasons and are from different backgrounds.  In comparison with John, some of the students from Hispanic countries are here because of kidnapping or persecution.  John is here to learn the language and culture so that he can better his business opportunities.  Also, many students have had a background in the English language before, so learning English is relatively effortless for them. For John, this is his first experience learning English and he has had a difficult time with the learning process. Overall, I respect each and every one of these students for coming here regardless of the reason and attempting to start all over again.  This plays into the classroom as well.  It is important to embrace the decision of the families of our students to come here for perhaps a better life.

I have had the opportunity to study abroad in Rome, Italy for five months.  I lived in an area called Trastevere, which was mostly a middle class residential area where many families lived.  I was challenged to learn the language, adapt to the culture, and live like an Italian. Although I was encouraged to learn Italian by taking a language course and every day social interaction, I still was able to speak English to my roommates and I attended an American University.  There were daily challenges such as ordering at a restaurant, going grocery shopping, getting around on the public transportation, getting help with directions, the list goes on. My study abroad experience has given me just a taste of what it is like to come to a new country and have to start from the beginning.  After hearing about John’s experience so far, my study abroad experience, and learning the foundations of new language acquisition and cultural adaptation, I have truly been able to acknowledge how much of a challenge it is for someone to come to America speaking no English.  My knowledge and experiences will support me in making the learning environment appropriate, cultivating, and inviting for English Language Learning students, migrant students, immigrants, special needs students, and mainstream students. I am confident that I will be able to make it possible for any student to learn and feel comfortable in my classroom, regardless of the limitations, backgrounds, or struggles.


Igoa, C. (1995). The stages of uprooting.  The Inner World of the Immigrant Child. Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum.

Moll, L.C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice 31, 132-141.

Davies Samway, K. & McKeon, D. (1999). Myths about acquiring a second language (L2). In Myths and realities: Best practices for language minority students (pp. 17-27). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ariza, E., Morales-Jones, C., Yahya N., & Zainuddin, H. (2007). Why TESOL?: Theories and issues in teaching English as a Second Language for K-12 teachers (3rd Edition). Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt Publishing.


This was a paper I had written in an undergraduate course that focused mostly on students who had emigrated from other countries as well as migrant workers.  I found this to be particularly interesting to include because it touches upon a lot of my beliefs an educator.  These beliefs have further been developed by the I have done this semester regarding broadening my thoughts about who is literate, what literacy means, and what literacy might look like in the classroom. I think this portrays my transition of my thinking before I entered the Literacy Specialist program and where I am today.  This also shows me that people need to be challenged, exposed, and invited to think critically both about their world around them and the “texts” they are reading.

I think this is a unique piece in that it relates to me reading the world and the people around me, yet it is expressed in written form.  As a teacher who is dedicated to critical literacy, I truly believe that even our earliest learners are capable of this kind of work.  As I am looking critically at my perceptions of how I read the world, I intend to engage my future students in this as well.  For example, not only would they write stories about their lives, they would focus on what made this important to them, how they felt, what their position was, etc.  This is what I love so much about critical literacy work.  The possibilities are bountiful and all students are capable of this kind of work.

Where I’m From

I’m from Birchwood Lane, the last house on the left.

I’m from Great Neck, New York, the town that holds my entire family.

I’m from Sunday morning bagels and lox to early dinner Sunday nights to prepare for the week.

I’m from dreidels and gelt on Chanukah to warm, colorful cashmere sweaters.

I’m from cupcakes, cupcakes, and more cupcakes.

I’m from mom’s noodle pudding, brisket, bubbling macaroni and cheese, and famous spaghetti and meatballs.

I’m from the captivating aromas in mom’s kitchen, to dad’s fresh-smelling cologne.

I’m from family bar and bat mitzvahs, to family vacations in Puerto Rico and St. Maarten.

I’m from destination Thanksgivings and family gatherings.

I’m from “six of one; half a dozen of the other” and “don’t count your chickens”.

I’m from “friends come and go but family is forever”.

I’m from Ernie barking, mom laughing, and guitars strumming.

I’m from long walks with Ernie, Andy-Boo’s concerts, Jdub’s tailwaiting, and dinner with mom and dad.

I’m from nine cousins, all who are my best friends.

I’m from grandma Milly, sharing my birthday.

I’m from lunch dates with Grandma Anita and Grandpa Bob.

I’m from my Great Neck house, my apartment in the city, and my life for four years in Florida.

I’m from Judaism, the only girl between two brothers, a loving family, and sensitivity.

By Carly Wotman

I sighed to myself as I read this for the first time in three months.  Where was my heart and soul? Why did it seem to be so in the surface? I was disappointed in my attempt to lay my heart out on the table for the world to see.  Was I afraid? Would people perceive me as different? After reading it over for the third time, I realized that what honesty and openness was missing.  I needed to open myself up to the world so that people could see how I was reading the world because of where I was from.

Where I’m From is far more than the physical places in which we are present in. It is how our experiences shape our perceptions about the world, our opinions, our sensitivities, and how we walk through life.  Had I attempted writing where I was from again, it would not only shed light on the positive experiences I have encountered in my life.  It would expose who I was because of the hardships I have faced, my fears, the challenges, and the good stuff that has given me faith to believe.


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  • Marjorie Siegel: This can be the greatest lesson of all to take into your career as a teacher!
  • Marjorie Siegel: This is such a powerful way to make critical literacy work meaningful in local settings and to focus on deconstruction, reconstruction, and social act
  • Marjorie Siegel: Another book that offers an excellent guild to critical literacy in a primary grade classroom is Vivian Vasquez's exploration of her own teaching with