My Literacy Journey

Posts Tagged ‘Reading the World

Cherries In The Snow

The pounding in my chest clogged my ears.  All I could hear was my heart beating like thunder.  I wiped my clammy hands on the back of my jeans before I dared to enter.  I moved closer to the door handle.  “Breathe”, I thought.  I grabbed the cold iron door handle with one hand while I held my purse tightly with the other.  As the heavy door creaked open, an abundance of aromas instantly bombarded my nose.  “There must be hundreds of different cheeses in here”, I thought.  As the door closed behind me, I began to survey the oddly crowded, yet organized shop. How did the elements of harmony prevail over the chaotic displays?

Looking up, I was captivated by the canopy of meats and cheeses that hung like Christmas ornaments from the ceiling.  The netting that held these palatable treasures seemed to keep them safe as if they were newborns cradled in their carefully crafted basinets.  I looked to the left and then to the right.  In the dim of the light I saw the two figures. Their voices were muffled.  I listened closer as I heard, “Grazie mille, Senor. Ciao!”  The melodic words sung by this man made me long for the ability to share his talent.  Our eyes met as he turned on his heel to leave.  The emerald green of his eyes stung me for a moment while his thick black lashes drew me in like a magnet. I comforted myself. “Just smile”.  His gaze softened though I could feel his stare as he continued out into the ancient city. I shivered as I was left with his eyes piercing through my veins and for a moment forgot where I was.

“Buongiorno, Bella”, a voice bellowed as I attempted to gather myself.  “Buon..giorrrrno”, I said in my most exaggerated Italian accent.  The character began to speak to me in what sounded like Italian overdrive.  What was he saying? Why was I having such trouble understanding him? Wait…” preferiscono”..I know what that means but oh G-d, which way did I turn after I crossed the piazza? These thoughts polluted my mind as the passionate man continued to indulge me with questions and beautiful sounds.  I stood silently for a moment, staring.  “Who cares if you get lost, you’ll find your way back home eventually”, I heard running through my head.  My hands began to relax.  My breathing steadied.  The dampness on my back started to evaporate.  “Mi dispiace, Senor.  Repete, per favore?” I said apologetically.  “Prego, Bella”, he responded in turn.

Our conversation continued with words I cannot exactly recall. He scurried behind the counter with my eyes following him closely. “Prego”, he said and nodded with an outstretched hand dangling a delicate piece of cheese.  “Grazie”, I said and placed the crumbling cheese into my mouth.  “umm” was all I could say.  He laughed as he sliced another piece from what looked like a cross between a giant marshmallow and a small cumulous cloud.  I graciously took the next sampling and swiftly popped it into my mouth.  It melted as its delicate flavorings rushed to all the buds on my tongue.  “delizioso!” I remarked to the man.  “Ah, un momento” he chirped as he held up one finger.  “Si”, I said waiting patiently.

I peered over the counter and watched him slowly open a refrigerated compartment below. Eventually, he revealed what he had in store for me.  He lifted the tiny wrapped package and placed it onto the counter top.  Methodically, he dipped a dull knife into the mound and scooped up a creamy substance.  He then spread it onto a cracker, which he took out from the container beside him. He reached to his left and gathered a dollop of another substance.  The dark red preserves on the cheese reminded me of cherries in the snow.  My mouth began to tingle.  I was already anticipating the taste that hadn’t yet reached my tongue.  “Prego”, the man gestured as I reached for the delicacy.  At that moment, I felt like I was transported to somewhere else.  “Umm.” Heaven was all I could think as I licked my fingers clean.

The cheese guru began to speak rapidly again.  This time I didn’t care that I could not keep up.  I responded in a way that seemed only natural.  Whether what I had interpreted was what he had meant or not, I instantly pointed to the still-opened package lying on the counter top.  “Senor, per una persona per favore”, I responded with vigor.  His eyes lit up as he said “Perrr-fect” in his best American accent.

It was that moment when I realized I had made my peace in a place that I once wanted to run away from. I was no longer a stranger in a strange land.  Rome: A home to thousands of years of history, and a home to me.  “How great is this?” I thought.  “I am truly blessed”.  I rummaged through my tote for my wallet. I handed the man ten Euros but politely refused any change.   “Okay” I finally agreed as he pressed the coins into my hand.  “Grazie mille, Senor. Ciao!” I said as I left the conservare il formaggio.

