The Reading Matrix
Reviewed by Mae Lombos Wlazlinski, Berry College, Georgia
In Authors in the Classroom,A Transformative Education Process, Ada and Campoy delineate a writing program that allows teachers to become authors, multicultural brokers, and advocates for social justice. Providing suggestions for “unveiling the authors within” and developing a strong writing voice among the silenced, the authors believe that ultimately, “numerous voices that have gone unheard, lives about which no one has ever written” (p.3) can be listened to, recorded and disseminated. Authors speaks directly to teachers of language minority students. Promoting the program as a means for school and home collaboration, the authors assert that teachers authoring books and sharing them will inspire language minority students and parents to put their life experiences into words, validate their voices, and legitimize their identity.
Part I of the book is comprised of 3 chapters. Chapter 1 describes transformative education which frames the book. It sets the tone for the intention of the authors, which is to raise cultural awareness in the readers and move them to social action. The authors take the readers on a journey into, through, and beyond oppression, bias, and prejudice. Using several exploration activities and questions for reflection and written response, the authors simulate the journey for the readers. They believe that reflecting and writing about oppression will allow readers to personalize the oppressive experiences, raise consciousness, find their voice, and in doing so, help others find their voice.
Chapter 2, “Authors in the Classroom,” lists the benefits of authoring and publishing books. Influenced by the Vygotskian view of learning, the authors, in Chapter 3, underscore the importance of dialogue in getting to know and understanding our students and making connections between students’ prior knowledge and the text. Further, it facilitates the development and use of critical thinking skills, engages students in using language, and develops their critical literacy. Ada and Campoy explain that through dialogue, reading becomes a creative and critical act, and they distinguish four phases in what they term as reader’s creative dialogue with the text. Each phase is characterized by an interactional process. In the descriptive phase, readers focus on information contained in the text such as theme, characters, setting, plot, and author’s intent. In the personal interpretive phase, readers relate the information to themselves and respond to it influenced by their past experiences, interest, and previous knowledge about the topic. Then going beyond personal experiences, the readers, in the critical/multicultural/anti-bias phase, begin to critically analyze issues pointed out in the text and ask whose voice is represented or left out in the text, how other cultures will interpret the message, and what motive does the writer have in writing the piece. Finally, in the transformative phase, readers evaluate the insights gained from the text in order to take action that will benefit society.
Part II, “A Transformative Process,” includes ten thematic units: “Affirming Self;” “Recognizing Human Qualities;” “Strengthening Self-Identity;” “Building Communities;” “The Power of Transformation;” “Understanding the Past, Creating the Future;” “Discovering our Capacities and Strength;” “Learning to Know;” “Developing Relationships;” and “From Yesterday to Tomorrow.” In all these units, Ada and Campoy establish reading as a critical phase in writing preparation; they urge teachers to gather theme-specific readings in a variety of genres for exploration in order to lay the groundwork for writing. In fact, the authors clearly show how thematic books help generate ideas for writing on the same theme.
Each unit includes lesson objectives, writing prompts, and a process section. Every process, which reads like a blueprint, provides easily accessible pathways for teachers, students, and parents to engage in reading and writing. Each unit demonstrates to teachers how they can provide important scaffolding for their students and their parents to become writers. Consequently, reading and writing become transparent, non-threatening, and irresistible.
Authors is an excellent book for ESL and EFL teachers and teacher educators to read. It clearly illustrates how teachers may inspire and engage their students and parents in critical literacy. Cummins (1996) maintains that transformative teachers encourage the development of student voice through collaborative interaction and critical inquiry.
Authors’ narrative style is engaging, and its easy-to-follow lessons and numerous authentic samples of teacher-made books make writing tangible. Other good features are the publication ideas and the list of thematic readings recommended by the authors.
The book is an excellent source of ideas for integrating reading and writing. Each unit includes thematic readings that become models for thematic writing assignments. Students of all ages and levels of language proficiency can easily relate to the personal themes included by the authors. For example, the story behind a person’s name is a relatable theme for young and old across linguistic groups. In applying the creative literacy process on Ada’s My Name is Maria Isabel, the authors show that behind people’s names are life stories and histories of struggle and acceptance. Equally accessible to students is speaking to the theme of transformation in self-proclaiming “I Can” and “We Can” poems.
Ada and Campoy promote Authors as a home-school collaboration program; in this regard, it is a feasible program. Students and particularly parents can speak to all the themes explored in Authors. These themes, which invite readers to celebrate their identity through personal responses, recognize their worth and ability to transform and change their lives, and appreciate their past in order to build the present and the future, are issues that are best addressed collaboratively among teachers, parents, and students. Collective projects such as the book titled Thoughts from our Parents and Relatives provide an important venue for parents to share their experiences and wisdom. Here, parents may write books with their children or be interviewed by their children about their outlook on life and their experiences. Through this collaboration, teachers allow voices otherwise silenced to be heard. Undoubtedly, it is every teacher’s responsibility to make oppressed and marginalized students appreciate themselves and their parents (Nieto, 2004; Spring 2004). To conclude, teachers will find Authors’ accessible and meaningful ways of engaging students and parents in collaborative reading, creation, and publication of books quite valuable.
Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy combine inspirational examples and practical how-to’s to create a unique resource for teachers! Thousands of teachers have experienced the awakening of their own creative writing voice through participating in the writing courses and workshops offered by Alma Flor Ada and Isabel Campoy. The rich tapestry of these teachers’ voices is a major highlight of this book. In turn, teachers have used their own self-published works to inspire students and parents to write their own stories, and those voices are included in here as well. In addition to offering a plethora of inspiring examples of works authored by classroom teachers, parents, and students, this book also includes practical, step-by-step activities and a solid grounding in theory. Written in a clear and reader-friendly style, this combination will enable teachers to experience the benefits of this creative approach to building strong classroom communities.
Includes 10 thematic units, with writing starters and activities for teachers, parents, and children.
Features sections on facilitating classroom dialogue and unlearning oppression/education for liberation.
Showcases abundant examples of teachers’ self-published books, as well as students’ and parents’ writing.
“This book is nearly perfect. It will become a classic.”
Stephen Krashen, University of Southern California
“Authors in the Classroom shows us what education can be and should be: a safe environment for intellect and identity to expand and connect with the collective intellectual and cultural accomplishments of our global society. As evidence for its claims about what education can achieve this text provides neither empty theory nor soulless empirical research but rather the voices of teachers, students, parents, and the authors themselves, exploring through writing the limits of human reality and potential.”
Jim Cummins, University of Toronto
“I want to start by saying that this is a powerful book which was a joy to read. The book provides a much-needed bridge between theory and practice of Transformative pedagogy. It is what every teacher/prospective teacher looks for: a step-by-step guide to putting lofty ideological ideals into practice. The examples speak for themselves about the rich potential of the model.”
Elsa Auerbach, University of Massachusetts-Boston