Accelerating Literacy for Diverse Learners: Strategies for the Common Core Classroom, K-8
reviewed by Curt Dudley-Marling - November 22, 2013
Title: Accelerating Literacy for Diverse Learners: Strategies for the Common Core Classroom, K-8
Author(s): Socorro G. Herrera
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807754501, Pages: 208, Year: 2013
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As schools and districts across the country race toward a continually moving target of increasing achievement for all, the students most in need of effective classroom instruction continue to be let behind with regard to both opportunity to learn and community membership. (Harrera, Perez, Kavimandan, & Wessels, 2013, p. 1)
Despite the steady drumbeat of criticism of American schools, teachers, and teacher educators, the evidence is clear that many American schoolchildren are well served by their schools. Results from the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), for example, indicate that approximately one third of fourth- and eighth-grade American school children performed at proficient or advanced levels in reading and math (NAEP, 2011). Similarly, US students attending more affluent schools do well on international comparisons such as PIRLS and PISA (Nichols & Berliner, 2007). Yet, there is a crisis in American schools: an achievement gap that favors White students compared to their Black and Hispanic peers and relatively more affluent students compared to students living in poverty. The causes of the achievement gap are many but one of the problems is a pedagogy of poverty (Haberman, 1991) that severely limits the affordances for learning for students attending high-poverty schools, places overpopulated by second language learners and children of color. These students learn less because they are taught less. Moreover, the low-level, teach-to-the-test, basic skills curriculum that dominates in many high-poverty schools makes learning more difficult for students attending these schools by denying them access to their background knowledge and experience in support of their learning (Smith, 1998).
The antidote to the pedagogy of poverty is a high-expectation curriculum that engages ALL students, including ELL students and poor students of color, in the sort of rich, challenging curriculum commonly found in affluent, high-achieving schools and classrooms (see Dudley-Marling & Michaels, 2012). A high-expectation curriculum, based on sound theory and research, builds on students cultural knowledge and competence by respecting students funds of knowledge (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005) and assumes that all children are competent learners (Miller, 1993).
Accelerating Literacy for Diverse Learners by Herrera, Perez, Kavimandan, and Wessels is a practical text that provides pre-K-8 teachers of culturally and linguistically diverse students with explicit, high-expectation instructional strategies to support the development of academic vocabulary needed for the comprehension and application of literacy concepts (p. 12) within a biography-driven model of instruction. Each chapter of Accelerating Literacy is organized to give teachers everything they need to implement various vocabulary learning strategies. The chapter titled Words and more words, for example, offers teachers a host of strategies for teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students how to interpret and internalize academic language (p. 69). The presentation of each strategy includes information on the materials needed to implement the strategy and explicit guidance for using the strategy with children. The section on the Vocabulary Quilt strategy, for instance, indicates that chart paper, sticky notes, etc. will be required for this strategy. The authors then offer teachers clear instructions for introducing the vocabulary quilt strategy, activities for students to practice the strategy and, finally, follow-up activities for students to show themselves and their teacher what they have learned. This pattern is used throughout the text. Teachers use of these strategies is further supported by an accompanying DVD that illustrates select strategies in actual classroom settings.
Accelerating Literacy for Diverse Learners is very much a how-to text but differs from more prescriptive, by-the-numbers methods texts in significant ways and it is these differences that make this an appealing text for teachers and teacher educators. To begin with, the biography-driven model of instruction that undergirds this text firmly situates learning in the connection between students background knowledge and experience and instructional practices. For instance, Herrera, Perez, Kavimandan and Wessels encourage teachers to begin strategy instruction by first activating students existing knowledge. This is consistent with what I take to be a central theme of Accelerating Literacy: classroom instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse studentor for any studentmust be theoretically sound and research on learning indicates clearly that learning is most efficient and effective when learners can connect new learning with what they already know (Smith, 1998). Accelerating Literacy isnt a grab bag of research-based strategies that lack theoretical coherence. The authors do point to a research base supporting the strategies they share but they also make it clear that effective teaching of culturally and linguistically diverse students must reflect the best theoretical models for language and literacy learning. This is, I think, the greatest strength of Accelerating Literacy for Diverse Learners.
Overall, Accelerating Literacy for Diverse Learners offers an antidote to the pedagogy of poverty that plagues instruction for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Accelerating Literacy provides clear guidance for teachers eager to challenge their students with rich, engaging instruction that promotes high levels of learning while affirming the competence of culturally and linguistically diverse students. It is a worthy text that should be of interest to teachers and teacher educators.
Dudley-Marling, C., & Michaels, S. (Eds.). (2012). High-expectation curricula: Helping all students succeed with powerful learning. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gonzalez, N. E., Moll, L C., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Mahwah, NH: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Haberman, M. (1991). The pedagogy of poverty versus good teaching. Phi Delta Kappan, 73, 290-294.
Miller, L. (1993). What we call smart: A new narrative for intelligence and learning. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) (2009). The nations report card: Reading highlights 2007. Washington, DC: National Center for Educational Statistics.
Nichols, S. L., & Berliner, D. C. (2007). Collateral damage: How high-stakes testing corrupts America's achools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Publishing Group.
Smith, F. (1998). The book of learning and forgetting. New York: Teachers College Press.