As the cobblestone glistened before me, I was forced to squint so not to be blinded.  For a moment I thought, “hmm, which way home”?  I chuckled and said aloud, “Who cares? I am home.”


Just as my journey as a literacy leader has truly signified a change in me, so did this experience of studying abroad in Rome.  As I note through this personal narrative, I went from being fearful and feeling quite alone to venturing out into the open world and embracing it.  This is very much how I feel about my journey in this program. At first I was intimidated and unsure of what to expect.  Would I be able to keep up? Was this for me? But as time went by and I accepted new things and tried them out, I quickly learned that my fear had been a reflection of my uncertainty and experience with the unknown.  As I continue on my journey, I realize that I need to continue to accept the unknown with openness and try things out before I judge and come to any conclusions. This goes for whether it is a new neighborhood, a new student in the classroom, a new text I am reading, and beyond the classroom.


This is a link to PS 277’s website.

Poor. Scared. Crime. Black. Foreign. Spanish. Dirty. These were the words that popped into my head as I walked off the subway in November 2009 at 149 and 3rd avenue.  Where was I? What was I getting myself into? Where were the white people? Would I get robbed? Harassed? Please G-d, don’t let anything happen to me.  As  I walked up the subway stairs, I silently prayed that I would get to the school as soon as possible.  I was overwhelmed and sweating profusely.  My fear and anxiety had gotten the best of me.  This uncertainty and fear of the unknown had caused me to go from a brisk walk to actually running so that I would reach my final destination, PS 277 sooner.

I laugh now at my naivety and close-mindedness.  How could I have passed up such an incredible opportunity? What was I afraid of? As I sat patiently on the train ride up to 149th and 3rd once again this past Wednesday, I thought back to a few months ago and the panic I felt.  This time, when I got off the subway, I found myself smiling at the young family walking in front of me, bidding the construction workers “good morning” and humming as I walked leisurely down the avenue towards St. Ann’s Avenue.  I took everything in. I sniffed the air as the fried grease lingered in the air that had helped to cook the hashbrowns at the local McDonald’s.  I looked intricately at the patrons on the street, smiled and kept walking.  My eyes were straight ahead, and my head was held high.  “Venta”, I read on a large piece of white paper that was handwritten. This sign was in the window of what looked like a convenience store.  I wondered what they were advertising.  As I made my way down further, I came across the local meat store. Signs were both in Spanish and English.  I smiled at this. How could I have missed all of this culture before? The hum of the traffic, the sounds of music playing way too loudly from the local adult DVD store, and the conversations I heard that were far from anything I could understand because of my lack of knowledge of Spanish.

What is most amazing to me, is the fact that I will now have the honor of reading this area every Monday through Friday next year, as I will be a teacher at this phenomenal school.  A place where community is celebrated.  A place where learning and inquiry is encouraged.  A place where students feel safe from the world outside.  Ironic how different my reading of this world is now for me than it was only six months ago. I have the Literacy Specialist program and my willingness to grow to thank.

What do I think of this student? How am I reading him? To most, including myself, I would read him as clean-cut, someone who is well cared for, and someone who takes his work seriously, and may get distracted at times.  This is why he might have the yellow barrier up, while he was working on his reading goals for the day during independent reading workshop.

Mindrew is a boy with autism.  When I first learned this from my cooperating teachers, I was astonished.  He did not “seem” like he had autism, and he did not “look” like he had autism.  I thought and thought. He did not shy away from looking at me, he did not have limited speech, and he surely did not act any more esoteric than the other students in this classroom. My “reading” of him was apparently very different than how others had read him in the past.  The point I am trying to make is that, we cannot go into any situation reading people in one way; our perceptions and conceptions of our students especially, rely heavily on the competence we presume in them.  This is something that I have really taken a stand for as an educator who is an advocate for the inclusion of all students.

Mindrew was no “different” than any other student in this third grade classroom of twenty-five students.  My reading of Mindrew has further reinforced my ideas that we cannot and should not judge a book (or student) by its cover, we need to read people ourselves, we need to presume competence of all learners, and we need to remain open to all possibilities.

“I could not tell…” of the dysmorphia that pollutes my thoughts.  Am I pretty enough, am I skinny enough, will I fit in? I could not tell of my need to impress others so that they may think a certain way about the way I live.  I could not tell that I put on a façade, we all do, to fool people into thinking we are what we are not.  I could not tell my imperfections, the jealousy, the need to feel on top.

I could not tell anyone that I felt forgotten about because Jason is the smart one and Andrew is the talented one.  He takes away all of my parents’ attention, energy, and money.  I could not tell how I feel angry with my father for not speaking up, yet he works so hard for all that he makes.  I could not tell my uncles the rage I feel towards them for being so greedy.  I could not tell how I always need to stifle myself around the other family members for fear I cause a catastrophe. I am stuck: in the middle of a family business, yet not treated as if we are family at all.  How could my dad just let this happen?

I could not tell of my fear of losing my parents because I depend on them for everything. I could not tell that at times I wonder what it would be like to be my cousin.  Money does not buy happiness but it sure does make life a lot easier.  I could not tell that I feel like nobody understands me and I am misunderstood.  I feel alone and like an outcast but wonder why this is so.

I could not tell why I feel so dissatisfied while I have clothes on my back, food in my stomach, and a family who supports me.  My problems seem so inconsequential to the issues that other people face.  I could not tell that my biggest fear is being alone forever. Am I scared of myself? Afraid to be alone? Will I ever find someone who thinks I am worthy?

I could not tell of the hatred I have for my grandmother, my father’s mother, who has treated me as less than my brothers.  The one who says, “I don’t understand her, I never had daughters” as a lame excuse for treating me unfairly.  The one who buys me chocolate for gifts when she knows how I struggle with my weight and comments on my need to shape up.

I could not tell of my fear that I could never grow to open up or trust someone again because of Matt.  I fear that he has made me lose my ability to love and to trust another.  I could not tell that I feel as though he is all that I am worthy of.  I could not tell of my fear to be intimate with someone and the connection that I may feel.  I could not tell that I am scared to be independent and I am scared to make myself happy.

This exercise is not a form of therapy.  Writing memoir is not simply a place to throw all of our problems.  Rather, “…it can do is make public our own and our children’s personal, private experience” (Bomer & Bomer, 2001, p.175). What this has taught me is that writing for social justice in our classrooms should be heart wrenching.  It should be a place where all students feel it is safe to write about the pain and discomfort in their own lives.  The classroom should be a place where young writers can experience and cope with the hardships that they face in a way that they feel supported and not alone.  Teachers need to realize that in order to encourage our students to open up their lives and their hearts, we too, must do so.  Students need to feel that memoir is a way to expose the world to their lives and feel that their peers will respond to their issues and concerns. That their writing about personal issues has a purpose; they are responded to.  The chart on page 75, with a list of questions that students and teachers can answer about their memoir pieces helps to demonstrate the social justice stance that we need to take in our classrooms and how to connect our students’ writing to the real world and the lives of others.


Reading the world? What does that even mean, I thought to myself the first time I heard this term.  That is the beauty of thinking and acting critically: there is no right or wrong, or one way to think about it.  The idea is just to think about it in ways that you never considered before.  And this is exactly what I did through reading For A Better World by Randy and Katharine Bomer.

I chose to include this personal reflection of my view of the world because it signifies how much I have truly opened up as an educator, as a young female, and as a writer.  Never before this program would I have wrote about things that seemed so untouchable before.  I believe that this is the heart and sole of what critical literacy, social justice, and reading the world is about. It is about opening yourself up to read things in ways you had never thought about before. It is about being vulnerable, allowing your heart to be worn on your sleeve, and letting people in.

I think the prompt, “I Could Not Tell” allows me to showcase some of my most inner feelings about how I view the world around me and my place in it.  I recognize that this is only one attempt of many in the future.  It is the beginning of my journey as a literate being who not only knows how to read the word but also reads the world with scrutiny.


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